Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Ministerial Responsibility

UK Constitutional textbooks often refer to a doctrine known as "Ministerial Responsibility". In fact there are two closely related, but different doctrines. One is the doctrine of "Individual Ministerial Responsibility", the other is "Collective Ministerial Responsibility"

Some interesting illustrations of the two different doctrines of Ministerial Responsibility were seen in the House of Commons on Monday 20th Feb.

After a Statement on the Border Agency, the Opposition Spokesperson - the "Shadow Home Secretary" made the following comments -

"The implications of that for our border are very serious, yet the Home Secretary continues to hide. She has hidden behind a report and not set out its full consequences, just as she has blamed officials, hidden from the media and hidden behind spurious statistics. In opposition, she said of a former Immigration Minister:

“I’m sick and tired of…government ministers…who simply blame other people when things go wrong.”

That is what she is doing now. It is time for her to stop hiding and to take responsibility for things that have happened on her watch: the unclear instructions from her office, the policy decisions to downgrade our border controls, the failure to monitor and check what was going on, and her failure to take responsibility. This mess escalated on her watch with every month that went by. Unless she accepts responsibility for this fiasco, she will fail to sort it out and she will fail to reassure the House that she can cope with future fiascos and that she is the Home Secretary to keep our borders secure."

Here Yvette Cooper was articulating the traditional view of 'Individual Ministerial Responsibility' - the Minister was responsible to Parliament for the actions of her Department.

Earlier the BIS Secretary (Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills)was being challenged on a decision to appoint Professor Les Ebdon as the 'Director of Fair Access'

The Opposition Spokesperson had said "the distinct impression has been given that this appointment has been secured as part of some trade-off in the ongoing turf war in Government over higher education policy. Is that the case? It has been well briefed that the Education Secretary is thoroughly opposed to this appointment and, indeed, to the Business Secretary’s continued responsibility for our universities. The sector needs certainty in order to plan, and this turf war is deeply unhelpful. We are firmly of the view that higher education policy should remain the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. What assurances can he give us that that will remain the case?"

The BIS Secretary reasserts the Doctrine of Collective Responsibility - "On the hon. Gentleman’s first, rather desperate, point about turf wars, let me make it absolutely clear that this is a Government appointment that is supported by all my colleagues, and that responsibilities for higher education will remain exactly as they are."