The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life has also accused the Government of being preoccupied with "control freakery", and blamed it for marginalising ethical standards and failing to protect the impartiality of the civil service.
In an interview with The Independent, Sir Alistair Graham accused the Government of sidelining its commitment to standards since it entered office and said the Prime Minister failed to "see the link" between his reform agenda and "addressing standards issues in public life".
Ministers need reminding of the need for "honesty" in public office, he said. "I think that the implementation of standards, the monitoring of standards and the development of standards is not as a central issue to this government as I would like to see it," said Sir Alistair, a former chairman of the Police Complaints Authority. "I don't detect a major resurgence in trust in government generally or the public service."
He is so concerned about propriety in government that he plans formally to "toughen up" the Seven Principles of Public Life - including integrity and accountability - drawn up following the Tory sleaze scandals of the 1990s. Sir Alistair singled out the sixth principle, honesty, and said the wording needed to make it explicit ministers should tell the truth in office.
Sir Alistair said his revision of the principles was "an attempt to address this trust issue". He said: "If people believe there is a lack of trust between the people who are governed and the people who are doing the governing then this issue of honesty is a central issue."
The move follows polls by the committee showing the public has little trust in politicians and has concerns about their honesty. "Ordinary people said what we mean by honesty is people telling the truth, telling things as they are and admitting they have made mistakes - what the mistake is and what lessons they have learned from it," he said. "I agree that the public perception is that at times they [the Government] want to control everything."
Tony Blair once pledged to banish sleaze and lead a "whiter than white" government. But he has blocked plans for a Civil Service Act, which would underpin in law the impartiality and integrity of the civil service. Sir Alistair criticised ministers for sneaking in measures strengthening the role of special advisers using an obscure parliamentary device without public debate. He said a Civil Service Act was vital to protect officials who were told to cross the line of political impartiality.
His remarks will be seen as an attack on Andrew Turnbull, who has just retired as cabinet secretary, and who has been criticised in Whitehall for failing to back such an act.
Sir Alistair said he was looking forward to working with Sir Gus O'Donnell, the new Cabinet Secretary, who had already shown a commitment to high standards in public life. The intervention follows a belief in Whitehall and amongst supporters of Gordon Brown he would revive the anti-sleaze agenda if he became prime minister.Reuse content