Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Seven Principles of Public Life

In 1995 the UK Government published the report of the Nolan Committee on standards in British public life. The seven principles commended in this report speak for themsel


Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.

In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

These principles apply to all aspects of public life. The Committee has set them out here for the benefit of all who serve the public in any way.

Did they miss anything? Well, possibly. If these principles seem worthy, but perhaps a little dry, the concise inscription on the mace in the Scottish Parliament offers more in the way of humanity: Compassion, Wisdom, Justice, Integrity. Here I take `integrity' to be a kind of meta-principle that encapsulates all of the first six Nolan principles.

It is just possible that `principles' could be followed perfectly adequately but in a formulaic fashion, i.e. lacking the underlying values that would tend to make the practice of the principles spontaneous and natural. A key value surely has to be trust. A very clear description of trust is found in Mike Bottery's "Education, Policy and Ethics". He starts by outlining how trust can be a merely pragmatic value. Then he continues:

"Yet it is also something much deeper. It implies an attitude towards people and the world in general: a belief that things in the end turn out for good, that people are at bottom basically good as well. Some might see this as simple optimism, but however one views it, it has effects because of its spontaneity. It has the ability to create a similar trust in others, to foster friendship and love, simply to make life worth living. It cannot be artificially produced."

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