Memorandum by Republic: Campaign for an
Elected Head of State (HON 13)
Republic is strongly opposed to the monarchy
(a) It denies the British people the right
to choose their Head of State.
(b) It devalues our system of government
(eg via the Crown Prerogative powers and the Privy Council).
(c) It corrodes and diminishes our society
(eg by demanding deference to the royal family and underpinning
our deeply ingrained class system).
Republic's full arguments for an elected Head
of State are laid out in the booklet attached with this submission:
Ending the Royal Farce (August 2003).
Not surprisingly, therefore, Republic cannot
support an honours system presided over by an unelected Head of
State. In this system the "supreme moment of glory"
comes when a person whose qualifications are merely to have been
born into a particular family deigns to confer awards on hundreds
of British "subjects" who have been infantilised into
believing in fairytale princes and princesses. It is scandalous
that in the 21st century many British people, including some of
extraordinary achievement, are awarded honours by an elderly lady
of no special distinction who inherited her position as Head of
State and who in English law "can do no wrong" (see
the enclosed commentary on the Royal Prerogative paper from Sir
Hadyn Phillips). This is a travesty of propriety and democracy.
2. REFUSING OR
It was recently revealed that a significant
number of Britons have refused honours over the last 40 or 50
years, that the awards procedure is Byzantine and secretive, and
that awards may be conferred or withheld for questionable reasons.
Subsequent debate in the media has demonstrated widespread dissatisfaction
with the honours system, even among those who have accepted honours.
Republic appreciates that refusing honours does
not necessarily signify an anti-monarchist or republican stance.
The motives for refusing honours are clearly very varied: eg waiting
for "a better (ie higher) honour"; rebelliousness, "bolshieness"
or hostility to the principle of honours; anti-Labour or anti-Conservative
sentimentdepending on the "colour" of the government
of the day; unease about having the British Empire in the name
of some awards; horror of the snobbery often associated with honours;
dissatisfaction with awards made to or withheld from certain people
in the past; anger at the monarch's award of honours to other
members of the royal family and the royal household. The motives
for accepting honours obviously also vary: eg very many people
may well feel proud to be "recognised"; some people
opposed to personal honours may feel obliged to accept honours
so as to gain "recognition" for their profession, business,
or leisure-time activity; some sons or daughters of immigrants
may accept honours to please their ageing parents who believe
that honours mean "acceptance".
Republic opposes the honours system in its present
(a) The monarch's central role in the system
is viewed with cynicism and suspicion by many Britons who object
to the unmerited position of unelected and award-laden royals
standing at the pinnacle of our allegedly democratic society.
(b) The system incorporates a fatal internal
contradiction: on the one hand it pays lip service to the idea
of rewarding merit in a society of equals; on the other hand it
is inextricably intertwined with an institution based on unmerited
privilege and wealth ie the monarchy. It highlights the inescapable
incompatibility of monarchy and democracy.
(c) The hierarchy of awards (eg knighthoods
to toffs, MBEs to dustmen) perpetuates Britain's divisive class-ridden
social structure: this hierarchical system is presided over by
an unelected monarch who personifies and validates the elitism
and class divisions which corrode and debase our society.
(d) The system is characterised by Ruritanian
ritual, monarchist mumbo jumbo, and royalist flim-flam inappropriate
to a modern democratic country eg the king or queen "dubs"
knights by tapping their shoulders with a sword.
(e) The unelected Head of State confers honours,
usually of the highest rank, on his or her relatives for doing
nothingthe most blatant form of corruption (nepotism) in
British public life.
(f) The system exemplifies and publicly re-inforces
the unhealthy symbiotic relationship between the prime minister
and the unelected Head of State ie 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).
(g) The role played by the prime minister
is seen to be an exploitation of the system for purposes of political
"spin"and "social engineering".
(h) Many awards appear to have been made
in exchange for substantial donations to political parties.
(i) The system is operated in a secretive
way which facilitates manipulation by civil servants and politicians
with questionable motives and objectives eg giving an award to
a relatively unsuccessful tennis star "to add interest"
to a lacklustre new year's honours list.
(j) Some people are induced to shy away from
innovative or unconventional thinking and action, speaking up
on controversial subjects, or "whistle-blowing"for
fear that they may jeopardise their chances of an honour.
(k) In certain public sector spheres (eg
the civil service) disproportionate numbers of honours are awarded
automatically on the principle of "buggin's turn".
(l) Many honours are awarded to people merely
for doing jobs they are paid to do rather than for extraordinary
or exceptional achievement.
(m) Honours are awarded to people who have
already been rewarded in terms of personal wealth and recognition
beyond the wildest dreams of most Britons eg showbusiness and
(n) There are unacceptable anomalies in the
system eg Sir John Jones's wife may be styled Lady Jones (though
she has merited no award in her own right), while the wife of
Mr John Jones MBE may not be referred to as Mrs Jones MBE; a husband
derives no title from being married to a Dame.
(o) Many of the honours have names which
are out of date or even archaic, with some harking back to an
aristocratic pecking order which is "a riddle wrapped in
a mystery inside an enigma" to the average Briton eg Officer
in The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE); Knight
in The Most Noble Order of the Garter (KG); Knight in The Most
Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle (KT); Knight Grand
Cross in The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (GCB); Lieutenant
in The Royal Victorian Order (LVO); Knight (or Dame) Grand Cross
in The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George
(GCMG); earldoms, viscountcies, baronies.
In a British republic the honours system would
be substantially simplified and slimmed down; the awards procedure
would be completely transparent and based on clear criteria of
exceptional public service; and the honours would not involve
the use of bogus aristocratic titles or references to archaic,
outdated, or non-existent institutions eg the British Empire.
The stultifying regalia and trappings of monarchywith their
connotations of elitism, unearned privilege, unmerited wealth,
and undeserved deference from the "lower orders"would
be swept away. The elected Head of State would award national
honours to British citizens in an appropriately solemn ceremony
symbolising Britain's belief in representative democracy.
Republic's Proposals for Immediate Reform
All the existing honours will be abolished. Those
people already in receipt of honours may retain them as a courtesy
if they wish, but all existing awardsnotably those involving
titles such as lord, duke, earl, viscount, baron, knightwill
cease to be officially recognised.
A small Honours Office will be established. This
will comprise: an independent panel of non-government, part-time
experts in a range of fields (eg science, the armed forces, the
police and the emergency services); a distinguished non-government
chair of the panel; and full-time civil service support staff
accountable to the chair. The independent panel and chair will
be appointed by a House of Commons committee over which no party
has overall control and over which the prime minister and the
government have no influence. No civil servants or other people
involved in running the present honours system will be allowed
to work in or for the Honours Office: it is essential that new
principles and a completely new mindset be brought to bear within
the new system. The vetting of proposed awards will be done by
the panel on the basis of evidence and references checked and
scrutinised by the civil servantsbut the civil servants
will not be able to eliminate (or insert) names without reference
to the panel. The agreed list of proposed awards will go for final
approval to a small all-party House of Commons committee.
New honours will be awarded to far fewer people than
at present, perhaps up to 50 or 100 per annum, and will be awarded
only for extraordinary achievement, very exceptional public service
(ie acting above and beyond the call of duty), and remarkable
feats of bravery or courage.
The criteria for honours and the procedure for awarding
honours will be widely publicised in advance of the first new
awards being considered. Absolute transparency, objectivity and
fairness will be paramount. The new honours will be national awards
conferred in line with well understood and respected democratic
procedures. Any citizen will be able to nominate another citizen
for an award in accordance with the published criteria. Nominations
will need to be supported by relevant evidence and references
which will be subjected to independent scrutiny.
Neither the monarch, the monarch's relatives, nor
the prime minister will be involved at any stage in awarding honours.
The monarch will not be allowed to make awards to relatives, members
of the royal household, or any other people. Neither the prime
minister nor other politicians will be allowed to make awards
"for political services", for donations to party funds,
or for any other reason. Neither the government nor anyone else
will have the power to use the national honours system to confer
a higher social title or status upon any individual.
No honours will be given as an automatic reward for
doing one's paid job. In a civilised, humane, democratic country
all decent citizens should be accorded equal respect and enjoy
equal social statusregardless of how modest or otherwise
their job or professional activity may be.
No honours will be given simply as recognition of
prominence, fame or celebrity.
No honours will be given which duplicate awards or
financial rewards already received for the same achievement eg
showbusiness or sporting awards, international awards or prizes,
very substantial financial rewards.
The new awards will have names such as Great Britain
Public Service Award, Great Britain Bravery Award, and Great Britain
The workings of the Honours Office and indeed the
whole new honours system will be reviewed and scrutinised on a
regular basis by the Public Administration and Public Accounts
Select Committees to ensure that everything is above board and
is in no way tarnished by financial or other irregularity.
The awards ceremony will be held with all due solemnity
at the House of Commons, perhaps three times a year, with the
Speaker conferring the awards and taking tea with those honoured
on the Terrace or in the Speaker's residence. The honours will
be awarded by the Speaker on behalf of Parliament and the British
people rather than by a remote and elitist billionaire who believes
she was anointed Head of State by Goda God whose existence
is not acknowledged by most British people. The Speaker will thus
personify a democratic honours system with a human face, and the
honours system will achieve a level of openness and ceremonial
style of which every British citizen can be proud.
The unelected and unaccountable successor &
beneficiary of William the Conqueror & Expropriator, aka Queen
Elizabeth I of Scotland & Northern Ireland or Queen Elizabeth
II of England & Wales, exercises considerable power and political
influence by eg chairing the Privy Council, "warning and
advising" the government in weekly unminuted audiences with
the Prime Minister, and actually choosing the Prime Minister in
the event of a close-run general election. She can also award
existing or invented titles and honours to her husband and children:
the nepotistic icing on the hereditary cake!
But the virtually unlimited powers exercised
by British monarchs in earlier centuries have been substantially
handed down by convention, precedent & unwritten rules to
government ministers, notably to the Prime Minister. Until recently
a veil of mystery has surrounded these ancient Crown Prerogative
Powers which can be exercised entirely without Parliamentary accountability.
On 20 October 2003, for the first time in history,
a list of the government's sweeping prerogative powers was published
in response to a demand by the House of Commons Public Administration
Select Committee (PASC): see the list overleaf. Over the years
the British government has always refused to even say what the
prerogative powers were: so much for open government, freedom
of information, and democracy!
The veil of mystery surrounding the prerogative
powers has still not been completely torn away, however. The paper
submitted by the government to the Public Administration Select
Committee asserts that: "the exact limits of the prerogative
cannot be categorically defined"; "there is no single
accepted definition of the prerogative"; and "there
is no exhaustive list of prerogative powers". Here's a pretty
state of things!
We in Republic believe that:
it should be a basic constitutional
principle that the British people be given unequivocal information
on who has what powers, where those powers come from, and what
democratic accountability is associated with those powers;
the Head of State should be subject
to the Law of the Land and be equal in the eyes of the Law like
any other citizen;
the powers currently exercised directly
by the monarchand the royal prerogative powers exercised
by ministers in the name of the Crownshould all be subject
to Parliamentary accountability;
the hereditary British monarchy,
with its King or Queen "who can do no wrong", should
be replaced by a British republic and an elected Head of State
who is not above the law.
[This list was supplied to the Public Administration
Select Committee (PASC) by Sir Hadyn Phillips, permanent secretary
to the Department of Constitutional Affairs, and was released
to the press by the PASC on 20 October 2003.]
Although this is the area in which legislation
has increasingly been introduced thereby limiting the extent of
the prerogative, some significant aspects of the prerogative survive
in the area of domestic affairs.
the appointment and dismissal of
the summoning, prorogation and dissolution
the appointment and regulation of
the civil service;
the commissioning of officers in
the armed forces;
directing the disposition of the
armed forces in the UK;
the appointment of Queen's Counsel;
the prerogative of mercy. (This no
longer saves condemned men from the scaffold but it is still used
eg to remedy errors in sentence calculation);
the issue and withdrawal of UK passports;
the granting of honours;
the creation of corporations by Charter;
the King (and Queen) can do no wrong
(for example the Queen cannot be prosecuted in her own courts).
The conduct of foreign affairs remains very
reliant on the exercise of prerogative powers. Parliament and
the courts have perhaps tended to accept that this is an area
where the Crown needs flexibility in order to act effectively
and handle novel situations.
The main prerogative powers in this area include:
the making of treaties;
the declaration of war;
the deployment of the armed forces
on operations overseas;
the recognition of foreign states;
the accreditation and reception of