After looking a little harder than I did the other day, I found the current version of the Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility.
A couple of points that I noticed:
- [T]he portfolio minister is ultimately accountable for the overall operation of his/her portfolio. [p.2]
Surely this principle applies to both the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister?
- Ultimately, however, ministers cannot delegate to members of their personal staff their constitutional, legal or accountability responsibilities. Ministers therefore need to make careful judgements about the extent to which they authorise staff to act on their behalf in dealings with departments. [p. 21]
Now if there were too many emails coming in and the PM had to make get his personal staffers to look through them, then surely he would still be responsible for the overall operation of the DPMC? Apparently not – the fact that “it wasn’t drawn to my attention” is a reasonable excuse for not reading an email telling you that “the Iraqi authorities believed every contractor [including the government sanctioned single desk wheat exporter] under the program paid kickbacks”.
Well actually it looks like concepts of ministerial responsibilty may have been changed, even though the actual document hasn’t been updated. Apparently you are now only responsible if … um … “you’re directly responsible” or there has been “total systemic failure in your administration”.
It’s OK then. Partial systemic failure is fine, Prime Minister. Don’t take responsibility – blame your staff.