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The 'pondlife' of executive agencies : Parliament and informatory accountability

Judge, David and Hogwood, Brian and McVicar, Murray (1997) The 'pondlife' of executive agencies : Parliament and informatory accountability. Public Policy and Administration, 12 (2). pp. 95-115. ISSN 0952-0767

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Abstract

Agencies attract the attention of MPs unequally. In focusing upon ‘informnatory responsibility’, as a prerequisite of ministerial responsibility in an era of executive agencies, the article reveals that there is no simple model or pattern of informatory responsibility, whether measured by parliamentary questions, letters from MPs, or extent of contact between ministers and agencies. Those agencies which attract the sustained interest of MPs often require elaborate mechanisms of response to deal with the sheer volume of questions and requests for information. In tumrn, this may have pathological organisational consequences for working practices and staffing tasks particularly if the agency is responsible for policy delivery in a politically sensitive area. Conversely, those agencies which attract little or no interest from MPs raise the neglected question of what does ministerial responsibility ‘mean’ in these circumstances? The article concludes that a more exacting perspective of inforinatory accountability is needed: one that places the emphasis not only upon the regularity of the flow of information and upon the consistency of explanation to parliament, but also takes into account the interactions of agencies and their ‘constituencies of accountability’.