`Classless' honours list puts new emphasis on women

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The Independent Online
The New Year Honours List published today inches a little closer to John Major's vision of a "classless society" where awards are given for service and on merit. The 1,080 names on the Prime Minister's list show an increasing number of awards goin g to women and greater emphasis on voluntary work.

In an extraordinary cross-section of British life, the full list ranges from lollipop ladies to rock guitarist Eric Clapton and the Astronomer Royal, from rugby league's Jonathan Davies to the Lady of the Bedchamber to the Queen Mother and weatherman Bill Giles.

There will be warm public acclaim for the life peerage for Elizabeth Smith the widow of John Smith, the Labour leader, who died of a heart attack in May. She promised to use her seat in the House of Lords to work for the arts and a Labour government.

The proportion of women on Mr Major's list has increased to nearly a third - 347 awards compared to 290 in the June birthday list - though only 20 were in the higher ranks.

Women account for much of the increase in awards for charity and voluntary work. Nearly 40 per cent of the individuals on the list, 412, are recognised specifically for their voluntary service, compared to 330 in June.

Since Mr Major opened up the nomination process in April 1993, over 14,000 people have been put forward for an award. His list contains 393 of them, 140 more than last time.

Proximity to the seat of power, however, remains an influential factor, whether it is at Chequers, where the handyman Douglas Wilkins gets an MBE, or Downing Street.

Sarah Hogg, who recently resigned as head of the Prime Minister's policy unit, has been granted a peerage, while another departing member of the Kitchen Cabinet, political secretary Jonathan Hill,becomes a CBE.

The two other peerages go to David Hope, the Lord Justice-General of Scotland, and Robert McConnell, former social security commissioner for Northern Ireland. Four Tory MPs get knighthoods and Sir David Hannay, Britain's man at the United Nations, get his knighthood upgraded to a Knight Grand Cross in the Order of St Michael and St George - the top gong for a diplomat.

The list has a sprinkling of stardust. The actress Joanna Lumley receives an OBE, as does the television cook Delia Smith, football pundit Jimmy Hill, ballet dancer Darcey Bussell, Bill Giles and Eric Clapton.

There are CBEs for the Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, actress Felicity Kendal and the former Goon Michael Bentine. Rugby league's Jonathan Davies and the field athlete Steve Backley get MBEs.

The film producer David Puttnam gets a knighthood.

Honours list, pages 12, 13