Automatic knighthoods for civil servants 'should stop'

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The great and the good should lose their automatic right to knighthoods and other honours for seniority in the Civil Service, an independent report is expected to tell Tony Blair this week.

The great and the good should lose their automatic right to knighthoods and other honours for seniority in the Civil Service, an independent report is expected to tell Tony Blair this week.

Sir Hayden Phillips will propose sweeping changes to the honours system, which has been discredited by a series of damaging revelations about the appointment procedure. However his report, to be published on Friday, will not go as far as a Commons select committee, which will call today for curbs on the Prime Minister's powers of patronage over the system.

Sir Hayden, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Constitutional Affairs and a beneficiary of the honours system, is expected to recommend that honours should be more closely linked to merit rather than length of service.

Mr Blair has attempted to persuade the secretive honours committees to award top honours including knighthoods to a wider group of public servants, such as teachers. But only a few have been given such high honours, while civil servants, senior officers in the armed forces, and judges have continued automatically to receive them.

Sir Hayden is expected to call for citations to explain more clearly why honours are being granted. He is also likely to recommend that the Order of the British Empire should be renamed the Order of Britain or Order of British Excellence to bring it more up to date. The poet Benjamin Zephaniah publicly refused to accept it last year on the grounds that it smacked of colonialism.

Sir Hayden will propose that the honours committees who recommend individuals for "gongs" should be made public, and the whole system should be made more open. More experts from outside government could be brought on to the nine specialist committees, covering areas such as sport, medicine, science and the media.

Mr Blair is hoping his report will restore some credibility to the honours system after it was disclosed that Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, was left off the honours list because he was linked to vivisection.

Changes to the honours system were also made inevitable by the leaking of minutes from the committees who drew up last New Year's honours list. One committee said Tim Henman should be included "to add interest" - he was given an OBE.

Sir Hayden's report will be seen as an attempt to head off calls for a more radical reform of the system, which will be demanded today by the Public Administration Committee, chaired by Tony Wright.

The committee is expected to call for curbs to the Prime Minister's powers of patronage over the honours system: Mr Blair included the whole of the England rugby squad after it won the World Cup in Australia. He also has power over the political list of awards, although they are vetted by an independent commission.

John Major, the former prime minister, called for the Order of the British Empire to be reformed when he gave evidence to the Commons Public Administration Committee. Supporting sweeping changes to the current system, he described it as "distasteful".

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