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Last updated 22 Mar 2021
Cabinet Committees are sub-committees of the Cabinet. They are composed of Ministers, or Civil Servants, or both. Outside advisors can also be added. Some, like the EDP (Economic and Domestic Policy Committee) are semi-permanent, whilst others are for one-off problems or periodically emerging issues, for example Misc.57, set up to make contingency plans for a miners’ strike from 1981.
Chairmen of Cabinet Committees are appointed by the Prime Minister, who can also chair the most important ones should they wish. Their proceedings are mostly secret. The Chairs report proceedings and decisions taken to the full Cabinet.
Cabinet Committees have been described as the ‘engine-room of government’. As the workload of government has increased, decision taken here have the same status as those taken in full cabinet, with only the most important referred back to Cabinet for confirmation.
A member of a committee unhappy about a decision made on it cannot take that complaint to full cabinet unless the committee chairman supports them (the ‘Wilson rule’), with the exception of the Chief Secretary of the Treasury, who sits on many committees to watch over spending.
This means that full cabinet becomes just a ‘rubber-stamp’ with few full discussions of government decisions. Some feel that Prime Ministers can therefore use cabinet committees to dominate government, but others think they are an efficient way of taking or preparing for policy decisions, as the Cabinet is too large and meets too infrequently to do everything.