The chair of the work and pensions select committee has rejected a call to resign from Sir Philip Green, the owner of Topshop, who accused the MP of attempting to destroy his reputation over the controversial sale of BHS.
Green claimed Frank Field’s parliamentary investigation into the collapse of the department store chain was biased and suggested he would not give evidence to MPs on Wednesday unless Field stepped down.
In a letter to Field, Green wrote that the Labour MP’s continued participation in the inquiry would only “obstruct a resolution”. The Topshop tycoon has come under fire over the sale of now-defunct BHS for £1 last year.
“I am not prepared to participate in a process which has not even the pretence of fairness and objectivity and which has as its primary objective the destruction of my reputation,” he wrote. “I therefore require you to resign immediately from this inquiry.”
Field said it was in Green’s interest to attend the joint session of the work and pensions and business committees next week. The chain collapsed into administration last month, leaving a £571m deficit in its pension scheme that must now be covered by a government lifeboat scheme.
Field said on Saturday: “We appreciate that Sir Philip is trying to set up a deal for the pension fund, but £600m is the size of the deficit. That’s not jumping to any conclusion, that is a fact. We very much look forward to hearing his side of the story on Wednesday.” He told the BBC it was the House of Commons that “decides who chairs these committees, not Sir Philip Green”.
Meanwhile, the business select committee chair, Iain Wright, said Green risked appearing to have “something to hide” if he did not attend Wednesday’s hearing.
“Sir Philip Green has a lot of questions to answer about the sale of BHS, the BHS pension fund and his stewardship of BHS,” the MP said. “I’m sure he won’t want the accusation thrown at him that he has something to hide, that he’s running scared and that he’s looking for excuses not to appear.”
Pressure has been mounting on the Arcadia owner, whose purchase of BHS in 2000 helped make him a billionaire, following the chain’s collapse into administration last month. Green sold BHS to ex-racing driver Dominic Chappell, who was formerly bankrupt and had no retail experience.
Several MPs have called for Green to be stripped of his knighthood if he does not help to cover the huge pension deficit. About 20,000 current and former BHS workers are members of the scheme.
Anna Soubry, business minister, tweeted:
Jim McMahon, a Labour MP, has written to David Cameron asking him to consider stripping Green of his honour, while a group of Conservative MPs are writing to the honours forfeiture committee, according to Westminster sources. The committee will then have to formally consider the tycoon’s knighthood and advise the Queen on what action to take.
The collapse of BHS could cost the taxpayer up to £36m, it has emerged, while Tina Green, the billionaire’s wife, reaped a £53m windfall from the sale of the BHS headquarters in central London to Arcadia.
Green also wrote in his letter to Field: “Without even waiting for next week’s oral evidence session, you have used your position as chair of the work and pensions committee to do your very best to destroy my reputation. Your bias against me and lack of any interest in a fair process are demonstrated clearly by … statements published this evening.”
The tycoon was referring to comments Field made to the Financial Times in which he intimated that Green would need to cover the pension fund deficit in full. Field told the newspaper: “The evidence we have been hearing about the BHS sale has been very worrying and disconcerting. The committee may have considered a reasonable settlement in the very early days of our inquiry, but things have changed. Sir Philip needs to convince us that he’s come up with the very best deal for those pensioners.”
This article was written by Chris Johnston, for theguardian.com on Saturday 11th June 2016 12.02 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010