How honourable are honours lists?

Thea Ridley-Castle, Research and Policy Officer

Posted on the 11th July 2023

Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list caused quite a kerfuffle between the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC) and the current and former PM. This all led to a rather slimmed-down list from the much speculated upon preliminary list – which contained more than one controversial nomination.

Considering the contentious nature of these honours, it might be a good time to take a look over the long history of honours list scandals and ask the question – should Prime Ministers have the power to hand out seats in our parliament?

David George Lloyd and the ‘cash for patronage’ scandal

David Lloyd George’s (prime minister from 1916 to 1922) resignation list was shrouded in major scandal and is often referred to as the ‘cash for patronage’ scandal.

At this time, paying for peerages was not uncommon nor illegal. However, Lloyd George took this a step further and raised funds for his Party – the National Liberal Party – in return for peerages. Lloyd George’s political fixer Maundy Gregory had a ‘price list for peerages’ “ranging from £10,000 (more than £400,000 today) for a knighthood up to £40,000 for a baronetcy”. This practise was swiftly outlawed in 1925 with the Prevention of Abuses Act, to this day Maundy Gregory remains the only person to be convicted under this act.

Harold Wilson and the Lavender List

So-called for the colour of the paper it was allegedly written on, the Lavender List was published in 1976 by Harold Wilson at the end of his second term and has become notorious in world of peerage scandals. The list was controversial as it included businessmen which were “crooked and dubious”, such as Joseph Kagan, inventor of Gannex a waterproof fabric, who was later convicted of false accounting.

This was not the only reason the list was controversial though, it was claimed that Lady Falkender, a trusted colleague of Wilson, had undue influence over Wilson and the resignation list and had included her family and friends on the list. However, this was strongly denied by Lady Falkender.

Tony Blair and ‘cash-for-honours’

Over 80 years since the creation of the Prevention of Abuses Act, in 2006 Tony Blair came under investigation due to claims by SNP MP Angus MacNeil that businessmen had lent the Labour Party £5m in return for peerages. While HOLAC blocked these appointments, it led to lengthy police investigations and arrests on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

It was later concluded that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against Tony Blair or other members of the Labour Party.

David Cameron and cronyism

David Cameron was accused of cronyism for his resignation list with close to 50 nominations seen as aides, political allies or party donors. These included Knighthoods to Party donors who contributed to the “Remain” campaign, and a CBE was awarded to Will Straw, the campaign’s director. There was also an OBE for Cameron’s wife’s stylist.

Cameron also bucked tradition and nominated currently serving cabinet members for honours including, Philip Hammond, Michael Fallon, David Lidington, and Patrick McLoughlin.

Rescinded Honours and other scandalous nominations

In a move that will surprise nobody, the following have had their honours rescinded:

  • Rolf Harris
  • Stuart Hall
  • Jimmy Savile
  • Robert Mugabe
  • Nicolae Ceausescu
  • Benito Mussolini
  • Fred Goodwin

It’s time to scrap the tradition of resignation honours

Why should a Prime Minister be able to pack the already bloated Lords with their political cronies – all of whom will have a lifetime appointment to make our laws? It’s time to end the convention of resignation honours and scrap the unelected Lords entirely.

We need a smaller, elected House of Lords, where lawmakers are chosen by the people they serve not hand-picked by the prime minister of the day. It’s time to end this farce and deliver the democratic second chamber our country needs.

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It is time to replace the unelected Lords

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