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Consultation on the cabinet manual: have your say on a document being described as the first step to a British written constitution

Views are being sought by January 10th on a document being described by some as the first step towards a British codified constitution.
Niki Seth-Smith
5 January 2011

Views are being sought by January 10th on a document being described by some as the first step towards a British codified constitution. The 150-page draft cabinet manual, drawn up on 14 December, aims to set out how the UK is governed. While the cabinet secretary, Gus O'Donnell, has stressed in his introduction that the manual is intended only as a source of information and guidance on governance, the draft document has instigated a debate over Britain's constitutional status in part thanks to the Cabinet Secretary himself proclaiming in interviews before it was issued that it was an eagerly awaited stage on the road to full codification. The political and constitutional reform committee is now heading a consultation on the manual, with responses to be submitted at 10am on Monday 10th January if possible, and otherwise by Friday 28th January. This is a chance to help broaden the debate around a document that could prove the foundation to a written constitution for Britain.

In the Guardian, OurKingdom's Anthony Barnett has denounced the elitist nature of the document, calling it a "manual for dictatorship" written, as the document clearly states, "from the perspective of the executive branch of government". Graham Allen, chair of the political and constitutional reform committee, has criticised the undemocratic nature of the consultation proceedings. In his recent article for OurKingdom, he describes how the committee's call for this vital document to be made available to "the electors and the elected" has gone unheeded. 

Below is the copy sent out by the political and constitutional reform committee in full: 

COMMITTEE SEEKS YOUR VIEWS ON CABINET MANUAL 

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has decided to examine the constitutional implications of the Cabinet Manual. 

The Committee heard last month from the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, who made clear how important the Manual would be:

“It has never existed before; we’ve been waiting decades and decades for this ... It will be a tremendous achievement if we can get this out there”.

“I am strongly of the view that this is an important document and I very much want to put this out in draft so that we can get your views and the views of all of Parliament.”

Graham Allen MP, our Chair, suggested that the Manual would be “the closest thing we have to a written constitution”.

On Tuesday the Government published the Manual in draft for consultation. The Government has described the role and content of the Manual as follows:

“The Cabinet Manual is intended to be a source of information on the UK’s laws, conventions and rules, including those of a constitutional nature, that affect the operation and procedures of government. It is written from the perspective of the Executive branch of government. It is not intended to have any legal effect or set issues in stone. It is intended to guide, not to direct.

“The Cabinet Manual is a statement of the arrangements as they are on the date of publication. Some areas of the Manual continue to be subject to public debate. The Manual, however, does not seek to resolve or move forward those debates, but is instead a factual description of the situation today. In other words, it will be a record of incremental changes rather than a driver of change.”

The Committee intends to discuss the Manual early in the New Year with a panel of constitutional experts. To inform that discussion, as well as any response that the Committee might make to the Government’s consultation, the Committee would welcome your views on the Manual, and in particular your answers to the following questions:

1. What are the constitutional consequences of the publication of the Cabinet Manual by the Government, and of the process of consultation being adopted?

  

2. Does the Cabinet Manual accurately reflect existing laws, conventions and rules?

  

3. Are there areas in which the Cabinet Manual appears to alter existing conventions or rules, or create new ones, rather than acting as a “factual record” based on precedent? 

Questions 4 and 5 below should be answered bearing in mind that the focus of the Manual “is on matters that are relevant to Cabinet, and to civil servants and others advising Cabinet and other ministers” and that it “would be inappropriate to include other matters, however important”.

4. Are there matters that are not adequately reflected in the Cabinet Manual?


5. Are there matters currently included in the Cabinet Manual that should not be, or that should be given lesser prominence? 

How to respond

Please send your views by email to[email protected]. If you do not have access to email, you may send a paper copy of your response to the Clerk of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Committee Office, First Floor, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA.

Each submission should: 

 - be no more than 3,000 words in length;

 - have numbered paragraphs; and

 - be in Word format or a rich text format with as little use of colour or logos as possible.

Written submissions will usually be treated as evidence to the Committee and may be published as part of a final report. If you object to your response being made public in a volume of evidence, please make this clear when it is submitted.

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