Cabinet ministers

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.

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 to Parliament, controlling the national executive in accordance with the policy prescribed by Parliament and the continuous coordination and delimitation of the activities of the several Departments of the State. As well as this, the Cabinet plans the business of Parliament, provides political leadership for the party, in Parliament and in the country, and it arbitrates in cases of disputes between departments.

It is within these defined roles that their responsibilities are necessary and important as it ensures that they are held accountable to Parliament and the population. As the determiners and implementers of public policy, individual ministerial responsibility is particularly important for the ministers who are concerned with it. For example, any ruling on the NHS would leave health minister Alan Milburn responsible, if there were any detrimental effects. However due to collective cabinet responsibility, the whole Government would be liable if there was any damage.

A responsible government must display public unity over decisions taken and this therefore makes the concepts very important in this area. In terms of their role in the coordination and delimitation of departmental activities, once again both of the roles are extremely crucial; however the aspect of individual ministerial responsibility is particularly rife. For example, when the Transport department could not solve the problems with Rail Track, Stephen Byers was forced into resignation, as he had to take overall responsibility for his department.

Collective responsibility is essential in planning the business of the Parliament, as this is the arena in which the political views of the population are aired. If the Cabinet decides to leave of the agenda several vital issues, then they will suffer the wrath of the opposition and other scrutineers. Similarly, as their party leaders in Parliament, their own members will look to them to represent them and show a united front, and so they will all have to take a collective responsibility for their actions henceforth.

If ministers leak disagreements, such as Clare Short about the ensuing War on Iraq, then the party appears weak to the members and to the wider public, which could prove to be very damaging for the party. Again, individual ministerial responsibility becomes important if we look closely at executive ministers private affairs, as any who make serious breaches of basic human conduct or standards can be dealt with constitutionally, rather than allowing them to get away with whatever they have done.

Overall the concepts of 'collective responsibility' and 'individual ministerial responsibility' are clearly important in ensuring that there is a responsible government. For this to be true, they must firstly have the confidence of Parliament, which can generally be ascertained by abiding to their promises and ensuring high stands, and secondly must display public unity over decisions taken on public policy. Clearly, through the previously outlines roles played by the Cabinet and indeed everyone on the government payroll, the big two notions are undoubtedly crucial.

2a) The office of Prime Minister only originated due to the inability of several foreign Kings to lead Cabinet meetings. Therefore, mainly for this reason, the role of the Prime Minister is not constitutionally defined. He is the first among equals (primus inter pares), but ultimately is elevated far above the rest. Briefly, the roles of the Prime Minister are heading the executive and consequently government policy, leading his party inside and outside of Parliament and being Britain's senior representative out of seas. In addition, he is also the countries head appointing officer.

To fulfil his job, the Prime Minister has several powers which he can utilise: Firstly, he has the power of appointment, whereby he appoints all ministers and subsequently promotes, demotes, dismisses. This means that after an election he is able to appoint whoever he likes to fill all the government positions, and decide who does what in Cabinet. He appoints the chairmen of Cabinet committees, which is now increasingly important. This power means that he is able to take an unelected member of the House of Lords, and get them controlling several Government think tanks.

This has become increasingly evident with Lord Falconer operating as the head of several Home Office committees, and Lord Simon working with BP in the trade department. Equally, he approves choice of ministers' parliamentary private secretaries as these are the people who will soon be making their way up the ladder through the party lines. He also has other patronage powers, for example appointing chairmen of commissions, recommending knighthood, peerages and sundry other awards.