Select Committee on Public Administration Fourth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

Political Honours

1.  We welcome the Prime Minister's announcement of 23 March that he will no longer add his own names to the twice-yearly honours lists which have already been subject to scrutiny by the independent committees. This decision will help to reinforce the propriety and independence of the system. It is a practice which we trust will be continued by future Prime Ministers. (Paragraph 14)

2.  We will review the law as it affects public life and corruption as part of a further report, once the police investigation is complete and the lessons from it are available. We have invited the police to contribute to this review. (Paragraph 21)

3.  Making it explicit that nominations to the peerage entail appointment to the legislature rather than the award of an honour would make those nominated to be working peers more like those appointed to be ministers in the Upper House. This would make the credibility of members of a parliamentary party in the Second Chamber the direct responsibility of the parties concerned. It would be consistent with the case put to us that it has always been the convention that parties place supporters of their policies in the Upper House. As a consequence, it should also make the manner in which such nominees are chosen by the party leadership a matter of active interest and responsibility for the party itself. Such a shift would, of course, have to be modulated to reflect the eventual character of a reformed House of Lords, possibly elected in whole or in part. (Paragraph 30)

4.  We welcome the Appointments Commission's announcement that it intends to make abundantly clear on their forms and other material their absolute requirement to be informed about any financial or other matter which might affect consideration of a nomination for the peerage. Political parties have a duty to follow the spirit, as well as the letter, of the law and ensure that they are open and honest about the information they provide. (Paragraph 34)

5.  Scrutinising nominations for higher honours to assess the appropriateness of any financial connection or other valuable consideration which may exist between candidates and a political party should go beyond reliance on the Electoral Commission's register of donations even when the legislation is amended to require all loans to be declared. A declaration form, to be signed by the candidate, stating whether or not there are any financial or other connections with a political party which could affect the award of an honour should accompany a "sounding" letter which makes a conditional offer of an award to an individual. (Paragraph 36)

6.  We believe that an assessment of whether an individual is of sufficient merit for an award should include not just contributions to party funds but also whether a nominee has contributed to or supported government programmes in a material way. This might include, for example, sponsorship of city academy schools or a contract to supply government services. There may well be good grounds for honouring those who have contributed to government programmes, but the process for the assessment must be transparent. (Paragraph 37)

7.  Greater transparency in the process would, in our view, also help to allay doubts over certain awards. In our report in 2004 we recommended that citations for all honours should be published. Recent events have only added force to our argument. Once again we would strongly commend this approach, at least for the higher honours. (Paragraph 38)

8.  Consideration should be given as to whether the Appointments Commission or the honours committees should undertake this enhanced scrutiny process. (Paragraph 39)

9.  The Prime Minister's vague assurances and the Appointment's Commission "understanding" that it will vet any resignation honours list are unnecessarily equivocal. The Appointments Commission is specifically charged with considering names which have not been subject to the normal assessment and selection processes. This body should be clearly and unequivocally responsible for vetting Prime Ministerial resignation honours lists. (Paragraph 46)

10.  Wider party responsibility over the choice of candidates should also help to overcome concerns over MPs announcing their retirement from the Commons in the immediate run up to a general election and being subsequently ennobled in the dissolution honours list. The impression of peerages being offered as inducements in kind, rather than conferred in the expectation of future participation in the legislature, is damaging. To the extent that it happens, it should stop. (Paragraph 49)

The House of Lords Appointments Commission

11.  The Appointments Commission has shown that it can scrutinise nominations effectively and stand up to pressure from political parties. Nevertheless, its position should be reinforced by defining the Appointments Commission's role, powers and independence in statute as soon as possible, and certainly as part of any reform of the House of Lords which retains an appointed element of its membership. (Paragraph 53)

The Appointments Process

12.  The Appointments Commission is quite candid about the judgements it is required to make and how it interprets the criteria it has set for itself. However, because these are necessarily value judgements, we believe the Appointments Commission—and those responsible for the general honours system—should consult with the political parties and more widely about the criteria that ought to be applied in assessing propriety and how they should be interpreted. Ultimately decisions about the probity of individual nominees must rest with the Commissioners and the Committees but we believe that wider consultation about the basis on which judgements are made would help to reinforce the legitimacy of the process. It is also important that confidentiality is maintained in relation to individual names. (Paragraph 61)

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Prepared 13 July 2006