The cabinet is drawn entirely from members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and almost entirely from the former. Members of the cabinet are answerable to Parliament, and must be available to answer questions in Parliament, but Parliament can only dismiss them collectively.
The Cabinet meets on a regular basis, usually weekly, notionally to discuss the great issues of government policy, and to take decisions to which they are bound by "collective responsibility". In practice, and especially in the recent Blair Government, Cabinet discussions have tended to be cursory and major decisions have tended to be taken by sub-committees, including the so-called "kitchen cabinet", outside of Cabinet. Some of the members of such sub-committees are appointed by the Prime Minister and are unelected and unaccountable to Parliament.
In the United Kingdom's parliamentary system, the executive is not separate from the legislature. Moreover the executive tends to dominate the legislature for several reasons: the power of the Government Whips (to force party members to follow the government line), the first-past-the-post voting system (which tends to give a large majority to the governing party), the payroll vote (which means that members of the governing party who are on the government payroll, e.g. as junior ministers, hesitate to defy the Whips for fear of losing major portions of their income), and the reluctance of Parliament (especially the Commons) to assert its sovereignty.
The combined effect of the Prime Minister's ability to circumvent effective discussion in Cabinet and the executive's ability to dominate parliamentary (i.e. legislative) proceedings places the British Prime Minister in a position of great power that has been likened to an "elected dictatorship". The relative impotence of Parliament to hold the Government of the day to account has made it all the more important that the fourth estate (the press/media) criticise the Government.
The official opposition party (the party with the second largest number of elected members of Parliament) is headed by a similar group called the Shadow Cabinet.
First Lord of the Treasury and
Minister for the Civil Service
Deputy Prime Minister and|
First Secretary of State
|Chancellor of the Exchequer||Gordon Brown|
|Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs||Jack Straw|
|Secretary of State for the Home Department||David Blunkett|
|Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs||Margaret Beckett|
|Secretary of State for Transport and |
Secretary of State for Scotland
|Secretary of State for Health||John Reid|
|Secretary of State for Northern Ireland||Paul Murphy|
|Secretary of State for Defence||Geoff Hoon|
|Secretary of State for Work and Pensions||Andrew Smith|
|Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and|
Minister for Women and Equality
|Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport||Tessa Jowell|
|Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury and|
|Secretary of State for Education and Skills||Charles Clarke|
|Chief Secretary to the Treasury||Paul Boateng|
|Leader of the House of Commons,|
Lord Privy Seal and
Secretary of State for Wales
|Minister without Portfolio and Party Chair||Ian McCartney|
|Leader of the House of Lords and|
Lord President of the Council
|Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and |
Lord Chancellor for the transitional period
|Lord Falconer of Thoroton|
|Secretary of State for International Development||Hilary Benn|