Major gives public right to nominate people for honours

MEMBERS of the public will be encouraged to nominate people for honours under a more egalitarian system that will scrap the 'working class' British Empire Medal and 'gongs by rank' while putting new emphasis on voluntary service and merit.

But while successfully sidelining opposition from within Whitehall, John Major's initiative - announced yesterday - leaves political patronage intact, prompting angry attacks from opposition MPs. 'Why do Conservative governments, and only Conservative governments, wish to use the honours system as a form of patronage for their political supporters?' John Smith, the Labour leader, asked.

Long-serving Tory backbench MPs can still normally expect a knighthood, but they, like businessmen, civil servants and diplomats, may have to provide more proof that they have earnt it under criteria set out by the Prime Minister in the Commons yesterday.

'In future there should be no assumption that honours will automatically be attached to particular posts in either the public or the private sector,' Mr Major said.

Members of the public will be able to nominate people for awards by obtaining a form from the Honours Secretariat at 10 Downing Street. The changes, most of which will apply to the next Queen's Birthday Honours List, mean an end to automatic knighthoods for government law officers and ambassadors, and to awards for simply doing one's job properly.

All honours will be awarded 'on merit, for exceptional achievement, or exceptional service over and above what normally might be expected', Mr Major said. There should be different levels of awards to reflect different levels of achievement and honours should place more emphasis on voluntary service.

While the new criteria indicate the possibility of a more selective approach to awards for industrialists and politicians, the 'gong' scores of the civil and diplomatic services and armed forces appear to have exercised Mr Major rather more. Bringing forward the five- yearly Review of Honours to the summer, he has asked it to ensure that numbers of awards to state servants reflect the role and size of the three services. It indicates the extent to which the Prime Minister has beaten opposition from Whitehall mandarins.

He is keen to recognise community work, such as inner-city initiatives that could divert young people from crime. He has asked the review to take greater account of work in the voluntary sector and service to the community. The changes are viewed as radical in Downing Street. But Mr Smith said: 'Have you no shame about the way that each year eight Conservative MPs regularly and automatically collect knighthoods, for no other reason but being supporters of the ruling political party? Do you not think the connection between awards of honours and donations by companies to the Conservative Party is a shoddy misuse of a system set up to recognise public service?'

Mr Major insisted there was 'very stringent' independent scrutiny of all honours.

Only High Court judges will be exempt from the abandonment of automatic honours (all are knighted on appointment) on the ground, Mr Major said, that awards should not be thought to depend on government approval of legal judgments. Chris Mullin, Labour MP for Sunderland South, suggested the best way to preserve their independence was to give knighthoods to none of them.

All those who would have received the BEM will get its equivalent, the MBE, which will account for two-thirds of the Prime Minister's usual list of 1,000. The Military Medal for bravery by non-commissioned officers and lower ranks will be abolished. All will get the Military Cross, reserved for commissioned officers.

Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, is to announce separately the results of a wider review of gallantry awards.

The Queen has agreed to increase the numbers of investitures at Buckingham Palace and - for the first time - elsewhere in the country, although she will not conduct all of them herself.

Leading article, page 20

Privilege and reward, page 21

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own