There is a philosophy called ethical liberalism. It's also sometimes called "post-Kantian liberalism". A few differences from classical liberalism:
- Classical liberalism is utilitarian in nature. It's goal is to provide the most happiness (or utility) to the greatest number, while incurring the least disutility (or unhappiness). Ethical liberalism is focused on social issues, especially justice.
- It assumes people are ethical, rather than rational. Classical liberalism assumes that people naturally seek their own pleasure (or utility). Ethical liberalism does not assume this, but instead assumes that people have some concept of "good" (or virtue) that helps them decide what to do.
- Because of their focus on justice and virtuous behavior, ethical liberalism supports wealth redistribution policies (such as the New Deal in America). Classical liberals oppose these policies for a variety of reasons, most notably because it violates the concepts of property rights and free exchange.
Although we rarely refer to it by name, this view is incredibly common in the United States. In my experience, often times people who label themselves as "liberal" or "progressive" in America often times claim these kinds of views. Your mileage may vary.
Shiffrin, 1983 (UCLA Law Review) contains an excellent discussion of ethical liberalism and contrasts it to classical liberalism.
Lund, 1996 (Political Research Quarterly) delves deeper into two different views of ethical liberalism.
It seems unlikely that a public servant would know about this theory, unless they were specifically trained in some kind of field involving social philosophy. More likely, they were trying to invoke a particular kind of idea or feeling in the listener.
A similar phrase from the American experience is "compassionate Conservatism". It isn't intended to be a technical term, just a way to communicate an intangible notion to the audience.