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It's your honour to be vetted by a committee.

FEELING nostalgic for the good old days . . . when we all knew our place and when the sun never set on the Empire?

Fear not, for that great legacy of Empire is almost upon us again. The honours - specifically the New Year honours

The British honours system is a political behemoth, long revered by the Establishment but hated by campaigners who brand it the symbol of unacceptable elitism.

It acted as the very apex for Britain's upper echelons until recent changes allowed ordinary people to also receive gongs.

Despite these changes, suspicions still linger that the awards are based on patronage and generating good news headlines.

Philanthropist, benefactor and millionaire Labour supporter Sir Christopher Ondaatje was recently knighted by the Queen for services to museums, galleries and charitable societies.

But critics attacked the award, pointing to his generous support for Labour.

It has also been suggested that awards for footballing superstar David Beckham, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and Rolling Stone Sir Mick Jagger, were all done to generate headlines.

The roots of the honours system can be traced back to the 14th Century, when Edward III created the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

King Richard developed this tradition by handing out prized items for loyal service.

It was only at the beginning of the 19th Century when Prime Ministers took on the awarding process, widening those who could receive them, beyond the aristocracy and high-ranking military officers.

Further options for reform include giving the system added transparency by extending the membership of the key vetting committees.

Government 'honours units' forward lists of proposed names to the relevant civil service sub-committees, which are divided into sections covering different areas like sport and the arts.

Candidate lists are sent to the main honours committee, which is chaired by the Cabinet Secretary.

The main committee approves and amends the final list of more than 1,000 names which is sent to the Prime Minister and the Queen.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 26, 2003
Words:324
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