COMMONS

Honours still being awarded to "usual suspects" via opaque system

29 August 2012

No more awards for "doing the day job": reforms needed to  create honours system befitting community achievements and service.

In a report published today, Wednesday 29 August 2012, the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) says that while honours are greatly valued by recipients, reform of the system is required to create a system properly befitting the achievements and service of those being honoured.

The evidence is still that honours are more likely to be awarded to civil servants and celebrities than to people who volunteer in their local community. The Committee heard that the process of awarding honours remains opaque, even to the Queen's representatives in the counties, the Lords Lieutenant. They told PASC that they were not always consulted about honours in their respective areas, and it remains unclear to them why it takes so long to consider a nomination, or why some nominations are successful and others are not.

PASC calls for an increase in the proportion of people receiving honours for work in their local community, rather than to those who are awarded for their work as civil servants and in the wider public sector, to reflect the Government’s stated policy that the days of receiving an honour for simply "doing the day job" are over.

Proposals

The report sets out proposals to reform the honours system to reduce the influence of politicians and civil servants, increasing accountability and transparency and strengthening the link to the Monarch. The Committee recommends:

  • the introduction of an independent Honours Commission to consider nominations (a repeat recommendation from the last parliament);
  • that the Prime Minister’s "strategic direction" over the honours system be removed;
  • a rebalancing of the proportion of honours awarded to civil servants and public sector workers, and volunteers in their local communities;
  • that longer citations should be published, explaining the reason for awarding an honour;
  • that the Lords Lieutenant should have an opportunity to consider and comment on all nominations for an honour within his or her lieutenancy; and
  • that the Cabinet Office set out proposals for broadening the range of people who take up roles as independent members of the honours committees.

The Committee also considers the recommendation of the Honours Forfeiture Committee to strip Fred Goodwin, the former Chief Executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, of the knighthood he had been awarded in 2004 for services to banking. The Committee recommends the Honours Forfeiture Committee be made independent and transparent, with clear and expanded criteria for forfeiture, chaired by an independent figure, such as a retired high court judge.

Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"The public values the honours system, and it commands a significant degree of public confidence, but people still say that honours appear to be awarded through a mysterious process by the various Committees to the usual suspects they already know. Far too few are being awarded to ordinary citizens for the extraordinary contributions they make to their communities - which is what the honours system should be for. There should be no 'automatic' honours for people who hold a certain post, or for celebrities and sports stars at a certain level, but too often it seems this is still the case.
While the honours system is a valued and popular part of British life the fact that so few people understand how or why honours are awarded does nothing to help bolster public confidence or interest in the system.
It also appears to many that the decision to strip Fred Goodwin of his knighthood was made in response to media pressure, by a shadowy group of senior civil servants, acting in secret, with no clear rules or criteria. This is no longer satisfactory: the Honours Forfeiture Committee should be independent and its procedures and decisions must be much more transparent.

The recommendations in this report would strengthen public confidence on why honours are awarded – or removed - and help to remove political influence over the process. Then we would have an honours system befitting the achievements and service of those being honoured."

Further Information

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