Sir Philip Green: MPs approve stripping BHS ex-chief of knighthood

Closed BHS store Image copyright Reuters

MPs have backed a call for former BHS owner Sir Philip Green to be stripped of his knighthood.

The motion is not binding as any final decision would have to be taken by the Honours Forfeiture Committee.

BHS was sold by Sir Philip last year, but then collapsed with the loss of 11,000 jobs and carrying a £571m pension deficit.

MPs backed the non-binding motion unopposed, meaning no full vote was needed.

A lengthy three-hour debate was held, during which Sir Philip was attacked from MPs across the parties.

'Billionaire spiv'

They did not hold back. Among the most notable criticisms was that he was like the autocrat Napoleon and the former boss of the Mirror group of newspapers, Robert Maxwell, as well as being an "asset-stripper".

Labour's David Winnick branded Sir Philip "a billionaire spiv who should never have received a knighthood. A billionaire spiv who has shamed British capitalism".

He added that his "billionaire's lifestyle" was a "form of provocation" to BHS employees and pensioners.

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Frank Field, chairman of the Work and Pensions committee, had begun the debate about the collapse of BHS.

He said one of the main findings of his committee's report was that "literally nothing happened in BHS or Arcadia without Sir Philip knowing directly".

Do the right thing

Mr Field said Sir Philip could have solved the problem easily and been of help in building a stronger pensions regime.

"We are dealing with a man who has huge sums in wealth. He could have dealt with the pensions problem and walked away smelling of roses," he said.

"He would have helped us begin to set the debate about how we deal with pension deficits. He had nothing to say and couldn't help us lead the debate."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Philip could have solved the problem easily, said MP Frank Field (right)

Conservative MP Richard Fuller said: "Freedoms that are given to people who have enormous power over fellow citizens are based on people doing not only the legal thing, but the right thing.

Analysis: Adam Parsons, Newsnight

Sir Philip Green's knighthood now dangles by a thread, but his reputation has already been very publicly trashed.

This wasn't so much a debate as a shooting gallery. MPs took it in turn to lambast Sir Philip Green. Not one came to his defence, with the amendment carried unanimously. If Sir Philip does have friends in the House of Commons, they are not doing him much good.

This vote isn't binding - but the Honours Forfeiture Committee will be under pressure to meet soon, and to listen to the opinion of the House. This is the first time MPs have voted to take away a knighthood - can the committee really turn that down?

The question is whether this vote will spur Sir Philip into a last-minute deal to cover the shortfall in the BHS pension fund, or will he think that he's been backed into a corner and pull out of negotiations? The clock is ticking - one senior MP told me he would now press for the knighthood to be annulled by Christmas.

Not every MP present approved of the debate.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, North East Somerset MP, said it was an abuse of the House of Commons for MPs to debate whether to strip Sir Philip of his knighthood.

The Conservative backbencher said: "I don't think it is right for the House of Commons to be debating something that may lead to a penalty for someone without any proper judicial process."

The key to justice, he said, "is that you have to have justice for those you don't approve of as much as those for who you do approve of".

The MP added: "To call for another committee to strip somebody of an honour when the normal process is that an honour is only taken away if someone has committed a criminal offence is an abuse of the House of Commons."

Cheque book

Although the outcome of the vote won't be binding - it will significantly increase the pressure on the Honours Forfeiture Committee to take action, which has the final say.

Meanwhile the Pensions Regulator has said it was still waiting for Sir Philip Green to produce any "comprehensive" plan to help former BHS staff.

Sir Philip has held several meetings with the Pension Regulator over the summer and is expected to meet with them this week.

Mr Field is pressing for the Pension regulator to take legal action against Sir Philip to make good the BHS pension deficit.

'Damning report'

Sir Philip has vowed several times to sort out the pension problem, telling MPs in June that his advisers were working on a "resolvable and sortable" solution.

On Monday, he told ITV that he was in a "very strong dialogue" with the pensions regulator to find a solution, but would not put a number on the level of financial support he would be willing to give.

A damning MPs' report on the High Street chain's failure, published in July, concluded Sir Philip had extracted large sums and left the business on "life support".

At the time Sir Philip described the report as "the pre-determined and inaccurate output of a biased and unfair process".

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