The government was accused of abusing the honours system yesterday after a leaked document suggested the tennis player Tim Henman was recommended for an OBE to "add interest" to the list.
Minutes of deliberations over the new year's honours were leaked to a Sunday news paper by a Whitehall source who claimed the process was swayed by the publicity an honour might get, rather than genuine merit. The minutes were from a meeting on October 17 of the the main committee which considers honours.
They show the main committee, which is made up of senior civil servants, overruled a sub-committee on sports hon ours that was against "taking Henman at present". The Sunday Times said that rather than citing his achievements, the minutes showed that the main committee believed Britain's top ranking tennis player "should be taken now to add interest to the list".
The whistleblower told the Sunday Times they had leaked the document because the sys tem was over-secretive, dominated by spin and compromised by political bias.
The secret document also suggested that Professor Colin Blakemore, an eminent Oxford University scientist, was being excluded because of his "controversial" work on vivisection. There were anxieties of a backlash from the animal rights lobby, the newspaper claims.
Matthew Taylor, chairman of the Liberal Democrats, accused the government of debasing the honours system. He said: "People will be shocked that the honours system should be abused whether to benefit Tony's cronies or simply to generate publicity."
A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for administering the hon ours system, said: "We totally refute the claim that honours are rewarded on anything other than merit."
The spokesperson said the main committee's function "was to take an overall view of the balance on the final list".
Consideration was being given to how to make the process "more open and transparent", the spokesperson said.