Politics class: Why does it matter if a PM lies to Parliament?
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AQA Component 1, Section184.108.40.206: The structure and role of Parliament; Section 220.127.116.11: the Prime Minister and Cabinet — the difference between individual and collective responsibility
Edexcel Component 2, Section 3.2: The concept of ministerial responsibility; Section 4.2: The relationship between the Executive and Parliament
Click to read the articles below and then answer the questions:
Why does it matter if a PM lies to Parliament?
Background: what you need to know
This article touches on two related areas: the way in which Parliament holds the executive to account; and the standards of behaviour expected of the Prime Minister and other ministers. The notion of ministerial accountability has been highlighted by the motion to hold an inquiry into accusations that Boris Johnson misled Parliament over the holding of parties in Downing Street during the Covid-19 lockdown. A central constitutional principle is that a minister who knowingly misleads Parliament would be expected to resign.
There is also material here that relates to the work of select committees. The article notes that committees do not have unlimited power to summon witnesses, which is an important limitation on their ability to hold government to account.
Follow up the references to other resignations over breaches of the code of conduct, notably Priti Patel, Damian Green and Amber Rudd. These are recent examples that you could use in an examination answer on this topic. Depending on the examination board you are following, now answer one of the following questions.
Question in the style of AQA Politics Paper 1
Explain and analyse three circumstances in which ministers may be obliged to resign. [9 marks]
Question in the style of Edexcel Politics Paper 2
Evaluate the view that the doctrine of ministerial responsibility is no longer observed in the conduct of UK government.
In your answer you should draw on relevant knowledge and understanding of the study of Component 1: UK politics and core political ideas. You must consider this view and the alternative to this view in a balanced way. [30 marks]
TIP: A relevant Component 1 topic for the Edexcel question could be 4.2: The role of the media. Press and TV coverage of ministerial scandals has often been a deciding factor in forcing ministers to resign from government
Graham Goodlad, St John’s College