All Peter Grant debates involving the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill

(Report stage)
Peter Grant Excerpts
Thursday 9th September 2021

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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I beg your pardon, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am standing to speak to the wrong provision.

Luke Hall Portrait The Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government (Luke Hall)
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I welcome the contribution from the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith). I shall start by responding to new clause 1, tabled by the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) and the hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to him for his constructive words and the way in which he has approached the debate.

The new clause would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on the number of directors investigated and disqualified under the new provisions in the Bill every three months from the date that the Act is passed. I am grateful to hon. Members for the opportunity to confirm to the House that statistical reporting is routinely undertaken by the Insolvency Service. Regular three-monthly releases cover company insolvencies across the whole UK as well as individual insolvencies in England and Wales. The releases also contain underlying data and are published and available online to everybody.

As well as that, since the start of the pandemic, the Insolvency Service has been publishing experimental monthly releases of data concerning insolvency numbers. This was so that the statistics could act as an indicator of the impact of the pandemic on insolvencies. It may be of particular interest to hon. Members that the Insolvency Service also releases monthly updates about its enforcement activities. This information includes not only the number of companies wound up in the public interest, but the number of disqualification orders and undertakings broken down by the relevant section of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, under which they were sought. Going forward, these numbers will include any orders or undertakings obtained as a result of this new provision. The reports also include information on lengths of periods of disqualification. Furthermore, there is an annual report on the nature of the misconduct being alleged.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured that a large amount of information is already provided that can be accessed easily through a quick online search and that future reports of enforcement outcomes will include any disqualifications made against former directors of dissolved companies. I would be grateful to him for withdrawing his new clause.

Let me just add one last point. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the new burdens on councils. I somewhat couched my answer the last time we spoke about it, so I just want to put on record that we will absolutely be meeting the new burdens cost, including the associated administrative and IT costs.

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Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith
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I will again be brief, because we set out our concerns on Second Reading and in Committee, I am aware that this might not be seen as the highlight of the parliamentary week by Members, and there is an important debate to follow.

As we said, we have always supported the Bill’s broad aims. We want to see support administered quickly for businesses that have been affected by covid and have missed out on business rates relief. We accept that ruling out material change of circumstances claims, but instead administering the bespoke £1.5 billion fund, will probably be the best way of doing so in the current circumstances. We also support the aims of clauses 2 and 3, which would close the legal loophole and give the Government the power to investigate and disqualify unscrupulous or unfit company directors.

I welcome the Government’s decision to extend the provisions of clause 1 to apply in Wales, which has been welcomed by colleagues in the Senedd. I also welcome the Government’s decision to ask local authorities, when it comes to administering the fund, to award relief against the liabilities of ratepayers for the current financial year—2021-22—as a way of getting around the restrictions on the business rates legislation so that they can effectively award it against the previous year. It is a technical solution to a technical problem caused by the timing of the funding, when it is eventually released. Local government colleagues assure me that they are happy with this.

Again, I emphasise the fact that we need to get this relief out to businesses as quickly as possible. The rates relief was announced in March and not a penny has yet been paid out. I do not think we need to wait for the end of the Bill proceedings to get indicative guidance to local authorities to design their schemes.

There are still concerns about the resourcing of the Valuation Office Agency and the Insolvency Service and how funds will be recouped and actions taken against unfit company directors. I hope that the Minister will take those concerns into further consideration.

Finally, I thank the Minister for his engagement with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) on the Bill’s finer points. I thank his officials and the many, many representatives of the business community and local authority officers who have also engaged with us during the passage of the Bill.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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I am pleased to make a brief contribution to the debate. As I did at earlier stages, I will restrict my comments to the disqualification of directors, which is the only aspect of the Bill that extends directly to Scotland.

The SNP supports the Bill. Our concerns are the same as those of the official Opposition: that much, much more is needed than is included. We need a much more comprehensive set of regulations, not so much to protect shareholders and directors as to protect customers, members of the public and investors from the scams that have all too often been committed by companies whose shareholders are the directors. A lot of company legislation was designed to protect investors against misaction or misconduct by company directors who are different people, but we are now looking at companies whose directors are the shareholders. They are not going to defraud themselves, but sometimes they may be willing to defraud others.

At earlier stages, I have repeatedly mentioned the conduct of a group of companies called Blackmore Bond and its directors Phillip Nunn and Patrick McCreesh. I will not go over even a fraction of their history, but why they were not at least investigated for disqualification long, long ago is beyond me. The Bill will not make it easier for such directors to be called to order, so we need legislation that fills in the gaps that are left.

As an indication of just how current such behaviour is, the BBC reported as recently as Monday that DialADeal Scotland Ltd has been fined £150,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office for making more than half a million illegal marketing calls, many to numbers that had explicitly opted out of such calls. DialADeal Scotland Ltd used false business names in its marketing, which is illegal. It disguised the number that it was calling from so that people could not phone back to complain, which is also illegal. The calls were about non-existent green deal energy savings schemes. That is not a telecoms offence; it is fraud or attempted fraud, and very probably conspiracy to defraud.

The fine was decided in September 2021, but clearly the action by the Information Commissioner’s Office started before then. In May 2021, the directors of the company, Calum Mckay Kirkpatrick and Yvonne Mccuaig, applied to Companies House to place the company in voluntary liquidation—almost certainly with the sole purpose of avoiding the financial penalty that they knew was coming their way, because if the company were dissolved before the order was made, its directors would get off scot-free. Fortunately, the Information Commissioner’s Office was able to lodge an objection with Companies House and the voluntary strike-off action has been suspended.

The same two individuals, Kirkpatrick and Mccuaig, were also directors of DialADealUK Ltd, which was voluntarily dissolved in September 2018, immediately before DialADeal Scotland Ltd was created. Coincidentally, shortly after they had started the process of winding up DialADeal Scotland Ltd, they set up another company called Simple Lead Ltd. Not one of those companies has ever filed a set of accounts with Companies House; DialADeal Scotland’s accounts are now over a year out of date.

Why is it that company directors can repeatedly avoid any kind of scrutiny? As I have mentioned in relation to Nunn and McCreesh’s companies, they can go for years and years without filing the very limited information that they have to file at Companies House, which just does not seem able to keep up.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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My hon. Friend makes a very good point about Companies House and its limitations. Does he share my concern that the UK Government just do not care enough about Companies House and the massive loopholes that they are leaving for people to be defrauded and company directors to get away scot-free with the wrong things that they are up to?

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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That would certainly be many people’s interpretation of how long it has taken the Government to take any firm action. We keep being promised a comprehensive review of company legislation; it cannot come quickly enough. I hope that we will finally see an end to the scandal of the creatures called Scottish limited partnerships, which are too often set up purely as a means to fund organised crime.

Companies House needs to be reformed and probably better resourced. As the Opposition spokesperson—the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith)—mentioned, the Bill may place additional demands on the resources of the Insolvency Service. We know that the Financial Conduct Authority needs another complete sorting out. Either it is not doing its job or it has not been asked to do the right job; it probably does not have the resources to deal with fraud on the scale that is now going on right under our nose.

Although I welcome the Bill and we will certainly not oppose it—we have supported it all the way through—we look for assurances from the Government that it is not the end of the road. It can only be allowed to be one tiny step towards finally stopping these people. I remember one of the witnesses who gave evidence to the Bill Committee describing the United Kingdom as becoming one of the go-to places of choice for international fraudsters. That is not a badge that any of us should bear with honour. If that badge is applied to the financial services industry, and to the business community in the United Kingdom generally, it will take years—decades—to get rid of and honest businesses will suffer desperately.

The Government have to start to act now. I do not know whether the Minister is in a position to tell us today when the comprehensive review of company regulation will come forward, but I certainly hope that we will see it very soon. As DialADeal’s example makes clear, even since we started our consideration of the Bill, further scams have been inflicted on innocent people throughout these islands.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Dame Rosie Winterton will now take the Chair for our important debate on the legacy of Jo Cox.

Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill (Third sitting)

Peter Grant Excerpts
Thursday 8th July 2021

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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I am very grateful for your understanding, Ms Rees, in allowing me to speak. I would like to make some comments on clause 2. I think that the new clauses are good and I hope that the Committee will agree to them.

There is widespread agreement that clause 2, or something very like it, is needed. We have seen only one dissenting submission from anybody, and that was from an individual solicitor. Speaking as a legal layperson, I thought that that submission contained inconsistencies and seemed almost to miss the point of the legislation. Although I respect the right of that individual to express their views, I cannot agree with them.

We already have legislation that gives the Insolvency Service three years to apply for a disqualification order against the director of a company that goes through a full liquidation if it finds evidence of misconduct in the running of the liquidated company. If the director chooses to dissolve the company without going through liquidation first, the Insolvency Service cannot move to have them disqualified from other directorships for misconduct in the running of the dissolved company.

To indicate how untenable that inconsistency is now that it has been identified, I invite the Committee to imagine that the clause we are debating had been included in the Company Directors Disqualification Act right at the beginning. If somebody had come forward with a proposal to change the Act to create a special exemption for directors who deliberately dissolved their company as a way of dodging the consequences of the own misconduct, nobody would have taken it seriously. We would not create a loophole deliberately. The only disappointment I have is that the proposal to close this loophole has taken so long and that there are still far too many other loopholes for criminals to exploit.

I want to repeat a comment I made on Second Reading, and on which I asked a number of the witnesses to comment on Tuesday. The Government rightly point to the increase in phoenix companies that are set up as part of, or immediately after the dissolution of, a dodgy company. A similar abuse can and does take place where the phoenix company is a long-established associate company of the one being dissolved. The abuse does not rely on a new company being set up if the directors have a few handy replacement companies already in the bank, or on the Companies House register.

During the evidence sessions, I asked a number of witnesses if they had any concerns about the retrospective nature of clause 2. It is important to remember, as the Minister has pointed out, that we are not retrospectively outlawing something that was legal at the time; all we are saying that if someone is strongly suspected of having acted improperly or illegally in the past, that misconduct can be properly investigated. We are not even giving additional powers to the regulator to act; we are removing an artificial barrier that should probably never have been there in the first place to allow that investigation.

We heard an interesting range of views from witnesses on the three-year time limit. As the Minister pointed out, that limit applies from the date of dissolution, not the date of misconduct. If, for example, the directors of a company dissolved it in 2019 because they realised that their misconduct of 2015 was beginning to be picked up by the Insolvency Service or anyone else, they would not get away with it. For now, I think it makes sense to retain the three-year limit that applies elsewhere in the original Act, but I ask the Minister to give careful consideration to extending the limit in future legislation.

In other debates, I have referred to the scandalous way in which Blackmore Bond plc targeted very high-risk investments at people it knew were looking for quite the opposite—a safe place to invest money they could not afford to lose, as they had told the directors of Blackmore Bond. The investors have lost pensions and life savings totalling £46 million. The shareholder directors, Phillip Nunn and Patrick McCreesh, still appear to be doing very nicely indeed, thank you very much.

In 2015, the Insolvency Service, as part of a much bigger investigation into at least one other company, found that through an earlier company called Nunn McCreesh limited liability partnership, the same Phillip Nunn and Patrick McCreesh had been paid nearly £900,000 to identify investors for Capita Oak—an investment scheme that is now under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office. At the very least, there are major questions about what Nunn and McCreesh did for their £900,000 and about whether it was legal or proper. Perhaps by complete coincidence, also in 2015, Nunn and McCreesh dissolved the limited liability partnership.

Under the existing legislation, the Insolvency Service would not have been able to use any misconduct in the running of Nunn McCreesh llp to apply for disqualification orders against Nunn and McCreesh. It could not have stopped them from setting up the much more lucrative Blackmore Bond in 2016. The Bill still would not allow it to do so because of the three-year time limit. That is one reason I am asking the Minister to consider the three-year limit in future.

At least this legislation means that if another Nunn McCreesh llp comes along now, the Insolvency Service will have one small but important additional weapon in its armoury to stop it. It came too late to stop Blackmore Bond making £46 million by making other people’s money—other people’s life savings and pensions—disappear. Hopefully, the next Blackmore Bond will be stopped in time and that will not happen again.

It took only the briefest of searches this morning to find that Phillip Nunn, one of the directors of Blackmore Bond and Nunn McCreesh, was a director of no fewer than 10 different companies that have been dissolved in the past year. For most of them, the only other director was Patrick McCreesh. I do not know whether Mr Nunn or Mr McCreesh was ever placed under formal investigation for their part in Capita Oak, and I do not know what was in the liquidator’s report that was submitted to the Secretary of State about their conduct, as happens with any insolvency case, but surely the fact that they were able to dissolve the company in 2015 should not make any difference to the investigations to which they can be subjected now or the sanctions they can face if they are found or suspected to be guilty of serious misconduct in the operation of Nunn McCreesh llp or any of their other companies. When I was looking at the activities of Blackmore Bond, one of the other companies with which it went into what was called a strategic partnership led to another of these fascinating spider’s webs of dissolved companies and resurrected companies, one of which has an ultimate owner that is a limited liability partnership registered in England with five partners who appear to be members of the same family—two people of similar age who are the designated partners, and three people about 25 to 30 years younger than them who are partners but not designated. It looks like mum, dad and kids—why not?

According to documents that the senior designated partner certified and submitted to Companies House, which Companies House accepted and still has displayed on its website, one of those younger partners consented to the responsibility of being a partner in that partnership when she was 16 years old. One of them, according to those documents, consented to those responsibilities when she was 14 years old. One of them was 10 years old.

Some of our witnesses referred to the gross inadequacies in the processes of Companies House for checking the documents that are submitted to it. Those documents are being used to demonstrate that a company is genuine and bona fide. Those kinds of thing make it clear to me that while the Bill should be supported today and while the clause should be adopted with or without the related new clauses suggested by the main Opposition party, there are still massive holes in our regulation of companies through the Financial Conduct Authority, Companies House and the register of companies, the Financial Reporting Council and the professional auditing bodies.

Not a single part of the regulatory framework is working properly. Sometimes that is because the regulators are not doing the jobs that they are there to do. Sometimes it is because they are not resourced and do not have the firepower to compete with some of what they are faced with. Sometimes it is because the legislation we have provided them with is not fit for purpose. When those three things come together in so many regulators at the same time, it is no wonder, as one of our witnesses pointed out, that the United Kingdom is seen as one of the softest of soft touches for fraudulent companies. An entire company can be set up for no other reason than to steal people’s money.

I welcome the Bill, I certainly support clauses 2 and 3, and I will recommend that the Bill be supported when it returns to the House on Third Reading, but it is only a tiny step on a much longer journey. I urge the Minister and his colleagues in Government not to see the Bill as the last step, but to see it as the first in making the United Kingdom, whatever format it might take in the future, and all our four nations no-go areas for the scammers, chancers and charlatans for whom we have been far too soft a touch for far too long.

Luke Hall Portrait Luke Hall
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his powerful contribution; he is extremely well informed on these matters. I thank him also for his support and take into account his comments on the three-year limit. I am grateful for that.

The Government are certainly not pretending that the work stops here. However, the Bill is a positive step forward in the right direction and it is taking action. I will raise the points the hon. Gentleman has made today with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Extent, commencement and short title

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill (Second sitting)

Peter Grant Excerpts
Tuesday 6th July 2021

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra
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Q Let me follow up on that. Thank you for giving evidence. You laid out a broad landscape of institutions and organisations that you said were together allowing the crime to go on, on the scale that you believe it is. You went on to say that the regulation is not really built to cope with what is happening. As part of that systemic issue, what do you think the Insolvency Service is not doing as well as it should, and does it have the resources that it needs to perform its functions effectively?

Andrew Agathangelou: I will answer your question, but before I do I would like to elaborate on a small point that you made. I actually think that the regulatory framework has been built by Parliament to do what it is designed to do. The problem is not that it is not capable of doing it; it just does not do it. It is a bit like having a really fast car that is just not being driven fast by the driver. The problem is not the vehicle; it is who or what is controlling it. I just thought I would throw that in.

To respond to your question more specifically, again I am a plain-speaking person. The Transparency Task Force ran an event last Thursday, with the title “The Great Insolvency Scam”. I can provide the Committee with the recorded video testimony of that. The reason why we ran an event called “The Great Insolvency Scam” is that we see insolvency as a very dark and murky part of the world of business and commerce. We believe that there is a pile of evidence suggesting that the Insolvency Service has been weaponised. That is where the Insolvency Service is frankly abusing its very extensive powers.

The net result is that people sometimes have their homes or businesses taken away from them, as a consequence of engineered bankruptcies. It really is an horrific, dark area. It sometimes results in people self-harming, committing suicide and all the rest of it. I will now answer your question directly. Personally, the Insolvency Service is a can of worms. I will repeat that it is my personal opinion. I think the Insolvency Service, in part, is a can of worms that needs to be opened up and looked into. It needs to be properly regulated.

I have enormous concern about giving the Insolvency Service lots more money to carry out the additional work that is going to be necessary as a consequence of this Bill going through, if it does, without first ensuring that the service is fit for purpose. These are very strong views. I am not an extreme individual who has crazy ideas. I have just listened to and seen the testimony of people who have suffered as a consequence of the types of things I am talking about.

Think of this Bill as the start of an ongoing process of reform. Please do not think of it as the end point. Please do not make the mistake of thinking that it is a “job done” situation. It really is not. There is so much to be looked at. I ask the Committee to do all it can, on behalf of the British public, to ensure that the Insolvency Service stops doing what it sometimes does.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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Q Good afternoon, Mr Agathangelou. Picking up on your last point, I do not know if you are aware that a couple of amendments have been tabled that would require the Minister to come back to Parliament and report at a future date, first, on the extent to which the powers of the Bill had been used and, secondly, with an assessment of how effective the Bill had been in addressing the problems that had been identified. In your view, would those amendments strengthen the Bill, make it weaker or make no difference?

Andrew Agathangelou: If the purpose of the Bill is to have a positive effect, of course they would. You manage what you are monitoring. If things are being looked at and checked, and if the progress you are hoping will happen does not, you have a chance to review, to modify and to ask challenging questions about why what Parliament wanted to happen has not.

There is a great parallel. I was involved in giving evidence on the Compensation (London Capital & Finance plc and Fraud Compensation Fund) Bill 2021-22 a while ago. The parallel there applies here. It is absolutely vital that there is a requirement for those responsible for executing the will of Parliament to be accountable and to be able to demonstrate that they have done so.

I would be disappointed if it took an amendment to make that happen. It should go without saying that you do not just abdicate your authority, pass the Bill and hope it happens. That to me would be a very poor approach to governance in terms of ensuring that legislation is effective. Essentially, if you want the Bill to work, you must ensure that what is supposed to happen after it is passed does actually happen. To my mind, frankly, that is very clear and obvious, and I cannot begin to think what the argument against that would be. How on earth could somebody argue against the idea of making sure that something you hope works does work? I could not even begin to think about how to argue that.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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Q One of the questions we looked at in quite a lot of detail this morning was the retrospective nature of part of the legislation. It does not create a new offence or mean that something that was lawful at the time is retrospectively made unlawful, but it gives the Insolvency Service powers to look back at previous events that it could not have looked at in the same way before. First, do you agree with the principle that the Bill should be retrospective? Secondly, what are your thoughts on the three-year time limit that says that the Insolvency Service can look only at things that happened in the three years before a company is dissolved?

Andrew Agathangelou: First, yes. In my opinion this most certainly should be made retrospective. Why not make it retrospective? If the purpose of the Bill is to catch the baddies and to mitigate the risk of others deciding to go about doing this stuff as a direct consequence of the very powerful deterrent effect, why on earth would you not make it retrospective? To my mind that is really clear. I cannot imagine why you would not want to make it retrospective, if you had the power to do so. You are Parliament and obviously you do have the power to do so, so why not do it?

Three years is the blink of an eye in this context. There are all sorts of things that directors can—and do—do to play the game. They know the rules and regulations, and they know how to dance in, on and around them. The longer the time that you can go back, the more good you are going to do. It is as simple as that. The further you can go back and prosecute people who have broken the law, and wilfully and callously committed offences, the better. Why not make it 10 years or 15 years? I do not know what the right timeframe is, but to my mind three years seems like a very short period of time.

If the objective is to try to clean up our country, then make the timeframe as long as you can. I make this point because on the international scale I should mention that we have about 1,000 members outside the UK. It shames me to know that outside the UK, the UK is considered to be one of the worst places in the world when it comes to economic and financial crime and fraud. Some countries think the UK is the laundromat of the world. There are huge concerns over money laundering and over international drug money, terrorist money and so on.

Given how bad the level of fraud, white-collar crime, corruption and those sorts of things are within the UK, I would suggest that Parliament should come at this from the point of view of, “We should now be as powerful as we can be in opposing these dark and dangerous forces, unless there is a really good reason not to, because we have a national duty to do so.” I was brought up with the idea that the UK was a world leader when it comes to these sorts of things, but frankly the evidence really does not show that.

I want to make one particular point, Peter, if I may? There is a very powerful database called Violation Tracker that tracks the levels of violations by companies against the US authorities. When you look at the data in there, you find some startling trends, and the first is this: there are about $667 billion-worth of infringements against the US authorities by all kinds of industries. I think 52 industries are listed. The worst offending industry on the Violation Tracker database is the financial services sector, despite the fact that there is a long list of reasons why the financial industry actually ought to be the most trustworthy industry of all. That is not the case; it is actually the worst offender out of all of them. In fact, it is so bad that roughly half of all the infringements in that $667 billion total are directly attributable to the financial sector. In other words, it equates to all of the other industries put together.

My point is that the jewel in our crown, in terms of UK plc, is our financial services sector. I am of the opinion that if similar analysis to that which has been done in the US market were done in the UK, it would likely show a very similar picture. Therefore we should be fighting extremely hard to hunt down all perpetrators, all criminal dodgy directors. From my point of view, given the interest of my organisation, I think we should be relentless when it comes to chasing down people who operate scams such as Blackmore Bonds, Connaught, LCF, Premier FX, Lundy & Associates, and all the others.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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Q One final question, if I may, that ties together two of your previous answers. You said that you had certain knowledge of the type of scams that you just described, perpetrated by company directors who were doing the same thing many years ago. It is up to you if you want to name names in answer to this question, but are you aware of people conducting these scams now who could be disqualified from office as directors if the Insolvency Service went back and looked at the conduct of directors of companies that were dissolved earlier than the time limit of three years set out in this Bill? Does the three-year rule actually prevent the Insolvency Service from investigating directors currently conducting scams who, without that time limit, could be held to account and disqualified from holding office?

Andrew Agathangelou: Yes, that is absolutely the case. I will elaborate on my answer, if I may. Last year, the Work and Pensions Committee led by Stephen Timms MP opened an inquiry on pension scams. Many of our members are victims of pension scams, so as a consequence it is a topic we know rather a lot about. I will share a document with the Committee produced by the Transparency Task Force as part of our response to that inquiry, and that document will evidence without any doubt why it is absolutely necessary that the three-year limit is extended to five, six, seven, 10 years, however far back you can go.

I say this because I am working on the basis that if the regulators, the enforcement agencies and the Insolvency Service can prosecute criminals and have them pay fines or be locked up, or whatever it might be, they would want to do that. Why would they not want to prosecute the baddies? To my mind it is simple, and I absolutely assure you that in the document I will provide to the Committee, as well as other supporting documents and evidence, you will see named individuals who have been dancing around prosecution over many, many years—I think one is 11 years. This Bill, if extended to a proper duration of time, would become a problem for them.

I would take great satisfaction if this Bill helped to finally lock up individuals who are currently in very expensive villas in Florida, with properties all over the world, with all kinds of fancy cars and fancy homes, all paid for by the life savings of British pension savers and investors. That would be very rewarding to know.

Navendu Mishra Portrait Navendu Mishra
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Q I believe that all 650 MPs will have constituents who have been victims of the practice of phoenixing. I believe you made reference to law enforcement agencies, Action Fraud and the National Crime Agency. Could you tell us a bit more about how big the problem of phoenixing is—directors using legislation to dissolve companies to avoid liabilities and further investigation?

Andrew Agathangelou: I cannot answer your question directly, forgive me—I do not have that data and have not done that research. Let us think of it like this: roughly four or five years ago, a man called Roberto Saviano, an investigative journalist, became quite famous for a period because he did some investigative journalism on the mafia, and as a consequence of that investigative journalism, he now lives, I believe, under police guard 24 hours a day because he lifted the lid on a whole load of really bad, really heavy stuff.

I am mentioning Roberto Saviano because about five years ago, at something called the Hay Festival, he made the point that London is the heart of global financial corruption. That is a pretty powerful thing for somebody to say, especially if they have been investigating the mafia for years and years. You can google it and find it yourself. This is a very serious heavy-duty investigative journalist.

I mention that because it is reasonable to assume that a lot of that corruption involves entities and companies set up for special purposes. If the UK is the worst country in the world when it comes to global financial corruption—or if it is not the worst, let us say it is in the top quarter of really bad countries when it comes to financial and economic crime and corruption—it is reasonable to assume that the artful dodge of phoenixing is part of the modus operandi of the “community” that does this kind of stuff. I cannot give you any facts or figures, but a little deduction suggests that it is a massive problem.

I will make one further point, if I may. One of the reasons why it is a problem is Companies House. It is still shocking to me that, despite about nine years of Parliament having an interest in Companies House, finally getting its act together and asking even really basic questions about the people behind a new company that is being set up, Companies House has been allowed to carry on behaving in the nonchalant way that it does, with its casual, risky and dangerous way of granting companies the chance to come into existence when no proper due diligence has been done.

Similarly, in the pensions world, there was a period of about three years when Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs was happy to authorise the setting up of new pension schemes with the lightest-touch due diligence you can imagine. Basically, people were allowed to go online, fill in a form and create a new pension scheme, which would then be the perfect vehicle for scammers to use. That has happened so much.

While I am on this little rant, allow me to stay there with one more point. When the pension freedoms legislation was being introduced, many people said, “Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah! Before you go allowing people to transfer their entire pension savings in a lump sum, why don’t we stop and think what the risks of this are? Why don’t we have a conversation about whether this might lead to some kind of fraudster’s paradise?” But no, pension freedoms legislation was rushed through, and now, many years later, even the regulators, such as the Financial Conduct Authority, are making the point that not enough thought was given to the risks associated with that kind of casual, fast policy-making.

So there we go. Companies House is effectively advertising to criminals, “Come and set up a company in the UK. Don’t worry, we’ll turn a blind eye to pretty much anything that happens because, frankly, we won’t know what you’re doing or what you’re about because we won’t bother asking you.” That is one example of these sorts of issues. The second example I have given you is in relation to HMRC, and it goes on.

I honestly think that if anybody was to do some kind of independent, objective, evidence-based evaluation or analysis of the work of City of London police, the Insolvency Service, Companies House and the financial regulators—that very long list that I mentioned—around how effective they are at preventing crime from happening in the UK, I am pretty sure that report would be rather scathing.

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Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q From your experience, how long was that process taking?

Duncan Swift: From experience, in terms of restoration pre-pandemic, you could be looking at 12, maybe 18 months. With the restrictions on court time in the pandemic, it is taking a lot longer.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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Q Good afternoon, Mr Swift. May I pick up on something you referred to and which was mentioned in the submission to us yesterday from your colleagues at R3? You said that there are a number of reports of potentially serious misconduct by directors that have been submitted by your members that do not seem to be acted on. I can understand that, as a representative body, R3 might not be privy to the details, but are you telling us that you will have had members who have acted as administrators or liquidators who have submitted highly critical reports to the Insolvency Service and have then seen the same directors coming back, setting up a new company and essentially restarting the same kind of misconduct? Is that the information that you are getting back from your members, even if they are not allowed to tell you which companies they are referring to?

Duncan Swift: Yes, sir, that is correct. Although director disqualification—banning a director or person from acting as such—is a deterrent, we also see instances of disqualified directors continuing to act as though they are the controlling party in corporate affairs subsequently. The serious rogue directors do not see being disqualified as a significant deterrent. A more significant deterrent is being held to account for the assets that they may have misappropriated and incurring personal liability for such actions that they have wrongfully undertaken while holding the office of director. That goes to the heart of the fact that more thought needs to be given by Government to how they will actually prosecute those directors. It is not just a matter of disqualifying them as directors. Crucially, what are the Government going to do in terms of revisiting the dissolved company that those directors have inappropriately dealt with through dissolution, rather than conducting an office holder investigation of their affairs, to enable some form of redress through the company’s position to recover assets and to compensate creditors who have lost out as a result of that individual’s actions?

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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Q One solution that has been mooted— a partial solution—is that where an administrator or a liquidator makes a report beyond a given standard of belief that there has been serious misconduct, the fact of that report being submitted should be in the public domain. At the moment, it is a public fact that a report has been submitted, but the content of it is not published. Creditors of the dissolved company, and potentially investors in and creditors of a phoenix company, do not know whether any misconduct has been identified by the liquidator or administrator. Where do you see the balance of public interest in that case? Is there a question of potentially damaging the reputation of a director who turns out to have done nothing wrong? Or is it more important to protect the next generation of investors by flagging up that that particular director has had almost a yellow card—a report against them—that has not quite been followed up?

Duncan Swift: That is a very difficult question to answer. I am not a lawyer, so I am not entirely certain where the legal privilege lies. There is the risk that a well-intended but adverse report by an office holder based upon, more often than not, incomplete information might open up that office holder to legal action by the person who is the subject of that adverse report for defamation and impact on their character. It is a very difficult area.

In terms of the position of directors and dissolved companies generally, certainly suppliers, the providers of credit and those who rely upon the good name of an individual as a director are able to assess the quality of that name by dint of Companies House records on the track record of dissolutions and formal insolvencies of those individuals, as long as the Companies House data upon which that assessment is made is known to be accurate. Although this sits somewhat outside the Bill, reforms have been proposed to improve the veracity of the data that Companies House provides to all its users for that assessment.

To go back to an earlier question on improvements that can be made, and going back to the scale of the problem that this Bill currently does not really address, one thing I have not mentioned is that 95% of all company dissolutions are actually at the behest of Companies House. They are not at the behest of directors. Companies House has automatic strike-off for non-filing of accounts and non-filing of conformation statements. It is no surprise that those who would abuse the position of director choose not to file accounts and choose not to file confirmation statements.

One clear improvement would therefore be to remove the automatic strike-off power of Companies House, and to have that 95% of companies that would be struck off put into some form of quarantine or screening process—whether that screening is done by the Insolvency Service or some other Government body—as a precursor to deciding what to do with those companies earmarked for strike-off, and also for their registered directors. What was their behaviour leading up to the circumstances where such strike-off was being contemplated? At the moment, there is a huge volume of companies coming up for dissolution at the behest of Companies House, not at any other party’s behest.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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Q Would it make rogue directors less comfortable or less complacent about having one of their companies compulsorily struck off for what I think you described as non-compliance with reporting requirements? Would they be less likely to do that if there were also an automatic disqualification of all the relevant directorships at the same time? Would that act as an effective deterrent?

Duncan Swift: It would certainly act as an effective deterrent. I would have to ask—not having considered the question before—whether that would proportionate to the size of the problem. It would certainly be a proportionate deterrent in the context of this Bill if, rather than it being left to the Insolvency Service to investigate dissolved companies that were found to be insolvent after the event, the companies about to be automatically struck off for non-filing of accounts and confirmation statements had their position reviewed by the Insolvency Service at that point, pre-strike-off, to identify whether they should go through a compulsory liquidation process to address and fully investigate the director’s behaviour, and to recover assets for the benefit of creditors.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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Q May I play devil’s advocate for a moment and mention the fact that a lot of what you have suggested would generate a lot more work for insolvency practitioners? How do you persuade members of the Committee that what you are asking for is actually in the best interests of creditors, investors and suppliers of these companies, and is not simply trying to drum up more business for your employers?

Duncan Swift: I understand where the question is coming from, but actually what I am proposing is a lot more work for the Insolvency Service, which is the party that this Bill identifies as performing it. What I am saying is that that work should occur a lot earlier than after the event of a company being struck off—more than likely at the behest of Companies House—and subsequently found to be insolvent.

Pre-strike-off by Companies House, that review is undertaken, ideally, by the Insolvency Service, if it is scaled up to do that investigation. But as I say, the volumes are 10 to 15 times more than the volume of insolvent companies. Should it go into a compulsory liquidation process following that investigation or initial review by the Insolvency Service, it is the official receiver that is first appointed by the court to be the liquidator in the compulsory liquidation—so, it is Companies House, Insolvency Service, Insolvency Service. That is not a direct benefit to the private sector members of the insolvency profession.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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Q I have one final question. The legislation as it stands would set a three-year time limit on any application for disqualification, starting from when the company was dissolved. What are your views on that three-year time limit? Is too short, too long, or just about right?

Duncan Swift: I have to say, from experience, it is too short. Rogue directors or individuals who abuse the position of director go to great pains to extract all the asset value out of the companies that they are abusing and to provide a false, or certainly incomplete, trail of their actions as directors of the company. As an office holder coming in after the event, it is like pulling together a 3,000 or 4,000-piece jigsaw puzzle when holding only about five pieces to start with. You are having to make inquiries with multiple stakeholders, as well as interviewing the directors and their associates, to start to get the bits of the jigsaw puzzle necessary for a picture of what actually went on, in order to convince a court that what went on was actually a fraud upon the creditors and that the director had not acted properly. Again, from experience, although a relatively speedy pulling together of the jigsaw puzzle and convincing of the court takes three years, there are many cases where it takes far longer.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q To expand on a few of those areas, starting with the three-year time limit to file a disqualification application, the Insolvency Service or the Secretary of State can already examine historic conduct, but they have three years to file the application for disqualification. Can you expand a bit on what you meant about the court process, which presumably comes afterwards?

Duncan Swift: What I was explaining about the timeline was that for the office holder—whether it be the Insolvency Service or the official receiver as liquidator, or the Insolvency Service coming in to pull together a picture of the company’s financial dealings and the director’s conduct in the course of those dealings—it takes time. In the first phase in particular, it can take two years to get a reasonably complete picture before one can be confident of putting forward an application to court, either for a recovery of assets or, I would have thought, the disqualification of a director in circumstances where that individual may well be using the proceeds of such activities to defend their position, as well as seeking to confuse it to defend against the likelihood of such claims being brought against them.

Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill

(2nd reading)
Peter Grant Excerpts
Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to be called so early in a debate, Madam Deputy Speaker; I am not used to that happening frequently. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I have been involved in business rates as a businessperson for a long time, and I greatly sympathise with businesses that have been hit by coronavirus. We know there is a disproportionate impact on some sectors as compared with others, but I support the Government’s measures here and I will explain why. The Government have put a lot of support in—I think the Minister said it was £16 billion in business rates relief to certain sectors and at least another £10 billion in grants above that. There is £1.5 billion in the Bill for businesses that were not included in those schemes.

The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), who I think will speak next, is flawed. It shows a deep misunderstanding of how the business rates system works. Business rates are not about a business; they are about a property. All business rates are based on a property value. What she is trying to argue is that a business of a different business type, such as a nightclub, should be treated differently in terms of business rates from, for example, a retailer or a bank that might have traded successfully. Asking the Valuation Office Agency to value something on the basis of how a certain business has been hit by coronavirus would turn the business rates system completely upside down, at a time when that would not be particularly helpful.

I understand that more than 300,000 businesses potentially would have taken this route, some of which had not been hit by coronavirus. The amendment would create a huge opportunity—a bonanza—for the legal sector to look at this area and take these things to court. That would ultimately cost the taxpayer a lot of money on many occasions where the businesses concerned had not suffered from coronavirus.

The point is about the material change of circumstance. It is about a permanent change. That is what the measure is there for: a permanent change, as the Minister said, such as a demolition or something that affected all the premises in a locality. This is not about general market conditions. Hopefully, coronavirus will be a temporary thing and the restrictions caused by it will in two or three weeks’ time be long gone. For that reason, I do not support the hon. Lady’s amendment, and I support the Government’s action in terms of a material change of circumstance and restricting the right to take an appeal forward.

Clause 2 concerns former directors of dissolved companies. I absolutely support closing that loophole, too. As the Minister said, often, one sees business owners who will use subterfuge to avoid, for example, the repayment of bounce back loans or the payment of suppliers. That is inappropriate. If there is a direct route to that through going straight to being a dissolved entity, it is absolutely right that we close that loophole.

I listened to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), and he made some very good points about resources for the Insolvency Service. I have worked with it quite a lot on various matters while I have been in this House and it is not the most proactive organisation around. It may be a lack of resources, but certainly there is no point having the regulations if we do not regulate such businesses, and we have to make sure that, if these measures are introduced, the Insolvency Services does hunt down the people who try to avoid their debts, including fraudulently. As I said in my intervention on the Minister, if these debts have been avoided fraudulently, those people should be prosecuted for fraud. As I said in my intervention on the Minister, if these debts have been avoided fraudulently, those people should be prosecuted for fraud. That is another area where we lack resources. The UK has a very poor record on hunting down fraud and financial crime. That is an area where we need to beef up our resources, which would have a huge payback, of course. Consider the relative amounts charged in financial sanctions in the US versus the UK: even accounting for the size of its economy, five to six times more money comes back into the US Treasury through its prosecution of fraud. There would be a big payback for our Treasury if we beefed up resources.

Let me touch briefly on one issue with the Insolvency Service that is not directly related to the Bill but reflects on certain points made by the shadow Minister. I have been trying to get the Insolvency Service to take action against a rogue set of business rates consultants called RVA, who go into unsuspecting small businesses that do not understand that small business rate relief, for example, is freely available; they just need to contact the council and it becomes applicable to their premises and business. They do not understand that, and RVA signs them up to a contract that basically takes 50% of the relief for up to 12 years, for writing one letter to the local authority. That is absolutely wrong. We should close that organisation down now. The Insolvency Service has promised to look at it, but not as proactively as it might.

I will make a wider point on the general issue of insolvency. As many people in this place know, I am co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking. For some time we have had real concerns about the insolvency profession generally, and its probably unhealthy links with some of the people it gets its work from, not least the high street banks. We are doing an inquiry into that alongside the legal firm Humphries Kerstetter. We are taking evidence now and will produce a report in early September on those conflicts of interest. We have seen lots of cases, including one quite recently with KPMG and HIG where both have been fined a significant amount in a draft judgment.

There are some unhealthy alliances here. We need to remove those conflicts of interest and, as the Government have said they will consider doing at some point, move towards an independent, ombudsman-style regulator for the insolvency profession. That does not exist now; it is pretty much self-regulation, which has been proven time and again not to work. I know that is not particularly a matter for today, but this was a good opportunity to get it on the record.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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I am pleased to contribute to this debate. I will confine my remarks to clauses 2 and 3, which are the ones that apply in the whole of the UK. The Minister pointed out that clause 1 does not apply directly to Scotland.

The SNP welcomes the provisions to close the loopholes that have been identified, although they do not go nearly far enough. I am a bit concerned that this is the second or third time recently that a Bill has been brought forward to tighten up on director and company misconduct and company fraud, but it is framed so narrowly that it is almost impossible to amend it to widen its scope or improve it further. Although we will not oppose Second Reading tonight, I hope that we are not too far away from a more comprehensive review of companies legislation with a wider scope so that Members with particular changes they want to see are able to put them forward to be debated by the House.

In effect, the proposals make a slight change to the way in which the directors of a company are allowed to be completely separate from the company itself when things go wrong. The concept of creating a separate legal entity when a limited company is formed is perfectly sound. There were valid reasons for introducing it 150 or 200 years ago, when companies legislation was in its infancy. Many of those reasons are valid today, and we should retain the protection for directors, senior managers and, indeed, shareholders of companies that go to the wall through no fault of their own, through bad luck or misjudgment. But the reasons for protecting company directors do not extend to making it harder to deal with con men, and the occasional con woman, who set out to become millionaires at the cost of other people’s pensions, savings and hard-earned cash.

When there are reasonable grounds to believe that the directors of a company have been guilty of serious misconduct—including criminal misconduct, in some cases—we cannot allow them to delay, reduce or in any way frustrate the result of punitive action just by dissolving the company. That would be like saying that somebody who faces charges under the Road Traffic Acts can get away with it just by scrapping the car. It is not the vehicle that is at fault but the people who were driving the vehicle at the time.

The Government have rightly pointed out that some of the abuses in respect of which they want to tighten up are those carried out by what are called phoenix companies: the directors shut down one company and in essence resurrect the same company, but because they give it a different name, rank and serial number it is legally a different company and all the sins of the previous company are forgotten about.

Directors do not even need to close down the guilty company first: the same abuses can equally well be perpetrated by running two or three—or, in a case I will come to in a moment, 23—parallel companies with exactly the same couple of shareholders and exactly the same couple of directors, and very often no other employees at all. Through a process that is sometimes lengthy, sometimes short, they dump all the liabilities and debts on to one company and shut that one down, while the assets and benefits are hidden away in a separate company, to be shared only by the directors. In those circumstances, surely it is right that the Insolvency Service and other regulators have the unrestricted right to pursue the individual directors, regardless of which company name they hide behind at the time.

It has to be said that if the Government are serious about imposing improved standards of integrity in the City of London, it is unfortunate that they have chosen to present the Bill on the day when one of their own Ministers told the BBC that the standard of integrity in Government conduct by which they want to be judged is what they can get away with electorally. There is a double standard there that is perhaps not directly relevant to this debate, but the Government cannot afford to ignore it.

Let me mention one example of what can go wrong when directors appear to run a company for their own benefit and not for the benefit of those whose money they are supposed to look after. The Nunn McCreesh limited liability partnership was incorporated in August 2012 and dissolved by voluntary strike-off in October 2015. It had only three officers: Phillip Nunn, Patrick McCreesh and a company that they jointly owned called It’s Your Pension Ltd, incorporated in 2013 and dissolved by voluntary strike-off in 2016.

Coincidentally, at the same time that Mr Nunn and Mr McCreesh took the decision to dissolve the limited liability partnership, the Insolvency Service was finding that the LLP had been paid nearly £900,000 for identifying investors for Capita Oak—a name with which Members will be familiar as it was a pension fund that collapsed, taking £120 million of other people’s pensions with it. Capita Oak remains under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office; we do not know whether the part played in the Capita Oak story by Nunn McCreesh and numerous other companies is part of that investigation.

Mr Nunn and Mr McCreesh moved on quickly from their dissolved LLP and set up a whole web of companies —23 at the last count—under the Blackmore brand. Between 2016 and 2019, one of these companies, Blackmore Bond plc, raised £46 million by selling high-risk mini bonds to investors that they knew were completely unsuitable for that type of investment. Blackmore Bond plc went into administration in 2020 and the investors have almost certainly lost all of their £46 million.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman has raised a very interesting case. I am sure he will be aware that the Financial Conduct Authority was warned on numerous occasions about the activities of Blackmore Bond but apparently did nothing about it until it was far too late.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was reading through the back of my notes, but he is only about five or six lines ahead of what I was going to say.

I do not know whether Mr Nunn and Mr McCreesh were ever placed under formal investigation, or whether they might still be under investigation, for their part in the Capita Oak story—for obvious reasons, that kind of information is not shared—but surely the fact that they were able to dissolve their company should not make any difference to the investigations to which they can be subjected and the sanctions they should face if they are found guilty of misconduct in their management of Nunn McCreesh LLP or, indeed, any of the umpteen other companies they have run.

Perhaps if, as the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) indicated a moment ago, the various regulators had communicated with each other more effectively, the Financial Conduct Authority would have heard loud alarm bells ringing when in 2017 it was alerted to the highly questionable sales techniques that Blackmore Bond was using; perhaps if the FCA had made the link to the dodgy practices in relation to Capita Oak that were carried out by a different company under the same ownership and direction, it would have moved faster than it appeared to do; and perhaps, at least, the investors who ploughed £26 million into Blackmore Bond after the FCA was warned about it would have had some warning that the Blackmore Group might have been better named the Black Hole Group, because that is exactly what it became for £46 million of other people’s money.

I described that one scandal out of the many I could have described to remind the House that we are not just looking at a theoretical loophole here; we are looking at regulatory weaknesses that have allowed chancers and charlatans to make well over £1 billion of other people’s pensions and life savings disappear, and that is before we start to look at the business-to-business frauds that have forced small businesses into liquidation, often at massive financial cost to the entrepreneurs who have set them up.

The provisions in clauses 2 and 3 address just one of those weaknesses, and much more is needed. We need a complete reform of Companies House so that, for example, details of the beneficial ownership of Scottish limited partnerships and other secretive company structures have to be published. We have known for years that SLPs have been used to launder millions of pounds of dirty money created by illicit business activities, usually related to organised crime. We need to see action soon to put a stop to that. We need to reinstate the principle of the reverse burden of proof on senior bank managers, for example. When something goes wrong on their watch, rather than it being up to the authorities to prove that they were negligent, can we go back to requiring the bank manager to prove that they were doing the right thing? This reverse burden of proof often applies in other cases of professional misconduct or questions about professional conduct. All our regulators, including the Insolvency Service and the Financial Conduct Authority, need to be adequately resourced to keep up with the almost limitless ingenuity of the criminals they are trying to keep tabs on. That is about not just the amount of money they have, but the degree of training and experience that their people have, so that the person asked to take a decision as to whether somebody is fit to be registered with the FCA has the experience to know what kinds of warning signs to look out for.

Finally, we need legislation that allows us not just to disqualify directors who are guilty of wrongdoing; it should allow the authorities to order them to pay compensation to the victims. In some cases, I will support that on the basis of a civil balance of proof, which is on the balance of probabilities, rather than the much higher bar of proof beyond reasonable doubt, which is why so many cases that the Serious Fraud Office takes to court never get as far as a conviction. We welcome the provisions in clauses 2 and 3. If the long title and the scope of this legislation had allowed it, we would have been submitting a significant number of amendments to improve it on Report. I hope the time is not too far away when legislation on the wider issue comes before the House so that directors cannot simply avoid disqualification by scrapping their vehicles.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A snappy title it is not, but a very important Bill it is, for two very good reasons. I wish to recap by saying that this Government have supported the jobs and livelihoods of the people of this country to the tune of some £400 billion—£300 billion in the past year alone; the last time we exceeded 10% of GDP was in the financial crisis, and before then world war two, and we are still supporting businesses, as we are doing with this Bill. When we are trying to protect the jobs and livelihoods of so many people, there will inevitably be areas of difficulty, yet the Government have always tried to support as many people as possible. The £16 billion-worth of rates relief has been an absolute lifeline for countless businesses, including those that get in touch with me in my constituency and others all around the country. The Government are to be commended for that. Even when businesses are more difficult to support, the discretionary funds for local authorities to be able to target those businesses are also a lifeline, and therefore the £1.5 billon of additional support for businesses whose circumstances have perhaps changed during the pandemic is incredibly important and welcome.

I want to touch on an equally serious matter: we read that potentially 60% of the £46.5 billion that has been lent out through various Government schemes—lent, I might add—might be defaulted on and not repaid. When the Government are the guarantor, I certainly welcome the Treasury taking the necessary steps to mitigate that risk and the retrospective powers to curb that significant problem, putting the parameters in place to deal with directors who might dissolve a company, walk away from their responsibilities and then not just have an effect on many people, such as creditors who are equally trying to get back on their feet, but cheat the taxpayers, who must also get back on their feet. That money is so important for the re-emergence of our economy, and we absolutely have to ensure that our public services can get up again, so any power through legislation, with the legal process in there to mitigate that, is very welcome.

It is worth pointing out that we have to be mindful slightly of not being out of this pandemic, and therefore, in going after directors who default on their responsibilities —I was a director once, and I would never dream of defaulting—we need to be careful to enable businesses to resurge again. We have to make sure that approaches to recoup the money are done in the right way. I am happy that the Exchequer is being protected in this way. I think it is very sensible legislation. We know that when we create something retrospectively it is often because we have moved at speed to protect taxpayers in the first place. This is very welcome legislation, and I back it 100%.

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Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will not give way, but I will happily come back to the hon. Lady if I have not answered her question. I do want to get through a few areas.

Let me quickly turn to the disqualification of directors of dissolved companies. The issue of insolvency funding came up a few times. Clearly, we will be working with the Insolvency Service to ensure that it has the resources to do its job. It employs its finite resources to the maximum effect by prioritising cases in which there has been most harm to the public and the wider marketplace. Clearly, its resources are not limitless.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) asked about insolvencies. Actually, the number of insolvencies has been at a 40-year low over the past few months because, effectively, in many areas, the economy has been held in stasis. That is why it is so important that, having put £352 billion-worth of support into the economy, we now have 352 billion reasons why we have to get the next bit right—why we have to help shape the recovery through these mitigations. We need to make sure that we continue to flex and continue to extend the support. That is why furlough carries on until September and why we have ensured that the winding-up proceedings have been extended for another nine months as well, so that we can get conversations going with landlords and tenants. It is so, so important to continue these measures.

I am glad that we have had broad support for the measures. In terms of compensation, directors can obviously be held personally liable for debt, and where there are breaches, there is disqualification.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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I note the Minister’s comments that directors can be held personally liable, but does he accept that allowing an individual investor or creditor to sue a director at their own risk is very different from a scheme through which the Government or some other body effectively take that legal action on behalf of a group of aggrieved individuals, who individually cannot afford the risk of taking that action?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. Let me just answer a couple of his points. He talked about corporate governance and audit reform. That is something that we will legislate on as soon as parliamentary time allows. He referenced a Minister saying that we would adhere to standards that we thought that we could get away with. No, that is absolutely not the case. I did not hear that comment, but I suspect what the Minister said and meant was that we are accountable to the electorate. When I heard about that comment, I thought about my own constituency where I know at least one High Court judge, an insolvency practitioner, lawyers, forensic accountants, civil servants—I have them in my own Department never mind my constituency—and journalists and, boy, will they hold me to account at the ballot box, in my local media and in the national media should it be appropriate to do so. That is that standard to which we expect to work as a Government. I am glad that he also mentioned phoenixing, because this will strengthen the phoenixing legislation as well.

I have noted the helpful contributions made by Members across the House, and I am looking forward to working with colleagues in Committee to make sure that we can get this really important legislation for both of these measures through. The scrutiny that has been provided today is, as always, greatly appreciated. I look forward to discussing this Bill with Members throughout its passage, and I commend it to the House.

Towns Fund

Peter Grant Excerpts
Wednesday 18th November 2020

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the shared prosperity fund will be a great opportunity for the whole United Kingdom to come together; for us to be doing work not dissimilar to the activities of the towns fund and the high streets fund, investing in skills, transport, technology and in place in a way we simply have not been able to do while those funds have been directed through the bureaucracy and regulation of the European Union. As we design the UK’s shared prosperity fund and bring it to fruition in the early part of next year, I will certainly be listening to my hon. Friend and his colleagues in Wales.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - -

Among the damning judgments issued last week by the Public Accounts Committee was that

“we are not convinced by the rationales for selecting some towns and not others. The justification offered by ministers…are vague and based on sweeping assumptions. In some cases, towns were chosen by ministers despite being identified by officials as the very lowest priority… The Department has also not been open about the process it followed… This lack of transparency has fuelled accusations of political bias in the selection process”.

That is just a selection of findings from one page of a 21-page report. I have seen the summary accounting officer assessment provided in confidence to the Public Accounts Committee, which most Members taking part in today’s session have not, and I do not think that summary exonerates Ministers in anything like the way the Secretary of State is claiming. Why will his Department not allow that summary to be published, so that hon. Members can do their job and decide for themselves?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think I have already answered that point: the accounting officer’s advice is not routinely published within Whitehall. That is a matter for the Department and the civil service more generally. However, it has been shared with the Public Accounts Committee, and I am pleased to see that at least one member of the Committee actually bothered to read it, unlike others present in the Chamber. It is a fair summary, and my permanent secretary has attested to that.

Deaths of Homeless People

Peter Grant Excerpts
Luke Hall Portrait Luke Hall
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1 Oct 2019, 2:12 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point, which I am happy to look into in more detail. In Oxford, as in so many other areas throughout the country, the rough sleeping initiative is reducing rough sleeping—it is down by 19% directly since 2017 and there has been a 32% reduction compared with where we would have been had it not been introduced—but I absolutely take seriously the points that have been raised from all parts of the Chamber.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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1 Oct 2019, 2:13 p.m.

I do not think anyone can question the sincerity of the Minister’s answers, but I am disappointed that he did not answer possibly the most important question that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) asked from her position of substantial knowledge of the impact that drug misuse is having among her constituents. The specific question was about the Government allowing, even on a trial basis, the establishment of a consumption room, under medical supervision, to see what difference that makes to the awful death toll that drug use is causing in Glasgow and elsewhere. Will the Minister at least commit to go back to his Cabinet colleagues and ask them to consider seriously the fact that drug misuse should be treated as a public health crisis, not as a criminal justice matter?

Luke Hall Portrait Luke Hall
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1 Oct 2019, 2:14 p.m.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that Dame Carol Black is absolutely the right person to lead the independent review of drugs policy. All these issues are being considered and I look forward to reading the recommendations.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Peter Grant Excerpts
Thursday 24th January 2019

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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24 Jan 2019, 2:55 p.m.

It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), who made a powerful speech reflecting on her experiences in Rwanda. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) intends to speak about that later.

I have found being a Member of this place quite difficult over the past few weeks and months, given how incredibly divided we are and the volatile atmosphere, so it has been a refreshing change to see such consensus across the Chamber today, albeit for a debate on a very sad subject. If we conducted all our debates in such an atmosphere, we would probably be in a position that was a hell of a lot better. I particularly appreciated the thought-provoking speech made by the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr). It is certainly something I will consider next Monday, when we return for what I expect will be another volatile week.

I think that we all agree that on this, the 74th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration and death camps, it is more important than ever, particularly given the dwindling number of holocaust survivors, to take this opportunity to reflect not only on that awful atrocity, but on other genocides. That is why it is so important to place on the record our thanks to the Holocaust Educational Trust for its work in all our constituencies. In Scotland, over 3,000 pupils and teachers have had the opportunity to benefit from the “Lessons from Auschwitz” project, and I know that a number of Members have had an opportunity to take part in that. Many years ago, when I was a researcher in this place, John Mason, one of my predecessors, visited Auschwitz, and I remember that we could tell how incredibly moved he had been. I think that anybody who has been to Auschwitz has had that experience.

I also want to stand up today and make sure that the Jewish community in Scotland know how safe they should feel in our country. There is no doubt that in this country the Jewish community have had to endure some utterly despicable behaviour, and hon. Members have placed some of that on the record today. A number of years ago I had the great fortune to attend the Garnethill synagogue in Glasgow, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss)—she and I both attended—and to look at some of the Jewish archives. It comes back to education, because it was only then that I began to learn about one of my predecessors, Myer Galpern, who was the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston from 1959 to 1979. In fact, he was a Deputy Speaker of the House from 1975 to 1979. Myer Galpern was not only the first Jewish Lord Provost of Glasgow, but the first Jewish provost in Scotland. I think that it is really important that I, as one of the youngest Members of the House, put that on the record today, to make sure that we never forget the contribution of the Jewish community, not just then but now, and that we embrace them and show them how much a part of our community they are.

I want, in my capacity as a member of the all-party parliamentary group on British Jews, to make some reference to current events, particularly in Hungary. I do not believe that the UK Government have done enough to confront the Hungarian Government about their state-sponsored antisemitism, as seen in the campaign against George Soros, for example. I also make a plea to the Minister to see that the UK Government do more to encourage other countries to promote the just and speedy restitution of property that was seized by the Nazis during the holocaust, much of which has still not been returned to the families of the original owners, despite promises to do so across Europe. I would be grateful if Her Majesty’s Government, through diplomatic channels, could convince other Governments to take action on that.

Let me say again what an honour it has been to be part of a debate where we treat each other with respect. Parliament is all the richer for that today. I am not normally a fan of this place, but Parliament can be very proud of how it has conducted itself today, and I think that sets a good example to our constituents.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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24 Jan 2019, 3 p.m.

I really wish beyond words that we did not have to have this debate today, but we do, because the holocaust happened—there are some who dispute that, but it did happen—and because of the heroic efforts of holocaust survivors, who, every time they give their testimony, are choosing to relive the horrors of their past to try to protect us from reliving those horrors in future. Despite all that, we are failing to see the same warning signs as those that were there in Germany in 1932 and 1933. We are failing to see them here today in these islands. They are sometimes on display in this Parliament, and all too often in parts of our society that no democratically credible politician should ever associate themselves with, but all too often we do because we think there might be some political advantage to ourselves from it.

The hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), in a deeply moving speech, referred briefly to the contribution that holocaust survivor Eva Clarke made to the event in Parliament earlier this week. One of his colleagues referred to a tiny spark of light in the darkness. Sparks of light in the darkness do not get much tinier than Eva, because she weighed just over three pounds when she was born. She is possibly the youngest of all holocaust survivors, because she was born after some of the camps had been liberated. She was born on the cart that was taking her pregnant mum from the train to the death camp at Mauthausen on 29 April 1945. The reason that date was so significant was because if it had been 28 April, Eva and her mum would have been put into the gas chambers and killed, but on 28 April the gas chambers stopped their evil work because they had run out of gas. Twenty-four hours difference in the arrival time of a train meant literally all the difference in the world to Eva, and it means that we still have the benefit of Eva’s testimony—and her mum’s testimony, until she died a few years ago. Such testimony reminds us not only of the horrors of what happened but the immense power of good—of love—that was demonstrated all the way through. We have heard mention of some of the families who sheltered Jewish families, at enormous risk to themselves, for months and sometimes even years, taking complete strangers into their homes and hiding them in order to try to protect them from the evil that was about to be done to them.

As everyone else has done, I say thank you to Eva and to all the other survivors, who do not need to put themselves through this. They could just go away and live a quiet life, and try to come to terms privately with what they had experienced in their younger years. They choose to put themselves through it to try to give us the warning, again and again and again, of what happens when hatred becomes normalised—when it becomes normalised to spit at a child on their way to school just because he or she is Jewish, normalised to react to news of a killing by wondering which side of a divide the killers were on and which side the victim was on before we decide how we are going to react, or normalised for Christians to hound their fellow Christians out of their homes because they are the “wrong kind” of Christians. Within my lifetime, in parts of these islands, that has happened to Christians on both sides of the divide. When it becomes normalised for people to say that it is horrific that some of the families trying to cross the border from Mexico into America are carrying prayer mats—when the carrying of a prayer mat is a sign that somebody becomes a threat—we should all be concerned. That blatantly racist, Islamophobic attitude has not only become normalised—it got elected, because that was said in a tweet from the President of the United States of America.

A lot of this hatred comes not just from social media but from the front pages of newspapers that I do not need to name. I make a plea to all Members here and ask the Front Benchers on both sides of the House to relay this message back to their colleagues as well. When those same newspapers ask for an interview, when they offer 150 quid for an article, or when they invite us to celebration parties for their editors’ achievements, we need to think about how we respond, because if we support, in any way whatsoever, the purveyors of hatred—whether it is antisemitism, Islamophobia or any other form of hatred—our words, “Never again”, will only be words, and hollow words at that. The 6 million murdered Jews of Europe and the millions of other murdered citizens of Europe deserve much, much more than hollow words.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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24 Jan 2019, 3:04 p.m.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for introducing it and all the Members who have spoken.

I am proud to be a friend of Israel. I am proud to remember the Balfour declaration and the role that the British played, along with their allies, in returning some of Israel to her people after the second world war. In 1920, Britain assumed responsibility for Palestine under a League of Nations mandate. During the next two decades, more than 100,000 Jews entered their home country. I am proud of the part that this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—always better together—played in ensuring that the Jewish people could return to their homelands.

I declare an interest, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. The motivation for many of us to speak in this debate is our own faith and how we feel when we see wrongs that have to be righted and wrongs that have to be spoken about. This debate is one of those occasions.

We now have a part to play to secure the history of the Jewish people once again. In a world that seeks to whitewash and even begin to refute the evidence of a holocaust, it is more important than ever that we in this country take a stand about the true history of the Jews during the second world war.

I read an article by a writer who happened to be born into the Jewish faith regarding holocaust denial. He outlined how a friend’s 88-year-old Jewish grandfather travels the length and breadth of the country to talk in schools of his experience of the camps. Many Members have referred to similar people they have met. He ensures that the children he reaches have heard with their own ears the tales of the horror that happened when people refused to question evil and inhumanity. That gentleman is a hero, but he is one of the few survivors, and with them go the first-hand experiences.

Those stories need to be told. My fear is that when we lose the first-hand experiences, it becomes simply numbers on a page, and now it becomes a number that umpteen people on Facebook deny, without measures being taken by the administration. I was brought up to learn in history classes of Bloody Mary’s reign and her choice to kill by burning at the stake 300 Protestants. It is all very well to look at the historical context, but we must never lose compassion or thought for any of the families who lost loved ones in this horrific manner. The definition of compassion is feeling someone else’s pain in our heart. Every one of us here has felt others’ pain in our heart, and that is what we have tried to express.

Will the slaughter of 6 million human beings become a fact in a history lesson, or will it be a lesson that every generation learns regarding mankind’s ability to be completely and utterly full of evil and madness? We must not allow the massacre of Jews during the holocaust to become something in movies and history classes; it must be a living, breathing lesson embraced by every generation. We must ensure that the names of those who were murdered are spoken and that children are afforded the opportunity to visit Auschwitz, to see the wedding bands and shoes that reach beyond the grave. We must ensure that schools retain in-depth teaching of this terrible period of history and do not simply pay lip service to it.

We must ensure that we live in a United Kingdom where our British Jewish citizens feel able and happy to recount the stories handed down through generations. We must ensure that the representatives in this Parliament play their part and stamp out the antisemitism and misinformation that is not dissimilar to the propaganda that Goebbels was so proud of. We have a role to play in protecting not simply the history of the holocaust but its legacy: the promise from a horrified world that we will never let this take place again.

In my final minute, I want to mention the part that Strangford played, long before it was the constituency it is today. The Kindertransport children were transported from Germany to England and then on to other parts of the United Kingdom. Some of those children came to McGill’s farm in Millisle in my constituency. The farm and some of the buildings that the children were housed in are still there. Some of those people stayed and married, and there are generations of them there.

I will finish with a line I read in an article, which said:

“One thing we all share: none of us can trace our families back more than a couple of generations. The Holocaust, as I’ve come to think of it, is history’s loudest full-stop.”

It should not be allowed to be a full stop. It must be an ellipsis that indicates an unfinished thought. We cannot draw a line under the holocaust as something that was done and is over. We must ensure that we continue to think about and consider the holocaust—the history and, most importantly, the humanity of it all—and we must ensure that the generations that follow do the same. That is what this debate is all about.

Windrush: 70th Anniversary

Peter Grant Excerpts
Thursday 14th June 2018

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

14 Jun 2018, 3:02 p.m.

I am deeply honoured to follow the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), whose passionate and fluent speech addressed so many of the questions that affect the way we are building our society today. Of course I will not agree with every one of her remedies, but the fact that she is bringing together a pluralist and multicultural society, and expressing that with such warmth and feeling, is a great credit not just to her and her party, but to the whole House and our whole nation. The voice that she expresses is clearly not just her own, but one of the British people more widely, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to follow her.

We are talking today not about a foreign generation or distant people but about ourselves. It may seem odd for me, with my background, to say so strongly that the Windrush generation are my generation, but they are. Just as they migrated from other parts of the world, so did my family. My grandfather came from Austria in the 1920s. He was a refugee in so many ways—in that case from a collapsing state: the Austro-Hungarian empire—and he travelled and found sanctuary here. In many ways he could have been called an economic migrant because that is what he was, as were many of the Windrush generation. What he brought with him was the energy, enterprise, imagination and creativity that helped to build the structures that allowed us to win the wars. He was not alone, and he was not dramatic or unique in that in any way—except that he was my grandfather, of course. He was part of a much wider generation.

Today, in focusing on the Windrush generation, we focus predominantly on those who are of Caribbean origin, but that is where I would like to expand this conversation. This debate is not just about one people; it is about the whole of the United Kingdom, and our United Kingdom is just that—united—because it is united from peoples around the world. Whatever we may think of the legacy of empire, the richness that it has given these islands is quite remarkable. We have here, even in this city, hundreds of different nations represented. We have many different languages spoken, and like all the best investment schemes, diversity is the strongest form of success. Today, in this United Kingdom, we have the diversity that ensures the richness and depth of our success.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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14 Jun 2018, 3:05 p.m.

While it is true that one of the better legacies of empire is the diversity of our nations and cities, does the hon. Gentleman not accept that a place does not need to have been an imperial power? In certain parts of Canada, for example, the diversity and richness of cultures is at least as much as we find in a place like London, and it has never attempted to be a colonial power over anybody.

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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14 Jun 2018, 3:06 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is, of course, right, although one would be hard-pressed to say that Canada was not the legacy of empire. After all, the fact that there are so many Scots in Canada is a legacy of the English and French empires that stretched into Canada 200 or 300 years ago, but I appreciate the point he is making.

To come back to talking about the United Kingdom, when we look around the United Kingdom, if we focus solely on the Afro-Caribbean community, important though it is, we miss the wealth that we get from so many others. I would like to highlight some of the communities that are not normally touched on when we talk about the Windrush community, but are just as much a part of that generation. I want to talk about the Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Indian communities. The subcontinent that for years—for generations—was seen as so remote brought with it, when it came to these islands, the heat, wealth and imagination of its people. It brought with it not only the spice that we now enjoy so much in our food, but the technology and imagination that its people have brought to all parts. If one looks today at Birmingham, one sees the imagination and creativity that is evident across that city. If one looks at some of those businesses that started from nothing and listens to some of the children and grandchildren of those migrants who came with £1 in their pocket, thinking that £1 might take them a little bit further than a week or two—only to realise that it would not even get them the train ticket to go to see their cousin who lived up country—one sees that the people who arrived here came with a drive and a determination that has really transformed not just us, but the world.

--- Later in debate ---
David Lammy Portrait Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)
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14 Jun 2018, 3:11 p.m.

For, I hope, very obvious reasons, I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate. In so doing, I think of my parents, who are no longer with us, of my brothers and sisters, and of so many aunts and uncles. I think of the life that we all lived in Dongola Road, Tottenham, in the 1970s and 1980s. I mention Dongola Road because at the top of the road lived another family, briefly. It was the family of our former colleague Paul Boateng. As I summon up those memories, I am so grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes)—my dear friend—for initiating the debate, and for giving Parliament a moment to reflect on a most exceptional generation.

Today I want to remember the contributions of the 492 West Indian immigrants who arrived at Tilbury docks on 21 June 1948, and the 524,000 Commonwealth-born people who followed them until 1971. My own father arrived in 1956, from Guyana, and my mother arrived in the late 1960s. It is important to remember, when we think of those families arriving here, that when they arrived they were very young. My father was only 24, and he was actually at the older end of the scale among those who were on the boats. He produced my older brother just two years later, in 1958. I reflect, now, on what it means to become a parent in one’s mid-20s, in a new and strange country, juggling work, schools and health visitors: all those new things. In paying tribute to these people, we should reflect on how challenging that must have been at times. I hope that we also think about the first-generation immigrants who still come to our country, of how they manage to get by, and of the circumstances in which we support them.

Today, of course, I also want to think about the thousands of nurses who came to Britain before 1971, to form the backbone of our national health service—women like my aunts, whom I watched working late nights and early shifts with incredible pride and dignity; women who toiled for all Britain’s sick and injured. I think of the thousands of transport workers who were recruited directly from Bridgetown and Kingston, and who for 70 years worked as bus and train drivers, and cleaners and wardens, in Britain’s stations and on Britain’s streets. And in thinking of those transport workers, I think of my own mother, who did her own stint at London Underground, and of many occasions meeting her at Camden Town tube station, where she was based. I think of course also of Lord Bill Morris, elected general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, the first black general secretary of a trade union in Britain, who found his home in the movement after arriving in 1954—a British trade unionist for all British workers. And I think of great writers who have shaped our nation: people such as Andrea Levy and Zadie Smith, who have given us such moving insights into British life. And I am not sure that I would be able to be a politician were it not for the tremendous work of the scholarly Stuart Hall and CLR James, defining leaders in British political thought, but also the work of those who have been a little more of the street and the frontline: I think of my predecessor Bernie Grant and Linton Kwesi Johnson, whose language and tone always chimed with me.

Today I think of the descendants of the Windrush generation, whose parents and grandparents were told that there was no space under the British flag for them and that there was “no black in the Union Jack.” We tend when we celebrate to look at the positive, and nothing is more positive than Jessica Ennis, Daley Thompson, Linford Christie, Kelly Holmes or Colin Jackson draped in the Union Jack. And as I say that, of course our hearts are with Sterling, Smalling and Danny Rose, who will step out on Monday in the 2018 World cup sporting white, red and the three lions on their shirts.

But while reflecting on this great contribution there must also be a moment to think about the uncomfortable truths—the tough and the hard times—and to think about the struggles of those communities. As I stand here as the Member for Tottenham in London, I want also, as has already been touched upon, to think about communities in St Paul’s in Bristol, Chapeltown in Leeds, Handsworth in Birmingham and Moss Side in Manchester, and historical black communities in Tiger Bay in Cardiff and of course in Liverpool. These people formed the fabric of British society and today we remember them and thank them.

But we also remember the troubles that led up to the Notting Hill riots, the Brixton riot and the Tottenham riots, in which PC Keith Blakelock lost his life. We think also of the great injustices that lie behind parts of the pain and the stain on this country: the stain of the murder of Stephen Lawrence and those young people who lost their lives in the New Cross house fire.

Those on board HMT Windrush were invited here as a result of a Britain crippled by war: a Britain facing chronic shortages of staff; a Britain with a dream of healthcare for all but no way of making that happen. It was a Britain whose hospitals were barely functioning, whose trains were barely running, whose streets were reeling from the destruction and devastation of German aeroplanes that bombed this country, a Britain in desperate need.

Britain called, and they came. It is important to recognise why they came to the mother country, as they called it. They came because they wanted to take part in building Britain’s future, but they also came because there was little future left for them in the Caribbean. Like in Britain after the second world war, the homes of those on board the Windrush and the many boats that came after it had also been destroyed by a foreign power—a foreign power had left much of the Caribbean in a sorry state. Unlike in Britain, however, the siege of those countries had lasted for 300 years. Three centuries of colonial rule had stripped the Caribbean of much of its wealth and resources, and left behind an unsustainable plantation economy. Under the British, the French, the Dutch, the Spanish and the Portuguese, the Caribbean region and Latin America and south America had become little more than a warehouse from which to extract profit.

In 1948, the societies that had once been made up of slaves and their owners were instead made up of rich planters and landless, low-wage labourers. People in the Caribbean had been emancipated from slavery in 1834, but they had achieved their emancipation in name only. Ten years before HMT Windrush arrived on British shores, labourers in Barbados were earning the equivalent of just £3.50 a day. Half the workforce worked in manufacturing and agriculture. Many were employed on sugar plantations and forced to work for extremely low wages. They worked in unbearable conditions, their children were suffering from malnutrition and they faced an influx of disease.

In Jamaica, searing unemployment ravaged society. Britain had closed sugar plantations in favour of cheaper labour elsewhere, and the consequences were devastating. Labour riots were commonplace as people became increasingly frustrated by the destitution that they faced. In Guyana, society was reeling from the Ruimveldt riots in the earlier part of the 20th century. Again, much of the economy was crippled, and people were working in bauxite mines and on sugar or rice plantations for very poor wages and in very poor conditions. People were rioting as a consequence. We cannot forget that Britain’s development was grounded in the underdevelopment of the Commonwealth. Britain’s industrial revolution relied on the deindustrialisation of India, and its profits were built on the exploitation of Caribbean plantations and on the backs of Egyptian cotton farmers and Barbadian sugar producers.

We cannot forget that those on board the Windrush came to Britain filled with the promise of the British motherland, yet this was the same Britain that had promised away all their riches and resources. It was the same Britain that has never faced justice for the crime of slavery, and that stole 12 million people from their homes in the dead of night and carted them like cattle across the ocean and into slavery. This had never before been seen in the world. Britain was still paying off its debts to slave owners in 2015, but it has never paid reparations to those who are the descendants of slaves.

This is the same Britain that, sadly, has recently failed the Windrush generation. It had failed them previously, and it has failed them again today. Many of the Windrush generation have once again been made destitute by the British state. They have had their rights stripped from them, and they have been thrust into despair and desperation. The injustices that the victims face today have a long history, and it is a history that Britain must never forget. I do not say that to evoke guilt. This is not really about guilt. If you do not know where you are from, you do not know where you are going. If you just teach your young people the very best bits of history and do not examine the tougher bits, as the modern nations of Germany and Japan have had to do, you will make the same mistakes over and over.

I am so proud to be a parliamentarian in this great nation, and it is the privilege of my life to speak in this Chamber, but I worry that the “great” in Great Britain is too often predicated on an inability to examine the truths of parts of Britain’s past. The heart of that past is colonial, and as we think about the Windrush generation we do not just think about the fact that they landed in 1948; we think about the umbilical cord between Britain and these people, because they were brought from Africa. The surname I have is not the surname of my ancestors; neither is Diane Abbott’s and neither is Dawn Butler’s. Those surnames were given to us by our slave masters. The language that we speak is a language we learned, because our ancestors lost their language and their culture. That is at the heart of the Caribbean tradition. It is an area of tremendous hybridity. In the Caribbean—I might say the same of Latin America—there is a meeting of the world’s people that is best explained by the carnival of Trinidad or the reggae of Jamaica. That is the area that I know.

Many of the Windrush generation have once again been left destitute in recent times. The injustices that the victims face today have a history that we must remember. The story began in the 1700s and today, most painfully, we have been forced back across the Atlantic by the British Government in unlawful deportations justified by the “hostile environment.” That environment told Windrush citizens that they have no right to the British public services to which so many of them had dedicated their lives and to which their ancestors had contributed. The nurses who toiled in our hospitals, the train drivers, and the other public sector workers upon whom Britain relied were told that their contributions were null and void, and that they should leave this country immediately. Seventy years on, the Government thanked the Windrush generation for their service to this country by throwing them into detention centres and deporting them.

Those victims have still not seen justice, and the Government’s response to the crisis continues to be inadequate. Why is there still no hardship fund for the Windrush victims? Why are innocent British citizens who have been made homeless and jobless by the Home Office being forced to wait months for compensation? People have been pushed into rent arrears and debt by the Home Office, but they still have no financial support. Why are they still being punished for the failures of the British state? Why have 32 of the 63 Windrush citizens unlawfully deported as a result of the Government’s hostile environment policy been refused their right to return to Britain? Why has the Home Secretary decreed that they should be exiled abroad instead of facing British justice in British courts as British citizens?

Why has my constituent Oliver Hutchinson, who arrived from Jamaica in 1970, still not seen justice? He is a citizen by right, but for all of his life he has lived in fear of immigration enforcement and has been unable to get a job, access benefits or even have a stable home. He was arrested recently at a routine appointment with the Home Office on a bench warrant that was 20 years old.

Why has the Windrush taskforce, which has been specially appointed to support victims of the scandal, delayed its response time? Why are hundreds of victims who have contacted the taskforce regarding their citizenship still waiting for an appointment at the Home Office?

Above all, today I think of the victims of this crisis, victims who are still facing desperate uncertainty, and the Government’s subsequent response. I think of Oliver Hutchinson; of Balvin Marshall, a British citizen made homeless and jobless by the hostile environment; of Rosario Wilson, whose grandfather arrived in Britain in the 1950s and who has spent thousands of pounds trying to prove his citizenship; and of my 27 constituents with ongoing cases and the thousands of other Commonwealth-born Britons who live in fear and uncertainty.

I say to the Secretary of State, who has said of those Windrush citizens with criminal records who have been sent back to the Caribbean that he has no intention of bringing them back, that that is unacceptable. It is unacceptable because they are British citizens first. This country has had no such debate on the deportation of criminals. This country stopped deporting criminals to parts of the Australian Commonwealth in 1868. How can it be that, with no debate and no discussion, it has been deemed acceptable once again to deport British citizens, even if they have a criminal record, back to the Commonwealth?

Can I say how badly this has gone down in the broader Commonwealth and how sad and embarrassing it was that we had this discussion and this debate during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting? This is not what the Commonwealth expects of the mother country. It has been a very painful episode indeed.

As we commemorate this epic contribution and we think of the joys and the heroes, I thank God for people like Trevor McDonald and Moira Stuart entering my household on Dongola Road and lifting the spirits of my family and my cousins over so many weeks, months and years. As we think about all those great sons and daughters of this great region, let us also think of what further contribution we can give to these people, people who—I hope my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) will allow me to say this—in some ways contain a little fragility because of that slave history.

There was no reparation for those slaves, and the Caribbean nations have been united in wanting to put the issue of reparations back on the table at the United Nations as they think of their futures. Why do they do that? It is because, as they celebrate so many years since independence—Guyana celebrated 52 years of independence just a few weeks ago—and they look forward to the future, they think about the economies they inherited and they think about all they have achieved but, frankly, there is a sense in which they were abandoned. It is important that this country hears and listen to those calls for support, particularly against a backdrop of the Government making it clear that they wish to enter into trade negotiations with those countries once again. Let us consider: what do reparations look like for those Caribbean nations? How do we make that work? What dialogue do we as a country need to have with those people?

Can we also think about our heritage in this country? In the last few years we have seen the birth of the Black Cultural Archives, based in south London; the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool; and organisations such as the Stephen Lawrence Centre and the Bernie Grant Arts Centre. Many of these organisations are struggling today. Frankly, they are struggling for a handout from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. What they should have got was a proper endowment, from which they could derive interest, that bought them security so that they could continue to make a contribution to this country. As we think about those landing cards that were destroyed, let us redouble our efforts on behalf of organisations such as the Black Cultural Archives.

Finally, let me say that we are having this debate against probably the most depressing backdrop possible, having seen the murder of 78 young lives here in the city of London. May I say most gently that there is something that connects these murders at this time with the sorts of crime that we see also in African-American societies and, sadly, in parts of the Caribbean, particularly in Trinidad and in Jamaica. That story is a story of dislocation. It is the story of a lack of fatherhood and role models, and it is a story that begins with those plantations. If you take a black man and you say to him that you can move him across the country to another plantation and strip him from his family, so that he does not own himself or his relationship with his wife or with his children, you create a phenomenon that is very real in those communities: the phenomenon of the babymother, where it is not my wife or my husband, but my babymother or my babyfather. That legacy lives on in our communities. It is a community that has been way too accustomed to violence. This is the dislocation of not seeing those role models in front of you and never hearing your history, and this is about how that affects generations years and years later. We are a community of tremendous resilience, but we cannot all be resilient. So in thinking also of that more painful legacy, let us think about the renewed support that this country needs to give.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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14 Jun 2018, 3:38 p.m.

I really do not know how to follow that outstanding contribution from the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). When we remember where he has been earlier today and what he has had to put himself through over the past couple of days, we can see that it was an indescribably superb contribution. I hope Members will not expect me to reach anything like either the depth of knowledge or the eloquence he was able to deliver.

Let me also commend the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) for securing the debate and for her initial contribution, because she put the whole thing into context: possibly the most important thing we need to remember about the Windrush generation is that they came to the UK because the UK begged them to come. There was none of this nonsense we see now about how somehow we are doing people a huge favour and we have been a wee bit too kind in letting them in. The Windrush generation were begged to come. They were pleaded with to come. It was their duty to uproot themselves from everything they knew and travel halfway around the world to a place they had only ever seen on postage stamps and posters to do a job that the UK simply did not have the people to do.

At that point the United Kingdom incurred a permanent and non-removable debt, not only to the Windrush generation but to their children and grandchildren, and to generations to come, because had the Windrush passengers not come here, these islands would have taken decades to recover from the devastation of the war—and that was only their immediate contribution. As was said earlier, all the population centres where the Windrush generation eventually settled are what they are today because of the Windrush legacy. That is particularly true of London, but also of other great cities, such as Manchester and Cardiff. North of the border, there is a significant West Indian tradition in parts of Glasgow, not from the Windrush time but from times before and after it.

It is intensely sad that the racism experienced by so many of the Windrush passengers 60 or 70 years ago, which the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood referred to, has not gone away. It is perhaps a bit less obvious and less frequent—although I know perfectly well that there is a lot of racism that I do not experience, for obvious reasons—but it is still there. Only last week, Louis Smith, as proud an Englishman as many others present—I nearly said as proud an Englishman as me!—who has won world and European gymnastics championships for England and a string of Olympic gymnastics medals for Britain, was a passenger on a train, sitting in first class, which meant that he was entitled to free tea, coffee and biscuits when the trolley came around. The guy with the trolley was entitled to check that everybody in first class had a first-class ticket. He went through the entire carriage and checked the tickets of the two black men, but he did not check the tickets of any of the white men. We can perhaps take a tiny bit of comfort from the fact that it was a white guy sitting beside Louis Smith who first noticed and challenged it. Quite properly, the rail company issued an immediate apology and promised to investigate. Imagine, in this day and age, anybody in any employment at all thinking that it could be remotely acceptable to assume that somebody was more likely to be dodging their fare just because of the colour of their skin.

Today I saw a couple of tweets from ScotRail, the main rail service provider in Scotland. Somebody had tweeted ScotRail to express concerns about the safety of the train on which he was travelling, because he had just discovered that a Pakistani was driving the train. I am proud to say that ScotRail responded by telling him to get off and walk. If that person can be traced and identified, I am sure that it will be a long, long time before they are made welcome on any of ScotRail’s services. The fact that such naked racism can still find a place in our society is something that we should all be deeply ashamed of and deeply worried about, because we know where it can lead.

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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14 Jun 2018, 3:43 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is making the extremely important point that, of course, racism is sadly not dead in our society; in fact, it is not dead in any society in the world. It is a blight on the minds of humans who seek to divide rather than to unite, and it is a great tragedy that we as humans have not been able to overcome it. Is there not, though, a moment of pride—the hon. Gentleman speaks of it quite rightly—that ScotRail did not react as its predecessors may have done in the ’30s, but saw what had happened for the sin and the wrong that it was? Is it not also right that although the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) spoke so passionately, truly and rightly about the horrors, immorality and wrongs of slavery, we should also be proud that for all the sins and errors that this country committed in allowing slavery and ever tolerating it, it was this country—this House—that abolished slavery for the first time?

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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14 Jun 2018, 3:44 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comment. The first place that made slavery illegal was actually Scotland, not England, but we will not argue about that.

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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14 Jun 2018, 3:44 p.m.

I stand corrected.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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14 Jun 2018, 3:45 p.m.

None of our countries can be proud of the fact that slavery was there to be abolished in the first place. In fact, I said in a Westminster Hall debate not that long ago that although I was born just inside what is now the boundary of the great city of Glasgow and consider myself to be part Weegie—by birth if not by residence—and although I am intensely proud of a lot of what Glasgow is, I can never forget the fact that Glasgow became the second city of the empire based on slavery. Where do we think the sugar was produced so that ships were needed to bring it across the Atlantic ocean? Why do we think a lot of ships were needed to bring cotton into the mills of Manchester or anywhere else? The people who produced that cotton were not given a living wage or any kind of decent working conditions. They had no choice about where they worked or what hours they worked. They were not treated as human beings; they were treated as possessions. Sometimes the machines that they were working with were treated with greater care than they were.

It was the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those human possessions who then answered the call and came over to Britain to help put us back on our feet after the war. That was a remarkable gesture, because slavery was recent enough for them to remember it. Some of the older generation who they were living with would have been slaves in their younger days. They were enslaved by the white folk. They were enslaved by the mother country—or their near ancestors were—yet they still answered the call for help and came over to help sort things out. That is something that is simply impossible to comprehend.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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14 Jun 2018, 3:45 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. It is easy to say that this country has abolished slavery, but we do live in a country with modern slavery. It is important to keep that in mind.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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14 Jun 2018, 3:46 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for correcting me on that point.

Earlier speakers have mentioned some individuals who made an incalculable contribution to making London what it is, to making England what it is and to making the islands of Britain what they are. I want to mention someone who, in some ways, has nothing to do with Windrush, but whose story illustrates something quite important. His name was Andrew Watson. He was born in Guyana of a Glasgow father and a Guyanese mother. His father was almost certainly an administrator on a plantation, but probably not a slave owner, although I cannot be too sure. His mother had certainly been a domestic servant at best, and she may well have been a slave. Andrew came over to the UK with his dad—we think it was after his mother died or when she became too ill to look after them. As his dad was very wealthy and well connected, Andrew had a privileged upbringing. It was the kind of privileged upbringing that very, very few Caribbean people living in the United Kingdom at that time could ever have dreamt of.

Andrew was also an exceptionally talented footballer. In 1881, he won an international cap for Scotland. He was the first black person ever to play for Scotland. I wish that we could have him back now. He played only three games for Scotland, and the results were Scotland 6, England 1; Scotland 5, Wales 1; and Scotland 6, England 1. If only we could have him back now. The reason why he stopped playing was that, for employment purposes, he had to move down to London, and the rule was that if a player did not live in Scotland, they could not play for Scotland and if they had played for one country, they could not play for another.

Andrew was the first black player to win a major trophy in any area of Great Britain. He was in London for part of his career. He was the first black player ever to appear in what we now know as the FA cup. Ninety-three years after Andrew Watson, the second black player turned out to play for Scotland. I remember him—I remember watching Paul Wilson of Celtic on the telly when I was a teenager. I was surprised to hear that Paul Wilson was the second black player to play for Scotland, because I only saw the colour of his jersey; I did not notice what colour he was.

It is a sobering thought that Andrew Watson did not experience any kind of racism. People noticed that he wore a different colour of boots to the rest of the team—in those days players had to buy their own boots, and his dad bought him a different colour from the rest of the team—but he does not appear to have suffered from any kind of racism at all from the press, from supporters or from his colleagues. Paul Wilson experienced racism when he first turned out for Scotland, and experienced it regularly when he played for Celtic, as indeed did the first generation of black players to play anywhere in the United Kingdom.

David Lammy Portrait Mr Lammy
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I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I am hugely appreciative of the fact that he has put on the record the link between Scotland and the Caribbean region. I took a DNA test not so long ago and it turns out that I, too, am a Scot. I am very well aware of my connections to the Blair family, and so potentially a former Prime Minister, and also to the Laing family, and so potentially a Madam Deputy Speaker.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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14 Jun 2018, 3:49 p.m.

I knew there was something special about the right hon. Gentleman that I just could not put my finger on; all is now revealed. He might well find that he has more Scots blood in him than I have, because the more I look back at my ancestry the more I discover that a lot of it is actually from Ireland—Northern Ireland, rather than the Republic.

I am of immigrant descent. We all are. My ancestors may have come to mainland UK a few years before the ancestors of some hon. Members, but we are all immigrants. There is nobody left in the UK who can claim to be 100% indigenous English, Welsh, Scots or Irish. We would do well to remember that, because the question is not about who is an immigrant, it is just about how long we have been an immigrant for.

John Hayes Portrait Mr John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
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14 Jun 2018, 3:49 p.m.

The last point that the hon. Gentleman made is, in a sense, the most profound. It is about not where we come from, but the shared identity that we enjoy when we are here. The Windrush generation in particular were deeply patriotic, and remain so. These were people who were actually proud of Britain’s history. Of course, they understood that it was a mixed history, but they were proud of it. As the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) knows very well, I chair the British Caribbean Association and I have formed close friendships with those people—people who called their children Milton, Nelson and so on. How many white British people have ever done that? That was a measure of their patriotism.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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14 Jun 2018, 3:51 p.m.

I am grateful for that intervention. My name is actually French—Norman—so my ancestors came over at some time along with the Norman conquerors and I have been trying to keep up with the tradition of upsetting the English ever since. That is not completely true, of course.

The right hon. Member for Tottenham makes an interesting point. It is possible to tell a lot about somebody’s background from their name, but sometimes that background has been broken. Sometimes the link has been deliberately broken to try to turn somebody into something that they are really not.

The important point about identifying with and celebrating a culture—being proud of who we are and where we are from—is that it does not all need to be one place and one time. It is perfectly possible to be proudly Jamaican and proudly English at the same time; it is perfectly possible to be proudly Scots and proudly Canadian at the same; and it is perfectly possible to be proudly Scots and proudly English at the same time.

Although it is vital that the contribution of black culture—however we define it—to the life of these islands is remembered, celebrated and taught in all our schools, we also need to understand that how we define black culture is no more static or set in stone than how we define any other kind of culture. When people are celebrating black culture in 50 years’ time, they will be doing it in a way that none of us would recognise. When they look back at celebrations of black culture today, they will not recognise it any more than they would recognise Italian culture, German culture or any other kind of culture.

The identity that people hold is up to each person to define for themselves. If we try to put people into boxes by making them exclusively black, white, brown, yellow, European or American, we are not doing them any favours. In fact, we are not doing anybody any favours, because the great benefit of the diversity that exists in humanity is the fact that each and every one of us is unique. None of us is 100% pure-bred anything. That is just as well because, as any dog breeder or horse breeder will say, pure breeds do not live very long. Pedigree dogs tend to be very unhealthy. Give me a good mongrel that is a mix of so many breeds that they can never be disentangled; that dog will probably outlive its master by quite a few years.

Although not many in the Windrush generation eventually found their way to Scotland, parts of the country do have some significant groups of people who are of West Indian and Afro-Caribbean descent. Scotland has had large waves of immigrants throughout its history. It is interesting to look at the ways in which the experiences of other immigrant movements into Scotland have been similar to the experiences of the Windrush generation, and the ways in which they have been different. Sadly, one way in which these experiences have been all too often similar is in the racism and discrimination that immigrants have faced.

As I mentioned, a lot of my ancestors came over from Ireland, as did a lot of the population in the west of Scotland. It is one of the things that Glasgow very much has in common with Liverpool. The racism that they experienced was turned into sectarianism because they identified as being Irish and therefore Catholic, even though they were not necessarily Catholic. That kind of racism in the guise of sectarianism still poisons too much of our society in central Scotland today. We could do with being rid of that, just as we could do with being rid of other forms of racism.

We have also experienced immigration from the other side. By far the biggest export that Scotland has had in the last 200 years has been our people. I remember going to the railway station on a number of occasions when I was a wee boy to see off another of my mum’s wee sisters with her family, as they took the £10 journey to Australia and became Australian citizens. I am delighted to say that the traffic was not all one-way and that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) made the journey in the opposite direction.

That is the way things are, and it is the way they should always be. When we celebrate the huge benefits that were brought to these lands by one single big—in fact, not particularly big—migration of people, we should perhaps stop to think about the fact that migration benefits the places that people move to. I cannot think of any instance where migration has not benefited the place that people moved to. That is why I have some concerns about not only the view that the Government are taking towards migration but the direction of travel in which they are taking us in relation to the free movement of people.

John Hayes Portrait Mr John Hayes
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14 Jun 2018, 2:29 p.m.

I think the hon. Gentleman needs to be clear that the people I described earlier—those patriots who called their children Milton, Winston, Gladstone and so on—take a very similar view of illegal migration, because they took the trouble to come here on an entirely proper basis. Outrage is felt by people in this House and others on behalf of the Windrush generation because they were legal migrants who should never have been treated in that way. They are Britons in the same way that all the rest of us are. We should not assume for a moment—I know you would not, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will not either—that those people do not take a robust view on illegal migration and understand the need for controls on migration as a whole.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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The great shame of the experience of the Windrush generation is that for far too many of them, assumptions were made about their legality or illegality based on nothing better than the colour of their skin or the accent with which they spoke, just as that ticket collector on the train made assumptions about the likelihood that the black guys were more likely to be dodging tickets than the white guys.

I cannot imagine my country without waves of immigration. I am delighted that in any school in my constituency that I go to, there are welcome signs up in 10, 15 or 20 languages, each one of which is the home language of one of its pupils or staff. I am delighted to live in a country whose national colour only exists if we take lots of different colours and mix them together. A tartan scarf made of a single colour is not tartan, and for me, a Scotland, an England and a United Kingdom where everybody was the same simply would not be the great countries that they are.

To those from the Windrush generation who are still alive, I say thank you, and I also say sorry, because the Parliament that I am part of and the Government that I am supposed to hold to account have done you an injustice that would be shameful in any circumstances, but when set against the contribution that you have made to so many cities and regions of these islands, to have treated you and your descendants in that way is a stain on the reputation of these nations that will take a long, long time to clear.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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14 Jun 2018, 3:58 p.m.

It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant). I congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) on securing this debate and giving us the chance to reflect on the enormous contribution of the Windrush generation. I also want to pay tribute to my colleague in the other place, Baroness Benjamin. She is a member of the Windrush generation who has been a leading voice in both Parliament and the community.

The treatment of the Windrush generation is a stain on our society, as the hon. Member for Glenrothes said. Our hearts reach out to those who have been subjected to terrible injustice and who have been separated from family, refused the right to return home, denied healthcare or lost a job as a result of serious failings of the Home Office. There is no question but that these people deserve to be called British citizens and to be British citizens, and to question their identity and legitimacy was callous.

I believe that there is a much deeper malaise at the heart of the Windrush scandal, which is due to this country’s current uneasy relationship with immigration and a Tory Government who have gone all out on the “hostile environment”. Interestingly, however, the Government got it completely wrong in what they believed would be the popular response of our non-immigrant communities to such concerns. When the public heard about the plight of the Windrush generation, their immediate response was one of compassion and outrage. This is the tolerant and open Britain we live in, that we need to foster and that we need to protect.

Today, people across the country are sincerely and deeply mourning the 72 people who lost their lives in the Grenfell tragedy, many of whom were not born in this country. People respond to individuals as soon as they make a connection with them. It is the dehumanisation of immigration that has made this subject so toxic.

--- Later in debate ---
Diane Abbott Portrait Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)
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14 Jun 2018, 4:24 p.m.

I am proud to stand at this Dispatch Box and bear witness to the Windrush generation. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) on her excellent speech, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on their good speeches.

Nearly everyone in the Chamber this afternoon has seen the evocative newsreel footage of the men and women from the Caribbean who sailed to Britain on the Empire Windrush in 1948. Who were those people? I ask the House for a moment to put themselves in the shoes of those men and women. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham pointed out, they were young. Many of them may have looked a little older than they were, but that was because they were all wearing their Sunday best—the hats, the bonnets, the tailored suits, and the frocks—and they came to Britain so full of hope and enthusiasm. As many Members have said this afternoon, they genuinely thought that they were coming to the mother country.

Nowadays there is a narrative around migrants that claims that they do not understand or appreciate British culture, but I am glad to tell the House that no group of migrants was more enthusiastically British than the Windrush generation. Historically, the people of the Caribbean venerated the British royal family. They saw them as their protection from cruel local colonialists.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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14 Jun 2018, 4:26 p.m.

When the right hon. Lady refers to a British culture, would it perhaps be more accurate to recognise that there is not such a thing as a British culture? There are lots and lots of British cultures. All of us are deeply attached to some of them. Nobody can be fully conversant with all of them and it is perhaps time to realise that all of our many cultures deserve equal treatment.

Diane Abbott Portrait Ms Abbott
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14 Jun 2018, 4:26 p.m.

At one and the same time, the Windrush generation were both anti-colonialist but deeply respectful of a range of British institutions, including royalty. It may surprise some Government Members, but if someone meets a West Indian who was educated in the West Indies between the war and asks them to recite some poetry, they will promptly and with enthusiasm recite a piece of Keats or Shelley. That was the nature of the education.