A Question of Loyalty
|"A Question of Loyalty"|
|Episode no.||Series 2
|Written by||Antony Jay
|Produced by||Peter Whitmore|
|Original air date||6 April 1981|
Sir Humphrey Appleby is in his office, concluding a departmental meeting regarding staffing levels, and instructs one of his subordinates to have a draft ready for the Minister, who is due to face a Select Committee. As the participants leave, Sir Humphrey asks Bernard about life without Jim Hacker, who has just returned after a week in Washington. Bernard confesses that it's been "difficult", but his superior castigates him. A minister's absence is highly desirable as it apparently enables the country to be run properly with the minimum of interference. Hacker gave a speech in Washington, praising the British government's attitude to bureaucracy and its "ruthless war on waste". When Bernard doubts its veracity, Sir Humphrey points out that a good speech is one where nobody can prove that its contents are lies. Its only purpose is to get the press release into the newspapers — and therefore force the Minister to defend his officials in front of Select Committees.
In Hacker's office, Sir Humphrey warns the Minister about his imminent Committee hearing (which is itself to be attended by the press), and urges him to master his prepared brief. Hacker seeks an assurance that all of Sir Humphrey’s answers are accurate, but the mandarin states prudently that they are "carefully presented to give the department's position". Hacker is concerned that they may conceal something from the Select Committee, and Sir Humphrey leaves the Minister with some parting wisdom: "He that would keep a secret must keep it secret that he hath a secret to keep." His diary clear for the rest of the day, Hacker sits down with Bernard to go through his brief.
The next day, Hacker is giving his evidence to the Committee. Having received the Minister's prepared statement, the chairman allows questions from the committee members, and Betty Oldham is one of the most tenacious. She asks Hacker about a book written by an ex-Assistant Secretary of the DAA, a man called Rhodes, who has alleged a huge waste of public money in the department. Hacker hasn't heard of it and consults his officials: they advise him to stall. Meanwhile, Oldham reads him several examples of supposed extravagance and Hacker's replies are unconvincing. The committee agrees to put the allegations to Sir Humphrey, who is due to present evidence the following week.
The next day, Betty Oldham's accusations have made the newspapers and Sir Humphrey is not pleased. He tells his Minister that he has been put in a difficult position. However, Hacker is equally nonplussed at his own embarrassment. Sir Humphrey gives him a few tips on answering the charges.
Sir Humphrey now appears before the Select Committee, and once again, it is Betty Oldham who makes her case. However, Sir Humphrey successfully obfuscates his answers by claiming that they relate to government policy and refers her to the Minister.
Back in Hacker's office, it's now the Minister’s turn to be displeased. In two days, both he and his Permanent Secretary will be before the Select Committee together and their answers must be of one accord. Sir Humphrey therefore lists to him the sort of excuses they need to come up: deny knowledge of certain factors, benefit of hindsight etc. Hacker is then told that the Prime Minister has taken an interest, and his special advisor, Sir Mark Spencer, has asked to see him.
Hacker meets Sir Mark at 10 Downing Street. The PM is apparently concerned that despite his pledge to cut expenditure across all departments, not one of them has managed to do so, for the simple reason that all the ministers have "gone native", i.e., been taken in by their civil service officials.
In the course of the conversation, Sir Mark indicates that he and the PM are trying to get through to the MPs that the government, although committed to cutting expenditure, has been thwarted by the civil service and that it was they who supplied the evidence to Rhodes and Betty Oldham. Hacker's attempts to come up with excuses for the Select Committee has only served to damage their efforts. Sir Mark points out that Sir Humphrey has described his minister in glowing terms — which amounts to him being a failure. Hacker is also told that his only course is "absolute loyalty", although to whom is up to him...
As he and Sir Humphrey sit before the Committee, Hacker surprises his Permanent Secretary by going further than their prepared answers and states that Rhodes, the author of the book containing the allegations, has agreed to head an independent inquiry into government waste, starting with their department. Betty Oldham questions the Minister's loyalty, but he tells her that his allegiance is to Parliament and the nation. He says he is determined to enact reforms, and that Sir Humphrey is his "staunchest ally", with which the civil servant reluctantly concurs.
Later, Sir Humphrey is exasperated at his Minister's performance and warns him that the PM will be unhappy at his "public admission of failure". However, a letter arrives from Number 10, inviting Hacker and his family to lunch at Chequers at the weekend. Hacker notices that it is handwritten, and asks Sir Humphrey if he knows the value of such a letter, to which Sir Humphrey replies, "I believe the going rate is thirty pieces of silver." Sir Humphrey is furious at the "conspiracy", but, as Hacker points out, the Minister backed up his Permanent Secretary in the same way that the civil servant backed him up.
Sir Mark Spencer is the Prime Minister's political advisor. The name "Mark Spencer" is a play on Marks & Spencer, a leading British retailer. This may be a reflection on the fact that top businessmen have often become political advisors, an example being Lord Sainsbury. It may refer specifically to Sir Derek Rayner who was an advisor on efficiency to the Prime Minister around the time the episode was filmed, and worked for Marks & Spencer including as Chairman & Chief Executive.