The Queen should no longer be expected to award honours to civil servants and business people for simply “doing the day job”, according to a parliamentary committee.
In a report today, the Commons public administration select committee also says that too many celebrities are awarded honours, at the expense of people who work selflessly for their local communities.
The committee calls for the system to be overhauled, with the end of all political influence and the creation of an independent honours commission.
Although David Cameron has said he wants the “vast majority” of honours to go to people who have gone “beyond excellence” in contributing to his vision of a “Big Society“, the MPs say there is a perception that celebrities and sports stars are more likely to be honoured than people who have put in years of service to their communities.
They also warn that the lack of transparency about the way the system operates has created an impression that honours can be “bought”, are used to thank donors to political parties and are awarded “automatically” to senior civil servants.
“We believe that no-one should be honoured for simply ‘doing the day job’, no matter what that job is,” the committee says.
There should be no ‘automatic’ honours for people who hold a certain post, or for celebrities and sports stars at a certain level, but too often it seems this is still the case. Bernard Jenkin, public administration select committee
“In particular, honours should not be awarded to civil servants or businessmen unless it can be demonstrated that there has been service above and beyond the call of duty.
“It is distasteful and damaging for people who already command vast personal remuneration packages for doing their job, to also be honoured for simply being at the helm of large companies. This must stop.
“All who get honours must be judged on whether they have done things above and beyond their normal duty, shown extraordinary leadership and shown extraordinary service to the community.”
The MPs say honours should only be awarded for “exceptional service above and beyond the call of duty” and reject assurances from the head of the civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake, that there are no “automatic honours” for some senior officials.
As examples, the report mentions the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, who was awarded a knighthood the day before he took up his post, and his predecessor, Lord O’Donnell, who has received four honours.
The committee argues for the creation of an independent honours commission and the removal of the prime minister’s power to provide “strategic direction”.
It also believes there should be an overhaul of the honours forfeiture committee, which stripped former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Fred Goodwin of his knighthood.
The MPs express concern that the forfeiture committee reacted to a “media storm” and said that the criteria for removing an honour need to be clearly set out.
Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the public administration select committee, said: “The public values the honours system, and it commands a significant degree of public confidence, but people still say that honours appear to be awarded through a mysterious process by the various committees to the usual suspects they already know.
“Far too few are being awarded to ordinary citizens for the extraordinary contributions they make to their communities, which is what the honours system should be for.
“There should be no ‘automatic’ honours for people who hold a certain post, or for celebrities and sports stars at a certain level, but too often it seems this is still the case.”