Letter: Shades of the Mafia in Civil Service vow of silence

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The Independent Online
Sir: I do not see much difference between the obligation of silence imposed on civil servants by ministers ('Civil servants 'can withhold the truth' ', 28 April) and the vow of omerta required of its minions by the Mafia. In both cases, the purpose is to conceal wrongdoing,

The sophistry that ministers represent the Crown, that civil servants owe loyalty to the Crown and that, therefore, civil servants must conceal ministers' misdemeanours or mistakes from Parliament and the courts should take in nobody.

Loyalty is strictly to the Crown itself and not to ministers, who temporarily represent the Crown at the behest of and subject to recall by the House of Commons. The Crown, however, continues to exist over and above its ministerial representatives, and it is not in the Crown's interests that Parliament should be deceived by ministers or that incompetent ministers should escape the scrutiny of Parliament. Consequently, by exposing ministerial corruption or incompetence, civil servants are in fact fulfilling their duty of loyalty to the Crown.

It is particularly inappropriate that ministers, who derive their authority from Parliament, should feel at liberty to insist that their civil servants conceal from it information that Parliament deems necessary in order to enable it to carry out its functions of democratic representation. It is much to be hoped that, when drawing up its report, the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee will defend Parliament's historic prerogative by rejecting such arguments in toto and reaffirming the principle

of comprehensive ministerial accountability, without which democracy is nothing.

Yours faithfully,

PATRICK REYNOLDS

Luxembourg

29 April

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