The Honours System - Public Administration Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1.  The award of an honour is intended to recognise exceptional service to the nation and/or exceptional achievement. In our inquiry we considered why honours are awarded, and the purpose of the system. We took evidence on the levels of public support for, and trust in, the honours system, and considered proposals for reform to increase public understanding and trust.

2.  Our inquiry took place in the light of a number of developments in the honours system in recent months.

a)  In October 2011 the Prime Minister announced the reintroduction of the British Empire Medal (BEM), to reward "local volunteers who make a real difference to their communities".[1] The award of the BEM had been discontinued by the then Prime Minister, Sir John Major, in 1993. Sir John said that the distinction between the award of the next higher honour, the Member of the British Empire (MBE) and a BEM had become "increasingly tenuous [and could] no longer be sustained".[2]

b)  The 2012 New Year Honours List was accompanied by adverse publicity surrounding the award of honours to people who had also made donations to political parties.[3]

c)  In March 2012 the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a new Honours Committee to consider candidates for honours among MPs, representatives of the devolved Governments, and Parliamentary staff.[4]

d)  The most recent prominent development was the recommendation, in January 2012, of the Honours Forfeiture Committee to "cancel and annul" the knighthood awarded in 2004 to Fred Goodwin, the former Chief Executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland.[5]

3.  This Report builds on the work of our predecessor committee, the Public Administration Select Committee in the 2001-2005 Parliament, which recommended radical reform of the honours system in its Fifth Report of the 2003-04 Session, A Matter Of Honour: Reforming the Honours System.[6] In its response, the Government at the time rejected the majority of the Committee's recommendations, but did commit to some more moderate changes to open up the way that the honours committees operate.[7]

4.  After a review of the honours system by Sir Hayden Phillips in 2004, the Government subsequently agreed to report tri-annually to Parliament on the working of the system. We received the most recent tri-annual report in December 2011.

5.  This inquiry did not consider the honours which are in the personal gift of the Sovereign, the award of military medals or gallantry awards or the award of peerages.

6.  Over the course of this inquiry we received forty one memoranda; the vast majority of which was received from Lords Lieutenant, the Queen's representatives in the counties. We also held three evidence sessions, where we heard from commentators on the honours system, Lords Lieutenant, the Head of the Civil Service, Sir Bob Kerslake, and the Chairs of three of the honours committees. We would like to thank all those who contributed to the inquiry.

1   Cabinet Office, Government re-introduces the British Empire Medal, 29 October 2011,  Back

2   HC Deb, 4 March 1993, col 454 Back

3   "Four Tory donors in honours row", The Sunday Times, 1 January 2012, p 1 Back

4   Ev 59 Back

5   The then Prime Minister, Sir John Major, set out the provision for the Queen to "cancel and annul" appointment and awards in "most orders of knighthood" in a written answer (HC Deb, 2 December 1994 , col 923W) Back

6   Public Administration Select Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2003-04, A Matter Of Honour: Reforming the Honours System, HC 212-I Back

7   Cabinet Office, Reform of the Honours System, Cm 6479, February 2005  Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 29 August 2012