Background Woodhouse has noted that “individual ministerial responsibility

Background According to the convention of ministerial responsibility Ministers inform and explain, apologies or resign from parliament. A constitutional convention is a non legal rule, habit or practice which is generally followed by all those in similar circumstances.1 This practice has developed over the years through precedent and guidance. Until 1992 every Prime Minister would publish a document called Questions of Procedure for Ministers, John Major then decided that it should be published by the Cabinet Office, today it is known as Ministerial Code, first written by Tony Blair (Prime minister at that time) in 1997. Since the parliamentary resolutions of 1997, ministers have been under a clear obligation not to mislead Parliament. Introduction of increased focus by select committees on scrutiny on the implementation of government policy, as well as a 24-hour rolling news culture. The resulting visibility of senior civil servants has put the concept of ministerial responsibility under strain, according to a number of commentators. Ministerial code is a document containing set of rules and standards for the ministers in the United Kingdom2, most recent version was released in December 2016. The Code is currently administered by the Propriety and Ethics group within the Cabinet Office3. The Ministerial Code states that: ‘b. Ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments and agencies; c. It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister;’4 In 1996 Derek Lewis, the Director General of the Prisons Service was sacked by the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, following the release of a report by General John Learmont. The report, which focused on the escape of three prisoners from Parkhurst, criticised the Prison Service’s performance since becoming a government agency in 1992 under Mr Lewis’ guardianship. When this resignation was not forthcoming, Mr Lewis was dismissed. There was an Opposition motion censuring the Home Secretary for his actions on 19 October 1995. Mr Lewis issued a writ in the High Court alleging wrongful dismissal, and cataloguing a series of incidences where the home secretary became involved in the day-today running of the Prison Service. Professor Diana Woodhouse has noted that “individual ministerial responsibility had its origins in the need for Parliament to act as a check on Ministers, without having to resort to their impeachment, and in the recognition by Ministers that they must ultimately rely on the support of the Commons for their policies”.5 Ministers are individually responsible for the work of their departments and are answerable to Parliament for all their department’s activities.    Definition Collective Responsibility:  applies to all Ministers, all ministers have to follow cabinet decisions and is designed to ensure government’s unity. Therefore, if a minister cannot abide by a cabinet decision they must resign; eg, Robin Cook MP over the Iraq War (2005). There are some exceptions in cases where there have been agreements to differ or free votes as in the case of the AV and EU referendum. Individual Ministerial Responsibility:  is different form collective ministerial responsibility in a way that a Minister resigns in order to take responsibility for the actions of their department or for their own personal actions. This convention has been undermined through Civil Servants being fired instead – normally a Minster only resigns in this instance when there is a particular political and media pressure and increasingly it is due to personal conduct rather than taking responsibility for a failure with regards to their department. Examples of this type of resignation include Andrew Mitchell – plebgate (Oct 2012), Chris Huhne – speeding ticket case (Feb 2012). Therefore, whilst both are instances of Ministers resigning, there are key differences for the circumstances and reasoning for which they are used. They are both conventions based on the Ministerial Code of Conduct. However, as we saw especially during the coalition years, these conventions can and have been undermined during those years. Individual ministerial responsibility: There are four options available to a minister who has to comply with the convention of individual ministerial responsibility as follows; To inform and explain: First of all, ministers are supposed to inform and explain the parliament of their actions at all times within the sphere of their responsibility. Thus, ministers make statements (on their own initiative, through urgent questions, or through written ministerial statements for example) on all sorts of issues from transport accidents to proposed new policy initiatives, and make available detailed explanations through Parliamentary answers, consultation papers, white and green papers and so on. Apologise: Ministers who admit an error, of whatever kind, either by them personally or on behalf of their officials (e.g. Sivil Servants or organization under their ministry) , will usually be expected to apologise to Parliament, as part of a full explanation, whether or not a resignation or dismissal is involved. It is often said that the House of Commons is generous and forgiving to those Members and ministers who admit their mistakes, especially where the mistakes are not regarded as sufficiently serious for resignation. In appropriate cases an Opposition may only seek an apology rather than a resignation, or the House may accept an apology even when resignation has been demanded originally. Take action: A minister who is responsible for an unsatisfactory state of affairs (whether identified by themselves, by Parliament or by some form of inquiry) will be expected to take appropriate remedial steps to correct it and to ensure that it should not happen again. This applies whether or not any resignations or dismissals are involved. Resign: This is the ultimate accountability action and sanction. It is also the most difficult to categorise and explain. While the other actions noted above are essentially, in constitutional terms, administrative, executive actions, of ministers carrying out their ministerial duties to account in a substantive way to Parliament. The most obvious example is the resignation of the Neville Chamberlain as Prime minister following the outcome of the Norway debate in May 1940. Chamberlain had attempted to avert war by a policy of appeasement, abandoned only after Germany became more overtly expansionist with the annexation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. After Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Labour and Liberal parties refuse to serve under the leadership of Chamberlain and on Friday 10 May 1940 Chamberlain resigned and was succeeded as Prime Minister by Winston Churchill. Collective Ministerial Responsibility: Having discussed the individual responsibility of ministers now we will discuss Collective Responsibility. According to ministerial code:  ‘Collective responsibility 2.3 The internal process through which a decision has been made, or the level of committee by which it was taken should not be disclosed. Decision reached by the cabinet or ministerial committees are binding on all members of the government. They are, however, normally announced and explained as the decision of the minister concerned… 2.4 Matters wholly within the responsibility of a single minister and which do not significantly engage collective responsibility need not be brought to the cabinet or to have their advice. No definitive criteria can be given for issues which engage collective responsibility….it is the responsibility of the initiating department to ensure that proposals have been discussed with other interested departments and the outcome of these discussions should be reflected in the memorandum or letter submitted to cabinet or a cabinet committee.6’ It is not possible for a minister to not support government policy and to remain in office, if a minister unable to support government policy he is expected to resign and it applies even when minister was not part of the policy or committee where the policy was made. Whoever there is a concept of ‘free vote’ where some matters of public interest on which the government does not have a collective view. Those ministers who resign may make a personal statement on the floor of the Commons. Examples of disagreement of ministers with collective decision includes recently Baroness Warsi who resigned from the Coalition government in Aug 2014 because of government international policy over the issue of Israel-Gaza conflict and she could no longer support that policy, she said ‘ approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will be a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically.’  Robin Cook as mentioned earlier and Sir Geoffrey Howe (Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government) resigned as Deputy Prime Minister in Nov 1990 over government policy on the single currency of Europe and the general approach to EU.      Conclusion Even though there is a debate over the status of Ministerial Code and rules contained within it, it is as indispensable as the government’s manifesto. One view is that this code is only a statement by Prime Minister of his expectations from ministers. On this basis this code is nothing but a statement with no constitutional convention. On the other hand, the code has acquired a more important status over the years with convention and guidance. Latter view is popular and practical. However, ministers are always expected to give right information and be truthful to Parliament in order to get confidence of public in them and clear administration. Even for the Prime Minister it is extremely important to be informed accurately of the policies of their Ministers. Likewise, it is important for the ministers to be accountable in front of Parliament of their actions at all times. Therefor minister during their period of office are expected to be accountable individually and collectively of their actions to the parliament and ultimately to the public.