The award of honours is intended to recognise exceptional achievement and service. While this recognition is greatly valued by the people who receive honours, concerns about the number of people who are honoured for simply "doing the day job", and the perception that honours are linked to political donations, have threatened the credibility of the system as a whole.
We believe reform is needed in order to increase transparency and public confidence in the honours system.
We believe that no-one should be honoured for simply "doing the day job", no matter what that job is. Honours should be awarded only for exceptional service above and beyond the call of duty. This would result in a far higher proportion of honours being awarded to people who devote their time to the local community, instead of to politicians, civil servants, and celebrities. There should be no special privileges or quotas for groups of society or certain professions: instead the honours system should be fair and open to all.
We are concerned at the perception that political considerations influence who receives an honour. We recommend that, to ensure public trust, there should be no political direction over and involvement in the award of honours. Instead an independent Honours Commission should be established to select recipients using clear criteria which set out the circumstances in which honours should be awarded. The system should be quicker and more transparent, with set timescales for considering nominations and feedback on unsuccessful nominations.
We also considered the recommendation of the Honours Forfeiture Committee to strip Fred Goodwin, the former Chief Executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, of the knighthood he had been awarded in 2004 for services to banking.
We also recommend that the criteria for forfeiture should be much clearer. The current charge of "bringing the honours system into disrepute" is subjective and should be clarified by a list of actions or behaviour which meet this test.
In the same way that politicians should not be able to influence the award of honours, they should not have any say in decisions to strip people of honours they have already received. The honours forfeiture committee should be replaced by an Independent Forfeiture Committee, chaired by a figure of independent standing, such as a retired high court judge, to consider proposals for forfeiture, acting on evidence and according to clear and expanded criteria including damage to the industry or sector the individual was deemed to have exceptionally served.
These changes would help restore the credibility of the honours system. They would make it easier to understand why honours are awarded and remove political influence over the process. In this way, we would have an open and independent system which honours those who truly deserve recognition.