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Government Websites: Titles

Volume 773: debated on Thursday 9 June 2016

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will take steps to allow people to include honours in titles when completing forms on government websites.

My Lords, this is a matter for individual departments, which are responsible for determining the level of information required for their online forms. However, my right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office has asked officials in the Government Digital Service to look into the feasibility of the proposal. I will write to my noble friend with the outcome of the review on completion.

I thank my noble friend for that very helpful Answer. Given that in two days’ time the Queen will announce the birthday honours, granting recognition to many people who have dedicated their lives to society at large and the community, or showed gallantry in the face of the enemy, it seems unfortunate that up to now—I note my noble friend’s Answer—government departments have not provided an appropriate field in “addresses” in order that the nation can continue to recognise the great public service that these people have given.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Indeed, they have given great public service. Departments can agree requirements with the Government Digital Service to include a field for honours. This is a matter for individual departments, which are responsible for determining the level of information required in online forms. At present, there is nothing to stop someone putting their honours in the field after their surname, although this is not explicitly referred to in the explanations on the forms. Guidance to departments at present suggests a free-text field and not a drop-down list, as this would be too exhaustive to create.

My Lords, some months before the last general election, I completed a questionnaire—perhaps designed by the noble Lord, Lord Hayward—from the Conservative Party. I completed it very correctly, but as a result I kept receiving missives directed to “Mr Lord Other”. Not a problem—but what I think might be a problem, on which the noble Baroness might like to comment, is how much it has cost already to undertake to respond to this extraordinary Question. I was going to say “ridiculous Question”, but perhaps that is going too far. How much is the exercise that she has now described going to cost? It seems to me really rather reactionary.

I thank the noble Lord for that question. I do not think that it will cost anything. This is available at the moment; it is just that each department can choose what it wants to do. It is not up to the Minister for the Cabinet Office to tell departments how to design their websites. There is no specific field for this, but, as I said, you can already put it in the space for surnames; you can add your honorifics to that space.

Remembering from a past existence the occasional experience of addressing envelopes to Lord Mountbatten of Burma, should departments perhaps be advised to limit the number of awards that they give to each person?

My Lords, can my noble friend give me guidance? When I write to people similarly loaded with decorations, at what point in the catalogue does one simply put “et cetera”?

I thank my noble friend for that question. I do not think that one should ever put “et cetera”. One should just keep on adding them, because no one honour is better than the other, so it is right that one should put every single honour, one after the other.

I am sure that I am not the only Member of your Lordships’ House who has had trouble with websites, be they government or not, regarding both titles and honours. Will my noble friend encourage all departments to form a joined-up Government in this respect?

That certainly is what will happen. The Government Digital Service is working very closely with all the departments to have joined-up thinking on how they do their forms. The Cabinet Office is looking into the possibility of a special field for honorifics.

When this investigation goes ahead, will the Government consider looking at honorary titles for the spouses of women Members of this House?