Red box (government)

Red box (government)

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

The design of ministerial boxes has changed little since the 1860s. Covered in red stained rams' leather, it is embossed with the Royal Cypher and ministerial title. The 2 or 3 kg 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, the dominant colour of Prince Albert's royal crest, 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 cost 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] Traditionally, when ministers leave office, they are permitted to retain one of the red (or black) boxes as a memento.[citation needed]

Budget Box

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. That particular box had been used by every Chancellor since, with the exceptions of James Callaghan (1964–1967) and Gordon Brown (1997-2007), who both had new ones commissioned in 1965 and 1997 respectively.[5] Gladstone's budget box was again used by Alistair Darling (2007-2010) and a final time by George Osborne in June 2010. Afterwards, it was retired due to its fragility, and will now be kept in the Cabinet War Rooms.[6]

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

Other red boxes of note are the ones delivered to the British Sovereign every day (except Christmas Day and Easter Day) 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 (an essential part of the role of a constitutional monarch). HM The Queen Mother used to get Red Boxes almost up until she died, and HRH The Prince of Wales has received boxes of information for some years.[citation needed]

The Black Box

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. [7] Comically, 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 16th September 2011.

Green Boxes

Historically, certain high ranking Civil Servants also carried an equivalent to the Red Box. Theirs was green in colour, but of similar design.[citation needed]


External links

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