Cabinet Committees are groupings of Ministers designed to take the pressure off full Cabinet and to provide a lower-level forum for decision-making. Cabinet Committees consider current issues relating to government and resolve inter-departmental disagreement.
Cabinet Committees are set up by the Prime Minister, and he or she appoints their membership. That membership can include Ministers who do not attend full Cabinet.
Each Cabinet Committee has a chair of Cabinet rank, and the Prime Minister chairs meetings of certain committees, normally those charged with intelligence and national security issues. Most Cabinet committees have more than 10 members, although some have fewer and some are made up of nearly the entire Cabinet (such as Domestic Affairs). Members are chosen from interested departments, and sub-committees may be formed.
Cabinet Committee meetings are technically meetings of the Cabinet. Their decisions have the same status and continue to be subject to collective responsibility. Committees unable to reach resolution must resort to full Cabinet for agreement to be reached.
There may be upward of 50 Cabinet Committees, although the frequency and regularity of meetings varies hugely. They are formed by subject, their terms of reference being set by the Prime Minister. They fall into some core categories each having a secretariat in the Cabinet Office, with each committee being known by an abbreviation of two or more letters or numbers:
Economic and Domestic Affairs
This is the largest category. It includes Cabinet Committees on such diverse subjects as crime, information technology, skills, drugs, equality, environment, local government, welfare and science. It also includes the Committee on the Legislative Programme or LP, which drafts the Queen’s Speech, and the Committee on Domestic Affairs or DA, which includes most Cabinet Ministers.
This contains just one committee – the Committee on Civil Contingencies or CCC, which would come into play in an emergency situation. It is chaired by the Home Secretary and exists to preserve services and supplies essential to life. Its other members would be drawn from departments relevant to the emergency. This committee is popularly known as COBRA.
Defence and Overseas
This is the second largest category. Mainly composed of sub-committees of the Committee on Defence and Overseas Policy or DOP, it includes Cabinet Committees on terrorism, the intelligence agencies and Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister chairs a number of these committees.