HC Deb 02 December 1976 vol 921 cc1153-5
Q1. Mr. Hurd

asked the Prime Minister if he will review the terms of reference of the Scrutiny Committee which examines proposals for political honours.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I have at present no changes to propose in the terms of reference of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee. It is customary for the Committee to be reconstituted on the appointment of a new Prime Minister. The following members of the Privy Council have kindly agreed to serve: Lord Shackleton (Chairman), Lord Carr of Hadley and Lord Franks.

Mr. Hurd

I thank the Prime Minister for that reply. In the case of life peerages, would these distinguished members of the Scrutiny Committee be able to inquire, in the nicest possible way, whether the person concerned was actually proposing to perform the duties that go with the honour? Is it not rather absurd that, whereas the voting strength of the Government in the other place has been about 90 lately, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), alone and single handed, created 215 life peers?

The Prime Minister

It is not the responsibility of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee to inquire whether those who are honoured in this way intend to attend regularly in another place, and indeed it should not be its responsibility. Its terms of reference are clearly laid out and do not embrace this matter. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman was not attacking the system of political honours, especially in view of the honour which he himself received in the resignation honours of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath).

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Do the Prime Minister and his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), agree with their predecessor Lord Melbourne, who said I like the Garter; there is no damned merit in it"?

The Prime Minister

There is a certain amount of truth in that, and I would not want to disagree with it. I am reminded of the Conservative Prime Minister, Mr. Disraeli—Lord Beaconsfield —who, I am told, when asked whether he could give someone an ivory pass to go through Horse Guards, said "No. You may have a dukedom but not an ivory pass."

Mr. David Steel

While the Prime Minister will no doubt agree that the honours system has been abused in the past, will he also accept that it would be wrong to exclude from the honours list people who have given voluntary service—or, in some cases, professional service—to politics, and therefore to the maintenance of our democracy, while other people who support other worthy causes are automatically included?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I know that the hon. Gentleman's party has an interesting history on the matter of the abuse of political honours. As far as I am concerned, to judge from my correspondence from both sides of the House, the conferment of honours is something which gives a great deal of innocent pleasure and is felt to be a satisfying reward by many people who give a lot of voluntary service.

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