HL Deb 10 February 1986 vol 471 cc5-7

2.47 p.m.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any knowledge of an offer of a knighthood to Mr. Alan Bristow.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, it is not for me to question statements made by Mr. Bristow, but I can assure your Lordships that it is not possible within the workings of the honours system that any such offer could effectively have been made.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for that reply. I very carefully noted Mr. Bristow's exoneration of the Prime Minister from any connection with this allegation. However, does the noble Viscount accept that there is great public disbelief that a man of Mr. Bristow's background, character and obvious and active support for the Tory Party could conceivably have fabricated such an allegation? In view of the fact that two Members of your Lordships' House have been mentioned in this inducement, and the fact that that brings suspicion on all of us in this House, will the noble Viscount initiate an inquiry so that we may ascertain the truth and lift that suspicion?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, in the first instance, the moment that the noble Lord said that Mr. Bristow had exonerated the Prime Minister he even more effectively made my point, that within the present honours system no such offer could conceivably have been made. Secondly, it is not for me to either confirm or deny the noble Lord's propositions about Mr. Bristow since I must say—and I do not say this in any way offensively—that I have no knowledge of Mr. Bristow in any resort or regard. I have met him, but I have no knowledge of his political affiliations.

Finally, I certainly do not see how such an offer—which, if it ever was made must have been in the form of gossip and tittle-tattle—could conceivably become the subject of an inquiry in your Lordships' House, and I do not believe that your Lordships would wish it to be so.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that those who originate such suggestions without revealing their sources must expect thereafter to have very little weight attached to anything that they say; and that those who circulate such suggestions do themselves very little credit indeed?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I think that it would be proper for me, having set out on one course, to maintain it and simply say that I have no comment to make about Mr. Bristow in any way at all.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, is it not clear that any Peer who offered Mr. Bristow an honour of any kind must inevitably have been suffering from certifiable insanity and is thus exclusible from this House?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, that specific question shows how wise I am to refrain from any particular comment on this issue.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, in his repeated defence of the honours system, which I have heard him make on radio and television and which has been repeated this afternoon, is not the noble Viscount the Leader of the House asking us to be a little gullible? Is it not the case that there is nothing unusual in Members of this House, or indeed other members of the political system, promising to recommend that an individual be given a knighthood or indeed a peerage? As regards Mr. Bristow, is it not the case that he is well qualified for it, in view of this Government's record on recommendations for honours, in that not only is he a very wealthy man but he has also contributed substantially to the funds of the Conservative Party? Does that not qualify him, in view of the number of honours that have been given in the life of this Government to such members of the public who have been contributing to Conservative Party funds?

Viscount Whitelaw

I think I am right, my Lords, to confine myself to saying that I really do not know Mr. Bristow's position, because more and more assertions are made about Mr. Bristow which I can neither confirm nor deny. Concerning the honours system, of course there will be very few people in this House—and I of all people would not expect to be immune—who do not hear people come up to them from time to time and say, "Wouldn't it be a good idea, old boy, if I joined you in the House of Lords?" Of course I have heard that on all sorts of occasions. But even if I were to say, "Yes, I think that would be absolutely splendid", I would not actually be making an offer, nor would I be making a recommendation, because in every regard the checks and balances in our honours system are very considerable, as your Lordships know very well, and they have been there for a long time. To engage in gossip and tittle-tattle about this sort of thing does not, I think, really do us much good. It may be fun, and it may be amusing, but I do not think it is very realistic.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, may I say to the noble Viscount that it it not good enough to dismiss these statements as "tittle-tattle". Is the noble Viscount aware that it is not good enough to try to denigrate Mr. Bristow (who, I understand, and my friend has mentioned, is a regular contributor to Conservative Party funds) and to dismiss the whole thing as "tittle-tattle", when we all watched the television bulletins and reports in which Mr. Bristow clearly said that this was an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with some people from the House of Lords who, as he understood it, made him a firm offer of an honour? I do not think we can just dismiss it. If there are offers of that sort, we ought to know. I ask the noble Viscount again: would he reconsider the decision not to set up some kind of inquiry to get to the truth?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, in fairness to myself (because if you are not fair to yourself nobody else is ever likely to be) I do not think that at any time I have made any statement which was in any way derogatory to Mr. Bristow. I have indeed been most careful not to do so. Secondly, I cannot see that there is any purpose in having an inquiry. I described what happened as "tittle-tattle", and I would simply say that if the sort of occasion in which many of your Lordships must have taken part from time to time had taken place, then the sort of gossip which might continue on these matters does qualify later on in the light of day as tittle-tattle, and I think I am entitled to described it as such.

Lord Kinnaird

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House to bring all this nonsense to an end? It so happens that I shall be lunching at Claridges Hotel tomorrow. If it would be of any use to make a few discreet inquiries, I should be delighted to be of help.

Viscount Whitelaw

I can only note my noble friend's suggestion, my Lords.