ministerial responsibility

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  • ministerial responsibility
    • individual ministerial responsibility is the idea that ministers are responsible for the running of their department and its policies.
      • have responsibility for the standard of their own personal conduct
      • the official definition of individual responsibility is set out it a document known as the ministerial code, issued at the start of a new government by the PM
        • latest version- 'ministers have a duty to parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments and agencies'
      • obliged to give accurate information to parliament, and if they knowingly mislead parliament, they are expected to resign
        • it is now widely accepted that the business of government is so large and complex that a minister cannot be expected to know about everything that goes on within their department, and so would not be expected to resign over a minor mistake
      • ministers are responsible for deciding how to conduct themselves but, importantly, they only remain in office for as long as they retain the confidence of the PM
    • accountability
      • the fate of an individual minister depends on:
        • the level of criticism in parliament and the media
        • the attitude of the prime minister of the day
        • how serious the issue is perceived to be
      • many government functions have been delegated to executive agencies under a director general, rather than a minister.
        • this has led to some doubt about who is accountable, with the minister assuming responsibility for making overall policy, while the head of the agency exercises 'operational responsibility'
      • the blurring of lines of accountability has meant that in some cases, civil servants rather than ministers have been held responsible for departmental errors
        • traditionally civil servants were anonymous, taking neither credit nor blame for the actions of governments, but this has decreased in recent decades
      • personal misconduct is a more common cause of resignations than failures of policy.
        • in some cases the impression that a ministers behaviour has fallen short of expected standards of integrity has been enough to bring about a departure from office
    • collective ministerial responsibility
      • collective ministerial responsibility is the convention that ministers must support all decisions of the government in public.
      • it means that they are responsible as a group to parliament and the people, and that the discussions in cabinet should be confidential.
      • if defeated in a vote of no confidence in the Commons, the government as a whole resigns.
      • while ministers are free to argue their case with each other in private, once a decision has been reached it is binding, if a minister cannot accept a decision, in theory they should resign
      • clear-cut resignations on grounds of disagreement with government policy are quite rare.
        • to take such a step may well end a political career, it is more common for  ministers who are unhappy with government policy to grumble from within, or leak their dissatisfaction to the media
    • exceptions to collective responsibility
      • there have been occasions when collective responsibility has been modified for political reasons e.g. compromise between conservativesand liberals for coalition gov 2010
      • since 1945 it has proved necessary to suspend collective responsibility on two occasions, during both referendum campaigns on the troubled issue of Britain's membership of the European union


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