Public Administration Select Committee - The Honours System - Minutes of EvidenceHC 19

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House of COMMONS



Public Administration Select Committee

Honours System

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Sir Bob Kerslake, Dame Mary Marsh DBE, Sir John Parker and Richard Tilbrook

Evidence heard in Public Questions 191 - 326

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Public Administration Select Committee

on Tuesday 22 May 2012

Members present:

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Chair)

Paul Flynn

Robert Halfon

Kelvin Hopkins

Priti Patel

Lindsay Roy


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Sir Bob Kerslake, Head of the Civil Service and Chair of the Main Honours Committee, Dame Mary Marsh DBE, Chair of the State Honours Committee, Sir John Parker, Chair of the Economy Honours Committee, and Richard Tilbrook, Head of Honours and Appointments Secretariat, Cabinet Office, gave evidence.

Q191 Chair: May I welcome our witnesses to this evidence session on our inquiry into the honours system? I would invite each of you to identify yourself and your role for the record, please.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Bob Kerslake, Head of the Civil Service and Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Sir John Parker: John Parker, chairman of the Economy Committee and, in my day job, chairman of Anglo American.

Richard Tilbrook: Richard Tilbrook, Head of the Honours and Appointments Secretariat in the Cabinet Office.

Dame Mary Marsh: Mary Marsh, chair of the State Honours Committee and the Philanthropy Committee. My day job is mainly still in the charity sector.

Q192 Chair: Thank you all very much for joining us, and thank you to those of you who are volunteers and for becoming involved in this always potentially vexed and controversial area of public life. Sir Bob, we were initially led to believe, on the splitting of the role of the Cabinet Secretary and the Head of the Civil Service, that the Cabinet Secretary was going to take responsibility for the honours system and be Chair of the Main Honours Committee. Can you explain why that did not occur and you are doing the role?

Sir Bob Kerslake: The honest answer to it is that it was incorrect at the time we made the announcement. Richard clarified that the responsibilities for the honours go very clearly with the Head of the Civil Service. There is no discretion on this; it is simply part of the job. We clarified that subsequently.

Richard Tilbrook: It is laid down in the statutes of the Order of the British Empire that the Head of the Civil Service has this role.

Q193 Chair: We did of course, naturally, request that a Minister come and give evidence to this Committee about government policy on the honours system. That was declined on the grounds that no Minister is responsible; it is entirely the Prime Minister who advises the Queen on honours policy. Should we therefore be interviewing the Prime Minister?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Clearly it is for the Committee to decide who it chooses to interview. There are other opportunities, of course, to speak to the Prime Minister on a whole range of issues at the regular meeting that is held with him.

Q194 Chair: For all intents and purposes, should we treat you as the Minister?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think you should treat me as the Head of the Civil Service.

Chair: A diplomatic answer.

Q195 Robert Halfon: Can you just explain how the rest of the Honours Committee members are appointed?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes. The appointment process for the independent members is an open process, where people apply to become members of the committees, and then there is a selection process drawn from those who apply. It is a fully open process to recruit those independent members. I do not know if Richard wanted to add anything to that.

Richard Tilbrook: Yes. All the posts are advertised on the public appointments website. It varies in terms of the numbers of people that apply. If it is a member of a committee, then the Chair of that committee will conduct the interview, with me in support. We are looking for a broad crosssection of members.

Q196 Robert Halfon: The majority of members of your committee have honours themselves. Is this an inevitable consequence of appointing acknowledged experts in the field as independent members of the Honours Committee?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not think it is an inevitable consequence, but clearly what you are looking for are people who are knowledgeable and expert in the field that we are dealing with, whether it is the arts or business. It is therefore going to be more likely that they will have an honour, but it is not an absolutely inevitable consequence of the model. It is an open process. I guess it is also fair to say that those who have been honoured may also have more of an interest in joining the committees. Obviously John will speak for himself on that, and Mary. It is those things that influence the outcome of the process, rather than that it is an expectation that you have an honour in order to be on the committees.

Sir John Parker: Chairman, it might be helpful if I tell you that, recently, we had a public advertisement for four members for the Economy Committee. We had a very large number of applicants. The final selection, I believe I am correct in saying, was of two people without honours, two with honours, and three out of the four were female.

Q197 Robert Halfon: What kind of backgrounds are the majority of your members coming from?

Sir John Parker: If I take the Economy Committee, we are looking for people who have a knowledge of different sectors of the economy, so that they can be well placed to give professional views and opinions of the citations that come before us. In fact, on the recruitment we have found someone who knows the retail sector very well, and that was an area that concerned us, because we had an underrepresentation of females. We have someone who understands the regulatory community and the technology community. We have someone who has a very wide range of business experience across the whole of the UK. The fourth member had a very good knowledge of the ethnic community and charitable work in particular.

Q198 Robert Halfon: Would you say the majority of the members of the Committee are from upper-income brackets?

Sir John Parker: That is difficult to say, but it would not surprise me if, doing the analysis, that was the case. We have tried, as you have just heard, to see how we can spread that.

Q199 Robert Halfon: I meant the Committee in general, not just your subcommittee.

Sir Bob Kerslake: We have not truthfully done the analysis. The names are all in the public domain. I think you would actually see people from a range of incomes. If you look at the committee that I am a member of as well as chairing the main Committee, the committee of the voluntary and local sector, you will see that there are people from a range of different backgrounds on that committee.

Q200 Priti Patel: How open and accessible is the process to members of the public?

Sir Bob Kerslake: In terms of the process of putting forward people, it is a very open process. Indeed, we are doing a lot of work-Richard would be very happy to talk about this-to do outreach to make it more widely known. The process of nomination, putting people forward, is a very open and clear process. The process of deciding is done in private, and I think that is perfectly legitimate, because we are talking about individuals. It is reasonable, as they have not themselves put their names forward-they have come from others-that that is kept in confidence. In every other respect, it is an open process and we actively encourage people to put forward names.

Richard Tilbrook: May I just add to that? If you Google the word "honours", the first website that comes up is ours, which gives you a huge amount of information on the honours system and how to nominate someone for an honour. It gives case studies of people who have been honoured in the past. If someone is proactively wanting to find out that is quite easy, but there is a broad range of outreach work that we are doing as well. We have linked up with the Women’s Institute. You will have seen from our statistics that women are still not, I don’t think, fairly represented in the honours list, so we are doing a national campaign with them. We are doing outreach visits to the parts of the country that are particularly underrepresented in the list, so I will be in Sheffield later this week talking about the honours system. We have had efforts with ethnic communities, and so on, so there is a big effort to try to make it as accessible and as well known as possible.

Q201 Priti Patel: Are you going down a target route?

Richard Tilbrook: Not a target route, no. What we would like to achieve is that the nominations that come forward to the selection committees do accurately represent the population at large. Once they reach the committees, then it is absolutely on merit and only those who are truly deserving will get above the bar.

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is worth saying that, where we think the names coming forward to committees do not give us an adequate mix to choose from, there will be a push back to the Departments that are putting forward names to ask whether we can look again to see if we have the right balance. It is quite a challenging process now to try to get as even and balanced a representation as possible.

Q202 Priti Patel: How do you expect to address the whole issue of public confidence in the system? You are trying to get balance on the one hand, which is a commendable objective, but, at the same time, you have to demonstrate to the public that there is objectivity here as well.

Sir Bob Kerslake: That is a very fair challenge, but the way to do that goes back to the point that I touched on and so did Richard. The more we can encourage awareness of the opportunity for people to think, "I know somebody I would want to put forward for it", rather than thinking, "This is not for me; this is stuff I wouldn’t be connected to", for ordinary people in the community, the more we can get that sense of people in the community thinking, "I’d like to put someone forward", the more we get the range of choice we need in order to get a representative set of people. It is all about raising awareness, outreach work and getting more people put forward.

Q203 Lindsay Roy: Does the fact that Government Departments make submissions not lend itself to the perception that too many honours are awarded just for doing the day job?

Sir Bob Kerslake: We are very, very clear now that, with one exception which I referred to in my submission, which is high court judges, nobody gets an honour now for just doing the day job. We are looking for exceptional service and exceptional achievement, and we also test very hard about people’s community involvement as well. We are very clear now that that policy of getting an honour just for doing the day job has gone. We look at what people have achieved in what they do. Whether those names come from the public or whether they come from Departments, the same test applies.

Q204 Chair: The Committee is gaining a strong impression that these committees have a specific remit and they drive their remit. The nominations that come in from the public or Lord-Lieutenants sometimes fall between the stools and it becomes very serendipitous, as was put to me by one lord lieutenant, as to whether it is picked up by one of the committees or not. Is there not a sense that the committees themselves represent something of the vested interests and the great and the good, and will tend to nominate people known in those fields of endeavour, perhaps very deservedly, but tend to miss people who are not known to people on those committees?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I would not personally accept that argument. If you look at the role of the committees, given the numbers we are talking about here and the wide range of people who get honours, you do need to break down the task to a number of committees that can bring knowledge and expertise. I would not suggest for a moment that the members of those committees can and do know the names of everybody who comes forward. We are, after all, talking about people who often make their impact at a very local level.

Q205 Chair: Perhaps I may ask Dame Mary Marsh. You will tend to use up quite a lot of your allocation on people who must get this honour or must get that honour, because they have worked in this field or they are known to be preeminent in that field or in that endeavour. The honours for ordinary members of the public get what is left over.

Dame Mary Marsh: I do not think that is the way the system works overall. Obviously I am a member of the main committee as well as chairing the State Honours Committee in particular. I have been a member of the State Committee for nearly four years now; I was a member of the committee before I was appointed its chair. What is interesting with the State Committee is that there is absolutely no automaticity at any level. What I find very rewarding about that committee is the range of people who we recognise across the devolved administrations-it is not just in England but in all four nations-who are working in public service, recognising people who do work that I did not even know needed to be done. There is a lot of recognition that goes to people who you would not necessarily expect, if you gave me a blank piece of paper to write down where the roles might be. It is very widely dispersed. I see the same thing when I go to the main committee, when I have access to the whole list of recommendations, which is discussed at the main committee. A very diverse range of roles are recognised.

Sir Bob Kerslake: If I could add one last point, Chair. We also hold a pool as well, in terms of handling the allocations. If there are people who straddle a range of committees, there are ways in which we can handle that.

Richard Tilbrook: In an earlier session there was an assertion, which was just being replayed now, that people who are involved in voluntary work were being crowded out by people who were just doing their job. That is absolutely not the case. In the Birthday List, which will be published shortly if the Queen gives her approval, in fact Mary’s committee underused its allocation. It has an indication of a maximum number of honours that it can recommend for service in the state sector, but it did not use all of those honours. A very wide range of people in the voluntary sector will be honoured. In particular, the reintroduction of the British Empire Medal, which is really spreading across all sectors of society-very few state servants would be recognised through that method-is just cementing this as honours open to all.

Sir John Parker: The only point I would like to add is that, in a number of cases, when a citation comes, say, to the Economy Committee, it will also have a note to say, "This is also being looked at in X Committee." You get feedback from there and we will provide our feedback. The other point I would just make, which you might have been heading to, was utilisation, because we certainly do not always fill our allocation of the awards. If we do not have the quality, if we do not have people who meet the criteria of going beyond the job in their voluntary service or their charitable work, then we just will not fill the allocation.

Chair: We are moving on to the Political Service Honours Committee.

Q206 Paul Flynn: This extraordinary committee, which was formed in secret, without the consent or the knowledge of MPs, has the job of distributing honours to Members of Parliament and other people involved in the parliamentary service. I asked my fellow MPs this morning at breakfast what their opinion was of this. I could not find a single MP who knew about it. Everyone I asked whether they would accept an honour from this committee gave a reply that I cannot repeat-any of their replies-but what they said was that they would firmly and impolitely suggest an alternative destination for that honour. Is this not a crass idea, knowing the public’s view of politicians at the moment? Politicians are not respected at the moment. The public will see this as an attempt by politicians, having grabbed everything else, to grab the gongs as well.

Sir Bob Kerslake: The committee was set up at the proposal of the current Prime Minister. It was his proposal and it was something that he was keen and we were keen to get moving quickly. There had been previous arrangements whereby-it is important to say there had not been people in political spheres-

Q207 Paul Flynn: Why did it not go through Parliament?

Sir Bob Kerslake: We have, as you know, made a statement to Parliament, but the proposal came from the Prime Minister and we followed the normal practice, where there is a proposal from the Prime Minister to form a committee. There was a desire to move quickly on this and, therefore, Michael Spicer was asked to chair the committee.

Q208 Paul Flynn: Why was there a desire to move quickly?

Sir Bob Kerslake: In order to get the new arrangements set up and running.

Q209 Paul Flynn: The new arrangements consist of a prominent part of that committee being the chief whips of all parties. What it will be doing is strengthening the patronage of the whips, whereas the Tony Wright reforms move in the opposite direction. What we want is to weaken the power of the whips. Did you consider, if you were rewarding people who were the whips’ favourites, introducing a new parliamentary award of the Order of the Lickspittle or the Order of the Toady, which would be appropriate? At one time there were automatic awards given to Members of Parliament, in one party, if they had served here for 20 years, except those, like Robert Adley, who had been caught in possession of intelligent ideas or rebellious ideas. This is reestablishing the obedience of MPs to serve causes that the whips want, and is a retrograde step.

Sir Bob Kerslake: The whips are one part of the committee, not the only part.

Q210 Paul Flynn: There are three of them, are there not?

Sir Bob Kerslake: There are three of them on it; quite right. They are not the only members of the committee. It is not just rewarding MPs; it is for those involved in parliamentary and other political service. They will make their recommendations, and do make their recommendations, on the same criteria as we do for every other committee, and they come forward to the main committee for consideration.

Richard Tilbrook: If I may add one clarification, as with all committees, there is a majority of independent members.

Paul Flynn: Independent like Lord Butler and Baroness Hayman? These are establishment figures in the House, who would stand up for conformity in Parliament. I have just finished a book on the person I regard as the greatest Back Bencher.

Chair: We are not advertising books here.

Q211 Paul Flynn: There is no profit made on the books, so there is no commercial interest in this. This is a man whose philanthropy was such that I found out things that his wife did not know-the money he gave away. He did it entirely secretly. How can you reward selfless philanthropy if people advertise their generosity?

Chair: This is a different question; we are looking at the Honours Committee at the moment.

Sir Bob Kerslake: The test of the parliamentary committee will be through those who gain honours, and whether Parliament and others believe that they are worthy of those honours. I do not think you can judge the system until it has done its work.

Q212 Paul Flynn: Why do we need a system? We turned our backs on this. I used those terms about splendid Back Benchers who achieved a great deal. I remember Robert Adley being asked by the Speaker at the time to withdraw the word ‘lickspittle’, because it was automatic. People had the award just for sitting on the green benches for 20 years without actually saying a word. There were rewards for blind, dumb obedience. You are putting that system in; this is an establishment committee awarding those who have done the right thing. We have seen it creep back in, where people are having awards who have not-this is a parliamentary system; it is supposed to be something that we are behind. Most MPs would turn down any award from this system, because we are already rewarded by our reelections and we are actually paid for the job.

Chair: Do you wish to respond to that statement?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I make two points really. One is the number of people who turn down honours is actually generally very, very low. We will see with this new system. The second point I would make, and I will repeat it, is that the parliamentary committee will apply the same tests about exceptional service and exceptional achievement as any of the other committees. They will be making recommendations to the main committee, which will make the ultimate decision.

Q213 Chair: Dame Mary Marsh, your committee was overseeing political and parliamentary honours as part of your remit before this was established. What was wrong with that system?

Dame Mary Marsh: There were some constraints, because the roles of the public servants, who are working in the parliamentary system, are very different kinds of roles from the Civil Service that was the main focus of our work. It was quite difficult for us to be informed enough to make the right judgments about the recommendations that were coming to us. It was felt that it would be better if it was focused, so that all the parliamentary awards across the UK were dealt with on a more consistent basis. As far as parliamentarians are concerned, there had been a period of time when there had been very few awards made to parliamentarians. There is absolutely a wish to recommend parliamentarians in the same way as anyone else in the community who has done something beyond the job, which seems to be behind this principle.

Q214 Chair: When you say there is absolutely a wish, whose wish?

Dame Mary Marsh: The wish of creating that particular committee to look at those kinds of contributions.

Q215 Chair: Whose wish? The Prime Minister’s wish?

Dame Mary Marsh: The Prime Minister’s wish, because I think the Philanthropy Committee emerged in a similar sort of time period, in principle.

Q216 Lindsay Roy: Can I just clarify? If it is the same criteria that apply for exceptional service above and beyond the call of duty, why is there a need for a separate award?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think we have covered that point, which is that-

Q217 Lindsay Roy: Is it because the Prime Minister says so?

Sir Bob Kerslake: As has already been said, it allows a specific consideration of those who have made a contribution in terms of Parliament and parliamentary service. It is recognising that as a distinct contribution, but the criteria are the same. That is what I am saying.

Q218 Lindsay Roy: The call has not come from anywhere else other than from the Prime Minister.

Richard Tilbrook: For every committee, the members of that committee are experts in that field, and so it is appropriate for the political committee to have that same benefit.

Q219 Lindsay Roy: I just want to clarify where the pressure has come from, other than from the Prime Minister. There may well have been for education or for other aspects of professional life.

Richard Tilbrook: Those committees are already in place.

Lindsay Roy: I am aware of that.

Q220 Kelvin Hopkins: I just want to reinforce the point made by my colleague and honourable friend, Mr Flynn. With the chief whips of the political parties on the committee, anybody coming forward from a particular political party, the chief whip of that party just puts the blue line through their name and they will not get on. If the name crops up and the whip discusses it with the leader of the party, the Prime Minister or whoever, they will immediately blackball anybody they do not like. It is a system that will work negatively rather than positively, stopping anybody who is not in favour with the whips.

Richard Tilbrook: That is not the only route that names will come forward to the committee. Names also come forward from members of the public.

Q221 Kelvin Hopkins: But it is a parliamentary committee¸ because you have got parliamentarians on that committee.

Richard Tilbrook: Yes, I know, but what I am saying is that the whips are not the only route for feeding names through to the committee. Names also come from members of the public.

Q222 Chair: How often has the Honours Secretariat received a recommendation from a member of the public that an MP should get a knighthood?

Richard Tilbrook: You might be surprised; it does happen and people do recommend their own constituency MPs.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Just to reinforce that comment there, there are a majority of independent members on that committee who can express a view. If the whips were saying, "Don’t go for this person because they haven’t toed the line," there are builtin safeguards.

Q223 Robert Halfon: Do you think one answer might be that the committee should be like a select committee and composed of elected members, who deal with parliamentary and policy honours?

Richard Tilbrook: That would be rather against the grain of all the recent reforms to the honours system, which have been to depoliticise it as far as possible.

Q224 Robert Halfon: Can I just interject? If it were a select committee, you would have MPs from all parties in the same way that you do now. It is already politicised because of the people who are on this new parliamentary committee.

Richard Tilbrook: What makes it different is that it has independent members who are not MPs and they are in the majority. I do not see how your proposal would quite work.

Sir Bob Kerslake: The other point is that, while clearly MPs are perhaps the primary group who are considered, it is not only MPs who are being considered for honours through this particular committee.

Q225 Robert Halfon: I am talking about the political and MP honours. Surely to have that decided by a parliamentary committee of elected members is the fairest way of doing it, rather than just appointed people.

Dame Mary Marsh: It is also for across the UK, so it is not just Westminster. It is looking at service in other Parliaments and Assemblies as well.

Q226 Priti Patel: Sir Bob, with regards to the Parliamentary and Political Service Honours Committee, why should the public trust this committee? How can the public have confidence that this is not certain sections of the British establishment handing out gongs to each other, and just patting themselves on the back and rewarding each other?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think we have been through some of the arguments on that. Clearly we cannot, through this process, change public attitudes and their trust in politicians, bluntly. What we can do is to try to establish a committee that has a mix of those involved through the whips and through independent members as well. If you are going to have a group of people who are going to look at the specifics and have specific knowledge of those who are in the parliamentary area who might receive honours, this is to me a reasonable way of trying to do it. What we cannot do is change people’s attitudes towards politicians, but it is a system that has builtin safeguards, as I said earlier, and it is a subcommittee of the main committee. Ultimately, the main committee makes the decisions.

Q227 Priti Patel: On that point, to actually instil public confidence in the honours system and a degree of trust with members of the public-not about the establishment, not about Members of Parliament-how would you actually sell this particular committee to the public and say that it is not a stitchup; it is actually for good works and public service?

Sir Bob Kerslake: We would sell it, as we were saying, as we talked about earlier, that we wanted to bring distinct knowledge and expertise from the political field, which is an important part of life in Britain, and one way of doing that was to establish a distinct committee that did it. That is the way we would do it. In the same way as we have a committee for sports, business or the community and voluntary sector. It is the same principle, exactly the same principle.

Richard Tilbrook: If I can just add again for the birthday honours list that is coming up, the committee did not fulfil its full allocation, because it was absolutely concerned about merit.

Q228 Paul Flynn: So you are saying there were not four who were worthy of getting knighthoods or damehoods.

Richard Tilbrook: I am talking across the board, at all levels. I am not just talking about-

Q229 Paul Flynn: You are not talking about the parliamentary distribution of gongs.

Richard Tilbrook: No, I am.

Q230 Paul Flynn: You have not found four MPs who are worthy.

Richard Tilbrook: No, that is not what I said.

Q231 Paul Flynn: It is what you said.

Richard Tilbrook: It is not.

Q232 Paul Flynn: We all heard you say it.

Richard Tilbrook: With respect, Mr Flynn, what I said was it has not met its full allocation across all the levels of honours, not just knighthoods and damehoods.

Q233 Paul Flynn: What has it met?

Chair: Please let Mr Tilbrook answer.

Richard Tilbrook: MPs are not solely eligible for knighthoods or damehoods. They are eligible for honours at any level in the system, just like any other member of the British public.

Q234 Paul Flynn: The great majority of MPs will tell you the highest accolade they have are the words "MP" after their name. They are not grubbing around for bogstandard awards that are being distributed. Do you recall what Michael Winner said when he was offered an OBE? He said, "This is the sort of award you give to a toilet cleaner at King’s Cross." Of this list of awards you have got, and I see there are four knighthoods and damehoods, six OBEs, nine MBEs and two BEMs, to be distributed to MPs and their staff, who do you think will get the BEMs?

Richard Tilbrook: I am afraid you will have to wait and see until the list is published.

Q235 Paul Flynn: This is reinforcing the hierarchy. It will be the poor infantry who get the OBEs and the MBEs, and MPs will get the knighthoods and the damehoods, won’t they?

Richard Tilbrook: That is not how I would characterise it at all, because people who will be receiving BEMs and MBEs are doing extraordinary things. I would not want to denigrate them at all.

Q236 Paul Flynn: There is a considerable portion of the country who would possibly disagree with the honours system. My attitude to it-and there is a group that is selling information for £3,900-

Chair: This is a different question. We are dealing with the Political and Parliamentary Honours Committee.

Q237 Paul Flynn: What I advise those who come to me and ask for an honour is that the system is, at best, unfair and, at worst, corrupt, because you will be judged by people who are not necessarily sympathetic to a wide range of society. It will be decided by Lord-Lieutenants and other people who have got awards. Let us look at this wonderful committee. It is composed of two lords, four right hons., one baroness and one dame. Is this a crosssection of society in your street or where you live? This is an establishment committee that will reward the establishment.

Richard Tilbrook: As I said before, I think you should see who they do put forward.

Q238 Paul Flynn: Will we have a list of those who reject the awards that are put forward?

Richard Tilbrook: No, of course not.

Q239 Paul Flynn: Can you give an undertaking that those who were offered and reject them will be published?

Sir Bob Kerslake: No, there will not be any list of those rejected, for the simple and obvious reason that they do not choose to be nominated.

Q240 Paul Flynn: It is the highest honour to have refused an honour, I would have thought. I have advocated for a long time that they are allowed to wear a badge that says, "HRH"-"has refused honour".

Sir Bob Kerslake: Refusing an honour is an entirely separate point. You have said "rejected", and it would be completely inappropriate to list people who are rejected, when they did not know themselves that they were being nominated.

Q241 Lindsay Roy: Can I just clarify who decided on the quota and whether indeed, if the quota is fulfilled, that is an overrepresentation compared with society as a whole?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Just to be clear, it is not an absolute number, as Richard has said. It is an allocation for the committee that they cannot go above. The numbers were worked through, I think by the Secretariat, as a guide for the committee to come forward with names. They did not either have to exactly hit that figure or not. They simply had to come forward with a set of names, and it was a guide for them as to the potential number of places available.

Q242 Lindsay Roy: Can I probe you further? If the quota is indeed fulfilled, would that mean an overrepresentation from parliamentary services?

Richard Tilbrook: Do not forget the breadth of the committee. It is not just Members of Parliament: it is the devolved administrations; it is the bodies that report to those; and it is party workers across the country, which is a very large number of people. These are all in competition with each other on this committee, so it is quite a sizeable workforce.

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is very hard for us to work out whether that constitutes an overrepresentation.

Q243 Lindsay Roy: I think we have evidence that, in the defence quota for example, you have a much higher chance of getting an award than an ordinary citizen.

Richard Tilbrook: What you will also know is that, every five years, we do a review of allocations across committees. We will be starting that process again towards the end of this year. Actually, the views of this Committee will be very useful in that. We will reexamine the different proportions each sector has in society to try to get a fair representation across the board.

Q244 Chair: Before we leave this subject, can I take it that all three parties were equally enthusiastic about this proposal?

Richard Tilbrook: They certainly all participated very enthusiastically in the process.

Q245 Chair: As a confirmed Back Bencher, I am always mildly suspicious when three chief whips are in agreement about something. We see that in the way that the House votes on standing orders and things like that sometimes. Wouldn’t this committee, if it is going to exist, have more credibility if the three dominating factors on it were not all current chief whips, either holding or in pursuit of high office?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Clearly that is something you may want to reflect on when you produce your report, but it was a reasonable starting place, I think, to get the committee moving.

Chair: Let me emphasise I have nothing personally against any of our chief whips. They are all extremely fine and upstanding hon. Members.

I did say, in my response to the Prime Minister, whether he could regard this proposal as provisional, when he wrote to me about it. I am bound to say his letter came as a complete surprise, after we had already commenced this inquiry, and we may well have recommendations to make about it. Moving on, could we talk more about the selecting of recipients of honours?

Q246 Lindsay Roy: How do you choose who will receive an honour?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I touched earlier on the things that we are testing here. We are looking at exceptional service or exceptional achievement. We are also now looking to see the extent to which they have played a wider role in the community, but we do not make that an absolute, so there will be circumstances, across all the areas that we give honours to, where what people have achieved in the job they are doing is so exceptional that it stands as justification for an honour in its own right.

Q247 Lindsay Roy: How many candidates put forward do not actually receive an award because of the constraints of a quota?

Sir Bob Kerslake: We use the word "quota" here but, as I was saying earlier, what we give each of the committees is an allocation. We use those allocations as a way of guiding those particular committees to the maximum numbers for their committee. If they have more people, then they have other routes to bring those up through the pool or, as I say, we hold back a number in the pool as well. Actually, my experience from the Main Committee is that the allocation to individual committees, of itself, does not create a great constraint, but clearly we get more cases to consider than we agree awards for, in the totality of the Main Committee.

Richard Tilbrook: If the competition is particularly stiff in a particular round, a committee may feel that there are more people who are worthy of awards than there are spaces available. It may say, for these particular candidates, they should come back next time rather than lose them all together.

Lindsay Roy: So they can be carried forward.

Richard Tilbrook: Exactly.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes, they can.

Sir John Parker: Chairman, if it is helpful to give you an absolute feel, for example in the number we handle in the Economy Committee, New Year 2012, Birthday 2012, about 446 people in total citations came in front of us. We recommended awards to 247, which is about 55%, so we actually decided that 45% did not make the cut in terms of the criteria of their wider contribution beyond their job to society, voluntary work, charitable work, etc.

Q248 Lindsay Roy: Of those who are offered an honour, what percentage actually turns an honour down?

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is very low indeed actually.

Richard Tilbrook: It is about 2%.

Q249 Lindsay Roy: Of that 2%, what percentage is related to the word "empire"?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Very small-single numbers.

Richard Tilbrook: The sounding letters have gone out for the current round, for the Birthday List. We have maybe 10 or 11 refusals all together. Of those, one or two have mentioned the word "empire". Only one person so far has refused a British Empire Medal and the word "empire" was not mentioned as a reason.

Q250 Lindsay Roy: Are these 10 or 11 awards reoffered to someone else because they have been refused?

Richard Tilbrook: No, we cannot restart the whole process all over again.

Q251 Lindsay Roy: Is this because of the time factor?

Richard Tilbrook: Yes, exactly.

Q252 Priti Patel: We took evidence from several Lord-Lieutenants during the course of the inquiry, who raised concerns about the length of time that it takes to process honours nomination. In one instance, there was reference to an elderly nominee who had passed away during this entire process. The question is: what can be done with regard to the time process? Could you explain something about the actual process itself and why it takes so long? Also, again on my point about public confidence, how can you ensure that the public feels confident in a process that they know very little about once the nomination actually goes in?

Richard Tilbrook: It is a lengthy process and that is because it is a very robust process. The moment in time when a name is put forward will also affect how long it takes. If a name is submitted just before an honours list is published, then that automatically builds another six months into the timetable. We do have to do all sorts of checks on individuals. When the nomination first comes in, we want to consult Lord-Lieutenants to get their views on that candidate. Government Departments will have their own checks with professional bodies to try to get as good a crosssection of views as possible on that particular candidate. If they come forward, we also need to do checks with people like the Charities Commission, for example, if they are engaged with charitable work, to make sure it was a bona fide charity. All that takes time. What we do say is that, if someone who has nominated wants to find out about the progress their nominee has made, then we are always happy to take those calls and to let them know where it has got to. What we do not have the resource to do is to proactively phone everyone. We get maybe 3,500 members of the public a year putting someone forward. We cannot just automatically phone all of those to let them know how it is going but, if they phone us, we will tell them.

Q253 Priti Patel: I would like to go back to the point about public confidence again. I know we have touched upon engagement and awarenessraising, to, I guess, debunk some myths about the whole honours system, the transparency and the accessibility. However, how would you address a very specific point that the public holds a view or perception that honours can actually be bought?

Sir Bob Kerslake: We have to be very open in describing the process by which we make decisions and be very clear that that cannot and does not form part of the process, and be very rigorous about that description. We cannot clearly describe the arrangements in relation to individuals. That is difficult for all the reasons we have said earlier, but I think we can be very transparent about how decisions get made on individuals and be very clear about the role, for example, of independent members and the rigour with which the testing that Richard has described is done. Those are the ways we are doing it. What we cannot do is guard against somebody making an allegation of something being bought simply because of somebody’s actions in terms of how they have used their money, but we can have a rigorous process and be very transparent about that.

Q254 Priti Patel: In light of the Government’s obsession in taking focus groups, opinion polls, snapshots in time, etc, is there any active work going on to actually test public confidence in the honours system?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Actually, funnily enough we do have information on that and I think we supplied some of that to you in attachment 1 to my letter. What it shows actually is some good news. There is a very high level of awareness, over 80%, of the honours system. There is also quite a strong view about people feeling proud that we have an honours system, up to 70%odd, but there is also a challenge there precisely on the point that you have raised, about whether people perceive it is as open and fair. The figure at the moment is around 44%. We still have to carry on working at that issue but, in terms of awareness and support for the honours system, the numbers are pretty high.

Dame Mary Marsh: It is very clear that the Philanthropy Committee, which is effectively a subcommittee of the Main Committee and was set up as recommended through the Giving White Paper, is not there to identify philanthropists and bring them forward necessarily. We are making sure that any of the committees that are recognising people for their philanthropy, as part of their honour, are doing so on a consistent and reasonable basis. You are not just looking for somebody who has made a single gift of something, whatever size. You are absolutely looking for people who have given time, commitment and sustained engagement with their particular cause, and have made a significant difference through their philanthropy, which is both that they volunteer time as well as their money. Inevitably, people who are philanthropists of that sort are being honoured otherwise anyway, because they are often people who have given distinguished service in other walks of life.

We are very keen, in the way we look across the three main committees that tend to produce the philanthropists into the award system-the CVLS, the Economy Committee, chaired by Sir John, and the Arts and Media-that, if we are mentioning it at all, we are doing it consistently. We are not putting people into the pool simply because they have given a load of money to a particular charity once.

Q255 Robert Halfon: Do you think one way to restore the public confidence in the honours system would be to limit honours that are given to people who have donated substantial sums to political parties?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Our current policy is to say that we do not preclude somebody who has made a contribution, but the fact that they have made a contribution does not in any way enhance their likelihood of getting an honour. That is a clear position that we take. To preclude people, when they might have achieved something very exceptional in another field, would seem to me to be unreasonable. At what level would you preclude them? What would you regard as a substantial donation to a political party, for a start? The position we have now, which is that the committees take no account of that and, indeed, are not aware of it when they are considering the cases-we are very clear that it cannot form any part of why you would give somebody on honour-but equally we do not exclude people, is the right and proper place to be on this issue.

Q256 Robert Halfon: Clearly there is an issue, because there are often people who have given money to political parties of either side and who are then subsequently awarded honours. Really the focus from the public is on the donations they have made rather than the philanthropic work they have done.

Sir Bob Kerslake: You are entirely right. One of the things your Committee, I know, has had others say to it is: do we say enough, at the time we make the honours, about why people have got the honour? There is certainly something there, where I think we should look at a longer description of why people have got the honour than we do at the moment.

Q257 Robert Halfon: How do you ensure that the honours are given to people who are genuinely engaged with philanthropy and doing active service rather than just writing out cheques?

Dame Mary Marsh: When we have been considering cases, we have sometimes said that there is not sufficient evidence here for this to be supported as a recognition for philanthropy. It may be that the evidence does exist; we just haven’t got it in front of us. Sometimes we do not think there is sufficient evidence of anything more than a single donation, and sometimes even the scale of the donation is not entirely clear. There are cases that may be presented as philanthropy but actually they have been people who have just been very active fundraisers, getting other people to give; that is not individual philanthropy. We are very clear about being sure we have sufficient evidence. It is this contribution over time and that giving of your own time and expertise to something that are important. It has to be significant.

Q258 Robert Halfon: Is that now a key driver?

Dame Mary Marsh: It conforms to all of the other expectations we have across the whole system about wider voluntary service. You are not just being recognised for something you did once; you are being recognised because you have given something over a period. In the past, we have just talked about charitable services, but it has been suggested that significant philanthropy is important and should be recognised. That can be added. It is very unlikely that many people will get a citation that says it is just for philanthropy, as I said before.

Sir John Parker: On Mary’s Committee, I think we are very clear that no one should be capable of buying an honour. That is what we have to be exceptionally clear about.

Q259 Paul Flynn: Baron Mackenzie’s committee or body that he has called, I understand, Awards Intelligence, exists to advise people. If they spend £3,900 with him, he will show them the way to get an honour. He claims, and the body claims, success. We are meeting today in the Lloyd George Room in this House. If awards can be bought in that way, would it not be more honest to just sell them and make a few bob for the country? I think it absolutely true that the people who get the honours tend to be people who are rich. I have given advice to people who have come to me about honours and it has been remarkably successful. Are honours being bought?

Sir Bob Kerslake: The blunt answer is no. We are very clear that they are not. One of the difficulties of this whole debate is we focus on small numbers of particular highprofile honours; if you look at the vast majority of honours, they go to ordinary people who have done exceptional service in their communities. It just demeans them to carry on talking about buying honours.

Q260 Paul Flynn: These are the bogstandard honours, the ones that go to the toilet cleaners at King’s Cross. The prestigious honours that you would like to have and you have, and most of the people you work with have-civil servants and top military-are the ones that go to that layer of society that happens to be rich.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Two points: the people who get those honours do not see them as bogstandard. I get the letters back from them about how absolutely enthralled they are about achieving their honour. In a sense, you are demeaning the whole process.

Paul Flynn: You get the letter back from the one person who got the honour, but you do not get letters back from the 99 other people who are equally of merit but who did not get the honour. This is the problem with it. It seems to be a completely arbitrary system. Many people are worthy of honours; few get them.

Q261 Chair: Should there be 1,000% more honours?

Sir Bob Kerslake: All I can say, as I have said earlier, is look at the public perceptions of the system. I will go back to my point: we try to run a process that is as rigorous and fair as possible. One of the reasons why it takes time is that we do that. We test whether the information we are given is accurate. For the vast bulk of people, as I said earlier, these are about local people who have made an impact in their communities. Nobody buys honours in the system as it works today.

Q262 Chair: Can I just press a little further on the role of Lord-Lieutenants, because it came through very strongly in the oral evidence we received and in other evidence we have received, and indeed in private conversations, that they are formally consulted though, very often, people in their counties receive honours who they never expected to receive honours? Very often, they feel their recommendations are completely ignored. They do not feel as involved as, for example, Mr Tilbrook, you have led them to believe that they would be.

Richard Tilbrook: It is certainly the case that, for all the cases that we run centrally in the Cabinet Office, we always consult Lord-Lieutenants on the merits of those cases. We take their comments very seriously indeed. They are not the only comments we receive, so they cannot trump everybody else’s comments. There will be other people who are also providing comments on a particular citation. But I do want to stress that we value the role of Lord-Lieutenants very highly, not just for providing those comments, because very often they will have the reach in their county that very few other people have. To get that from the local society is extremely helpful. Also, they have a huge role in publicising the honours system and making it known. If I can mention one lord-lieutenant in dispatches, the Lord-Lieutenant of Greater Manchester does roughly a monthly presentation on the honours system to local communities just to debunk the myths, to explain how it works and to try to reach those communities that are not properly represented in the list.

Q263 Chair: The Cabinet Office does not have an allocation, does it?

Richard Tilbrook: We do not have an allocation, no.

Q264 Chair: You are competing. The public’s applications and Lord-Lieutenants’ applications come straight into the Cabinet Office.

Richard Tilbrook: These are nominations that have come in from members of the public, which we then ask Lord Lieutenants for their views on.

Q265 Chair: There isn’t an allocation to that part of the process, is there, or have I misunderstood? The committees all have an allocation. But these random ones that come in from the public, there is no allocation for that.

Richard Tilbrook: There is, because the majority of those will come to the Community, Voluntary and Local Services Committee, which does have an allocation.

Sir Bob Kerslake: The point is that people do not have to think which committee they are putting it in. They put in their nomination and then the committee that is relevant to that nomination will look at it. That is the way it works.

Q266 Chair: What do you think should be done to formalise the relationship perhaps a bit more between Lord-Lieutenants and the honours system?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Clearly we can talk more to them about how we might improve the liaison. I am quite happy to do that. I am sure Richard has quite regular conversations with them. I do think that we should keep with the point, though, that their advice is welcome and we seek it out, but it is not an absolute. They do not have a right to say, "You should or should not take someone".

Q267 Chair: It has been suggested that they should have their own allocation.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think that misreads how the system works. The allocations are simply a means of pulling together a set of names for the Main Honours Committee to take a view on. It would be odd to give a particular group of people an allocation when, effectively, the allocation is a way of looking at different nominations for particular fields. I think that would be a confusing and odd direction to go in.

Q268 Lindsay Roy: I think the views of a substantial number were that they felt marginalised in terms of the extent of consultation; not wishing to nominate for honours, but just marginalised in terms of the contact with them. I wondered if you had any plans to do anything about that.

Richard Tilbrook: I am regularly talking to Lord-Lieutenants and I travel around the country doing so, and also speaking to their deputies, to try to make them as aware as possible of the system and to encourage them in their outreach work. That is only England; devolved administrations have their own ways of seeking comments, and they do it slightly differently.

Q269 Lindsay Roy: In our previous session, it was suggested that the word "empire" was an anachronism and that it be replaced by the term "excellence". Is that something that is being considered now?

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is not being actively considered now. Obviously your Committee may ask us to reexamine the issue again.

Q270 Lindsay Roy: One of the criteria is "above and beyond the call of duty". I suppose that is equivalent to excellence. Indeed, I note that there might be two categories because, in terms of philanthropy, the Prime Minister has said it should be for those who have gone beyond excellence. Have you any comment to make on that? What do we mean by "gone beyond excellence"?

Sir John Parker: We interpret it as beyond excellence in their particular role; in other words: what else have they done in society beyond doing an excellent job?

Richard Tilbrook: May I come back to the question of "empire" again, if that would be helpful?

Chair: Yes, it is troubling us.

Richard Tilbrook: It is troubling you. There are clearly some quite loud voices arguing against the continuation of the use of the word "empire". I fully respect those who find it rather anachronistic, at a time when we do not have an empire, to carry on using the word.

Q271 Chair: Try explaining it to President Obama.

Richard Tilbrook: The explanation to President Obama is that we have a history, and it is a history of which probably the majority of the country is quite proud.

Chair: America would find it rather offputting.

Richard Tilbrook: The Order of the British Empire was founded at a time of empire. That is a part of its history. Just changing the name is not actually that straightforward. When the order was established, the statutes made it very clear and the Queen’s grandfather said it was to be "known forever thereafter" as the Order of the British Empire and "by no other designation". What that means in practice is, if you want to change the name of the order, you have to close the order and start a new one. In terms of timing, I think in a jubilee year and just before the order is about to celebrate its centenary, that might be an odd moment to choose.

Q272 Paul Flynn: Had we not done that? Had the Prime Minister not introduced, in all but name, the order of the Big Society in order to use the honours system to advance what is a political stunt, which has probably outlived its usefulness now and appears to be a dead wheeze walking? Do you think it is legitimate to use the honours system to advance what is a party-political policy of the Big Society?

Richard Tilbrook: I think it is entirely legitimate to use the honours system to reward voluntary work.

Paul Flynn: This is a party thing, which is regarded by many people in the Conservative Party and the Government now as a very foolish idea that is not going anywhere. It started out as a prime ministerial wheeze and probably should be consigned to the dustbin of threeword prime ministerial wheezes, where the Big Society and the cones hotline now reside.

Chair: Mr Flynn, can I just bring in Mr Hopkins on this, because he was going to ask this question?

Q273 Kelvin Hopkins: The role of the Prime Minister in all this is something that has always concerned me. Apparently, he recently said that he requests for people who "have gone beyond excellence in playing their part to create a Big Society". It is clearly asking the honours system to reward those people supporting a government policy. What changes have you made to accommodate the Prime Minister’s request?

Sir Bob Kerslake: This is still the position here. Clearly Prime Ministers do have the right to give a view on policy issues relating to the way the honours system works, and the Prime Minister is exercising that right here. We all took this issue as being about, exactly as Richard said, recognising people who have made a contribution to the community, in one form or another, voluntary or otherwise, in a way that they have carried out their role, so it has gone beyond their immediate job. That is what we have taken his reference to the Big Society as being about. The way we have recognised that is to look for, in those who come forward for honours, evidence of whether they have done something in their lives that goes beyond the job they are doing and has contributed to the community. So that is one very specific way in which we have sought to recognise that desire to have a stronger society element to what we are doing. That is the first point.

The second point is that the reintroduction of the British Empire Medal gives you a way of recognising people who have made a contribution at a very local level. So those are two very tangible ways in which the Prime Minister’s wishes have been reflected in what we are doing.

Q274 Kelvin Hopkins: Would someone who, like me, believes that the Big Society is just a disguise for unpicking the welfare state, and has said that, but otherwise was very distinguished, be struck off the list by the Prime Minister because they were not supporting his policy?

Sir Bob Kerslake: No, this is not about whether people believe in a specific aspect of government policy. This is about whether people can demonstrate, through what they have done in their lives, that they have made an active contribution to the community. It is an entirely different point.

Q275 Kelvin Hopkins: Let’s take a couple of other examples. What about a distinguished surgeon, who was on the verge of being awarded a knighthood, but then is critical of the Government’s health reforms and does not want to see the health service privatised?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think if you look at those who have received awards, you will find quite a few who have been critical of the Government of the day. There is not in any sense an issue that says if you criticise the Government you cannot be considered for an honour. We judge it on their merits and we judge it on their achievements.

Q276 Kelvin Hopkins: You do not know, off hand, whether Mr Blair approved anybody who had opposed the Iraq War, for example.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Mr Blair withdrew from any involvement at all in the decisions on individuals.

Q277 Kelvin Hopkins: You said that the Prime Minister "provides the key strategic direction to the UK honours system", Sir Bob. Does this not really mean that the honours system is at risk of being politicised?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think if he was taking decisions on individuals related to politics that might be an argument, but I think it is perfectly reasonable, indeed part of the honours system, for the Prime Minister to give a direction of travel that he wishes us to go in considering who gets honoured.

Q278 Chair: You do not think the chief whip is likely to take his advice.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I have no idea what advice the chief whip takes from the Prime Minister or otherwise. I would not venture to speculate.

Q279 Kelvin Hopkins: My concluding question on this little section is really about the overall role of the Prime Minister. Our government in Britain is extremely centralised and is focussed even more extremely on the power of the Prime Minister. Some regard our system as a limited fiveyear dictatorship. I think this is exaggerated, but, nevertheless, that is a view. Would it not be sensible to take the whole honours system right out the hands of the Prime Minister, so the Prime Minister has no role? We can have some worthy body doing this and then honours nominally awarded by the Queen and so on, or the head of state if there were not a monarch. Taking it out of the hands of the Prime Minister would avoid any risk of it being politicised.

Sir Bob Kerslake: That is clearly something that the Committee can take a view on. One of the first questions you asked was: is there a Minister in charge of this? In this instance, it is the Prime Minister who takes overall responsibility but, for some time now, the Prime Minister has focused his involvement, whichever Prime Minister it is, on the strategic direction rather than the individual decisions.

Q280 Kelvin Hopkins: The power of patronage of the Prime Minister is excessive in Britain. Would this not be a good way of actually making our society a bit more democratic, by taking away some of the patronage from this extremely powerful leader we have?

Sir Bob Kerslake: That is something for the Committee to consider.

Q281 Kelvin Hopkins: You have said that permanent secretaries "can no longer expect knight or damehoods as a matter of course". What do permanent secretaries have to do to receive a knighthood or a damehood now?

Sir Bob Kerslake: They have to do the same as everybody else has to do in order to be considered for those honours. They have to have achieved something that is exceptional in the delivery of their role and/or exceptional in something that they have done beyond their role. It is about exceptional service and exceptional achievement. It is no different whether we are considering a permanent secretary or whether we are considering a surgeon or somebody from the arts. It is the same principle.

Q282 Kelvin Hopkins: The last four honours lists have awarded knight or damehoods or upgraded knighthoods to six current or recently retired permanent secretaries. If every honours list contains a knighthood or damehood for a permanent secretary, does it not appear that these honours are still handed out as a matter of course?

Dame Mary Marsh: That is simply not the way the decisions are made. We do not award them automatically. The citations are not always there anyway but, even if the citations are there for us to consider, we do not put them through automatically and we do not take up our full allocation if we do not think there are worthy candidates in front of us.

Q283 Kelvin Hopkins: If there were two a year or even four a year, you would soon get through all the permanent secretaries.

Dame Mary Marsh: It just so happens, in that phase of time, there were a number of exceptional people who needed recognition, but it is not always like that.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Permanent secretaries have left the role as permanent secretaries without receiving an honour.

Q284 Kelvin Hopkins: I look forward to seeing some permanent secretaries who retire and go gracefully into retirement, and never receive a knighthood or a damehood.

Sir Bob Kerslake: There are examples of those.

Q285 Chair: Can we imagine a Cabinet Secretary or a Head of the Civil Service who does not have any honours?

Sir Bob Kerslake: You can certainly imagine it, because it is possible within the system we now operate.

Q286 Chair: It would be unthinkable for us to send an ambassador to Washington who did not have a knighthood. They would not understand it at all, would they? Could we?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think they would get used to it. Let us be clear: we have moved away from automatic honours. Some people might like it to stay that way, but it has gone. There will be circumstances when people who would have expected to get an honour will not get one, because that is the nature of the change.

Q287 Chair: It has been put to us, and there must be this pressure, that there are many countries where, for someone to operate effectively internationally, it is expected that an important person representing the United Kingdom will have some kind of title or designation, other than Mr. You are shaking your head, Dame Mary.

Dame Mary Marsh: Yes, because one of the roles I fulfil as part of my chair role for the State Honours Committee is that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has their separate list but I sit on their committee. I can assure you that there are no automatic honours for ambassadors. We’ve got ambassadors in places like China, India and Pakistan at the moment who are not knights and dames. It is not automatic at all. It is a question again, as Bob has just described, of it being done on the basis of merit, length of service and beyond the job.

Q288 Chair: As ambassador, if the Queen visits the country where you represent Her Majesty’s Government, you no longer automatically get a knighthood.

Dame Mary Marsh: Absolutely not, no.

Paul Flynn: Could I ask a question?

Chair: On that point?

Paul Flynn: No, just generally. I do not think that is a serious point. It seems an extraordinary suggestion to me.

Q289 Priti Patel: Very specifically to that point, last week we had Lord Digby Jones in front of the Committee. Although we were talking about the Forfeiture Committee at the time, he specifically said that, in the trade capacity, business capacity in particular-and perhaps Sir John may like to comment on this-having a title is considered to be incredibly useful when you are looking to do deals internationally or represent the Government in a trade capacity or in a trade envoy capacity.

Sir John Parker: Chairman, I have been in business now for 50 years travelling the world, probably much more extensively even than my good friend Lord Jones. I travelled the world for a very long time without an honour and still did satisfactory business. It is true that, in certain countries, you can be received perhaps at a higher level because you come with an honour. It certainly does not do any harm, I have found, but I would not say that it is absolutely a necessity to do business across the world.

I have also to say that, in my travels around the world, in many nations, and of course we are not unique as a country in giving honours-many nations do-the honours system in Britain is actually held in very high regard. I often get interesting questions in China and the Far East in particular about the system. They like the historical aspects of it. There is a point here about tradition that we should be careful about. We should not throw tradition over in talking about the words "OBE", because there is a value in these historic orders and awards.

Q290 Paul Flynn: I would just like to ask Mr Kerslake how this happens. Does the Prime Minister come up to you and say, "Bob, I’ve got this great idea. I’m going to introduce a special committee that will give gongs just to MPs and their staff. We won’t tell Parliament about it. We won’t ask for their agreement; we’ll just introduce it." What do you say? Do you say, "Dave, this is a great idea," or "Dave, perhaps we should think again, because it is a profoundly stupid idea"? What line did you take?

Chair: You are not obliged to discuss advice to Ministers.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I am not obliged to, but also I could not, because I was not in the job when this conversation happened.

Q291 Paul Flynn: The Nuremberg-okay, fine. If you had been in the job, what would you have said?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I would not answer a hypothetical question.

Q292 Paul Flynn: Sir Gus O’Donnell I think has got four knighthoods.

Sir Bob Kerslake: He has not.

Q293 Paul Flynn: Where does this greed run out-this lust for having appendages to your name? Do they feel better? Do they sleep better? Do they have a better life?

Sir Bob Kerslake: In the interests of accuracy, he has two.

Q294 Paul Flynn: I have seen in the papers he has four.

Sir Bob Kerslake: No. Of course, he is a lord as well, which is quite a separate process. The point to make here is that people are reconsidered for higher honours. It is no different for officials than it is for any other walk of life. If people have achieved something at a certain level and then, after a period of time of five years or more, something else happens in terms of their achievements and service that justifies a reconsideration, that is what happens. It is no different for anybody, whether it is a permanent secretary or anybody else.

Q295 Robert Halfon: Going back to what you said about tradition a moment ago, which I felt was really important, and regarding the names of honours, is it not important for people to remember that the medal is a gift of the monarch, of Her Majesty, and therefore it should be the monarch who decides what the medal is, or may or may not be, called, rather than politicians? Just to turn around some of the questions I have asked earlier, given that the honour is a gift of the monarch, surely one idea would be for the committee that decides the gifting of honours to be entirely in the hands of the monarch, so she would choose the committee that decided the awarding of the honours.

Richard Tilbrook: I may just chip in on that, in that the committee that decides policy on honours, the Committee on the Grant of Honours and Decorations, the HD Committee as we call it, was established to give advice directly to the sovereign. That is how the process actually works.

Paul Flynn: Can we not clear this up? There really is no involvement, apart from a tiny number of honours, in which the monarch has any influence at all. You cannot blame Her Majesty for those who do not get the honours. She is not really involved in it.

Q296 Chair: Is it correct that the vast majority of honours are on the advice of the Prime Minister?

Richard Tilbrook: Yes.

Q297 Chair: Could we move on to the Forfeiture Committee? Sir Bob, one of the jobs you inherited as Head of the Civil Service is chairman of the Forfeiture Committee, which moved into public prominence on the question of Fred Goodwin’s knighthood. Previously, it has been clear that people only forfeit an honour if they have been convicted of a criminal offence or they have been censured by their professional body, though John Major, as Prime Minister, introduced a third criterion of bringing the honours system into disrepute. How does the committee objectively assess these questions?

Sir Bob Kerslake: The first thing to be clear about is the criteria. The overarching criterion is, and has been for some time, whether or not the person has brought the honours system into disrepute.

Q298 Chair: That is the most modern criterion.

Sir Bob Kerslake: No. It goes back to John Major and, indeed, before.

Chair: I think that is particularly modern. If you go back much further than that, you had to break the law to lose your honour.

Sir Bob Kerslake: No, if you go back, the overarching view has always been about bringing the honours system into disrepute. The two tests that have been most commonly used have been a criminal offence that leads to a prison sentence of more than three months and, more recently, the issue of being struck off from your professional group. The overarching test has been the issue of bringing the honours system into disrepute.

Q299 Chair: How do we make this an objective test that observes the basic rules of natural justice? You will be aware of Lord Digby Jones’ comment that this smacked of villagegreen justice. If there was a howl of outrage fuelled by the media, which we all know can feed on itself and create a tsunami of public sentiment, how are you meant to resist that if you have no open and transparent and objective procedures, no representation, no consultation or no opportunity for the person concerned to make any representations to the committee? This is not a system that passes the test that we usually expect of such decisions.

Sir Bob Kerslake: What we try to do is consider the extent to which the individual has brought the honours system into disrepute. We look at the issues and the facts around the case, and then we form a judgment based on those facts and information. We clearly have the ability to seek a view from an individual. We did not on the occasion of Fred Goodwin, but it is an option that is open to us.

Q300 Chair: Why was he the only banker who had to forfeit an honour? There are other bankers with honours, who are on the board of the Royal Bank of Scotland. They were equally responsible. Why have they not been vilified in public by this kind of decision as well?

Sir Bob Kerslake: There are two or three points I would make on that. First of all, Fred Goodwin got his honour by virtue of his services to banking and exclusively for his services to banking. Others may have got their honour for a wide range of reasons. Secondly, the issues were raised in respect of Fred Goodwin and we considered his individual case on its merits. If other cases had come forward with the same force, we would have considered those as well. Thirdly, we looked at the extent to which the issues at the Royal Bank of Scotland had impacted on the country. As you know, tens of millions of pounds of public money went into that company in order to tackle the issues there.

Robert Halfon: It went into other banks as well. Was Sir Fred Goodwin a bit of an easy scapegoat? Why not remove honours from the politicians who created the mess in the first place like, dare I say it, the former Prime Minister, Mr Brown? He was quite an easy target, was he not?

Chair: Is there not a danger that, in this circumstance particularly-and I have no brief for Mr Goodwin myself and make no judgment about it-that this system is used to scapegoat people to try to divert attention from the responsibility of politicians and public officials? Let us face it, the regulatory system was run by public officials and set up by politicians.

Q301 Robert Halfon: Sir Fred Goodwin only did what he was allowed to do because the political framework had enabled him to do it. Should he have deserved to lose his honours, as opposed to the politicians who allowed him to do it in the first place?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Let me go back to what I said earlier. We had a very rigorous process of considering Fred Goodwin’s position. We considered all the issues, the arguments and the information we had. We looked at the extent to which he could have been judged to have brought the honours system into disrepute against the reason why he received an honour in the first place and we felt, on balance, the argument favoured a recommendation that he forfeit his honour. It was a considered and very rigorous process on his individual circumstances and the merits of his individual case.

Q302 Chair: It was not a very transparent process. Did you receive any instruction or suggestion that the Forfeiture Committee should be convened on this topic?

Sir Bob Kerslake: We had no instruction. We clearly had a signal from a number of people, both in the public world and indeed from the Prime Minister, that they felt it was a case that could and should be considered by the Forfeiture Committee.

Q303 Chair: The Forfeiture Committee knew the mind of the Prime Minister on this subject.

Sir Bob Kerslake: We knew that the Prime Minister felt that the committee should consider his case, but I had no direct communication with him on the case before the committee met. We took our decision based on the arguments in front of us.

Q304 Chair: Why would he want to convene the committee to consider this matter if he did not think there was quite a strong case for you to consider?

Sir Bob Kerslake: He clearly thought there was a case to consider, but it was for the committee to make its own decision. I repeat: we received no information; I had no conversation with the Prime Minister about what decision we should reach. We reached our own decision, based on the arguments.

Q305 Chair: You were under considerable public pressure at the time. There was an early-day motion tabled by the then MP for Reading West, and indeed the former adviser to the Chancellor to the Exchequer, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk, Matthew Hancock. He tabled an early-day motion, so it must have been quite obvious to you what the senior Ministers of the Government wanted. How can we have confidence that this was an objective process, given that you were under that kind of political pressure, and there is no transparency to the process anyway?

Sir Bob Kerslake: There were plenty of people putting the counterargument at the time. It was not solely a view that said he should lose his honour. Since the decision was made, indeed in front of your Committee, people have expressed a contrary view, so we knew there were differing views around. It seemed to us that we should properly consider the issue on its merits, and we took a judgment based on that.

Q306 Chair: Did you take into account the views of politicians?

Sir Bob Kerslake: No, we did not take into account any individual views of individual people on the issue. We considered the issues of the case.

Q307 Robert Halfon: Why did you target this particular individual, as opposed to other particular individuals who also had millions and millions of taxpayers’ money spent because they had buggered up their banks?

Chair: Order, order.

Robert Halfon: Messed up their banks; I beg your pardon.

Sir Bob Kerslake: As I have said earlier, there was a fairly strong set of representations to say we ought to consider the case of Fred Goodwin. Had there been representations that made the case for other individuals, obviously we would have to look at them on their own terms, but there was clearly a specific set of representations on Fred Goodwin. We considered Fred Goodwin on his merits. I cannot comment on other individuals.

Q308 Robert Halfon: Is it not the case that the Fred Goodwin situation was the easy case, because the media were calling for his head and various politicians were calling for his head? He received all the focus, so it was an easy thing for your committee to strip him of his honour, when there were other bankers equally culpable. As I have said moments ago, politicians were even more responsible for what occurred.

Sir Bob Kerslake: It was not an easy issue. It was an issue that took considerable deliberation by the committee to consider all the arguments.

Q309 Robert Halfon: It was the easy case, because you are not consistent, because you did not look at other bankers. It just seemed to satisfy bloodlust, a French guillotine style, "Let’s have the next person to lose their head for this."

Sir Bob Kerslake: There will be a whole range of people, and there were at the time, who have views about the issue and what it represented. All we could do as a committee was to consider the specific issue of Fred Goodwin, the grounds there were to consider his particular knighthood, and judge it on its merits. It is impossible, in a committee like that, to say, "Let’s have the list of everybody else who might be worthy of consideration."

Q310 Chair: Sir Bob, that just underlines the subjectivity of the system, does it not?

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is clearly a judgment that is made in the light of the information and evidence we have available to us.

Q311 Chair: Here we have a process where the state is handing out a punishment that is delivered by a rather obscure committee of government, of civil servants, which is acting under political pressure-not necessarily express direction but the indications are clear-and that meets in secret. This really hardly meets the standards that we expect, in a free and democratic country, before somebody is punished.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think it would be very hard to do a process like this in public, frankly. You have to consider the issues confidentially. As you will see from the papers I have sent you, we have now reviewed and extended the committee to include a majority of independent members but, at the time we considered Fred Goodwin, we used the procedures that were available. We considered the case based on the facts that we had available to us and we reached a view.

Q312 Chair: Can I ask you a personal question? As someone who is responsible, as a professional person, for this process, were you not even a little bit uncomfortable about the way this operated?

Sir Bob Kerslake: No, because what I felt actually, at a personal level, was a high level of responsibility to consider the issue properly and in a measured way before a conclusion was reached. That was the view of every member of the committee. What I felt was not an issue of discomfort, if you like, but an issue of needing to deal with the issue seriously and properly, and a high level of responsibility.

Q313 Chair: I have no doubt you dealt with it professionally and responsibly, but were you not uncomfortable about the public reaction to the decision, the ready audience there was for comments, like Lord Digby Jones, which suggested that this was not itself a process that commanded public confidence?

Sir Bob Kerslake: There would have been a reaction whichever way we had gone on the decision. That was inevitable. We had to take our decision based on the strength of the arguments in this particular case, not on how the public would react to our decision.

Q314 Chair: I think the whole process was about how the public was reacting. It was driven by public demand, was it not?

Sir Bob Kerslake: The public furore about the issue clearly, I think, justified considering the case. It did not of itself drive the decision. The decision was based on the arguments on the particular case, and I have gone through the reasons why the committee made its decision.

Richard Tilbrook: May I just add one point? When this Committee last considered this issue, in fact it was itself calling for the Forfeiture Committee to consider the case of Fred Goodwin. This Committee was one of the voices that was actually asking for the Forfeiture Committee to meet.

Q315 Chair: That was the previous Committee. I was not even on the Committee then. Should it be for a bunch of politicians to be able to demand the removal of an honour? That is the question.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I come back to the point again that I have made. I think it is perfectly reasonable, if there is a wide debate, for the Committee, as Richard mentioned, and indeed the Prime Minister, to say that the Forfeiture Committee should consider the case, but that did not imply that we had to take a particular decision in either direction. It required us to consider the issues.

Q316 Chair: As soon as we knew that the Forfeiture Committee was going to meet, the result was inevitable, was it not?

Sir Bob Kerslake: No, it was not. To be very clear, when I went into the meeting, I did not go in with an assumption in either direction.

Q317 Robert Halfon: Did you consider removing the honour of the chairman of Lloyds bank, who worked very closely with the former Prime Minister and virtually destroyed the bank in the process, and had millions of taxpayers’ money thrown at him as well? I just do not understand why you came to the decision on one individual, rather than consider others.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I am in danger of repeating myself, but we considered that individual case because there was a higher level of desire for the committee to consider it, both at political level and-

Q318 Chair: That is rather a subjective thing, is it not?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Let me finish-and because there were clearly, on the face of it, issues that needed to be considered.

Q319 Robert Halfon: You considered it, but clearly because there were more press headlines and there was an outcry against this particular individual. It does not make sense for you to consider one individual who threw his bank down the wall and just to totally ignore another, who was even closer to the then Prime Minister and who also made a series of mistakes that cost the taxpayers millions of pounds.

Sir Bob Kerslake: As I have said really, we can only go on the breadth of-it was not just the newspapers; it was leading politicians and, indeed, this Committee that made the case for us to consider Fred Goodwin.

Q320 Paul Flynn: One of the interesting allegations that has been made following this is that, when your decision was made to strip this gentleman of his knighthood, the television programmes rightly did not want to show a stale old film of him walking out of a bank somewhere. They wanted to show the act of his being knighted by the Queen. They were not allowed to do so, for fear that royalty would be associated with what was a bad decision. This seems to be an extraordinary way of doing things. We do not have a system of deknighting people. The French Army are very good at this, tearing the epaulettes off and so on. Is it a fair system? Have you looked at all the knights, for instance, who have had prison sentences and considered them for the forfeiture of their knighthoods? What was brought up last week before the Committee was the fact that this seemed to be arbitrary, unfair and concentrated on one individual.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I cannot comment on the filming, quite frankly. I am just checking with Richard.

Chair: I think that is a matter for the Palace and not for you, Sir Bob.

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is not an issue I can usefully comment on. If somebody has been convicted of an offence and they serve a prison sentence of three months or more, they are then potentially considered for removal of their honour. We usually consider such cases where this is drawn to our attention through a Department or through indeed a member of the public. If somebody goes to prison, quite clearly, it is not an automatic thing that they will lose their honour, but it is a very high likelihood that they will. We are very clear on that point. As I said earlier, the criteria we use here are not solely the two that I have explanation. There is the overarching criterion of bringing the system into disrepute.

Richard Tilbrook: May I just add one additional point on the process? Whenever any name comes to our attention that someone thinks should have an honour forfeited, we then refer that proposal back to the Department from which the original nomination came. It is then for them to make a case, if there is sufficient evidence to do so. Some of those suggestions will be purely scurrilous and are not taken any further, but those that are serious are then looked at seriously.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Indeed, and there are, on average, perhaps two or three a year that we consider in those circumstances.

Q321 Paul Flynn: As it happens now, Sir Fred Goodwin has been named as one of the 60 most significant persons of the last 60 years. I think your committee seems to believe that everyone is gagging for honours. Members of this House greatly prize the honour of becoming the Back Bencher of the year in the eyes of their colleagues, and are fairly indifferent to some of the other gongs that are distributed for reasons of patronage.

Sir Bob Kerslake: That obviously may be a particular view of the Members of the House, but the public at large both back the honours system and welcome receiving an honour.

Q322 Priti Patel: Could you just clarify, Sir Bob, at what point that decision was made, and why, for the Forfeiture Committee to actually meet on this particular issue? Was it because it was in the mind of the Prime Minister or was it because a Member of Parliament had tabled an EDM, both of which are political? Secondly as well, you stated that you considered the body of evidence in a very measured way. Can you explain what that measured way was, in light of the fact that, every time anybody put the telly on, there were constant news headlines calling for Fred Goodwin to be stripped of his knighthood, with lots of MPs turning up on the green outside to comment on this, and a lot of public commentary?

Sir Bob Kerslake: There were two or three things that influenced us in taking a view on this. Clearly there was the publication of the FSA report and its analysis of the circumstances that led to RBS’s difficulties. That was one factor. Clearly the conversation then happened between the Secretariat and myself about whether the committee should meet, and we agreed that we felt it should, in the light of the public comment and, indeed, the view of the Prime Minister.

Q323 Chair: Before you continue with that answer, may I just interject? The Treasury Select Committee took evidence from Mr Bill Knight, one of the FSA’s two external supervisors, who said there was "no evidence" of Mr Goodwin’s incompetence and that the FSA report did not amount to censure of Mr Goodwin.

Sir Bob Kerslake: We are quite aware of that. I am just saying one of the bits of information we had, which led us to think about the issue of taking action, was the FSA report. What the FSA report does say-it clearly does not name individuals, exactly as you say-but it does say there were some serious failings in the way in which the bank operated. Clearly the man most prominently in charge of the Royal Bank of Scotland was Fred Goodwin. One factor was the FSA report. You asked what the factors were. The FSA report was one part of that. The wider public clamour on the issue and the view of the PM-all of these things led us to have a conversation about the committee meeting. A report was commissioned from Richard and the committee was organised to meet. That is the basic process that was followed here. Yes, of course we were aware of the daily coverage of it but, as I said, there were competing views about the issue and we did not let that decide our outcome for that process. We took it on the merits of the case.

Q324 Kelvin Hopkins: There was one recent example of a very wealthy businessman who spent some time in prison, I think for fraud, quite a long time ago, then subsequently made very, very large donations to charity over a prolonged period, and was granted a knighthood, I think in the last 18 months. This suggests that having gone to prison does not necessarily disbar you from receiving an honour, and also it suggests making very large financial donations does help you get an honour.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I am aware of that particular case. It was in fact a CBE. I think it went through the Business Committee, did it not? The point there was about whether we regard somebody’s previous transgressions as barring them for life from receiving an honour. On balance, the view was, taking account not just of his donations but his personal commitment to voluntary sector work, there was a good case for him to receive an honour. That is how we reached a view on that particular case. I do not know if John wanted to add anything.

Sir John Parker: I can vouch for that. We did consider very carefully. First of all, very many years have passed from his sentence. Secondly, over that period of time he did an enormous amount to redeem himself. He continued as a successful businessman but, more importantly, his commitment to charitable work accelerated significantly. He did a very good job in terms of his voluntary and charitable giving.

Q325 Kelvin Hopkins: Had he been a very worthy person without all that money, it is likely he would not have been given an honour, I suspect.

Sir John Parker: I would not agree with that.

Sir Bob Kerslake: There are plenty of people who get CBEs, if you look at the CVLS list, who, without knowing their personal circumstances, would not be categorised as very wealthy. They have got it because of what they have done.

Q326 Chair: Do you think your polling shows that there is the same public confidence in the Forfeiture Committee as there is in the rest of the honours system?

Sir Bob Kerslake: We have not polled on the Forfeiture Committee, so I cannot answer that question, Chair.

Chair: It might be a good idea. Next time you do polling, perhaps you will poll on the parliamentary committee as well. Anyway, I am extremely grateful to you all for the very patient way you have dealt with our questioning. It has been very informative. We may well have some recommendations that you like and maybe some that you do not like, but I hope you will look forward to our report. Thank you very much.

Prepared 29th August 2012