The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee today signalled that the Cabinet Manual could have consequences beyond those intended by its authors.
The Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell describes the Manual as a guide for ministers and civil servants to existing rules and conventions, which is not intended to 'set issues in stone' or to 'resolve or move forward' matters of public debate.
Whilst welcoming the motivation behind the Manual and the transparency it brings to the workings of Government, the Committee says that in practice the Manual may be treated as having greater authority than originally intended, particularly where its content extends beyond matters purely for the Executive.
An example is where it describes relations between the Executive and Parliament. The Committee recommends that it should, therefore, be the subject of an annual debate in the House of Commons.
The Committee also challenges some of the specific content of the draft, in particular:
- failure to include the convention, acknowledged elsewhere by the Government, that Parliament should have the opportunity to debate decisions to commit troops to armed conflict
- guidance on when a Prime Minister should resign following a hung Parliament.
The Chair of the Committee, Graham Allen MP, said:
"The publication of the Cabinet Manual raises important questions about the UK’s constitutional arrangements and in particular the relationship between Parliament and the Executive. The Cabinet Secretary has told us that this could be a starting point for those in favour of a written constitution".
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