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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 May, 2004, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Ex-PM Major gives honours secrets
John Major
Major: Pressure on PMs for honours is 'pretty tedious'
John Major has told MPs how as prime minister he came under continued pressure from people keen to secure themselves an honour.

He said on one occasion he was lobbied by a "great public figure" who told of his love of the UK and how he felt he could be of greater service to him.

Mr Major, who claims he has no personal wish to be a peer or knight, said it did not enhance the person's chances.

He did not think disgraced peer Lord Archer should lose his title, he said.

If people have been sent to prison and have paid a price, then I think that's the way our system has traditionally worked - I think that's sufficient
John Major

Lord Archer served two years of a four-year term for perjury.

But Mr Major, who was giving evidence to the Commons public administration committee's inquiry into the honours system, said he could see no sense in adding retrospective rules.

"If people have been sent to prison and have paid a price, then I think that's the way our system has traditionally worked," he said.

"I think that's sufficient - that would be my judgement."

'No Lord'

Mr Major said he had "no particular wish" to gain from the honours system for himself, but spoke of his wife Norma's joy at being honoured for her charity work.

He insisted he had "no hostility" to honours, and had been the recipient of a Companion of Honour for his work in the Northern Ireland peace process.

You are implying because I am a former prime minister I ought to be a peer or a knight - I don't buy that argument
John Major

But he did not want to be a "Sir" or a "Lord".

"I have left politics, I'm out of politics. I have moved on, so I'm not going to the House of Lords," he said.

"You are implying because I am a former prime minister I ought to be a peer or a knight - I don't buy that argument.

"I don't like atomicity and I don't wish to put myself in a position where people will say I was taking advantage of it."

'Frustrated ambitions'

Having initiated the last review into the system, Mr Major agreed it was time for another look at it.

He told the committee he had faced "a lot of frustrated ambitions" seeking honours when he was prime minister.

Lord Archer
Lord Archer was jailed for perjury
"Many people keep their frustrated ambitions to themselves, others, perhaps with greater expectations, tend not to," he said.

"I think not only the prime minister, but those close to him, are often reminded either directly or indirectly, of the virtues of 'X'.

"Sometimes 'X' will do it themselves. Sometimes they will do it tactfully, sometimes not so tactfully. almost always without a great degree of credit"

Regular occurrence

Mr Major said he could think of one occasion involving "one great public figure known to everyone present", but who he was not going to name.

"After an extremely enjoyable lunch with a large collection of people gathered, [he took] me grandly by the arm to walk round the garden to express to me his great love of this country and how he felt he could be of greater service to me," he said.

"I was not in any real doubt where he felt that service should be and it didn't enhance his prospect of getting there in terms of that sort of lobbying - that happened to me quite regularly.

"People would become hugely available to help beyond any reasonable expectation and one suspected why that was since they hadn't been available to help before one was in a position to look at the honours list.

"Others would arrange for intermediaries to approach you. 'Have you seen the splendid work 'X' has done...? In my mind 'X' rather retreated down the list of likely candidates when I heard that.

"It's tedious this lobbying and it's extremely unattractive and it's quite prevalent."

'Powerful representations'

Mr Major defended his recommendation for Margaret Thatcher's husband Denis's hereditary baronetcy, which has since passed to their son Mark who now lives in South Africa.

To laughter from MPs, he said: "It was a response to powerful representations - I felt inclined to grant at the time."

He thought it "undesirable" for political journalists to receive honours within their working life.

But he insisted that despite people's perceptions, prime ministers had little to do with the choice of who received honours.

He told Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins to chuckles: "It's not a case of 'I like the colour of your eyes Kelvin - you can be a peer'."

Mr Major suggested that the title of OBE - Order of the British Empire - could be altered to Order of British Excellence, to remove some of the objections to its empirical connections.

The review into the honours system comes after controversy over the way recipients are selected for honours.

Hague calls for honours overhaul
28 Dec 03  |  Politics
Blair puts Lords reform on hold
19 Mar 04  |  Politics
Lord Archer jailed for lying
25 Jul 01  |  UK News
Archer faces ban from Lords
18 Sep 03  |  Politics

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