Select Committee on Public Administration Written Evidence

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 is manifest.

  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 sportsmen.

  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 Congressional Medal).

  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 information.

  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 right to.

  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 criminalised.

E Goodman

March 2004

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