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Civil Servant (Political Controversy)

Volume 439: debated on Monday 23 June 1947

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asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will inquire into the case, details of which have been submitted to him, of a graduate of London University, a civil servant, who, as an honorary officer of a society for promoting the welfare of animals, pressed in public writings the society's objections to Clauses in the Agriculture Bill relating to the use of gin traps and was thereupon subjected to disciplinary action by his Department; and whether this method of silencing criticism is to he generally applied.

I am already fully aware of the details of this case. The essential facts are that a civil servant serving as a Senior Examiner in the Patent Office issued circulars to the public in his capacity as Chairman of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, urging the public to press their Members of Parliament to oppose certain provisions in the Agriculture Bill, to which the Federation objected on humanitarian grounds. He also issued an appeal to Members of this House to vote against these provisions. Civil servants are under standing instructions not to indulge in political controversy and to maintain a proper reticence in discussing public affairs. Though this must be largely a matter of judgment and good taste, it is clear that when a topic has become a matter of Parliamentary controversy, a civil servant should not take an active part in promoting support or opposition. The civil servant in question was informed by senior officials of his Department that in their opinion it was most undesirable for a serving civil servant to act as he had done.