Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Mr John Lidstone (HON 24)


  I wish to table the following comments and questions arising from the PASC's Draft titled above.


  Much of the current unease about the way the honours system operates arises precisely because of the controversial honours that have been given to a large number of men and women; for example: peerages given to MPs to vacate their seats so that the governing party can ease into the House of Commons another of its chosen loyalists in their stead; huge sums of money given to the two main political parties in particular, by rich business men and women following which those same individual have been given honours of varying dimensions—see my lecture, "The Reform of the Honours System". Francis Pym, now a peer, quoted to the Neil Committee on Standards in Public Life: ". . . that a person had to put money where their mouth is to be considered for an honour".

Ql  Why cannot questions about individual awards and honours be asked and cases be examined to reveal or expose why they were given?


  Honours arising from recommendations by the Diplomatic list, the Civil Service list, Defence Services list, the Prime Minister's list, being a large percentage of each half-yearly honours list, appear to go with the job. No explanations are given for these awards, leaving the indelible impression that they are "buggins turn next" honours that go with the job. Indeed 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 black mark against his name!

Q2.l  Why should such honours continue to be awarded?

  The individuals who receive excellent salaries, employment for life, pensions that are envy of people in other walks of life; and are then honoured for doing the job for which they are employed. No one asks them, still less forces them, to do the jobs they do.

  The deliberations of Recommending Committees being confidential, there is no means by which the justice, fairness or otherwise of such honours can be seen, still less be understood by the general public. Such secrecy only fules the suspicion that there is something underhand about it all.

Q2.2  Why are recommendations and the reasons for honours kept secret?

Q2.3  Why is the criteria upon which honours are given not published so that the general public can understand the basis upon which individual awards are made?

Q2.4  What are the criteria used for assessing recommendations made by the general public by means of Nominations for a UK National Honour and those made by Recommending Committees?

Q2.5  If, the criteria differ, why?

Q2.6  Is there not a conflict of interest, when All three present members of the Honours Scrutiny Committee, Thomson, Dean and Hurd have been given honours that went with or followed their jobs? How can they bring a disinterested approach to the task of scrutinising honours recommendations? Should there not be independent members of this committee, objective and unfettered by honours or in thrall to them?


  Bearing in mind the disgrace brought upon this Order by the sales of it made on the orders of Lloyd George by his honours broker Maundy Gregory and the fact that it refers to an Empire that no longer exists, the PASC should examine most urgently its continued existence. The following factors serve to underline the need to make this Order defunct.

  First, one of the four honours in the personal gift of the Monarch, The Order of St Patrick, designated by the letters KP, was hitherto given to selected Irish peers presumably to keep them loyal to the Crown. None have been given since 1922 when the Irish Free State was officially proclaimed. The Order has not been cancelled but is defunct?

  Secondly, 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:

Q3.l  Why should the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire continue to be awarded when there is no British Empire?

  A Cabinet Minister argued the case when the scandals about the present Honours system broke over the New Year, that if a person received a lower order, say the MBE, then it would take some years to pass before he or she could be considered for a higher grade in the same order. The absurdity of this argument was made plain a day or so later when, Johnny Wilkinson, received an MBE for being able to kick a rugby ball accurately more often than not, then was given the OBE in the 2004 New Year's Honours List.

Q3.2  Why are there gradations for this and every other Order awarded?


Q4.1  Why do certain senior people in the Armed Forces, and the Civil Service receive at least three honours on their progress through the bureaucratic systems in which they are employed?

  Examples of this extraordinary preferment, the Chief of the Armed Forces gets a GCB, KCB, then topped off with a Life Peerage, Bramall, Harding (he missed out on a peerage for the Lady Buck incident at the Dorchester), Armstrong, Butler, Wilson.

Q4.2  Why do are some people, no more worthy than anyone else except in a number of cases the size of their or their organisation's purse, be given the title of Lord, Lady, Sir, Dame? The relevance of the last title to those luuvies of the theatre and the pantomime is inescapable!

Q4.3  If this country continues to award honours, then the argument I put forward for there being only two reasons for giving them appears to be strengthened. Why are there so many which only debase the system?

Q4.4  By awarding fewer honours, surely this offers a means of giving for the first time, the Honours System a respect for those who receive honours and for the nation?

Q4.5  The Honours handed out on the Queen's official birthday and each New Year take their place with too many other debased gongs given out in many areas of our national and local life. Should not a revised Honours System seek to reverse this tendency to award everyone a lead pencil?

John B J Lidstone

February 2004

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