The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1993Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to the Civil Service Club – 4 February 1993

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech made to the Civil Service Club on 4th February 1993.


I would like to say a few words here in my role as Minister for the Civil Service. I am a very firm believer in the need for a high quality, impartial civil service. And I know from my personal experience that that is what this country has. I am determined to keep it so.

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 thirteen years, the service must inevitably have lost its impartiality. All Ministers know that their boxes will be full every night with constructive questioning and sometimes unwelcome advice from their civil servants. Good Ministers welcome that, because it is how robust policies are formed.

This is not an occasion for party political points. But I do want to say that I reject absolutely the Leader of the Opposition’s speech last week entitled “The Standards and Practice of Government”. In it, he attacks the conduct of both Ministers and civil servants. You won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t accept his views about the Government, but I and my Ministerial colleagues are perfectly capable of rebutting that. He is perfectly entitled to make those charges even if they are no more than the small change of partisan politics. But I do regret his comments about the civil service and civil servants, who rightly in my view maintain the principle of not entering the political debate.

In his speech, old slurs about the civil service were repeated, and issues which are currently the subject of independent scrutiny were prejudged. I find that astonishing and regrettable. 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. And, as Minister for the Civil Service, I take this opportunity to assert my support for the civil service qualities of integrity, objectivity and impartiality which serve the country so well. And my confidence that these qualities are being fully maintained.

This is also not an occasion for a heavy-weight lecture about reform of the civil service. But it would be wrong for me not to refer to the reforms that are taking place in the civil service. The spread of agencies, the setting of standards under the Citizen’s Charter, greater openness and all the other reforms are producing a quiet revolution in the way in which public services are delivered. I should like to pay tribute to the magnificent way in which the civil service is meeting these new challenges, throughout Whitehall and throughout the country. My view is that the civil service deserves every credit for its achievements and I am glad to have the opportunity to make that clear this evening.