Photographic Book France
The British government with the executive power
Photographs book England

The chief executive of the government is the prime minister. He or she is the leader of the party that holds the most seats in the House of Commons. The monarch goes through the ceremony of selecting as prime minister the person from the House of Commons who is head of the majority party. The prime minister presides over the Cabinet and selects the other Cabinet members, who join him or her to form the government that is part of the functioning executive. Acting through the Cabinet and in the name of the monarch, the prime minister exercises all of the theoretical powers of the crown, including making appointments. In the past, prime ministers also came from the House of Lords. Today, in the unlikely circumstance that a peer (a member of the House of Lords) is sought as a prime minister by one of the parties, he or she must first resign from the House of Lords and gain election to the House of Commons.

Executive power : the prime minister

When legislation comes before the House of Commons, the prime minister can usually count on the support of a majority of the votes because his or her party has a majority of the seats, and party discipline tends to be strong in Britain. In some circumstances prime ministers must depend on a coalition of strong parties. This was the case during both world wars and during the worst of the Great Depression in the 1930s. At times a prime minister comes from a party that does not quite have a majority of seats in the House of Commons. In such a case, that party must rely on an alliance with smaller parties, the smaller parties voting with the party in power on necessary legislation. A government formed from a party without a majority in Parliament is called a minority government. Between 1974 and 1979, for example, a minority Labour Party government was able to stay in power because the Liberal Party generally voted with it.

10 downing street
The cabinet

Big ben picture and the parliament

The Cabinet developed during the 18th century out of informal meetings of key government ministers during the reigns of the Hanoverian monarchs, who took relatively little interest in politics. During the 19th century this committee of key ministers evolved into an effective body that wielded the monarch’s executive power.

The Cabinet has about 20 members, or ministers, all of whom must be members of Parliament (MPs). Members of the Cabinet are leaders of the majority party in the House of Commons or, more rarely, members of the House of Lords. Cabinet ministers who head a particular government department, such as the Ministry of Defense, are known as secretaries of state. The prime minister serves as the first lord of the treasury and as minister for the civil service. In addition to the various secretaries of state, the Cabinet includes nondepartmental ministers who hold traditional offices—such as the lord president of the council, the paymaster general, and the lord privy seal—and ministers without portfolio, who do not have specific responsibilities but are assigned to specific tasks as needed. The lord chancellor holds a unique position. The lord chancellor’s executive duties as a Cabinet member include being responsible for legal affairs in the United Kingdom, but he or she is also head of the judiciary, which is a separate part of the British government. The prime minister has the power to move members of the Cabinet from post to post, or to drop individuals from the Cabinet entirely. Former Cabinet ministers may retain their positions as members of Parliament.

Two key doctrines of Cabinet government are collective responsibility and ministerial responsibility. Collective responsibility means that the Cabinet acts unanimously, even when Cabinet ministers do not all agree upon a subject. If an important decision is unacceptable to a particular Cabinet member, it is expected that he or she will resign to signify dissent. Ministerial responsibility means that ministers are responsible for the work of their departments and answer to Parliament for the activities of their departments. The policy of departmental ministers must be consistent with that of the government as a whole. The ministers bear the responsibility for any failure of their department in terms of administration or policy. Encarta

Custom Search