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Select Committee on Public Administration Written Evidence


Memorandum by Dr P J Galloway (HON 61)

THE POSSIBILITY OF RADICAL CHANGE AND OTHER GENERAL ISSUES

Question 1

(a)  Does the United Kingdom need an honours system at all?

(b)  Do we need as many honours as we have now (3,000 per year)?

(c)  Could we make do with, say, 10 or 100 new honours each year?

Answer

  (a)  Yes. The honours system is the most public way in which the state can express its gratitude to the many thousands of its citizens whose exceptional service has made a significant contribution to the life of this nation.

  (b)  Yes. It enables widespread recognition of diverse services from the lowest to the highest and in every part of the nation. The comparatively large number of honours conferred raises public awareness of the system and gives the list popular and nationwide interest.

  (c)  No. To reduce the annual number of conferred honours to such a small number would: (i)  lead to a situation in which honours were restricted to a very small elite and therefore almost entirely removed from public gaze and public appreciation, and (ii)  remove the possibility of recognising equally valuable service at lower levels of responsibility.

Question 2

What should be done about the peerage in light of, among other developments, the present proposals to remove all hereditary peers from the House of Lords?

Answer

  The answer is dependent upon (a) the continuing process of reform of the House of Lords, and (b) the desirability of retaining peerages as honours.

  There is a strong argument for disconnecting the peerage from membership of the upper chamber, transforming the latter into an elected or nominated "senate" This accomplished, a peerage would be disconnected from the legislature and become solely a high honour. The present situation is a hybrid: some peers have had the dignity conferred upon them as an honour, and some have received it to enable them to become working members of the upper chamber of Parliament. Completely divorcing the peerage from membership of the upper house would arguably remove the most substantial objection to the conferral of hereditary peerages, since, even now, the creation of a hereditary peerage no longer creates a line of potential hereditary legislators.

  At present all life peerages are created in the rank of baron or baroness; this is in accordance with the provisions of the Life Peerage Act 1958. If it is desired to keep the link between the peerage and the House of Lords, a distinction could be made between the rank of baron or baroness and the higher titles: viscount, earl, marquess and duke. The latter four being created purely as honours with no right to a seat in the House of Lords. Such titles would be created for life or, in exceptional cases, they might be hereditary; it would no longer matter.

Question 3

In relation to the machinery of the honours system, what lessons may be learned from the experience of other countries?

Answer

  I am not experienced enough with the ways of other honours systems to make a reliable comparison. As a general rule, the more checks and balances there are, the better the chances of the system honouring only the best candidates.

  The theory of an honours commission entirely separate from the executive branch of government (as practised in Canada and Australia) might be advanced as an attractive alternative to the present machinery, but the attractiveness is probably more apparent than real. I am not convinced that its members would be any more impartial than are the members of the existing honours committees. Much depends (a) on the process by which these "selectors" are themselves selected, and (b) the extent to which they can think objectively, and recognise—and put aside—any personal bias during the course of the selection process.

WHAT ARE HONOURS FOR? THE MERIT ISSUE

Question 4

If there is to be a future for the honours system, what should its main function be—to recognise distinction in particular fields, to reward service, to pay tribute to those who best represent the nation's values, or something else?

Answer

  All these considerations are factors in determining whether an honour should be conferred. However, the word "reward" should not be used. Honours do not represent reward for, but recognition of—service, achievement distinction, reputation, occasionally triumph in the face of adversity. At its best it is the way in which the state can express its recognition of outstanding service—service that can be rendered as much by the humblest as by the highest.

Question 5

Can any honours system realistically reflect all of the above?

Answer

  If the machinery is sound and efficient, yes it can. The number and range of United Kingdom honours is such that the system can recognise and accommodate a diversity of type and level of service.

Question 6

Are the criteria for awards well enough known and properly understood?

Answer

  General principles are one thing; lists of specific criteria are another. It would be a mistake to publish detailed criteria for awards. Publishing such regulations could lead to the risk that people will measure their personal achievements against such lists, consider that they have reached the threshold and self-nominate, either directly or through the services of another. Those individuals whose service has been unquestionable may feel disappointed that their names have not been included in an Honours List. For the one person who is honoured, there are many others who have also performed a lifetime of impeccable service but who have received no national honour. This is because an honour of whatever level, is intended to recognise, not the diligence with which a duty is performed, but a level of service that is above and beyond the call of duty. What is needed is a general understanding that the conferral of an honour requires service that is exceptional.

Question 7

Is the award of honours bound to be subjective—'an art rather than a science' as the Wilson Review puts it?

Answer

  Given that (i) the process of honouring an individual requires people to assess and judge the work of other people, and (ii) that there will be something in each recommendation that makes their service incomparably unique, scientific precision is impossible, and an element of subjectivity cannot be entirely excluded.

  Nothing in humanity is perfect, and there is no form of machinery to ensure that the system of selection is flawless. The public nominations system relies partly on the spirit of altruism and effort; in this case the selfless desire to nominate a person for an honour that the nominator may not have—and may never have. In the case of some people this will be done with enthusiasm and a laudably selfless desire to see that recognition is given where it is due. Unfortunately, attitudes can be swayed by the powerful emotions of envy and jealousy, which can bring a different attitude into play. No system of nomination or recommendation can entirely exclude this flaw in human nature.

  The honours committees themselves cannot and should not institute systematic searches for candidates, although members can suggest names for consideration. Mostly they can only make a decision on the papers set before them. They cannot cause every person who deserves an honour to get one; their responsibility is to ensure that every person who receives an honour deserves it.

Question 8

(a)  What role should be played in the honours system by peer groups, professional, business and trade union bodies and academic institutions?

(b)  Should they be asked to provide, monitor and keep up to date criteria used in recommending honours?

Answer

  (a)  They have a significant role. They should know their own, and therefore be well placed to put forward only the most suitable names. But their contribution to the process should not be decisive in the conferral of honours. Their task is to recommend candidates for honours, not to guarantee authoritatively that honours will be forthcoming for those that they have recommended, and not to expect that their recommendations will necessarily be accepted. It should be noted that many of these organisations have their own internal system of honouring achievement.

  (b)  This depends partly on the extent to which such diverse bodies can be relied upon to identify the most suitable names. As they have no formal role in the selection process, their criteria can perhaps remain a matter for their own internal processes. Were they to be published or supplied to the Ceremonial Secretariat, there is a risk that that office would become a rubber stamp for names already selected by other, perhaps less rigorous, processes. In the allocation of the honours a broad national overview is presently in place, and the recommendations of particular interest groups should not carry overwhelming weight.

Question 9

Would there be any advantage in applying to honours selection some of the merit criteria now applied in appointment to public bodies?

Answer

  The conferral of an honour is designed to recognise exceptional service, sometimes over a lifetime. Although I have no experience of the appointment process to public bodies, I suspect that merit is less important than qualification to perform a particular task and to contribute constructively to debate. I would not like to think that membership of a public body is an honour for services rendered.

Question 10

What would be the advantages and disadvantages of restricting honours to those who do voluntary work, either full-time or part-time?

Answer

  (i)  I can see no advantage in restricting honours to those who do voluntary work, although there is usually a laudable element of self-sacrifice in voluntary work, and that can be an influential factor. However, in considering honours for voluntary work, a distinction should be made between two different types of volunteer. There are those who do not need to undertake paid employment, either because of inherited wealth or because of other substantial private income. Their time is their own and, committed though they are, they can do voluntary work almost as a hobby. Then there are the volunteers who have no choice but to do paid employment, and whose voluntary work can be done only at the end of a working day or at weekends. In this latter group there is clearly a greater element of effort and personal sacrifice. If there is too much concentration on honouring the "volunteer" without some discrimination between these two groups, those who struggle to fit their voluntary work into the limited gaps between the requirements of their paid employment could be disadvantaged. It should also be noted that many volunteers can and do claim expenses for their voluntary work; therefore they do not suffer financial loss as might have been the case in previous years.

  (ii)  Restricting honours entirely to volunteers would be a pointless narrowing of the scope of the honours system. It would be extraordinary to award honours only to voluntary workers at the expense of those who work full-time in the essential services (education, health, police, fire services, etc) and those who contribute to the wealth of the nation. As in my answer to Question 6, what should be looked for is exceptional service, and that can be sought and found in both the voluntary and the paid sectors.

HONOURS AND SOCIAL DIVISIONS

Question 11

The Wilson Review proposes that "n the interests of equity there should be equal access to honours for all UK citizens." How could this best be achieved?

Answer

  Since the introduction of the public nominations system, equal access is a theoretical fact. Anyone may nominate anyone. Thereafter the present system is designed to ensure that only the best are chosen, and that is achieved partly by careful selection and partly by the limitation of numerical quotas, eg a statutory maximum (GBE, KBE, CBE) or an annual allocation (OBE, MBE). In the words of W S Gilbert: "When everyone is somebody, then no-one's anybody." Any thought of proportional representation or the assigning of quotas to particular groups would seriously undermine the clear principle of selecting only the best candidates; it would also introduce an undesirable note of segregation, and the even more undesirable possibility of different standards or criteria for different groups.

Question 12

(a)  Are the title, and the concept, of an "Order of the British Empire" now outdated, as the Wilson Review suggests?

(b)  If this is the case, what should replace the old Order—the Order of Britain, the Order of the United Kingdom or some other name?

(c)  Should titles such as "Dame" and "Sir", "Lord", "Lady", "Baron" etc be abolished?

Answer

  (a)  The title of the Order of the British Empire is no more outdated than the titles of the Order of the Garter, the Order of the Bath, the Order of St Michael and St George or the Royal Victorian Order. These are historic names that emerged for good reason at particular moments in the nation's history. The title of the Order of the British Empire emerged in 1916-17 partly in recognition of the considerable contribution made by troops from all parts of the empire in the 1914-18 war.

  Changing the name of the Order of the British Empire has surfaced from time to time. It was given very serious consideration in the period 1962-64, at the height of the process of dismantling the empire, and I suspect that there were more objections to the name of the Order in the 1960s than there are today. At that time some thought the name "Order of the British Empire" was an obsolete embarrassment, a relic of an age that had passed, but the succeeding age has itself passed, and the march of time is serving the Order well. Whereas name "Order of the British Empire" was once thought to be anachronistic, it is gradually achieving the status of a charming and honoured historical survival, and the further the British Empire recedes into the sands of time, the less embarrassed people will feel in referring to it. By 2017 when the Order of the British Empire celebrates its one-hundredth birthday, its name will have no more meaning than the name of the Order of the Bath—a reference to the obsolete mediaeval rite of purification before admission to knighthood.

  The name of the Order of the British Empire may offend the sensitivities of those who are emotionally critical of certain aspects of the empire, but to dismiss the honour simply because it bears an historic designation is to distort reality. Hostile attitudes seem to suppose—wrongly—that the Order is a representative icon mourning a vanished imperial dream. A more pragmatic view would depict the Order for what it is: a contemporary honour for merit that, for the best of reasons, bears a particular historic designation.

  In the years 1957-60 the membership of the Order raised £100,000 to fund the creation of a Chapel of the Order of the British Empire in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral. The chapel is decorated with representations of the insignia of the Order, and with symbols of the continents and hemispheres, emblems of the countries of the Commonwealth and representative images of the various forms of service given by members. Every four years more than 2,500 members of the Order gather in the cathedral for a service of dedication. Many hundreds of individuals who accept appointment to the Order each year feel a great sense of pride at belonging to it. Those who find its name objectionable might be very vocal but they are few in number, and clearly there is no widespread opposition to the name of the Order. If a few individuals choose to decline to accept an honour because they find its name objectionable, that is a matter entirely for their own conscience.

  In an age when religious symbols are less valued and respected than formerly, similar objections might be raised to the use of two Christian saints in the name of the Order of St Michael and St George. And why continue to call the Victoria Cross by that name when its founder has been dead for more than a century? Why not be "contemporary" and call it the Elizabeth Cross, and change it again to the Charles Cross in due course? The question is rhetorical because the answer is obvious; long usage and distinguished recipients have burnished the name of the honour. The same principle applies as much to the MBE as to the VC.

  A glance at other European national honours will disclose a variety of beautifully historic names: the Order of the Falcon (Iceland), the Order of the Seraphim and the Order of the Northern Star (Sweden), the Order of the White Rose and the Order of the Holy Lamb (Finland), the Order of the Elephant and the Order of the Dannebrog (Denmark), the Order of Vytautas the Great (Lithuania), the Order of the Three Stars (Latvia), the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana (Estonia), the Order of the Golden Lion (Luxembourg), the Order of the Oak Crown and the Order of the Dutch Lion (Netherlands), the Order of Charles the Holy (Monaco), the Order of the White Lion (Czech Republic), the Order of the Golden Spur (Vatican City State), the Order of Nemanje and the Order of Nyegosh (Serbia and Montenegro), the Grand Order of Queen Jelena and the Grand Order of King Peter Kresimir IV (Croatia), the Order of the Phoenix and the Order of the Redeemer (Greece), the Order of the White Eagle (Poland), the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise and the Order of Princess Ohla (Ukraine), the Order of St James and the Sword (Portugal) and the Order of the Golden Fleece (Spain). Among the more exotic is the Order of Madara's Horseman (Bulgaria), named after an eighth century rock relief cut into the slope of a plateau in the vicinity of Kaspichan in north-east Bulgaria.

  The names of many European national honours were chosen to evoke the memory of some icon of national greatness, and to reflect the best aspirations and intentions of the age in which they were created. That those names are redolent of ages and concerns long past is not to their disgrace, and no ground for their abolition.

  (b)  Since the 1960s, suggestions have been made from time to time that objections to the name of the Order of the British Empire could be met simply by changing the name of the Order. Apart from the reasoning outlined in section (a) immediately above, this is impractical. The Letters Patent of 1917 declared that the Order should be "called and known forever hereafter" as The Order of the British Empire. The first Statute reiterates the title and states that the Order shall be known "by no other designation". Although both Letters Patent and Statutes could in theory be amended, to do so would be to overrule the most explicit intentions and instructions of the founders. To change both the name and, inevitably, the insignia (with its motto "For God and the Empire"), would change the Order beyond recognition and effectively create a new Order.

  The creation of a new Order with a different name would not be the solution to a "problem" but the progenitor of a new set of problems. Some thought should be given to the feelings of the approximately 90,000 living members of the Order of the British Empire, and that includes many in the Commonwealth, particularly Australia and New Zealand, who were pleased to accept the honour and proud to wear the insignia. The Order of the British Empire is still used by several independent Commonwealth nations. The Order is also widely used by the Foreign Office and there are many foreign nationals who are honorary MBEs, OBEs, CBEs, etc—and who are similarly proud to accept the honour. They would find themselves members of a derided, devalued and dying Order, which might, by virtue of being declared obsolete or redundant, become the object of ridicule and amusement before disappearing into complete obscurity.

  It should also be noted that the a number of Commonwealth countries still happily make recommendations for the Order of the British Empire, and therefore its future is not entirely a matter for the United Kingdom government.

  The Order of the British Empire is by far the most widely used of any of the United Kingdom honours, and it has by far the largest membership. To substitute a new Order would be possible, but the resulting upheaval would be out of all proportion to any benefits. It took a generation for the Order of the British Empire to rise in public esteem during the 1920s and 1930s. The tiny number of refusals today compares very favourably with the very large number of refusals in the early 1920s when the Order was dismissed as an honour that was easily obtained, and seen as a very poor substitute for the older Orders. That is a pattern likely to be repeated with the creation of a new Order. Is it really worthwhile to spend two generations or more nursing the wounded feelings of the discontinued Order while trying to establish the reputation of its replacement?

  It would not be that easy to find a generally acceptable name for a new Order. "The Order of Britain", "the Order of British Excellence" and "the Order of the United Kingdom" are suggested as acceptable alternatives. But in these devolutionary days, for how much longer will the words "Britain" and "United Kingdom" be acceptable? Furthermore the word "Britain" technically excludes Northern Ireland, and to adopt it as the title of a new Order might raise additional acceptability issues in the province. In choosing a title for an honour, it is important to take a very long view, and not to make changes without evidence of substantial and widespread demand. Unless a new Order is given a bland and descriptively utilitarian designation, it could face the prospect of obsolescence in forty or fifty years.

  No sovereign or government would now institute a new honour and give it the name "Garter", "Thistle", "Bath", "St Michael and St George" or "Victorian", but because of long usage—centuries in most cases—these Orders have come to be accepted and respected for the high quality of their membership. Although it is the newest of the United Kingdom Orders, the same is true of the Order of the British Empire. It is gradually acquiring the patina of venerability through its long history and wide use. But being only eighty-seven, it is still comparatively young in the world of honours, and no substantial argument has been presented to justify the erasure of the long history of service to the nation that its name encompasses. There is no good reason why the name of this Order in particular should be subjected to scrupulous logic. It is the most well known, most well used and most popular part of the United Kingdom honours system. The passing of time will be kind to the name of the Order of the British Empire; it should be left well alone.

  (c)  The titles of "Lord", "Lady", "Sir" and "Dame" give pleasure to those who have them, and if anything has broken down the class divisions of previous ages, it is seen in the larger number of citizens who now have them, including those from ethnic minorities.

  Such titles have been part and parcel of the history of United Kingdom for centuries, although they did not translate to the "new" world. Knights and Dames were added to the Order of Australia in 1976-86 and to the Order of Merit of New Zealand in 1996-2000. In each case they were abandoned on a change of government for ideological reasons. Titles are familiar and acceptable aspects of the honours system in the United Kingdom and do not seem to arouse hostility. The days are well past when they were indicators of social superiority, and when their holders could expect automatic deference. They are now no more than convenient prefixes, indicating that the holder is the recipient of a "higher" honour, and in the egalitarian society of today I doubt that they still command the obeisance that would have been instinctively given by former generations. They are therefore quite harmless.

Question 13

Is it appropriate that Privy Counsellors should continue to be given the prefix "Right Honourable"?

Answer

  Barons, Viscounts and Earls are also "Right Honourable" [Marquesses are "Most Honourable" and Dukes are "Most Noble"]. The Lord Mayors of London, Westminster, Bristol, York, Cardiff and Belfast and the Lord Provosts of Edinburgh and Glasgow are also styled "Right Honourable", as are the remaining members of the Privy Council of Northern Ireland. Members of the Canadian Privy Council are styled "Honourable". What is the objection to a style that indicates membership of a high council whose members are in theory confidential advisers to the Sovereign?

Question 14

Some countries have considered creating single categories of honours, with no divisions into classes or ranks. Would this be a helpful move, or is it inevitable that, to reflect different levels of achievement and contribution, various levels of honours are required?

Answer

  The answer is contained within the question. A diversity of honours enables the recognition of a diversity of service. The Order of Canada was founded as a one-class honour in 1967. It began with the single grade of Companion and with an accompanying Medal of Service. Experience proved that this was just too limited. In 1972 the Medal of Service was deleted and replaced by the grade of Officer, and a third grade entitled Member was created. The Order of Canada has remained unchanged since that date and flourished at the pinnacle of Canadian honours. The federal honours system has been further augmented by the creation of the Order of Military Merit (1972) and the Order of Merit of the Police Forces (2000), both also of three classes. Federal honours have been supplemented by the institution of provincial honours: L'Ordre National du Quebec (1984), the Saskatchewan Order of Merit (1985), the Order of Ontario (1986), the Order of British Columbia (1989), the Alberta Order of Excellence (1993), the Order of Prince Edward Island (1996), the Order of Manitoba (1999), the Order of New Brunswick (2000), and the Order of Nova Scotia (2001). The Yukon Territory in the far north of Canada has now established the Order of Polaris for bush pilots who have given outstanding service to the northern territories.

  The pattern of the federal Canadian honours was followed in 1975 by the Order of Australia which has three classes (Companion, Officer and Member) and accompanying "Medal of the Order of Australia."

  New Zealand established a one-class honour—the Queen's Service Order (QSO) in 1975 accompanied by the Queen's Service Medal. In 1987 a further addition was made by the creation of the one-class Order of New Zealand (roughly equivalent to the Order of the Garter). With the discontinuation of recommendations for United Kingdom honours, the New Zealand government established the five-class Order of Merit of New Zealand in 1996, in effect to replace the Order of the British Empire.

  The multi-class Order is a standard pattern throughout mainland Europe. For example: the Legion of Honour and the National Order of Merit (France) are both five-class Orders, as are the Orders of Leopold and Leopold II (Belgium), the Order of the Dannebrog (Denmark), the Order of the White Rose (Finland), the Order of Orange-Nassau (Netherlands), the Order of the Oak Crown (Luxemburg), the Order of Charles III (Spain), the Order of the Tower and the Sword (Portugal), and the Order of Merit (Italy). The Order of St Olaf (Norway) has three classes, subdivided into five grades. The Order of Merit (Germany) has three classes sub-divided into eight grades. The Decoration of Honour for Merit (Austria) has five classes, subdivided into ten grades. The United Kingdom is "in line" with Europe on the question of honours, and this in turn makes the exchange of decorations during state visits and heads of government visits a relatively uncomplicated matter.

  The present system is also very adept at providing a means of "promotion". Miss Jones can be honoured with an MBE for 20 years of exceptional service. If she gives a further 15 or 20 years of the same exceptional service she can be promoted to OBE. If the honours system were to consist of a single classless honour Miss Jones would probably have to wait until she was at the end of her service.

  The present range of United Kingdom honours contains a broad range of history, diversity and colour. While we do have single-class honours (the Orders of the Garter, the Thistle, Merit and the Companions of Honour) these are very high-ranking honours with very small memberships. If the entire United Kingdom honours system was to be reduced to a single honour with a single grade and a utilitarian title, eg 90,000 people with no more than "MSA" ("Meritorious Service Award") after their names, it would I suggest sound and look quite dull. Simplicity is not always a virtue and a single one-class honour would be both inflexible and impractical.

Question 15

What changes might be made to the nominations process to improve the diversity of honours? For instance, should there be an increase in the proportion of women and minority ethnic people on the Honours Committee?

Answer

  I do not know the composition of the honours committees, but is there any reason to suspect that they fulfill their duty with anything other than diligence and impartiality, and that their membership consists of people other than those with the broadest experience of the various specialist fields? Members should not, in the normal course of events, personally nominate candidates for honours, nor should they come as delegates from their professions or their groups, bringing with them the names of candidates for honours. Their responsibility is to examine the credentials of the names submitted to them. The inclusion of more women and more ethnic minority people on the honours committees sounds attractive and of course such people should be included, but it needs to be made quite clear to them on appointment that they are not there as delegates or representatives of their interest groups. I imagine that in many cases committee members will be unaware (ie unable to tell from the papers in front of them) of whether candidates are from the ethnic minorities. What is required is a nationwide initiative to bring about the submission of many more good names from these groups.

PUBLIC SERVANTS AND HONOURS

Question 16

What are the effects, if any, of the honours system on public administration in the UK? Is it a motivating or a demotivating force?

Answer

  (a)  No more, no less than on any other profession.

  (b)  I find it difficult to believe that anyone would join any branch of the state service, motivated by a desire eventually to receive an honour. Nor do I believe that the remote prospect of an honour is enough to keep anyone in low- or under-paid employment

Question 17

Is it fair that civil servants, diplomats and those in the armed forces have a much better chance of getting an honour than other people?

Answer

  Members of the civil service, the diplomatic service and the armed forces play a significant role in ordering and defending the life and reputation of this nation, and in principle I have no difficulty with a higher proportion of honours going to state servants. I have no reason to believe that civil service candidates are anything other carefully selected on the basis of deserving merit. This has been enhanced by the disappearance of "automatic" honours since the reforms of 1993. It is certainly true that in previous years awards of honours in the diplomatic service and in the armed forces were over-generous, but an attempt does appear to have been made in recent years to reduce the number of honours given to these branches of the crown service. Honours for higher levels in the civil service, the diplomatic service and the armed forces usually come from the small specialist Orders: the Order of the Bath and the Order of St Michael and St George, rather than the Order of the British Empire. State servants honoured by admission to the Order of the Bath or the Order of St Michael and St George are not therefore depriving the general public of honours. They have their own bread and do not take it from the mouths of others.

  If a yet more level playing field were desired it could be assisted by the abolition of the separate lists of the defence services and the diplomatic service. With such small numbers and such a narrow focus, introspection is inevitable, leading to the risk of over grading and different and more generous standards for honours. Specialist committees dealing with the armed forces and the diplomatic services could be created within the structure of the Ceremonial Secretariat but, as with the existing honours committees, their work would be subject to scrutiny and review and their recommendations appearing as part of the general ("Prime Minister's") list. The Order of St Michael and St George and the military divisions of the Orders of the Bath and the British Empire would then be fully integrated into the honours system. That in itself would broaden the scope of conferral of these two Orders.

  This change would abolish the separate powers of patronage of the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. That only these two cabinet ministers should have their own powers of patronage seems indefensible.

Question 18

Is it possible to break the apparently inevitable link between social/employment status and the class of honour received?

Answer

  There is no such link. This is an enduring myth that should be laid to rest once and for all. The class of honour received is linked to the level of service and the level of responsibility of the recipient. During the debates surrounding the creation of the Order of the British Empire in 1917, Sir Frederick Ponsonby (Keeper of the Privy Purse) said as much: "I have been trying to instil into the Prime Minister the right way of democratising an Order; this is not done by giving a chimney sweep a Grand Cross, but by ensuring that every man in the community should be eligible for some Class of the Order." This comment is particularly apposite at present, given the recent tendency to over-grade recipients by giving higher honours at lower levels of responsibility.

  Questions of personal social status and type of employment are not factors that determine the level of honour. The possession of a high honour does not mean that the recipient comes from a "higher" class of society, nor does the possession of a lower honour imply a working class origin. The conferral of a knighthood and the appointment of an MBE indicate only the contrasting levels of service that are being recognised. They are not a statement about class, social origins or wealth. Recent awards in such fields as sport, entertainment, etc reinforce the view that there is no link between social status and the class of honour received.

Question 19

Is there an inevitable conflict of interest when civil servants are the main judges in assessing whether other civil servants receive honours?

Answer

  No, there is no reason to doubt their impartiality. Why focus on civil servants? Is there an inevitable conflict of interest when sports personalities are the main judges in assessing whether other sports personalities are worthy of receiving honours? Or when scientists are the main judges in assessing whether other scientists are similarly worthy? All groups can bring expert knowledge and understanding of their contemporaries to the selection process. Does that lead to "an inevitable conflict of interest?"

Question 20

(a)  Should there be an increase in the number of independent outsiders who sit on the honours committees?

(b)  Should the committees be made 100 percent independent, perhaps by banning all members of such committees from ever receiving an honour?

Answer

  (a)  This question seems to imply that existing members of honours committees cannot be relied upon to undertake the task entrusted to them. Is that really the case? There is certainly an argument for committee members to be appointed for fixed, short-term and non-renewable periods. This will prevent the formation of opinionated cliques and maintain a consistently fresh outlook. Overlapping appointments would ensure an important element of continuity.

  (b)  This is a naïve idea. Given human nature I doubt that any group of people can ever be made "100%" independent. Why penalise honours committee members by barring them from receiving honours? A much better policy would be to provide that they should be persons of seniority and experience in their professions and themselves already in possession of high honours.

Question 21

Should people who serve the state and the public well in paid employment be recognised by higher pay rather than the award of honours?

Answer

  This question seems to imply that an honour is a substitute for money, and that civil servants should be excluded from consideration for honours. Many people in low-paid jobs outside the civil service also receive honours. An honour is a means of recognising exceptional service, no matter what the nature of the employment or the salary of the recipient.

Question 22

Would it be sensible, as the Wilson Review proposes, to cut down the number of orders of honours so that state servants have to compete on similar terms with everybody else?

Answer

  Given the special nature of crown service (see the answer to question 17 above), I am not convinced that it would be right to make state servants compete with others for fewer honours.

  I take it that the Wilson Review argues against the continued existence of the Order of the Bath (founded 1725) and the Order of St Michael and St George (founded 1818). These two honours have a considerably longer history than the Order of the British Empire (founded 1917). The Order of the Bath was originally used for politicians; its members are now drawn mostly from the civil service and the armed forces. For the first fifty or so years of its life, the Order of St Michael and St George was an honour for the citizens of Malta and the Ionian Islands; its members are now drawn mostly from the diplomatic service and, in recent years, others who served the interest of the nation in some "overseas" capacity. Both Orders now have very different memberships from those envisaged by their founders. Both are also used on state visits: presidents of republics are usually made GCB (Knight Grand Cross of the Bath) while heads of government and foreign ministers usually receive the GCMG (Knight Grand Cross of St Michael and St George).

  Abolition of these two Orders would sweep away 279 years of history in the case of the Bath and 186 years in the case of the St Michael and St George, and prove to be not only a waste of two useful honours, but also very short-sighted. Putting everyone into the same pot will only reduce the number of people who receive honours. There is evidence for this in the unwise decision to discontinue use of the British Empire Medal in 1993 (although it is still used by a number of Commonwealth realms). Many who would once have received the BEM now receive nothing. There is no reason why the award of this medal should not begin again, although there were complaints about it being presented by cabinet ministers or lord lieutenants rather than the Sovereign.

  The history of the Orders of the Bath and St Michael and St George has been marked by adaptability. If their continued existence as specialist awards for state servants is thought to be questionable, there is no reason why they should not be further adapted to embrace new categories of membership; let the process continue. [See also the answer to Question 17]. Abolition of these two Orders would leave the Royal Victorian Order—the specialist honour for those who have served the Royal Family—looking somewhat isolated. The principle of specialist honours is sound, as long as standards are commensurate throughout the system.

  The honours system is constant but not static; it has evolved from century to century and continues to evolve to accommodate changing needs, but monochrome uniformity in the world of honours would be like a picture devoid of colour.

GAINING THE PUBLIC'S CONFIDENCE: TRANSPARENCY AND INVOLVEMENT

Question 23

Has respect for the honours system been diminished by recent disclosures about its operation?

Answer

  No. There is nothing so stale and dead as yesterday's news.

Question 24

In 2000 the Wilson Review paper on Transparency concluded "the honours system is not a live issue at the moment. Nor is there much evidence of public dissatisfaction with the system." Is this judgement still accurate?

Answer

  Yes it is. When each bi-annual honours lists are published some people will want to put question marks against some names, sometimes with good reason; there is no way of avoiding this. But the United Kingdom honours system in general is quite free from controversy.

Question 25

Is the general public aware of the honours system and the part they could play in it through nominations?

Answer

  (a)  The general public is certainly aware of the honours system, though they are less aware of constituent sections. They would appreciate that a "Lord", a "Lady" a "Sir" or a "Dame" is a rather important person. They also recognise that the award of the Victoria Cross or the George Cross mean that the recipient has been very brave. They are also very familiar with the OBE and the MBE—because they probably know someone who has got one or the other. Everything else is probably a mystery; but then so is the state pension system, the funding of local government, the budget of the armed forces, and a great many other aspects of national life.

  (b)  Statistics seem to imply that there is a satisfactory level of awareness of the nomination system.

Question 26

How should awareness of the system be raised?

Answer

  Is not the publication of the bi-annual honours lists sufficient publicity? It is well covered in the media and there cannot be many people who are unaware that the United Kingdom has an honours system. Further publicity in the national press might assist, but with not altogether satisfactory results. Advertisements would probably produce a high yield, but that would be more than outweighed by the number of disadvantages: (i) unless the advertisements were very carefully worded, the quality of the harvest is likely to be poor; (ii) it might be thought the system is no longer capable of attracting nominations by other routes; (iii) newspapers themselves might "back" certain candidates; (iv) a spirit of competition might emerge; and (v) the degree of mystique that is an essential part of the system would disappear.

Question 27

What is your view of the present system by which roughly half of all honours are nominated directly by the public? With the rest being generated by departments?

Answer

  Departmental honours committees provide an important filtering mechanism for honours that have been submitted from around country. I would guess that the names that emerge from these committees are often the better recommendations. The public nominations system is a good addition to the process, but I imagine that a large number of names entering the system by that route consist of people who have been unfailingly "kind" or "nice" or "helpful" to the nominator, or to a member of his or her family over a period of time. In itself that is praiseworthy, but it can seem very trivial when set on the national stage. What is in effect a glorified character reference does not justify the conferment of an honour. Many recipients of honours are frankly not very "nice", but they are achievers; they get things done. The system is designed to recognise achievement, not kindly behaviour or even fame. Another possible weakness of the nominations system is a tendency of the adoring fan to marshal an army of signatures of fan club members to nominate their favourite celebrity, with little real analysis of the extent of actual service or achievement.

  The public nominations process is still comparatively new, and I hope that with the passage of time the public in general will come to appreciate these points.

Question 28

(a)  Should there be a higher proportion of public nominations, or should the system be fundamentally changed so that all honours are awarded as a result of such nominations?

(b)  What might be the disadvantages of such an "all-nominations" system?

Answer

  (a)  The system should remain as it is; it works well. There is much to be said for names being submitted by different routes.

  (b)  I assume that the selection machinery is designed to ensure that those who receive honours deserve them. A considerable amount filtering has to be done to ensure that this is so. If all recommendations were submitted by way of the public nominations system, I could see the result being a much greater influx of nominations of very uneven quality, many of which would have to be referred to government departments for independent and expert opinion and corroboration. The depth of knowledge to be found in government departments is very extensive and belies the popular misconception of civil servants who occupy desks in Whitehall and know nothing of what is going on in the country. See also the answer to Question 27 above.

Question 29

(a)  In the light of the full implementation in 2005 of the Freedom of Information Act, should there be more openness about the process by which recommendations for honours are produced?

(b)  Should full citations be published?

Answer

  (a)  No. The system is as public as it needs to be. Although transparency and openness are presently in vogue, and as general principles they have much to commend them, further openness could be fraught with risk. The selection process, which includes committee discussions about individual names, must remain confidential. If there is further exposure to the public gaze, committee members might be more reluctant to speak freely in debate.

  If it does not already happen, members of honours committees should be required to observe strict secrecy, not only of the names and papers that pass in front of them, but also of the very fact that they are members of such committees. It is a responsible task that should not be flaunted, because secrecy will protect them from importunity (before) and vilification (after) the publication of an honours list. A situation of open lobbying of committee members to secure honours would be disastrous. Worse still, disappointed nominees or nominators might demand to know reasons for non-recommendation. If such reasons were made public, there is a risk of personal humiliation, and even the possibility of litigation by those refused honours.

  Greater openness will not necessarily benefit the present high reputation of the honours system, a reputation that is based largely on trust. If the general public is confident that the process is fair, they will accept secrecy. If they begin to suspect that the process is unfair (eg political interference, controversial names, doubt about deserving merit), trust will evaporate and there will be a loud and justifiable cry for reform.

  (b)  There is certainly a good argument for the publication of "fuller" citations—although I wonder whether the national press would be willing to embrace the substantial increase required in the quantity of newsprint and column inches, as it is only the broadsheets which publish in full the half-yearly lists. Given that members of the general public do not read the London Gazette, this is where they will get the fullest picture of honours recipients.

Question 30

Isn't there a danger that more openness will lead to personal embarrassments or a series of timid recommendations?

Answer

  Yes, and more. See answer (a) to Question 29 above.

OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNANCE

Question 31

(a)  Is there evidence of political abuse of the honours system?

(b)  If there is abuse, what mechanisms might be put in place to reduce it?

Answer

  (a)  I can only respond to this question with another question. Are names added to or withdrawn from each honours list, either by the Prime Minister or by his advisers, after that list has been finalised by the Ceremonial Secretariat, and without any further scrutiny? Although it is entitled "the Prime Minister's List" I would expect his authority in this respect to be delegated totally to the honours committees.

  (b)  If there is evidence of names being added or withdrawn at the last minute by the Prime Minister or his advisers, such action could be construed as political abuse or at least political interference. Different governments have particular and different interest areas that they desire to see represented in successive honours lists. Although understandable, this desire can lead to a real danger of misuse that could potentially diminish the prestige of the honours system. If executive interference is such that the content of a list—even if only a handful of names are given high level honours—comes to be seen as a reflection of government interests, irreparable harm will be done. Every government, of whatever political hue, desires to reward its own faithful supporters with honours. This is understandable and acceptable. The risk lies in the addition of those names to an honours list, without very careful scrutiny, and especially when their service is represented in the guise of "public" service. The infamous Harold Wilson Resignation Honours List of 1976 represented the nadir of honours lists in recent decades, a depth not reached since the Lloyd George honours scandals of the early 1920s. The compilation of each honours list is a delicate matter, and public protest will greet the discovery that procedures that have been applied to everyone else have been ignored or bypassed in the case of certain "political" names.

  It would add stature and respect to the office of the Prime Minister if he and his advisers were to submit all such names to the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee, well in advance of a list, leave well alone, and accept the decision of that body whatever it might be. The PHSC was established in 1922, in the aftermath of the shameless misuse of honours by David Lloyd George, for just such a purpose. It would gain greater credibility if its members were not themselves former politicians.

Question 32

What role, if any, should Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales play in the honours system?

Answer

  None—as long as there are adequate safeguards in place to protect the honours system from undue interference by the executive branch of government.

  It should be noted that devolution is still in its infancy and its future development cannot be predicted. There is no guarantee that the present level of autonomy will assuage nationalist aspirations in the long term, and the future may well see corresponding demands for greater legislative independence in Scotland and Wales. The Scottish and Welsh executives might in time follow the example of the Canadian provinces and institute their own honours (see the answer to Question 14).

  The creation of an "Order of St David" for Wales was proposed on more than one occasion in the 20th century. It was considered at the time of the investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1911. The absence of such an honour, to parallel the Order of the Garter (for England) and the Order of the Thistle (for Scotland), is curiously inexplicable.

Question 33

The United States Congress awards a Medal of Honor. Could Parliament do something similar?

Answer

  I suppose it could, but why? Is there a perceived need? Is there an obvious "gap" in the existing honours system that could only be filled by some form of parliamentary award? Such an award would need to be subordinated to the royal prerogative, because all United Kingdom honours emanate from the Sovereign who is the "fount of honour". A parliamentary award would have a decidedly Cromwellian air about it; not a factor that would tend to its advantage.

Question 34

The Wilson Review (in its paper on Oversight, paragraph 72) suggested a wider independent role for the Honours Scrutiny Committee in "conducting periodic checks into the processes by which candidates' names are generated, assessed and ranked and how closely the lists reflect the distributional pattern set by the Government of the day." Would such an expansion of the Committee's role be helpful?

Answer

  Any additional scrutiny is to be welcomed if it will preserve the independence and prestige of the honours system. The concept of honours lists reflecting "the distributional pattern set by the government of the day" is slightly worrying, and raises questions of political interference again. If recommendations for honours are made principally in accordance with prevailing government policy and ideology, it could raise doubts in the public mind about the merit of system, or at least certain names in each list, and be seen as an assault on the independence and integrity of the honours system. As the political pendulum swings back and forth it would also lead to the exclusion of certain hitherto natural recipients of honours; perhaps those thought not to be in the forefront of implementing government policy?

March 2004





 
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