Appendix 1: Government response
The Government is grateful to the Select Committee
for its report into this important subject. It contains some
important issues, and the Government has already acted on some
of them. It recognises that there have been concerns about the
way honours are awarded and forfeited, but believes that these
largely arise from misperceptions rather than reality. It believes
that some of the changes recommended by the Committee will help
to address this. Its response is given below.
The existence of the honours system reflects a
wish to recognise and reward the exceptional service and achievement
of citizens across the UK. The system has evolved over the last
850 years and it is right that it should continue to do so, to
reflect changes in society and respond to public concerns.
The Government agrees that the honours system should
continue to recognise those who have given exceptional achievement
and service: this is the nation's way of saying "thank you".
It will doubtless continue to evolve to reflect changes in society,
but also needs to remain rooted in the tradition that is part
of our nation's history.
Recommendations 2, 8 and 9
Our evidence suggested that the perception that
honours are linked to donations to political parties is prevalent.
It is a serious concern that many members of the public do not
view the honours system as open or fair.
The perception that the honours system is not
open to everyone may deter people from nominating deserving candidates
for honours. We welcome the outreach work carried out by the Cabinet
Office to correct this view, and believe that the changes we have
recommended to increase transparency in the honours system will
also help to correct this public perception.
The perception that honours can be "bought"
is a significant threat to the credibility of the honours system.
It has even been reported that it is possible to pay a consultancy
firm which claims it can "significantly increase" the
chances of obtaining an honour. The brevity of the citations in
the honours lists, and the lack of accompanying information to
explain why an honour has been awarded, does not help to counter
concerns that honours have been awarded as a result of making
a donation to political parties. We recommend that longer citations
be published for all honours at the level of CBE and above in
the 2013 New Year Honours List and all future honours lists.
The Government shares the Committee's concern that
some members of the public do not view the honours system as open
or fair or believe the honours can be bought, but believes it
is important to continue to honour those philanthropists who not
only are financially generous but who also demonstrate sustained
commitment to their chosen charitable causes. The Cabinet Office,
working with other Government Departments and the Honours Selection
Committees, has recently stepped up its outreach efforts and will
continue to do so in order to increase the openness and transparency
of the system. The Committee's suggestion that longer citations
should be published for those who achieve the highest honours
is a good one, and may well help to dissipate some of these misperceptions.
The Government proposes to pilot this at Knight and Dame level
in the New Year's Honours List 2013.
Recommendations 3 and 4
The evidence also suggests that the devolved nations,
and certain English regions, receive a higher proportion of honours
than is proportionate for their population size. This highlights
the success of devolved bodies in championing nominations for
honours, but also raises the danger of unequal treatment of nominations,
depending on where in the UK the nominee is from. The high level
of influence of the devolved bodies on the honours system also
increases the risk of politicisation of the honours system in
The different levels of Order of the British Empire
reflect the wish to recognise sustained and exceptional achievement
and service on a large and a small scale. The inconsistency about
how different levels of honours are rewarded, particularly in
the devolved nations, adds to a lack of understanding of the honours
system. We call on the Cabinet Office to treat work at national
level in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as national not
regional service or achievement, when considering nominations
The Committee's analysis is not quite right: of the
devolved nations, only Wales and Northern Ireland have done better
than their population size would suggest in recent lists, whereas
Scotland has been under-represented. It will continue its outreach
efforts to those regions that are currently under-represented,
especially Scotland, the north of England and the Midlands.
Nonetheless, the Government believes that all nominations should
be looked at entirely on merit, regardless of their regional origin.
It also believes that the highest honours should continue to
be reserved for the highest achievers. This is likely to confine
most Knight- and Damehoods to those who have had an international
or pan-UK impact, while CBEs might be more appropriate for those
who have had a national impact limited to England, Scotland, Wales
or Northern Ireland, though each case will continue to be assessed
on its own merits.
There remains a lack of transparency about what
happens to nominations once submitted, and why it takes so long
to consider a nomination. The system is unclear even to the Queen's
representatives in the counties, the Lords Lieutenant. The length
of time taken to consider nominations, and the lack of clarity
about the process and why some nominations are successful, make
it harder for members of the public to understand why and how
honours are awarded. These concerns are not allayed by the speed
at which honours are awarded to celebrities and sports stars.
Greater clarity about the chances of success when nominating an
individual and how the nomination will be considered would increase
public understanding and confidence that
the honours system recognises the most deserving individuals
in each community.
The Government recognises the Committee's concerns,
but also notes that the sheer volume of public correspondence
on the honours system - some 9,000 items a year - makes it impossible
to provide automatic feedback on every nomination. But feedback
will continue to be provided to those who request it. Nominations
will continue to be processed as quickly as possible, but the
need to conduct robust checks on nominees means that any significant
acceleration is unlikely to be possible without compromising the
integrity of the system.
We believe that no-one should be honoured for
simply "doing the day job", no matter what that job
is. In particular, honours should not be awarded to civil servants
or businessmen unless it can be demonstrated that there has been
service above and beyond the call of duty. Instead honours should
only be awarded for exceptional service to the community or exceptional
achievement above and beyond that required in employment. This
would result in a far higher proportion of honours being awarded
to people who devote their time to their local community, instead
of politicians, civil servants, and celebrities. There should
be no special privileges or quotas for groups of society or certain
professions: the honours system should be fair and open to all.
Sir Bob Kerslake's insistence that there are no automatic honours
for senior public servants is not reflected in the number of honours
that have been awarded to civil servants and public sector workers
in recent honours lists. Indeed, one such recent example of an
apparently automatic honour was the knighthood received by Sir
Jeremy Heywood the day before he took up the role of Cabinet Secretary;
Lord O'Donnell had no less than four honours as a result of his
Civil Service career.
The Government wishes to stress again that there
are no longer any automatic honours for anyone, with the sole
exception of High Court Judges on appointment. It is a long time
since honours have been awarded to those who "just do their
job". The full citations make that clear, drawing particular
attention to additional voluntary work or activities that go beyond
an individual's defined role. It is, though, right to continue
to reward those whose achievements have been exceptional, whatever
their field - and that might include those who make it to the
very top of the Civil Service (though not many of today's Permanent
Secretaries hold Knight- or Damehoods). But in the vast majority
of cases, the honours committees are looking for something extra.
The balance of honours between those who are focussed on community
and voluntary service and those who are in paid employment will
be reconsidered as part of the Quinquennial Review of Honours
It is distasteful and damaging for people who
already command vast personal remuneration packages for doing
their job, to also be honoured for simply being at the helm of
large companies. This must stop. All who get honours must be judged
on whether they have done things above and beyond their normal
duty, shown extraordinary leadership and shown extraordinary service
to the community.
The proposal to eliminate honours for those who are
"simply at the helm of large companies" under-estimates
their achievements. The Government believes that honours should
continue to be awarded on the basis of merit, and that the scale
of a nominee's remuneration should be immaterial.
It is right that the commitment of philanthropists
who donate large sums of money to charities over a sustained period
of time should be recognised in the honours system, if this is
accompanied with a sustained donation of time and energy. Honours
should also be awarded to recognise the contribution of those
who donate time but not money to their local communities.
The Government agrees: this is already current practice.
The Lords Lieutenant, the Queen's representatives
in the counties, link the monarch and the recipients of honours.
Their local knowledge could be crucial in ensuring that the most
deserving people in each and every community are suitably recognised
in the honours system. It is disappointing that the current method
of considering nominations for honours, particularly for candidates
in Scotland, has not utilised this opportunity fully. We recommend
that each Lord Lieutenant has the opportunity to consider and
comment on all nominations for an honour within his or her lieutenancy.
The Government greatly values the role Lord-Lieutenants
play in the honours system: they often have an unparalleled local
knowledge of those who reside within their Lieutenancy. The Cabinet
Office already consults them extensively on the merit of nominees
which fall within its purview, while the Scottish Government's
Honours Secretariat has begun an outreach programme to Scottish
Lord-Lieutenants; consideration is being given as to how to increase
their input further. Government Departments and the Devolved
Administrations will be encouraged to make more effective use
of the Lord-Lieutenants, but it should be recognised that consulting
Lord-Lieutenants on all nominations would almost certainly slow
down the honours selection process.
The honours system should be free of political
influence. We recommend the removal of the Prime Minister's role
in providing strategic direction for the honours system, and the
renaming of the "Prime Minister's List". Instead the
Government should establish an Independent Honours Commission
to oversee the honours system. In 2005 the then Government rejected
the recommendation of our predecessor Committee to introduce such
a commission, arguing that such an overhaul of the system was
not necessary, as plans to reform the membership of the honours
committees would improve accountability and transparency in the
system. Seven years on, such improvements have been marginal.
The creation of an Independent Honours Commission would restore
the character and integrity of the honours system.
The Government is not convinced that the arguments
for such a body have strengthened since they were last considered
in 2004. The reforms introduced in 2005 have already introduced
all the benefits of independence that would be created by the
establishment of a Commission, making it hard to justify the additional
costs that would be involved: it is not true to say that the improvements
introduced over the last seven years have been "marginal".
It also does not propose to rename the Prime Minister's List.
To do so would be odd while the Foreign and Defence Secretaries
continue to retain their own Lists and the impact would in any
case be minimal: most members of the public think in terms of
the New Year and Birthday Lists, not which Minister has submitted
names to the Palace for approval . The Prime Minister's strategic
direction will remain an important part of the process: it is
worth remembering that its current emphasis is very much in line
with the Committee's proposals, to honour those engaged in voluntary
work. Scottish Ministers play no part in the honours process.
The reintroduction of the British Empire Medal
allows for greater recognition of hundreds of people across the
country who devote great time to their communities. Whilst we
welcome this, the title of the honour was disliked by some witnesses,
because of the connotations of the word "Empire". We
recognise that the title may need to change in the future, but
recognise that this is not as straightforward as it would first
appear: the name of the Order of the British Empire is enshrined
in statute and cannot simply be changed: the Order itself would
have to be closed. This would require fresh statutes. In recognition
of the existing Order's proud history and of the service and bravery
of its members, we do not recommend any changes ahead of the Order's
centenary in 2017.
The Government agrees with the Committee's conclusions.
The Order of the British Empire has a distinguished history.
The re-introduction of the British Empire Medal in particular
is allowing many of those who perform outstanding voluntary service
at a very local level to receive the recognition they truly deserve.
The Government acted on recommendations
of our predecessor committee to open up the membership of the
honours sub-committees through the public appointments system.
The honours committees, however, remain composed of an establishment
elite. We recommend that the Cabinet Office, or the new Honours
Commission, sets out how it will broaden the range of people who
take up roles as independent members of the honours committees.
The Government agrees that all vacancies on the honours
selection committees should continue to be publicly advertised.
It is also keen to broaden the membership, and a number of vacancies
have recently been advertised. A wide range of applications is
always welcome, but it will remain important that the membership
should include those who have achieved distinction in their fields.
We regret that the Parliamentary
and Political Service Honours Committee was established without
Parliament being consulted. Acting in such a manner will only
serve to reduce public confidence in the honours system.
The Government rejects this criticism. All three
main parties were consulted before the Committee was created,
and Parliament was informed by a Written Ministerial Statement.
Future vacancies for independent members will be publicly advertised,
in line with the practice on the other honours selection committees.
They will remain in the majority.
We view the membership of the Chief
Whips of the three main parties on the Parliamentary and Political
Service Honours Committee as inappropriate. The members of this
committee should be elected by members of the House of Commons.
The Government does not believe that the role of
the Chief Whips of the three main Parties is inappropriate. This
is a significant step forward from the days when only the Chief
Whip of the governing Party was consulted. The Government represents
the minor Parties, who might be entirely unrepresented if the
political members of the Political and Parliamentary Service Committee
were elected. Such elections would also risk politicising the
work of the Committee, a development that the Government is keen
We recommend that there should be
no set allocation of honours for the Parliamentary and Political
Service Honours Committee. Instead, it should be clear that each
recommendation made by the Committee is considered on its merits,
in competition with the other nominations in the honours system.
The Government does not accept this recommendation.
As with all the honours selection committees, the number of honours
allocated to the Political and Parliamentary Service Honours Committee
is a guideline, not a fixed quota - and all the committees need
some form of guideline. This is demonstrated by the fact that
the Committee did not use all honours allocated to it in the Birthday
2012 list. Its allocation will nonetheless be reviewed in the
Quinquennial Review this autumn.
Recommendations 18, 19 and 20
The media storm around Fred Goodwin's
knighthood was one of the reasons why his case was considered
by the Forfeiture Committee, and why the decision was made to
cancel and annul his knighthood. Mr Goodwin's actions did not
meet the previously defined criteria for forfeiture and calls
for his knighthood to be stripped had been rejected by the previous
Government. The fact that the criteria for forfeiture were so
obscure and narrow was unfortunate. There should be a clear and
expanded criteria for the forfeiture of an honour, one of which
should be damage to the industry or sector that the individual
was originally deemed to have served so exceptionally.
The Government's review of the Forfeiture
Committee has not addressed the subjective nature of the criterion
for forfeiture of "bringing the honours system into disrepute".
The rules on the forfeiture of honours should set out specifically
what kinds of action and behaviour would be considered to bring
the honours system into disrepute. The failure to make clear the
circumstances in which an honour might be forfeited brings into
question the credibility of the entire honours system.
We recommend that decisions on the
forfeiture of honours are placed in independent hands, away from
political influence. The Government should establish an independent
Honours Forfeiture Committee which should:
a) be chaired by an independent
figure, such as a retired high court judge;
b) act on
evidence, according to clear and expanded criteria,
free of political or media influence;
c) consider representations
from the individual who was the subject of the case; and
evidence and proceedings in public; as befits British justice.
In the case of Fred Goodwin, the confidentiality of the discussions
of the Forfeiture Committee merely served to protect those behind
the decision and did not prevent Mr Goodwin being subjected to
"trial by media".
The Government does not accept the assertion that
Mr Goodwin's actions did not meet the previously agreed criteria
for forfeiture: the over-riding criterion has always been the
one of "bringing the honours system into disrepute",
and the evidence available to the Forfeiture Committee had changed
since the case was considered under the previous Government.
The Government believes that this over-riding criterion is important
and should be retained, but that the more specific criteria which
underpin it should continue to be used and added to, drawing on
the experience of the cases that come before the Committee. The
Select Committee's suggestion of adding "damage to the industry
or sector that the individual was originally deemed to have served
exceptionally" to these under-pinning criteria is helpful.
However the Government does not favour further significant change
to forfeiture policy and practice until the reforms introduced
earlier this year have had a chance to bed down. These included
introducing a majority of independent members; the use of additional
under-pinning criteria; and a willingness to accept written representations.
It does not believe that public show-trials which would serve
to shame further the individuals concerned are appropriate to
the dignity of the honours system.