Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380-399)|
26 FEBRUARY 2004
Q380 Brian White: I was going to ask
that question. One of the suggestions we have had is that the
reference to empire in the OBE, CBE, etc, is an issue and there
have been various suggestions, such as the Order of British Excellence
or whatever. If there were still an OBE and it was just an OBE,
would the kind of comments you have made abut the Empire heritage
Ms Alibhai-Brown: An Order of
the British Order of Merit (BOM).
Q381 Brian White: An Order of British
Excellence as opposed to any reference to the Empire.
Ms Alibhai-Brown: I think it would
be much better. It would be much more comfortable, I think. Yes;
it would make quite a big difference. It is a symbolic thing but
it would make a big difference.
Q382 Brian White: Both of you have suggested
there ought to be some kind of independence element. I would like
you to define what you mean by "independent person"
because I know people have different political prejudices from
me but I do not know anybody who is independent.
Mr Lidstone: Yes, you are right.
Independence is a very judgmental label to put on anyone, whether
it is a politician or somebody in another walk of life. I suppose
the problem I have at the moment is that there ain't much independence,
if you like, about the way it operates at the present time. If
I put it negatively, the problem that I have is to try and believe
in the independence of the people who have a political axe to
grind and, to take the Prime Minister's list and all the names
that flow from that, there does not seem to me to be too much
evidence transparently that we can see that suggests it is independent.
Q383 Brian White: I can understand that
you do not like the current list, but what is going to be independent
about a different list?
Mr Lidstone: For starters, if
you lance the Prime Minister's list it would be a great help because
you would remove at one stroke the prejudice, the disbelief, the
cynicism that most people bring to observing what is on that list.
Q384 Brian White: So somebody who is
independent, in your words, in other words, somebody who is not
Mr Lidstone: Who has no axe to
Q385 Brian White: is preferable
to somebody who is accountable at an election? That is what you
are saying, is it not? There is an appointed personappointed
by whom we come back to in a momentwho is not accountable
to anybody who makes a judgment that is somehow better than a
politician's judgment who is accountable to the people. That is
what you are saying, is it not?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: No, no. They
could be accountable to Parliament. There is no reason why elected
MPs cannot be on a panel, but that is completely different from
the political parties rewarding people for progressing their political
ambitions. That is the difference, I think.
Q386 Brian White: I am trying to get
out what you are suggesting is changed. Are you suggesting that
the civil servants who currently put the list together, because
although it is called the Prime Minister's list it is primarily
a Civil Service list, and we had Gay Catto here, Secretary to
the Committees, are the wrong people to be putting the list together?
Mr Lidstone: Not necessarily,
but the terms of reference upon which they operate I think need
looking at because, as was said by one or two members of this
committee earlier, there are so many that go to the Diplomatic
Service; there are so many that go to the armed forces; there
are so many that go to politicians; there are so many that go
to senior civil servants. The Secretary to the Cabinet gets a
KCB, gets whatever else, he ends up with a peerage. Why?
Q387 Brian White: So your problem is
not the job title getting the reward. Your problem is the categorisation
of award rather than the fact that it is a Prime Minister's list?
Mr Lidstone: No; it is more than
that. I do not have any reason for myself to question the independence
and judgment of the Civil Service when they are given a remit
to carry out a non-political policy like the honours. It is the
way in which they are required to operate it and to allocate honours
that go with jobs, as does the Prime Minister's list, that disturbs
Q388 Brian White: I am slightly confused
and I am trying to get to the bottom of exactly what you are saying.
You are saying that a different set of criteria could adequately
be done with appropriate transparency?
Mr Lidstone: Yes, I am.
Q389 Brian White: And it is the transparency
that you have the problem with rather than necessarily the fact
that template A or template B is used. Is that right?
Mr Lidstone: Your use of the word
"transparency" is apt because if you breathe transparency
into the system it then has to be accountable to the public that
will be able to look at it and you will not be able to get away
with the things which I believe are now being got away with in
the honours list.
Ms Alibhai-Brown: If you advertised
for members of this committee you would get a huge raft of people
who outside these small circles are constantly being offered things
and so on. There is no reason to exclude civil servants. People
need to apply to be members of this committee and that committee
should be accountable to Parliament.
Q390 Brian White: And presumably looked
over by the office for the Commissioner of Public Appointments,
who herself was hand picked into that job?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: Yes; it is not
difficult to do, I do not think.
Q391 Brian White: There is a scrutiny
process for local appointments at the moment, which is through
Lord Lieutenants. Would you see that system continuing or do you
think there should be a different way of looking at local candidates?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: I do not know
anything about that, so I could not comment.
Mr Lidstone: I cannot comment
on that except that as far as I can see quite a lot of the Lord
Lieutenants come out of a very restricted background.
Q392 Mr Prentice: Did I hear you correctly,
Yasmin, in saying that you would accept a damehood? Was I imagining
Ms Alibhai-Brown: I think the
British Order of Merit, a BOM, would be nice.
Mr Lidstone: I think the problem
with the damehoods, particularly those that are given to people
in the theatre, is that it is too near to pantomime to be even
Q393 Mr Prentice: You would like to get
rid of Knights and Dames, those handles, as part of your simplification
of the system?
Mr Lidstone: I think so.
Ms Alibhai-Brown: Yes.
Mr Lidstone: It is a divisive,
segregating way of looking after society. We are all the same
and what we do through our own efforts distinguishes us.
Q394 Mr Prentice: And you think the awards
Mr Lidstone: Yes.
Ms Alibhai-Brown: They certainly
go back to a time when class was a defining feature of our society.
We are now genuinely becoming a meritocracy (though not fast enough)
so it seems anachronistic at best.
Q395 Mr Prentice: And you would deal
with the class bias by drastically reducing the number of awards?
Is that right?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: I want to keep
Q396 Mr Prentice: How do you prevent
the dinner ladies
Ms Alibhai-Brown: I would not.
I think they have to be included with the respect they deserve.
Q397 Mr Prentice: We always refer to
dinner ladies, for God's sake, clustered round the MBEs.
Ms Alibhai-Brown: No, we do not
want the MBEs. We are going to have the BOM for everybody, so
there will not be that problem. I think that would be a very good
equalising thing to do.
Mr Lidstone: If I can just quote
one interesting codicil to Charles Dickens' will, he was offered
a baronetcy, I seem to remember from my research, and he turned
it down. He said, "I let rest my claims to the remembrance
of my friends and upon my published works", and I think that
summarises his place in history very well without any gong.
Q398 Mr Prentice: Just two other points.
You have both said in your own ways that the honours system is
corrupt. You mentioned this on the Today programme. You
told us about the named individual from Blackburn.
Ms Alibhai-Brown: No, I did not
say he was corrupt. I just said we should be told why he was awarded
a place in the Lords.
Q399 Mr Prentice: You were talking about
henchmen and rewarding influence.
Ms Alibhai-Brown: No, no. I said
it very clearly: maybe you should find out what were the reasons
for Lord Patel, for example, ending up in the House of Lords.
I have not given you any of the names I could have of henchmen.
2 Note by witness: I don't imagine that happening,
so don't worry. Back