Creating greater accountability in politics

  • Creating greater accountability in politics

    Professor Diana Woodhouse

    One issue that goes to the heart of the political process is the trust – or apparent lack of it – the electorate has for politicians.

    Central to this is the extent to which those who are elected can be held to account for their own actions and, in the case of ministers, for the policies and operations of their departments.

    Research by Professor Diana Woodhouse has been instrumental in providing the basis for recommendations on political accountability, both nationally and internationally.

    This work has focused on the mechanisms by which accountability is secured and the constitutional relationships between Parliament and the executive, ministers and their civil servants, and MPs and their constituents.

    Her research had a direct impact on the deliberations of the 2011 House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee inquiry, Smaller Government: what do Ministers do?

    Ministerial accountability

    The inquiry examined ministerial accountability, particularly in the light of the Government’s intention to devolve, wherever possible, responsibility for public service delivery to a local level. The Committee fully engaged with Professor Woodhouse’s research as it relates to levels of accountability outlined in her book, Ministers and Parliament, and developed by her in subsequent work.

    Its report explicitly drew on and cited this research to frame its recommendation to the Government for the inclusion of ‘redirectory responsibility’ within the Ministerial Code, the document which sets out the duties and responsibilities of Ministers.

    Accountability in politics will continue to be a key issue for governments.

    Professor Woodhouse’s research was also instrumental in the development of a robust standards regime in the National Assembly for Wales whereby its individual members can be held to account for their conduct.

    The Woodhouse Review

    She was asked by the Assembly’s Committee for Standards to undertake a review of national and international standards regimes and, on that basis, to make recommendations on the Assembly’s regime.

    Her report published in 2001 – subsequently known as the Woodhouse Review – recommended, among other things, that the office of Commissioner for Standards for the Assembly should be placed on a statutory footing and have its responsibilities and powers enhanced.

    The Committee for Standards proposed a statutory Commissioner, as recommended by Professor Woodhouse, which was accepted by the Assembly. The first statutory Commissioner took up post on 1 December 2010.

    Internationally, Professor Woodhouse’s research has been regularly cited in Australian debate over many years and continues to have impact today.

    A 2007 report to the Prime Minister by the Australian Study of Parliament Group explicitly adopted the Woodhouse framework for levels of accountability in its recommendations. Despite, or because of, government’s resistance to clarifying the responsibility of ministers to Parliament, this framework has continued to feature in debates about accountability in Australia.

    Accountability in politics will continue to be a key issue for governments around the world and Professor Woodhouse’s research will continue to play an important part in these debates.

    Read more about the full Impact Case Study on RADAR. Further information on Professor Diana Woodhouse can be found on her Profile page. Professor Woodhouse was formerly Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Transfer at Oxford Brookes and was awarded an OBE for services to Legal Scholarship and Higher Education.