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Ministerial Responsibility

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which swiftly ended the
Cold War that had lasted for close to half a century, marked an era
when the world was split into two camps the Capitalists and the
Communists. Whilst democracy can be said to be the best form of
government, exemplified by the economic and socio-political
success enjoyed by third world countries that have modeled their
form of governance after the United States of America (USA),
inherently all forms of governance democracy, communism and
even monarchy are the same. All of them stress the importance of
teamwork and partnership to bring about not just political stability
but also economic and social success. Similarly, the concept of
ministerial responsibility is relatively important to the United
Kingdom. Thus, the ministers must be careful with the decisions
they make as they have to take up the responsibility when a wrong
decision is made. This essay will attempt to examine this concept by
giving examples as in economically, politically, socially and legally.
The convention of individual ministerial responsibility antedates the
modern party system. It developed at a time in the nineteenth
century when British high politics came to be understood as
involving disinterested public service. The growth of mass parties
and the welfare state have changed the nature of the convention,
but it remains an important aspect of the UK political system and
the uncodified convention. A leading authority in this area, Rodney
Brazier has outlined the main areas of ministerial responsibility.
Broadly, each Minister is responsible for his private conduct, the
general conduct of his department and acts done (or left undone) by
officials in his department.
It is common for the Minister of Parliament and peers to demand
that certain ministers resign or to be sacked if they have failed to
perform their duty. This means that the ministers must go if they
failed was at is height just after the Second World War. Some
ministers resigned even when they were not personally at fault as
this is a modus operandi that all the ministers have been conducting
in the Parliament. They resigned as they took responsibility for what
the departments did or did not do. Such a doctrine is defended on
the grounds that it forces the ministers to keep an eye on each
other. Thus, when a minister makes a mistake, he or she may be
compelled to tender his or her resignation. This is evident when Sir
Thomas Dugdale resigned over the Crichel Down Case in 1954
which represented an example of a traditional, or perhaps extreme
view of the convention of ministerial responsibility. However, this
convention was restated shortly afterwards by then Home Secretary
Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe. Ever since this case, the government has
tried to create a distinction between a ministers duty to account to
Parliament for the actions of their department and their individual

responsibility. But, this was criticized badly by academician like

Matthew Flinders who mentioned that, it is confusing and
ambiguous as tot eh requirements of ministerial responsibility where
operational fault is concerned. Further, the Public Services
Committee which made the criticism that It is
not possible absolutely to distinguish an area in which a minister is
responsible, and liable to take the blame, from one in which he is
accountable. Hence, a minister will be liable for their failure to
perform the duty that they must do or else they will have to resign
on their own.
Apart of that, ministers also tender their resignations when they
behave in such a way that disgraces the Parliament, sexual scandals
or when things have gone wrong. For example, in John Profumos
case where the details of the complicated scandal leaked out. He
had sexual relationship with Miss Kealer who was also on a
relationship with a Russian spy. He resigned by sending a letter to
the Prime Minister stating that, I cannot tell you of my deep
remorse for the embarrassment I have caused to you, my
colleagues in the Government, to my constituents, and to the party
which I have served for the past 25 years. Following by the case of
Falklands (1982) in which was invaded by Argentine military. It was
seen that, Lord Carrington resigned although the Lady Margaret
Thatcher and William Whitelaw tried to convince him to stay, but
there seems always to be a visceral desire that a disaster should be
paid for by a scapegoat. There is no doubt that Peters resignation
made it easier to unite the Party and concentrate on recovering the
Falklands; he understood this. Further, in Cecil Parkinsons case, he
was involved in an extra marital affair then he resigned as he
disgraced the Parliament. Any financial impropriety was held to be
grounds for resignation as were sexual misdemeanours such as the
Sir Charles Dilke divorce case.By evaluating the cases above, it
clearly shows that, the ministers have to take the responsibility on
when something goes wrong or a mistake has been made by them.
By the 1990s, time has changed. The Prime Minister, John Major
mentioned that the days were adultery and homosexuality were
grounds for resignation were over. There were a number of
ministerial mismanagement scandals that did not result in ministers
resigning. This was held to have debased politics. This persisted into
the Blair years.
On the other hand, the collective ministerial responsibility is a
constitutional convention where the members of the Cabinet must
publicly support all governmental decisions made in Cabinet, even if
they do not privately agree with them. If one could not keep to that

fact then one must resign as a minister. This code is especially

strictly interpreted for the Cabinet since they form the inner
sanctum of the government. This supports including vote for the
government in the legislature. Geoffrey Marshall stated three
strands within the convention, the confidence principle, the
unanimity principle, and confidentiality principle.
This doctrine applies to all members of the government, from
members of the cabinet down to Parliamentary Private Secretaries.
Its inner workings are set out in the Ministerial Code. On occasion,
this principle has been suspended, most notably in the 1930s when
in Britain the National Government allowed its Liberal members to
oppose the introduction of protective tariffs, and again when Sir
Harold Wilson allowed for an agreement to differ. The cabinet
members are allowed to campaign both for and against the 1975
referendum on whether the UK should remain in the European
Economic Community. This was immediately tested by a speech in
the Chamber by Eric Heffer, the Minister of State for Industry, on 9
April during a debate on the Governments decision to approve the
continued EEC membership of the UK.66 He believed that the
guidelines of the Common, Market are as unacceptable as the
guidelines on the question of ministerial discussion in the House.
Furthermore, collective ministerial responsibility can further be
explained by examining in this situation. In the early Blair years, this
was very tightly enforced by a control freak government. There is a
distinction between government policy which ministers must
speak up for and the internal politics of a political party. David
Milliband was thought to have been disrespectful to Gordon Brown
by not mentioning Brown in a newspaper article when Brown was
Prime Minister and Milliband was serving in the cabinet. Brown did
not sack him. Some say that Milliband was within his rights to do
what he did. Others say that Browns position as Prime Minister was
so weak that he dared not provoke a further revolt by sacking
Milliband. Another example is where in 2003, Tony Blair allowed
Clare Short to stay in the cabinet, despite her public opposition to
the 2003 Iraq War. However, she later resigned.
In a nutshell, it is true that the ministerial responsibility is important
to the British constitution. There is perhaps a strong need of reform
for individual ministerial responsibility as the concept a little too
harsh. Its harshness can be seen where a minister has to take the
blame even he is not supposed to be blamed. Such conduct might
even cost the Parliament to lose top talents in ministry. In
comparison to country like New Zealand though practice this
concept, but Bob Semple stood up and said, I am responsible, but
not to blame. What Bob said is very true and contradicting to the
concept of individual ministerial responsibility that the Britain has. A
famous quote by Robert Anthony, When you blame others, you

give up your power to change. Therefore, I believe that one should

not be blamed but to change as I strongly believe on second
chance. As for collective cabinet responsibility, there is no need for
a reform because its importance for electoral purposes is very clear.
A divided government is unlikely to win votes. As was once said, the
government needs to hang together. Although there is no need for
a reform, perhaps, the doctrine should be defined less tightly as it
may force ministers to act like automatons and its flexibility causes
the government to be incapable of changing course when it has
made a mistake.