Central Administration in Britain

Central Administration in Britain

Central Administration in Britain

Central Administration in Britain

Excerpt

This book is primarily a text-book, a systematic exposition of what is already known, and it has no special claim to originality except that this particular body of knowledge has never been surveyed and presented in a unified way before. In imposing unity on our material we have been concerned more with the needs of potential readers than with theories about the nature of the British Constitution or of the modern state. Our main object is to explain the work of the great central Departments of British government, and of the various organs of administration which are directly subordinate to them. The Ministries are familiar, at least in name; and so is the Civil Service. But these fairly simple entities, which lie at the core of central administration, shade off into a complex intermediate zone. The Departments include among their number many small units, unknown to the general public, which are certainly not Ministries: they control directly a great many enterprises which have little to do with administration; it is not much more than accident, in marginal cases, whether a particular service is provided by a Department or by a body which has a different legal form.

It would therefore be absurd to offer here a formal definition of the phrase 'central administration'. Nevertheless, the fact that we approach central administration as if it were a relatively independent part of British government and of British society does imply some general ideas, very hard to work out precisely, about the structure of politics in Britain. The universe of British government (it might be said) consists of a number of worlds, relatively independent, but linked to one another both by constitutional theory and by the practical needs of business. One of these, of course, is that of political parties, Parliament, and Cabinet government; another is that of local government; a third is that of the law, the legal profession, and the courts; a fourth is the relatively new area of semi-public bodies, public corporations, and sponsored associations, which now rules much of our lives. Clearly, central administration stands alongside these as a fifth world, that of central Departments staffed by civil servants; and one could analyse central administration further by separate treatment of the administration of foreign policy, of overseas territories, of the armed forces. We say little of . . .

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