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Public Administration Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 1921-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Public Administration Committee
Tuesday 24 April 2012
Sir Garth Morrison and David Briggs
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 – 103
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings.
Taken before the Public Administration Committee
on Tuesday 24 April 2012
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Sir Garth Morrison, KT, CBE, Lord-Lieutenant of East Lothian, and David Briggs, MBE, KStJ, Lord-Lieutenant of Cheshire, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: May I welcome our two witnesses to this first session on the honours system? Could I please ask each of you to identify yourselves for the record?
David Briggs: I am David Briggs, the Lord-Lieutenant of Cheshire.
Sir Garth Morrison: I am Garth Morrison, the Lord-Lieutenant of East Lothian.
Chair: We are extremely grateful for your appearing before us today. Thank you for your written evidence, which we found extremely helpful.
Q2 Priti Patel: Good morning. I would like to start by getting a view from you both in terms of what you think the purpose of the honours system is. Does the system achieve the ultimate purpose?
David Briggs: In outline, I think the purpose of the honours system is to award and publicly recognise exceptional service to the community. Largely, it achieves that objective.
Sir Garth Morrison: I share that view. I think it is a very important means of recognising an extraordinary contribution to the wellbeing of society and the nation. I broadly think it works.
Q3 Priti Patel: Both of you have just highlighted the fact you think it is a positive force for British society, but concerns have been raised about public confidence in the system. Are such concerns, in your view, inevitable? How do you think we could go about trying to increase public confidence in the honours system?
David Briggs: I suspect there will always be some who lack confidence in the system, but I think there are also things that could be done to improve the situation. First, when people get an honour I would like to see, instead of a two- or three-word citation after their name in the press, a proper citation to show what they have done. I think that would make a significant difference.
I also think two points need to be clear: first, that you cannot buy an honour, and I have no doubt the word "philanthropy" will be used a few times this morning. My view is that in addition to writing a cheque, people who get an honour should have to spend some of their time committing themselves to helping society. The second thing is that I do not think jobs should automatically bring with them an honour.
Alun Cairns: Hear, hear.
David Briggs: Basically, you should get an honour for doing more than the day job. It is not just as a right.
Q4 Priti Patel: This is about public confidence, but on that point, do you think the public in particular think the decision-making around honours is subjective and not particularly transparent?
David Briggs: I do not think we should over-emphasise this, because in the main the public think well of the honours system. Unfortunately, the press inevitably pick up a few exceptional situations-there has been a lot in the press about donations to political parties. Sadly, the way the tabloid press works is those are the ones that get sensationalised. You have to be very careful to make sure that cash does not buy honours.
Sir Garth Morrison: I think the fact that a Select Committee of the Houses of Parliament is investigating this, not for the first time, and that is known to the public, helps to build confidence in the system. It means that the criteria and processes being used are being scrutinised, and the results made public later.
I have a concern that the fact that the citations are so brief, as Mr Briggs has just said, conveys to the public the impression that an awful lot of honours are being given simply for doing the job for which people are paid.
Q5 Chair: Does the public not also feel that it is a bit hit-and-miss? Speaking as a Member of Parliament who has been asked frequently to support applications for honours, it is very perplexing why some honours are handed out and some honours are refused. I can’t see any logic to it; don’t you think the public share that view?
Sir Garth Morrison: Sir, you will recall that in my written evidence I did actually reflect on this. Although 1,000 honours are given in a year and the honours committees consider about 1,800, I asked the Cabinet Office last week how many nominations were actually made for honours. That record is not actually kept because they come from so many different sources, but I think there must be several thousand. The sifting of those nominations is done entirely within Government Departments. I think the integrity of the system stands or falls by that process and I wonder just how broadly and widely the criteria that we think important for national honours are applied.
Q6 Alun Cairns: The issue that resonated with me both in your written evidence, Mr Briggs and Sir Garth, and your oral comments were the comments that related to giving an honour simply for doing the day job or receiving an honour for simply doing the day job. Why has that come about and can you give us some typical examples that come to mind?
Sir Garth Morrison: Part of the issue is the citation, to which my colleague here referred. A simply oneliner saying, "For services to the Justice Department" does not actually say anything at all other than that perhaps the person is being honoured for doing a good job in the Justice Department, so I think there is an issue about that.
Long before I got involved as a Lord-Lieutenant I was Chairman of an NHS Trust in Scotland, and in my written evidence I remark on the fact that at the time Ministers thought it was important that the NHS should be recognised and perhaps an OBE to a few Chief Executives would be a good idea, and that was duly done. I just sensed that these were good chaps doing a good job, for which they were really quite well paid. I was personally rather aware of a number of people whom I knew quite well in the voluntary, charitable sector who actually deserved an OBE much more than they did. That is just an example of what I am getting at.
David Briggs: I come back to the issue of community service, and voluntary community service in the large, or something over and above what you are paid for. To take the example that Sir Garth used of the Chief Executive of an NHS hospital, clearly they are now reasonably wellremunerated for that service and in order to get an honour they need to do something over and above what they are expected to do and what they are paid to do, or to do the job with considerable excess performance.
Q7 Alun Cairns: I certainly agree. Sir Garth, you mentioned an OBE at the beginning, but I think that has been elevated to knighthoods in all too regular cases, I would suggest, since then. Would you support a recommendation from the Committee-should it be the will of the Committee-that it needs to be something over and above the day job in the majority of cases like this?
Sir Garth Morrison: If I could give another example of my experience in the voluntary sector, when a nomination for an honour for somebody serving in the Scouts was made in Scotland at the time I was Chief Commissioner; I used to get a telephone call from the HM Inspector of Schools, who was helping the departmental sift of all the nominations. I was fascinated that on two occasions he said to me, "Well, that’s a great guy. He does a super job running Giffnock Scout Group, but what else does he do? Is he involved with his local church or is he involved with the Community Council?" and I said to myself, "Wait a minute. Here is a chap who is earning a living and having to devote attention to that, and on top of that he’s running a Scout Group." Yet, somehow, for the Department concerned, the bar was even higher because he was not really worth rating unless he was involved in his church, his Community Council or something like that. I said to myself, "That is actually applying a different standard to those who are simply doing their day job".
Q8 Robert Halfon: Would one way of improving the awarding of honours be to democratise the way honours are awarded? If I could just start off with the committee, the members of the committee are all the great and the good, and most of them are knights themselves. Could the committee itself be an elected committee or a parliamentary committee instead?
David Briggs: I don’t have strong views about the make-up of the committee. I have certainly heard no criticism whatsoever of the individuals actually involved in making the decisions.
Sir Garth Morrison: It is very helpful that those in the Cabinet Office responsible for honours and awards are in touch with Lord-Lieutenants reasonably regularly. In Scotland we meet every two years and one of their officials comes and talks with us, and shares with us their perception of how things are going. That includes the membership of the honours committees, and I must say it is a very impressive list.
Q9 Robert Halfon: But the honours committee is in essence the great and the good and does that not mean they will select the great and the good? Surely it should be opened up to people of all walks of life at least?
Sir Garth Morrison: Like my colleague here, I have no strong feelings on that. What really matters is the criteria by which the committee are making their assessment as to the suitability of Mr A, Miss B or Mrs C for an honour. The presence of capable, perceptive and objective minds is really pretty important. I would not have any difficulty with broadening that in the manner you suggest.
Q10 Robert Halfon: Just to extend the democratisation argument a little further if I may, could you not have a system, as far as the community champions are concerned, that the honours committee could recommend a number of community champions who could then be chosen by the public via the internet or whatever it may be?
Sir Garth Morrison: This is interesting because the discussion of the democratisation of the House of Lords is currently on the national agenda, and I just wonder myself what the constituency would be-how widely do you draw it? Perhaps through the internet might be one way of doing it, but the integrity of that process is something I would need to be rather clearer about before I say that it is a good idea.
David Briggs: There must be a danger, in that situation, that it becomes politicised, and it is very important that we understand that honours come from the Sovereign, not from the Government.
Chair: Mr Flynn-provoked?
Q11 Paul Flynn: I am provoked by that remark. The Sovereign has nothing at all to do with it; she approves the list. Do you know of any occasions when the Sovereign has intervened either for or against?
David Briggs: Obviously there are some honours within the Sovereign’s grant. Those are not the ones we were talking about today.
Q12 Paul Flynn: I know. But generally, the Sovereign is a cipher who approves what is presented to her. I think it would be wrong to blame her or to give her credit if people believe they come from the Sovereign. It is a complete myth, isn’t it, that the Queen is sitting there going through and saying, "Well, it should be going to Mrs Jones, not to Mrs Evans". That does not happen.
David Briggs: The perception that it is seen not to be a grant from the political system is desirable.
Q13 Paul Flynn: Yes, but it is the truth. We deal with reality and not fantasy here; we are living in a world where this place becomes infantilised during times of royal celebration and people behave in a strange way, but we do not have to pursue it here by emphasising or giving new life to another myth. Could I ask you what your role as Lord-Lieutenants is?
Chair: Can we come back to that later?
Paul Flynn: We will come back to that, but on the politicisation, do you think the system is not politicised at the moment? What percentage of the Lord-Lieutenants would you say are supporters of the Labour Party?
David Briggs: I can’t possibly answer that question, Sir.
Chair: I don’t think we can make these people accountable for other Lord-Lieutenants, Mr Flynn.
Q14 Paul Flynn: Is it not true that the Lords-Lieutenancy system is highly politicised? I applied for the job description once; I applied for the job and I can give you the details of what happened. I was a steelworker at the time and I asked whether it was absolutely essential, from my studies of the Lord-Lieutenants in my area, to live in a large house in its own grounds. Was it essential to be so rich that you could do a full-time job without a salary? Was it essential to have a military career, as most of them had? To have been a Freemason, to be a gentile, male and white? Or was this just how things had gone? I know things have improved since then but we have a system of Lord-Lieutenants that is hugely politicised and does not represent society. When are we going to get a Lord-Lieutenant who is living in a council house?
David Briggs: First, I think this is perhaps the appropriate moment to say that I speak for myself and not for the Association of Lord-Lieutenants. It is something I try hard not to do-to talk about why I became Lord-Lieutenant. Indeed, one does not know why one becomes Lord-Lieutenant; you are invited to take the role, effectively, I accept, by the Prime Minister, not by the Sovereign. If I were to be put on the spot and asked why I got my job, I think it is fair to say that I have done my bit for the voluntary sector.
Q15 Paul Flynn: We appreciate that. We have seen your biographies and we realise that you both have distinguished records as people who have served the public in a way. We have had evidence from your association, but would you describe the group of Lord-Lieutenants, as a body, as politically balanced?
David Briggs: We try very hard, once we become Lord-Lieutenants, to be apolitical.
Paul Flynn: But you are not. You are the great and the good, and the privileged and the wealthy. That is what Lord-Lieutenants are. You exercise influence over the selection in the honours system, don’t you? Perhaps you could tell us what that influence is?
Q16 Chair: Could we come back to that later? We are going to come to that later, Mr Flynn. I would like to move on to the other questions. I promise you we will let you ask that question. Can I just ask about the BEM? Do you think the reintroduction of the BEM has been good for the credibility of the honours system, or does the overtone of the nonofficer class of the BEM undermine its credibility?
Sir Garth Morrison: I welcome the return of the BEM. I know there is an issue about whether the word "Empire" is appropriate in 2012, but that is a separate issue altogether. I welcome it because I am very conscious that in my own area the height of the bar to get an MBE is very significant. There was one very successful recommendation put in about three years ago, and a year later the chap who delivered the milk to a range of cottages in the countryside quite close to where I live, including my own cottage-I am a farmer-was also put up for an MBE. I am very glad to say he got it, but he was the exception rather than the rule.
It was very difficult to compare the level and quality, and depth of service given by the lady who got the MBE for services to the community of North Berwick and this chap who for many years had been a very important lifeline to a number of old-age pensioners living in rather remote farm cottages, for whom he was perhaps the only link with the outside world for days at a time. It was very difficult to make an effective comparison and in fact the award of the BEM, and increasing the number of awards at MBE and BEM level, is very welcome.
David Briggs: I would also welcome it. I think that there are a lot of people who do great work for the local community who are never going to quite get over the bar to receive an MBE but it is quite right that they should be recognised for their outstanding local service. Therefore, I welcome it. I have made some comments about the particular naming of the award in my written evidence.
Q17 Kelvin Hopkins: I am just not convinced by this. Why not just convert the BEM into the MBE without any arguments at all? It seems to me to be harking back to the class structure of the past that many of us have been doing so much to try to break down.
David Briggs: Indeed, that is what I said in my written evidence. I think there are two problems with the reintroduction of the BEM. The first is that it is associated with class, and we all want to get rid of that. Secondly, it has the word "Empire" in it, and it is perhaps unfortunate to bring back a new medal with the word "Empire" in it, so were we to rewind the clock, I might call it something different. However, I welcome the concept that there is an award for those who have really made a contribution below the level of MBE.
Q18 Chair: So you approve of the recommendation of our predecessor committee that in fact we should replace the word "Empire" with "Excellence"? If it was a British Excellence Medal and an Order of British Excellence, would you approve of that?
David Briggs: I have not actually thought of a new terminology, so it would be slightly putting me on the spot to choose that specific word, but I have in principle no objection to that.
Q19 Chair: It would be handy not to have to change the letters.
David Briggs: Yes.
Sir Garth Morrison: I recognise the difficulty of the word "Empire" and I just spent three weeks in the United States. For them it is a completely foreign language; they were part of our empire once, they thought. Therefore, the choice of a different word or term would be a good thing, but I have not had an opportunity to think about what it should be.
Q20 Lindsay Roy: Can I just explore with you the extent to which people in your local area are aware of the honours system?
David Briggs: I think there is a huge percentage of the population who are aware of the system. I do get asked very regularly how one applies for an honour: "How can I nominate somebody for an honour?" I think Lord-Lieutenants do spend a lot of time trying to get the message across that anybody can nominate anybody else, but that is not well enough known.
Sir Garth Morrison: I spend a fair amount of my time explaining how the system works. In the public mind, the role of the Lord-Lieutenant is far greater than it actually is. I think our role in the system is extremely limited. Having said that, just like my colleague here, I explain to those who ring me up, write to me or write to my clerk asking that a certain name should go forward exactly the process, that it is all available on the internet and say to them, "That is the way you should go ahead. If you think it is appropriate that I should support that I am prepared to look at that." However, my experience is that the influence of the Lord-Lieutenant as to whether or not an honour should be awarded is very small.
Q21 Lindsay Roy: So in essence what you are saying is that there is a reactive role. Is there a proactive role in enhancing awareness? What exactly have you done in your own area to enhance awareness of the honours system and its objectives?
David Briggs: In quite a lot of my public speeches, I explain that everybody can nominate people who have done their bit for society for an honour. I do my best to make it more widely known that that is available because I do think some people think it is a closed shop, only for the great and the good, and that, "They’d never put my brother, uncle, or whatever it is, up for an award". We try to make it very clear to people that they should nominate people and that there is a very simple system available to do that. That is the most important thing: to tell the people the system exists. We are part of the communication system.
Sir Garth Morrison: I am not sure how many people live within the Lieutenancy of Cheshire, but in my Lieutenancy the population is about 90,000. I have nine Deputy Lieutenants who support me in my work within the area of East Lothian. We make it our business when we visit particularly community activity-whether it is the local Riding for the Disabled Association, the Princess Royal Trust for Carers or the local Save the Children shop in the village-we have in mind all the time the encouragement of people to submit names for national honours.
Q22 Lindsay Roy: You mentioned in your evidence a village in Scotland and I think you felt that your knowledge and expertise was not adequately tapped. Would you like to say a bit more about that?
Sir Garth Morrison: Every two years the Lord-Lieutenants in Scotland get together in Edinburgh for a meeting to discuss matters relating to our roles. Invariably, the civil servants responsible for the honours system are there. Every time they say, "Oh, yes. When we receive nominations or recommendations for people in your area that do not fit precisely within the scope of one Government Department, we will almost always ask the local Lord-Lieutenant for his view." I have been a Lord-Lieutenant for 11 years now and I have had one such request; I think inadequate use is made of that opportunity. It is part of my role and that of my deputies who support me to be aware of what is happening in our local Lieutenancy, and I think we are wellplaced to provide some intelligence on that.
There was one notable occasion four or five years ago where one of our Lord-Lieutenants said that such was the lack of knowledge at head office of the circumstances of a particular individual that they had to wait until he got out of jail before they could make arrangements for the presentation.
Q23 Lindsay Roy: So there is huge room for improvement. Mr Briggs, is that your experience too?
David Briggs: The one thing I would like to change is at the moment my understanding is that the only nominations for honour that come to the Lord-Lieutenants are those that do not fit neatly into any Government Department, and all the military honours. Let me just park the military ones for a moment. As far as the civilian honours are concerned, I would welcome the opportunity for me and my four committees of Deputy Lieutenants around the county to comment on all honours within the county. The vast majority at the moment do not come across my desk at all.
Q24 Lindsay Roy: Finally, are you aware of the detailed reasons around why someone has gained an honour? We have already mentioned what is on the citations, but do you have any additional information?
Sir Garth Morrison: No, except where we have been personally involved in supporting such a recommendation.
Q25 Lindsay Roy: Is that something you would welcome?
Sir Garth Morrison: I would certainly welcome it. I would welcome a dialogue. Threading right through my written evidence is the fact that I do not believe that simple "achievement in my day job" is adequate; there has to be something else-other dimensions. I sense that Lord-Lieutenants are quite well placed to comment on whether the other dimensions are in fact sound or not.
Lindsay Roy: So it is the component of additionality you would like to be involved in.
Q26 Chair: As a matter of fact, do you have any influence over the award of medals?
David Briggs: Only to the extent that if somebody is put forward for an honour and it does not fit neatly into a Government Department, a copy of all the papers is sent to the Lord-Lieutenant for him or her to comment on.
Q27 Chair: Does that include for medals as well?
David Briggs: Only for knighthoods and for the CBE to the BEM.
Q28 Paul Flynn: Could you describe what you do with honours? What is your influence? What ones do you get in? What power do you have to comment on them and to influence them in some way? What is your job?
Sir Garth Morrison: As far as the honours system is concerned?
Paul Flynn: Yes.
Sir Garth Morrison: I have already explained that part of my job and that of my deputies is to encourage people to make the appropriate nomination.
Q29 Paul Flynn: What power do you have in the awards, in choosing between candidate A and B?
Sir Garth Morrison: None at all. We have no locus on that at all. Very often, about four or five days before the announcement of an honours list, Lord-Lieutenants will receive a note from the Cabinet Office showing those in their Lieutenancy who are going to be in the honours list. It is given in confidence.
Q30 Chair: Do you ever look at that and think, "Oh, no. They’ve made a mistake"?
Sir Garth Morrison: Yes, I have to say that sometimes it comes as a slight surprise.
Q31 Chair: Did you mention that somebody in your county actually had to be let out of prison?
Sir Garth Morrison: Not in my county, Chairman, no.
Q32 Chair: But it has happened, has it?
Sir Garth Morrison: My point is it has happened. It was an anecdote that was related at one of our biannual meetings in Edinburgh during my time as a Lord-Lieutenant. I can’t place it any more accurately.
Lindsay Roy: He or she was obviously mentoring a prisoner.
Q33 Chair: I can testify that in my own county somebody got an MBE and he was on bail for fraud charges at the same time. Are you expected to be a filter to prevent this sort of thing happening?
David Briggs: To some extent we are. Life may be different in Scotland because I think there are some differences in the regional parliaments, but certainly in England if an honour does not fit neatly into a Government Department-this is largely the voluntary service, charity people and generally speaking the people who have been nominated by the public-a copy of all the papers is sent to the Lord-Lieutenant. In Cheshire we have four committees in four different regions in the county of Deputy Lieutenants, to whom I send a copy of the papers. They do some local work first to check that the nomination is true and that the facts as stated in the papers are correct. It is not infrequent that somebody puts up a relative, which they are allowed to do, and I think it is quite important, if someone nominates their son or father, that the facts of the paperwork are checked.
We do go to some trouble to try to find out whether or not the person who has been nominated merits an award and we then comment. There are a couple of paragraphs where the Lord-Lieutenants can make comments. There is a tick box to start with that starts at "Outstanding", "Very Deserving", "Deserving" and "Recognition of Local Award". For some people I have written, "Done great things. I will try to get them invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party". The reality is, until the BEM arrived, the only honour that was available was an MBE or below that an invitation to a Buckingham Palace garden party, which is largely within the gift of a Lord-Lieutenant. That is the only award-we have a quota system for inviting the great and the good to a garden party at the palace.
Q34 Paul Flynn: I seem to be getting a slightly different impression from each of your evidences. When you put down "Outstanding", "Good" or "Useless"-whatever it might be-what happens then?
David Briggs: We do then put a paragraph of further information.
Q35 Paul Flynn: And then what happens?
David Briggs: Then we send it back to the Cabinet Office. It is part of their evidence when they are considering-
Q36 Paul Flynn: So you do have influence on the selection. Is that with your own personal opinions in most of the cases, or your deputies’?
David Briggs: It is very rarely my personal opinions. Unless I happen to know the candidate personally, which happens occasionally-we have something slightly in excess of 1 million people in Cheshire so I do not know most of them-we use these groups in the different areas of the county to do some genuine local work. They really do try very hard to try and find out whether it is-
Q37 Paul Flynn: And then what happens? How many of the original list then disappear because of your recommendations?
David Briggs: I would say that more than half of papers that come to me I suggest that they are not deserving of an honour.
Q38 Paul Flynn: So you blackball a large number?
David Briggs: This is not blackballing. It is part of the evidence that goes to the cabinet committee, whatever they do with it.
Q39 Paul Flynn: Is that the end of their hopes for an award?
David Briggs: The award is not in our gift, sir. This is just part of the evidence.
Q40 Paul Flynn: You are an influential part of providing information to the committees that will make the decisions? Is that right? I am still not clear what it is exactly that you do.
David Briggs: I am sorry if I am not making it clear. There is a simple one-page piece of paper that comes from the Cabinet Office together with the papers.
Q41 Paul Flynn: Right; you get that and you tick them off and the ones-
David Briggs: We tick the paper and we write a paragraph of information: that "I have checked with my Deputy Lieutenants in South Cheshire; they have found out that the evidence in the papers is correct. Joe Bloggs has done a fantastic job and, in fact, in addition to that he has done X, Y and Z as well, and I think he is very meritorious of an honour." It may be that we say, "Actually, we don’t think it is meritorious," for whatever reason.
Q42 Paul Flynn: Are you entirely satisfied about the fairness and objectivity of your Deputy Lieutenants?
David Briggs: I am.
Q43 Paul Flynn: How are they selected?
David Briggs: The Deputy Lieutenants are selected by the Lord-Lieutenants.
Q44 Paul Flynn: So they are people who you are acquainted with or friends of yours in most cases.
David Briggs: In my case they are always people who have done something for the community.
Q45 Paul Flynn: Just to go back to the point we were making earlier on about the honour of Lord-Lieutenant and how this is distributed: are you happy that this is done in a fair, open and democratic way and we get a crosssection of society acting Lord-Lieutenants?
Chair: It is of interest to us but it is not actually part of this inquiry.
Paul Flynn: It is an honour, for goodness’ sake. It is a supreme honour, I would have thought, to become a Lord-Lieutenant. You have a job for life.
Chair: Actually it is a good deal more than an honour.
Paul Flynn: You are representing the Queen on all these major occasions.
Chair: It carries with it some considerable obligations.
Paul Flynn: I am sure it does, but it also carries with it prestige and we hear that people are lusting for invitations to a wet day out at the palace. People prize these things; it is pretty inexplicable, but people do.
Q46 Chair: Very quickly, if each of you would like to comment on that, and then we will move on.
Sir Garth Morrison: There are two things there, actually. One is that all the advice and guidance given by the Cabinet Office and writing out citations and so on is requiring people to focus on facts and achievements that actually happened, not opinions. Whenever I am asked to contribute to that I always simply state the facts. I have been asked once in 11 years because the nature of Scotland being a village is that I think the Government Departments reckon that they know what is happening in every nook and cranny in Scotland and therefore do not need to refer to Lord-Lieutenants. That sounds a bit of an injustice, but that is my experience.
Q47 Paul Flynn: We are all full of prejudices and I am sure you would give greater credence to someone who had had a distinguished career in the Boy Scout movement than to someone who had a distinguished career in the Socialist Workers Party. That affects all of us. I am suggesting that you, as a tribe of Lord-Lieutenants, are biased towards the right wing in politics and towards conservative politics because of your backgrounds and the circumstances in which you find yourselves, as rich people who can do a full-time job without pay. Is that not true? You are not representative of the community.
David Briggs: I would refute that, sir. As far as Lord-Lieutenants are concerned, it is almost exclusively about charity work. I have absolutely no idea of what the politics are of the people on whom I comment. My guess is, given that that I do my best to get into the housing estates and into the deprived parts of the county, that many of these people who do wonderful work in the community in the back streets of Crewe or Warrington are Labour Party voters. I have no idea though.
Q48 Chair: On this question of how you categorise the applicants before you, it has been remarked to me that anything less than "Highly Deserving" is a kiss of death. If you do not put "Highly Deserving" they are not going to get the honour, are they? Why not just have "Highly recommended", "Not recommended" or "Insufficient Information"? Is that not the reality when you are asked about individual cases? Am I making sense?
David Briggs: It is very difficult for me to comment on what the Cabinet Office do with the papers that we send them, because clearly I have no-
Q49 Chair: Is there a protocol? Is there some kind of written procedure of a relationship between Lord-Lieutenants and the Cabinet Office with regard to honours? Is it written down somewhere?
Sir Garth Morrison: Yes, there is guidance given to Lord-Lieutenants.
Q50 Chair: Is there an understanding of what your role is and what their role is? Is it written down and does it give you some leverage of the process, or are you just used as a dumping ground for the difficult cases?
David Briggs: I think we are used as a way of trying to get some local information in an unbiased way.
Q51 Chair: I am sure you do that very well, but do you feel you are consulted sufficiently? Do you feel you should be consulted much more?
David Briggs: I would like to be consulted on other civilian awards of citizens who live in the county.
Q52 Chair: Does that go for you, Sir Garth?
Sir Garth Morrison: As I tried to explain, we are hardly ever consulted in Scotland, not even with the community and local charity things. As I say, I have been consulted once in 11 years.
Q53 Chair: So you have all the responsibility in public imagination but actually very little of the power?
Sir Garth Morrison: Part of my job is therefore to explain that the Lord-Lieutenant currently has very little influence over the system.
Q54 Chair: Do you think this sense of frustration is a common view amongst Lord-Lieutenants?
Sir Garth Morrison: Yes.
Paul Flynn: Will you survive independence?
Chair: We are not doing independence. We might do an inquiry on independence and we might invite Sir Garth to come and give us evidence, but that is going to be a different inquiry.
Q55 Robert Halfon: If I may, I would like to go back to the question of your roles, just for a moment. Unlike my good friend Mr Flynn I am not a Cromwellian on these matters.
Chair: He just appointed generals. They had to be generals.
Robert Halfon: Could I just ask you to explain how you are actually appointed in the first place? Could you just set that out?
David Briggs: How the system works?
Robert Halfon: How you suddenly find yourselves in the position of Lord-Lieutenant?
David Briggs: Let me try. I am not totally sure that is connected with this Committee, but the position is that Lord-Lieutenants are appointed until their 75th birthday. When an existing Lord-Lieutenant is 74 and a half, the head of the honours committee comes up to the county and interviews a number of people. When I was appointed I understand there were 35 people interviewed verbally and a further 30something questioned by letter. I was extraordinarily surprised when a letter one day arrived from Gordon Brown asking if he could give my name to the Queen.
Traditionally, as Mr Flynn has said, it has been largely either very big landowners or very senior military officers. I am neither of those things. I am a small businessman, and if you look at the list there are a lot of Lord-Lieutenants now who have no title, who live in ordinary houses and who do not own any land. The Queen talks about "her service" and I think as representatives of the Queen what we try to do in a small way is also to be of service to the community. I spend the vast majority of my time trying to help the voluntary sector in various ways.
Q56 Robert Halfon: In my experience, the Lord-Lieutenant and Sheriff-and I am sure my two colleagues would agree-in Essex are hardworking and outstanding. When I have spoken to them, as I understand it, they pay for all the expenses themselves in terms of events. Whilst this is incredibly noble, does it not suggest that in order to be a Lord-Lieutenant you have to have some kind of wealth? Therefore, does this not exclude people from all walks of life from becoming Lord-Lieutenants or High Sheriffs?
David Briggs: It certainly costs me something to be Lord-Lieutenant. Let’s be clear about that. However, there are some expenses that one can claim and there are some strict rules on what you can claim for. My view is that as Lord-Lieutenant you do not have to throw all sorts of fancy parties and do lots of expensive entertaining. You absolutely could do the job of Lord-Lieutenant without having to put your hand in your pocket.
Sir Garth Morrison: When my predecessor was approaching his 75th birthday, the Secretary for Commissions, who is the civil servant in the Honours and Appointments Secretariat department of the Scottish Executive, comes into the Lieutenancy and takes soundings and meets a variety of people. As far as I am aware, the First Minister is the first sifting point before it ever reaches Downing Street, and at least three names must be presented to the First Minister. Out of those he will select one that will then be sent to the Prime Minister. Lo and behold, two days before my predecessor’s 75th birthday, a letter arrived from Mr Blair inviting me to take on the role. I was not involved in the interviewing process at all, but I had been a Deputy Lieutenant since 1984.
The scale of my area is smaller to almost a factor of 10 than my colleague’s area. I am 90,000; he is 1 million. Therefore, my knowledge of what is happening in my patch is much more intimate. I do not incur particularly great expenses; if I have a party I usually have a selffinancing party.
Q57 Robert Halfon: Are you aware of any Lord-Lieutenants or High Sheriffs on average earnings of about £20,000 a year?
David Briggs: I am not aware of the earnings of any Lord-Lieutenants.
Q58 Chair: A very good answer. Is a fundamental qualification for the job that you can confidently handle some pretty tricky social situations-you are not in awe of authority or intimidated by people in authority? That does require some exceptional people but it does not necessarily define the class or income of the people involved. Would that be an accurate description?
David Briggs: In my view you need to really care about the community because you are there to help. You have this honour and it enables you to open some doors, which other people may find difficult to open, and I like to think that I act as a bridge between different sections of society. In particular, I try and act as a bridge between the business sector and the voluntary sector. Those are the two worlds I have some experience with.
Q59 Chair: The criticism that you are picking up from one or two members of the Committee is that your own office is a closed shop. Is that changing? Should that continue to change?
Sir Garth Morrison: It is changing quite rapidly. For example, certainly the number of women Lord-Lieutenants in Scotland has very significantly increased during my time as a Lord-Lieutenant. That is extremely welcome. The other important aspect is that an organisational ability is important because the Queen has come to East Lothian three times in the last five years. To be responsible for the organisation of that and the tailoring of expectations to what can actually be delivered does require a fair amount of ability, which is part of the reason for being appointed.
Q60 Robert Halfon: Is it possible for somebody to be an efficient and good Lord-Lieutenant or High Sheriff earning an average salary of £20,000 a year, in your honest opinion?
Sir Garth Morrison: In much of Scotland, yes.
David Briggs: I do not think that finance is the issue. You have to care about the community; you have to be able to speak in public-there is quite a lot of public speaking-and at the end of the day you are the representative of the Sovereign. The first line in the job description is to preserve the dignity of the Crown. If you are able to do that, then why not?
Q61 Chair: So it would be quite difficult to be a republican.
David Briggs: I think it would be very difficult to be a republican. You clearly have to believe that the monarchy is a good thing.
Robert Halfon: That’s why you didn’t get the job, Paul.
Q62 Lindsay Roy: In terms of nomination, I think you were saying it was straightforward if the nomination matched into a Department and the evidence was departmentalbased. Are you saying that people whose nominations bridge Departments are potentially at a disadvantage within the honours system?
Sir Garth Morrison: I think they are. That is the burden of much of what I was saying in my written evidence.
Q63 Lindsay Roy: What can be done to improve that position then for those who bridge? We are talking about people who have a professional background, perhaps, who engage in voluntary activity and charity work-how does that all tie together in terms of the nomination? How is that taken forward? How could it be taken forward in a much more improved way than we have at present?
David Briggs: The Government Departments recommend people for honour and they tend to recommend people they like. The most stark situation is the military. I have some statistics for 2010-sorry that I do not have them for 2011-talking about the military. There were 1,330 UK recipients of the MBE in 2010. If we assume that the potential number of people who might have got an MBE is 25 million-obviously of the 60 million population some are children and so on-that means a one-in-19,000 chance of a civilian getting an award. In the military division there were 248 MBEs awarded. There might be a recipient population of 200,000 if we include the TA, so there was a 1-in-800 possibility of receiving a military MBE. If my maths is correct, that means it is nearly 25 times harder to win an award as a civilian.
Q64 Alun Cairns: I want to talk about the geographical breakdowns of the honours, with London and the South East far outweighing their population spread. Interestingly, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland also outweigh their population spread. Sir Garth, before we come onto the detail of those, will you talk me through the influence that devolved administrations have in relation to the honours system in Scotland, for example? You have touched on it with the Scottish Executive or the Scottish Government; can you tell me a little more about how it may well be different in Scotland compared to England or other parts of the UK?
Sir Garth Morrison: I do not think the fact the administration has devolved has made much difference, if any. To be honest, there was a more political direction given prior to the arrival of the Scottish National Party-what we now call the Scottish Government. That, for example, is my example with the NHS being a political imperative. You may remember that Mr Blair suggested that teachers and education should get greater recognition and, sure enough, a significant number of teachers appeared in the honours list. That political direction is now explicitly excluded from the consideration in Scotland. Mr Salmond and his Ministers say they take no part in that. Therefore, it is a civil service-driven operation.
Q65 Alun Cairns: That is helpful, but in terms of the process, because Mr Briggs talked about the communication that he and his Deputy Lieutenants would have with the Cabinet Office, is it different in Scotland whereby you would have your relationship with the Scottish Government, or would you have your relationship with the Cabinet office?
Sir Garth Morrison: My relationship would be with the Honours and Appointments Secretariat at St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh. I think all nominations and recommendations for residents of Scotland, even if sent directly to the Cabinet Office or sent to St Andrew’s House, will be processed in Scotland.
Chair: For the benefit of those who are English Members of Parliament, St Andrew’s House is part of the UK Government.
Sir Garth Morrison: That’s the Whitehall part of the Scottish Government.
Q66 Alun Cairns: Presumably that would be the same in Wales, as a Welsh Member of Parliament, and to Northern Ireland and their administration as well?
Sir Garth Morrison: I think so. The big difference, which my colleague has clearly identified, is that for all those nominations for people who do not fit comfortably within a Government Department, reference is made out to the Lord-Lieutenant. Lord-Lieutenants in England have a system whereby they make those assessments and report back as part of the sifting process. In Scotland, we do not have that.
Q67 Alun Cairns: Would you therefore say that the opportunity for political patronage in Scotland could well be greater because the role of the Lord-Lieutenant is reduced in terms of sifting out and analysing those nominations?
Sir Garth Morrison: I am not sure I would go so far as to say that it is more politically driven than England. I am not really able to comment on that. What I do know is that when people ask me about it I say that it is essentially a political process driven by the Prime Minister’s office, which is the Cabinet Office, in which Lord-Lieutenants in Scotland play very little part except on those rare occasions when we are invited to comment on a nomination.
Q68 Alun Cairns: Let me just make a statement, then, in relation to Wales. I certainly feel that there is far more political bias in the nomination system in Wales. That is from analysing the honours twice a year when they come out. The accusation that Mr Flynn made about the Cabinet Office-and I do not mean this in a party political way-could easily be made in relation to the situation in Wales because of the control, as well as the appointment of the Lord-Lieutenants; I assume that there would be a similar system whereby, as you have talked about, the Scottish Government would have a strong input in the appointment of Lord-Lieutenants, as the Welsh Government would have in Wales.
Therefore, can I come now to the main thrust of what I wanted to talk about? The spread tends to bias London and the south-east, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. How would you account for that? Can I come to you, Mr Briggs?
David Briggs: I think the answer to that question is that Government is in those areas. Clearly, there is not a lot of Government, and central Government is not administered from the North West of England. I think I am right in saying that the North West of England has a smaller percentage of honours compared to its population than any other region of the country. I make that point every time I speak publicly on this issue and that is why I encourage more people to nominate people for honours. The way the system works at present is that a lot of Government officers receive awards and they tend to be based in the south-east of England.
Q69 Chair: So your objection to the day-job people getting their awards automatically is that they are crowding out other geographical regions where public servants are not concentrated, and they are crowding out the volunteers and the citizens’ nominations. Is that the objection?
David Briggs: I am trying not to be critical, because I am not suggesting that anybody who gets an honour does not deserve one. That is not what I am here to do, but I do think that there are, as we have said several times this morning, people who get honours because of their job and that is it. Traditionally if you are a Permanent Secretary you have a gong associated with that position.
Q70 Chair: If there are to be honours for certain jobs automatically, then you object to that day-job honouring in principle, but if they are to exist then you would insist that they are a separate list and they do not crowd out others-if there are a lot of retiring Permanent Secretaries or a lot of retiring senior civil servants who are getting MBEs, or a lot of military officers who are getting MBEs, that that should not crowd out the number of ordinary citizens who are getting MBEs. It should be a separate allocation.
David Briggs: I think there might be a case for a separate allocation of people who have served the Government rather than those who have served the community.
Q71 Chair: Ironically, it has just been announced that Parliament should have a separate allocation of honours. We were not consulted about this, but we are including it within the scope of our inquiry. It is so that the Clerk of the House and I suppose a quota of Members of Parliament should get their knighthoods. There was a concern that the Cabinet Secretary had previously said that the Clerk of the House should not automatically get a knighthood. How do we grapple with this problem? In certain jobs there is an expectation that honours should be bestowed.
David Briggs: There may be some exceptional situations where it is actually for the benefit of the country that people get an award-for example, ambassadors to major countries. The Government might take a view that if you are the British Ambassador in Washington you should have a knighthood; it gives you more prestige and that is good for the country. You might even take that view with certain senior people from industry and you might take it with senior people from Government Departments as well, but they will be the exceptions.
Q72 Chair: And they should not crowd out the availability or the allocation of honours to public volunteers and people who are serving the public in their own communities.
David Briggs: Correct.
Q73 Chair: I think that is the nub of it.
Sir Garth Morrison: There are two issues here. One is about the fact that the ones you were talking about just now can crowd out and make less space for those who contribute in a much wider sense. There is also, of course, the quality of the written citation that is an issue. It is part of the civil service profession to be able to write effective reports, papers and citations. I just sense in response to the issue about Scotland doing rather well, I am pretty certain that in terms of the civil servants in Scotland, the heads of the various divisions sit down and say, "We want to get our fair share of honours here. Let’s turn our formidable writing skills to make sure that we get more than our fair share". That is doing them a disservice, but set that against some small community group; take the local Riding for the Disabled Association, where the chairman has worked her socks off for the last 15 years in addition to running a hotel. Whether she will get recognised or not I do not know, but it does depend an awful lot upon the quality of the citation that is written. I know the Cabinet Office have issued guidance on this area about how to write citations, but at the end of the day, when the little group of civil servants sit down in Whitehall or in St Andrew’s House to sift out their recommendations to the honours committees, I sense the playing field is not wholly level.
Q74 Alun Cairns: In pursuing the issue of the regional distribution of honours, Sir Garth, I did not give you the opportunity to respond about why you think that there is such a disproportionate distribution. Then I have one final question, with the Chairman’s permission.
Sir Garth Morrison: Every time we meet every two years in Edinburgh to discuss matters around Lord-Lieutenants’ roles and so forth, we also have an input from the Honours and Appointments Secretariat division in the Scottish Office, and someone from the Cabinet Office comes up and shares with us the figures about which you are talking. There is no doubt the Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Office is there and several other civil servants, and they are saying, "We’ve done well, haven’t we?" I sense that is nothing to do with us, but they have done well, and they set themselves to strike as well as they possibly can.
Q75 Alun Cairns: Sir Garth, under this arrangement do you feel deprived of the opportunity to promote some community groups from your area because the system is slightly different to that Mr Briggs faces, where he is asked to verify, validate, qualify and support nominations in his part, whereas you have less of an influence on that because of the relationship you described with the Scottish Executive?
Sir Garth Morrison: "Deprived" is probably rather stronger a word than I would have used, but I sense that it is a great advantage for England that all those recommendations that are made for those who do not fall within a Government Department, who are mainly in the voluntary or charitable sector, are considered by Lord-Lieutenants there; it is an advantage to them which we do not enjoy in Scotland.
Q76 Alun Cairns: Therefore, an attitude to overcome the South East and London dominance very often within Government-and I mean this across all Government-is to localise the decision or to devolve the decision, but ironically in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland it has arguably centralised the decision-making process rather than devolving it out to Lord-Lieutenants as in England. Is that a fair assessment?
Sir Garth Morrison: Yes, although it is important to have in mind proportionality and scale here. In Cheshire there are 1 million-and I am not the smallest in Scotland by any means at 90,000-and so on this question of how far you devolve out, I just sense that if I were consulted more regularly-not speaking on behalf of my colleagues at all-about nominations for people living within East Lothian, I would have more confidence in the system.
Q77 Alun Cairns: Do you have any closing questions on this part?
David Briggs: No; other than to say that because I have to comment on people who are nominated, I do not propose people, because I think it is inappropriate to propose people, so to that extent it actually limits what I can do. If I think that somebody deserves an honour I might suggest that it is up to someone else, not me. Theoretically, I am allowed to nominate people because I am a citizen, but in practice I think it is inappropriate to do that because it is quite inappropriate that I should nominate then have to comment on my own nomination. Therefore, I would be encouraging others in the community to put the person concerned up for an honour, rather than doing it myself.
Q78 David Heyes: I just have a quick question to Mr Briggs on this issue of regional disparity. Has the abolition of the Government Office for the North West region made a difference in your case? I understand they were consulted in a similar way to the way the Lord-Lieutenancy is consulted about proposed nominations.
David Briggs: I am not aware of it making any difference and I cannot remember when the Government Office in the North West came to an end. It was probably before I became Lord-Lieutenant, so I cannot comment.
Q79 Kelvin Hopkins: We have talked about regional distribution. In terms of local distribution, in your view is it important that the distribution of honours reflects the make-up of your local population and the population of the UK as a whole? I may say that my own constituency and my own town has a very large ethnic minority. I think half the children in the schools are from a wide range of ethnic minority backgrounds. How far do you think honours should reflect local populations?
David Briggs: Sir Garth has already mentioned the female element and I think we are now very close to 50% of nominations being female. My understanding is there are three sections of society that are not adequately represented: the north-west of England as a whole, women and ethnic minorities. I make that point in all my public speeches and I try and encourage people to nominate people from those minority communities. I am not the best Lord-Lieutenant to talk about this because the ethnic population in Cheshire is something under 2%.
Q80 Kelvin Hopkins: In fact in the most recent honours, the 2012 New Year Honours List, the ethnic minority group has leapt up to 11%, which is a pretty significant move, and 43% women, so things have improved. However, do we want to see more people from different social classes represented? I think that is one thing that is very noticeable; there tends to be a class bias.
David Briggs: In a perfect world, we do. However, we also want to make sure that we maintain the standard of honours and we do not just give people honours because of statistics. It seems to me very important that the service that people have given in order to receive an honour merits that honour irrespective of their gender or their ethnicity.
Q81 Kelvin Hopkins: The other problem with ethnicity, of course, is that there are a wide range of ethnicities. Do you think that those who decide upon honours should be sensitive to the fact that there are a wide range of ethnicities and should maintain some degree of balance between them?
David Briggs: I think it is very important that all of us in public positions are aware of the ethnicity of the UK and that we are a multiracial society.
Q82 Kelvin Hopkins: Indeed. There is one thing I should say in your defence: I normally agree with everything my good friend Paul Flynn says, but I know because it has happened locally that Lord-Lieutenant is not an honour because you can retire from the position; Sam Whitbread recently has as Lord-Lieutenant for Bedfordshire. You cannot retire from an honour, although I suppose you could in theory.
David Briggs: Not only can you retire, you also have to retire when you are 75.
Q83 David Heyes: Like Kelvin, I normally readily agree with Paul on most things and my starting point would have been to be quite critical of the Lord-Lieutenancy, not you personally. I have completely changed my view after this morning; I think there is a good argument for a much enhanced role for the Lord-Lieutenancy for the sort of reasons that you have touched on about the perception of a closed shop, the honours for doing the day job and that sort of thing. There is a real scope for the Lord-Lieutenancy to help as a counterbalance towards that, so I am going to eschew my question to invite comments on that. I suspect you are both too modest to make the argument for an enhanced role for the Lord-Lieutenancy but clearly there is an argument for it.
David Briggs: Clearly, I did not come here to talk about the role of Lord-Lieutenant; I came here to talk about the honours system. However, certainly the way I have chosen to exercise the role of Lord-Lieutenant is that clearly I do the ceremonial part of the job-organising royal visits, presenting awards on occasions, commenting on the honours system, which we have talked about this morning-I would say that the whole of that is less than 20% of my time. The other 80% of my time is helping charities to raise money and, as I have already said, to act as a bridge between the business world and the charity world, and to harness the fantastic amount of good will that I perceive to be in the business sector. It is what the Prime Minister would call the Big Society.
There is a huge amount of good will in the business sector and I think it can be harnessed to help the voluntary sector. I am trying very hard to make the voluntary sector more effective and more efficient. It is a very important part of the UK economy and I think the Lord-Lieutenant can play a role in making the voluntary sector more efficient. That is my passion.
Q84 David Heyes: But with the support of more influence over the award of honours. That would seem to sit alongside that.
David Briggs: There is a connection, clearly. As a result of the work I do in the voluntary sector, I meet some people who do outstanding things. Clearly, those who do the most outstanding things can be put forward for honour. It is a small percentage; there are not that many honours.
Q85 Paul Flynn: I have some final questions on this. You just talked about the charities, and many of the charities are very upset by the Government’s Big Society proposals because about £4 billion is going to disappear from their funding, and a much smaller amount, about £600 million, is being paid to them. The Government have said that they want to promote the Big Society by using the honours system in order to give awards to people. Many people would see it as a very cheap wheeze by the Government or a political stunt, which the Big Society is. Do you think it is right to use the honours system to pursue a political objective, as the Government are doing?
David Briggs: The reason I am hesitating, Sir, is because I have to be apolitical in this role. I find that you put me in a difficult position to answer a political question that I think it is inappropriate as a Lord-Lieutenant to answer.
Q86 Paul Flynn: Do you think the honours system should be distorted by politicians for their own ends, which is what I am asking you here?
David Briggs: No, I don’t.
Q87 Paul Flynn: I think the evidence you have given is something on which we generally agree. We all know of instances, particularly in the military, where if you get to a certain position you get an honour. We have a colleague who was given an honour and refused it because he already had an honour, but the automatic system is the reason. The other point with the changes by the present Government has been they are seeking to reward unselfish philanthropic acts. If a philanthropic act is unselfish, it would be an anonymous one.
I have shared with the Committee an experience I had with a friend of mine who asked how to get an honour and I advised him, and I advised him to give money to charities. I said he should give them to the fashionable charities, like the Prince’s Trust, and every £1 he gave to the Prince’s Trust is worth £100 if he gave it to Mind or to Oxfam, which do not have that same kudos. He was in the last distribution awards and got his gong by following the advice I gave him, which was practical advice given to him cynically. I do not think it is any credit to him; he actually bought his award. How can we stop this happening?
David Briggs: In my very first remarks this morning I did say that I was concerned about the new philanthropy committee and that in my personal view you should not be able to buy an honour. Clearly, if you have given a lot of money to a charity it is a factor, but you should, in addition to writing a cheque, have to spend some time and get involved.
Q88 Paul Flynn: Don’t you feel there is a danger that the Government are filling the gaps in the charitable giving by using the honours system to encourage philanthropists to fill in those gaps and give their own contributions? This is not a legitimate use of the honours system.
Chair: If that is too political, I think the Committee would respect your reticence on that question. The question in a way makes its own point, Mr Flynn.
Paul Flynn: Can we come back to the other point? I don’t know if you want to talk about the Lord-Lieutenancy, but you regard it as being hopelessly out of balance politically.
Chair: I don’t think that’s what they did say.
Q89 Paul Flynn: Mr Morrison, you do not sound like the Scottish members of our Committee; you are clearly one of the great and the good in Scotland. There is this aristocratic view of the Lord-Lieutenancy that is still there, but it is getting better in every way than it was 30 years ago when I offered my services.
Chair: Do you wish to comment further on that question?
Sir Garth Morrison: My whole approach has been the other way around altogether. First of all, I think that the abuse of the honours system for political purposes has been reducing, and inquiries like this and a more open treatment of the process has improved things. My perspective is that people who have achieved great things in their particular field of endeavour or employment or whatever-there has to be something additional to that. As my colleague here says, it could be a contribution of money but also time and involvement.
In my written evidence, I talk about the fact that an industrialist who achieves the peak of his profession normally gets a knighthood. I sense that in order to qualify for a knighthood there must be evidence of additional influence and work within the community, for the wellbeing of the community. You are now talking about the Prince’s Trust or the Youth Business Trust, just as examples, and that is the way I would look at it. To distort it and to allow the judgment by an honours committee to be distorted by the wish of central Government to give greater emphasis to this is dangerous ground.
Q90 Greg Mulholland: There is clearly still a problem with public perception of the honours system and how open and fair it is, even though people are reasonably welldisposed towards the idea of the honours system. A survey carried out by the Cabinet Office in 2009 found out that only 44% of the public agreed that the honours system is open and fair in the way it operates. Is that something that you feel is a concern in your respective areas and what can be done to try to improve that?
David Briggs: I think the word "open" is probably more important than the word "fair". There have been a few public cases where people are concerned about people buying honours and so on, but I think they are the exception. The word "open" is more important, and in my written evidence I used the words "closed shop". A large number of the public are of the view that it is a closed shop and they will not get an honour because they are not posh enough. I think that is untrue and I do my best to try and encourage those sorts of people to nominate people who deserve it for honours in those sorts of realms. That is really important and very much part of the job.
My understanding is that those people on the honours committee want people who are working hard in local communities, maybe in very humble circumstances, to be honoured for what they do and it is absolutely right that they should be honoured for that. Anything that all of us in public life can do to try to make it very clear that the honours system is open to all is important; I believe that it is open to all, but I believe there is a perception that it is not.
Sir Garth Morrison: I would agree with that. It is an improving situation, because I think the previous survey was probably in the region of 35%. We are seeing an improvement, but it is a long way to go and it is a significant part of my role in East Lothian, as I go around taking part in activities and so forth, to remind those with whom I interact that, "The honours system is in fact something that you all participate in. I sense if you make the recommendation you stand a better chance than if I made it."
Q91 Greg Mulholland: Do you think that figure would go up even further if there was more detail as to why honours were awarded? Do you feel there is a need for more information about why honours are being awarded?
Sir Garth Morrison: Both of us have expressed the view that the public citation for the award is usually pathetically small. It says, "For services to the Justice Department" or whatever. I did actually touch on one made in my own area relatively recently where, in fact, the citation said, "For services to a Government Department in Edinburgh and to the local community". Of course, he is actively involved in youth work within his local community and I can tell you that award received an extremely high level of approval from the local community because they saw that it was not just for doing his day job in St Andrew’s House or wherever it is. I sense that a fuller explanation there would be helpful.
David Briggs: I would agree with that. I can think of a lady I know in Cheshire who has just got an MBE in the last New Year Honours List who has done all sorts of things with very small charities and good works locally, largely in one village. I think a lot of people would be rather surprised if they knew that she had got an MBE and I think that should have been publicised more widely. Every single event that I ever go to in that village, she is in the kitchen doing the cooking or the washing up. However, she has done this for 30 years, she is a real stalwart of the community, and she has a really welldeserved MBE for it. Currently there are two words-I think it said "For services to the community in the village"-but if there were a paragraph explaining what this lady had done it might well encourage more people to nominate others.
Q92 Greg Mulholland: The other issue that has been raised in several submissions from other Lord-Lieutenants is the speed of the process and the fact that it takes, to quote Peter Stephen, Lord-Lieutenant of Aberdeen, "far too long". Do you share that feeling that there is a problem and that we should find a way of speeding up that process?
Sir Garth Morrison: The answer is yes. It is interesting because the Lord-Lieutenants of the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee are in fact the Lords Provost by virtue of their appointment, and that term can be as short as four years. It is a bit depressing if you take part in a process and you are out of office before you see any conclusion. That is where Provost Stephen is probably coming from when making those remarks. It does take a very long time and also the citation and the nomination papers go into what appears to be a black hole from which you hear nothing.
We are occasionally enabled to ring up the office and say, "Hey, I'm aware of a recommendation for soandso. Can you tell me about its progress?" I will get a curt, factual reply saying, "This is where it’s reached" and whether the chances of success are great or not, but that is the limit of it. I think the wider public are concerned, because these nominations go in and nothing more is heard unless, hooray, an award is made.
Q93 Lindsay Roy: Whilst there is a perception that it is a laborious process and very time-consuming, could it not also be construed that it is therefore quite a robust process and that is why it takes so much time?
David Briggs: I am not personally familiar enough with what actually happens during the process, but I think it is really important that it is a robust process, and it will take some time. I would share Sir Garth’s comments: if the system can be speeded up and it still be a robust process then clearly that would be an advantage.
Q94 Lindsay Roy: Is it your experience that the process is robust?
Sir Garth Morrison: I am absolutely certain it is robust.
David Briggs: I have certainly had no issues of anybody I know getting an honour who should not have done.
Sir Garth Morrison: It is robust. I am absolutely clear about that. I sense that the imposition of deadlines or targets for speed of process might concentrate minds within Government Departments a little bit more than they are at the moment.
Q95 Greg Mulholland: Can I just ask about a slightly different issue? This relates clearly to the concern about the political tinkering in the honours system, which of course has reared its head from time to time, and that leads directly to the trust concerns that some people have. Clearly, reform of the House of Lords is in the media at the moment and on the political agenda and there are very different views around this very table on whether that is a good thing, and about if, how and when. Do you agree with me that there is a fundamental problem that damages the honours system because we have political appointees, both former Members of Parliament and indeed outsiders to the House of Lords, who then immediately become, at the say-so of the Prime Minister, Lord So–and–so of So–and–so, which frankly to most ordinary people sounds like an honour and sounds far grander than Someone MBE.
I am not at all asking your views on whether we should have a reformed second Chamber, elected, appointed or not; that is clearly not the remit of the inquiry. However, do you agree that there is a fundamental problem because we have all these Lords, Baronesses, etc, who are perceived to have been given an honour, and yet they are simply supposed to be legislators?
David Briggs: In the papers I received, peerages were specifically excluded from this inquiry. I think it is a totally different position to an honour. If you become a knight of the realm or a BEM, at the end of the day that gives you no power; it is quite simply an honour. It is a very different discussion if you are giving a title to somebody that makes them part of the Legislature and that is certainly not within my brief today.
Sir Garth Morrison: The concern you are expressing, of course, is that in the public mind they are closely allied, and in fact almost one and the same thing. I agree with my colleague that they are two totally separate things, and we would welcome measures to ensure that the public perception is that they are separate.
Q96 Greg Mulholland: I appreciate what you are saying but it is interesting that many people have raised it in their submission, including, I think, some Lord-Lieutenants. The simple question I am asking is: should we really be calling legislators Lord So–and–so of So–and–so Borough, or should they simply be called their name and some way of designating that they are legislators in the way that I am Greg Mulholland MP? Would that not help them to differentiate, and help elevate the status of the honours system, which as you say is a purely honorary thing?
David Briggs: I do not really want to comment. My understanding is that this investigation is from knighthoods to BEMs and does not deal with peerages.
Chair: I think you are right.
Q97 Greg Mulholland: It has come up in the evidence quite a lot, Chair.
David Briggs: It may have come up in the evidence but it was not part of the questions.
Q98 Greg Mulholland: I think it is unavoidable; that’s my point. I think it is unavoidable and I think it is the elephant in the room.
David Briggs: My comment to that is in my view it should be separated. I do believe that a position in the House of Lords is a completely different situation to giving somebody a knighthood or the awards we have been talking about this morning.
Chair: I think it is perfectly legitimate for you to ask the question, but I think it is also legitimate for our witnesses to defer that that is a separate issue.
Greg Mulholland: Indeed. Just to make clear, I entirely accept that. As you probably guess, I think it is a ludicrous aberration that we do not elect all our legislators in this country.
Chair: You do disappoint me.
Q99 Paul Flynn: Could I ask a general question on this House? It would be interesting to get our witnesses’ opinion of it. 25 years ago, no Labour Member of Parliament accepted a knighthood, but all Conservatives who served about 15 years had a knighthood, except those who had been caught in possession of intelligent ideas or an independent turn of mind. Think of Robert Adley, who complained bitterly about this before his death. I genuinely think that there is a group of people who refuse honours, and the fact that people want honours is a very good reason in many cases why they are not worthy of honours. Isn’t the highest accolade one can give to anyone a little badge with HRH on it, saying, "Has refused honour"-yes or no?
David Briggs: I actually do not agree with you, Sir. I think that the award of an MBE to people like the woman I described two minutes ago gives them a huge amount of pleasure. It is recognition of their work and I think it is a good thing.
Paul Flynn: For every one who gets the MBE there are 49 who do not and who feel aggrieved about it because they are as good as this lady who does the washing up that you described.
Q100 Lindsay Roy: Are you aware of the percentage of those nominated who actually refuse an honour? Does that information come to you?
David Briggs: I am not aware of the answer, no.
Chair: That is published.
Q101 Lindsay Roy: But for your own area?
David Briggs: I am personally not aware.
Sir Garth Morrison: All we know is that I think in the Cabinet Office paper to this Committee, it tells us 11 were declined in 20-
Q102 Chair: We have kept you for an inordinately long time on the witness stand and we are very grateful to you. Could I just ask one final question? Do you have any views about the Honours Forfeiture Committee? Did you have any feelings about the way it operated recently?
Sir Garth Morrison: I am extremely uneasy about what happened in those circumstances and I feel there was a scapegoating of a particular individual, which I think is quite damaging and I would like to have seen it done differently.
Q103 Chair: It has been suggested to us that the Honours Forfeiture Committee should be of a more legal character and it should be more evidentially based and less politically directed. Would you agree with that?
David Briggs: I noticed in the submission that you received from the Association of Lord-Lieutenants that there was a suggestion that the chairman might be a Lord Justice of Appeal, which would clearly give it a more legalistic structure. The only comment I would make is that it is really important that that the Honours Forfeiture Committee is not seen to be influenced by the tabloid press.
Chair: On that note of purity and detachment, I would like to thank you very much indeed. You have been really helpful and informative to our inquiry-a great start. Thank you very much indeed.