Vicky Pryce stripped of her honour – but who are the Honours Forfeiture Committee to decide?

Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce-1756679Vicky Pryce — the former wife of Chris Huhne, who was imprisoned earlier this year for perverting the course of justice after admitting taking speeding points on his behalf — was today stripped of the honour she was awarded by the Queen in 2009. As the BBC reports:

The economist, who was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 2009, was found by a committee to have brought the honour into disrepute.

Some people will have no sympathy for Vicky Pryce and stop there. “She went to prison, serves her right,” will be their response. Others may regard the honours system as a complete waste of time and also stop there. If you’re in either/both of those categories feel free to skip what I’ve got to say.

I’m not going to attack the decision itself. What I do want to do is question who made this decision and the basis on which they made it. The BBC report highlights the key problem: “a committee” decided. What is this committee? Who’s on it?

After asking around on Twitter, it turns out to be the Honours Forfeiture Committee. This was referred to in the media today as the independent Forfeiture Committee, though it isn’t independent by any meaningful definition. Its membership used to comprise six civil servants. Its membership now, apparently, includes a majority of independent members, although they are not named anywhere. There is only one official reference to the committee: here. It does not publish any minutes of its discussions: its decisions are posted in the London Gazette. The Committee’s workings were heavily criticised by the House of Commons’ Public Administration Committee last year:

The very existence of the Committee was viewed by some of our witnesses as mysterious. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, told us: “having been in Government for 13 years, I had never come across it [the Forfeiture Committee] before”. The way the Committee worked was also criticised by witnesses: Lord Jones told us that “the rule book, transparency and predictability went out of the window”.

This is the body which has stripped Vicky Pryce of her CB.

I have no particular reason to defend Vicky Pryce. I haven’t ever met her. I thought her behaviour in bringing Chris Huhne down was reckless bordering on vindictive, however understandable it was that she should feel hurt and betrayed. As for the honours system, I feel conflicted about it, as I explained here:

The idea of the state elevating a chosen few, and marking them out through the awarding of a title which separates them from everyone else, can jar. However, that nagging concern has always been outweighed by this simple argument: a society which does not say thank you to those who offer extraordinary service to its citizens would be a very ungrateful one.

I do think due process matter, though. The criteria for stripping recipients of their honours is vague. Jail terms and professional censure are cited as two examples, but “other reasons for forfeiture can also be considered” apparently.

The Honours Forfeiture Committee may believe Vicky Pryce has brought the name of the CB into disrepute. But the Committee brings the entire honours system into disrepute by existing in the shadows. This secretive body should itself be stripped of its powers, its appointments made independently, and its decisions published openly and applied consistently.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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10 Comments

  • This would be so much more a convincing piece if the whole honours systems wasn’t based on “who are they to decide?” to start with. The forfeiture committee are no more or less credible than those who gave her the honour in the first place.

  • The honours system is a joke anyway. Honours have been bestowed on all manner of dictators and serial criminals. I would have thought this was the least of Ms Pryce’s worries.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 30th Jul '13 - 11:52pm

    The entire honours system is a joke and should be done away with.

  • I agree with the last few contributors. Given we have an largely opaque honours system why are we surprised that the process of losing them is equally murky?

    The way the Order of the Bath is given ‘for outstanding public service” this is the second highest award of English chivalry, and now goes to senior civil servants and top military brass. Clearly in Britain being in a job with an index linked pension is more worthy of honour than charity.

  • I will award her the CDM.

  • richardheathcote 31st Jul '13 - 8:58am

    @ Geoffrey Payne
    “Unfortunately the way she reacted then went on to cause immense damage to the Liberal Democrats”

    I think it was the actions of Chris Huhne that was responsible for any damage the Lib Dems may have suffered

  • Julian Tisi 31st Jul '13 - 9:32am

    I’m very much in favour of the honours system for the simple reason, as Stephen Tall says, that a society which does not say thank you to those who offer extraordinary service to its citizens would be a very ungrateful one. The vast majority of those who receive honours are truly extraordinary in some way, shape or form.

    I must declare an interest here – my brother received an honour recently (Queens Police medal) for his work during the riots in Tottenham.

    The Honours Committee itself (the one that gives out the honours) is not as good as it ought to be (I’ve know one person in particular who should have received an honour a few years ago many times over but who did not) but at least it has a modicum of transparency about it. But the Honours Forfeiture Committee clearly does not. It should be clear about who sits on it, when it meets and clear guidelines for what behaviour would result in an honour being removed.

  • I look forward to many more people being stripped of their honours. How about Sir Nigel Rudd for conniving in the sell off of half of Britain’s industry to foreign owners, most recently Invensys?

    We should stop awarding honours to people who betray their country like this.

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