Smith accused of civil service slur

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The Independent Online
JOHN SMITH was accused of casting a 'slur' on the civil service last night by John Major after the Labour leader alleged that 14 years of single-party government had led to abuses of power, writes Colin Brown.

The Prime Minister told senior civil servants at the Civil Service Club that he found Mr Smith's remarks 'astonishing and regrettable'. Mr Major questioned Mr Smith's judgement as leader of the Opposition.

Mr Major said: 'Every politician should know better than to let party political advocacy run away with his judgement on matters such as these. I do not believe his charges are justified.

'In his speech, old slurs about the civil service were repeated and issues which are currently the subject of independent scrutiny were prejudged.'

Mr Smith cited Matrix Churchill, the arms-to-Iraq case, being investigated by Lord Justice Scott, as one of the abuses of power. The Whitehall papers from the aborted Customs and Excise prosecution of three directors of the firm showed some civil servants had helped to avoid exports being caught by a UN arms embargo.

The Labour leader said the civil service had become 'confused about its role and unclear as to its obligation'.

Mr Major said: 'I reject the charges of those who attack the civil service and say that, because the same political party has been in power for more than 13 years, the service must inevitably have lost its impartiality.'