Sarah Teather and Individual Ministerial Responsibility

Liberal Democrat minister Sarah Teathers has faced criticism following this Wednesdays PMQs where Conservative MP Peter Bone noted that the children’s minister failed to vote on 7 occasions on the proposed changes to welfare reforms last week. In Prime Ministers Questions, Cameron was asked why she was still in the government. Following this Tory MP Priti Patel said: “When you are a minister, your job is to turn up and vote for the Government”.

Teathers had previously commented that there were “serious issues” with the health proposals.

The response from a spokesperson was that the children’s minister wasn’t able to make the vote and this was cleared and agreed through the usual channels.

Here, we can see a link between this example and individual ministerial responsibility.


Individual ministerial responsibility is the convention that ministers are accountable to parliament for their personal conduct, the actions of officials within their department and the general conduct of their department and the policies they pursue.

Teathers failure to vote on 7 occasions may be seen as an irresponsible move by the minister and an act of general misconduct however the fact that this is just convention leaves the event open to interpretation. Teathers may argue that there were other more pressing engagements during these votes however her failure to attend the votes of significant and controversial welfare reforms may be seen to many (including MP Priti Patel) as a personal failure as a person of responsibility.

Tory MP Priti Patels comment “When you are a minister, your job is to turn up and vote for the Government”, is also an interesting one. It poses the question as to whether a minister’s responsibility belongs with their party or the constituents of whom they represent.

Other examples of calls for ministers to go where they have resisted:
Jacqui Smith in 2008 who said it was unsafe for her to walk the streets near her Peckham home
John Prescott in 2006 as Deputy Prime Minister over his son’s property dealings in Prescott’s Hull constituency

Linda Epstein

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