Tories defend honours system amid 'cronyism' row

Updated: 

The Government has defended the New Year Honours and insisted it is unfair to criticise awards given to Tory donors, despite allegations of cronyism.

Prime Minister Theresa May has previously pledged to shake up the system and in November joked that she "retched" when she saw David Cameron's resignation honours list, in an attack on his former spin doctor, Sir Craig Oliver.

But Labour has condemned the Tories for rewarding "cronies" in the New Year Honours.

Tory donor David Ord, who has given the party £930,000, has been knighted for "political service", while Dominic Johnson, associate treasurer of the Conservative Party and now CBE, gave the Cameron family somewhere to stay when they left Downing Street in July.

The Government emphasised the independent oversight of honours nominations, which can be submitted by Whitehall departments and members of the public.

A Government source said: "Honours are rewards for hard work and contributions to civic society.

"All nominations for honours are assessed by one of the nine independent honours committees.

"It is unfair to criticise individuals being honoured just because they have also chosen to donate to a political party.

"Donations should be transparent, but it's not an excuse to knock people for broader philanthropy, enterprise and public service."

But a spokesman for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "The Conservatives are making a mockery of our honours system.

"Every crony appointment is an insult to the incredible people from right across Britain who are rewarded for the great contributions they make to our national life."

The Prime Minister could also face complaints over the 14 honours handed to officials from the Home Office, which she ran from 2010 to 2016.

Despite no other department receiving more honours if embassy and consulate staff are excluded, it is believed the Government will highlight the 13 awards given to Home Office civil servants in last year's list in its defence.

The New Year Honours have also faced criticism for "rewarding failure", with the head of Britain's foreign aid department coming under fire after being awarded a knighthood.

Mark Lowcock has been honoured just weeks after the Department for International Development was reprimanded for building a £285 million airport on the remote island of St Helena, where it is too windy for commercial planes to land.

Tory MP Philip Davies, a regular opponent of the way Britain spends money on foreign aid, told the Daily Mail Sir Mark should be known as "Sir Waste-a-Lot".

Other public servants to have received honours include Sarah Pearson, head of customer services at the personal tax division of HM Revenue and Customs, which has this year faced criticism over a previous "collapse" in telephone helpline services amid staff cuts.

HMRC has also been criticised over its role in the Concentrix tax credits scandal.

Also honoured was Oliver Morley, chief executive of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which faced an outcry over its handling of the abolition of paper tax discs under his stewardship.

Labour MP John Mann told the Telegraph the latest batch of honours was "more reward for failure, an irritation that needs preventing in the future".