Obituary: Sir Alexander Johnston

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Alexander Johnston, civil servant: born 27 August 1905; entered Home Office 1928; Principal Assistant Secretary, Office of the Minister of Reconstruction 1943-45; Under-Secretary, Office of Lord President of the Council 1946-48; CB 1946, GCB 1962; Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet 1948-51; Third Secretary, Treasury 1951-58; KBE 1953; Chairman, Board of Inland Revenue 1958-68; Deputy Chairman, Monopolies and Mergers Commission 1969-76; Deputy Chairman, Panel on Take-Overs and Mergers 1970-83; Chairman, Universities Academic Salaries Committee 1970-87; author of The Inland Revenue 1965, The City Take- Over Code 1980, Presbyterians Awake 1988; married 1947 Betty Harris (one son, one daughter); died London 7 September 1994.

IN 1963, I was invited by Sir Alexander Johnston, as a new member of the Public Accounts Committee who had put questions to him in the committee session, to lunch with him in his elegant Regency office in Somerset House, writes Tam Dalyell.

If ever there was a Scots 'lad of pairts' who had gone to London it was Alec Johnston who, with a combination of integrity, diligence and great natural intelligence and charm, had mounted the stratosphere of the Civil Service. When I wrote to thank him for inviting me and giving me so much of his time, he replied in a cryptic note: 'Dear Dalyell, Thank you. 'Much may be made of a Scotchman if he be caught young': Dr Samuel Johnson. Yours sincerely, Alec Johnston.' Laconic good humour was very much his stock in trade.

My recall of that meeting was his long, precise formulation and discourse on the balance in tax between the virtues of equity and the virtues of simplicity. He told me that for the first 30 years of his government service he had believed that equity was forever paramount. Then he said, almost sighing, 'Now, towards the end of my career, I have come to the conclusion that there are many cases where simplicity in tax should take precedence over equity.'

Alec Johnston was a man in the best tradition of public service to the British state. And his memory will be treasured by many in the Civil Service and outside in Parliament for much personal kindness in tutoring us in the complexities of the British tax system.