It has been countered, however, that civil servants all too readily use the disproportionate cost defence as a refusal to answer a question. 16 hough alludes to the incident of March 2002 when information was deemed unavailable to answer a parliamentary question from Steve webb. Following an enquiry into the department under the data Protection Act it was discovered that the information was indeed available at the time he asked the question. 17 Unfortunately, recent parliamentary questions have continued to evince numerous instances where refusals are made on the grounds of disproportionate costs, or unavailability of information. A case in point is the unanswered question of how many victims from human trafficking have been returned to their home countries. 18 Suspicions are raised over the convenient dismissal of a question which confronts a controversial topic. A further example is seen in the recent pq session when there was no mention of the contentious issue of house arrest owing to the time lapse of putting down questions. 19 Moreover, a parliamentary question revealed only 76 of ordinary written questions, and 35 of named day questions were answered.
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This, however, undermines the independence and integrity of essay the work of select committees. Admittedly, there is a fine line between ministers legitimately blaming civil servants on the one hand, and unreasonably attributing blame in order to shirk culpability on the other. 13 Unfortunately, the existing procedures are best not sufficiently independent to allow this fine line to be judged accurately. Nicholas Sturgeon, in a parliamentary question, called for the extension of the Freedom of Information legislation to cover civil servants advice to ministers. This was dismissed by jack McConnell as a silly suggestion. 14 As long as entrenched secrecy galvanises the procedures which scrutinise ministers and their departments the system will remain forever ineffective. Parliamentary questions are allocated for Members of Parliament to question ministers and can be divided into two broad categories; questions with notice and questions without notice. Questions over the Tsunami disaster typified the ineffectiveness of questions as a tool of scrutiny. They failed to address critical issues burning in the minds of the British public; the governments initial frugal aid offers, the deployment of ships and aircraft which may have helped, and the British victims who werent helped home. 15 Thus questions can only begin to effectively scrutinise the executive when ministers direct them to the issues of the day. A further disadvantage of Parliamentary questions is that MPs can refrain from answering the question if the cost of a research exercise exceeds 600.
On the one hand, ministers, by essay definition, should know what is going on in their department. On the other hand, however, it may be logistically impossible for a minister to be responsible for every action of their employees. Woodhouse addresses this contradiction. She takes a holistic approach whereby any investigation into a ministers wrong doing should seek to establish responsibility beyond the stop gap of operational matters toward policy. 12 Unfortunately existing procedures designed to scrutinise the executive stop at operational level. This serves to exonerate ministers from any wrong doing. Ministers control departmental and select committee inquiries. In this role they can ensure their lack of culpability.
The question of when resignation is necessary is very subjective and is steered by politics, and, to an paper increasing degree, the public reaction of the day. The issue of Ministers blaming their civil servants is central to the distinction between accountability and responsibility. Sir Allans report reiterated this point; I have not been able to determine whether Mr Blunkett gave any instructions in relation paper to the case8 This leaves room for blame to be apportioned to his civil servants who become convenient scapegoats in the affair. The problem with separating accountability and responsibility is that it opens up a chasm where no-one is directly responsible to parliament, even though a minister remains responsible. 9 looking to the lessons of history, the Scott report identified the key to ministerial responsibility is the obligation to give information. 10 Blunketts department did not, however, take heed of this advice when his department failed to provide the information required for a conclusive investigation. 11 It is fair to say that the veracity of ministers is at the crux of a democracy.
Moreover, sir Alan, the appointed head of the Blunkett inquiry, was Blairs old treasury colleague. Here the circular principle of accountability is clearly played out. Drawing on historical examples, neither Sir Thomas Dugdales resignation over the Crichel Down Affair in 1854, nor Lord Carringtons resignation in 1982 were a result of their vicarious liability for civil servants actions. It is necessary for ministers to reign when there is a serious departmental error owing to their supervisory role. 6 This would give a firmer definition to the malleable concept of ministerial responsibility and accountability which would shed the cloak for a lot of ministerial muddle and slip shoddery within department. 7 Maxwell Fyfe, following Crichel Down, categorised the minister relationship with his civil servant in relation to the ministers responsibility to parliament. He crucially neglected a conclusion over the obligation of ministers to resign for departmental errors. History thus sets no precedent to follow.
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The diametric between responsibility and accountability will be attacked and used to frame the critical discussion of the shortcomings of parliamentary questions and select committees. Setting historic inquiries against recent examples will illustrate that procedures have not evolved essay to become anymore effective in forcing remedial action in the form of resignations. The benchmark defining the necessary conditions for a ministers resignation will also be looked. Ministers resign for three reasons. First, they are to blame for their errors. Second, they mislead Parliament. Third, they lose the support of their Prime minister.
The david Blunkett affair, which saw Blunkett investigated for abusing his ministerial position, is testament to tony Blair being the ultimate decision maker in the process of a ministers resignation. Similarly, the Scott Inquiry was conducted on behalf of the Prime minister instead of for Parliament. 3 Instead of ministerial accountability to parliament, accountability to the Prime minister is played out time and time again. The pm himself is further weakly accountable to parliament. 4 This circular system ultimately undermines all procedures designed writing to scrutinise the executive.
Conventions can be defined as accepted custom and practise. They are though open to interpretation. Cr was suspended over the av referendum and this would suggest that neither is set in stone. The importance of cr for electoral purposes is also clear: a divided government is unlikely to win votes. As was once said, the government needs to hang together, if they are to avoid hanging alone.
Using relevant examples, critically assess the extent to which existing procedures enable parliament to obtain an explanation of ministerial departmental conduct and if necessary force remedial action. Scrutiny of the government and administration is done by; parliamentary questions, debates, select committees, national finance and scrutiny of the legislative function through standing committees. The overlap of the Executive, legislature, and Judiciary defines the lack of a separation of powers in the United Kingdom. 1 It is imperative in a democracy for the executive to be accountable to parliament. This ensures the power balance is monitored and the rule of law is observed fairly. The term ministerial departmental conduct encompasses the actions of both Ministers and their civil servants. It is thus pertinent to delineate the governments distinction between ministers accountability and responsibility to parliament. After reading myriad interpretations of this distinction2, my understanding is that ministers are responsible to parliament for their actions and those of their departments, but not actually blameworthy, or in other words accountable, for the actions of their civil servants.
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Alistair Campbell (Blairs spin doctor) suggested if ministers can withstand the media barrage for more than a week, they can stay in office. Mitchells future was in the balance in this regard for a brief period of time. Support from the Prime minister allowed shredder him to stay in office temporarily. There are then clear differences between the two conventions. While cr seems to be very important today, ministers do not always resign over departmental failure, suggesting imr is weaker. When ministers have to resign they often return to cabinet after a certain amount of time penance on the backbenchers. David Laws has just been re-appointed in the latest reshuffle. Mandelson made a similar comeback under Brown. The varying importance of these conventions illustrates their nature.
Ministers must ensure they adhere to the ministerial code and the nolan principles of integrity in government. For this reason both liam Fox (Defence) and david Laws (Assistant Secretary at the Treasury) had to resign; david Blunkett and Peter Mandelson resigned from cabinet due to breeches of the ministerial code. Ministers are also expected to be competent. In the last year, hague (Foreign Secretary) and Lansley (Health) were able to survive despite significant criticisms about their sandals abilities as ministers. Hague was criticised over uk policy to libya during the Arab Spring and Lansley over the nhs reforms. Mitchell also faced questions over the recent spat with the police at the downing Street gates. Ministers are sometimes able to weather the storm if they have the backing of the Prime minister.
about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands. Honesty :holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest. Leadership :holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example. The significance of this convention seems less clear cut. Theresa may refused to accept responsibility for the failings of the border Control Agency and she blamed Brodie clark for the relaxation of controls. She remained in office. The notion that a minister may have to resign for the mistakes of others seems to be flawed in terms of common sense and it could be said that this aspect of imr has been diluted. Other aspects though remain a potent force.
Individual Ministerial Responsibility (IMR) is another convention which states that ministers must: Accept responsibility for the actions of their department. Behave appropriately in their personal life and. Be competent, the seven Principles of Public Life, known as the nolan Principles, were defined by the committee for Standards in Public Life. They are: Selflessness : holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends. Integrity : holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations yardage that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties. Objectivity : in carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
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The convention is needed to maintain a united public face in order to ensure confidence and public support is maintained for the government. There may be disagreement in private, but everybody must sing from the same hymn sheet presentation in public. If a minister is unable to do this, they must resign from the government. A striking feature of the coalition government since 2010 has been its unity. The coalition agreement set out a range of policies, which both parties have adhered to - the liberal Democrats even reneged on their pre-election pledge not to raise tuition fees. Disagreements that have been evident have been relatively minor, for instance vince cable is rumoured to have been sceptical of certain austerity measures but has maintained support for Osbornes policies, as was recently evidenced at the lib Dem conference. In the recent past, Clare Short and Robin cook both resigned from the cabinet over the Iraq war. However, the absence of notable resignations and the unity of the coalition government would tend to suggest that the convention of collective responsibility remains a significant force in government today.