Ministerial Responsibility

The doctrine of ministerial responsibility states that ministers are ultimately responsible for the actions of their departments, even if they themselves are not directly involved. It is a doctrine that has been battered out of recognition in recent years – it is rare to find ministers resigning as a result of ministerial decision making, never mind that of anyone more junior. It may just, however, be re-emerging in a different form.

Geoff Hoon was the Defence Secretary who helped take us in to the Iraq war. He was also the minister responsible for all aspects of the armed forces, including their equipping. The British army, notoriously, was thoroughly ill-equipped when it was sent out on yet another dangerous foreign mission by this government. Now, Hoon may be called to give evidence at the inquest into the death of British tank commander Sgt. Steve Roberts. Roberts was killed shortly after being asked to give up his body armour because of shortages. Hoon apparently took eight weeks to authorize the issuing of body armour. The coronor in charge of the inquest has hinted that he may call Mr. Hoon to give evidence.

This is, of course, a long way from the traditional acceptance of ministerial responsibility, where the course of action should be for ministers to accept responsibility while still in office, and either resign or do something to improve matters. Hoon has a particularly wretched record, including his role in the David Kelly affair, but it would be satisfying, if ultimately unproductive, to see him squirming on the inquest stand as he tries to explain away at least one aspect of his incompetent performance as Defence Secretary.


Anonymous said…
whilst i agree that minsiters should be held responsible for major short comings of their department, this particular case of body armour shortages is a sticky one. why is it that while the british armed forces face ever increasing challenges, the prime minister in waiting/chancellor gordon brown insists on spending less and less on defence. it would be interesting to see if such budget cuts are responsible for this tradegy and if so, would the minister responsible (i.e. gordon brown) then be punished?

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