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Select Committee on Public Administration Fifth Report


3  CRITICISM OF THE CURRENT HONOURS SYSTEM

35. Although we heard much of the benefits of the honours system, many witnesses raised objections to the way it currently operates. There were two main categories of complaint. Some witnesses claimed that honours were distributed in ways that were unfair or socially inequitable. Others were more concerned with questions of process and structure, including the titles of the Orders and the machinery used to select successful candidates. We now consider these issues in turn.

Objections to the honours system: distribution

POLITICAL INFLUENCE

36. In the 1920s, the honours broker Maundy Gregory, encouraged by the Prime Minister David Lloyd George, systematically sold honours to raise money for political purposes. The notorious 1922 Birthday List contained a Barony for Sir Joseph Robinson, a convicted fraudster who had paid Gregory £30,000 for the privilege. The King was concerned enough to write to Lloyd George to ask him to treat honours with more care, criticising the "questionable circumstances" in which awards had been granted. His Majesty continued: "the case of Sir Joseph Robinson … must be regarded as little less than an insult to the Crown and to the House of Lords and may, I fear, work injury to the Prerogative in the public mind".[25]

37. The age of Gregory is long past. Such open corruption is now gone. Yet party donors still receive honours. According to a number of our witnesses, there are still those who try to play the system. The commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, for instance, claimed that there were determined attempts to obtain honours, attempts that she described as proving "a level of corruption":

    "I know someone who made a calculation six years ago that he would pay this amount of money and get his first honour, which he did, and then he would pay this amount of money and get something else, and he would finally be knighted. It was a game plan and it is a game plan he is pursuing extremely successfully, until he gets his final prize, as he does all his other business ventures. There is this whole problem of what is the meaning of an honour, how is it bestowed? And why?".[26]

38. The journalist Jon Snow, who made a special study of the system after refusing an honour, believed elements of corruption are present, though they are not pervasive:

    "The higher the honour, the more open it is to corruption. Certainly we have instances in which peerages have been secured by party donation, which I would regard as fairly clear-cut, particularly dealing with the legal profession, with no known association with the party until the donation, that kind of thing . I would say, generally speaking, it is pretty clean because it is so obscure".[27]

39. However, Gay Catto, the Cabinet Office Ceremonial Officer, who is the system's chief administrator, told us that the Honours Scrutiny Committee, which considers the propriety of honours where the recipient has made a substantial donation to a political party, today raises only "very occasional" question marks over an award.[28]

40. Even where there is no financial dimension, honours can be useful to political managers. Professor Peter Hennessy characterised the honours patronage exercised by Prime Ministers as 'the lubricant of the State'. He gave an account of the way outgoing ministers were offered honours during Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's drastic Cabinet reshuffle of 1962, seeing it as an example of something very uncomfortable, if perhaps occasionally necessary:

    "I was shocked, however—because I live a blameless life—when the file was declassified for Mr Macmillan's Night of the Long Knives, when he sacked a third of his cabinet. Because the private office feared he might get upset—because he was quite sensitive to butchering people—they had little cribs in front of him which said things like, "Offer Mr Watkinson a CH now and a Viscountcy whenever he is ready" at the bottom of the form of words he might use, to soften the blow. That is not corrupt but it is a little bit tricky".[29]

41. The political environment in which honours are awarded can benefit some groups and disadvantage others. Journalists are affected in several ways. Mr Major felt that there were "great difficulties with awards for journalists",[30] and recommended none for honours during his time in Downing Street. The accusation is often made that journalistic honours are in effect rewards for political support.

THE TREATMENT OF STATE SERVANTS

42. We also considered allegations of favouritism towards state servants—especially senior civil servants, diplomats and senior members of the armed forces. This evidence must be seen in the light of the rapidly changing environment for public services. The Government has made no secret of its determination to improve public service performance and to reform the Civil Service to ensure that it is fit for the purpose of delivery. Many of the traditional roles played by senior civil servants—as advisers to ministers, leaders in policy formulation and guardians of the public service ethos—are subject to challenge as new demands are placed on them.

43. Yet, according to some witnesses, public service reform has almost completely failed to touch the honours system. Many expressed particular concern that senior servants of the state, many of them working in Whitehall on policy development rather than on front-line delivery of public services, continue to have a disproportionately good chance of being awarded an honour. Those whose contributions are made in the private and voluntary sectors are treated much less favourably.

44. The reasons for this apparent imbalance are largely historical. In the middle ages and for many centuries afterwards, honours were primarily seen as necessary accompaniments to service close to the 'fount of honour'—the monarch. Inevitably, those who were at court, and in later years those in the wider government service, received far more honours than those outside the royal circle. Their advantage is particularly enshrined in the continued existence of two Orders which are reserved almost exclusively for public servants: the Order of St Michael and St George and the separate Order of the Bath. State servants are additionally eligible for honours in other Orders, such as that of the British Empire, giving them a very good chance of receiving an award. The question is whether this structural advantage should continue.

45. Central to these concerns is the notion of 'automaticity', the term used by John Major and others to describe the custom of conferring an honour to go with a particular public sector appointment. Thus a large proportion of permanent secretaries receive a knighthood shortly after taking up their posts, and the same applies to senior ambassadorships such as those in Washington and Paris.

46. The Royal College of Nursing criticised the apparent discrimination in favour of diplomats as "clearly unjustified" and said "state servants should compete on the same terms as everybody else".[31] The College believed that it must be possible to break the link between social/employment status and the class of honour received. Similar views were expressed by the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor, who criticised the "apparent inevitability of honours" for senior public servants. They were also strongly opposed to "disproportionate" numbers of honours for such officials.[32] It was suggested by David Graham that, while honours for most people are "completely unexpected and … therefore highly valued.", for the civil service and the armed services they are often "planned and expected".[33]

47. The Wilson Review tended to bear this out:"In the home civil service, the diplomatic service and the armed forces, there is a clear correlation between the level of honour and the grade or rank of the recipient. Hence K/Ds go to those who reach the top grade or rank of their service—DSl, four-star and Grade 1/lA—and only rarely to those who do not".[34] It naturally follows that, in some circles, failure to achieve a certain honour is taken as a sign of serious professional or personal shortcomings. John Lidstone reported that "one Major-General told me last week that if he had not got the requisite CB, fellow officers would automatically have assumed that there must be a black mark against his name!".[35]

48. The need to reward special contributions is, however, well understood by some of those involved in producing recommendations for honours. Professor Sir David King set out the rigorous approach taken by the science and technology selection committee of which he is a member. To be recommended for an award from the committee, scientists must be outstanding professionals, but they must also have something else:

    "My belief is that for each award we have to look very seriously at whether the individual adds lustre to the award as much as to whether the individual is honoured by the award. … I would say we would be looking for a quality I would describe as good citizenship, so the individual who has made contributions to public life over and above the adornment of themselves through their own career".[36]

49. As an example of what was required, Sir David quoted the case of the leading scientists who assisted him during the foot and mouth epidemic. It was a case of something special, service to the state well beyond the call of duty, and certainly well beyond 'automaticity':

    "They worked with me from the moment I asked them to work with me. They dropped everything and worked with me around the clock—sometimes I was on the phone to them at midnight, three in the morning—and this was a tremendous piece of good citizenship. So I am delighted to say that those people were honoured through the honours system. Do they appreciate the honours? Damn right they do".[37]

50. One argument for special generosity to state servants stems from the relative modesty of public sector salaries when compared to those in the private sector. The personal satisfaction of receiving an honour can, it is said, act as some compensation for lack of financial reward. In response to this, several witnesses pointed out that, for top civil servants and some high-ranking local government officers at least, salary levels have improved substantially in recent years, while pension and other benefits have also to be taken into account. Pay in the armed forces has for many years been higher than that for equivalent grades in the Civil Service. On the other hand, the pay of many more junior public servants remains low; in 2002 more than a third of full-time civil servants earned less than £15,000 a year, with the average at just under £17,000.[38]

51. A sense of proportion is also necessary. Our statistical analysis suggests that the advantage enjoyed by state servants has been diminishing for some time. Reforms of the honours system instigated in the past forty years by Harold Wilson and John Major have been intended to produce a fairer balance between the public, private and voluntary sectors, and they have been partly successful in achieving that aim. Sir Hayden Phillips pointed out that the long-term trend was clearly away from the state sector: "Fifty years ago about 40 per cent of all awards went to Crown servants, ie civil servants, and it is now under 14 per cent. That is a higher percentage than education, which … last time around was about ten per cent, but the trend is clear".[39]

LACK OF DIVERSITY

52. Some witnesses argued that the present honours system entrenched racial and other disadvantage and regional and class divisions. The former Prime Minister, John Major, whose 1993 reforms were partly aimed at promoting his version of 'the classless society', suggested that more still had to be done, telling us "We need also to address issues such as diversity, and the … under-representation of minorities".[40]

53. The Wilson Review of 2000/01 concluded that the current nomination process, established under the Major reforms, "has struggled to generate enough female and ethnic minority candidates" and that indicative targets for greater diversity were not working effectively.[41] Our own statistical research lends strong support to the suggestion that race and gender can determine whether (and what kind of) an honour is received.[42] It suggested that, although 7.9% of the UK population at the 2001 census were black or of minority ethnic origin, only between 4.2% and 7.0% of awards went to people from such backgrounds. Especially in the "senior" categories of honours (CBE and above), those with ethnic minority backgrounds appear noticeably less likely to be successful than white people. According to the figures, women also benefited less than men from the reforms introduced by John Major in the 1990s.

54. Class divisions were thought by some witnesses to be exacerbated by the use of titles.[43] Professor David Cannadine urged us to look across the Atlantic for historical lessons:

    "In a meritocratic society which (at least in some quarters) aspires to be classless, is it appropriate to perpetuate the hierarchical archaisms of 'lord', 'lady' and 'sir'? When the United States won its freedom from Britain, the founding fathers did not abolish honours, but they did abolish titles".[44]

55. Sometimes whole groups were said to be disadvantaged. In one case social and regional discrimination appeared to be reflected in the approach to sporting honours. The All-Party Rugby League Group (representing a sport played largely in the north of England), argued that the allegedly unfair treatment of the sport's players and coaches by the honours system stemmed from long-standing and "quite open hostility from what might be described as the British establishment … an excellent example of the way such a system can be argued to exacerbate social divisions".[45] The Group pointed to a recent Parliamentary Answer which "gave a league table of the awards to sportspeople over the last five years with rugby union at the top with 52 and rugby league at the bottom with … one".

56. More broadly, our figures (Annex) reveal significant differences between the nations and regions of the UK when it comes to honours. The north west of England appears to fare worse than the inhabitants of any other English region when it comes to honours. Containing 11% of the population, it receives only 7% of the awards. Yorkshire and Humberside, with 8% of the population, is slightly luckier, with 6% of awards. Scotland receives 13% of awards despite having just 9% of the population, and Northern Ireland (3% of the population) gets as many awards (6%) as the much more populous Yorkshire and Humberside. London and the South East have only 27% of the population but 31% of awards.

57. In addition to these broad statistical patterns, there are significant differences between the levels of award made to those whose nominations come via the various honours committees. It appears from our analysis that the chances of a senior honour are good if the candidate emerges from the fields of science and technology or the arts, but less good if the recipient's service has been largely local.

"WINDOW-DRESSING", STARDUST AND THE CULT OF CELEBRITY

58. Many voices were raised against the number of awards to celebrities, and Lord Hurd's was among them:

59. The honouring of celebrity also has a long pedigree in the history of the Order of the British Empire. When the first ever list with names of recipients of the Order was being considered in the summer of 1917, David Lloyd George, the then Prime Minister, was said to have pressed for it to contain some recognisable figures. Sir Frederick Ponsonby, Keeper of the Privy Purse, referred to the inclusion of such people as 'window dressing', "to make the new Decoration attractive".

60. Peter Hennessy recalled the dictum of a later Prime Minister:

    "The late Harold Wilson used to say, when presented with civil service style drafts of who the deserving were: "I want to sprinkle a handful of stardust through here"—and some would say Harold, on occasion, overdid it".[47]

61. A recurrent theme in submissions to us was the way in which the inclusion of 'celebrity' names of assorted kinds was thought to bring the honours system into disrepute. In contrast to the individual prominence of such honours are the collective efforts of teams. Scientists often produce their best work in small groups, and we heard evidence that some were uneasy with being singled-out for honours while others who contributed to research success were left out.[48] But it is not just scientists who are affected. Maurice Frankel, who was honoured for his campaigning work on freedom of information, told us of his discomfort at being approached, and welcomed the idea of collective honours:

    "Yes, I think that would have been a lot better from my point of view, because there have been people who have worked for years at the campaign, as well as me, who have moved on, but it is a collective endeavour actually by the organisation".[49]

Objections to the present honours system: process and format

62. Some witnesses expressed doubts over the integrity or effectiveness of the processes by which recommendations for honours are made. Others argued that the system was unnecessarily complicated, which made it almost impossible for the public to understand.

A POORLY-UNDERSTOOD ANACHRONISM?

63. It was suggested by a number of our correspondents that there were too many Orders with too many gradations and that few could understand the differences between the various degrees of knighthood or between the status of the Order of Merit and the Companion of Honour.[50] Important distinctions, such as that between the Orders in the personal gift of the Queen and those which are conferred on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, were easily blurred amid the complexity of the system.[51] "Republic", the Campaign for an Elected Head of State, sharply attacked current arrangements for their obscurantism and lack of accountability:

    "The system exemplifies and publicly reinforces the unhealthy symbiotic relationship between the prime minister and the unelected Head of State i.e. enabling both parties to share the power and the glory while avoiding any attributable responsibility or personal accountability (the sovereign as 'fount of honour' acting on the advice of the prime minister)".[52]

IMPERIAL ELABORATION—"FOR GOD AND THE EMPIRE"

64. Some saw the system, with all its ramifications and acronyms, as a remnant of a bygone imperial age. Professor David Cannadine has argued that the system as it is today partly owes its origins to the need to bind the elites of the Empire together. The Order of St Michael and St George, infinitely adaptable, was conferred on senior political figures in many parts of the Empire in the later years of the 19th century. Recipients included Prime Ministers from Canada and Newfoundland, Indian princes, Malayan sultans, Sudanese sheikhs and Nigerian emirs. Cannadine sees this as "an emphatic sign that they were being treated as social equals" whatever their colour or culture "and this common lust for titles brought together the British proconsular elite and the indigenous colonial elites into a unified, ranked, honorific body—'one vast interconnected world'".[53] Today, however, the need to join together the Empire's elites has gone, leaving a system that is, according to Professor Cannadine:

    "far too elaborate and far too imperial for the downsized, post-imperial nation that Britain has become since 1945/47. …Now the British Empire has gone, it is no longer appropriate to have the most widely-distributed Order named after it".[54]

65. Professor Cannadine was not alone in his criticism of the system's reminders of Empire. Mr Lidstone also suggested that imperial titles no longer had any relevance, drawing a parallel with the fate of Indian Empire Orders following partition and independence from Britain:

    "two orders of Knighthood, the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India, designated by the letters KCSI and created in 1861, and the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, designated by the letters KCIE and created in 1877; no knights of either order have been appointed since India was proclaimed independent and partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947. Obviously to appoint anyone to any of these three orders of knighthood today would be absurd. If the absurdity of this is accepted then:

    Why should the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire continue to be awarded when there is no British Empire?".[55]

66. Ironically in the light of what appears to have been the intention of its founders (to bind elites of different races together under the banner of Empire), many now see the concept of "Empire" as racially divisive. For Ms Alibhai-Brown this issue came to have a strong personal resonance. As she told us, she originally accepted an MBE to some extent because of the situation of her family:

    "Of course, the older generation of migrants, for whom life has been so tough … for them it is a mark of reassurance. For my mother it was that we would not be deported, because she was so worried that I am such a controversial figure that, having been thrown out of Uganda, we were going to be thrown out of here".[56]

67. However, when the poet Benjamin Zephaniah returned his MBE, Ms Alibhai-Brown began to see the force of the argument against "Empire":

    "But when Benjamin Zephaniah did what he did, several things happened to quite a lot of us who were ex-members of the Empire, if you like, that in a sense we had colluded in something we did not agree with in spite of being unhappy for a number of reasons, not just because of the word "Empire" … it is completely unacceptable that we glorify a period like that where so many of us are now British in our hearts".[57]

68. Jon Snow told us of the case of Gus John, a prominent educationalist of Afro-Caribbean origin who refused a CBE in 2000:

    "He turned it down because he regarded the Commander of the British Empire as being part of the "iconography of British imperialism". As he had fought his whole life trying to unpick the consequences of British imperialism, he felt it was a pretty serious dishonour to have to wander round the planet henceforth as a Commander of the very institution he had tried to demolish".[58]

69. These are not new sensitivities. Those who helped to create the insignia (or ceremonial ornament) of the Order in 1917 were well aware of the resonance of the words. Elinor Halle, the designer of the insignia, told an official that the original proposal for the motto "For God and Empire", was not quite right, and suggested that it should be "For God and the Empire". She argued for this change of wording, she said:

    "not only because it filled the space better, but because it struck me afterwards that 'the Empire' means our Empire as it exists, while 'for God and Empire' might be taken to mean aspirations towards a universal Empire, which might ruffle the feelings of other nations, but I daresay I am wrong".[59]

70. After considering the question, the King agreed with Miss Halle, and the insignia's motto today still refers to "the Empire".

"HANG ON, I WONDER HOW THEY GOT AN HONOUR?": CIVIL SERVANTS, MINISTERS AND THE HONOURS MACHINERY

71. The question of ministerial accountability for the operation of the system was also raised. The precise involvement of ministers in the honours system is difficult to assess. We had interesting evidence on this point from two former sports ministers. In their experience, departmental civil servants played the pivotal role in the honours process. Lord Monro told us:

    "As Minister for Sport in the Scottish Office 1992-95 I found the situation somewhat better in that the Civil Servants discussed the candidates for awards. Again the Minister did not see the final list before publication.

    "The Situation continued with other Departments with which I had responsibility—Agriculture, Environment and Fishing. I believe Ministers have a duty to look closely at awards, but not of course either a definite approval or rejection".

72. For Kate Hoey MP, sports minister in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport from 1999 to 2001, finding out about the DCMS honours machinery was a voyage of discovery:

    "I became particularly interested in the Honours System when, shortly after I was Minister, the first round of honours came out … and there were lot of names on it that I thought, "Hang on, I wonder how they got an honour". I then decided I would like to find out how it worked".

73. Further investigation revealed a complex world of sub-committees:

74. There are alternative views. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kenneth Clarke, concluded that honours recommendations could take up too much time, and then took steps to prevent this.: "When I was in the departments I tried to avoid everybody taking a disproportionate amount of time over this … I was quite determined that I was not going to waste hours of my life, which you could easily do, in interminable discussions about who you were giving Honours to".[61]

75. As well as collecting a large proportion of the available honours, senior civil servants therefore play a considerable role in the selection machinery. In 2000, the Wilson Review calculated that 22 out of 54 members of the honours committees were civil servants.[62] However, because of multiple memberships, civil servants occupied 55 out of the 89 places available, and all of the members of the leading Main honours committee were civil servants. This scale of involvement by senior civil servants in the process is in stark contrast to the arrangements in Australia and Canada, where non-civil service members predominate on the selection bodies.[63] Diversity, or the lack of it, is also an issue. The Wilson Review vividly describes the UK honours committees' membership as "a predominantly white, male elderly elite". Out of 54 members of the UK committees, only 15 were female and four from an ethnic minority. The average age was 60.

The Blakemore Case

76. There has also been attention to the manner in which civil servants operate the machinery. In December 2003, leaked documents from the Main Honours Committee appeared to suggest that Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, had been turned down for an honour because of his views on animal experimentation. In a series of evidence sessions, we sought to establish how such remarks found their way into the record, and what influence they may have had on the decisions of the honours committees. Professor Blakemore told us of his anger when he read the leaked remarks:

    "My first reaction was, and, I have to say, it was the reaction of many people, including Lord Sainsbury, that this must have been a comment from an ill-informed civil servant detached from Government attitude and Government views".

77. Later, in various conversations with those involved in the process, Professor Blakemore was, he told us, reassured :

    "I gather that they were informal notes, never meant to be released, so I do not think one should be too critical of drafting accuracy or the depth of analysis in those notes".

78. We also sought explanations of the process from Professor Sir David King, Head of the Office of Science and Technology and a member of the Science and Technology Honours Committee, and that committee's Chairman, Sir Richard Mottram, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions. They supported the account given by Professor Blakemore, without leaving us much clearer about the reasons for the appearance of the offending comments. Sir David asked: "Where did that phrase come from? I believe the secretary wrote it down. I cannot believe that the committee expressed that view".[64] Nevertheless he had great confidence in the Committee's composition and judgement:

    "a committee composed of three senior civil servants, six very distinguished scientists … I do not think anyone looking at the committee if the membership was published would question whether that committee could make the right decision in relation to the science, medicine and technology communities".[65]

79. Sir Richard put the summary containing remarks about Professor Blakemore into context:

    "this was a 1300 word summary of a three-hour discussion … it is therefore a highly compressed version of a much longer discussion and in a number of cases the media discussion, not just in relation to Professor Blakemore, actually took individual sentences from this record, played them up, drew inferences from them which were to my knowledge in a number of cases misleading in relation to the discussion of the Committee, but it is quite difficult for me to prove that to you without revealing the discussion of the Committee".[66]

The Prime Minister's Role

80. The Prime Minister and his Office play a significant part in the production of the list that bears his name; it is passed through Downing Street's hands before it goes to Buckingham Palace, and the Prime Minister can add and subtract names at that stage. The Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence have parallel responsibilities for their own, much smaller lists.

81. Mr Major demonstrated his interest in the honours system both in his 1993 reforms and his proposals to this inquiry. Other Prime Ministers have also been closely involved. Ms Hoey felt that such involvement was sometimes misjudged:

    "I personally think that footballers who have trashed dressing rooms or done things like that in the past should not get an Honour, but sometimes those particular people are very popular and therefore may well be added by Downing Street because they would appeal to what Downing Street would feel were, you know, young voters who might be attracted to vote Labour or perhaps, in the case of the previous government, Conservative".[67]

82. Mr Major pointed out, on the other hand, that in many ways the Prime Minister acts not as the author of the lists but rather as a constitutional postman:

    "The prime minister's list is much misunderstood … When people refer to the prime minister's list there is presumption that the prime minister sits down, rolls his sleeves up, reaches for a bit of paper and writes down the names of millions of people. It really is not that way at all. The prime minister has constitutional ownership of the list. It is not a list produced personally by the prime minister".[68]

A LACK OF TRANSPARENCY

83. There was criticism of the fact that the names of the members of the honours committees and other details of the system are not made public. For Jon Snow

84. Sir Hayden Phillips explained the thinking behind the present policy:

    "The view so far has consistently been that apart from the senior civil servant who co-ordinates and leads the operation—now me, formerly the head of the home Civil Service—all the rest of the names of those who advise should be kept confidential simply on the grounds that in an area like this the risk of people wanting to lobby individuals for particular honours for particular people is real".[70]

85. This reticence about the system also extended to the internal Wilson Review, which was written in 2000 and 2001. It was only published at the end of 2003 after a request from this Committee. Peter Hennessy claimed to know what happened to the Review in the meantime:

    "Sir Richard Wilson genuinely wished to use it as the basis of a reform plan to be put to Tony Blair … but a succession of crises—from foot and mouth disease to wars—distracted Wilson's (and others') attention".[71]

86. In 2003 Sir Hayden Phillips described the Wilson Review to us in surprisingly downbeat terms, saying that it was "more of a stocktaking about where things were rather than saying 'Let us tear everything up and have a fundamental look at all sorts of issues'".[72]

87. The Parliamentary Answers given to Mr White (see para 12 above) have thrown a useful light on the resources devoted to honours work in individual departments, but even here transparency has not been total. The Ministry of Defence, which produces its own list, is very unforthcoming about its honours team, saying in response to a Question that "No record is taken of the time each person or group is involved with this work".[73]

TITLES AND THE HOUSE OF LORDS

88. It has been recommended in the past, by the Royal Commission under Lord Wakeham and others, that honours should be clearly separated from positions as legislators in the second chamber.[74] This was the clear implication of our own proposals for a largely elected second chamber, published in 2002.[75] Although we do not intend to comment again on the reform of the House of Lords, we noted that uncertainties over the status of the peerage continue to be a cause of confusion in the honours system. Professor David Cannadine outlined some of the main issues:

    "The confusion about appointments is unsatisfactory, reflecting the ambiguous position of a peerage as being simultaneously an honour and a power position. Why are they awarded both to recognize merit and as political appointments? There is the further difficulty that the future (and nature) of life peerages is inescapably bound up with House of Lords reform. If the House of Lords remains a wholly nominated second chamber, will this make all appointments 'political'? If the House of Lords is elected, will peerages continue to exist at all?"[76]

89. We heard evidence from a number of witnesses that the name-changing honours, those which conferred a title such as 'Sir', posed special difficulties. Professor Peter Harper told us of his dilemma on being offered a knighthood:

    "I was fortunate to be awarded a knighthood in the recent list, so my experience might be relevant. I nearly declined it as I had no wish to be called 'sir', but after thought decided to accept but not to use the title … I … would suggest that removing the title 'sir' would be an excellent thing; it would remove the element of snobbery that tends to surround such titles, while retaining the honour involved".[77]

90. Simon Jenkins, the former Editor of The Times, also prefers not to use the title 'Sir':

    "I felt, as I think many people now feel, that it should be possible to receive a prize without having to wave it in everyone's face. Other people feel differently, and I respect their view, but I just prefer to be a common citizen with everybody else … I am against changing people's names such that they walk about town and country declaring themselves to be different from their fellow men. I think it should be possible to accept the merit of either the nation or your colleagues without doing that".[78]

91. These 'reluctant' knights appear to be in good and historic company. In 1916, a small but powerful committee, including the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office and the Private secretary to the Prime Minister, recommended to the Cabinet an "Order of the Empire" which would have five "classes" or levels of award, but no knighthood attached to any of them. Another member, Sir Frederick Ponsonby, said that "the general feeling seems to be that it is a distinctly good idea" to avoid knighthoods in the new, more 'democratic' Order. He prayed in aid a number of distinguished Conservative figures:

    "There are a large number of people who dislike knighthoods, not only the Labour members, but such men as Arthur Balfour (First Lord of the Admiralty and a former Prime Minister), Walter Long (President of the Local Government Board), etc."[79]

92. In the event, the final Order of the British Empire included not one but two awards which changed names to Sir or Dame, but it is clear that this was by no means a foregone conclusion, and that such titles were not automatically seen as beneficial.

93. Professor Cannadine, however, cautioned that, while there were strong arguments in favour of abolishing titles, we needed to exercise caution in considering such a move in the light of the position of existing peers, knights and dames:

    "If it were suggested that in future honours should not carry with them titles, that would still leave, as it were, the baggage of the past (that is, all those at present with titles, some of whom have earned them, some of whom have inherited them) and I think it would not lie consistently if one took the view that in future there will be no titles but, nevertheless, we will stay with the titles that are already here. I think the Committee would need to address that question".[80]

A SYSTEM THAT IS NOT "JOINED-UP"

94. It also became clear during our inquiry that the honours system is not well equipped to detect and reward certain types of public service. One problem is that it favours those whose contribution is made in one or two major and easily identifiable roles—a senior official who has spent many years in one department, perhaps, or someone who has been a leading figure in just one charity. The system, which is based to a great extent on departmental recommendations, is not especially effective at monitoring the "all-rounder" who might do substantial work for seven or eight charities or local bodies. Mr Major outlined his concerns to us in this way:

95. Neither is the system attuned to some of the realities of life. There is a convention that people should not be considered for honours connected with their work after a certain point. In practice, we understand that this means that they need to be recognised while they are still at work or within six months or so after their retirement. If they are missed at that point, they are very unlikely to be recognised later. This was seen by some as being unfair. It was put to us that there should be no constraints of this type, which are effectively based on age, on access to honours.


25   Michael De-la-Noy, op cit, p 112 Back

26   Q 331 Back

27   Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2002-03, Ministerial Powers and the Prerogative, HC 642-iv, Q 160  Back

28   Q 261 Back

29   Q 451 Back

30   Q 850 Back

31   HON 82 Back

32   HON 76 Back

33   HON 83 Back

34   Wilson Review: Criteria for levels of honours, para 39 Back

35   HON 24 Back

36   Q 128 Back

37   Q 147 Back

38   Cabinet Office, Civil Service Statistics 2002.  Back

39   Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2002-03, Ministerial Powers and the Prerogative, HC 642-v, Q 197  Back

40   HON 95 Back

41   Wilson Review: Nominations, para 14 Back

42   See Annex. Back

43   HON 40 Back

44   HON 53 Back

45   HON 91 Back

46   HON 73 Back

47   Q 431 Back

48   HON 87 Back

49   Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2002-03, The Work of the Ombudsman, HC 506-i, Q 92  Back

50   HON 59 and HON 35 Back

51   HON 46 Back

52   HON 13 Back

53   David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: How the British saw their Empire (London, 2001), p 88 Back

54   HON 53 Back

55   HON 24 Back

56   Q 331 Back

57   Ibid. Back

58   Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2002-03, Ministerial Powers and the Prerogative, HC 642-iv, Q 127  Back

59   PJ Galloway, The Order of the British Empire (London, 1996), p 84 Back

60   Ibid. Back

61   Q 515 Back

62   Wilson Review: Committee Membership, paras 13-14 Back

63   See below paras 112, 113  Back

64   Q 98 Back

65   Q 102 Back

66   Q 615 Back

67   Q 520 Back

68   Q 845 Back

69   Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2002-03, Ministerial Powers and the Prerogative, HC 642-iv, Q 127  Back

70   Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2002-03, Ministerial Powers and the Prerogative, HC 642-v, Q 191  Back

71   Peter Hennessy, "Tower of Bauble", The Tablet, 20/27 December 2003  Back

72   Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2002-03, Ministerial Powers and the Prerogative, HC 642-v, Q 233  Back

73   HC Deb 30 June 2004, col 353W Back

74   Royal Commission on Reform of the House of Lords, A House for the Future, Cm 4534, January 2000, Recommendation 127 Back

75   Public Administration Select Committee, Fifth Report 2001-2002, The Second Chamber: Continuing the reform, HC 494 Back

76   HON 53 Back

77   HON 100 Back

78   Q 485, Q 486 Back

79   Galloway, Order of the British Empire, p 7 Back

80   Q 442 Back

81   HON 95 Back


 
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