The invitation from The Churchill Society to give the society's 1998 Christmas Lecture resulted from a letter published in The Times on December 31st 1997.
I wrote as follows:
Complaint of flaw in the Honours system.
'When Mr John Major's "classless society" failed to bring about any change, I hoped that the "people's Prime Minister" might improve matters. But his first list was just as flawed as those of his predecessor. By my calculation, over 55 per cent of those on it received honours which went with the job.
The Queen set a good example at the beginning of her reign by abolishing the presentation at court of young women of no virtue other than sometimes of their family background but more often the depth of their purses, and greedy impoverished dowagers willing to make a bob or two by sponsorship.
Only two categories of person should be honoured: those who have performed some signal service beyond their duty or job and those who have shown outstanding heroism - and no-one else'.
This produced a flood of letters apart from those published in reply to it by The Times. All, without exception, agreed with the sentiments expressed in the final paragraph. Later in this lecture I will outline an alternative way of deciding who should he considered to be honoured.
Throughout our recorded history successive monarchs, who in theory are the 'fount of all honour', have used the system that they created, inherited or added to:- to ennoble their offspring, pay off debts to retainers and their favourites at Court, bribe others without having to dip into and deplete the royal coffers. A cheap device.
Likewise, in the name of the monarch, prime ministers and leading politicians have used, and abused, the same system to line their own and the their party's pockets; to blackmail party members into compliance, and to keep errant MPs toeing the party line in the voting lobbies.
The honours system has been used to maintain life long obedience from members of the Armed Services, to ensure that our ambassadors continue to lie for their country, to keep civil servants eternally civil and obedient, the judiciary and in recent years, local government counsellors and senior permanent staff.
How does the Honours system work at present?
Honours Unit To which all nominations for honours
go from public government
departments interest groups and business.
Special Committees Approve nominations and levels of awards in fields of local public service,
medicine, science and technology, business , the arts, sport,
state servants and management or trade union practice.
Central Honours Committee Chaired by the Cabinet Secretary,
at present Sir Richard Wilson,
checks to insure high standard and balance by region and interest.
Prime Minister Who may add to or remove names;
Honours Scrutiny Committee is supposed to vet all political awards.
The Queen As "The Fount of all Honour" gives final approval
and official announcement in The London Gazette.
What are the mechanics for recommendations?
During his premiership John Major, in pursuit of his ideal of the "classless society", promised to end all "gongs with jobs". As an integral part of his vision, he invited members of the general public, if they knew someone who they felt was worthy of an honour, to complete and submit an official form on which they could nominate that individual man or woman.
But in reality, his "classless society" did not work, apart from awarding a few almost token M.B.E's to dustmen, lollipop ladies, caretakers, et al. Worthy people yes, but they were used as tools for media and political publicity purposes.
The sources of most nominations for honours come from the following:
(1). Foreign and Commonwealth Office - which puts forward the names of civil servants and diplomats working in British embassies, consular offices, etc. Here is an interesting, and to my mind absurd, wrinkle about these honours.
In a small foreign country the most likely final award for an incumbent ambassador would be the C.M.G. (Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George).
But if the Queen pays a State Visit to that country, the ambassador is automatically given a knighthood, usually a K.C.M.G. (Knight Commander within the same order).
(2). Ministry of Defence - which puts forward the names of men and women serving in the Royal Navy, the Army, the Royal Air Force. Like civil, servants, diplomats, judges, members of the Armed Forces receive honours as a matter of course so long as they perform the jobs they are paid to do in the time honoured British tradition of "Buggin's turn next". There is a precise pecking order for dishing out these honours.
An Admiral of the Fleet, a Field Marshal and a Marshal of the Royal Air Force will, as they progress towards these top ranks, be given successively a C.B. (Companion of the Order of the Bath),
K.C.B (Knight within the same order), G.C.B. (Knight Grand Cross, a higher level of knighthood within the same Order, and finally a Life peerage, For lower orders and ranks, an army captain probably an M.B.E. (Member of the Order of the British Empire), a Wing Commander an O.B.E .(Officer within the same Order), a major-general C.B. It does not take too much imagination to see how discipline is maintained, especially as people progress upwards. No wonder lateral thinking, intelligence and individuality are frowned upon.
The late General Sir John Hackett told me many years ago that his views were found to be too radical and uncomfortable among the Army top brass hats for him ever to hold a Field Marshal's baton. He was surprised he had advanced so far!
(3). Prime Ministers and Governors of Commonwealth Countries come from and on behalf of such countries as Antigua and Bermuda, Barbados, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, St Christopher and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu.
(4). The Queen herself - in her personal gift are honours such as the Noble Orders of the Garter and Thistle, the Order of Merit and the grades within the Royal Victorian Order from G.C.V.O to M.V.O, not forgetting the L.V.O, which I heard a wag refer to as the Royal Luncheon Voucher. The Queen unfairly, came in for a great deal of criticism for presenting the Garter to the Emperor of Japan.
I believe the blame for this insensitive award, which upset so many survivors of Japanese barbarism, should be laid at the door of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. His interests were the venal ones of votes, trade,votes, jobs votes.
(5). The Prime Minister - within the political sphere he or she can wield an odorous power as I will show under a separate heading. A former Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, said that:-
The view of recent Prime Ministers about the Honours System.
In preparation for this Lecture, I wrote to a number of prominent people, enclosing a copy of my Times' letter and asked them for their views on the present Honours system. Especially, I wanted to find out if they had any thoughts to share with me about the present system. Or of how it could be improved?
Baroness Thatcher did not answer my letter. Nor did William Hague or Tony Blair. My letter to the last-named on 9 May 1997, included the following questions:"
'Is there any hope that the new broom you brought with you into Downing Street will sweep away the present debased system? Or are there too many socialists in the queue who have been waiting for a now worthless gong and other base pieces of metal?'
Paul Johnson, writing in an October issue of The Spectator made what could well prove to be a perceptive comment:
Lord Callaghan, the Labour Prime Minister from 1976-79, had no particular comment to make. Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats, asked his party's spokesman on the subject, to write to me. Robert MacLennan MP sent me some useful extracts from papers he obtained from the library of the House of Commons, from which I will quote later.
Lord Pym, a former Conservative MP and Cabinet Minister, is now chairman of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee. The other members of this committee are Baroness Dean, a former Trades union general secretary, now a labour peeress, and Lord Thomson, a Liberal Democrat, at one time a Labour MP and Cabinet Minister during Harold Wilson's period as Prime Minister.
The three main political parties in the House of Commons thus have a voice on this key political honours committee. Francis Pym could not express an opinion because:
"members of the political honours scrutiny committee never make any comments in public about the committee's work".
The only exception to this was when he appeared before the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life. On that occasion, when asked about people giving money and receiving honours, he is reported in the press to have replied '. . . . that a person had to put money where their mouth is to be considered for an honour'.
ROYAL VICTORIAN MEDAL
Not surprisingly John Major, Conservative Prime Minister 1990-97, defended the status quo. He did not think that the present system is flawed. Why?
"Because" he said, "he was the first Prime Minister to open up the honours system".
Furthermore, he did not agree with my two categories of people as the principal ones deserving of honours.
In short, and as his biannual Prime Minister's honours list indicated, he is in favour of the 'Buggins turn next' for the armed forces; civil servants and, not least, for politicians. It was he, who, unbelievably, put forward Julian Critchley for a knighthood demonstrating a new twist . . . honouring political disloyalty.
The reply from Sir Edward Heath, Prime Minister from 1970 -74 was the most practical of all those I received. He was generally supportive of the sentiments in my Times' letter about the categories of people who should be honoured.
Ted Heath then went on to say:
"I would add a reflection or two on the subject of political honours. I think that they serve a very important purpose, by providing an opportunity for honestly and openly separating out politically motivated awards from normal honours. When I became Prime Minister, I quickly restored them, Wilson having abolished them in the mid 1970's. Having done so, I soon found myself criticised for awarding too few!"
"What: I think is terribly important is that Her Majesty as "the fount of all honour" must never be put by her ministers into the embarrassing position when they attempt to hijack the honours system to reward their friends, supporters or even donors by awarding honours for bogus reasons'.
This view of political honours made me reflect on my own prejudices about them. I believe that politicians' contributions can be reviewed within the broad sweep of '. . . those who have performed some signal service beyond their duty or job and those who have shown outstanding heroism'.
Having said that it, is difficult, calling to mind any recent examples of politicians who might qualify. Not an easy task. But I have selected two as possible examples.
First, Jack Ashley, who had to overcome great speech and hearing difficulties throughout his life. He became an MP, and went on the champion the cause of people with similar afflictions whilst holding down a busy parliamentary job.
Secondly, Norman Tebbit, who suffered so grievously when he and his wife were injured following the IRA bomb which devastated the Grand Hotel, Brighton in 1984. He has shown courage in coping with the consequences of that act of mass murder, not least in tending his wife who has since been confined to a wheel chair, yet never complaining about her lot. It could be said that what happened to them was the price of his and others' political beliefs. Jack Ashley and Norman Tebbit have both been made life peers.
The manipulation of the Honours System by Prime Ministers.
John Grigg, a journalist, who in 1963 disclaimed for his life the barony of Altringham, said :-
"Nobody holding the job of Prime Minister could fail to abuse the Honours system to some degree. The temptation is too great to be resisted by any human being".
The description fits David Lloyd George, Liberal Prime Minister from 1916-22, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and, after only 18 months in office, Tony Blair.
Lloyd George was one of the most notorious exploiters of the honours system for his own purposes. He did not start the trade in honours. In the words of the former Sunday Times political correspondent, James Margach:-
". . . he simply took it into the market place, striking the final bargain between eager buyer and willing seller".
Before him the business remained part of the accepted code of conduct between gentlemen; both Conservatives and Liberals; regarding honours as a marketable commodity to provide regular income for their parties".
But Lloyd George perfected this lucrative trade. He appointed an honours broker, one Maundy Gregory who set up an impressive office in Whitehall. Those who called on Gregory found themselves in surroundings which had all the trappings of the office of a government minister. Even the flunkey who ushered in the visitors to the inner sanctum wore a uniform which, to the untrained eye, looked like an official government Messenger.
In this stage setting, Gregory interviewed well heeled businessman, newspaper owners, politicians on the make, crooks and status seekers, to discuss how they might help the government in return for a consideration. And the consideration was an honour. The costs of which were: a viscountcy from £80,000 to £120,000 depending on your bank account; baronies from £30,000 - £50,000; baronetcies from £25,000: and for run of the mill knighthoods the rate was £10,000 - £15,000.
When the Order of the British Empire was founded by George V in 1917, Lloyd George is said to have asked Gregory what he could ask for an OBE, Gregory's reply was "about £100 a time".
Between 1917 and 1922 when Lloyd George resigned, 25,000 people had received the OBE. A nice little earner. Lloyd George is estimated to have amassed in his private bank account over £1.5 million pounds from the sales of honours. (Value £150 million today). As a child, in the 1930's, I remember seeing how he had spent some of this money on his estate at Churt, in Surrey.
Whilst Gregory, according to John Walker, author of 'The Queen has been pleased', was paid £30,000 a year from the traffic in honours.
A letter published in The Times in 1918, signed by 25 peers included the comment that,
"honours may come to be regarded as Dishonours".
As a result of Lloyd George's scandalous conduct the exploitation of the honours system for gain was made illegal under :
'The Honours (Prevention of Abuses) ACT 1925: An Act for the prevention of Abuses in connection with the Grant of Honours'.
The clause in this act reads as follows:
"If any person accepts (or gives, or agrees or proposes to give) or agrees to accept or attempts to obtain from any person, for himself or for any other person, or for any purpose, any gift , or money or valuable consideration as an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of a dignity or title or honour to any person, or otherwise in connection with such a grant, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour".
Those found guilty under the provisions of this Act could go to prison for two years or pay a fine of £500. So far no Prime Minister has yet been convicted, although nearly all who have held the office since the passing of the Act have broken this law. Maundy Gregory was the only person, who has ever been convicted under the 1925 Act. He was given two months' imprisonment.
The Political Honours Scrutiny Committee was also set up following the passing of this Act. In view of the records of Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher and, with Tony Blair waiting in the wings, this committee has in the words of Paul Johnson:-
'. . . . proved totally ineffective'.
I do not know the final number of people who purchased honours from Lloyd George. But among others he courted major newspaper owners to harness the power of their publications to further his own and the Liberal Party's interests. Between 1916-1922, his sales of honours to newspaper owners included:
4 Viscountcies; to Astor, Burnham, Northcliffe, Rothermere.
5 Baronies: to Aitken (Beaverbrook), Daniel, Graham, Riddell, Russell
1 Privy Councillor.
11 Baronetcies; 34 Knights.
Between January 1921 and June 1922 when he resigned from office he had sold a total of 74 baronetcies.
Conservative Party funds also benefited greatly from the sale of honours during the wartime Lloyd George coalition of the Liberals and Conservatives. They rose from £600,000 before the coalition, to £1,250,000. (£125 million plus pounds at today's values).
Recent Prime Ministerial manipulation of the Honours system.
Like Lloyd George, Harold Wilson, Prime Minister from 1964 -70 and again from 1974 -76, was adept at buying off the press for his own political ends. First, a life peerage for Roy Thomson, a Canadian who bought The Sunday Times and later The Times. He tried to do the same with members of the trade unions but with less success.
Then, in succession, life peerages for Leatherland of the Daily Herald; Jock Campbell of the New Statesman; Hartwell of the Daily Telegraph; and Crowther of The Economist. Members of the Daily Mirror - the only Fleet Street national to support the Labour Party - picked up four life peerages from Wilson.
According to Ted Heath, during his premiership from 1970 -74, he recommended 34 life peerages compared with 144 created during the Wilson/Callaghan premierships.
When Harold Wilson resigned as Prime Minister in 1976, his resignation honours list was so controversial that George Hutchinson in the Times wrote that it,
'...has brought so much discredit to the honours system that it might not survive in its present form'.
Containing 42 names, it included Joseph Kagan who received a knighthood. He was later convicted of false accounting. Another honoured was Eric Miller whose business affairs later became the subject of a Department of Trade enquiry. He shot himself before the report was made public. Then the late James Goldsmith, for reasons which have never been satisfactorily explained, was given a knighthood.
Another name rumoured to be on it, that of David Frost, was, apparently dropped. It turned out that Harold Wilson was involved in a £100,000 television contract to be hosted by the same David Frost. For Frost, this was only an honour postponed.
Margaret Thatcher, was the first woman to become Prime Minister holding this office from 1979 to 1990. Sadly she will also be remembered as the Prime Minister who, with the exception of Lloyd George, exploited the honours system quite ruthlessly to raise funds for the Conservative Party.
In 'The Queen has been pleased', John Walker reviews her political awards only from 1979 to 1985. But her policy towards the use of honours can be judged from the two tables he produced. In the first he lists the names of :-
11 private sector industrialists given peerages all of whom, directed companies which gave total donations of £1.9 million pounds to the Conservative Party funds'
Here are examples listed by Walker in his book, of the larger amounts paid out by companies:-
Sir Edwin McAlpine, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, £205,000.
Victor Matthews, Trafalgar House, £210,000.
Sir William Cayzer British Commonwealth Shipping £410,531.
Sir Frank Taylor Taylor Woodrow £367,510.
Sir James Hanson Hanson Trust £217,000.
Another 64 industrialists were given knighthoods, including 44 men who directed companies which gave a total of £4.4 million to Conservative Party funds. Among those who contributed major sums are names such as:-
The late Patrick Meaney of Thomas Tilling and Rank Organisation £190,000.
Keith Showering Allied Lyons, £424,000.
Nigel Broakes Trafalgar House:, £210,000.
Margaret Thatcher continued as Prime Minister for a further five years, during which even larger amounts of money flowed into her party's funds in exchange for honours to industrialists.
And we learned from the Public Enquiry and Report of the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life, (now chaired by Lord Neill), that during John Major's period as Prime Minister massive contributions were made to Conservative party funds from overseas businessmen seeking government grants for industrial bases in the UK for their operations.
Paul Johnson again:
'Not too many politicians or business people do good deeds by stealth because there is no chance of honour in it. Honours are now given to rich men who have used their - or their companies' - riches to buy them'.
Which brings me to the present Prime Minister Tony Blair.
His first honours list in 1997 showed that he had been all talk. Abiding principles take second place to political expediency. Rich friends, particularly ones who funded his blind trust, have been honoured along with the now insufferable queue of 'luvvies' from the show business world. The 'Buggins turn next' honours system is still alive and well with Blair.
We await the avalanche of new life peers he will create as part of his reform of the House of Lords. In the meantime, here is a comment by one of the many he has already created. It comes from Lord Winston:-
'I am a life peer, appointed because I got noticed. There are hundreds of doctors more able than I with a better understanding of the National Health Service, greater management skills or more political experience. So I am in this position of influence as a result of a fluke of patronage'
Like his predecessors, Blair has discovered that, when in a tight corner, honours are a cheap way of keeping people quiet and on side for a while.
Instead of paying teachers and those in the NHS a decent salary, he is buying them off with baubles. There were 58 awards to teachers in recent honours lists.
In summary every stone I have looked under in the history of our present honours system is a history of bribery and corruption. Every successive prime minister has had a vested interest in maintaining it.
The system costs them nothing but brings rich rewards. For everyone who receives a bauble,
10,000 are kept in thrall and tethered to the political wheel hoping that one day it may be their turn next. Spread across the constituencies, their votes can sway the results of many parliamentary seats.
Sir Robert Peel, one of our longest serving Prime Ministers said this of the whole honours system:
'The voracity of these things surprises me. I wonder people do not feel the distinction of an unadorned name'.
Many people are either indifferent to the honours system, or feel that there is little hope of bringing about any change. Others shrug their shoulders and think that we should accept the status quo: or, that we should turn it into a profit centre and let the proceeds go to worthy charities.
So, Iet us be like the Americans and openly sell patronage. If you want something here is a menu of our charges for honours: dine at Buckingham Palace; be invited to a soiree at 10 Downing Street; have a useful introduction to a government minister; the list could be endless like the breakfast menu on the Titanic.
This cannot be what the majority of us want. There is I am sure a national wish and will to bring honour to our honours. I cannot say bring back honour to honours because we now know that there never was any attached to them, with the exception of those awarded for heroism in war and peace.
Every nation, like the tribes of old, need to hold their kith and kin in respect, some to laud for deeds of valour, some to single out for noble feats in other fields of endeavour.
The need to change the system is urgent and timely, before it sinks into a bottomless bog beyond the hope of redemption.
Politicians will do nothing beyond tinkering around the edges. They will never tackle the heart of the problem. This is only too evident from the outcome of a review given by the then Prime Minister (John Major) in the House of Commons in December 1993:
The Prime Minister: "The (Honours) review has been completed, and the outcome has been graciously approved by the Queen, The review considered the number of honours required by my list, the diplomatic service and overseas list and the defence services list at each half year for six years, 1994 to 1999 inclusive, as a result of the review, the number of awards available for the recognition of all forms of voluntary service will he increased by about 100 in my list and 29 in the diplomatic service and overseas List. The increase will be broadly matched by a reduction in the number of awards to state servants, largely reflecting the reduction in the size of the Civil Service and the armed forces".
How the Honours System can be reformed.
In a recent Times' article titled: 'The roots of Dishonour' The Honours system is probably past reform so why do our Prime Ministers love it so much?
Simon Jenkins sets out alternative ideas for reform and I acknowledge borrowing some of them.
"All Prime Ministers acknowledge that the Crown is 'the fount of honour'. some believe it, others have used it to cloak their real motives. Now at least let us make it a reality".
(1). The Monarch should establish a Royal Honours Commission. This body would take over the power to vet - now exercised by the Prime Minister of the day. There would be no Prime Minister's or Opposition Leader's honours list.
The Commission would be made up of people representing all sectors of our national life; eg, the churches, yes the political parties, doctors, educationalists, nurses, the armed services, public services, cities and towns, the rural communities, charities.
2). Those serving on this Commission would advise the Monarch on who should be honoured. But their recommendations would be based upon evidence of an individual's signal act(s) which went beyond their job or duty; evidence submitted by people in a position to know about such acts.
3). Honours which have hitherto gone automatically with a job or position in the armed forces, the Civil Service, the diplomatic service, the judiciary and service to any other statuary bodies would stop. Such people are well paid. In most cases the tax payers keep them in their jobs and finance their noncontributory, index-linked pensions. There is no case whatsoever for any of them having an automatic right to an honour any more than there is for people holding positions in any other sphere of activity.
4). Honours for acts of outstanding heroism in the armed forces, in civilian life and those serving in the police, fire, ambulance services, lifeboat men would be made known to the Royal Honours Commission by means of citation from those bodies.
5). Where signal acts beyond an individuals job or duty are performed by men and women in the political, diplomatic or other Public service areas, then the most senior and appropriate people would submit nomination forms to the Royal honours Commission.
6). It is intended that the present Political honours Scrutiny Committee, will in future scrutinise every case where nominee for an honour of Commander of the British Empire (C.B.E.) and above has directly or indirectly donated £5,000 or more to a political party at any time in the preceding five years. This Committee is required to satisfy itself that the donation has made no contribution to the nomination for an honour.
My two recommendations relating to this Committee are:
(i) that the present, and by evidence, ineffective members of this body be replaced by people who have no political background, having instead independent stature and reputation. They would then become part of the membership of the Royal Honours Commission.
ii) that the act of subscribing £5,000 plus to any political party would automatically debar an individual from being nominated for an honour.
(7). Concerning life peerages, the jury is going to be out for the next two years waiting for the second stage of the present government's ideas for a reformed House of Lords. Before that the Opposition hopes to have presented its proposals which, based on recent press reports, involve abolishing the House of Lords, removing all hereditary peers and replacing it with a senate of indirectly elected representatives.
In that case life peers like their hereditary counterparts would be redundant with no need to create any.
Alternatively a Labour plan to have elected life peers would be absurd.
The outline proposals I have listed are a starting point. When they have been refined, the result would in the words of Simon Jenkins that:
'The monarchy would thus be performing a proper function of the head of state, as the nation collectively recognised meritorious works by its citizens. Such a reform would enhance the status of monarchy, it would make awards for merit seem fair, which they surely should be. The taint would be removed from titles. An augean stable would be cleansed'.
Examples of people worthy of honouring.
Earlier in this lecture I mentioned two men who have already been made peers, Jack Ashley and Norman Tebbit. Now I would like to give three examples of people, who in different ways, have demonstrated outstanding acts beyond either their jobs or their duties.
VIOLETTE SZABO G.C. The George Cross
She was a Women's Transport Service (FANY) Special Operation Executive. The daughter of an English father and a French mother, Violette Bushell was born and brought up in Brixton, London. In August 1940 she married a French soldier, Etienne Szabo, and in June, 1942 gave birth to their daughter. She was widowed a few months later when her husband was killed in action.
In 1943, Violette Szabo volunteered to join the Special Operations Executive and was recruited in its F Section and enrolled into the Women's Transport Service First Aid Nursing Yeomanry.
After specialist training as a secret agent, she was sent on her first mission into occupied French on 5th April 1944. She acted as a courier for a network leader in the Rouen area until recalled to England three weeks later. On 7th June 1944 she was parachuted back into France but was soon captured following a shoot out with German troops.
She managed to resist brutal interrogation and did not reveal any secrets to her captors. After a period of imprisonment in France she was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp where she was executed early in 1945.
She was 23 years of age.
Violette Szabo was awarded a posthumous George Cross on 17th December 1946.
Editor's request. If anyone has a photograph of Violette Szabo G.C., please send us a copy for display on this page in perpetuity.
Hugh Hamersley who died in October 1995, was born in 1925 and after leaving school, joined the Royal Armoured Corps and was later commissioned. During the war he suffered severe head wounds from shrapnel and was temporally blinded.
He was serving as a temporary major in 1947 in Jerusalem, when he lost both his legs at the age of 22 in a terrorist explosion at the King David Hotel. For the rest of his life, and whilst holding down a full time job, he thought up imaginative ways of raising money to help ex-servicemen who were similarly afflicted.
Succeeding the legless fighter ace Douglas Bader on the national appeal committee of British Legless Ex-Servicemen's Association, after the latter's death in 1982, he organised quite extraordinary fund raising events.
These involved limbless ex-servicemen in activities such as yacht racing, mountain climbing, parachute drops over the Solent by men who had never jumped before, canoe voyages across the channel and sailing races in borrowed yachts.
Hugh Hamersley raised thousands of pounds of BLESMA whilst enduring constant pain and other health problems throughout his life. His job until he retired was organising director of Elvetham Hall conference centre in Hampshire which was bought by ICI in 1953 and sold to Lansing Bagnall, the forklift truck company.
Lansing Bagnall senior staff frequently featured in annual Honours Lists including the founding chairman, Emmanuel Kaye who received a knighthood. All the directors were aware of Hugh Hamersley's selfless work for BLESMA about which he said little himself.
Hugh Hamersley died honoured in the memory of his family, friends, by countless hundreds of legless ex-servicemen and young men and women whom he encouraged to overcome their handicap. But he died unhonoured by his Queen and country.
On July 8th 1995 Horrett Campbell, a paranoid schizophrenic entered St Luke's Church of England infants School armed with a machete. He attacked three mothers before turning on 20 children who were having a teddy bear's picnic.
Three children were severely cut around the head, and Lisa Potts, then 21 years was ushering the children into school received deep wounds to her head, arms and back, as well as a broken arm. Despite this, she shielded the children from Campbell's blows.
For her bravery Lisa Potts was awarded the George Medal in June 1996.
There is an interesting postscript to this story of a young woman's quiet courage.
When I telephoned the Victoria and George Cross Association asking for information about Lisa Potts, I told the woman who dealt with my enquiry that I had had some difficulty because there was no reference to her in, for example Who's Who or Debrett's People of Today. To which she replied,
"well she's rather young and has not done much yet, has she?".
It has been a thought provoking, shocking, and humbling experience preparing this 1998 Christmas lecture for The Churchill Society. In a few days time we will learn which of our men and women have been honoured (if that is the right word for it) in the Queen's New Year Honour's List.
I hope that the background I have given about this subject will provide the impetus for you to do something about making our present honours system a better one in the future, one of which those people who deserve to be honoured will be proud.
Mr Lidstone was asked about Churchill's behaviour in respect to the award of honours during his two periods as Prime Minister. He said: "Churchill was aware of what Lloyd George had done and he could find no evidence of Churchill ever having abused the Honours System".
The present Queen upon her accession to the Throne desired Churchill to become the DUKE OF LONDON but he declined. However he reluctantly - and only to please his beloved young Queen and to honour the memory and courage of her parents during the war - accepted from her (it is only given by the Sovereign and at his or her own personal desire) The Award of THE MOST NOBLE ORDER OF THE GARTER and so became Sir Winston Churchill. But to his generation it seemed difficult to call him 'Sir Winston', for he was always affectionately known as "Mr Churchill" or just "Winnie" - so much was he loved by the people.
The present Honours system.
The committee thank Mr Lidstone most sincerely for his 1998 CHURCHILL SOCIETY Lecture.
The views expressed in this lecture are Mr Lidstone's and do not necessarily correspond with those of other members, or of the committee.
The article is Mr Lidstone's copyright.
Mr Lidstone's e mail:-
Update provided by John Lidstone, March 2007
Since I gave this Lecture, a number of significant things have happened in relation to the Honours
System. The Lecture website, in the last nine years has been visited by 14,000 people from all over
the world. I have received 2,720 letters, emails, faxes and telephone calls asking me to supply
information. Without exception, all applauded my exposure of the sytem.
Every year since 1998, the BBC Worldwide Service, radio, and television stations, national and
international press ask me contribute articles and to do broadcast interviews when the Queen's
Birthday and New Year's Honours Lists are published. Copies of the Lecture, now a standard source
of reference, have been placed in the House of Lords and Commons libraries and in those of
The House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee was asked to conduct an
inquiry into the Honours System and how it could be reformed in 2004 and invited me to give
expert testimony on 26th February 2004. This testimony along will all those who gave evidence is
included in the Select Committee's Report titled: ' A Matter of Honour: Reforming the Honours
System' which was published on 13th July 2004.
The main recommendations made by the Select Committee
1 No automatic awards to State servants: We recommend that the Government should announce
its intention to cease the award of honours in the Orders of the Bath and St Michael and St George
at an early opportunity. The Government should make it clear that in future honours will not be
conferred on a person simply because they hold a particular job. Measures should be taken to
ensure that these changes do not disadvantage state servants in the general allocation of honours.
2 The Order of the British Empire: We recommend that there should be no further appointments to the
Order of the British Empire. A new Order, The Order of British Excellence should be founded in its
3 Title and levels of Award: We recommend that all levels of the Order of British Excellence should be
Companion, Officer and Member. The national honour ( ie. except for those awarded for gallantry
and those in the personal gift of the Queen) should be Companion of Honour(CH). Consideration
should be given to a substantial increase in the awards of Companion of Honour and to a matching
decrease in awards of Knighthoods and Damehoods, with the objective of phasing out these awards
including those of Knights Bachelor within five years.
This contentious recommendation was made in the belief that titles now awarded and their continued use strikes a
false note. In my evidence on this particular issue, I said that: 'Titles divide people in society. What people do is
what distinguishes them'.
4 An independent system of making recommendations. We recommend that the honours selection committees
should be replaced by an independent Honours Commission which would take over from ministers the task
of making recommendations to the Queen for Honours. It should be established by statute, following the
precedent of the Electoral Commission.
The members of the Honours Commission should be independent and appointed through the 'Nolan'
procedures. There should be a requirement on those appointing the members of the Commission to ensure
that, as far as possible, its membership should reflect the diversity of the country.
The Nolan procedure lays down strict standards of behaviour by which people would be assessed for titles and to hold
public office, including whether they have made donations to a particular political party.
The names of all members of the Honours Commission should be published ( up until now they have been kept
secret) and the Commission's policy on the transparency of its procedures should be based on best practice
in similar bodies in other countries.
We recommend that the Government should, on a regular basis, set out publicly, as guidance to the Honours
Commission, its proposals for the allocation of honours between the various sectors of the community in the
light of public priorites.
5 We recommend that the Honours Scrutiny Committee should be abolished. This Committee was set up after the
Lloyd George sales of honours scandal through Maundy Gregory, to investigate and report back on individuals who had given
more than £5,000 in donations to a party's funds.
6 Clearer criteria and more recognition for local service: we recommend that more explicit criteria, along the lines
proposed by the Australian Government and report in the Wilson Review, (on the Honours system in 2000),
should be published for each level of award in the Order of British Excellence. Like all Australian proposals, the
criteria shoulde emphasise that eminent service at local level should be regarded as just as meritorious as the
same sort of service at national level.
7 We recommend that the citations for all honours should be published.
This recommendation reflects the present paucity of reasons given for awards, with the exceptions of citations given for
awards for gallantry. Behind these very brief statements there is always the suspicion of automatic awards that go with
8 We recommend that recipients of honours should be presented with a modest badge or brooch for wearing
with non-formal dress.
9 Collegiate honours: We recommend that through this, the service and achievement of teams and organisations
can be properly recognised. The Queen's Award for Industry provides a useful model here and could be supplemented
by similar awards (eg Educational, Achievement, Civic Achievement) across a range of activites and organisations.
We consider that a development of the honours system in this way would be widely welcomed and valused, and
we so recommend.
What has happened to these recommendations?
All of them except two were kicked into the long grass by the Prime Minister Tony Blair so that he could milk whatever
votes are influenced by the honours system as it existed before the General Election which he called in May 2005. It has
now been revealed by the decision to request an investigation by Scotland Yard, that some £14millions were donated to
the Labour Party, or by means of secret donations to fund the cost of this election. And that some of these donors were
given honours in return for their donations or secret loans.
The two recommendations which the Government decided to accept and implement were:
First, the creation of so-called independent sub-committees to recommend nominations for honours. These
committees of which there are eight cover: Arts and the Media; Community; Voluntary and Local Services; Economy;
Science and Technology; Sport; State.
Each of these sub-committees is chaired bya titled man or woman. So they start from a prejudiced position in favour of
the honours system even before they begin reviewing the claims of others. At the time that the first eighty four men and
women appointed to these sub-committees, which included 31 senior and titled civil servants, they shared between them
84 honours, the majority going with the jobs they hold or held!
The only other recommendation accepted was, and wait for it, that every recipient of an honour should receive a badge
or broach. A recommendation made by former prime minister, John Major who when asked whether he would wear such
a badge said: 'This Copmpanion of Honour will not be wearing one'.
As I write this Update on 19th March 2007, the Scotland Yard Investigation into the 'Cash for Honours' scandal and
the other serious probabilty, that people within the Government might have perverted the course of justice, is moving
towards its conclusion. Some time later this year the papers will be forwarded to the Criminal Prosecution Service
who will decide whether charges should be brought. These could be under the The Honours(Prevention of Abuses)
Act 1925 for the prevention of abuses in connection with the Grant of Honours and or under the Act covering
perverting the course of justice.
Lloyd George got off scot-free for selling honours making Maundy Gregory the sacrificial lamb. Since 1925 many former
prime ministers should have been charged under the 1925 Act including Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson, Margaret
Thatcher and John Major. It is to be hoped that another one does not slip away undetected.
1995 CHRISTMAS LECTURE
The late Rt.Hon.J.Enoch Powell.,M.B.E. Speech to the Society.
Audio file being created).
1996 CHRISTMAS LECTURE
The Battle for REAL Music. "Experts on tap - not on top!" by Norman Harvey Rutherlyn. Composer of THE CHURCHILL MUSIC (Excerpts) and Founder in 1990 of THE CHURCHILL SOCIETY.
1997 CHRISTMAS LECTURE.
The BATTLE FOR BRITAIN The Nature of our National Sovereignty by the late Oliver Smedley F.C.A.
__________________ THE MAIN INDEX
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