Former cabinet minister Lord Hain has defended his decision to “out” retail tycoon Sir Philip Green as the target of allegations of sexual harassment and racial abuse.
And the Labour peer told BBC Two’s Newsnight he had received “overwhelming support – particularly from women”.
Lord Hain used parliamentary privilege to name the Topshop owner after Court of Appeal judges temporarily barred The Daily Telegraph from publishing “confidential information” from five employees about a figure the newspaper described only as a “leading businessman”.
The paper wants to reveal what it calls “alleged sexual harassment and racial abuse of staff”, who have been prevented from discussing their claims by non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).
Lord Hain told peers he had been contacted by someone “intimately involved” in the case and felt it was his duty to use parliamentary privilege to name Sir Philip.
“Having been contacted by somebody intimately involved in the case of a powerful businessman using non-disclosure agreements and substantial payments to conceal the truth about serious and repeated sexual harassment, racist abuse and bullying, which is compulsively continuing, I feel it’s my duty under parliamentary privilege to name Philip Green as the individual in question given that the media have been subject to an injunction preventing publication of the full details of a story which is clearly in the public interest,” he said.
Sir Philip responded in a statement, saying: “I am not commenting on anything that has happened in court or was said in Parliament today.
“To the extent that it is suggested that I have been guilty of unlawful sexual or racist behaviour, I categorically and wholly deny these allegations.
“Arcadia and I take accusations and grievances from employees very seriously and in the event that one is raised, it is thoroughly investigated.
“Arcadia employs more than 20,000 people and in common with many large businesses sometimes receives formal complaints from employees. In some cases these are settled with the agreement of all parties and their legal advisers. These settlements are confidential so I cannot comment further on them.”
The principle of parliamentary privilege means that MPs and peers cannot be sued for libel for comments made in the Houses of Parliament, and offers protection to media outlets reporting those comments.
Speaking to Newsnight, Lord Hain explained his decision to speak out, saying: “What concerned me about this case was wealth, and power that comes with it, and abuse. And that was what led me to act in the way that I did.
“It’s for others to judge whether I’ve been right or wrong.
“But there’s no point in being in Westminster – which is the sovereign centre of the British constitution, has sovereignty and with it the parliamentary privilege that is a privilege … if you never discharge that; if you never deploy the precious rights of parliamentary privilege.”
He stressed that the cloak of privilege should be used “extremely carefully with integrity and very responsibly – never just loosely”.
The Prime Minister said some employers are using NDAs “unethically” as she criticised “abhorrent” sexual harassment in the workplace.
Mrs May’s spokesman declined to comment on Lord Hain’s statement.
Asked if the PM feels it is acceptable for parliamentarians to use the protection of privilege to put information into the public domain in this way, the spokesman said: “The rules of parliamentary privilege are a matter for Parliament and how they exercise these rules is obviously a matter for individual members.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said Sir Philip “narrowly and luckily escaped losing his knighthood over the pensions scandal”.
And he added: “If these allegations are correct, he should certainly be stripped of his knighthood.”
Labour equalities spokeswoman Dawn Butler said: “While much of the focus in the coming days will be on this man and his alleged actions, let us also pay tribute to survivors of sexual abuse and harassment, who are too often silenced and cannot command an army of lawyers to fight their corner.
“NDAs should never be used to suppress allegations of criminal behaviour. If the current law doesn’t protect the voices of survivors, the next Labour government will legislate to do so.”
Conservative MP James Cleverly said Lord Hain’s action had shown “people must now realise that injunctions and super-injunctions are nothing more than a good way to part with large sums of money and a bad way to keep things secret”.