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To what extent does ministerial responsibility ensure accountability to the government?

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Introduction

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW Madiha T. Khan Q) To what extent does ministerial responsibility ensure accountability to the government? A) Accountability is the liability assumed by all those who exercise authority to account for the manner in which they have fulfilled responsibilities entrusted to them, a liability ultimately to the Canadian people owed by Parliament, by the government and thus, every government department and agency. It is the essence of any democratic form of government. One of the fundamental principals of a democratic society is that the government must be accountable to the people. Such accountability is usually exercised through Parliament. Every Minister is ultimately accountable for their portfolio to Parliament and therefore in turn responsible to the electorate. The realization of this responsibility is undertaken upon the assumption of office. There are two main types of ministerial responsibility: Collective and Individual. And each plays its part in helping to ensure accountability to the government. Collective ministerial responsibility means that members of the government must support agreed government policies or resign; and that if the government is defeated in the Commons on a motion of no confidence then all ministers must resign. This is the main convention guiding the operation of the Cabinet. ...read more.

Middle

This is a chief strain upon the operation of the convention of collective ministerial responsibility reducing the extent of accountability due to the government through this convention. Less collective decision making e.g. advisers and cabinet committees. The Westland crisis of 1986 came to a head because Michael Heseltine believed that the Cabinet should have had a fuller consideration on the options. A most recent example of resignation due to collective responsibility is of Robin Cook and others over the Iraq war, March 2003. Here the House of Commons leader disagreed with PM Tony Blaire decisions of supporting America in a war against Iraq and his disagreement with the otherwise collectively supported stance of government led him to resign. Individual ministerial responsibility can be divided into two sub-components. First a minister must answer to Parliament for any wrong doings that is done by their department while at the same time defend the actions of their department. These two elements combined ensure that Ministers are ultimately held accountable. This is especially held true when matters that are done properly under his instructions or in accordance with governmental policy. ...read more.

Conclusion

Similarly, it is quite difficult to hold responsible one particular minister for actions in a certain department as obviously, none would come forward with a confession or accept responsibility and blame. Thus in my opinion, being a convention, the concept of ministerial responsibility has become more of a formality rather than a regulation of magnitude. As seen from the stated examples, ministers are still publishing memoirs, revealing Cabinet discussions, which this convention wants to prevent. Relaxations of the rules have allowed PM to waive this convention when he feels the need arise. At the same time, the government feels that it is virtually impossible to hold one individual minister responsible for certain actions. Even though the violation of the convention does not bring legal sanctions, its breach can give rise to political sanctions. Thus the idea of a resignation or of political disrepute can play its role in persuasive answerability of ministers to the government. However, its attempts to provide a unified Parliament are successful where it compels ministers to support the government's stance and takes away those who do not support. Thus overall, even though some practices have taken away the power of this convention to control ministers, it does aim to provide an accountable and responsible Parliament, if abided by. __________________________________________________ ...read more.

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