Ministers and Parliament: Accountability in Theory and Practice

Ministers and Parliament: Accountability in Theory and Practice

Ministers and Parliament: Accountability in Theory and Practice

Ministers and Parliament: Accountability in Theory and Practice

Synopsis

In constitutional theory the convention of individual ministerial responsibility ensures the accountability of ministers to Parliament. In practice it is frequently used by government to limit rather than facilitate accountability. In this book Diana Woodhouse examines the divergence between theory and practice. She analyses the situations in which ministers resign, the effectivness of resignation as a means of accountability, and the abdication by ministers of responsibility. She also examines the powers and limitations of Select Committees, the effect of the new Next Steps Agencies on individual ministerial responsibility, and draws comparisons with mechanisms of accountability adopted by other countries operating under the Westminster system of government. The inclusion of detailed case studies of the resignations, actual and threatened, of Lord Carrington, Leon Brittan, Edwina Currie, David Mellor, James Prior, and Kenneth Baker make this book especially pertinent to our understanding of the current political scene and to recent institutional changes within Parliament and government. By highlighting the present deficiencies and possible future failing in public accountability Dr Woodhouse's study provides an essential complement to recent debates about constitutional reform.

Excerpt

This book is concerned with the accountability of ministers during the 1980s, and the institutional changes within Parliament and the government which have affected, or are likely to affect, its operation. It is based upon the premiss that British government is accountable government and that the mechanisms for achieving accountability are derived from the convention of individual ministerial responsibility. Hence ministers have a constitutional duty to account to Parliament, or more accurately the House of Commons; conversely, Members of Parliament have a constitutional duty to ensure that ministers comply with this obligation. However, in practice the dominance of Parliament by the executive means that accountability works unevenly, and in many respects, despite the reform of the select committee system, does not meet the objectives of the constitutional doctrine. the effectiveness of the traditional model of accountability is also tested by the complexity of modern government and the establishment of Next Steps agencies to improve the delivery of public services. These have raised questions about the practicality of a convention which requires the minister to be the vehicle for public accountability.

The failure of the practice to match the constitutional theory is evident in the examination undertaken in Part One of the development and content of the convention of individual ministerial responsibility. the effect upon accountability of this divergence is then pursued, first in Part Two with reference to ministerial resignations, which, it is argued, have a constitutional basis, but do not always fulfil the constitutional requirement of accountability, in the sense of 'giving an account'. Indeed, at times the resignation of a minister seems to be a means of evading such accountability. Secondly, it is demonstrated in Part Three with reference to institutional changes of the 1980s--that is, the reform of the select committee system and the establishment of Next Steps agencies. in the case of select committees, it is shown that ministerial responsibility may be used to prevent accountability . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.