The relationship between the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

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PM and Cabinet

1a) Define the terms ‘collective responsibility’ and ‘individual ministerial responsibility’.

1b) Explain why these concepts are important.

2a) Describe the main powers of the Prime Minister.

2b) Choose any 2 of these powers and explain why they are important.

1a) ‘Collective responsibility’ and ‘individual ministerial responsibility’ are terms applied to members of the Cabinet. This is the British executive, the group of ministers responsible for implementing government policy. ‘Collective responsibility’ is a convention, entailing the fact that all Cabinet ministers share responsibility for any decisions made by the Cabinet. Therefore, even if they are not in personal agreement, as a group of ministers, they have to show unanimous support. For example, with the current war on Iraq, Clare Short, the International Development minister, publicly declared her personal views against the war, but to remain a member of the Cabinet, she had to accept the decision and therefore is responsible along with the rest of the Cabinet for the decision. Conversely, Robin Cook, the former Leader of the Commons, resigned his post as he felt he could not comply with the convention, as his personal views were too strong. Collective responsibility also means that all the members of the Cabinet have a right to be present when decisions are made and have the right to make their views known at the time, but the view of the majority on the committee prevails.

Individual Ministerial Responsibility refers to the fact that ministers are directly responsible to Parliament for their departments and personal behaviour, with each department being answerable through the Permanent Secretary to the Minister. Parliament acts as a scrutineer, holding ministers to account, and they often have to protect themselves in the face of policy failures and mismanagement. This has been a problem in several cases, especially when there are negative consequences resulting from their actions. For example, escapes of information, such as the Jo Moore email following September 11th caused transport secretary Stephen Byers to reconsider his position, as did disasters such as the Rail Track failure. Similarly, allegations of sleaze can force ministers to resign. A notable example of this was Ron Davies, the Welsh Secretary, after a ‘moment of madness’ on Clapham Common. However, it is usually events on a bigger scale that have the greatest effect on ministers and compel the case for their resignation. Recent examples have included the educational blips made by Estelle Morris, the former Education Secretary, involving A-level results, Key Stage 3 results and top-up fees, and Neil Hamilton over the “Cash for Questions” and other sleaze allegations. The Exchange Rate Mechanism devaluation and exit prompted then Chancellor Nigel Lawson to quit, and in 1986 Michael Heseltine left the government because of the Westland Helicopters breakdown.

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1b) The issues of ‘Collective Responsibility’ and ‘Individual Ministerial Responsibility’ are equally important as it means that the most influential people who run the country can be held accountable for the things that they do, whether this is within the Cabinet or their own individual departments. The former is significant as it seeks to promote collegiality, solidarity and confidentiality within the formalised Cabinet structure. Similarly, the latter is vital as it ensures ministers are directly responsible to Parliament for their Departments and their personal behaviour.

The main functions of the Cabinet are in determining the policy submitted ...

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