Memorandum by The Rt Hon Tony Benn (PAP
AN AIDE MEMOIRE
Patronage in the award of honours and the making
of public appointments is about the handing down of power and
responsibility from the top to those below, who are expected to
understand and accept their inferior relationship with those in
power, as when a nation is ruled by Kings or Dictators.
However in a Democracy power is conferred upwards
from the people to those elected to govern and who are then employed
to do a job and may be removed if those who supported them wish
to do so.
The guiding principles for appointments in a
democratic state must bear these considerations in mind and balance
the advantages of appointment against the need for accountability.
There are serious dangers in the exercise of
unfettered powers of appointment as when Lloyd George sold honours
in return for contributions to his private political funds, but
even if no political corruption takes place patronage is inherently
unhealthy for both the giver and the receiver.
Certainly no-one should be appointed to serve
in parliament because laws passed by the votes of such persons
would have no legitimacy nor command any moral obligations on
those expected to obey them.
On the other hand to opt for election for all
positions would involve a major constitutional change, as for
example if the BBC Governors were elected by a vote of the licence
holders they would be more powerful than the government of the
day and both Houses of Parliament and could argue that they had
a mandate to do whatever they wished.
By contrast if the synod of the Church of England
were, by some method agreed by it, to elect all Bishops and Archbishops
this would liberate the Church from patronage and mark a major
shift to democratic control.
Similarly if all public Honours were awarded
by the House of Commons by a simple Motionas with the Speaker's
Peeragethis would end the dangers of the present system
and anyone could nominate the candidates, each of whom might receive
a parliamentary medal, just as Councils elect those they make
freemen, universities elect those who receive honorary degrees
or organisations choose persons for honorary membership.
In making its recommendations the Committee
might think it right to identify the various categories of honours
and appointments and suggest criteria for handling them.
To provide a framework for the consideration
of appropriate criteria I have drawn up a list of draft recommendations
the Committee might like to consider.
I also attach some appendices that may assist
1. All Crown prerogative powers of appointment
and patronage should be transferred to parliament and all honours,
including membership of the Privy Council, should be conferred
by a Commons resolution without a requirement to take the present
2. All laws, all political decisions, and
the guidelines which flow them from, should be made by persons
who have been elected, directly or indirectly, and can be removed
by those over whom they have power.
This rule would apply, amongst others, to the
All members of the House of Lords,
All British members of the European
All British representatives on International
3. All civil and public servants should
be recruited and appointed on a professional basis, free from
political influence to serve those to whom they are responsible
This rule is designed to safeguard the Civil
4. Persons appointed to advise elected ministers
or councillors, under rules laid down by Parliament, may be chosen
by those whom they have to advise, but such advisers should have
no executive authority devolved to them, should be answerable
to those who appointed them, and their work should be subject
to public scrutiny as a part of the accountability owed to Parliament,
councils and the public by those for whom they work.
This would protect civil servants, parliament
5. All chairs of public authorities, or
any body, including public private partnerships, vested with the
advertisement which describes the work they would be required
to do, be appointed by a procedure that is open and all candidates
should be interviewed and the appointment made by a select committee,
after a public hearing.
This rule would cover the following:
Chairs of all State Corporations, including
6. All other persons who are candidates
for membership of public bodies should be interviewed by those
who already serve on those bodies and the names of those recommended
should be put to the responsible departmental minister, who would
have to approve.
7. All local authorities should have the
power to scrutinize the work of public bodies working in their
area, interview those who serve on them and make recommendations
for changes in policy or personnel which shall be made public,
the decision to be made by the responsible minister and reported
8. The responsibility for implementing these
recommendations should be vested in a minster, subject to a Select
Committee, which should report annually to parliament.
1. Crown Prerogatives (Parliamentary
Control) Bill 1999.
2. Honours Lists 1922.
3. Case for a Constitutional Premiership.
4. Appointments by Secretary of State for Energy 1977.
5. Commonwealth of Britain Bill 1996.
6. Privy Councillors' Oath.
7. Parliamentary Declaration Bill 1998.
8. Parliamentary Reform Bill 1998.
9. Bishop's Oath.
10. Coronation Oath.
1 Ev. not printed. Available for inspection in the
House of Lords Record Office. Back