Cabinet collective responsibility

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Not to be confused with Collective responsibility.

Cabinet collective responsibility is constitutional convention in governments using the Westminster System that members of the Cabinet must publicly support all governmental decisions made in Cabinet, even if they do not privately agree with them. This support includes voting for the government in the legislature. Some Communist political parties apply a similar convention of democratic centralism to their central committee.

Cabinet collective responsibility is related to the fact that, if a vote of no confidence is passed in parliament, the government is responsible collectively, and thus the entire government resigns. The consequence will be that a new government will be formed, or parliament will dissolve and a general election will be called. Cabinet collective responsibility is not the same as individual ministerial responsibility, which states that ministers are responsible and therefore culpable for the running of their departments.

In the United Kingdom, the doctrine applies to all members of the government, from members of the cabinet down to Parliamentary Private Secretaries. Its inner workings are set out in the Ministerial Code. On occasion, this principle has been suspended; most notably in the 1930s when in Britain the National Government allowed its Liberal members to oppose the introduction of protective tariffs; and again when Harold Wilson allowed Cabinet members to campaign both for and against the 1975 referendum on whether the UK should remain in the European Economic Community. In 2003, Tony Blair allowed Clare Short to stay in the cabinet, despite her public opposition to the 2003 Iraq War. However, she later resigned.

The convention appears to have been partially suspended under the Conservative - Liberal Democrat Coalition Government of Prime Minister David Cameron, with Liberal Democrat ministers such as Vince Cable frequently publicly criticising the actions of Conservative Cabinet members.

In Canada, the cabinet is on rare occasion allowed to freely vote its conscience and to oppose the government without consequence, as occurred with the vote on capital punishment under Brian Mulroney. These events are rare and are never on matters of confidence. The most prominent Canadian cabinet minister to resign because he could not vote with the cabinet was John Turner, who refused to support wage and price controls. In Canada, party discipline is much tighter than in other Westminster-system countries; it is very rare for any MP to vote counter to the party leadership. Similarly, in Australia on occasional issues (such as the 1999 republic referendum), there may be a conscience vote where any MP may vote as they wish, but these issues are rare and never tied to official party policy, and normally party discipline is very tight as it is in Canada.

Collective responsibility is not circumvented by appointing Ministers Outside of Cabinet,[1] as has occurred in New Zealand where, from 2005 to 2008, Winston Peters and Peter Dunne were Ministers outside of Cabinet, despite their parties not being considered part of a coalition.

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  1. ^ Cabinet Office Cabinet Manual 2008 (Wellington, 2008) para 3.20