HC Deb 12 February 1976 vol 905 cc611-2
Q2. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Prime Minister whether he is satisfied with the system of the submission by Departments of names for the Honours Lists.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Is the Prime Minister aware of the widespread belief that the present system is too selective and is dominated by Prime Ministerial patronage and departmental lobbying? Does he agree that in the interests of open government it would be a good idea if the system and the way it works were made more public, for all to see.

The Prime Minister

I know that there have been criticisms recently—indeed, in the House—about the use of the honours system for conditioning the votes of Members of Parliament. I have not noticed that. However, I have studied the facts. I find that in the whole of the seven and a half years during which I have been Prime Minister so far, six knighthoods have been conferred on Members of this House—including two from the Chairman's Panel, and of course, the Leader of the Conservative Group at the European Assembly, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams) in respect of his IPU work. Six knighthoods have been conferred in the seven and a half years while I have been Prime Minister, as compared with 57 during the last seven and a half years of Conservative government.

Mr. Watkinson

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many Labour Members, at least, will welcome his statement that honours will not be awarded for political or party service? However, does he accept that there may be a place for a more independent approach to the consideration of honours?

The Prime Minister

When I decided, I think in 1966, to stop the system of political honours, I provided that a similar number of honours should be recommended in the case of service to local government, irrespective of party. Although the Conservatives had been in office for 13 years before 1964 and had given a vast number of political honours, after that decision all were decided on their merits, and impartially—and about a third of the honours in respect of local government service went to Conservatives or Liberals.