Letter: Need for public code of ethics

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Sir: Surely the obvious conclusion to be drawn from the reactions to the evidence given by Sir Robin Butler to the Scott inquiry (Letters, 15 February) is that the whole process of giving advice to ministers, and indeed the relationship between government ministers and civil servants, needs to be more open and clearly understood.

The relationship is subject to a series of different codes and authorities, and is from time to time modified by the individual pronouncements of the prime minister as the minister for the civil service, or the head of the civil service. What is glaringly apparent is that while many experts may believe that they have grasped the principles upon which the relationship is conducted, their understanding of the position is often contradictory, and their explanations obscure.

Most backbench MPs simply do not have a clue how the relationship does work, or how it ought to work. If our MPs do not understand the position, how can individual members of the public be expected to do so?

The obvious conclusion is that there should be a clear code of practice, or ethics, which governs the relationship of government ministers and civil servants. This should be a public document, placed firmly in the public arena, and open to public comment.

Yours sincerely,

ELIZABETH SYMONS

General Secretary

Association of First Division

Civil Servants

London, SW1

18 February

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