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100 years ago: The scrutiny of honours

06 January 2023

January 5th, 1923.

THE distinction between honour and honours is not new. A long search among the obscurer materials for history would be necessary in order to discover a period during which honours had not been granted for some consideration or another of no worthy kind, though they have rarely been shamelessly bought and sold. But the historical fact did not suffice to silence the demand for an investigation of the modern method and tendency, for the fountain of honour was generally admitted to have flowed far too freely under the late Government, and the lists were swollen beyond all reasonable limits. The Report of the Royal Commission on Honours lays to rest fears which have been widespread, though its primary function was to provide for the future rather than to investigate the past. It points out that honours have been bestowed for political reasons ever since the development of the party system of government, and that it is extremely difficult to distinguish between services rendered by contribution to party funds and services rendered by active work in organization. At the same time it is repugnant that a person otherwise undeserving of an honour should get it merely on the strength of a substantial donation to the party chest. Past Prime Ministers are acquitted of any knowledge of pledges that honours would be granted in return for such contributions; so also are party managers and patronage secretaries. But the existence of unauthorized touting is taken as proved. The Commission suggests the appointment of a committee of scrutiny, and of scrutiny only, of lists to be submitted by the Prime Minister to the King, and penalties for touting are also recommended. If these simple recommendations are given effect we shall have heard the last of a sorry business.

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