Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Third Report

Attachment A

Letter to Mr Keith Vaz MP from Sir Richard Wilson KCB, Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service

  Thank you for your letter of 18 April. I understand that you have talked to Anthony Merifield about this, and he and I have the same concern for the maintenance of our duty of confidentiality towards those involved in the honours process. As Ceremonial Officer, he assists me in preparing recommendations for the Prime Minister's Lists, and also deals with the very large number of nominations which we now receive from members of the public.

  I can confirm that, at present, all honours nominations are treated in strict confidence. Details of cases are sent to those who help us to validate nominations—mainly other Government Departments and Lord Lieutenants—but under the same duty of confidentiality. The purpose is to ensure that the candidate does not learn of the nomination, and to encourage those who provide validation comments to be as open and specific as need be, without risk of public disclosure. This is vital if recommendations are to be made strictly on the basis of meritorious achievement, itself a protection against supporting letters that lack the required degree of probity. The confidentiality has been preserved in the recent Data Protection Act (where honours are firmly exempt), with similar provisions in the draft Freedom of Information Bill. It is envisaged that the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill will contain an exemption for honours, but it is being proposed that any challenge to honours recommendation should be considered by the High Court with the safeguards which attend any proceedings for judicial review.

  Except where we are required to do so, for example for a police investigation or court proceedings or judicial or analogous enquiry, it is our policy not to release honours information to any third party and we believe our procedures and practices are sufficiently robust to ensure this. In the light of your concern, I will ensure that my Head of Department colleagues are made aware of what I have said here. Should we, or they, receive future requests for the release of information, I would expect the request to be referred to the Ceremonial Officer for this (or her) consideration with our legal advisers. Where appropriate, the release might carry conditions to enable an investigation to proceed but to limit wider disclosure. This, however, would be a matter for decision in the light of the particular circumstances. In the meantime, I know you are aware of the position with Hayden Phillips (who has not released any letter, but who did respond to a question of fact).

  I hope this is helpful. Anthony Merifield, and his successor Mrs Gay Catt share the understanding I have set out here.

15 May 2000

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