Page 3, 22nd April 1949

22nd April 1949
Page 3
Page 3, 22nd April 1949 — A CATHOLIC IN CIVIL SERVICE

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Locations: Rome


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By Sir Desmond Morton, K.C.B.

Prxis is no inquiry into the merits Service really is or is supposed to


and faults of the Civil Service d nor will it help an anxious parent, Worried about a career for his S011 or daughter—if allowed that privilege by the modern child. Yet, there is much popular misconception about the nature of the Civil Service and the duties of those set-sling therein.

Of the many professional and amateur comedians who jest so freely on the subject, it is doubtful if one could define what the Civil N▪ o complete list of Civil Servants

exists in one book. " The British Imperial Calendar and Civil Service List," published with great care and devotion by the Stationery Office. resembles the Navy, Army. and Air Force Lists, which contain the names of commissioned officers, but not those of all on the lower deck or in the rank and file. Similarly. the British Imperial Calendar necessarily includes the names of a number of very eminent persons who are not Civil Servant; while omitting these of a small army of the more junior employees, who are as entitled to be called Offieers of the Civil Service as any Permanent Under Secretary of State.

The old definition that a Civil Servant was " a civilian employee of His Majesty's Government, paid out of funds paovided by Parliament," is now open to criticism. Doctors serving under the National Health Acts are not Civil Servants, nor are workers in netionalised inthiatriee whether in black coats or shirt-sleeves. Employees of Borough, District or County Councils arc not Civil Servants, however much their duties may seem analogous in certain cases. They are not paid out of funds provided by Parliament. Temporary Civil Servants are justified by their title. but are, or should be. a phenomenon of war or other' national emergency, and are presumed to leave the service Of the State as soon as the emergency ends. It would be rash for a permanent Civil Servant to regard the temporary help, who only comes in to oblige, as the Royal Navy looks on the " wavy " Navy. Fortunately (Of Its all, the officers and men of the Auxiliary Naval Forces are given some training in their naval duties before being allowed to play any great part in operating His Majecty's, Shipg upon their lawful occasions.

They May Understand

Now During the late war, a regular, certificated, pensionable Civil Servant was not unedified to read in the Press letters from enthusiastic correspondents, demanding the replacement of dilatory, unimaginative, hideand red-tape-bound Civil Servants by practical men and women with a business training; when, to his sure knowledge, about ninety per cent of the " officers" in the very • departments criticised were " temporary clerks," recruited almost exclesively from commerce and industry. Perhaps some of those charming, able and devoted people. too old or otherwise unfitted for more violent exercise, many of whom willingly sacrificed personal comfort, interest and private gain in answer to their country's call, have retired into private life with a better understanding than they had before of the duties and difficulties which beset a Civil Servant's path.

They at least may now recognise the essential difference between administering on the one hand, the vast, interwoven affairs of a great democracy, the first rule of whose constitution is that every decision which may reasonably be expected to affect "policy " can properly be taken only by the elected representatives of the people. a Minister of the Crown, the Cabinet or even Parliament itself. and must therefore be referred for decision to a Minister before his Civil Servants can act; and, on the other hand, working for a business corporation, however greet, whose objective is merely its own advancement and whose servants are endowed with final authority, each according to his degree,

The Civil Service does not govern the country. Thar is the business of Government. The Civil Service exists to serve, first the Government of the day. which is the outcome of popular election; to advise that Government; to put before it dispassionately the apparent advantages and difficutties of any action proposed by the Government. on which alone rests the burden and responsibility of decision; thereafter to do its best to carry Out effectively, and according to a juridical interpretation of the wording of any laws or regulations passed by Parliament, whatever policy the Government has decided to pursue, even if that be one contrary to the private interest, the political bias. or the simple, honest belief of. any Civil Servant concerned.

Servant of the People

In this great work a Civil Servant, whatever his deeree, from the highest to the lowest, should never forget for an instant his second duty of service, which ranks no whit below the first. He is a servant of the people and, at need, of every individual British subject applying fur information or aid. He is their servant, not their master. He is also a servant of the Crown; hut the King reigns; he does net rule. Shall the servant set himself up to be greater than his roaster? Surely the motto of the British Civil Servant might be. " I serve," if first he prove his worthiness to so proud a device, which is, by tradition, that of the Prince of Wales and, no less, of the Pope, A Civil Servant may hold privately whatever political tenets ap peal to Mtn. In no circumstance, however, must he allow this private view to sway either the advice he proffers to his Minister or the sincerity of his effort to carry out his Minister's policy, once that be de cided. This is not really difficult. The number of Civil Servants of high rank, whose duty it is to advise the Government directly is very small. All have considerable ex perience. Their danger may lie sometimes in adopting a rather cynical attitude towards all political issues,

A good Civil Servant, who is also a good Catholic, will seek to avoid this pitfall, which is largely the rationalisation of an inferiority complex; replacing it by the faithful and charitable hope that any path which does not manifestly lead rapidly to Hell, may eventually join the strait and narrow track to [-leas en. He is free to indulge a private speculation that some of the paths selected by his masters seem to him to start off in a curious direction.

With a Civil Servant who is also a sincere and practising Catholic, there is a double reaction to consider: the effect of the Service upon his Catholicism and his own effect, as a Catholic, upon the Service. Neither is likely to be great in the case of a a temporary clerk," serv ing only for a short time. Even " permanent clerks " will hardly bring about revolutienary changes. for good or ill, by their own individual effort or example. Nevertheless, in this connection, the parable

The Civil Servant Religion

There is no record of the number of Civil Servants who are also Catholics, but there is reason to suppose that the pauportion is roughly that of the Catholic population of the United Kingdom, A strict inquiry., conducted a few years ago. following a suggestion in Parliament that, somehow or other. Catholics in inordinate numbers had wormed their wae into one particular branch of the Service. conclusively disproved the allegation. It is exceptional for the Civil Service to care, or even to know. what are the religious beliefs of its members, so long as those arc tOlerated by the State and exclude such esoteric demonstrations as perambulating Whitehall in office hours with a flaming brazier upon the he he The demands of the Service upon an officer's life and tune in no was hinder him from the practice of the Catholic faith. Nowadays, no post in the Service is debarred to a Catholic. There are a few, very fete, in which it might prove as embarrassing for a Catholic to serve as it would he for the Government to have him there.

Such might be one which carried a duty to advise on certain education questions, on the Church dr England Of on laws and regulations governing divorce or birth control: in fact, questions where faith and morals, finally decided by the Church, conflict with declared government policy. Should such a situation arise in practice, there is no doubt that an accommodation would be orranged, giving satisfaction to all, whereby the Catholic would pass to duties unconnected with the controversial issue, without detriment to his career.

The secular policy of the Vatican, if impinging on either the internal or external policy of England, should cause no embarrassment. On the contrary, an able Civil Serv.ant, also a good Catholic, may well do unexpected service, if able to suggest to his superiors the true reasons underlying the attitude of the Vatican. and the best arguments for the Government to use in maintaining its own point of view. After all, the Secretariat of State at Rome and the Central Administration of the Church are human instruments, thereby liable to mistakes in fact, in judgment and in tact.

The Patron of Civil Servants

Should this idea seem rash or give scandal to a tender conscience, the precedent of St. Thomas More may be offered in support. This greatest of Civil Servants, whom his Catholic successors of to-day have chosen rightly as their Patron, is known to all in the stark events of " the King's business," as was named the question of Henry's remerriage: that business whose consequence has been so tragic for this country. A Catholic Civil Servant would do well to study deeply Mores actions and attitude of mind, not only in the final years of his life, but throughout the whole of his service to the Crown. Most people think of him only as Chancellor and only in connection with the cause for which he ultimately suffered. Fewer think upon his earlier career when, in modern terms, he was at times a Treasury official, a Councillor of Embassy and an Ambassador. He held other Civil Service posts too. More than once the policy of his Master was opposed to that of Rome. Often he doubted the King's wisdom. Yet, see how he held himself.

Thomas More was known to his contemporaries throughout the civilised world to be one of the greatest scholars of his age. a men of untarnished integrity, wide learning, deep vision and unparalleled subtlety of intellect. Yet, when his mind differed from that of his King, he did not arrogantly trust to his own inwnediate wit and judgment, hut searched the thoughts of all and any who, by some means or other, might throw new light on the problem and show just cause. however slight twhereby the King's will might prevail.

Let all Civil Servants ponder this and other things too: how More never shirked his due responsibility, and yet never wasted time; how he dealt with all who came to him, great or humble, as with his equals, yet never lost his dignity of office: with what assiduity. and vet without priggishness, did he cultivate those natural gifts accorded to him by God, among which he counted high the ability to laugh and to enjoy the mirth of others.

So, and only so. was he justified of that proud assertion at the supreme moment of his confession, that he had ever been " the King's good servant, but God's first."


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