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Chair: Prime Minister
Terms of reference: ˜To keep under review policy on the security and intelli-
gence services™.
Ministerial Committee on Defence and Overseas Policy
Chair: Prime Minister
Terms of reference: ˜To set strategies for the Government™s defence and over-
seas policy™.
Ministerial Committee on Domestic A¬airs
Chair: Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State
Terms of reference: ˜To consider issues relating to the Government™s broader
domestic policies™.
Ministerial Committee on Economic A¬airs, Productivity and Competitiveness
Chair: Chancellor of the Exchequer
Terms of reference: ˜To oversee and drive forward policies to improve pro-
ductivity and the competitiveness of the UK economy™.
Ministerial Committee on Energy and the Environment
Chair: Prime Minister
Terms of reference: ˜To develop the Government™s energy and environmen-
tal policies, to monitor the impact on sustainable development of the
Government™s policies, and to consider issues of climate change, security of
supply and a¬ordability of energy™.
Ministerial Committee on European Policy
Chair: Foreign Secretary
Terms of reference: ˜To determine the United Kingdom™s policies on
European Union issues, and to oversee the United Kingdom™s relations with
other member states and principal partners of the European Union™.
Ministerial Committee on European Union Strategy
Chair: Prime Minister
Terms of reference: ˜To oversee the Government™s European strategy and the
presentation of its Government™s European policy.™
404 British Government and the Constitution


Ministerial Committee on Housing and Planning
Chair: Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State
Terms of reference: ˜To set the Government™s strategy to improve the
e¬ectiveness of the planning system and the supply and a¬ordability of
housing in England, and to monitor delivery™.

Ministerial Committee on Identity Management
Chair: Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons
Terms of reference: ˜To co-ordinate the Government™s policy and strategy on
identity management in the public and private sectors, and to drive forward
the delivery of transformational bene¬ts across government™.

Ministerial Committee on Legislative Programme
Chair: Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons
Terms of reference: ˜To consider legislation and related matters™.

Ministerial Committee on Local and Regional Government
Chair: Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State
Terms of reference: ˜To consider issues a¬ecting regional and local govern-
ment, including the annual allocation of resources™.

Ministerial Committee on National Health Service Reform
Chair: Prime Minister
Terms of reference: ˜To drive forward the Government™s policies to reform
the NHS while achieving value for money and to monitor delivery™.

Ministerial Committee on Public Services and Public Expenditure
Chair: Chancellor of the Exchequer
Terms of reference: ˜To review public expenditure allocations and to make
recommendations “ including on Public Service Agreements “ to Cabinet;
and to review progress in delivering the Government™s programme of invest-
ment and reform to renew the public services™.

Ministerial Committee on Public Services Reform
Chair: Prime Minister
Terms of reference: ˜To oversee the delivery of public services™.

Ministerial Committee on Regulation, Bureaucracy and Risk
Chair: Prime Minister
Terms of reference: ˜To provide strategic oversight of the better regulation
agenda, risk and reducing unnecessary bureaucracy both in the public and
private sectors™.

Ministerial Committee on Schools Policy
Chair: Prime Minister
Terms of reference: ˜To develop policies to improve schools and to monitor
progress™.
405 Crown and government


Ministerial Committee on Science and Innovation
Chair: Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
Terms of reference: ˜To determine and oversee the implementation of the
Government™s policies in relation to science, innovation and wealth creation™.
Ministerial Committee on Serious and Organised Crime and Drugs
Chair: Prime Minister
Terms of reference: ˜To develop and co-ordinate the Government™s strategies
for reducing crime, in particular organised crime and drugs misuse™.
Ministerial Committee on Social Exclusion
Chair: Minister for the Cabinet O¬ce and Social Exclusion (Chancellor of
the Duchy of Lancaster)
Terms of reference: ˜To develop an Action Plan for tackling persistent social
exclusion; to ensure mechanisms for delivering the Action Plan are put in
place; and to oversee longer term strategy development™.
Ministerial Committee on Welfare Reform
Chair: Prime Minister
Terms of reference: ˜To develop policies on welfare reform and to monitor
progress™.


The above list does not include ad hoc committees or the seventeen sub-
committees functioning in 2006.
In July 1997 Mr Blair took what was described as an historic step in setting
up a joint consultative Cabinet committee to consider policy issues of common
interest to the Government and to the Liberal Democrat Party. It was chaired
by the Prime Minister, other ministers and Liberal Democrat spokesmen being
invited to attend as necessary. It was intended that the joint committee would
enable the Government ˜to explore with a party with which it shares many
common aims, how those aims might be achieved in what we perceive, jointly,
to be the national interest™ (HL Deb vol 583, col 578, 19 November 1997). The
committee discussed projects of constitutional reform and EU common foreign
and security policy issues, but the Liberal Democrats, disappointed by what it
had failed to achieve (in particular, proportional representation for parliamen-
tary elections), withdrew from the committee in 2001.
The system of ministerial committees is anything but a tidy arrangement and
governmental decision-making is di¬used not only among these committees
but through a constantly changing network of informal groups, inter-
departmental meetings and correspondence between ministers. In consequence
Cabinet committees may fail to meet, their business being instead dealt with in
unminuted discussions between the Prime Minister and the departmental
ministers concerned. (See Foster, ˜Cabinet government in the twentieth
century™ (2004) 67 MLR 753, 760“1, 767“71.) Many matters are, of course,
decided wholly within individual government departments.
406 British Government and the Constitution


(e) Government departments
The central government of the United Kingdom, as a former head of the home
civil service, Sir William Armstrong, remarked, ˜is a federation of departments™
(Peter Hennessy, Whitehall (1989), p 380). Departments are the power-houses
of government, continually involved in the development and execution of
government policies. Statutory powers vested in ministerial heads of depart-
ments and prerogative powers delegated to them are alike available to the
departments for carrying out their functions.
The Prime Minister, it is stated in the Ministerial Code (2005), para 8.1, ˜is
responsible for the overall organisation of the Executive and the allocation of
functions between Ministers in charge of Departments™. (In this the Prime
Minister exercises devolved prerogative power.) Changes in departmental struc-
ture are frequently made, departments being created, dissolved, amalgamated
and divided in accordance with the priorities of successive governments.
A feature of the 1960s and early 1970s was the bringing together of a number
of related governmental functions in new departments, some of them of
considerable size and popularly described as ˜giant™ departments. For instance,
a reconstituted Ministry of Defence absorbed the Admiralty, the War O¬ce and
the Air Ministry in 1964; a Department of the Environment, set up in 1970, took
over the functions of three former Ministries (Housing and Local Government,
Public Building and Works, and Transport) and the Department of Trade and
Industry, also created in 1970, assumed the functions of the Ministry of
Technology and the Board of Trade. A result of these and other amalgamations
was that all major departments could be represented in the Cabinet without
increasing its size. It was also hoped that the making and implementation of
policies would be better coordinated by grouping related functions together in
a single department.
Repeated changes in departmental responsibilities are costly and disruptive
of the work of administration, but the reallocation of functions has continued
in a quest for greater e¬ciency or in response to changing priorities. For
instance, Health and Social Security, combined in 1968, were again separated in
1988; the Department of Social Security was absorbed in 2001 into a new
Department for Work and Pensions. The Department of Trade and Industry
dissolved into four departments in 1974 but Trade and Industry were again
merged in 1983. A Department of National Heritage was created in 1992, to
be reconstituted as the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in 1997. A
new Department for International Development was created in 1997, giving
a greater prominence to policies that previously fell to a wing of the Foreign and
Commonwealth O¬ce. Further restructuring, involving the splitting or disso-
lution of a number of departments, took place after the 2001 general election.
A Department for Constitutional A¬airs was created in 2003.
There is no legal de¬nition of a government department and there can be
disagreement about the bodies that are properly so described: even di¬erent
407 Crown and government


o¬cial lists do not agree in this matter. (See eg, Smith et al, ˜Central government
departments and the policy process™ (1993) 71 Pub Adm 567; Hogwood,
˜Whitehall families: core departments and agency forms in Britain™ (1995)
61 International Review of Administrative Sciences 511; and see the de¬nition
proposed by Rodney Brazier, Ministers of the Crown (1997), pp 32“3.)
At all events no such doubts attach to the following principal departments (in
2007), each of them headed by a Secretary of State or other Cabinet minister:
Cabinet O¬ce
Department for Communities and Local Government
Department for Constitutional A¬airs
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Ministry of Defence
Department for Education and Skills
Department for Environment, Food and Rural A¬airs
Foreign and Commonwealth O¬ce
Department of Health
Home O¬ce
Department for International Development
Northern Ireland O¬ce
Scotland O¬ce
Department of Trade and Industry
Department for Transport
Her Majesty™s Treasury
Wales O¬ce
Department for Work and Pensions
Departments are sometimes headed by ministers not in the Cabinet (eg, the
Attorney General™s O¬ce). There are also non-ministerial departments “ bodies
with departmental status that are headed by o¬cials, for instance the Charity
Commission for England and Wales, HM Revenue and Customs, the O¬ce of
Fair Trading, the Serious Fraud O¬ce and the Forestry Commission. For each
of these some or other minister has ultimate responsibility.
The functions of most government departments are broadly indicated by
their names, but the work of departments changes as issues rise or fall in
urgency or salience and as governments come and go or modify their policies,
and from time to time responsibility for particular programmes is reallocated
between departments. The Home O¬ce, a department of ancient origin, has
for long been charged with a wide and heterogeneous range of functions,
relating to such various matters as crime and policing, prisons, probation,
immigration and asylum, race relations, extradition, dangerous drugs and the
Royal Pardon. It was once said that ˜all domestic matters not assigned by law or
established custom to some other Minister fall to the Home Secretary, so that
he has been described as “a kind of residual legatee” ™ (Sir Frank Newsam, The
Home Of¬ce (2nd edn 1955), p 12). In 2001 a number of traditional Home
408 British Government and the Constitution


O¬ce responsibilities were transferred to other departments, for example,
elections, human rights, data protection, freedom of information (these being
now responsibilities of the Department for Constitutional A¬airs) as well as
¬re services, liquor licensing and gambling. Decisions taken in the Home O¬ce
often directly a¬ect individuals (juvenile o¬enders, prisoners, asylum-seekers
and others) and the Law Reports reveal frequent instances of legal challenge
(by way of judicial review) of decisions taken by or in the name of the
Home Secretary.
Responsibilities for law reform, legal services and the administration of
justice are at present divided between a number of departments (the Home
O¬ce, the Department for Constitutional A¬airs and the Attorney General™s
O¬ce). Might these functions be better managed, accountability made more
sure, and a stimulus provided for reforms in the law, the court system and
access to justice, if the divided responsibilities were brought together in a
new Ministry of Justice, headed by a minister responsible to the House of
Commons? The case seems compelling but has been resisted by the Bar,
the judiciary and government. (See J Spencer (ed), Jackson™s Machinery
of Justice (8th edn 1989), pp 506“10; Drewry, ˜The debate about a Ministry of
Justice™ [1987] PL 502; Brazier, ˜Government and the law: ministerial respon-
sibility for legal a¬airs™ [1989] PL 64; ibid, Constitutional Reform (2nd edn
1998), ch 9.)
The Treasury is a department of wide-ranging in¬‚uence and power at the
centre of government. It is both a ¬nance and an economics department and,
since its approval is required for all government expenditure, departments are
constrained in adopting policies that cost money by the need for the Treasury™s
agreement. Departmental estimates of expenditure (˜Supply Estimates™) must
be approved by the Treasury before being presented to Parliament.
To a great extent we live under a system of ˜departmental government™. Most
governmental decisions are made in the departments, sometimes in negotiation
with outside interest groups. The bulk of legislation is initiated in government
departments. The departments act within a general framework of government
policy, but have policies and interests of their own. Sometimes their interests
come into con¬‚ict. The tobacco industry, for instance, may be viewed
di¬erently in the Department of Health and the Department of Trade and
Industry. The Treasury engages in a continuing round of sometimes con-
tentious bargaining with the spending departments. Tensions like these may be
constructively resolved through formal and informal inter-departmental
networks, but at worst policies may become confounded as departments pursue
their own goals or, on occasion, work against each other™s interests. In report-
ing on the Westland a¬air (above, pp 377“8), the House of Commons Select
Committee on Trade and Industry expressed its ˜deepest concern at the lack of
co-ordination on matters of major policy formulation between two depart-
ments of State™ (Second Report, HC 176 of 1986“87, para 14). In 1996 the Scott
409 Crown and government


Report (HC 115 of 1995“96) found that there had been disagreements between
the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign and Commonwealth
O¬ce on exports of defence-related goods.

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