4 Evolution and revision|
New Zealand and evolution
43. In his February speech to the IfG about the draft
Manual, Sir Gus, acknowledged that "Although we would
like to take the credit, this was not a new idea. A Cabinet Manual
has been an important part of government operation in New Zealand
for some years."
The forward to the draft Manual notes that New Zealand has gradually
developed its own Cabinet Manual which is now seen as an "authoritative
guide to central government decision making for Ministers, their
offices and those working within government."
The New Zealand version was first circulated to senior officials
in 1979, and first published openly in 1991.
There are a number of lessons to be drawn from the New Zealand
experience. The first is that their manual was developed in a
changing political context with for example, the introduction
of the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system and the
advent of minority or coalition governments which brought into
question and tested established, unwritten conventions about the
operation of government.
44. Inevitably, transplanting the name and the concept
of a cabinet manual to the UK has given rise to the belief that
this is a finished product. It is not. The New Zealand manual
has developed and adapted over a period of twenty years. It has
led to a change in form as well as in content. For example it
is now accompanied by an internet based CabGuide containing detailed
administrative advice for civil servants, removing "much
of the detailed procedural guidance about Cabinet and Cabinet
committee processes" from the Manual.
45. We expect the UK version of the Cabinet Manual
will evolve in form and content over time. As the New Zealand
precedent shows, guidance becomes more useful in times of political
uncertainty or controversy. The draft chapter on the formation
of government has amply demonstrated that in this country. We
would expect that in future other events may call into question
different parts of the Cabinet Manual which will need to be tested
against the circumstances prevailing at that time and adjusted
Revising the manual
46. Ensuring the Manual is up to date will be important
if it is to remain relevant. This raises two questions: when should
it be revised and how? It is inevitable that the Cabinet Manual
will be the subject of regular review in the next few years. As
the foreword rightly notes, there is a raft of legislation currently
before Parliament which, if enacted, will require changes to the
draft Manual. Some, for example the referendum on the additional
powers of the Welsh Assembly, have already been decided. We also
expect other Government reforms to have consequential impact on
current practices and conventions. In particular the Government
plans for greater decentralisation and enhanced local accountability
may eventually need to be reflected here. This will require frequent
updating of the Manual at certain periods. An online version which
is regularly updated with hyperlinks to extant statutes, guidance
and other relevant documents is the only practicable way of ensuring
the Cabinet Manual remains current.
47. The draft Manual also envisages "an updated
hard copy publication at the start of each parliament."
The House of Lords Constitution Committee has expressed reservations
about associating the production of new editions too closely to
the political calendar and hence the administration currently
48. In our view a major revision of the Cabinet
Manual will inevitably have to follow a general election as a
result of re-issue of the Ministerial Code, machinery of government
changes and related questions about the organisation of government.
A revised hard copy edition at this point is likely to coincide
with the most significant period of reform to government practices
during the lifetime of a Parliament.
49. The New Zealand Cabinet Manual is endorsed by
the Cabinet at the start of each new Parliament. The reason for
this is because:
Successive governments have recognised the need
for guidance to provide the basis on which they will conduct themselves
while in office. The Cabinet Manual fulfils this need.
50. However, in the UK, it is the Ministerial Code
which has developed as the principal means by which Ministers
are expected to conduct themselves in office. The Prime Minister
can influence the contents of the Manual, particularly at the
start of an administration, by re-issuing the Ministerial Code.
In addition, a number of commentators have expressed concern that
the Cabinet is only empowered to endorse those practices which
it has introduced.
51. In our view there should be a strong parallel
between the way the Cabinet Manual is produced compared and Erskine
May, the guide to Parliamentary practice. The improvements we
recommend will focus the Manual on guidance to the Executive and
particularly for civil servants. It will distinguish the status
of each sort of information contained in the Manual and it will
be accurately and comprehensively referenced. The Cabinet Office
should also consult widely when it prepares new editions. Taken
together it should ensure that the Cabinet Office is not subject
to criticism that it is seeking to set its own interpretation
on conventions but that it is genuinely producing a document "by
the Executive for the Executive".
52. The Cabinet Manual, as a guide to government
practice, should be left to officials to update and to review
at regular intervals as chroniclers and record keeperssubject
to proper and regular consultation. It should not be for the Cabinet
to approve or endorse it but it will be for ministers to decide
how far they can and should take account of the precedents in
53. We heard views that Parliamentary endorsement
of the draft Cabinet Manual would serve to endow it with a status
which, as a piece of official guidance, it did not warrant. An
alternative view was that in a representative democracy an endorsement
by Parliament would represent general public acceptability.
The current consultation process has provoked a valuable and
educative discussion in which Parliament, through its select committees,
had taken an active part. This should be the limit of Parliament's
54. We welcome the dialogue through which the
Cabinet Secretary has sought to engage the relevant select committees
of Parliament in his consultation over the draft Cabinet Manual.
It is a dialogue we wish to see continue as the document evolves.
It will also provide Parliament with a useful means by which to
scrutinise good practice and the standard of our public administration.
However, we do not consider that it is appropriate for Parliament
to seek to endorse what is a guidance document for ministers and
49 'Cabinet Secretary Speech on the Cabinet Manual'
Cabinet Office 24 February 2011 cabinetoffice.gov.uk Back
Cabinet Office, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet,
Cabinet Manual 2008 (Wellington NZ, 2008) Back
"The Cabinet Manual: Evolution with Time" Paper presented
by Rebecca Kitteridge, Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet, 8th Annual
Public Law Forum 20-21 March 2006, Department for the Prime Minister
and Cabinet, March 2006, dpmc.govt.nz Back
Cabinet Office, The Cabinet Manual - Draft, December 2010
p 7 Back
House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, Twelfth Report
of Session 2010-2011, The Cabinet Manual, HL 107, p. 23 Back
Cabinet Office, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet,
Cabinet Manual 2008 (Wellington NZ, 2008) p xvii Back
PASC Seminar, 1 March 2011 Back