The Ministers are, by law or by binding convention, members of the legislature. Sometimes a Minister may not be an elected member of the legislature, for example, Ramsay MacDonald and Malcolm. MacDonald was both members of the Cabinet in Britain, from November 1935 until early in 1936, though they were not members of Parliament.
But the House of Commons is extremely critical of such exceptions and Ministers remain out of Parliament only while they are trying to find seats. If they cannot get in and are unwilling to be created peers, they resign their offices.
The Constitution of India provides that a Minister may not be a member of either House of Parliament for a period of six consecutive months. But such a Minister ceases to be a Minister at the expiration of that period unless he is duly elected. In Britain no one may speak in either House of Parliament unless he belongs to that House.
In India, a Minister enjoys the privilege of occupying a seat in either House of the Legislature, of being heard, and of participating in its deliberations, but with the right to vote in the House of which he is a member.
A parliamentary or cabinet system works on the well-accepted principle that Ministers are responsible to the legislature for all their official acts and they remain in office as long as they retain its confidence. This is called ministerial responsibility and it is this responsibility that gives to the parliamentary system the name of a responsible government as well.
In Britain, legally, Ministers hold office during the pleasure of the King/Queen. But a legal truth in Britain is a political untruth and the pleasure of the King/Queen means the pleasure of Parliament. The Constitution of India also provides that Ministers hold office during the pleasure of the President.
But the pleasure of the President vanishes when the Constitution simultaneously prescribes that the Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the House of the People (Lok Sabha). This means the individual and collective responsibility of Ministers to the House of the People.
It also means that whereas the Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the House of the People for its policies, a Minister can be removed from office for his individual indiscretion or for acts of omission and commission and the President exercises his pleasure on the advice of the Prime Minister.
Without such an advice he cannot act, independently. Ministerial responsibility is the essence of parliamentary government. Responsibility to the legislature means that so long as the policies and official conduct of the ministers command the support of the majority of the members of the legislature, they continue to hold the reins of office and govern the country.
But as soon as the majority is reduced into a minority and the Ministry loses the confidence of the representative House, House of Commons in Britain, and House of the People (Lok Sabha) in India, it must resign from office and give an opportunity to the Opposition to assume office, or the legislature may be dissolved on the advice of the Prime Minister and new elections held in order to ascertain the opinion of the electorate.
The party returned in majority to the legislature as a result of elections, then, forms the Ministry. The second alternative is more common and is generally resorted to. The legislature reveals its disapproval of the acts of the Ministry either by an adverse vote on an important measure, or by a specific vote of no-confidence.
The ministerial office is not incompatible with legislative mandate. It means that the executive and legislative functions are “inextricably co-mingled” and there is no such separation between the executive and legislative powers as that which forms the distinguishing mark of the American system of government. On the contrary, there is a close and intimate inter-dependence of both the executive and the legislative departments.
Dicey emphasised that the parliamentary system is founded on a fusion of the executive and legislative powers and, at the same time, upon the maintenance of harmonious relations between them. Bagehot defines cabinet as a “hyphen that joins, the buckle that binds the executive and legislative departments together.”
The members of the cabinet are members of the legislature as well as heads of the executive departments of the government. They are responsible for defining the broader lines of national policy, collectively constituting the government, and running the administration. They resolve, initiate and pilot in Parliament legislation which they deem essential for carrying out their policy.
The Ministers must always be prepared to answer the questions put to them while the legislature is in session, impart all information which members consider necessary to elicit from the government, and defend their policies whenever questioned, critisized or called upon to give an account of their official conduct.
The Ministry, therefore, is a committee of the legislature sharing in both the creation and the administration of law and responsible and subject to the control of the legislature. It cannot successfully function independently of the legislature.
Parliamentary system is a party government. The government comes into office as a unit and goes out of office as a unit.
This means that the essence of the parliamentary government is its solidarity, a common front, and it becomes binding on every member of the Cabinet, and, of course, on every Minister outside the Cabinet, to pursue an agreed policy for which all accept responsibility and on which they stand and fall together.
It is, therefore, important that Ministers must essentially belong to one single political party. Collective responsibility, which is the sine qua non of the stability of government, can be obtained only when Ministers come in office as a team and go out as a team.
When a Ministry is composed of heterogeneous parliamentary groups, as under a multiple party system, it is most unstable, for compromise, which brings the various groups together, is sure to break down at the slightest pretext.
In a composite cabinet there is no homogeneity in the ranks of Ministers and there is no team spirit which can ensure oneness of purpose, and, consequently, collective responsibility of the Ministry rarely exists.