The House of Lords Constitution Committee today reported that the government's draft ‘Cabinet Manual’ is open to misinterpretation.
Announcing its findings, the Committee's Chairman, Baroness Jay of Paddington said: ‘The manual is of no great value to Ministers, though it has some relevance to the work of officials. For this reason, the Committee considers that it should be called the Cabinet Office Manual.’
The manual is the first time a government has attempted publicly to set out the rules relating to its operation, and its legal and constitutional status is unclear. The Committee is concerned that the manual may provide an opportunity for civil servants to tell Ministers how to act, when it should simply be a work of reference. The current draft of the manual is also poorly referenced and inaccurate in places. The Committee recommends that the Cabinet Office make specific improvements.
In the course of its inquiry, the Committee heard from several former Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers. Former Minister, Lord Adonis, stressed that ‘this isn’t desperately good as a guide to practice.’
The draft Cabinet Manual is subject to public consultation. The consultation process ends tomorrow, 8 March. The Cabinet Secretary has said that he expects to ask the Cabinet to endorse a revised version in Spring 2011.
The House of Lords Constitution Committee's remit is to examine the constitutional implications of all public bills coming before the House; and to keep under review the operation of the constitution.
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