Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

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, possibly criminal.

  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[1].

  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 still distraught.

  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 been so.

  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 a service?

  Mr Lidstone: No, I am not.

  Q374 Sir Sydney Chapman: Or the postman from the Cheviots who in driving rain and worse has delivered mail faithfully?

  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 honoured.

  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 extraordinary things.

  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 of that.

  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 whatever? Yes.

  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 is silly.

  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 person?"?

  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 upon them.

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

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