Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from Mr John Lidstone (HON 24(a))


  One question from Brian White MP has concerned me and I would like to submit some additional comments on it.

  The question related to the "independence" of the sort of people I had in mind to consider honours recommendations. Brian White suggested that such people would, unlike Members of Parliament, be unaccountable to the electorate.

  First, I was not aware that the Honours system is subject to the accountability of MPs, still less in their private gift?

  Secondly, the degree to which politicians are entangled in the Honours system and influence the award of so many honours, is the cause of much of the present unease.

  Thirdly, civil servants, who are closely involved in the sifting of recommendations, are unaccountable to the electorate. Yet MPs seem to have no problems as far as I am aware, with their involvement in the system up to now. The same could be said of the permanent secretaries who chair many of these committees.

  Fourthly, before leaving the session at which I gave evidence, I was questioned closely by a member of the public who sat in on that morning's evidence. "How", she asked, "could I guarantee that the chairman/woman of my proposed Royal Honours Commission would be impartial, unpolitical and unhonoured?"

  The implication being that such an appointment would have to be made by the incumbent Prime Minister and therefore would be a political one.

  I do not accept that such an assumption follows. Rather like the appointment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury, and heaven knows some of those have been controversial, a similar method could be used.

  One approach could be to sound out all the members of/or voting by, the subisidiary honours specialist committees. The aim, to select two names to be submitted to the Monarch. She/he would approve one of them to be chairman/woman. This decision would be based on exact criteria having previously been set down and against which an objective and impartial decision could be made.

John Lidstone

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