'Lollipops' and 'national' gongs

If scientists ever have reason to test Paul Flynn's DNA, then I'm fairly certain they'll find proof in his genetic make-up that the MP for Newport West is officially more dragon than poodle.

Like most dragons I know, he's been around for a very long time, long enough to have seen a succession of Prime Ministers grappling with the honours system. He's sat on more than one committee that has been asked to take on that very task. The latest attempt is that of the Public Administration Select Committee, published today.

You won't need scientific analysis to know that Paul Flynn is no fan of the way these "baubles of vanity" or ludicrous "lollypops" as he dubs them, are shared out. He believes that "the honours system fosters and strengthens a society of ossified class barriers and endemic pale drabness." He's said so bluntly in the past and says so bluntly again in a minority 'report within a report' ("Dishonoured honours" see p.43 onwards) to which he puts his name.

All in all the committee concludes that the system is "mysterious" and "opaque" and too often rewards celebs and retired civil servants, rather than volunteers who've done far more than a very well paid day-job most of their lives.

So far, so familiar a complaint. But read on and you'll find some members detect an added cause of unfairness - devolution.

"The evidence also suggests that the devolved nations, and certain English regions, receive a higher proportion of honours than is proportionate for their population size. This highlights the success of devolved bodies in championing nominations for honours, but also raises the danger of unequal treatment of nominations, depending on where in the UK the nominee is from."

It goes on: "The high level of influence of the devolved bodies on the honours system also increases the risk of politicisation of the honours system in these regions".

I'll translate. "Look at Wales. The unions and loyal servants of the Labour party have done rather nicely over the past few years, thanks to the Welsh Labour government's influence. Count the gongs and boy, they've done rather too nicely." Amongst those concerned that the playing field, post devolution, is less than level was another Welsh committee member, Alun Cairns MP.

Paul Flynn seemed genuinely baffled when I had a quick word with him this morning. He didn't get it. Why on earth would a Welsh MP argue that Wales should lose out? Why vote to include anything that is 'harmful' to Wales?

Alun Cairns is on holiday. If he wasn't, he'd doubtless argue the case himself - those same scientists would probably find his DNA structure puts him in the "terrier" category - and suggest, perhaps, that if these are indeed "baubles of vanity", then Wales is hardly losing out if fewer are divvied up. If a valued way of recognising real contribution, then the playing field, whether the supporters are wearing red or blue scarves, must be level.

One more point, on which the committee agrees. If you must make an impact on national level to receive a bigger "lollipop" then you shouldn't be penalised for living in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. In other words, 'national' shouldn't mean 'UK-wide'.

Bernard Galton, who is in charge of sorting out honours on behalf of the Welsh Government (not his day job you'll be relieved to know, he has a proper one, Director General of Human Resources) argued in his evidence that "If devolution had not taken place, many of the individuals concerned may have been called upon to advise in a UK-wide capacity. Effectively, these individuals are paying the price for devolution; this is clearly unfair".

In future, the committee calls on "the Cabinet Office to treat work at national level in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as national not regional service or achievement, when considering nominations for honours".

Good news for Welsh civil servants and advisers then. You can decide for yourselves whether that takes us back to the territory of dragons, poodles or terriers.