The first prerequisite is the presence of a titular executive head of the State. The head of the State is not the directing and deciding factor responsible before the nation for the measures taken. The executive power of the government is exercised in his name by political men who belong to the majority party in Parliament.
Legally, government is vested in the head of the State, and the officers of the State are appointed in his name and dismissed by him. The Ministers are his Ministers and they remain in office during his pleasure.
He summons, dissolves and prorogues Parliament. Laws made by Parliament cannot be enforced without his assent and if he so wishes, he may withhold his assent thereto. But all this remains in theory and the Chief Executive does nothing by doing everything.
Herbert Asquith, Prime Minister of Great Britain, wrote in 1913a Memorandum on the rights and obligations of the King. He said, the King “is entitled and bound to give his ministers all relevant information which comes to him; to point out objections which seem to him valid against the course they advise; to suggest (if he thinks fit) an alternative policy.
Such intimations are always received by ministers with the utmost respect and considered with more respect and deference than if they proceeded from any other quarter.” Beyond this he must not go. In the oft-quoted phrase of Bagehot, the King has three rights—the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn. ”
A king of great sense and sagacity,” he added, “would want no others.” This is the classical exposition of the powers of the head of the State in a Parliamentary system of government.
It is necessary that there must be a clear and stable majority in Parliament. Cabinet government means party government. The party provides the machinery to secure a stable government under a unified command of politically homogeneous and disciplined leaders.
The fall of the Ministry is the fall of the party and the strength of the party in the legislature determine the solidarity and stability of the government. This is best achieved when there is a two-party system, one in office, the other in Opposition. But fairly good results can also be obtained when there are fairly solid blocs, each consisting of parties who habitually work together and who have enough in common to permit them to evolve a definite political programme.
The classical example of a two-party system is Britain. Britain hates a coalition government, because it contradicts the fundamental principle that the cabinet represents a party united in principle.
Britain’s example has been admirably followed in the Dominion countries, although in Australia and New Zealand the anti- Labourite groups formed a partnership in order to defeat their Labourite opponents in 1949.
In France and other Continental countries the multiple-party system exists and coalition government was the only possibility before the Fifth Republic in the former came into being.
The result was that the government was a combination of strange bed- follows who had nothing in common; no leader to follow, no definite programme to pursue, and no discipline to observe.
All this led to a precarious tenure of the government. For example, during the twenty-three years iron the end of the First World War to the French collapse in the Second World War, France had forty-two governments, while
Britain had eleven, averaging six months, and twenty-five months respectively. When the life of government is precarious and short, it is hesitant and unable to take a long view of policy. Its work is largely limited to matters of daily administration and its chief purpose is to remain in office instead of really governing.
Moreover, when no party can definitely be made responsible because of a coalition, the government can neither be responsive nor really representative. An irresponsible government coupled with an incoherent public opinion is always a sectional government, which encourages corruption, jobbery, neopotism, toadying, and various other accompanying evils.
The final result is the failure of the Parliamentary system as it happened in France. The Constitution of the Fifth Republic cannot legitimately be called a Parliamentary government. It was deliberately designed to correct the imbalances of the preceding Constitutions.
Two results flow from the two-party system as it operates in a Parliamentary government. One is the accepted leadership of the Prime Minister and the other is the principle of ministerial responsibility. Both are correlated and upon these two important institutions hinge the success of the Parliamentary system.
The Cabinet is a team that plays the game of politics under the captaincy of the Prime Minister. He is the undisputed leader of the Parliamentary majority party, who brings about unity and close association between Ministers on the one hand, and the cabinet and the Parliamentary majority on the other.
C.F. Strong has succinctly said, “It is the party system which gives the cabinet its homogeneity, it is the position of the prime minister which gives it its solidarity.”
The Ministers in a Parliamentary system are answerable to the legislature and they remain in office as long as they can individually and collectively retain its confidence. Each Minister directs the work of the department over which he presides, in accordance with the policy as determined and decided by the cabinet, and he is answerable to the legislature for its successful implementation.
In addition to this individual responsibility, each Minister shares a collective responsibility with other members of the government, “for anything of high importance that is done in any other branch of public business besides his own.”
On matters of high policy the Ministry comes into office as a unit, remains in office as a unit, and goes out of office as a unit. Ministerial responsibility ensures cohesion and solidarity and accounts for the stability of the government. Moreover, responsibility and responsiveness go together and it is only in a Parliamentary system of government that both can be secured.
Another essential feature of a successful Parliamentary system is a certain degree of moderation among political parties. Cabinet system is a democratic mechanism and democracy is inseparable from a belief in the methods of peaceful persuasion, in the ultimate reasonableness of man, and his response to rational arguments.
It is, accordingly, necessary that both the majority party and the Opposition should understand and observe the rules of the game. The public duty of the Opposition is to criticise and oppose the policy of the government; to attack the government and individual Ministers. The majority party, at its end, must govern openly and honestly and it should meet criticism not by suppressing Opposition, but by rational argument.
It means that there should prevail a sense of give and take; the habit of tolerance and compromise. They must have a strong commitment to the democratic process itself. A simple rule of British politics is, “if you wish to govern, you must first show yourself fit to govern.”
This rule acts as a powerful and valuable stimulus both to the majority and minority, for the minority party is legally recognised in Britain as His or Her Majesty’s Opposition.
Just as the party in power must reconcile differences with the Opposition in order to ensure a stable government representing public opinion and to win approbation of the electorate, similarly, the Opposition must remain moderate and sensible, if they are to win approval as an alternative government.
When political parties become intolerant of one another and virulent in opposition and attacks, orderly government cannot exit. “Every trick, every method of obstruction and filibuster, is used to effect a certain political result, and if everything else fails, force may eventually be applied when that occurs orderly government often comes to an end and emergency decree takes the place of legislative act.
From there it is only a step to dictatorship.” For the success of the Parliamentary system of government rational and responsible Opposition is as necessary as the rational and tolerant majority imbued with the sense of give-and-take.
Experience has shown that the right of dissolution is vital to the smooth working of a Parliamentary system. If judiciously used, it is the solution to any possible deadlock. If Cabinet and Parliament disagree, the electorate will decide between them. The appeal to the people, as the ultimate source of political authority, is the only logical manner of settling any serious dispute between rival agencies of the State.
Lack of it means Parliamentary absolutism. Being safe from dissolution and confident that its tenure goes by calendar, the legislature can overthrow the cabinet with impunity. This is what happened in France in the Third and the Fourth Republics and it made infinitely worse the tendency towards cabinet instability already created by the multiple party systems.
Finally, cabinet is a secret body which is collectively responsible for its decisions. It must deliberate in secret, if mature, rational and independent discussion is to shape the policy. Publicity reduces the independence of mind of Ministers in relation to each other and harmony of views becomes well-nigh impossible.
When it becomes known that members of the Cabinet have differed amongst themselves the spontaneity of party support disappears, and gives a rude shock to party solidarity. It also gives an opportunity to the Opposition to plague the government for their dissensions.