As government and Politics

Ministerial Responsibility

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Ministerial Responsibility

Individual Ministerial Responsibility

Ministers are responsible and are answerable to Parliament for all their departmental activities. They bear the consequences of any failure in administration and any aspect of a policy which is criticised in government.

IMR has two strands – ‘role responsibility’ and ‘personal responsibility’. Departmental ministers in the HOL are represented in the commons by someone qualified to speak on their behalf.

Role Responsibility

Ministers are responsible for four areas – policy leadership, managing departments, piloting legislation through parliamentary stages, representing departmental interests in Cabinet. These areas of responsibility are connected with the role played by ministers; they can be forced to resign due to failings in the performance of their role as head of a government department. An error of judgement can lead to resignation (although in practice it rarely does). They are responsible for decisions taken and also for decisions that aren’t taken. They are also held responsible for actions of subordinates as well.

Personal Responsibility

Ministers are responsible for their own personal conduct. They are expected to obey law like ordinary citizens and conventions of parliament (e.g. those relating to possible conflicts of interest). They are subject to a further set of rules of conduct to be used as a guideline on issues such as the holding of company shares and directorships. Ministers are under greater public scrutiny than MPs. Any irregularity in an MPs life can damage ministerial chances and the media are all willing to expose such information on MPs. Ministers can resign due to personal failing rather than relating to their performance as head of a government department.

What makes a minister resign?

  1. Media Coverage, Scandal

  2. Public/electorate unhappy

  3. Opposition against

  4. Lack of backbench support in own party

  5. Lack of Cabinet Support

May wish to spend more time with their families but this is often in conjunction with other reasons as most ministers will accept a post knowing they will have to make sacrifices, e.g. Alan Milburn in 2003.

Error of judgement – Lord Carrington resigned in 1982 over his failure to prevent the Falklands War in Argentina. This resignation type is due to considerable pressure from the media and opposition.

Abuse of Power – sexual/personal misconduct such as Ron Davies “moment of madness” at Clapham Common in October 1998.

Clash of Interests (due to some sort of business contract), Peter Mandelson mortgaged a house using a loan from another Labour minister which was illegal. He had little alternative but to resign

Difficulties in coping with the pressures of the job – in 2002, Estelle Morris publicly admitted she was not up to the job of Education Secretary – the government was trying to do too much too quickly in terms of education reforms.

For misleading the HOC – rare but not unknown. One of the few ministers to resign on this basis was Jonathan Aitken under Major’s government

David Blunkett’s biography was released whilst he was still serving on the cabinet which was extremely critical of many of his cabinet colleagues. Blunkett therefore lost the support of the Cabinet who were no longer prepared to protect him forcing him to resign.

Ministers rarely go immediately and they try and stand their ground and see the controversy out. They will hope to get the support of the PM and other government colleagues. If it is over problems with policy, the Cabinet will often say it is the whole government’s policy (extension of CMR) because the media wouldn’t bring the whole government down over an issue.

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