MoD officials face inquiry following Scott findings

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The Independent Online

Public Policy Editor

Two Ministry of Defence civil servants are under investigation in the wake of the Scott report, it emerged yesterday.

The inquiry - a preliminary to possible disciplinary action - was disclosed as Roger Freeman, the Cabinet minister responsible for the Civil Service, said it was "conceivable" that Whitehall employees would be disciplined in the light of Sir Richard Scott's findings.

But he told a conference in London organised by the Campaign for Freedom of Information that in line with current convention it was not planned to disclose whether individuals had been disciplined.

Peter Mandelson, Labour's Civil Service spokesman, said ministers would be greeted with public derision if civil servants were disciplined when ministers had declared themselves "scot free" of any responsibility.

The MoD's action, understood to be against two middle-ranking civil servants on the professional and technical side, was disclosed by sources in the Institution of Professional Managers and Specialists, the civil servants' specialist union.

The First Division Association, the top civil servants' union, said that it as yet knew of no formal investigation of any of its members, with departments still digesting Scott's findings.

Mr Freeman and Mr Mandelson clashed at the conference when the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster insisted disciplinary action was not for ministers but for departments' own Permanent Secretaries and the the Civil Service Commissioners to pursue. "There is no attempt by ministers to dump responsibility on the civil servants named in Scott," Mr Freeman said. He had "no idea" whether there would be proceedings, although if civil servants acted in good faith and in line with Government policy there would be no action.

The conference heard a cautious endorsement of a Freedom of Information Act from Mr Mandelson who said the Government's code of practice on access to information needed to be "bolstered" and "in time, underpinned by legislation" to create the habit of disclosure. Legislation, however, was not a substitute for ministers behaving with integrity, openness and honesty.