Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360-379)|
26 FEBRUARY 2004
Q360 Kevin Brennan: Do you not think
you do have a responsibility if you make a serious accusation
of that kind?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: It is what I
observed. I observed it; I interviewed people.
Q361 Kevin Brennan: It is a serious matter,
Ms Alibhai-Brown: I have written
what I have observed in my columns many times.
Q362 Kevin Brennan: But you will not
say who is responsible?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: I cannot do
that in an open meeting, but it is very clear to me. It is not
just money. We like to think of ourselves as not as bad as A,
B, C, D, but I think we should be very careful.
Q363 Kevin Brennan: You have parliamentary
privilege while you are here. It is a good opportunity.
Ms Alibhai-Brown: No, I cannot.
But as an example and without prejudice, I would like to know,
what was the reason for Lord Patel getting his position.
Mr Lidstone: Could I just respond
in part to the end of that comment in the sense that my colleague
here cannot give a name, for very good reasons of her own? I have
listed a number of businessmen in my Churchill lecture on the
honours system where I know for a fact of the connection between
the company profits that were made and the money that was taken
out of those companies and paid into political parties and then
the honours that flowed from it.
Q364 Sir Sydney Chapman: You have both
been extremely candid, which I personally appreciate. Could I
just flesh out one or two points? When did you receive your MBE?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: 2000.
Q365 Sir Sydney Chapman: One of the things
you said was that one of the considerations at the back of your
mind, and I do not want to put it out of context, was that your
mother had a fear that she might be deported and you felt that
that might help?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: Yes.
Q366 Sir Sydney Chapman: You then handed
back your MBE at the end of last year.
Ms Alibhai-Brown: Yes. She is
Q367 Sir Sydney Chapman: Does she not
perhaps think that by you handing back the MBE she is in very
great danger of being deported?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: Yes, yes, and
it is a very difficult thing. In the end it became a moment of
conscience really. It is not just that. Trevor Phillips I think
wrote a very passionate piece about why it was important to remember
that for a lot of black and Asian people it is an extremely important
acknowledgement that this is their nation, so I would never criticise.
Unlike Benjamin Zephaniah, I would never criticise people for
accepting it because when you have spent so many years always
having to argue your right to be, it is an important thing.
Q368 Sir Sydney Chapman: Mr Lidstone,
you said that you had been offered the post of chairman of a health
authority and you then recounted various matters. Was it as a
result of what that person said to you about you might be able
to expect a CBE at the end of your term of office that made you
not accept the offer or not take the matter any further?
Mr Lidstone: It was one of the
factors. I know that other people in the pharmaceutical industry,
about which I write quite considerably, took similar posts and
got the CBE, so I know that that was a fact, but it was one of
the factors. It was that plus other things that led to the views
that I have about the so-called honours system.
Q369 Sir Sydney Chapman: But you would
know that had you become the chairman, a very successful chairman,
I am sure, and then been offered a CBE at the end, you would have
had the perfect freedom to say no?
Mr Lidstone: Yes, exactly. It
was, I think, the contemptuous dangling of this bauble in front
of me as a part of it, "This is the icing on the cake",
so to speak, which concerned me.
Q370 Sir Sydney Chapman: Thank you. I
just want to get on the record, Yasmin: are you against the honours
system on principle?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: No.
Q371 Sir Sydney Chapman: That is what
I thought was the case.
Ms Alibhai-Brown: In fact, I am
very passionately pro.
Q372 Sir Sydney Chapman: Mr Lidstone,
you have said that you think the great should be rewarded?
Mr Lidstone: Yes, as long as we
are very careful about the great. In the right system. I am not
against the honours system at all. I just want to bring honour
back to it and let those who are honoured be proud that they have
Q373 Sir Sydney Chapman: But you distinctly
said, I think, that people who are very accomplished, distinguished,
great people in our society should be rewarded. Are you therefore
ruling out the dear old tea lady who for 40 years has performed
Mr Lidstone: No, I am not.
Q374 Sir Sydney Chapman: Or the postman
from the Cheviots who in driving rain and worse has delivered
Mr Lidstone: I am not excluding
such examples as you have given at all. The only caveat I would
put upon that would be that if we are going to make the honours
system one where everybody can say, "Yes, indeed" to
every individual, just because they are tea ladies and have done
40 years is not a reason for an honour. There must be something
fairly distinguished about what they have done. A lot of people
have done 40 years in various departments and they do not get
Ms Alibhai-Brown: I disagree with
John when he says he wants fewer people to get the honour. I think
we should expand the pool and find ways of rewarding more people.
I did not know and I think it is quite shocking, the statistic
that we have here. There must be a way of having local honours,
maybe initially, and coming up with a system which is a regional
honour, maybe a regional honour system within a devolved nation,
and then moving up to a national honour so that you would cover
and find out about all these people who are, like you said, doing
Q375 Sir Sydney Chapman: Accepting that
you both feel that some sort of honours system should obtain,
are you of the opinion that there should be fewer types of honour
or just one honour? I do not know enough about the French system.
There is the Legion d'Honneur, but I think there are various grades.
Mr Lidstone: There are categories
Q376 Sir Sydney Chapman: Are you in favour
of simplifying the system?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: Yes, I am.
Mr Lidstone: Very much so, yes.
Q377 Sir Sydney Chapman: And perhaps
getting rid of an absurdity, and I must be very careful what I
say. I am not married but if I were then my wife could call herself
Lady Chapman. Yasmin, you have said that you might accept in certain
circumstances becoming a Dame but is it not rather absurd that
if you did become a Dame your husband
Ms Alibhai-Brown: Could not become
Q378 Sir Sydney Chapman: So running through
both of you is not only should there be a system but it must be
the right kind, and also it should get rid of what you would perceive
to be certain absurdities in the existing system?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: And it is a
class thing again. People say, "Oh, you got the lowest of
the low". You immediately start feeling incredibly dissatisfied,
even if you did not want it in the first place: "How come
I did not get the OBE and this other person did?", and it
Mr Lidstone: Or the Dorothy Squires
sort of reaction to it all.
Q379 Sir Sydney Chapman: The final point
is that in the nature of our jobs people approach us and say,
"I think X or Y ought to be given some public recognition",
and if we know X or Y and we think that they should, we will write
in support, but then, as one of our colleagues said to the previous
witnesses, it goes into a black hole and we never know what happens
one way or the other. Do you think that there should be in the
supervision of the honours list people independently who go through
and say, "If that person is being proposed, why not that
Mr Lidstone: You are now in the
realms of transparency and I do not think there is enough transparency
in the evidence that the public sees of how a man or woman has
got an honour. That should be seen to be so, and I have nothing
against politicians of any party receiving honours for things
they have done. I have actually quoted people who have done that.
Jack Ashley for me is an example of somebody who has shown great
courage in adversity and done great things beyond his job. In
every field of endeavour there are examples that one can quote
but it needs to be transparent and politicians could have their
contributions or the people that come to them fed back through
the system. It is, if you like, the political system that operates,
particularly through the Prime Minister's list, where you get
least explanation of why the people are on it. Could I respond
to one comment you made, Sir Sydney, and Yasmin made the point
as well? You might want to get on to whether the Order of the
British Empire has any relevance in today's world, but I have
great anxieties about the gradations of these honours. If you
are going to honour somebody it is an honour in itself. They have
done something which is worthy of an honour, but to give a pecking
order to it and to grade them into some sort of category seems
to me a great disservice to the honour you are seeking to bestow
1 Note by witness: He is a nice chap but why
the position? I am only giving this as an example that such questions
are rarely asked. Back