The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) rejects the government’s response to its recent report on the honours system in its new report, In the Honours System, published Friday 23 November.
PASC reiterates its concerns – shared by the public - over the award and forfeiture of honours and about the award of political honours to retiring ministers, despite insisting that ministers should have no role in the granting of honours for fear of "politicisation" of the honours system.
The main report, The Honours System, published on 29 August, set out the reforms the Committee considers necessary to increase public confidence that honours are awarded to the most deserving recipients and that the honours system is open and fair to all:
- it should be easier to understand why and how honours are awarded
- there should be no political influence on the process
- an Independent Honours Commission should be set up to select recipients for awards
- there should be an Independent Forfeiture Committee to consider cases in which honours should be revoked
The Committee called for clear and expanded criteria for both the award and forfeiture of honours, and recommended that no honour should be awarded simply for "doing the day job". PASC’s Further Report says: “not one of our independent witnesses would accept the Government’s statement that ‘It is a long time since honours have been awarded to those who "just do their job"’. If the Government believes that certain positions and responsibilities intrinsically merit the award of honours, it would be much more straightforward to say that."
PASC also expresses dismay that the Government seems to dismiss public concern about the fairness and openness of the honours system: concerns which were confirmed by the Cabinet Office’s own polling. In its response the Government has neither addressed the basis for these concerns nor sought to justify the evident political influence over the honours system and the lack of transparency in the award of honours.
The Committee was "surprised" that soon after its report, the Prime Minister chose to bypass the Parliamentary and Political Service Honours Committee which he had so recently established. PASC rejects the government insistence that their consultation about this new committee with the three main party Chief Whips constituted “consultation with Parliament” and warns that “the membership of the Chief Whips of the three main parties on the Parliamentary and Political Service Honours Committee opens the Committee to the charge of political manipulation in the interest of party leaders. In the light of the Prime Minister’s decision to award honours to retiring ministers, the Committee says “Such a move does indeed constitute politicisation of the honours system and flies in the face of the stated position of the Government, as expressed only weeks earlier in oral evidence” PASC does not question the public service of those honoured, but adds, “Again, if the Government supports such political control of the award of honours in certain circumstances, it should be prepared to justify that.”
Since the August report, there have been many calls for the forfeiture of honours awarded to some public figures, which the committee believes is a result of the Honours Forfeiture Committee's recommendation that former RBS chief Fred Goodwin's be stripped of his knighthood. Despite the Government’s insistence that Mr Goodwin was an exceptional case, it appears that media attention may have become a factor in determining whether the Honours Forfeiture Committee considers an individual’s case. The Committee reiterates its call for an independent Honours Forfeiture Committee, which would increase transparency to the forfeiture process and restore credibility to the honours system.
Bernard Jenkin, Chair of the Committee, said:
“Whatever the government’s policy on honours is, they should stick to it. There is a lack of consistency between the evidence we received, and what happens in practice. Their response to us was an opportunity to be open and clear, rather than to attempt to pretend there has been no inconsistency.
It is clear to us that that there is strong concern among the public and demand for a clearer, more transparent system both for the award, and forfeiture, of honours. If honours are to retain any meaning and value they must be awarded to genuinely deserving recipients who have contributed to their communities above and beyond the norm, through a transparent system where people can see the value of the honour and what it was awarded for. The system as it currently operates cannot do that and we would ask the Government to reconsider our recommendations.”