Cabinet and Ministry:
The characteristics of the Cabinet system is that the members of the Cabinet belong either the House of Commons or to the House of Lords. If at the time of appointment, a minister does not belong to either of the two houses, he must either be created a Peer or returned to the House of Commons from some constituency. According to Professor Munro
‘Cabinet may briefly be defined as the body of Royal advisors chosen by the Prime Minister in the name of the Crown, with the approval of a majority in the House of Commons.’
A distinction can be made between the Cabinet and the Ministry. All members of Parliament who hold important executive posts and resign along with the Cabinet from the ministry. On the other hand, the Cabinet consists of a smaller number of ministers. The Cabinet is an inner circle within the Ministry. According to Sir Sidney:
‘For the Ministerial and administrative cabinet collectively responsible to Parliament, officered and recruited entirely from the Parliamentary circle, intimately related to the House of Common, framed on rigid party lines and conferring with absolute secrecy, we have a cabinet which is not a ministry and a ministry which is not a cabinet,; a cabinet which directs but does not administer; a ministry which has exchanged collective responsibility for individual responsibility……………. ’
Ministerial responsibility is designed to ensure that government acts in accordance with the principles of the constitution and is fully accountable to the electorate through Parliament.
The principle of ministerial responsibility has a three-fold application. In the 1st place the ministers are responsible to the king. Secondly, the ministers are responsible to one another. Thirdly, ministers are responsible to House of Commons, not to House of Lords. The great power which has over the Govt. is that the minister who makes the decision, has to come to the dispatch box and explain his reasons. He can then be questioned by members, praised, criticised or attacked.
Collective ministerial responsibility
In order that the government is seen to be united and strong, collective ministerial responsibility requires all ministers to support a policy once it has been adopted by the Cabinet. If a government fails to maintain the support of Parliament, the opposition parties may call for a ‘Vote of No Confidence’ in government policy and if that vote is lost, by convention the government must resign. There are two aspects to the convention. The first is that all Cabinet discussions are, and must remain, absolutely confidential. The second rule is that once the decision is taken, every minister even if he or she dissents or was not even party to the decision – must outwardly support that decision. The convention extends to Parliamentary Private Secretaries, the lowest rung on the ministerial ladder. Any expression of dissent calls for resignation or dismissal. Holding ministers to a common position is not always easy. In times of disagreement over key issues it has been the practice, though it is rare, to waive or lift the convention to allow free debate. This occurred twice in the last century, once over the state of the economy in the 1930s and once in the 1970s over membership of the European Community. On both occasions, once there had been full public debate and a consensus formed, the convention was restored.
Individual ministerial responsibility
As with collective responsibility, there are two aspects to this concept. The first is that a minister is expected to conduct himself or herself in an appropriate manner. Any financial or sexual misconduct may lead to demands for resignation. The second aspect is that a minister is accountable to Parliament for the management of his or her government department. It used to be the case that any serious failures in policy or administration would result in a minister’s resignation. However, the position is nowadays by no means clear-cut. The main reason for this is that a distinction has been developed between responsibility for policy failures and responsibility for operational matters, with ministers refusing to take the blame for administrative failures. Accordingly, the idea of ministerial responsibility has become divorced from the sanction of resignation for departmental failures and it is more accurate to speak of ministerial ‘accountability’ rather than ‘responsibility’, other than where a minister is personally at fault.