Independent oversight of honours nominations has come under increasing political pressure in recent years, current and former members of the committees which review nominations for lordships and knighthoods have said.
A number of committee chairs said they had been pushed out of their roles after failing to approve candidates backed by No 10.
Sir Vernon Ellis, served as the chair of the Arts and Media Honours Committee between 2012 and 2015. He told the broadcaster about one incident when his committee pushed back against a government nomination, who was a Tory donor.
“I felt that if he was given the honour, it would bring the honours into a bit of disrepute because people would say how can he possibly deserve this honour when in this other field there was so much kind of going on and noise and some of that was at his door, right or wrong,” he said.
Sir Vernon also talked about an exchange with the then cabinet secretary, the late Jeremy Heywood, after he had resisted pressure to honour a Number 10-backed candidate.
“He said ‘you know if you continue your position some things might happen that you don’t like, there might be some consequences’. And I said ‘really, what sort of consequences?’ He didn’t say, except said ‘sometimes, you’ve just got to be pragmatic”.
Sir Vernon said he soon found that his term as chair was not being renewed.
“My committee was outraged because they saw for what it was – it’s just because I had taken the stance … The next time I saw Jeremy Heywood I said, ‘so now I know what you mean by consequences’. He just smiled. I mean, you know, what can he say?”
He said there “wasn’t any question” that he was being punished by Downing Street. Jeremy Heywood’s widow, Lady Suzanne Heywood, said she believes the allegations against her husband are “baseless”.
Earlier this month Dame Louise Casey, Chair of the Community and Voluntary Service Committee which awards the majority of honours, wrote a damning email to the Cabinet Office, seen by Channel 4 News, voicing her own concerns about “politicalisation” of the system.
Channel 4 News also interviewed Waheed Saleem, a former Police and Crime Commissioner who was appointed to the Community and Voluntary Services Honours Committee in 2019.
Mr Saleem revealed he was also subjected to “subtle pressure” to approve nominations for honours being put forward by Downing Street, who he felt as an independent member, were not deserving.
He said: “So there’s somebody from Number 10, who sits on the committee, who obviously reports back to Number 10.
“And these nominations when they were rejected the committee were continuously put back to the committee until the right answer came along. And so there were these subtle hints about these nominations, because of their links to Number 10, should be put through for the high honours.
“We actually did a push back. But it was very interesting how those names were continuously being put forward, until the right answer was given. And that’s the politicisation and the political influence that had occurred in the committee. And that’s wrong.”
A few months later Mr Saleem was told his term of office on the committee was not being renewed.
In a statement a Cabinet Office spokesperson told Channel 4 News: “The process for selecting honours is based on merit and approved by committees which are made up of independent members.
“Political awards are a tiny number compared to the overall amount of honours granted.”