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Ministerial responsibility or Individual ministerial responsibility is a constitutional convention in governments using the Westminster System that a cabinet minister bears the ultimate responsibility for the actions of their ministry or department. Individual ministerial responsibility is not the same as cabinet collective responsibility, which states members of the cabinet must approve publicly of its collective decisions or resign. This means that a motion for a vote of “no confidence” in a Parliament is not in order, should the actions of an organ of Government fail in the proper discharge of their responsibilities. Where there is ministerial responsibility, the accountable Minister is expected to take the blame, and ultimately resign. But the majority or coalition within Parliament of which the Minister is part, is not held to be answerable for that Minister’s failure.

This means that if waste, corruption, or any other misbehaviour is found to have occurred within a ministry, the minister is responsible even if the minister had no knowledge of the actions. A minister is ultimately responsible for all actions by a ministry. Even without knowledge of an infraction by subordinates the minister approved the hiring and continued employment of those civil servants. If misdeeds are found to have occurred in a ministry the minister is expected to resign. It is also possible for a minister to face criminal charges for malfeasance under their watch.

The principle is considered essential as it is seen to guarantee that an elected official is answerable for every single government decision. It is also important to motivate ministers to closely scrutinize the activities within their departments. One rule coming from this principle is that each cabinet member answers for their own ministry in Question Time/Question Period. The reverse of ministerial responsibility is that civil servants are not supposed to take credit for the successes of their department, allowing the government to claim them.

In recent years some commentators have argued the notion of ministerial responsibility has been eroded in many Commonwealth countries. While the doctrine is a constitutional convention there is no formal mechanism for enforcing the rule. Today ministers frequently use ignorance of misbehaviour as an argument for lack of culpability. While opposition parties rarely accept this argument, the electorate is often more accepting. Courts of the United Kingdom have become less likely to find ministers guilty when their individual knowledge of or involvement in a crime cannot be proved. In most other Commonwealth countries such cases are today hardly ever brought to trial.

Contents

Canada

In Canada ministerial responsibility has been reduced as it has become increasingly common for top level civil servants to be called before Parliament, bypassing the minister.

United Kingdom

It is currently unclear what individual action a Minister ought to take when a civil servant within his department is guilty of maladministration.

The formulation of some guidelines took place during the Crichel Down Affair in 1954 in which the Minister of Agriculture, Thomas Dugdale, resigned, despite an inquiry suggesting that all mistakes were made within his department without his knowledge, and in some cases due to deliberate deceit by civil servants; later it appeared that Dugdale in fact supported his civil servants' actions, and disagreed with both the inquiry report and the Government's acceptance of it.

The government announced that ministers must defend civil servants who act properly in accordance with policies set out by the minister. Furthermore, it was stated that "where an official makes a mistake or causes some delay, but not on an important issue of policy and not where a claim to individual rights is seriously involved, the Minister acknowledges the mistake and he accepts the responsibility although he is not personally involved."

In 1982, Lord Carrington (then Foreign Secretary) and two other Foreign Office ministers resigned shortly after the invasion of the Falkland Islands. Later official reviews stated that, although there had been misjudgments within the Foreign Office, no responsibility attached to any individual within the government. However, in 1983, when 38 IRA prisoners broke out of the Maze prison, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Prior did not resign, explaining that the break-out was not caused by any policy initiative originating from him. This latter position has become the general norm in British politics.

A recent exception might be Estelle Morris, who resigned in 2002 saying she had not done well enough after a scandal over A-level marking. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/2359695.stm

Some recent resignations due to personal errors of judgment or impropriety (also under IMR) include the resignation of Ron Davies, the Secretary of State for Wales, for sexual misconduct (in 1998), and the resignation of Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, for failing to disclose a substantial loan by a Cabinet colleague (in 1999).

Erosion

There has been some academic debate about possible erosion of the doctrine of individual responsibility[citation needed]. Scandals during the years John Major was Prime Minister intensified this debate.

Arguably the doctrine has become outdated and fails to take into account the growth in the size of government since the formation of the doctrine.

Somewhat fine distinctions have also been argued to evade ministerial responsibility:

Responsibility/accountability

An argument put forward during the Scott Inquiry into the Arms to Iraq affair was a distinction between political responsibility and political accountability. The Premier has the same responsibilities as other Ministers in being subject to Cabinet collective responsibility. The Premier also has special responsibilities to: · advise the Queen on the appointment and dismissal of the Governor · advise the Governor on the appointment and dismissal of Ministers, either portfolio Ministers or delegate Ministers · advise the Governor on Executive Council meetings · control the agenda of Cabinet, require matters to be referred to Cabinet and for the operation of Cabinet. As Chair of Cabinet, the Premier can refer matters back to Ministers and request the amendment of submissions which do not comply with the standards established by this circular. The Premier also has a broad agency to bind the Government in any matter in the ordinary course of government administration.

Policy/operation

Michael Howard argued during a mid 90s prison scandal that he could be responsible for the political policy but not its operation.

Knowingly/unknowingly

In the aftermath of Arms to Iraq, it was argued that an MP did not knowingly mislead Parliament.

See also

References

External links


Ministerial responsibility or Individual ministerial responsibility is a constitutional convention in governments using the Westminster System that a cabinet minister bears the ultimate responsibility for the actions of their ministry or department. Individual ministerial responsibility is not the same as cabinet collective responsibility, which states members of the cabinet must approve publicly of its collective decisions or resign. This means that a motion for a vote of “no confidence” in a Parliament is not in order, should the actions of an organ of Government fail in the proper discharge of their responsibilities. Where there is ministerial responsibility, the accountable Minister is expected to take the blame, and ultimately resign. But the majority or coalition within Parliament of which the Minister is part, is not held to be answerable for that Minister’s failure.

This means that if waste, corruption, or any other misbehaviour is found to have occurred within a ministry, the minister is responsible even if the minister had no knowledge of the actions. A minister is ultimately responsible for all actions by a ministry. Even without knowledge of an infraction by subordinates the minister approved the hiring and continued employment of those civil servants. If misdeeds are found to have occurred in a ministry the minister is expected to resign. It is also possible for a minister to face criminal charges for malfeasance under their watch.

The principle is considered essential as it is seen to guarantee that an elected official is answerable for every single government decision. It is also important to motivate ministers to closely scrutinize the activities within their departments. One rule coming from this principle is that each cabinet member answers for their own ministry in Question Time/Question Period. The reverse of ministerial responsibility is that civil servants are not supposed to take credit for the successes of their department, allowing the government to claim them.

In recent years some commentators have argued the notion of ministerial responsibility has been eroded in many Commonwealth countries. While the doctrine is a constitutional convention there is no formal mechanism for enforcing the rule. Today ministers frequently use ignorance of misbehaviour as an argument for lack of culpability. While opposition parties rarely accept this argument, the electorate is often more accepting. Courts of the United Kingdom have become less likely to find ministers guilty when their individual knowledge of or involvement in a crime cannot be proved. In most other Commonwealth countries such cases are today hardly ever brought to trial.

Contents

Canada

In Canada ministerial responsibility has been reduced as it has become increasingly common for top level civil servants to be called before Parliament, bypassing the minister.

United Kingdom

It is currently unclear what individual action a Minister ought to take when a civil servant within his department is guilty of maladministration.

The formulation of some guidelines took place during the Crichel Down Affair in 1954 in which the Minister of Agriculture, Thomas Dugdale, resigned, despite an inquiry suggesting that all mistakes were made within his department without his knowledge, and in some cases due to deliberate deceit by civil servants; later it appeared that Dugdale in fact supported his civil servants' actions, and disagreed with both the inquiry report and the Government's acceptance of it.

The government announced that ministers must defend civil servants who act properly in accordance with policies set out by the minister. Furthermore, it was stated that "where an official makes a mistake or causes some delay, but not on an important issue of policy and not where a claim to individual rights is seriously involved, the Minister acknowledges the mistake and he accepts the responsibility although he is not personally involved."

In 1982, Lord Carrington (then Foreign Secretary) and two other Foreign Office ministers resigned shortly after the invasion of the Falkland Islands. Later official reviews stated that, although there had been misjudgments within the Foreign Office, no responsibility attached to any individual within the government. However, in 1983, when 38 IRA prisoners broke out of the Maze prison, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Prior did not resign, explaining that the break-out was not caused by any policy initiative originating from him. This latter position has become the general norm in British politics.

A recent exception might be Estelle Morris, who resigned in 2002 saying she had not done well enough after a scandal over A-level marking. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/2359695.stm

Some recent resignations due to personal errors of judgment or impropriety (also under IMR) include the resignation of Ron Davies, the Secretary of State for Wales, for sexual misconduct (in 1998), and the resignation of Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, for failing to disclose a substantial loan by a Cabinet colleague (in 1999).

Erosion

There has been some academic debate about possible erosion of the doctrine of individual responsibility[citation needed]. Scandals during the years John Major was Prime Minister intensified this debate.

Arguably the doctrine has become outdated and fails to take into account the growth in the size of government since the formation of the doctrine.

Somewhat fine distinctions have also been argued to evade ministerial responsibility:

Responsibility/accountability

An argument put forward during the Scott Inquiry into the Arms to Iraq affair was a distinction between political responsibility and political accountability. The Premier has the same responsibilities as other Ministers in being subject to Cabinet collective responsibility. The Premier also has special responsibilities to: · advise the Queen on the appointment and dismissal of the Governor · advise the Governor on the appointment and dismissal of Ministers, either portfolio Ministers or delegate Ministers · advise the Governor on Executive Council meetings · control the agenda of Cabinet, require matters to be referred to Cabinet and for the operation of Cabinet. As Chair of Cabinet, the Premier can refer matters back to Ministers and request the amendment of submissions which do not comply with the standards established by this circular. The Premier also has a broad agency to bind the Government in any matter in the ordinary course of government administration.

Policy/operation

Michael Howard argued during a mid 90s[vague] prison scandal that he could be responsible for the political policy but not its operation.

Knowingly/unknowingly

In the aftermath of Arms to Iraq, it was argued that an MP did not knowingly mislead Parliament.

See also

References

External links


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