Britain's honours system set for shake-up, with ministers given powers to 'fast track' nominations for knighthoods and other awards

 

Ministers are to be given the power to ‘fast track’ nominations for knighthoods and other awards as part of plans to radically shake-up of Britain’s ancient honours system.

Under proposals, discussed by the Cabinet, ministers would be able to circumvent civil service vetting procedures and recommend candidates for awards directly to the independent Honours Committee.

Significantly if their recommendations are rejected the Committee would have to contact the minister concerned to explain and justify their decision.

However the move is facing resistance from some senior officials who fear it will politicise the honours system and insist that ministers must follow the same procedures as charities and members of the public who want to nominate individuals for awards.

Over recent months growing numbers of senior Government figures expressed concern that political nominations for CBE, OBEs and knighthoods were being thwarted by officials.

Among concerns express by Tory ministers include:

• The failure of the Honour Committee to award a knighthood to the Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah because “the rules” state that recipients must be in receipt of a lesser honour first.

• The award on an MBE to a civil servant in the Department of Education who had responsibility for recommending people for honours. “That wasn’t even gongs for the boys, it was gongs for the boys who hand out the gongs,” said one source.

• A long running campaign by a minister to get an official awarded for his work implementing a high-profile Government policy was repeatedly thwarted by senior officials in his department. At one stage he was told if his nominee got an award it would result in another deserving official who was about to retire being deprived of his gong.

Under current rules ministers have the right to nominate individuals for New Year’s and Birthday Honours but their recommendations can be vetoed by senior departmental officials without having to explain their decision.

The new proposals, discussed by the Cabinet, would allow minsters to circumvent departmental procedures and have their nominee directly considered by Honours Committee which includes a number of independent ministers.

According to ministerial sources when the issue was discussed a large number of ministers spoke out in favour of the changes and some wanted to go even further and take overt political control of the honours process.

“There’s been a complete civil service takeover of the honours system which has cut politicians out,” said a senior Government source.

“It started as a reaction to the Blair years but there is now a realisation that it has gone far too far. We have replaced political control of the honours system with control exercised by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats.”

But some senior MPs have voiced concerns that the new system must be transparent.

Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the influential Public Administration Committee said: “Any proposals to increase ministerial influence must be open, transparent and explicit so Parliament is fully informed of what is going on.”

A Cabinet Office Spokesman confirmed that Sir Bob Kerslake, the head of the Civil Service was currently carrying out at “quinquennial review” into the honours system.

The plans for change have been fed into Sir Bob Kerslake, the head of the civil service, is conducting  ‘quinquennial review’ of the system, which is due to be sent to Buckingham Palace for approval this Spring.

He has accepted that ministers have the right to feedback but is resisting calls for them to bypass the civil service bureaucracy on the grounds that this would politicise the system.

A civil service source defended the mandarins, pointing out that honours for domestic civil servants and quango chiefs account for just one in 11 honours. When diplomats and members of the Armed Forces are included, 18 per cent of honours go to public servants.

“The vast majority are people who do charity or voluntary work, often in their local communities,” they said.

“We reject the criticism that the government hand out gongs to people for long service. All honours are given to people on their own individual merits. There is no rubber stamping.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?