3

Collective decision-making

Cabinet committees and the Cabinet
Collective decision-making operates at three levels:
1 Bilateral discussions between departments, at both official and ministerial level.
2 Cabinet committees of ministers (or, increasingly frequently, ad hoc meetings of ministers) ‘shadowed’ by committees of officials who prepare the ground for discussion.
3 The Cabinet.
This system has five main characteristics:
1 Collegiality. It is collegiate in the sense described in the first chapter, and is based on the premise that all ministers must accept collective responsibility for government decisions. Consequently, it seeks solutions that conciliate all interests as far as possible and that ministers can be expected to support. This requires compromise and flexibility from all involved.
2 Issues are settled at as low a level as possible. Given ministers’ heavy workloads, their time is a scarce commodity and the system has to be geared to place as light a burden on them as possible. Consequently, there is strong pressure not to take matters to Cabinet if they can be settled at committee, nor to committee if they can be settled by correspondence or discussion between departments.
3 A strong emphasis on administrative coordination. Most cross-departmental transactions are concerned simply to clear the lead department’s lines with other departments, to ensure it is not doing anything that would cut across their policies. For instance, when in the 1970s the Department of Energy launched a survey of the fuel efficiency of British cars, it checked first that this would not adversely affect the Department of Industry’s sponsorship of the car industry (Kaufman 1980). The Ministry of

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