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MPs recommend former BHS owner Sir Philip Green is stripped of knighthood

Published 20/10/2016

Sir Philip Green sold BHS for £1
Sir Philip Green sold BHS for £1

MPs sought to ramp up the pressure on Sir Philip Green by unanimously recommending he is stripped of his knighthood.

The former BHS owner was labelled a "billionaire spiv" and compared to Napoleon as MPs lined-up to criticise his role in the retail chain's demise.

They have asked the Honours Forfeiture Committee to ensure Sir Philip's knighthood is "cancelled and annulled", with the move viewed by one former minister as part of the businessman's "humiliation".

The unprecedented decision is non-binding, although Downing Street indicated it believes the independent committee may have a decision to make in the future.

The Government also called on Sir Philip to "quickly" remedy the BHS pension scheme deficit, with investigations under way into the conduct of BHS directors and the management of the pension scheme.

BHS went into administration with a £571 million pension scheme deficit shortly after being sold for £1 by Sir Philip to serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell.

Iain Wright, chairman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, said BHS is "one of the biggest corporate scandals of modern times".

The Labour MP told the Commons: "(Sir Philip) took the rings from BHS's fingers, he beat it black and blue, he starved it of food and water, he put it on life support, and then he wanted credit for keeping it alive.

"His extraction of value early on in his ownership made the company less able to innovate, to retain a market share or have a competitive place in the retail market, which would allow the firm to generate the profits and be in more of a position to survive the growing pension deficit.

"This drip, drip decline provided the backdrop to Sir Philip's wish to sell the business."

Labour MP David Winnick questioned how Sir Philip was deemed worthy of a knighthood in 2006, highlighting how the tycoon had put the business in the name of his wife, who lives in Monaco.

He also said: "I see Green as a billionaire spiv, a billionaire spiv who should never have received a knighthood, a billionaire spiv who has shamed British capitalism, and the least we can do today is to make our views clear and strong."

Tory MP Richard Fuller (Bedford) suggested the retail tycoon had failed "to find his moral compass" in not addressing the store's pension deficit over the summer.

And Labour former minister Karen Buck said there have to be wider consequences for the "sake of the reputations of good business" and the Government.

She also said: "There must be individual accountability. What I want to see more than anything - more than further damage to Sir Philip Green's reputation, more than his humiliation, more than the removal of his knighthood - is the money."

For the Government, Business Minister Margot James said: "If evidence is uncovered that indicates that any of the directors' conduct fell below that to be expected then action will be taken."

The barrage of criticism came after Sir Philip made another defence of his actions.

In a letter sent by the businessman's holding company Taveta, he accused senior Labour MP Frank Field o f "highly defamatory and false statements" for dragging the tycoon's Arcadia group into the BHS saga.

It also accused Mr Field of causing "distress" to Arcadia's 22,000 employees by suggesting Sir Philip is "running Arcadia into the ground like BHS".

Sir Philip's letter said there is "absolutely no substance" to the allegations.

Mr Field has led the charge against Sir Philip over BHS's collapse, dragging him before MPs to explain his actions.

Opening the debate on Thursday, Mr Field described Sir Philip as a "very successful traditional asset-stripper".

He also said: "Given my age, you may have thought I might be able to touch the hem of the garment of Napoleon.

"I never knew Napoleon, but in my mind's eye this was a character most like the Napoleon I read about in the history books while I was at school."

On the question of Sir Philip's knighthood, a Number 10 spokesman said: "There will obviously be a decision potentially made at some stage by the forfeitures committee.

"But that is an independent committee, the Government has no role in that at all."

A spokesman for Sir Philip declined to comment.

Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg insisted the move amounted to an abuse of the House of Commons.

He told BBC Radio Four's PM: "The rule of law requires that people, that you may not like, and you may not approve of, are entitled to justice.

"The House of Commons used to issue Bills of Attainder which allowed people to be executed on the say so of the House of Commons. It used to have Bills of Pains and Penalties which penalised people on the will of the House of Commons.

"That is not the way we do things now, and I think to call for another committee to strip somebody of an honour, when normal process is that an honour is only taken away if somebody has committed a criminal offence, is an abuse of the House of Commons."

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