In 2004, the UK's House of Commons Select
Committee on Public Administration proposed four significant reforms to the
honours system. The Committee thought they formed a package. They are as
1. End automatic awards. At the moment, a
particular public sector worker position leads to an honour for the person
appointed. For example, some ambassadors are given knighthoods shortly after
they take up their posts. So are some permanent secretaries (the senior civil
servant in each government department).
2. End titles
3. Rename the Order of the British Empire
as the Order of British Excellence
4. Reduce the number of Orders and
levels/acronyms. The Committee’s proposal was to reduce the number of Orders
outside the personal gift of the Queen from five to two. The total number of levels/acronyms
should go from 15 to 4. The remaining Orders and levels would be:
- Companion of Honour (CH)
- Companion of the Order of
British Excellence (CBE)
- Officer of Order of British
- Member of Order of British
We're not covering abolition
This topic is not for you if you think the
honours system should be abolished. In order to keep it simple, we are giving
readers a choice between keeping the honours system as it is and reforming it,
by introducing the four reforms listed above.
Which awards are covered?
Wefollow the Select Committee report in not
considering either awards for gallantry or those in the personal gift of the
Queen. That means we are not considering the Orders of the Garter, the Thistle
or Merit, nor the Royal Victorian Order.
This leaves four Orders: the Bath; St
Michael and St George; the British Empire; and the Companion of Honour. There
is also the status of Knights Batchelor for people called Sir or Dame. Between
them, these produce 15 levels or acronyms. One example is KCMG, which in full
stands for Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and
How the honours system works (ref 5)
This unit considers all nominations for
honours from the public, government departments, interest groups and business.
They approve nominations and levels of
awards in the fields of local public service, medicine, science and technology,
business, the arts, sport, state servants and management or trade union practice.
Main Honours Committee
Chaired by the head of the Home Civil
Service. It checks to ensure a high standard and balance by region and
May add or remove names
Supposed to vet all political awards.
As "The Fount of all Honour"
gives final approval. Official announcement in The London Gazette.
About 3,000 honours are awarded annually,
at New Year and on the Queen’s Official Birthday in June.
The purpose and principles of an
Below is the Select Committee’s view
of an honours system: honours are important symbols of what is
valued in national life.
of an effective honours system:
- excellence—it should reward
outstanding and exceptional service or achievement, at all levels
- integrity—it should not be,
or be seen to be, corrupt
- transparency—it should be
as open as possible, consistent with the need for confidentiality as to
- dignity—awards should be
widely accepted as worthy
- clarity—it should be easy
for the public to understand why awards are made
- fairness—it should not
favour, or appear to favour, any one group
1 - Wilson Review of
the Honours system, 2001.
Note that the House of Common LibrarySN/PC/02832(2 February 2012Oonagh Gay)
several reviews of the honours system with full references.
2 - Public Administration -
Fifth Report published by the House of Commons 7 July 2004.
3 - http://www.francisbennion.com/pdfs/fb/2000/2000-050-rooted-in-dishonour.pdf
- The Independent newspaper Thursday, 27 November 2003
5 - https://www.gov.uk/honours
6 - The House of Commons Select Committee
on Public Administration 2004. report, “A Matter of Honour”: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmpubadm/212/212.pdf
7 - The government’s response to ref 6 http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20090118230434/http:/www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/190754/cm6479honours_reform.pdf