Select Committee on Public Administration Fifth Report



"I have done the state some service, and they know't".

(Othello, Act V Scene II)

This Report considers the honours system (except awards for gallantry and those honours which are in the personal gift of the Queen), and asks whether the current Orders continue to be the right means of marking service to the community. The Committee examines the arguments for and against change, and assesses the merits of various proposals for reform.

We found that there was solid public support for many of the honours conferred, especially appointments to the Order of the British Empire. There was little if any evidence of the sort of serious corruption which at one time affected the system, and the administrative procedures for the selection of candidates were seen to be working effectively.

However, we share the unease of critics who were concerned at the continued award of honours to political donors and others who have rendered political services. We considered that the reputation of the system could be jeopardised by the fact that the Prime Minister's Office still produces the main list of honours for submission to the Queen. The Report expresses concern at the lack of transparency which surrounds the operation of the system, and in particular the failure to make public the identities of the members of the selection committees. Ministerial accountability was also considered to be weak.

The Report expresses doubts about the way honours are distributed to state servants, including civil servants and members of the armed forces. It was felt that the continued use of the two Orders almost exclusively conferred on state servants—the Order of the Bath and the Order of St Michael and St George—suggested that they were receiving favourable treatment. Doubts about equity and fairness were deepened by the composition of the honours selection committees, which continue to be dominated by senior civil servants. The title "Order of the British Empire" was now considered to be unacceptable, being thought to embody values that are no longer shared by many of the country's population.

We make a series of recommendations which we believe are necessary to ensure that the honours system is consistent with the principles of sound public administration. These include: an end to further appointments to the Order of the British Empire, the Order of the Bath and the Order of St Michael and St George; the foundation of a new Order of British Excellence; a phasing out of titles and name-changing honours; reforms to increase the independence of the selection process through the establishment of an Honours Commission and the end of the 'Prime Minister's List' and other ministerial honours lists; and proposals for increasing public awareness of the system.

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Prepared 13 July 2004