This week in the Queens Birthday Honours list, new gongs will be given by Cameron's own Committee of Commons cronies. Here is the un-corrected Hansard for PASC's discussion on this new Cameronian Cock-up. MPs from both main parties expressed disappoval of the new 'Gongs for Lick-spittles' Committe.
<Chair:> We are moving on to the Political Service Honours Committee.
Q191 <Paul Flynn:> This extraordinary committee, which was formed in secret, without the consent or the knowledge of MPs, has the job of distributing honours to Members of Parliament and other people involved in the parliamentary service. I asked my fellow MPs this morning at breakfast what their opinion was of this. I could not find a single MP who knew about it. Everyone I asked whether they would accept an honour from this committee gave a replies that I cannot repeat.They said was that, if offered, they would firmly and impolitely suggest an alternative destination for that honour.
Is this not a crass idea, knowing the public’s view of politicians at the moment? Politicians are not respected. The public will see this as an attempt by politicians, having grabbed everything else, to grab the gongs as well.
Sir Bob Kerslake: The committee was set up at the proposal of the current Prime Minister. It was his proposal and it was something that he was keen and we were keen to get moving quickly. There had been previous arrangements whereby—it is important to say there had not been people in political spheres—
Q192 <Paul Flynn:> Why did it not go through Parliament?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We have, as you know, made a statement to Parliament, but the proposal came from the Prime Minister and we followed the normal practice, where there is a proposal from the Prime Minister to form a committee. There was a desire to move quickly on this and, therefore, Michael Spicer was asked to chair the committee.
Q193 <Paul Flynn:> Why was there a desire to move quickly?
Sir Bob Kerslake: In order to get the new arrangements set up and running.
Q194 <Paul Flynn:> The new arrangements consist of a prominent part of that committee being the chief whips of all parties. What it will be doing is strengthening the patronage of the whips, whereas the Tony Wright reforms move in the opposite direction. What we want is to weaken the power of the whips. Did you consider, if you were rewarding people who were the whips’ favourites, introducing a new parliamentary award of the Order of the Lickspittle or the Order of the Toady, which would be appropriate? At one time there were automatic awards given to Members of Parliament, in one party, if they had served here for 20 years, except those, like Robert Adley, who had been caught in possession of intelligent ideas or rebellious ideas. This is re‑establishing the obedience of MPs to serve causes that the whips want, and is a retrograde step.
Sir Bob Kerslake: The whips are one part of the committee, not the only part.
Q195 <Paul Flynn:> There are three of them, are there not?
Sir Bob Kerslake: There are three of them on it; quite right. They are not the only members of the committee. It is not just rewarding MPs; it is for those involved in parliamentary and other political service. They will make their recommendations, and do make their recommendations, on the same criteria as we do for every other committee, and they come forward to the main committee for consideration.
Richard Tilbrook: If I may add one clarification, as with all committees, there is a majority of independent members.
<Paul Flynn:> Independent like Lord Butler and Baroness Hayman? These are establishment figures in the House, who would stand up for conformity in Parliament. I have just finished a book on the person I regard as the greatest Back Bencher.
<Chair:> We are not advertising books here.
Q196 <Paul Flynn:> There is no profit made on the books, so there is no commercial interest in this. This is a man whose philanthropy was such that I found out things that his wife did not know—the money he gave away. He did it entirely secretly. How can you reward selfless philanthropy if people advertise their generosity?
<Chair:> This is a different question; we are looking at the Honours Committee at the moment.
Sir Bob Kerslake: The test of the parliamentary committee will be through those who gain honours, and whether Parliament and others believe that they are worthy of those honours. I do not think you can judge the system until it has done its work.
Q197 <Paul Flynn:> I remember Robert Adley being asked by the Speaker at the time to withdraw the word ‘lickspittle’, because it was automatic. People had the award just for sitting on the green benches for 20 years without actually saying a word. There were rewards for blind, dumb obedience. You are putting that system back in; this is an establishment committee. Most MPs would turn down any award from this system, because we are already rewarded by our re‑elections and we are actually paid for the job.
Q201 <Lindsay Roy:> Can I just clarify? If it is the same criteria that apply for exceptional service above and beyond the call of duty, why is there a need for a separate award?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think we have covered that point, which is that—
Q202 <Lindsay Roy:> Is it because the Prime Minister says so?
Sir Bob Kerslake: As has already been said, it allows a specific consideration of those who have made a contribution in terms of Parliament and parliamentary service. It is recognising that as a distinct contribution, but the criteria are the same. That is what I am saying.
Q203 <Lindsay Roy:> The call has not come from anywhere else other than from the Prime Minister.
Richard Tilbrook: For every committee, the members of that committee are experts in that field, and so it is appropriate for the political committee to have that same benefit.
Q205 <Kelvin Hopkins:> I just want to reinforce the point made by my colleague and honourable friend, Mr Flynn. With the chief whip of the political parties on the committee, anybody coming forward from a particular political party, the chief whip of that party just puts the blue line through and they will not get in. If the name crops up and they were talking with the leader of the party, effectively the leader of the party, the Prime Minister or whoever, will immediately blackball anybody they do not like. It is a system that will work negatively rather than positively, stopping anybody who is not in favour with the whips.
Richard Tilbrook: That is not the only route that names will come forward to the committee. Names also come forward from members of the public.
Q206 <Kelvin Hopkins:> It is the parliamentary committee¸ because you have got parliamentarians on that committee.
Q208 <Robert Halfon:> Do you think one answer might be that the committee should be like a select committee and composed of elected members, who deal with parliamentary and policy honours?
Richard Tilbrook: That would be rather against the grain of all the recent reforms to the honours system, which have been to de‑politicise it as far as possible.
Q209 <Robert Halfon:> Can I just interject? If it were a select committee, you would have MPs from all parties in the same way that you do now. It is already politicised because of the people who are on this new parliamentary committee.
Richard Tilbrook: What makes it different is that it has independent members who are not MPs and they are in the majority. I do not see how your proposal would quite work.
Sir Bob Kerslake: The other point is that, while clearly MPs are perhaps the primary group who are considered, it is not only MPs who are being considered for honours through this particular committee.
Q210 <Robert Halfon:> I am talking about the political and MP honours. Surely to have that decided by a parliamentary committee of elected members is the fairest way of doing it, rather than just appointed people.
Q211 <Priti Patel:> Sir Bob, with regards to the Parliamentary and Political Service Honours Committee, why should the public trust this committee? How can the public have confidence that this is not certain sections of the British establishment handing out gongs to each other, and just patting themselves on the back and rewarding each other?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think we have been through some of the arguments on that. Clearly we cannot, through this process, change public attitudes and their trust in politicians, bluntly. What we can do is to try to establish a committee that has a mix of those involved through the whips and through independent members as well. If you are going to have a group of people who are going to look at the specifics and have specific knowledge of those who are in the parliamentary area who might receive honours, this is to me a reasonable way of trying to do it. What we cannot do is change people’s attitudes towards politicians, but it is a system that has built‑in safeguards, as I said earlier, and it is a sub‑committee of the main committee. Ultimately, the main committee makes the decisions.
Q212 <Priti Patel:> On that point, to actually instil public confidence in the honours system and a degree of trust with members of the public—not about the establishment, not about Members of Parliament—how would you actually sell this particular committee to the public and say that it is not a stitch‑up; it is actually for good works and public service?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We would sell it, as we were saying, as we talked about earlier, that we wanted to bring distinct knowledge and expertise from the political field, which is an important part of life in Britain, and one way of doing that was to establish a distinct committee that did it. That is the way we would do it. In the same way as we have a committee for sports, business or the community and voluntary sector. It is the same principle, exactly the same principle.
Richard Tilbrook: If I can just add again for the birthday honours list that is coming up, the committee did not fulfil its full allocation, because it was absolutely concerned about merit.