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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 December, 2003, 12:09 GMT
Is the honours system outdated?

The UK honours system is to be investigated by MPs in the New Year following disclosures about the selection process.

This comes after the Sunday Times newspaper revealed a secret list of top figures including singer David Bowie and comedy duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders who have refused honours.

The 400 page file covers all those who have rejected awards offered by prime ministers on behalf of the Queen since the Second World War although reasons for refusal are not recorded.

Is the current system of honours outdated? If so, what should replace it? Send us your views.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received:

The honours system is vastly outdated. The awards are still celebrating a long gone empire, and most recipients are already rich and privileged. An award system would be good, but one which celebrates achievement and merit, not just the number of years in the limelight. How many top dustbin men, top nurses, top doctors, top care assistants get rewarded? How many teachers get the honour? Some people put in decades of excellent public service for a pittance of a pay, and would never be considered for an "honour".
A Legge, Leeds, UK

So the government is happy to honour those who make such great contributions to the well-being of the country - such as celebrities, and sports men/women; but 'rightly' exclude those who indulge in trivia such as improving the health and well-being of the people of the country! 'Nuff said!
Steve, UK

The honours system is yet another waste of tax payers' money. Perhaps the funds used to finance this system should be channelled into preventing the closure of yet more Care Homes across the UK or elderly folks bills, and for once give something back to our elderly -the ones who did fight and gained a real achievement for this country in the war.
Jo, Hull

We should keep the honours themselves, but the manner in which those chosen for an award should be reviewed. Why should a pop star be given an honour?
Bob OWEN, Markfield, England

I find it insulting to those who have 'really' earned the right to be honoured that people like Mick Jagger would actually be given a knighthood.
Sue, Raleigh, USA

The rule should be that no-one gets a gong for doing something they are paid to do
Robert B Russell, Louth, UK
There's nothing wrong with honouring people who have gone the extra mile, and contributed something to the community. But civil servants and diplomats seem to be honoured just for doing their job. This is clearly nonsense. The rule should be that no-one gets a gong for doing something they are paid to do. Then the question of how honours are awarded could be debated in a much more meaningful context, with nominations and decisions being made for much clearer reasons.
Robert B Russell, Louth, UK

It's perverse that people who act, sing or play a game for a living get honours, while people who truly help society like social workers and teachers, only have a daily trashing by the press to look forward to.
Leigh, Northampton, UK

My ex-mother in law was awarded a CBE for doing her job of being a typist! My son attends Beavers and the couple who have been running it for umpteen years in their spare time receive nought. Who do we respect and admire? The couple who give up their spare time. Blow he Beckhams of this world.
Nigel, Gloucester

I have no problem with recognizing outstanding service e.g. with a ceremony or medal, but the idea of titles or references to the no inglorious and longer existing British Empire have no place in the 21st century. These relics merely serve to prop up the despised British class system and all the injustice that goes with it.
A Caversham, Kent, England

The people listed are celebs. There are very many people who have worked long, hard and selflessly for others. An Honour is recognition of their contribution to something called society. It may be anachronistic and I'm not happy with things like peerages, but any Honour that doesn't carry political or heredity privilege is absolutely fine. We don't mind rewarding people for bravery, why not those who spend long hours helping others. Blow the politicians and celebs - just ensure that the unknowns who do so much for others without the kudos and pay get a formal recognition of their work for us.
Jenny , Scotland

The big problem with the honours system is that it legitimises the whole idea of hereditary privilege. I find the whole idea that "common" folk have to do something extraordinary to be knighted, and put on a level with the "nobility", repugnant. In the extremely unlikely event that I was offered an honour I would certainly refuse it. If I wanted to be known by a title, I would follow the example of the late "Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow", and change my name by deed poll.
Chris Q, Bradford, England

I don't think the honours system is outdated, and many 'ordinary' people do get awarded, it is OK to be proud of the tradition of your country, why can't we just be pleased for people anymore instead of questioning everything within the context of 'political correctness'. Jonny Wilkinson is not merely any old sportsman, he has made a clear contribution towards sporting history, as has Mick Jagger to music, it would be different if the Queen were deciding to honour every one in the top 40, but that's just not happening!
Liz, uk

No to government puffs for well-paid people doing their jobs
G. Barker, UK
Yes to an honouring system which acknowledges exceptional work and commitment which benefits the community. No to government puffs for well-paid people doing their jobs.
G. Barker, UK

It may be archaic, it may be an anachronism, it may be a vestige of by-gone days but it is identity. Those people who claim that it is damaging and unrewarding and dated fail to see past the clouds of popular misconception. When Beckham was awarded, he did not receive it for gallantry or valour, but for services to sport. Those who want it to be awarded to ordinary people must then come up with a system to review every noble action committed in the country each day - impossible. In a world where national identities are becoming more and more diluted, what is wrong with still trying to be British?
Jonathan Lafferty, UK

I believe that the honours system is excellent, except that in recent decades it has become a process of awarding the rich and famous, in many cases for no substantial reason. Honours should only be awarded to those people who have achieved something very special and not for their "contribution" to the music industry, or similar.
There are thousands of people who devote their lives to looking after family or others and receive little or no help or financial reward - unsung heros who have done gallant deeds of all types who deserve recognition. It's about time that a review of the system was undertaken and those people who truly deserve such recognition receive them.
Peter Jones, Hemel Hempstead

I suspect some of the comments on here are just sour grapes and jealousy. The honours systems enjoys a fine British tradition. Along with other things British the honours system should not be scrapped.
James, Plymouth, England

What is the point? A medal for earning loads of money and then sitting on it rather than spreading it about, great lets reward all rich people who provide nothing more than more commercialism in an already over hyped world
Kevin, England

Of course the honours system is outdated. Some people who do a lot of charitable work get honoured, but too many people are rewarded for being self publicists, which devalues the system for everyone else. Furthermore, the system is inherently rather unfortunately associated with one of Britain's less proud achievements. As Benjamin Zephaniah pointed out, the Order of the British Empire implies that there's something honourable about the enslavement and glorified pillaging of other countries and cultures, which is hardly the way to behave in the 20th century, let alone the 21st.
Pete, High Wycombe, UK

Having been a civil servant, I can see that the Honours system is a good way of rewarding people for putting up with years of being overworked and underpaid. An MBE may not mean much to many people, but it's a lot cheaper than proper wages.
Rob Griffiths, Bournemouth, UK

It is easy to be critical of the Honours system, but much less easy to suggest a replacement
John, London, England
It is easy to be critical of the Honours system, but much less easy to suggest a replacement. The current system should (if properly used) provide an incalculable and intangible reward to those who have provided service to the country. It costs virtually nothing. All these complaints about it being anachronistic miss the point. The whole mystique and desirability of these baubles is that they have the dust of time and tradition adhering to them.
It is exactly the fact that they hark back to another age that makes (most) of their recipients feel so special. If you strip all of this away and make the process by which they are awarded 'transparent' then you lose this intangible feature and they really do just become cheap and tinny 'merit badges' handed out by a political party.
John, London, England

The thing that gets me about the Honours list, is that they usually go to sportsmen/women, "pop" stars and people who, in my opinion, do not "work" for a living. I feel that people who deserve these kinds of honours are people like MacMillan Nurses, who do a fantastic job for little reward. If the Honours Lists were made up of truly deserving people, then I would applaud it - loudly!
Maxine, Peterborough, UK

Let's stand up and applaud the ones who have refused these childish badges
Scott Wallace, UK/JAPAN
Isn't it really childish that grown adults want BADGES and a few letters? If you really want to honour people then have something really valuable like the NOBEL prizes. Why do footballers get one for scoring a few goals when there are Nobel Prize winners? We know who has contributed more to the world. Let's stand up and applaud the ones who have refused these childish badges. For that's what they are.
Scott Wallace, UK/JAPAN

Like many young people in this country I find the whole idea of honours totally distasteful. There are many millions of selfless people in this country who go unrecognised. Please Mr. Blair if you want to really bring the people of this country together scrap the honours system.
Ed, UK

It is completely ludicrous; it awards burned-out and other politicians, friends and business "associates" of politicians and a few tabloid heroes. Just get rid of it, it's embarrassing.
Steve, UK

There is nothing wrong with the tradition of the honours system, only the people receiving them. A nice long look at how and why people get them is all that is needed.
A Sweeting, Leicester, UK

I like the fact that some worthy people are recognised with an award.
Andy D, London

The simplest way to reform the honours system is abolish the lot of them and confine them all to the dustbin of history. These anachronistic baubles are totally irrelevant to a modern 21st century society. Oooops! There goes my OBE.
Shaun Crowther, Barnoldswick, England

Who is more worth of national recognition? A paramedic who saves dozens of lives each year or a millionaire who kicks a ball around for a living. Come on, this should be a no brainer. Sportsmen and entertainers have done nothing extraordinary but those who save lives do something incredibly special every single day without wishing to seek fame or fortune.
Gary F, Herts, UK

Of course it's outdated along with the rest of the system. We prattle on about Iraq needing to be a modern democracy can someone tell me how a monarch, house of lords and an unwritten constitution is modern and democratic.
James Clarke, UK

Not so much outdated as misused. I don't care about using the title "Empire"; it's part of our history, and to complain about it is nitpicking. Stop giving awards to actors, sportsmen, political donors, television celebrities, and the like. They do what they do for love or money, and good luck to them. Honour ordinary people who make sacrifices working for the good of others. Take it out of the hands of politicians, and put it back into the gift of the crown.
Barry, Peterborough, UK

It seems to be those with power and influence simply patting themselves on the back
Roy Sheward, Walsall, UK
It is outdated, as has been said many times it seems to be those with power and influence simply patting themselves on the back. Many people spend all their lives devoting time and energy to others - above and beyond simply doing their job - but receive mo recognition. At the very least the names of the awards should be changed to reflect where we are - without reference to British Empire.
Roy Sheward, Walsall, UK

So long as we have Monarchy and can accept that, we should retain the honours. Like everything else its not perfect, sometime unworthy folks are honoured.
Siamak Mirnezami, Windsor, England

Isn't this supposed to people who have done their level best to actually do something for this country? Let's face it should sportsmen and women get honours over those working tirelessly for charity and aid? Johnny Wilkinson is in line for 25m for god's sake, does he really deserve an honour? David Beckham doesn't even live in this country anymore, why should he get one? Time to shake things up.
Rick, UK

Order of the British Empire? Knight Commander of the British Empire? What Empire is this exactly? Gibraltar and the Falkland Isles? If we must garland people with titles and nice shiny badges, why not give them titles of some relevance or realism? I mean a knight of the realm is historically obligated to raise troops and defend the nation in time of conflict. Can anyone really see Sir Elton John leading a tank regiment into battle?
Chris Hollett, UK

Certainly, keep honours for people who have done something extraordinary, but not entertainers, sports people and civil servants who are just doing their job, unless they have done something really outstanding. Most people do their job well and would never consider an honour. Why should these 'privileged professions'. Make an Honour mean something, not just that it is your turn!!
Dave R, hull

If we are going to have an honours system lets give them to deserving people, not to a long list of Civil Servants, and cronies who give money to political parties. The last lot of awards show how pathetic the system is, a footballer and a so called singer getting rewarded for nothing.
Lester Stenner, Weston super Mare

I fail to see how such a positive institution should be criticised
Andrew B, Hull, UK
Whatever the perceived negative symbolism of the honours system, in the eyes of some contributors it does something us Brits are not at all good at - recognising achievement and being proud of it. I fail to see how such a positive institution should be criticised, particularly by those who if offered an honour would probably take it anyway!
Andrew B, Hull, UK

Services to the community and to charity are two areas where there are many worthy recipients. Run of the mill (and aging) entertainers of dubious quality are not in my view worthy. Use the system properly.
Dave G, Aberdeen, Scotland

My father got his MBE for his work, risking his life, saving others, in Northern Ireland. He deserved it and I'm proud of him. People who have genuinely served the country or done extraordinary things should be rewarded and graciously so.
Anon, UK

French and Saunders like to make a statement and by rejecting this honour they keep themselves active with the media. We should keep the honours list as it does give people recognition for their efforts in their field, especially everyday working people who go above and beyond to help others.
Brian Smith, Liverpool

There is nothing wrong with the honours system. It's one of those great British traditions that make us who we are. Most honours go to people that no-one has ever heard of, and are a recognition for what is often a lifetime of work. However, the press focuses on the famous and thus the public perception of the process is skewed.
Ian Kennedy, Oxford, UK

I don't see anything wrong with rewarding sportsmen and women, actors, figures in industry, etc. many of them have worked very hard to get where they are. What I would like to see is a change of emphasis towards the ordinary people who receive these awards. I would also welcome an independent authority to decide on who receives the awards, in place of the government. Perhaps a name change would be in order too? In these days of modern technology could nominations be submitted on a website, with an on-line vote for who should receive an award?
Howard, St Annes, Lancs

It is tradition and one of the remaining strands of cultural continuity that this country has left
Roger Filius, London, UK
It is not outdated - it is tradition and one of the remaining strands of cultural continuity that this country has left. Most of the arguments on here seem more to do with who is awarded the honour than the actual honour itself. We shouldn't discard another part of our heritage just to have it replaced with something as politically correct as the proposed farcical Trafalgar Square statues.
Roger Filius, London, UK

If you don't like it ignore it. That's what David Bowie et al have done. It means nothing really, so relax and forget about it.
TB, Spain

It may be a little outdated, and I think it does need reform, but keep a regular honours list. Our favourite people who have provided us with happiness and entertainment deserve official recognition, as well as the civil servants, academics and other intelligent people who help keep our everyday lives running smoothly. If the Queen was to see it fit to offer me any kind of award, it would be the height of rudeness to refuse.
Ed, UK

I have the highest respect for those persons who turned down these honours, and even higher respect for the person who leaked this information, which should have been in the public domain anyway.
Ian, York, England

Outdated and used by politicians to their advantage to favour a few. In doing so the whole honours award has been cheapened. It is the public who should decide who deserves an award.
T J. Newman, Bournemouth

I don't regard the honours systems as anything worth taking seriously. A few years ago my wife put her father forward for an honour after he had spent over 40 years doing voluntary work with kids, often giving up his weekends as well as his week nights and he was turned down because, we were told by our MP, there are only so many honours allowed per area and he had missed out. And then you see some of the celebrities/ civil servants who get them! They are a joke.
JP, Rochdale

Civil servants and politicians should not be honoured simply for doing their jobs properly
Bob, UK
The honours system is outdated and outmoded. The only honours worth having would be any given as a result of a vote by the people of the UK. For those doing good works, anonymity, for those who actively sought it, could then be assured. Civil servants and politicians should not be honoured simply for doing their jobs properly.
Bob, UK

Sorry, but who in their right mind would want to belong to the same club as the likes of Jeffrey Archer and Shirley Porter?
Catherine, UK

The trouble is that we, the public, only get to hear about the celebrities and sportsmen that get the honours, but there are many "ordinary" people who receive these honours, and for them it's wonderful. Maybe we should be asking whether or not the media should focus so heavily on celebrity.
Mikey, London

Why not replace the present system with say one year's exemption from paying income tax - always assuming that the recipients are well deserving of such recognition.

The entire honours system is simply a vehicle for outdated patronage. I worked in the Civil Service for a time, and you could guarantee a couple of MBEs, the odd OBE and CBE at every honours awards. You can also guarantee the permanent secretary will be either a Sir or a Dame before they move on.
Pete Scott, Leeds UK

What I don't understand, is why so many writers, actors, sports stars and singers are constantly 'honoured'. Whilst I accept that the individual contributions these people make to their fields of expertise is certainly great, is it really as worthy as any number of ordinary people who dedicate a large proportion of their lives to tasks like shopping for the elderly, visiting children in care, or working to rebuild the lives of young homeless people? This is often unpaid and largely unrecognised work.
Victoria Green, Brixton London

There are far more worthy recipients
Paul B, Oxfordshire, UK
Frankly I don't give a toss if the likes of Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Benjamin Zephaniah and so on, reject the idea. There are far more worthy recipients and the whole process is far bigger than those who often abuse their position of celebrity to preach their own dogma - I'm not interested, which I suspect is the view of most people who actually care about British society.
Paul B, Oxfordshire, UK

It's outdated, it's elitist, it's misused as a political gravy train. It's time it was abolished.
Dougie Lawson, Basingstoke, UK

I think it is outdated and overtly political. The abuse of the system by successive governments to honour their favourites has made the honours list a joke.
David Rainford, Manchester

There aren't many honours holders on our nation's council estates are there, despite the fact that many working class people give years of service to the community?
Eileen, UK

Honours should be for those who go above and beyond what the rest of us do in our lives
Chris, England
Yes it is. I have nothing against such a system per se, but I do have a problem with its implementation. Why are honours given to people for just doing their jobs? Why does a dustman of twenty years' service deserve one? That's his JOB. Why does David Beckham deserve one? He is just being a celebrity footballer. Honours should be for those who go above and beyond what the rest of us do in our lives. They should be for exemplary charity work, not 'services to football'.
Chris, England

My mother was once asked if she was happy to be put forward for an MBE, on the basis of her years of work as a local councillor. She refused, on the basis that it is one of the last systems almost entirely based on who you know rather than what you know.
Katherine, London, UK

It's a national way of giving people a pat on the back and saying "Well done". The names of the awards might be dated, but the principle is still sound. Long may it continue.
Mrs Zorba Eisenhower, UK

It's just a shame that more people do not have the courage of their convictions
Stuart Hay, Dunbar Scotland
Who in their right mind would want to be part of an "elite" group that includes wrinkly rocker Mick Jagger among their number? It's just a shame that more people do not have the courage of their convictions and explain why they refuse these baubles.
Stuart Hay, Dunbar, Scotland

Yes, especially the abstract ones like "for services to music" when all the artist has done is to pursue a very successful career for their own self-interest rather than for humanitarian reasons
C. Calver, UK

The whole thing is ridiculous and very class conscious It must also cost us, the taxpayer, a fortune to manufacture the medals and then pay for the ceremonies.
Julia, Chelmsford

There will never be an independent system
Daz, UK
It's just another way for successive governments to gain favours from certain segments of the population. You honour a footballer or two for football fan votes, a couple of actors or musicians for the popular culture votes, and then settle down to buying off the upper echelons of big business and governing-party sponsors so the money tap keeps running. There will never be an independent system, ever. Like most of the modern 'democracy' in our country, it is a corrupt disgrace.
Daz, UK

Patronage decided behind closed doors cannot be right. Either scrap it altogether, or take the politicians and civil servants out of the process
Mark, Paignton, UK

Yes it is outdated, but why bother to replace it with something else? Anything managed by government or the machinery of government will continue to reward those who fit into the general headings of cronies or toadies? Dump the whole thing and spend the money on something more useful.
Ian Butler, High Wycombe, UK

Why should someone get a knighthood just for managing a football team?
Mark B, Glasgow, UK
The honours list is vastly outdated. It appears that the people who are mainly honoured (especially knighthoods) are celebrities, captains of industry and people who have wealth. What about an honour system for people who have done exceptional things in their lives such as our war heroes, champions of charity causes etc? Why should someone get a knighthood just for managing a football team or for being a well known actor or a musician?
Mark B, Glasgow, UK

The empire is dead and is associated with slavery and oppression of the masses. Who'd want an award with those connotations? We should have awards for service to the country and recognition for outstanding contributions to the arts and sport. These should be nominated by the people of this country and decided by a committee that is apolitical. They would then have some real worth and Her Majesty too could feel that she was doing the will of her people and not the government in power at that particular time.
Msmo, London

In most cases the recipients of these outdated 'honours' have already been amply rewarded financially or by professional recognition in their field. I admire and congratulate those people who have rejected 'honours'. There may be a case however for recognising publicly unsung heroes.
Judith Edwards, Farnborough, UK

While it is seen as a way to pat famous people on the back, many 'ordinary' people are recognised for the work they do with their communities or for charity. Personally I think this is a lovely way of letting people know they're good works have been noticed.
Sandy, UK

Of course it is outdated. It's just another way of giving a 'pat on the back' to luvvies and civil servants. Many of these people are already overpaid for what they do and in the case of 'celebs' many of them have chosen not to even live in Britain anymore!
Stuart, Preston, UK

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Royal roll call
Roger Moore, David Beckham and Jamie Oliver are honoured by the Queen.


Key awards

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Q&A: The honours system
22 Dec 03  |  Politics

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