OPINION: Hot Issue - Does the honours list reward those who really deserve it? - The Queen's birthday honours list was published earlier this month, with a number of awards going to people who work within the charity sector

However, the list has been criticised for its lack of accountability since the selection criteria are uncertain, and the decisions are made behind closed doors

Karen Bartlett, director, Charter88

NO

The Government trumpets the latest honours list as meritocratic. The truth is rather different. Political honours continue to smell suspicious despite Labour's reforms. Peerages are still used to vacate safe parliamentary seats for favoured sons (never daughters) to enter the House of Commons.

Even worse is the secrecy which surrounds it. Few involved will say how it works, and mandarins in Whitehall and Downing Street control the murky system of filtering names which have been nominated by local councils and members of the public.

Forty-seven classes of honour were given out this time. You had better know your place. At the top, if you fancy one of the more mediaeval gongs, you had better pursue a career in the civil service or military. But for most it is a question of which class of Order of the British Empire.

This is anachronistic and offensive. Despite the Government's pretence that the honours list celebrates ordinary public servants and popular heroes, it still favours mandarins and diplomats over those on the front line.

Ed Mayo, director, the New Economics Foundation

NO

We trust less easily these days. But if there is anyone we should trust, it is surely the people who have devoted their lives to the public good and earned a medal or title for doing so. In principle, the honours system is an antidote to the market ethic that has elevated self-interest to a reigning dogma. But nothing will kill the honours system quicker than if appointments are in fact patronage. The rise of the "celebrity gong", with Mick Jagger today, perhaps Robbie Williams next year, looks and feels like another case of Labour spin. Just as trust breeds trust, distrust breeds distrust, and too close an association between government and the honours system is counter-productive. We need a "disestablishment

of the honours system. It has been a hallmark of economic development that it brings into markets work that used to be unpaid and it assigns a low status to work with no monetary return. The real purpose of the honours system is to provide recognition for contributions to the common good. In today's market economy, where business leaders name their pay, it should be an alternative reward to money.

Colin Low CBE, chairman, RNIB

YES

People are terribly po-faced about the honours system.

They seldom turn one down, but somehow manage to suggest that it is rather infra dig to accept - because it's an offshoot of monarchy or the class system or something - not just inverted snobbery but hypocritical inverted snobbery. Or else they accept rather apologetically, saying they were only doing their job or that it is really a recognition of their team or organisation, not of them at all.

I think we should embrace the honours system unashamedly, it's no worse than the Order of Lenin. Obviously any system will make mistakes over who's in and who's out. But the idea of recognising excellence in areas such as sport, science and the arts is surely a sound one. The same goes for contributions to the community. The hierarchy of honours is more invidious - not in principle but as a potential source of error. Someone once observed to me that my honour was better than theirs so I would be able to command the best tables in all the best restaurants. "Don't worry,

I said, "it is all done with a pin."

Peter Brown, chief commander, St John Ambulance

YES

St John Ambulance volunteers hold the system in very high regard and they feel truly honoured to be given the award by the Queen, the sovereign head of the organisation. We have more than 45,000 volunteers who are committed to caring, training and saving lives and who every day give 10,000 hours of voluntary service to the community. Many public events quite simply could not happen without the support of our volunteers. Therefore we feel wholeheartedly that our members deserve the honour and while it is of course not possible to honour every one in this way, those who do receive an award will inspire others. The awards system illustrates that real people who have shown dedication, commitment and enthusiasm to charity and their communities can be honoured in a highly prestigious way.

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