Ministerial responsibility

Introduction to Ministerial Responsibility

  • Ministerial responsibility is a constitutional convention in governments using the Westminster System.
  • It holds that government ministers are held personally responsible for their actions and the actions of their department.

Individual Ministerial Responsibility

  • Individual Ministerial Responsibility means that ministers are responsible for both their own actions and those of their departments.
  • This includes policy failures and also issues such as misconduct or failures of administration.
  • If a serious mistake is made, the convention suggests that the minister should resign. This was the case with the Profumo affair in 1963.

Collective Ministerial Responsibility

  • Collective Ministerial Responsibility refers to the collective responsibility of ministers to Parliament.
  • This ensures all members of the government publicly support and defend governmental policies.
  • For instance, if a member of the government disagrees with a government policy, they must resign before they can publicly disagree.

Modern implications

  • The concept of ministerial responsibility is central in maintaining the accountability of government.
  • However, instances of ministers resigning due to the principle of ministerial responsibility have become less frequent in modern times.
  • It is now more common for civil servants to admit mistakes rather than for ministers to take responsibility, raising questions about the efficacy of the principle in the current political climate.

It is essential to remember that ministerial responsibility, including both individual and collective aspects, is a key accountability mechanism in the UK’s political landscape. It ensures integrity and responsibility in governance.