Whitehall keeps grip on 'classless' honours

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THOUSANDS of honours nominations from private individuals under John Major's 'classless' system have produced just 70 awards in today's 970-strong New Year list.

Honours for the civil, diplomatic and armed services have increased by a net figure of four - in spite of the Prime Minister's desire to end 'automatic' awards for the Establishment.

Along with the 70 people nominated by the public on forms available from Downing Street, a further 130 identified as candidates through the normal channels had their chances enhanced by such nominations. But compared with the 11,000 requests for forms during the year - showing that people are still keen to participate in a system that was bordering on disrepute - the total of 200 direct and indirect beneficiaries of the nomination scheme is modest. Most have been created MBE, the lowest award.

Mr Major promised in a written Commons reply last month to reduce the number of awards to state servants by about 120 to 60 each year. But 174 home civil servants are honoured today, only one fewer than in last summer's Birthday Honours list. Number 10 said yesterday that the reform, aimed at increasing the number of honours for voluntary service while decreasing 'gongs by rank', would take some years to bring about. The Ministry of Defence's list of awards for service personnel has shrunk by only six since the Birthday Honours, from 224 to 218, while the Foreign Office awards for diplomatic staff actually increased by 11 to 141.

Of the 10,000 forms returned, - 7,500 nominations after duplications - only 500 were seriously considered. Margaret Beckett, Labour's deputy leader, dismissed the system as a 'con'.

Honours for the figures from showbusiness, industry, politics, the arts and sport, who rub shoulders with unknown playgroup leaders and voluntary workers, include knighthoods for the actor Derek Jacobi and for Iain Vallance, the British Telecom chairman who enjoyed a massive pay rise.

Gus O'Donnell, who is relinquishing his post as Mr Major's press secretary to return to the Treasury, becomes a Companion of the Bath. Sue Slipman, director of the National Council for One-Parent Families, becomes an OBE.

In perhaps one of the best tips ever, Brian Sack and Francis Coulson, directors of the Sharrow Bay Hotel, Penrith, where Mr Major and his wife Norma recuperated after this autumn's party conference, both become MBEs.

Bob Scott, the Manchester businessman who led the city's Olympic bid, a project Mr Major identified with strongly, is rewarded with a knighthood.

Full list, pages 8, 9

Business awards, page 25

Awards in sport, page 32

(Photograph omitted)