The Principle of Collective Responsibility
Meaning of Collective Responsibility
The principle of collective responsibility states that the ministers are responsible collectively for the consideration, determination and coordination of the main lines of policy and for the conduct of the departments of government, each minister is also responsible for the management of his individual department.
In simple terms, the principle of Collective Responsibility means that a minister must accept a cabinet decision or resign, and if he does not resign, it is his decision just as his colleagues.
It is a principle of government which emphasises that all ministers, including the prime minister, are collectively bound by the decision of the cabinet in spite of individual opinion. The principle is practised mainly in cabinet system of government.
Significance of The Principle of Collective Responsibility
The principle of collective responsibility has been applied to the day-today activities of ministers such as making of speeches, inspection of ministerial projects and planning.
The reasons behind collective responsibility become even more obvious when applied to the planning and execution of government projects.
In budgeting, for example, the needs of the various ministries are often considered together and two or more ministers may comment or make suggestion on a particular need which may not even be in their ministry. In the end, a government budget which has the inputs of several ministers is finalized.
Examples of Application of the Principle of Collective Responsibility
The cabinet goes before parliament as a united body. The cabinet swims and sinks together. While a minister can speak against any proposal at a cabinet meeting, he Inu st either support the policy decided upon or resign.
There are several instances in Britain, for example, in which ministers have resigned their portfolio because they disagree with government policies.
A few illustrations are listed below:
#1. – During the war between Ethiopia and Italy in 1935, fifty members of the League of Nations, in an attempt to stop the war, drew up a plan to weaken Italy by refusing to buy from or sell to her. Sir Samuel Hoare, the British Foreign Minister, had to resign his post and leave the cabinet because the plan did not receive parliamentary support. Anthony Eden, the new Foreign Minister, wished the government would stand firm in resisting Italy’s foreign policy. When the Prime Minister failed to support him, he too resigned.
#2. – In 1996, Frank Coussin, a minister resigned over the Prices and Income Bill.
#3. – Francis Pym resigned as Foreign Secretary in 1982 over the Falklards War in which both Britain and Argentina fought for the control of the Falklands Islands.
#4. – More recently, the British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, threw in the towel in 2003 because of disagreement over the Second Gulf War. He was obviously not in support of the engagement of British traps on the side of the Allied Forces put together by the United States.
Factors Promoting The Principle Of Collective Responsibility
The principle of collective responsibility is sustained by the following conditions.
- Party Manifesto: A party’s manifesto which is sold to the electorate during electioneering contains the programmes which the party intends to follow if elected into office. It is binding on all party members and groups including the cabinet. What the cabinet does is simply to follow or fill in details of such programmes drawn up by all prominent members of the party. It is therefore not likely that members of the cabinet will deviate widely from such programmes during implementation.
- Nature of the Party System: In a two-party system, each of the two dominant parties has members who share Similar political views and this also applies to the cabinet which comprises like-minded individuals with similar objectives in mind, and who are likely to look at issues from the same perspective. This explains why there is a strong tendency for collective responsibility in their policies and programes.
- Party Discipline: Rigid party discipline ensures that all party members support major cabinet decisions. Because of internal discipline in the party, the govemmentcan always obtain a majority vote in parliament.
- Fused Interests of Cabinet Ministers: The fact that the defeat of a minister on any major issue represents a defeat of the government may compel the cabinet to be united before parliament. They have a rested interest in retaining power and controlling the state apparatus.
- Pragmatic Policies: If there are severe and widespread criticisms of a government policy, or if a policy is likely to create a possible split in the government, the government may shelve or modify the policy. Pragmatism here implies doing that which is workable, but may not be necessary.
Exceptions To The Principle Of Collective Responsibility
In practical terms, the principle of collective responsibility means that every member of the government must be prepared to support all Cabinet decisions both inside and outside parliament.
If the Prime Minister feels that a major policy will not get the support of party members in parliament, he can call for the dissolution of parliament. There are two exceptions to this rule.
- The principle is not applicable to a minister’s responsibility for the acts of his permanent secretary and senior officials of the ministry.
- The personal mistakes of a minister are not covered by this rule.