The united front. This is to promote public confidence

 

  The doctrine of
collective ministerial responsibilities is one of the significant conventions
in the United Kingdom as it is the skeletal to maintain good governance and for
the government to put up a united front. This is to promote public confidence
as well as political stability to prevent challenges to remain in office. PM
Theresa May has recently been asked to step down, it indirectly shows the lack
of confidence of her own ministers to her. According to Maitland, the origins
of ministerial responsibility came from the principle that ‘for every exercise
of royal power some minister is answerable’. 

 

  Marshall and Moodie
defined ministerial responsibility for which the ministers are responsible for
the general conduct of government ultimately. The doctrine of ministerial
responsibility is established as a convention, it is unwritten and
unenforceable in courts even though the courts recognized their existence as
per AG v Jonathan Cape. The question then arises, how ministerial
responsibilities is enforced if it in unenforceable in court. If the ministers
breach the doctrine of ministerial responsibilities, there will be political
consequences. They won’t be re-elected in the next election. There are two
aspects of ministerial responsibility: collective cabinet responsibility and
individual ministerial responsibility.

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  Collective Cabinet
Responsibility requires not only the Cabinet ministers but the Members of
Parliament as well to support all the decisions made in Cabinet, regardless
they privately agree or not. They must speak in one voice and maintain the
confidentiality of meetings as well. They are not allowed to publish or report
it to the public. In AG v Jonathan Cape, the Crossman diaries were
allowed to publish because it causes no threats to national security and
convention is not legally enforceable, the courts only recognized their
existence. Hence, injunction was not given, publication of the diaries was
allowed.

 

  Ministers are
permitted to voice out their views and disagreements only during the Cabinet
meetings. If they wish to criticize openly, they must resign their positions as
ministers. When they are not part of the cabinet, they can voice out their
views. For example, the late Robin Crook and Clare Short handed in their
resignation letters due to disagreements as to PM Tony Blair’s decision to drag
the UK into the Iraq War. They then openly opposed the Iraq War. This is
important because a government will be regarded as weak when they exhibit
public disagreements over policy matter. As discussed above, lead to political
instability.

 

  Another range of
collective cabinet responsibility is where when a vote of no confidence is
passed in Parliament, the entire government must resign because they
responsible collectively unless they manage to get a vote of confidence within
14 days. Margaret Thatcher has brought a vote of no confidence against James
Callaghan and won against him. This leads to a new general election.

 

  On the other hand,
this convention may be waived during referendums by the Prime Minister to
facilitate full and free public debate. The ministers can express their own
views without fear. Recently, this convention was lifted during the Brexit
referendum held on 23 June 2016 by PM David Cameron. PM Harold Wilson has waived
the convention in 1975 on issues of the UK’s continuance membership in the
European Union for open debates. However, note that the waivers were only
restricted to the single issue and the convention will be reinstated then.

 

  For coalition
government, certain documents were coming up to deal with the differences of
opinions between the coalition members (Conservative and Liberal Democrats).
One of the document is, Coalition: Our Programmes for Government (2010), five
areas of policy were set out where the ministers could speak against these
policies and the Member of Parliaments were given permission to abstain from
key votes. For example, policy regarding students’ fee increase and
transferable tax allowances for married couples (a Conservative manifesto
commitment). This seems to suggest the convention of collective ministerial
responsibility is flexible and it changes from time to time due to social
values.  PM Margaret Thatcher has
breached the convention when she formed an inner cabinet, however no action was
taken against her because she was powerful enough to control the whole Cabinet
and Parliament. This seems to be one of the disadvantages of the convention.
Another example is where three ministers: Tony Benn, Ewic Hether and Roy
Jenkins appeared on National TV without prior approval. This indirectly affects
the confidence of public.

 

  Individual
ministerial responsibility is where a minister bears the ultimate
responsibility for the conducts of his department and personal conducts. Departmental
conduct is where the minister take responsibility for the actions of his
department even the misconduct was not done by him. In Folklands Island War
1982, Lord Carrington lead the naval force against Argentina. It was found out
the deployment of naval force did not follow the proper preparation. While Lord
Carrington protesting allegations made against him, he resigned. Another example
can be seen in Crichel Down Estates 1954. The report prepared by the
Agricultural Land Commission was full of inaccuracy. Furthermore, they wrongly
believed they had no power of sale of the Crichel Estate and refused to consider
Mr. Marten’s matter, who want to claim back his property after being
compulsorily acquired by Air Ministry. Thomas Dugdale accepted the
responsibility for the wrongful decision and resigned.

 

  In 1989, Edwina
Curris made a statement that the eggs in UK were contaminated by the salmonella
virus. This caused plunge in the poultry industry. Later, they discovered the
report was flawed and she resigned for the false statement she made. However, this
doctrine seems to be uncertain. From 1954 to 1982, even though there are
numerous allegations made against defective departmental deficiencies, numerous
ministers do not resign. For example, James Prior did not resign in 1984, following
the escape of terrorists from Maze Prison. He argued he should not be
responsible for the operational failures of his officials. On the hand, some
ministers resigned, but their reasons to resign were varied and not necessarily
refer to individual ministerial responsibility. Alan Milburn (Health Secretary)
resigned in 2003, stating he wanted to spend more time with his family. In
Australia, Leesa Vlahos (Mental Health Minister) resigned after Oakden scandal,
however, she held that she resigned due to health issues.

 

 Regarding to personal
misconduct, recently, there are a few ministers in UK involved in sexual
harassment scandals. It was found there are pornography on a computer in his
parliamentary office and he had made unwanted advances towards Kate Maltby. The
main reason for his terminating is because his previous denials over the issues
of “pornography” were inaccurate and misleading. On the other hand, Michael
Fallon (Defense Secretary has resigned due to allegations of his inappropriate behavior
with woman. During an occasion, he had repeatedly touching the knee of Julia
Hartley-Brewer whereas the International Trade Minister, Mark Garnier had been
dismissed by PM Theresa May due to the allegations of him sending his secretary
to buy sex toys and calling her “sugar tits”. If these ministers were still
stay in Parliament, this will cause bad reputations to the government and
indirectly affect the public confidence. Another example will be John Profumo
(Minister of Defense), he was found having affairs with Christine Kealer and
Christine Kealer was having affairs with a Russian naval spy at the same time.
This cause threat to the national security. The main reason for his resignation
is because he lied when House of Commons questioned him, he was in contempt of the
House of Commons.

 

  As for scandals involving
financial probity, the infamous scandal will be Peter Mandelson. In 1988, he
resigned after the revelations that he accepted a personal loan from Mr.
Robinson (Secretary of State of Trade and Industry. He took the loan and bought
a house in UK. In 1999, he returned as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland,
he resigned again after the allegations of him interfered in the passport
application of a wealthy Indian businessman. It was found the Indian donated to
Millennium Dome which belongs to Mandelson. However, Mandelson was made a life
peer in 2008 and returned as the Head of Department for Innovation and Skill.
It seems to suggest even there are political consequences if they breach the
doctrine, people tend to forget, and they might get re-elected.

 

  Other examples of
individual responsibilities can be seen in Australia, where 5 Member of
Parliaments from Labor Party had been found to have dual citizenships. One of them
is Barbary Joyce, he refused to step down but then he was re-elected in
December 2017. John Alexander resigned after found out he might hold British
citizenship. In Malaysia, Chua Soi Lek, resigned his Health Minister’s post
after being embroiled in a sex tape scandal. However, it seems the ministers in
Malaysia lack of understandings to the importance of this democratic convention
and act contradicts to this convention. Waythamoorthy was been asked to resign
because he questioned the police force for the 5 alleged gangsters being killed.
It was held he contradicted the doctrine of ministerial responsibility. In
Malaysia, most likely, no resignation will take place because taking
responsibility for an opinion or failure is not a common practice in the
political sphere. For example, PM Najib Tun Razak refused to step down even he was
involved in the 1MDB scandals and the so called “donation” of £26
billion.

 

  In conclusion, this
doctrine is to protect the government from being dragged into scandals, a good
governance and accountability is promoted, and the integrity and reputation of
Ministry will be upheld. It seems the doctrine of ministerial responsibility is
very uncertain and different countries have different concepts and practices of
this doctrine. In United Kingdom, this doctrine is more strictly enforce compared
to a developing nation, i.e. Malaysia. Due to uncodified nature of UK
constitution, they do not have an exact list of what amounts to ministerial
responsibility. It based on the society value and as time passed, what is
unacceptable before might be acceptable today. Nowadays, where information is
readily available to public, the government should seriously enforce and uphold
the doctrine of ministerial responsibility in both individual and collective aspects.
It may be suggested people acts as the means to enforce the doctrine because if
the ministers fail to follow the doctrine, people may get upset and not to vote
for them in future, this amounts to political consequences- the main mechanism
to enforce convention.