The accountability of the government to Parliament is governed by the convention of individual ministerial responsibility. Under this convention, civil servants are responsible to ministers, and ministers in turn are responsible to Parliament.
However, this convention has become subject to a number of criticisms, generally on the grounds that it is no longer an effective means of holding the government fully to account, and that it does not adequately reflect the distribution of power and responsibility between ministers, civil servants and special advisers.
Questions the Committee will consider include:
- Does the convention of individual ministerial responsibility remain the most appropriate and effective way of holding the government to account? If not what should replace it?
- Do the civil servants’ and special advisors’ codes of conduct require amendment? Should they be set out in statute?
- What influence, if any, should ministers be able to exercise over civil service appointments?
- To what extent does the civil service act as a constitutional check on the actions of ministers?
- Are there any circumstances in which civil servants should be directly accountable to Parliament? Could that risk the politicisation of the civil service?
- Should the Osmotherly Rules, covering civil servants and their relationships with parliamentary select committees, be redrafted?
- What is the influence exercised by special advisors both in theory and in practice?
- What are the current accountability mechanisms for special advisors? Is there a case for increasing their accountability to Parliament?
- Are the accountability mechanisms for non-ministerial departments effective? Where should the balance lie between accountability and independence?
The call for evidence can be viewed below. The deadline for submissions was Friday 8 June 2012.
Public hearings were held in May, June and July. The Committee published its report on 20 November 2012.