2 THE BENEFITS OF THE CURRENT
SYSTEM AND THE CASE AGAINST CHANGE
25. There is a case to be made against any substantial
change to the honours system, and some of those who submitted
evidence made it with force and eloquence. This chapter sets out
some of these arguments for maintaining the existing arrangements.
26. When honours recognise truly distinguished service
or outstanding achievement, they can inspire real enthusiasm,
reinforce public pride in achievement, and "make the country
feel good about itself" in the words of the Wilson Review.
This is particularly noticeable when honours strike a chord with
local or regional loyalties. Graeme Allan of Whitley Bay in Tyne
and Wear said that titles were "an established part of 'Britishness'"
and a "precious heritage", citing an example that was
clearly close to his heart:
"In my native Tyneside, the joy and happiness
when Newcastle Utd manager, Bobby Robson, was knighted was unbounded.
Any attempt to deny honours to Geordie heroes would cause a backlash
in Labour's North-East heartland, where football is regarded with
27. Lord Hurd of Westwell drew a similar conclusion
from a less prominent award:
"Recently I listened to a discussion of
the Monarchy on a local radio station which reached a climax when
a young man described how he went to Buckingham Palace to receive
an MBE from the Prince of Wales. For the first time, he said he
felt proud to be British. This reaction may seem unsophisticated,
but in my experience it is widespread and too valuable to be ignored.
For that reason I would favour retaining the different Orders
in their present form".
28. Lord Hurd also saw the value of the system's
long pedigree, praising it as a "link with the country's
past. The Honours system brings its recipients into a relationship
with that past of which most are proud. Hence the importance of
retaining the Queen as the fount of honour".
Similar views were expressed by Dr P J Galloway, the historian
of several of the Orders, who argued that the power of the system
rested on its coherence and antiquity. He considered that its
foundations would be undermined if due respect was not paid to
each part of the edifice:
"The title of the Order of the British Empire
is no more outdated than the titles of the Order of the Garter,
the Order of the Bath, the Order of St Michael and St George or
the Royal Victorian Order. These are historic names that emerged
for good reason at particular moments in the nation's history
that those names are redolent of ages and concerns long
past is not to their disgrace, and no ground for their abolition".
Heydel-Mankoo, who has written extensively on honours matters,
also identified a strong historical connection between the various
parts of the UK honours system, and saw great value in continuity:
"Prestige and romance are areas of fundamental
importance to an honours system. We must remember that the senior
honours are in fact orders of "chivalry". Names such
as "The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle"
serve as a reminder of the age of chivalry. We should be very
wary of changing names of historic importance simply to satisfy
perceived, and often transitory, political sensitivities. The
British Empire is a historical reality".
30. We were also told that there was little public
demand for change to the honours system. Dr Galloway dismissed
recent negative media comment, denied that the system's reputation
had been diminished, and declared that "the United Kingdom
honours system in general is quite free from controversy".
Several correspondents saw the low rate of refusal of honours
as a sign of broad public acceptance.
31. Several apparent practical and legal objections
to change were also put to us. Dr Galloway pointed out that Letters
Patent in 1917 declared that the Order of the British Empire should
be "called and known forever after" by that name, and
"by no other designation". He also suggests that the
creation of a completely new Order with a different name would
hurt the feelings of the 90,000 living members of the Empire Order
who would "find themselves members of a derided, devalued
and dying Order, which might, by virtue of becoming obsolete or
redundant, become the object of ridicule and amusement before
disappearing into complete obscurity".
32. The size and structure of the system were robustly
defended. Although there is a perception that the United Kingdom
system is elaborate and extensive, we heard evidence from Guy
Stair Sainty, General Editor of Burke's Peerage and Baronetage
World Orders of Knighthood, that the UK was a model of restraint
compared with France, which makes "four times as many awards
as Great Britain in any one year" or Italy, whose "Order
of Work" has no fewer than 850,000 living members. There
are, according to Mr Sainty, 20,000 additions to the Italian Order
every year, compared with a grand total of 3000 per annum on British
lists. The Wilson
Review also examined the case against multi-level awards such
as the MBE, OBE and CBE, but concluded that it was necessary to
recognise different levels of contribution and that UK practice
was not out of line with those in other countries.
33. We were also warned against any reform that might
reduce the capacity of the state to use the honours system in
its diplomatic dealings with foreign countries. R M McKeag said
there was often concern in the Republic of Ireland on the arrival
of important visiting dignitaries:
"[The Republic] is one of the few countries
in the world that lacks an honours system. At present this is
proving something of an embarrassment to the Irish government.
How should visiting heads of state and other dignitaries be honoured?
How should outstanding citizens have their contributions recognised?
At present the Provost of Trinity College is asked to award an
honorary doctorate or the Lord Mayor of Dublin is asked to present
the freedom of the city. I understand that both are beginning
to baulk at bailing out the state".
34. Thus the current system is seen by its defenders
as dignified, soundly based on history and inspiring widespread
enthusiasm. Ill-considered change, they believe, would irretrievably
damage a precious part of national life. For these witnesses,
continuity is almost all.
14 Ibid para 14 Back
HON 56 Back
HON 73 Back
HON 61 Back
HON 54 Back
HON 61 Back
HON 68 Back
HON 61 Back
HON 57 Back
HON 52 Back