Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Ministerial Responsibility

The central constitutional doctrine of Ministerial Responsibility is a topic of interest for Parliament this week. Tomorrow (13th February) there will be a debate in Westminster Hall [14.30 to 16.00] on ‘Collective Ministerial responsibility’. During this period Baroness Miller of Hendon, a former Government Whip, will “ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the constitutional convention of cabinet collective responsibility as confirmed in the Ministerial Code remains in force” as the first of the daily questions in the House of Lords.

The Ministerial Code (which I have supplied to all my Open University W201 Students, but is available to all at http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/content/ministerial-conduct-and-guidance) sets out the doctrine and its applicability. In summary – “The principle of collective responsibility, save where it is explicitly set aside, requires that Ministers should be able to express their views frankly in the expectation that they can argue freely in private while maintaining a united front when decisions have been reached. This in turn requires that the privacy of opinions expressed in Cabinet and Ministerial Committees, including in correspondence, should be maintained.”

There are two aspects to the doctrine of Ministerial Responsibility – Collective, as set out above – and individual. The latter means that the Minister is responsible to Parliament for the work done (or that should have been done) by his department.

The current (10th) edition of Allen and Thompson’s ‘Cases and Materials on Constitutional and Administrative Law’ contains some very good material on the subject (pages 206 to 228). If you have time, it is worth consulting the original material, rather than the excerpts. Parliamentary Material can be found at (General : Hansard: Select Committee Reports) and Government material at (General: White (& other Command) Papers).

If you want to watch Wednesday’s business – the best site to visit is Parliament Live, which despite the name keeps archives.

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