Debate on ministerial responsibility


The Coalition government has been accused of abandoning the principle of collective ministerial responsibility.

Leading a Westminster Hall debate on 13 February 2013, the Conservative MP for Christchurch, Christopher Chope, said the longstanding principle had been abandoned over issues such as boundary changes and reform of the House of Lords.

Collective ministerial responsibility is a convention by which all members of the Cabinet publicly support a governmental decision made in Cabinet.

There has been less clarity over the application of the convention since the coming to power in 2010 of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

Mr Chope said he had questioned Prime Minister David Cameron over the whether the principle had been abandoned, but said he had received no answers.

His Conservative colleague Julian Lewis said the issue showed the "undemocratic" nature of coalitions, arguing that manifesto commitments that the coalition partner disagreed on were "ripped up".

However Liberal Democrat MP Sir Nick Harvey said the rules of government were by their nature different under a coalition.

He accused Conservative critics such as Mr Chope of "having an aversion to change".

There was also criticism of the coalition government from Labour MP John Cryer, who said "you either back collective responsibility or you don't, you can't have it both ways".

Winding up the debate, Cabinet Office Minister Chloƫ Smith, said that there were numerous historical examples of collective responsibility being set aside.

She pointed to numerous votes over "conscience" issues, as well as the decision by Harold Wilson to allow his Cabinet to campaign on either side of the 1975 referendum on the UK's membership of the then EEC.

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