Memorandum by Edward Goodman (HON 88)
I served as a Borough Councillor for 12 years
and have been a Parliamentary Candidate as well as holding other
posts, such as President of a Chamber of Trade. Having unsuccessfully
recommended persons for honours, I have the following comments.
1. Other European Union countries have honours
systems. Not to have an honours system is, however, better than
retaining the discredited one existing in the United Kingdom.
There should either be reform or abolition. The status quo is
not an option. Britain awards far more honours annually than any
other European Union country. This devalues those honours. An
absolute annual limit must be imposed based on the population
eg not more than one award per 100,000 citizens
2. Membership of the Second Chamber should
be completely separated from the holding of a peerage. The exclusion
of hereditary peers has already started the process. It is confusing
to the public to retain a system whereby some holders of peerages
are ex-officio members of the Upper House, but not others.
3. Other countries have managed to create
a respected system by preventing Government patronage and restricting
numbers of annual awards. The United States Congress, for instance,
not the President, awards the Medal of Honour and does so infrequently.
4. The honours system should recognize distinction
in all fields in proportionate numbers, not concentrate as it
now does, on national (but not local) politicians, civil servants,
arms dealers, millionaire "captains of industry", entertainers
and sportspersons. Success is its own reward. Only voluntary (ie
unpaid) service, above and beyond the call of duty, and/or exceptional
achievement should be recognized.
5. An honours system (like any other system
eg the administration of justice) can command public respect if
it is seen to be fair.
6. The present criteria are neither understood
nor respected by those awarding honours. Political favouritism
7. It is possible to have objective criteria,
as prevail in other fields eg the Courts of Law.
8. At present it is the Government (in its
widest sense) and only the Government which awards honours (in
the name of the Crown). The influence of peer groups is inconclusive
and in any event undesirable as they will always recommend safe,
time-serving Establishment noddies eg their own officials.
9. An objective merit system is needed,
but must be enforceable to prevent it being bypassed by Government
Ministers honouring their friends and backers.
10. Voluntary work should be honoured instead
of (not in addition to) awards to highly paid senior civil servants,
senior armed services officers, arms dealers, millionaire "captains
of industry", entertainers and footballers. If not, the present
accusation will continue that honours are for gliterati and/or
those who earn much money! Only really exceptional paid achievement
should be honoured eg an inventive scientist or world-award winning
11. Honours must be fairly apportioned to
different sections of the population. Civil servants, sportspersons
and actors, for instance, should therefore not receive more honours
than their numbers vis-a-vis other professions justify.
12. The Order of the British Empire is a
much condemned anachronism. It not only offends ethnic minorities,
but makes Britain a backward-looking laughing stock. It is as
though Turkey was still conferring honours in the name of the
Ottoman Empire. It must be belatedly accepted that the British
Empire no longer exists. Similarly feudal aristocratic titles
should not be conferred. In any event, they cause confusion because
they mimic the completely separate system of hereditary titles
which has no connection to the honours system.
13. Prefixes are not honours, but merely
etiquette. The real issue is the qualification for membership
of the Privy Council.
14. To avoid invidious, outdated, hierarchical
social class distinction between "officers and other ranks"
there should only be one class of honour (like the United States
15. Honours should be granted proportionately
to all sections of the population on a numerical basis to end
the present "Establishment" bias. Half should thus be
given to females. Ethnics should be similarly rewarded equivalent
to their share of the total population. Professional numbers should
be treated likewise; the bigger the profession the more honours
to those in it who have performed voluntary work above and beyond
the call of duty or exceptional paid achievement. Only this will
end the present manifest huge disproportion of honours going to
members of the tiny Oxbridge Establishment
16. Civil servants and senior armed service
officers are more than adequately rewarded by job security, large
pay-packets and inflation-proof pensions. It is unnecessary and
unfair that they hog State honours as well !
17. It is totally unfair that State employees
receive the lion's share of honours. They merely administer the
country, for which they are financially well rewarded. It is the
general public who create its Gross National Product and perform
most voluntary work.
18. One category of honour would end the
present invidious, unpopular and outdated social class distinctions.
19. Civil servants should not award honours,
any more than any other narrow, special interest group.
20. Members of Honours Committees should
not be allowed to receive honours, as otherwise these people are
perceived to be judges in their own cause and part of a self-perpetuating
Establishment oligarchy, whose members award honours to each other.
Honours Committes should be elected (like the United States Congressional
Gold Medal Committee) thereby ensuring public accountability.
21. No job should carry the automatic right
to a State honour, as that prevents the latter being a reward
for merit rather than for time-serving.
22. State servants, both national and local,
should be restricted to receiving the same proportion of total
honours as their relative numbers in the working population justify.
23. The honours system has been thoroughly
discredited. Donors to political Parties receive peerages and
knighthoods, thereby raising the suspicion that in Britain honours
can be bought, as has been repeatedly voiced by the journalist
Andrew Neil and others. Similarly, the Parliamentary Ombudsman's
condemnation of Keith Vaz MP alluded to alleged pedling of honours.
The Government must be excluded from the awarding of honours as
otherwise it will "play politics" with the system by
allowing influential persons to decide. Examples are the recent
allegation that Alistair Campbell, the Prime Minister's Press
Secretary, secured an honour for his friend the Alex Ferguson,
Manager of Manchester United (see "Daily Mail" 19 March
2004) and that Princess Margaret did likewise for Mick Jagger.
As remarked in the Press, the latter's charitable work related
to single mothers !
24. There is widespread evidence of deep
public dissatisfaction with the present Honours system, as shown
by frequent Press allegations of favouritism. Newspapers across
the political spectrum, for instance, ridiculed the choice of
Establishment noddies as "People's Peers." In response
to this criticism, the Chair of the Appointments Commission publicly
stated that people like hairdressers could not be appointed because
they did not know how to speak properly in public ! This drew
a sarcastic response from the Leader of the Hairdressers' Union.
What a farce !
25. Nominations are mistrusted as they are
considered in secret by unelected mandarins and then mostly rejected,
without reasons ever being given. Recommendation forms are unnecessarily
complicated and the requirement that the nominee must not be informed
is unworkable, because the nominator needs to obtain detailed
26. There should be an advertised Honours
Ombudsman, to replace the Prime Minister's Office, which has manifold
other, incompatible functions.
27. Government Departments should be excluded,
as they produce a crop of unrepresentative civil service and celebrity
honours. In addition the system of vetting public recommendations
should be dealt with by directly elected representatives responsible
to the public, not Establishment nominees.
28. There are no disadvantages of an "all-nominations"
system as anyone, including a Government Minister, can nominate.
29. Citations and reasons for rejection
of nominations should be published to ensure uniform standards,
fair play and end cronyism. Justice must not only be done, it
must be seen to be done.
30. There are already embarrassing leaks,
suspicions of financial and political favouritism and "sour
grapes." An open system would cure this.
31. There is political abuse through patronage.
Members of Parliament and donors to Political Parties are promised
peerages and knighthoods . The award of honours must be taken
out of the political arena and given to a publicly elected Committee
of persons who have not received honours and have renounced the
32. Politicians should not award honours
as they would inevitably use them to repay favours to themselves
and their respective Parties, instead of rewarding deserving members
of the general public.
33. Parliament could award Medals of Honour
if they were limited to a maximum of one per year and Members
of Parliament were excluded from receiving any. If not, they would
degenerate into an incestuous political reward system whereby
politicians give each other honours. To prevent the suspicion
of corruption (eg the Keith Vaz case) the acceptance of undeclared
gifts by Members of Parliament would have to be criminalized.
34. In a true democracy, an Honours Scrutiny
Committee must be elected by and be responsible to the public
in whose name they make awards. The term of office should be restricted
to five years, so that accountability is ensured by regular elections.
Their deliberations should be public, so that fair play is seen
to occur and recognized merit criteria applied. Acceptance of
gifts by Committee members from nominees for honours should be