Honours ‘mean nothing’ without transparency, MPs warn

MPs frustrated by the government's defence of the honours system have once again lashed out at Whitehall.

The public administration select committee used expressed disappointment with a government response to its report calling for the opaque honours system to be made more transparent.

MPs had originally called for more honours to be given to deserving recipients outside Whitehall, where many career civil servants receive gongs just for long years of service.

The government responded by arguing that it had been a "long time" since anyone had received honours for "just doing their job".

"There is a lack of consistency between the evidence we received, and what happens in practice," committee chair Bernard Jenkin complained.

"Their response to us was an opportunity to be open and clear, rather than to attempt to pretend there has been no inconsistency."

MPs are deeply suspicious of the politicisation of the honours process – especially after four former ministers sacked in the autumn reshuffle were given knighthoods.

They noted that prime minister David Cameron had bypassed the recently established parliamentary and political service honours committee and warned that the presence of the three main party whips on the committee did not constitute 'consultation with parliament'.

"If the government supports such political control of the award of honours in certain circumstances, it should be prepared to justify that," the report noted.

MPs also noted that there have been more calls for individuals to be stripped of their honours since August – a reference to the storm of anger which greeted allegations about Sir Jimmy Savile.

They said the media's role in calling for honours to be forfeited reinforced the case for an independent and transparent forfeiture committee – rather than the current behind-closed-doors arrangement of senior civil servants.

Jenkin added: "It is clear to us that that there is strong concern among the public and demand for a clearer, more transparent system both for the award, and forfeiture, of honours.

"If honours are to retain any meaning and value they must be awarded to genuinely deserving recipients who have contributed to their communities above and beyond the norm, through a transparent system where people can  see the value of the honour and what it was awarded for. The system as it currently operates cannot do that."

The committee's original report called for the Queen's lord lieutenants to be given a greater role in considering nominations to help increase the number of volunteers in local communities who are rewarded for their work.