PASC PN.17 03-04

Session 2003-04

Press Notice No.17


Report calls for end of 'Empire' Order and new honours to reflect changing country

PASC-the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee-today attacks the current honours system for being secretive, over-complicated and out of date. In a report entitled 'A Matter of Honour: Reforming the Honours System" (HC 212-I) , PASC says that the system unfairly favours civil servants, diplomats and members of the armed forces, and calls for fundamental reforms in its structure and the way it operates.

The report identifies a number of problems with the present system:

·    the title of the Order of the British Empire is described as "anachronistic and insensitive, an inappropriate symbol for today's Britain";

·    women and people from ethnic minorities appear to get fewer honours than white men;

·    'automatic' honours for senior civil servants and diplomats simply for doing their job "create a sense of unfairness and undermine the credibility of the system";

·    the use of honours as tools of political management by No 10 and others is seen as casting suspicion on the whole system; 

·    the machinery for making recommendations for honours lacks independence, with civil servants too prominent and too few outsiders;

·    knighthoods and damehoods are "redolent of past preoccupations with rank and class".

To overcome these problems, the Committee recommends a radically reformed honours system which would see:

·    a much simpler system with only four honours instead of the current 16;

·    the replacement of the old British Empire Order with a new Order of British Excellence;

·    the end of the Orders that are now given almost exclusively to civil servants and diplomats;

·    a phasing-out of knighthoods and damehoods;

·    a new Honours Commission which would remove civil servants from the decision-making on honours.

Commenting today, Committee Chairman Tony Wright said:

"Honours are a way for the nation to recognise service and achievement. This is important, which is why the honours system needs to be taken seriously. We need to ensure that it is fit for purpose, which means making changes to it from time to time

"In our view, the system now needs radical and systematic reform, which our recommendations are designed to achieve. These are bold proposals, and we hope the Government will be equally bold in its response to them."  

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For further information please telephone Philip Aylett, Clerk of the Committee on 020 7219 3498. Tony Wright may be contacted for press inquiries on 020 7219 5583

Publications and evidence, including uncorrected evidence, is also available on the Internet at

For information regarding forthcoming meetings including venues and times please call the House of Commons Committee Information Line on 020 7219 2033 (updated daily).