Red box (government)

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This article is about the boxes used by British government ministers to carry documents. For the despatch boxes in Parliament from which frontbenchers deliver speeches, see Despatch box.

The term "red box" informally refers to a ministerial box used by ministers in the British government to carry their documents. Similar in appearance to a briefcase, they are primarily used to hold and transport official departmental papers from place to place.

Ministerial box[edit]

The design of ministerial boxes has changed little since the 1860s. Covered in red-stained rams' leather, they are embossed with the Royal Cypher and ministerial title. The 2–3-kilogram (4–7 lb) boxes are constructed of slow-grown pine, lined with lead and black satin and, unlike a briefcase, the lock is on the bottom, opposite the hinges and the handle, to guarantee that the box is locked before being carried.[1]

The colour red has remained the traditional covering of the boxes.[1] The lead lining, which has been retained in modern boxes, was once meant to ensure that the box sank when thrown overboard in the event of capture.[2] Also bomb-proof, they are designed to survive any catastrophe that may befall their owner.[3]

Production of the red boxes costs between £385 and £750. Between 2002 and 2007 the British Government spent £57,260 on new boxes.[1] In 1998, a Whitehall initiative began to replace document boxes with an extensive intranet.[4]

Exceptions to the red colouring are those carried by the government whips, which are covered in black leather.[3] Discreet black boxes are also available for ministers who need to travel by train.[1]

Budget Box[edit]

Gladstone's Budget Box, made around 1860.

Perhaps the best known red box is the Budget Box, which is held up for a photo-shoot outside 11 Downing Street, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announces his annual budget plans.

The first budget box was made for William Ewart Gladstone around 1860 and is lined in black satin and covered with scarlet leather. This box has been used by every Chancellor since, with the exceptions of James Callaghan (1964–1967) and Gordon Brown (1997–2007), who had new ones commissioned in 1965 and 1997 respectively.[5] Gladstone's budget box was used by Alistair Darling (2007–2010) and by George Osborne in June 2010. It was subsequently retired due to its fragility, and will be displayed in the Cabinet War Rooms.[6] Since March 2011, a new budget box commissioned by The National Archives has been used.[7]

The Budget Box of 1997 is made of yellow pine with a brass handle and lock, covered in scarlet leather and embossed with the Royal Cypher and the words Chancellor of the Exchequer directly beneath it.

Royal red boxes[edit]

Other red boxes of note are the ones delivered to the British Sovereign every day (except Christmas Day and Easter Sunday) by government departments, via the Page of the Presence. These boxes contain Cabinet and Foreign and Commonwealth Office documents, most of which the monarch must sign and give Royal Assent to, before they can become law.

Black box[edit]

The black box (which also has a red stripe) is a highly secret box of confidential papers only seen by the Prime Minister, their Private Secretary, and intelligence officials.[8] This box is known as "old stripey" due to the red stripe. This box was mentioned in the BBC4 series "The Secret World of Whitehall" broadcast in the UK on 16 September 2011.

Green Box[edit]

Permanent Secretaries, who are civil servants rather than MPs or Lords, have similar boxes but coloured green. These have exactly the same function as the ministerial red boxes.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Vaidyanathan, Rajini (23 March 2010). "Thinking inside the box". BBC News. 
  2. ^ Security Engineering: A Guide to Building Dependable Distributed Systems: Chapter 14, Physical Tamper Resistance, p. 278 (Online text on the Cambridge University Computer Laboratory website)
  3. ^ a b Kevin Brennan MP. "Black Box Business". 
  4. ^ "Whitehall gets wired". BBC. 7 April 1998. Retrieved 4 January 2010. 
  5. ^ The Budget Box
  6. ^ Shipman, Tim (18 June 2010). "Gladstone's box set to be pensioned off after next week's Budget". Daily Mail (London). 
  7. ^ Read, Simon. The Independent (London) http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2013/03/20/the-budget-red-boxes-and-booze/ |url= missing title (help). 
  8. ^ "The Secret World of Whitehall: The Network". Retrieved 3 March 2014. 

External links[edit]