Catalogue description Cabinet Minutes and Papers

Details of Division within CAB
Reference: Division within CAB
Title: Cabinet Minutes and Papers

No complete sets of circulated Cabinet papers were kept before 1916, but photocopies from various sources of papers circulated between 1880 and 1916 are in CAB 37. A small series of printed papers (G War) begun in January 1915 is in CAB 24. Photocopies of original letters in the Royal Archives in which prime ministers reported on Cabinet proceedings between 1868 and 1916 are in CAB 41.

The minutes and papers of the bodies directing the war from 1914 to December 1916 (the War Council, Dardanelles Committee and War Committee) will be found in CAB 22, with photocopies in CAB 42.

War Cabinet and Cabinet minutes (known as conclusions from August 1919) for December 1916 to September 1939 are in CAB 23, which also includes conclusions of Conferences of Ministers, 1919-1922, and minutes of the Imperial War Cabinet, 1917-1918. War Cabinet and Cabinet conclusions for September 1939 to July 1945 are in CAB 65 and for July 1945 to 1974 in CAB 128. All three series include the Confidential Annexes.

War Cabinet and Cabinet papers (known as memoranda) are in CAB 24 (December 1916 to September 1939); CAB 66, CAB 67 and CAB 68 for September 1939 to July 1945; and in CAB 129 for July 1945 to 1967.

Daily situation reports, 1939-1945, are in CAB 100.

Date: 1868-1974

References to Cabinet minutes and conclusions are made by using symbols, for example CC34(38)5, in which letters refer to a series of conclusions and figures refer to the details of the meeting, year, and place on the agenda. The code quoted relates to the conclusion of the fifth item on the agenda of the 34th Cabinet meeting for 1938. This notation has remained almost unchanged from 1916, although occasionally there is a reference such as 34(5) which indicates the fifth conclusion of the 34th meeting of the Cabinet for a certain year. The alphabetic prefixes for each series of conclusions are as follows:

Cabinet memoranda from 1916 are denoted by similar symbols. For example, WP(40)345 denotes the 345th paper laid before the War Cabinet in 1940. The alphabetic prefixes for each series of memoranda are as follows:

Related material:

Selected files of the Cabinet Secretariat are in CAB 21 (to 1973), CAB 104 (to 1951), CAB 164 (from 1963) and CAB 165 (from 1965).

Separated material:

The records in the Cabinet War Rooms Collection assigned the reference CAB 156 are held in the Cabinet War Rooms London which are now administered by the Imperial War Museum and are open to the public. Enquiries should be directed to the Curator. A l

Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Cabinet, 1919-1939

Cabinet, 1945-

War Cabinet, 1916-1919

War Cabinet, 1939-1945

Physical description: 14 series
Administrative / biographical background:

Cabinet Functions and Procedure

The Prime Minister includes in the Cabinet ministers heading the major government departments and other ministers without specific portfolios who have less onerous duties. Traditionally peacetime cabinets have had about twenty members, although there has been a tendency for larger cabinets in the recent past. The Cabinet owes its existence to no statute. It has no independent legal authority and no fixed rules of procedure, which are at the discretion of the Prime Minister of the day. Nevertheless, it is the forum that formulates government policy and its decisions are accepted without question throughout government. These decisions are carried out by departments and the Cabinet provides the mechanism that reconciles the principles of ministerial and collective responsibility, whereby ministers are responsible for their own area but share a collective responsibility for the actions of the Government as a whole.

Much of the detailed work of the Cabinet is carried out in committees, which may often frame decisions that will simply be ratified by the full Cabinet. The Cabinet itself usually only considers major issues of policy, those of potential public criticism or those that have caused conflict and been unresolved elsewhere.

The first Rules of Procedure are those by the War Cabinet's first Secretary, Sir Maurice Hankey, on 24 January 1917. The basic procedure has changed little since and is usually laid out in Instructions to the Secretary accepted by an early meeting of each new administration. Issues are raised in memoranda that are circulated before a meeting and are noted in numbered order on the agenda. Matters are discussed at the Cabinet meeting and minutes, or conclusions, are drawn up later, which are circulated to ministers for action or information and to the sovereign. Cabinet conclusions are not verbatim accounts of the meetings but consist of summaries of the discussion together with a note of the decisions reached. They do not generally reveal conflict within Cabinet. Particularly confidential minutes are said to be recorded in the Secretary's Standard File which became the Confidential Annexes.

Cabinet History

Since its origins in the early eighteenth century, the Cabinet met with no formal agenda, and no minutes of proceedings were kept before the appointment of a Secretary to the War Cabinet in December 1916. However, from the early nineteenth century an increasing number of papers prepared by ministers and officials were printed and circulated to the Cabinet, and it was a long established practice for the Prime Minister to send a personal letter to the Sovereign after each meeting to report proceedings.

The full Cabinet continued to meet even after the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. Immediate control of the conduct of the war, in the absence of the suspended Committee of Imperial Defence, passed successively to the War Council, the Dardanelles Committee and the War Committee. On the fall of Asquith, the War Committee and full Cabinet meetings were suspended by Lloyd George in favour of a War Cabinet, which was to undertake the supreme direction of the war.

First World War:

The War Cabinet, which met for the first time on 9 December 1916, had only five members, the Prime Minister and four others, only one of whom, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had departmental responsibilities. Subsequently the membership of the War Cabinet was increased to seven. However, departmental ministers and officials and naval and military officers attended whenever necessary, to give their views on matters before the War Cabinet.

The absence of any record of Cabinet decisions and of any regular machine for co-ordination between Cabinet and departments had already proved a hindrance to the efficient prosecution of the war; the exclusion from the War Cabinet of departmental ministers made it even more difficult to maintain traditional methods of conducting Cabinet business. Consequently, the secretariat of the Committee of Imperial Defence, which had already served the War Council, Dardanelles Committee and War Committee, was put to the use of the War Cabinet.

A series of meetings, known as the Imperial War Cabinet, took place during 1917-1919 in London between prime ministers and other ministers of the Dominions, representatives of the Government of India and members of the British War Cabinet.

With the end of the war in 1918 and the demands of the Peace Conference, the War Cabinet met less often and the numbers attending it gradually increased. The first meeting of the peacetime Cabinet of twenty members was on 4 November 1919.

Lloyd George as Prime Minister also held a number of informal meetings with ministers between October 1919 and September 1922, known as Conferences of Ministers.

Second World War:

From September 1939 to May 1945 the Cabinet and the Committee of Imperial Defence were again replaced by a smaller War Cabinet to oversee the running of the war. This had a restricted membership, varying between five and ten, and usually fairly equally divided between departmental and non- departmental ministers. Various areas of work were dealt with by Committees with a wider representation, some of which had executive functions. Chamberlain's War Cabinet was reconstructed by Churchill in May 1940 to include representatives of the Labour and Liberal parties.

The War Cabinet sometimes met in underground emergency accommodation in the basement of the Government Offices, Great George Street, London. These rooms became known as the Cabinet War Rooms.

After the defeat of Germany, the Labour and Liberal parties withdrew from the Coalition Government, the members of the War Cabinet resigned, and Churchill formed a 'caretaker government', reverting to a Cabinet of pre-war size, with which the cabinets of subsequent administrations have, with slight variations, conformed.

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