'Distasteful' Honours System Needs To Be Made More Open And Fair, Say MPs

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The honours system is prone to accusations of political interference and regularly awards gongs to people "just for doing their day job", according to a highly critical report published by MPs on Wednesday.

While MPs can't find a smoking gun to suggest honours can be bought by those seeking to influence politicians, they document a widespread assumption that a cash-for-honours culture still exists in Britain. They want each person's honour to be fully explained, to counter the suspicion that they only donated money to politicians.

The report paints the system as hard to understand, with many "ordinary" people's achievements taking years to acknowledge, while celebrities and sports starts tend to jump the queue. But MPs on the Public Administration Committee are most annoyed at how senior civil servants and the former bosses of large companies appear to recieve honours just for doing a job they were already handsomely paid for.

fred goodwin

Sir Fred No Longer - Goodwin was stripped of his Knighthood causing a political row

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The MPs' report is timely as there are concerns than many Olympic heroes from Team GB won't get anything in the Queen's New Year honours list because of a quota system which will see Whitehall mandarins given gongs instead.

The MPs write:

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 MPs looked at the case of Fred Goodwin, who was stripped of his knighthood after it became clear he bore a hefty responsibility for the nationalisation of RBS. The MPs don't say that it was wrong for Goodwin to be stripped of his knighthood, but believe the process was, again, far from transparent.

"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," they say.

Concerns were also raised that people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland stood more of a chance of being honoured. The MPs say: "The high level of influence of the devolved bodies on the honours system also increases the risk of politicisation of the honours system in these regions."

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 Cabinet Office denied the honours were dominated by politicians and celebrities, with 72% of the awards in the last honours list going to people who were actively involved in charitable or voluntary work.

"Honours are awarded on merit to those who make outstanding contributions and not for simply doing the day job," a spokesman said.

"Far from being the preserve of politicians, civil servants and celebrities, the vast majority go to the unsung heroes who do remarkable work in their communities.

"Awards are recommended by committees with independent chairs and a majority of independent members. We will carefully consider the committee's recommendations."

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