Political influence should be removed, with more honours going to ordinary citizens, says Commons committee
The British honours system should be stripped of political influence to restore the trust of the public, who believe too many politicians, celebrities and civil servants are rewarded over those who serve local communities, according to a report by MPs.
The Commons public administration select committee said prime ministers should be removed from providing “strategic direction” and the prime minister’s list renamed.
No business leaders or senior civil servants should be honoured for merely “doing the day job”, said the committee, which recommends an independent honours commission to restore credibility.
The report says “there should be no special privileges or quotas for groups of society or certain professions”.
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”.
It adds: “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.”
The committee rejected assurances by the head of the civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake, that there were no “automatic honours” for certain senior officials.
It cited the “apparently automatic” knighthood awarded to Sir Jeremy Heywood the day before he became cabinet secretary, and Lord O’Donnell receiving four honours as a result of his civil service career.
Former chancellor Alistair Darling had told the committee the “usual suspects” at the top of the civil service received knighthoods.
A lack of transparency created an impression honours could be “bought” by donating to a political party, the committee said, recommending more detailed citations for honours of CBE level and above.
It also called for the overhaul of the honours forfeiture committee, which stripped Fred Goodwin, the former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive, of his knighthood for services to banking.
Expressing concern that the committee had reacted to “a media storm”, it called for clear criteria to be set out for the removing of an honour.
The committee had heard that the system was unclear even to the lords lieutenants, the Queen’s representatives in the counties, and that the processing of nominations by the public needed to be speeded up.
There was also concern honours were not awarded evenly across the UK, with Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and some English regions receiving more than is proportionate for their size.
Bernard Jenkin, the committee chairman, 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.”
The report notes that in 2005 the then government rejected an independent honours commission as unnecessary, as changes to the membership of the honours committees would improve accountability and transparency.
“Seven years on such improvements have been marginal,” it says. “The creation of an independent honours commission would restore the character and integrity of the honours system.”