Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Cabinet. Though virtually the centre of the parliamentary system of government, the British cabinet is, properly speaking, unknown to the Constitution except as a matter of usage. Theoretically, it is an irregular committee of the privy council, a body which, in Charles II.'s time, became inconvenient from its numbers and the consequent lack of secrecy in its proceedings. Charles II. therefore formed a special advisory committee or "cabal" (q.v.) from it, and the practice, though at first very unpopular, was continued by William III., under whom it obtained more definite duties, and its members usually sat in one or other House of Parliament. But it still contained members of both political parties at once. Under the first two Georges two great changes took place, (1) the kings ceased to attend, not knowing English well; (2) the Tories, being suspected of Jacobitism, were excluded from office, so the cabinet was confined to one party. When Pitt took office in 1783 the post of Prime Minister assumed something of its present prominence. At present it is understood that the members of a cabinet agree on their general political opinions (or in a coalition cabinet on certain specified points); that they are jointly responsible for the action of the government, and that they act in concert. Their deliberations are secret, no minutes of proceedings are taken, and they are bound not to reveal what passes. In practice they are chosen by the Prime Minister, but his choice is usually almost determined beforehand by the force of circumstances and public opinion. The members of a cabinet usually vary from twelve to fifteen, but the latter number is found inconveniently large. The Irish Secretary, the Postmaster-General, and the President of the Local Government Board, are sometimes, but not always, included in it. In the parliamentary governments of the colonies and foreign countries the Cabinet has a more explicit recognition in the Constitution.