HC Deb 07 December 1943 vol 395 cc777-9
54. Mr. W. J. Brown

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer in what circumstances the head of the Civil Service has issued a notification to all Departments that civil servants, temporary and permanent, of any type, must not have any discussions with Sir William Beveridge in connection with the task upon which he is now engaged in formulating plans for the mitigation of unemployment; and whether he will make a statement on the subject?

Sir J. Anderson

I am arranging for a copy of the letter in question to be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The letter, for which I take full responsibility, was not sent to all Heads of Departments but only to those in Departments whose functions include the field likely to be covered by Sir William Beveridge's inquiry on the subject of unemployment. The ruling which the letter contained was no more than a restatement in this particular case of the accepted general principles governing the conduct of civil servants. It was directed more especially to the undesirability of an exchange of views between someone conducting in independent inquiry on a matter which must be the concern of the Government of the day and those civil servants whose personal views on such a question would be inseparable in the public mind from their official work for the Government.

Mr. Brown

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, both as an invasion of the civil life of civil servants and as a reflection upon their capacity, unaided to sustain the ordinary professional standards of conduct, this circular is widely resented in all ranks of the Government service, and will he take steps to withdraw it?

Sir J. Anderson

No, Sir, certainly not. I am surprised at the view just expressed by my hon. Friend. I am perfectly certain that the civil servants to whom the circular was directed welcome clear guidance in a matter of this kind. May I point out, as there appears to be some misapprehension on this matter, that it is not a question at all of withholding collaboration in important inquiries. That question does not arise. The only question that arises is whether individual civil servants who are engaged in the formulation of Government plans should be free at their discretion to exchange views with those who are conducting an independent inquiry. Sir William Beveridge decided, as he was perfectly free to do, that his inquiry would be independent and unofficial. From that position it follows that civil servants who are engaged in the preparation of Government plans which must be confidential until they are reported to this House should exercise the restraint enjoined upon them by the circular.

Sir H. Williams

Is there any reason why Sir William Beveridge should be regarded as a privileged person in the exercise of rights which are denied to others?

Sir J. Anderson

There has been no discrimination at all.

Mr. Brown

In view of the impossibility of pursuing this matter by question and answer, I beg to give notice that I will raise it at the earliest moment on the Adjournment.

Following is the letter:

"Treasury Chambers,

Great George Street,


2nd November 1943.

It would I think be quite natural if, in connection with the task which he has set himself of formulating plans for the mitigation of unemployment, Sir William Beveridge might feel that he would be helped by an exchange of views with officials, including Economists, in the service of the Government. This possibility has prompted an enquiry which has reached me whether, following the analogy of the recent ruling in regard to civil servants, temporary or otherwise, attending private conferences, it would, not be right for the Head of a Department to withhold permission for such an exchange of views to take place. I am quite clear that on the accepted principles, the Head of a Department must do so.

I do not think that officials of any type in Government service could engage in such discussions without the risk of a doubt hereafter arising whether in some degree they may not have made known or implied the lines on which the Government were attacking this question.

I have thought it right to let you know this in case the question should by any chance arise in your Department.

Yours sincerely,

(Signed) R. V. N. HOPKINS."