Sergeant Blackman was a man prepared to lay down his life for his country, who saw two of his comrades blown up, saw another comrade tortured and murdered,

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and saw another’s severed limbs hung from a tree by the Taliban. That was the daily hell that Sergeant Blackman faced. He had to keep it together for the men he led, just as now he keeps it together for the sake of his wife. He did all that in the face of post-traumatic stress disorder, another factor that might have significantly impaired his judgment on that fateful day. Now, this man has been let down by the country he fought so courageously for. I understand that the members of the panel that decided Sergeant Blackman’s fate were not informed of facts that could have helped to reduce his sentence.

This whole situation has come about because of a great failing in the justice system and in the court martial, as well as the failings of those in command who left Sergeant Blackman’s troop isolated, without enough manpower, under-resourced and sustaining a daily onslaught from the Taliban. Those failings were not Sergeant Blackman’s fault, but he had to deal with the situation regardless. It is no wonder that we have found out that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly as he was the one who had to lead a troop of men. He has said—I quote from the Library information pack:

“I had been sent to a brutal battlefield to fight for my country in an unpopular war.”

Given where he was and what he was doing, he was very clearly under physical and emotional pressure. He had no choice but to keep it together as best he could.

It is important to note that the man killed was one of two Taliban fighters sneaking up on a British outpost called Taalanda. Those two men had only one purpose: to kill the British troops at the outpost. An Apache crew was assembled and 139 rounds were fired from a 30 mm cannon; unsurprisingly, the crew did not think it possible that anyone had survived. Upon finding the casualty, it was noted that he had been fatally wounded and was unconscious, although at that point he had not passed away.

Sergeant Blackman knows that what he did was wrong. He claims that the remark he made about the Geneva Convention was in relation to the mistreatment of the corpse, something he knows he should not have done. However, the pressures that he was facing, frequently caused by the poor judgment of senior command, and the daily bloodshed that he witnessed while struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder are valid reasons why, in a moment’s lack of judgment, something like that can occur. It saddens me that someone as highly thought of and well-respected as Sergeant Blackman, can, because of one split-second mistake, be dismissed and treated with such disdain and disrespect.

I fully support the e-petition, with over 100,000 signatures, calling for Sergeant Blackman’s conviction to be quashed. When I read about Big Al, as he was known to friends and family, it saddened me to learn that the 6 foot 3 inch giant had grown gaunt during his time in prison—it has obviously had an effect. It is little wonder, particularly as I am sure that Sergeant Blackman never in a million years expected to be serving a life sentence after serving his country with determination, bravery and dedication. His case needs to be referred urgently to the court martial appeals court, so that this shameful injustice can be fully investigated—this time, with all the available evidence and statements.

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3.2 pm

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con): I reiterate the comments of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and commend my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on securing this debate and on all the research he has done for his eloquent speech.

I am speaking today in support of my constituent Claire Warner, who is the wife of Sergeant Alexander Blackman—Al, as he is known to her—and in support of her parents. Claire is here today. She lives in the heart of the constituency of Taunton Deane, for which I have the great privilege of being MP. Claire and her family have been through unimaginable anguish and strain over the last two years since all this happened. They are deeply private people who have kept themselves very much to themselves, even in the heart of Taunton Deane. But now it is time to speak out, and so they are; that is why we are here today. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset is speaking out, as well—even the Daily Mail is—so I am now going to do so and add the weight of my argument to the case.

Taunton is a commando town. There is enormous public support for our brave and dedicated marines there. Locally, one senses a profound feeling that those defending our peace, protecting our world from evil and giving devoted service to their country must themselves be treated with the fairness and understanding that are due to them. That must always happen within the framework of the law.

We have heard much today about new evidence coming to light, allegedly suggesting that there has been a miscarriage of justice in Sergeant Blackman’s case—indeed, that he has been made something of a scapegoat. I therefore support the call for a review of the case, including that new evidence. That review should also consider the three routes to manslaughter, the stress that Sergeant Blackman was under and all available psychological reports.

Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con): I have been following the eloquent speeches that have been made about this very concerning case. I am here to represent Dr Melody Blackman, my constituent in Eastleigh and the younger sister of Al. She exactly echoes my hon. Friend’s points about the need for a fair hearing of all the evidence, to make sure that we get the right decision and that any and all decisions made are based on a fair hearing and a fair trial. We expect that fairness in every walk of life.

Rebecca Pow: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. That comes over so clearly from everyone I speak to, from the local support we have had, and from all the people writing to the Daily Mail. I think the Mail has about 2,500 letters, as well as money for the legal case, and all of the thousands of people who have contacted it have spoken up for fairness, as we are doing today.

I offer a small note of caution. We must take care when criticising our court martial system, as it is there for a reason. However, having spoken to a whole range of sources, in this brief speech I call for the case to be reviewed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, with all that that entails, including, of course, the power to send the case back to the Court of Appeal.

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Let us give this case the breath of fresh air it deserves, and give Sergeant Blackman a fair hearing. Ultimately, let us hope that we can give Claire her husband back at home.

3.7 pm

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): I did not intend to speak today—I am here on behalf of constituents who asked me to attend—but, listening to the debate, it has struck me that there is something relevant that needs to be raised, namely how, as a public, we regard our armed forces, who are doing jobs that, to be blunt, none of us who have not been there would even want to imagine.

Miscarriages of justice can take place in all walks of life, whether civilian or military. It is right not to want to undermine a court martial. However, we would readily recognise that in a civilian court the process of justice is not always followed as it should be, so I do not see that it undermines the court martial process to say that a case should be looked at again.

When I joined the Royal Navy as an engineering officer, one thing I was convinced of was that I could not be a Royal Marine. It is a unique service—[Interruption.] It was certainly not one that appealed to me. The training that takes place and the jobs that marines are asked to do are of a degree of extremity beyond that which is asked of the regular forces. The problem in this case is that the courts have overlooked—I pay tribute to the Daily Mailfor bringing this to public attention—the extreme pressures that these brave men are under when we, as politicians, order them to go and do what we have decided, on our whim.

I have said in the House before that war is the failure of politicians. It is nothing else. Every war in history, ultimately, was started by a politician, whether they were elected or not. We need to rebuild respect for those who stand up for what we believe in, for justice and security, and for the love of their country. It worries me that, in this building today, mainstream politicians are saying that terrorist organisations had a point and that we should somehow be critical of the armed forces that stood up to them.

Yes, mistakes can be made in courts of law, and it is right to review that, but let the message go out clearly that, along with the British people and the newspapers of this country, Members of this Parliament—on the whole—wholeheartedly recognise the dedication, honesty, bravery and selflessness shown day in, day out, even away from the combat field, by the brave people who stand up and do the job we send them to do.

2.10 pm

James Heappey (Wells) (Con): My congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on securing the debate and on all the work he has done on this important issue. I speak as a former soldier, but also as the Member of Parliament for Sergeant Blackman’s parents-in-law, who sought my support when I was a candidate in the election and who continue to seek it.

The first thing I want to put on record is an apology for not speaking publicly on this matter before. In offering that apology, and in explaining why I feel ashamed at not having spoken out properly, I hope to

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shed some light on why so many in the military—those currently serving and those recently retired, particularly those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan—will feel so reluctant to speak out on this case.

We all go through the same pre-deployment training; we all get taught the rules of engagement. We all know how strong we would want to be when we face danger day in, day out over a six-month tour. We would all like to believe that we have in ourselves the self-control and restraint to remember every letter of that pre-deployment training when we face horrendous, extraordinary situations.

The reason so many of us have come home having acted like that is that we were surrounded by a chain of command and a regiment, whose members were watching our backs on the battlefield—continuing to fire as we moved forward, and continuing to fire as we replaced the magazine on our rifle. They were also watching our backs mentally and psychologically so that, when we got back from a patrol—after an explosion or after a firefight—we were talking to one another, with each of us understanding the pressures the other was under.

The reality is that there is a loneliness in command. From everything I have read, I have no doubt Sergeant Blackman was an extraordinary junior commander who had the welfare of his troops completely at heart. I know from the fact that some of his men are here today—standing up for him silently—that they would have followed him to the ends of the earth.

Bob Stewart: Again, I am speaking as an ex-commanding officer, albeit not in the Royal Marine commandos, or the Guards, but if this incident had not happened, this sergeant, in command of a small group—15 men—in such a situation for such a long period, would definitely be on the list for a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.

James Heappey: I thank my hon. Friend.

The reality is that when someone is in a junior command position in an isolated patrol base, there is a responsibility on them to be unbreakable. They do not stint; they do not even take half a step backwards. They walk forwards because that is the only thing their men will follow.

To give junior commanders confidence and strength, and to watch out for their welfare, it is incumbent on those in the chain of command to get around, to visit, to watch, to take people to one side to see how they are and, if they do need a few days out of the line, to invent a reason to get them back down to Camp Bastion so that they can recuperate and get back to the line rejuvenated and with the moral strength they need to lead.

In Sangin, in 2009, my battlegroup was on the very front line—we were taking the highest casualties that had been taken in Afghanistan up until that point. However, I remember only too well that, when there was an incident in an isolated patrol base, the commanding officer and the regimental sergeant-major would be on the first available helicopter up there; if they could not get a helicopter, they would be on the back of the first available patrol. They had a responsibility to get to those patrol bases, not because they wanted to be seen by the riflemen, but because they knew that if the platoon commander and the platoon sergeant were doing everything they had been trained to do, they would be looking out for their soldiers, but nobody in that patrol base would be looking out for them.

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And it went on. When an event shook our entire battlegroup, the brigade commander appeared on the first available helicopter from Lashkar Gah. The reason we were able to come back knowing that we had done right and that we had not once crossed the line was that there were people all the way up the chain of the command watching out for us to make sure that we remained strong and resupplied, but also that we were being looked after.

There is a lack of understanding and empathy about what we ask our troops to do, and there are people in this room who have experienced that in the raw. The reality is that operations in Afghanistan over the last five, six or seven years have not been about conventional firefights between two uniformed enemies who stand and shoot at each until one side gives up. This is about a callous, cowardly enemy who uses the cover of night to lay improvised explosive devices with no metal content whatever so that our metal detectors cannot find them. We then ask young men—18-year-olds—and their junior commanders, such as Sergeant Blackman, to step out into the dark of the Helmand night and to walk until somebody has their legs blown off.

That situation is truly extraordinary, yet when this man’s will was broken, when he had taken too much and when his chain of command had let him down, leaving him in the line to continue leading patrols when he had clearly seen too much, we allow him to come home, and we judge those extraordinary circumstances—the extraordinary danger he faced in that extraordinary place—in an ordinary court, with ordinary law, where people are intent on viewing what happened in an entirely ordinary way.

Helmand was a murderous place—a place where the enemy never had the courage to be seen. It was down to the Apaches, with their thermal imaging, to take out those IED crews overnight, because infantry soldiers would never see them by day. They were happy to sit in their compounds and to wait for the explosion, taking satisfaction from another life ruined. They would lay IEDs about 3 feet from the one they thought would get the first casualty. Why would they do that? Because they would then get the front two people on the stretcher party taking the first casualty to the helicopter landing site to get him away to Bastion. This is an enemy who did not play by the rules. This is an enemy that tried your physical and mental strength every single day.

Sergeant Blackman snapped—I believe that is what happened—because he was not looked after by his chain of command. When we brought him home, we tried him in an ordinary court, and we failed to recognise that that extraordinary man deserved the benefit of having those extraordinary circumstances taken into account.

Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): I have huge respect for my hon. Friend, who has experienced things I have never experienced. He has said twice that this was an ordinary court, where the case was tried in an ordinary way, but it was not. This man was tried by a military court. As I understand it, it did not even reach a unanimous verdict. If it had been an ordinary court, where the case was tried in an ordinary way by twelve good men and true, I do not believe this man would ever have been found guilty. It was not an ordinary court; it was a rigged court.

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James Heappey: I had concluded, but it is quite right that I put on record that I was referring to an ordinary court martial.

Bob Stewart: A general court martial.

James Heappey: But, none the less, an ordinary process. I just think that there is a lack of awareness of the extraordinary pressures this man was under. If the case goes to the Court of Appeal, or if, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) suggested, it is allowed to be judged by 12 members of the public, an entirely different conclusion will be reached. The problem is that Sergeant Blackman has already been in prison. We have already let him down, and that is unforgiveable.

3.19 pm

Johnny Mercer (Plymouth, Moor View) (Con): I have been asked a few times for my views on the case, for a variety of reasons, and I have not offered them, but as it is yet again in Parliament and I am now, fortunately, a Member, I will use the opportunity to set out my view.

To give some context, I never achieved anything particularly great in the Army, but I have a unique viewpoint. I served three tours from the beginning of the Afghanistan conflict. I served in the chaos that was 2006, when we first went there; and at the strategic level in 2008 and 2009, with a unit that was involved in the strategic man-hunting outside of Task Force Helmand. I then served in 2010 in exactly the same area where the individual we are talking about served. At the end of that tour, my CO told me I was probably the most combat-experienced terminal controller in the Army at the time; so I have an intimate understanding of the issues at stake in the case.

I served in the exact same area as Marine A just 12 months before him, during a final tour of duty in southern Afghanistan. The area was renowned as one of the most contested in Helmand. In January 2010, the Americans had completed a huge operation in Marjeh to the south, which was complemented by a British effort called Operation Panther’s Claw to squeeze the heavily enemy-occupied areas around Nad-e Ali and the district centre in that area. All operations have unintended consequences, and the main one on this occasion was that the heavily armed and well organised Taliban commanders—what we would call tier 1 and tier 2 Taliban commanders—had been squeezed into an area just north of Nad-e Ali just south of the main Nahr-e Bughra canal; so they were fixed geographically in that area. The area is known on the map as 31 west; to the rest of us it became known as the jungle.

The area that I and subsequently Marine A served in was so demanding that, half way through that last tour, the holding ground unit that I was supporting was replaced by the theatre reserve battalion. My small fire support team, with one already dead, was asked to stay and be the continuity—the corporate knowledge, if you like—for that area of operations. The truth is that at that time, and no doubt a year later when Marine A was there—I shall call him that throughout my speech, because I do not believe that he should have been publicly named—the area was the darkest place in Helmand. That title switched areas as the campaign wore on. At times it belonged to Sangin, at others to

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Musa Qala. As I have said, I served in multiple areas on multiple tours, with different forces from strategic down to tactical level, and I have no doubt that it was the most demanding place I served in.

I found life a challenge when I came home from that tour. As ever, I made sure I could look my wife and daughter in the eye. No one died who did not need to die; but it was perhaps the most formative experience of my life. I suspect that for Marine A the experience was broadly similar. I would at this stage like to make an important point clear. I am no apologist for Marine A. I have been in his position, as have many others, but we have not broken the law and stepped over the abyss as he did. I also do not think it is for politicians to interfere with the judicial process, and I respect the opinion that has been given; but there are some serious problems with the case that I am deeply uncomfortable with, and I feel I have a duty to speak out about them.

One of my driving forces for coming into Parliament was how we look after our people within the military whom we ask and expect to keep us safe—although often we do not want to know how they do it. There is no doubt that the past 10 years have had a chronic effect on a generation of young men and women. There is also no doubt of the desensitising process that occurs when one is engaged with the enemy on a daily basis. It is how people cope and get by—morphing from human to animal and back again, as they learn to fight, live and survive like an animal in the backstreets of “the jungle”. Taking another man’s life is a serious and sobering engagement; extreme violence is to be expected, but as humans we adapt and cope, and as British soldiers we do what needs to be done to survive and win.

None of that trumps professionalism in the conduct of one’s duty. I give no traction to the views of those who say, “Marine A did what any one of us would have done,” or even, “He only did what they would do to him, given the opportunity.” I am afraid they entirely miss the point and do not help his case. However, we must never take the collective faults of a system or policy generated by the demands placed on our men, and hang them around the neck of one individual, as has happened in this case. During the maturing process of the Afghanistan campaign, there were some epic failures in the chain of command. “Courageous restraint” was a great concept, which most of us employed anyway before they gave it a fancy name; but that did not stop the commander of British forces in 2010 suggesting that summer that we start giving state awards for those who showed “courageous restraint”. I think the Americans are still laughing at us now.

A strange culture developed around the conflict at that time. Commanders wanted to “do” Afghanistan—to get it on their annual reports. As ever, most new officers in theatre would start trying to outdo their predecessors. We started to be asked to follow up direct action strikes from the air, which meant conducting a ground patrol to check for collateral damage on a target just after it was hit, which is insanity, considering where those targets are in enemy territory, and the IED risk—notwithstanding the fact that the effects of strikes are pretty obvious straightaway. The effect of that on our blokes was that every single step they took and every single round they fired was raked over time and again, under microscopic scrutiny with potential strategic effects. The pressure that that placed on men engaged in mortal

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combat was never correctly assessed or accounted for by the chain of command, or in the court case of Marine A. That pressure has never been higher in the history of armed conflict. There is a reason why Marine A is the first man to be convicted for the crime in question since the second world war. The effects of the strategic corporal, as it became known, have never been correctly assessed, and due care and attention have not been paid to the problem.

Into that arena stepped a deeply scarred man, of whom we had asked more and more as a nation, without respite. He had conducted multiple combat tours, yet those who thought they knew better down the other end of the radio did not heed his assessments of the specific threat to his patrol base in his area of operations. He had already lost his officer; he had seen body parts displayed and had been involved in the hunt for Highlander McLaren, which ended in such bad circumstances that to this day they rightly remain unreported.

My point is that someone should have seen what was coming. Marine A made a mistake and he got caught, and it would be naive to suggest that he should not be punished; but the mitigating circumstances in this case are great. He killed a mortally injured enemy combatant—of that there is no doubt; but does he deserve to be serving an eight-year prison sentence for murder? That is something I am deeply uncomfortable with. To my mind, the situation represents a serious and unfortunately characteristic failure in the chain of command to protect the man at all costs and assume a collective responsibility for a duty of care.

The trauma risk management procedure instigated to try to ameliorate the onslaught of disturbing experiences was a good idea but, again, tokenism prevailed. It was appallingly implemented and administered. I had a conversation only three weeks ago with someone at the top of the Ministry of Defence about how the TRiM procedure is being implemented, and all I can say is that it is delusional, the way assessment is done. We need to get that right. We have no one prepared to take responsibility for a care pathway for our servicemen and women once they leave, and I am determined to implement that.

Alec Shelbrooke: My hon. Friend’s comments are very powerful. I think most Members of Parliament would be surprised at how many of their constituents are suffering from PTSD to this day.

Johnny Mercer: As to the PTSD system, there is a chronic effect on a generation that we have asked to do our bidding in conflicts miles away. There is often a time lag before the effects kick in, but there still seems to be an idea of putting it aside, and that is simply not good enough. We have to look after our blokes better.

If a civilian commits murder they are entitled to a psychiatric assessment as part of the trial process. Why on earth was that not done in Marine A’s case? That man broke the law. He knew it, and he got caught; but someone must have seen it coming, and there was the point of failure. In this country, we do not look after our blokes well enough, and he is yet another example. We are getting better; the first thing the Prime Minister and Chancellor think of when more LIBOR fines come through is veterans charities. We now have a unique opportunity to get veterans’ care right. The sector needs clearing up, but that is for another day.

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We have a justice system that is one of the fairest and most stringent in the world, and I have little doubt that Marine A’s conviction will not stand by the end of this Parliament. He has killed a man when he should not have done, in the heat, intensity, fear and sweat of a modern counter-insurgency campaign; but convicted of murder and sentenced to eight years? I am not comfortable with that, and I suspect I am not in the minority. We must do right by this man. I support efforts to look again at his conviction, and am grateful to have had the opportunity to speak.

3.29 pm

Steven Paterson (Stirling) (SNP): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today, Mr Pritchard, and I commend the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on securing this important debate and the passion with which he spoke about Sergeant Blackman.

The case raises issues of serious concern and it should be carefully considered by the Government, Parliament and parliamentarians. I want to consider some of those issues because I have great sympathy for many of the points being raised across the Chamber, although I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern that it is not for parliamentarians to interfere in an individual court case. Therefore I will speak generally, if I can, about some matters that come out of this.

At the heart of the matter for me is the question of culpability. We train our servicemen and women to an extremely high standard, including on how to operate with integrity on the battlefield. Yesterday, in preparing for this debate, I spoke to a friend of mine who used to teach that course to recruits in the Royal Marines. Based on that conversation, my question is: can that training ever be foolproof? Can it ever see every contingency, given the conditions that we expect these troops to operate in and the action they get into with enemy combatants? If not, where does the appropriate level of culpability lie?

When soldiers are ordered to go out on patrol in highly dangerous areas or to risk their lives defending positions, the stress and psychological toll must be draining. Over a sustained period, those factors must surely affect performance and judgement. The psychological toll must be ever greater on those with responsibility for others—those in command on the ground.

To what extent did the pressures on the sergeant have an adverse effect on his mental state when he made the mistake that he made? I am no expert, and I am not privy to every detail of the case—I have not seen the full coverage, as the hon. Gentleman has—but I would like to know that that was taken fully into account by the court martial; there are questions about whether it was.

I hope that the Minister can indicate how we monitor the psychological toll being taken on our servicemen when they are put in these positions. His comments would be welcome; if we are to have confidence in military justice and that our servicemen are treated fairly, it is important that that is taken into account. As has been said by a number of hon. Members, there are questions about the issue.

How do we determine that a serviceman or woman is psychologically fit to be on the battlefield in the first place, and where does responsibility lie when things go wrong? I also have concerns over the accountability of

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command for incidents such as the one involving the sergeant, particularly in light of the comments, alluded to by others, of Colonel Oliver Lee, which have been widely reported. Although a couple of hon. Members have mentioned them, I will repeat Colonel Lee’s comments because they are important:

“Sgt Blackman was therefore sentenced by an authority blind to facts that offered serious mitigation on his behalf. The cause of this is a failure of moral courage by the chain of command, the burden of which is carried by the man under command.”

For me, that is extremely concerning. I would like to hear a bit more about that, and it needs to be looked into.

I have a further concern about transparency. It seems to me that transparency is essential in any legal framework but that it does not seem to exist here. Without transparency, how can parliamentarians or the public have confidence that the system of military justice is effective and fair? Given the age in which we live, where information is exchanged and shared like at no other time in human history, we must have a transparent military legal system that we can all have confidence in. What are the facts of this case? Do we know them all—if not, why not? What matters did the court martial consider? Crucially, which ones did they not consider in this case and others?

It has been widely reported that the evidence about the context in which our soldiers were serving was not presented at the trial—the lack of equipment, troop numbers and the job being asked of them, for example. We really need to make sure that that is taken into account. It is also my understanding—this point was mentioned earlier by the hon. Gentleman—that this case is being reviewed, but that there is a reluctance to release the report to the public. In the interests of transparency, I hope that that can be done. I hope that there are no redactions so that we can judge for ourselves on the basis of full information. It is not for me to say whether such evidence would have changed the verdict in the particular case; that is a matter for others. However, I think clarification should be provided on what was considered by the court martial and what was not.

As I said at the beginning, I think there is a case for reviewing the law as regards the prosecution of such crimes. We have to look into that, and I think we have an opportunity to next year. In particular, there is the degree to which culpability rests with individual servicemen and women who are expected to act under orders in extremely difficult and dangerous theatres and under restrictions through rules of engagement.

Bob Stewart: Forgive me, but I think the law is clear. Servicemen and women have a duty and a right to kill the enemy, until that enemy comes under their control—de facto, a prisoner. Once the enemy is under control, they have a responsibility to care for that person. In this case, clearly, Marine A did wrong by killing, or assuming he was killing, someone. That is against the law of armed conflict and the Geneva convention. It is quite clear.

What seems to be wrong, having listened very carefully to my hon. Friends and colleagues explain, is that the defence did not defend properly and the judge advocate general in a court martial did not give options to the board. They gave one option: murder—sorry, Mr Pritchard, I do not mean to be making a speech. Murder was one

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option; manslaughter was another, and at the very least should be considered by the military authorities to sort this out. That should be done with a new legal team, which has a responsibility to go straight back to the military authorities and say, “This is wrong. Sort it, please.”

Steven Paterson: I do not necessarily disagree with that, but I did say at the beginning that I was going to try to speak generally, rather than on an individual case, if and when I could, to make my points.

In conclusion, very important points come out of this case. I have a great deal of sympathy with regard to the individual case, but I think Parliament should be considering how we deal with incidents such as this when we put our troops in harm’s way.

3.37 pm

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) for bringing this debate to the House and to all the hon. Members who have contributed to it. Their contributions have been extremely moving, particularly those based on personal experience, and I do not think we can fail to accept the genuine emotion that this has brought forward and the feelings of all who have served.

I place on record, from the Opposition side of the House, our support for our troops. They operate in places and deal with situations that mere civilians can have no concept of. They face danger and make decisions, often in a split second every day, that literally have life or death consequences, and, on top of that, they agree to maintain an extraordinarily high standard of conduct in those circumstances. I would like to record my personal gratitude and admiration for the armed forces community and their service to our nation.

Sergeant Alexander Blackman risked his life for his country in one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan. He was facing an enemy with scant regard for the conventional rules of conflict and, as we have heard, his record was exemplary. Indeed, he was recommended for promotion until he made one tragic error of judgment and shot a captive prisoner. That mistake had far-reaching consequences for everyone involved, including his family, and the families of those who serve their country, and the sacrifices they make, are too often forgotten. He was, as we have heard, court-martialled and found guilty of murder in 2013. In 2014, his appeal was rejected but the judge reduced the minimum term stating that the court martial had not taken his combat stress sufficiently into account.

I obviously have no wish to jeopardise the chain of command or operational effectiveness and, as we have heard from someone who has served, it is not for politicians to interfere in internal military matters, but I have some questions and requests for the Minister.

First, I request that the Ministry of Defence publish all the information, including the review of the run-up to the killing in 2011. We need to know about the situation on the ground and the training and, crucially, we need to have the assessment of the culture and the support that was given to this soldier. That, I believe, has been promised, but I am pressing for it to be released as early as possible. It is essential, because without it there will always be unanswered questions.

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For the sake of transparency, as well as for the individual and his family, the documents should be available so that we can try to find the answers.

Secondly, if there is judged to be new evidence that was not presented or that was presented too late or options that were not put forward, can that be considered further by whichever means is appropriate? We owe it to everyone involved to ensure that justice has been done.

This is a difficult and emotive subject for us all. We ask a tremendous amount of our armed forces, including that they operate to an extremely high standard of values and principles in incredibly difficult and challenging circumstances. When they are found not to have lived up to that, we owe it to all to ensure that the highest standards are applied to our justice system and that, wherever possible, transparency is a watchword.

3.41 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mark Lancaster): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I start, of course, by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on securing this debate on an emotive case that has continued to be of concern to many people. I also congratulate, on their passionate contributions, my hon. Friends the Members for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), for Wells (James Heappey) and for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Stirling (Steven Paterson) and for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue).

Standing here now and having listened to the debate, I am remembering that it is nine years since I served in Afghanistan, in the summer of 2006. I listened to the contributions of some of my hon. Friends, but frankly my tour was quite unremarkable. It bore no significance compared with the experiences of the Royal Marines in Afghanistan, in Helmand, and I seek to make absolutely no comparison between my experiences and theirs. I am, however, very mindful, when I think of that time, of just how far away we are today in the House of Commons from Helmand all those years ago. I am very mindful of that.

In the days before this debate, I spent considerable time considering this case. I have read in detail the full internal review and have seen the headcam tapes presented at trial. As part of my wish for transparency, I arranged court permission and offered my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) the opportunity to see the full unredacted footage alongside me this morning, in my desire to understand the wider issues. I have discussed the case and appeal with a number of military officers, including both commanding officers. I share the concern of many for Mrs Blackman and am clear that the MOD must not stand in the way of a fair and just consideration of this case. I am, however, equally clear that no serviceman or woman of our armed forces is or can be above the law.

This case has been difficult for everyone connected to it. No one can see the clear pain of Mrs Blackman as she seeks to support her husband and not be deeply moved. Equally, we are all conscious that we cannot fully appreciate from the safety of the House the challenges of operations in extraordinary and dangerous

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circumstances, and these are extraordinary challenging circumstances, with extraordinary people doing an extraordinary job. I know that the House will join me in recognising the Royal Marines for their huge contribution in Afghanistan during many gruelling operational tours. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] We are justly proud of our soldiers, sailors and airmen—of the work they do and the way they conduct themselves. We hold our armed forces to a higher standard, and we are right to do that. Our men and women must be better than those they confront; they must set a higher standard and, even when provoked, must hold to their professional standards. Our Royal Marines fight hard, but they fight fair.

We as Members of Parliament and I as the Minister responsible for service personnel have a special duty to these people and their families. It is right that we have undertaken the review to learn the lessons from this incident, and I recognise the public interest in seeing the report in full, but I must weigh that against being fair to individuals named in the case. For that reason, I have agreed to the release of the executive summary, recommendations and letter from the Fleet Commander, with the only redactions being individuals’ telephone numbers and a relatively junior civil servant’s name. I have also withheld the bullet points that relate to an individual who has not yet been named in the media. Simply due to the shortness of time between the announcement of this debate last week and today, I have been unable to follow the full process required under the Data Protection Act, but let me make it clear that it is my intention to unredact those paragraphs as well in due course.

I have, as I said, read the full report in detail. It is a full and frank assessment and contains detailed information about our tactics and operational security. It is my view that its unredacted release into the public domain would breach our ability to conduct campaigns in the future. However, as hon. Members will have seen from the 17 recommendations released today, the Royal Navy, alongside the other services, is pursuing detailed implementation plans, many of which are already well advanced. I have spoken today to the Fleet Commander, and he assures me that he is tracking and pressing progress and this is a matter treated with the utmost seriousness.

That said, I remain convinced that transparency is the key in this case and I am keen to provide it. Therefore, if Sergeant Blackman’s defence team wished this report to be considered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, the MOD would provide them with a confidential copy.

I hope that this release quashes the claims that the MOD is trying to undertake some sort of cover-up or conspiracy in this case; that is simply not the case. With regard to the legal case itself, Sergeant Blackman and two marines under his command were charged with and prosecuted for murder. They were tried in an independent and impartial judicial process. Guilt or innocence is decided by a panel made up of military personnel who understand the unique challenges that our service personnel face. The two marines were acquitted, but Sergeant Blackman was convicted. A great deal of evidence was heard in the trial of the immense stresses and strains of the operational context. Sergeant Blackman’s company commander during the time of his deployment gave evidence at the trial. He outlined the tactical situation

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and difficulties faced by troops located in patrol bases. I do not think that those personnel underestimated the immense challenges that Sergeant Blackman, and so many of our people, faced during that time.

Johnny Mercer: We can say that somebody is in the military, but that is clearly a very broad church. What steps were taken to ensure that the individuals who were passing judgment on this soldier had relevant personal experience of the pressures that that individual was placed under at the time?

Mark Lancaster: My hon. Friend tempts me into getting into the details of the preparation for the particular court martial. Of course, he will understand that it is right that, as Ministers and Members of Parliament, we do not seek to start influencing the way in which these trials are conducted. I do not know what the process was. There would have been a balance, of course. Anybody who knew Sergeant Blackman probably could not sit in judgment against him. However, my hon. Friend will forgive me if I avoid being drawn into those sorts of detail, because I do think that would be inappropriate for someone in my position.

Sergeant Blackman appealed against his conviction and sentence to the court martial appeal court. It is important to note, given the concerns that some have expressed about the court-martial process, that that court is made up of the same judges as sit in the civilian Court of Appeal. The court martial appeal court, chaired in this case by the Lord Chief Justice, upheld the conviction and the sentence. However, it reduced the minimum term, as has been said, from 10 years to eight.

I understand that Sergeant Blackman and his legal advisers are considering whether, as their next step, there is any new evidence that they would wish to put to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, with a view to its being referred to the court martial appeal court. This is a legal matter and not a decision for Ministers, but let me reiterate: should that happen and should either the commission or Sergeant Blackman’s legal representatives make a request for the review or elements of it, I reassure hon. Members that the Ministry of Defence will, of course, co-operate fully to ensure that justice is done. To be perfectly clear, I mean that I would be willing to release the report in full, on a confidential basis, to either the defence legal team or the commission.

I began by saying that I was fully aware of the concern felt by many regarding the case. I recognise and accept that it remains difficult for some to accept the decision of the court martial and the court martial appeal court. The system seeks to combine independence and legal professionalism with an appreciation of the military context and the realities of military life. The civilian judge advocate gives direction on the law, and military personnel decide on guilt or innocence. It should not be forgotten that in this case they acquitted two of the accused. Where there is a conviction, they decide with the judge advocate on the sentence. An appeal can be made to the highest and most experienced judges, and there is the possibility of further review if important new evidence emerges. This is, rightly, an independent judicial process, not a political decision. I respect the system, and hope that hon. Members will do so as well.

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Richard Drax: I am most grateful to the Minister for the hard work that I know he has put into researching the case, and for his frank response, which was not expected. The new legal team and the family will be grateful for the fact that he has offered to give the report to the defence team if they request it in confidence. That will help enormously. I also pay tribute to all my honourable and, in many cases, gallant colleagues. The Minister speaks humbly about his time in Afghanistan. He may not have faced the same challenges as others, but he was still there, and for that I commend him most highly.

This has been, as colleagues have said, a highly emotional, charged debate. That will not get Sergeant Blackman out of jail, however, nor will it get his case reviewed. What will are the facts. As the Minister and others have rightly said, we cannot and should not interfere with the legal process. My job and ours, along with the Daily Mail and others, is to highlight where we think that things have gone wrong. Where we see an injustice, it would be wrong not to stand up and say what we think. That is what we were voted in to do, and that is what we have done today.

I hope that the attention that the case is receiving, and the facts of the case, will get it reviewed. Regrettably, I am not as eminent, as bright, as intelligent or as experienced as Mr Goldberg, and sadly I never will be, but it is into his hands and those of his team that we place the responsibility of pursuing that legal avenue. Big Al, as he is affectionately known, and I have met him—

Johnny Mercer: I just wanted to build on that point and clarify what I said earlier about the MOD. I thank the Minister for the candid nature of his speech. He has shown us that we have a real opportunity, with the team of Ministers at the MOD, not only to get this case right but to tackle the causes of what happened. We all know the facts, but there are causes behind the story. We have a unique opportunity now, before the matter moves out of the public eye, to get those things right.

I know that this is strong, but in my experience of dealing with Ministers and those at the top of the MOD, there is a significant gap between the duty, attention to detail and the genuine heartfelt concerns of the ministerial team and the attitude of those at the top of the MOD. The latter have recently, in conversations about trauma risk management and how we manage people going forward, shown themselves to be delusional. We need to tighten that gap to make sure that we do not miss the bow wave of people coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq and suffering from mental health problems. I hope that as a result of our debate today, we will be able to see the many factors that contributed to the incident that we are discussing.

Richard Drax: I thank my gallant and distinguished colleague. Given all his experience, there is, dare I say it, no one better on our side of the House to speak in such a way.

Mr Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): Aside from the points about this case, do hon. and gallant Members agree that it remains extremely important that our soldiers behave with the highest possible standards, and that we do not abuse or execute prisoners of war?

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Richard Drax: I entirely concur with that, and I am sure that everyone in the room would do the same. We have to set a bar, and the bar has been set. There are occasions, however, and sadly this is one, where, for all kinds of mitigating reasons, one man—a highly professional soldier—snaps for a single moment. On the emotional side of the argument, very few of us here, except for the truly gallant Members who have served in Afghanistan, fully understand the pressures that these young men, and of course the officers and those in command, are put under.

I will end shortly, because I know that the Chair would like to have the final say, which is only right. I believe, as do a sufficiently large number of people, that there has been a miscarriage of justice, albeit not an intentional one. It is not for me to say otherwise, because we are talking about a court martial that did its job. The facts as I understand them were not fully presented to the court martial, however. If a court martial is to convict fairly, it needs all the facts, and I believe that they were not fully present on that day.

We hope that all the attention that this case has rightly been given will get it back to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. We rely entirely on Mr Goldberg to achieve that, and the matter is in his safe and secure hands. My aim is to bring Big Al home. If we can get the case heard, that is the first step. The rest, as has been said, is up to the law and the lawmakers.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the case of Sgt Alexander Blackman (Marine A).

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Submarines and the Fishing Industry

[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

3.57 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I beg to move,

That this House has considered submarines and the fishing industry.

It is a pleasure to bring this matter to the House for consideration. A number of hon. Members have indicated an interest in the subject matter. In particular, may I mention my colleague and friend, the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), who also wishes to make a contribution? I have made the Minister aware of the need for the hon. Member for South Down to make a contribution.

I have been trying to secure a debate on the subject since May, and it seems appropriate that we discuss it this week in light of recent developments. On 15 April 2015, an Ardglass prawn trawler, the Karen, was fishing in the Irish sea when it was almost pulled under the water by a Royal Navy submarine. The four-man crew deserve high praise, because it was only as a result of their quick thinking that the Karen did not meet a fate similar to that of the Antares and her crew in 1990. Not only was the trawler dragged backwards at 10 knots and almost pulled underneath the water, but it was almost pulled apart. The boat’s hull was almost destroyed; this was not a simple snagging, as it was initially described.

Not only was the net found on the seabed separated from the bridle, but the saddle connecting the bridle had also been cut off. What is more, the full details have not been made known by the Minister, the MOD or the Royal Navy. We were initially informed by the Royal Navy that none of its submarines were in the Irish sea, and the Minister told Parliament that a UK vessel was not responsible. That has changed in the past week or 10 days. Originally, suspicions fell upon the Russians, as we were led to believe that a Red October had been responsible. That was after being informed by the Royal Navy that its nearest submarine was 150 miles from the location of the incident with the Karen. Not only was that completely inaccurate but it has taken the Royal Navy five months to accept blame for the incident, which should make us uncomfortable because that in itself suggests a possible attempt to cover up.

This is not the only incident this year. In fact, there have been two such incidents. In March, the trawler Aquarius almost met a similar fate when it came into contact with a submarine. Captain Angus Macleod said that he and his four crew were “extremely lucky” after his net was dragged in front of his 62-foot boat off Lewis. Again, the Royal Navy denied involvement in the incident, which is too similar. In light of recent revelations, trust must be restored between fishermen and the Navy, because trust has understandably wavered considerably.

Douglas Chapman (Dunfermline and West Fife) (SNP): Are there any protocols or a code of practice in place in relation to the Karen? Are those protocols and that code of practice being adhered to, and are they effective?

Jim Shannon: I will set out the protocols and the system that were in place. Protocols have been in place for a great number of years, but in this incident the

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protocols were clearly not followed, which is of concern to me, as it is to the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members.

This is the first year since 1993 in which there has been an incident involving the submarine service and a fishing vessel. We are grateful that the code of practice has been effective, but it is simply unacceptable to have two incidents within a month. Not only did it take a considerable time for the Royal Navy to accept responsibility, but initially there was complete denial that submarines had even been in the area. When we get down to the details of the submarine, the incident becomes even more bizarre. It is little wonder that the Royal Navy seriously needs to reconcile itself with fishermen across the United Kingdom to ensure that safety is paramount and that such actions do not happen again.

The submarine in question, HMS Ambush, which is aptly named, is the Navy’s latest hunter-killer submarine. The submarine can supposedly detect fishing trawlers up to 3,000 miles away. With that in mind, how was HMS Ambush able to get so close that it dragged the trawler 10 knots backwards? Furthermore, submarines should be able to detect the noise of boats. Again, I find it difficult to comprehend how the submarine’s crew were oblivious to the fact that it had just dragged a fishing boat across the sea, causing substantial damage.

Another issue is the supposed claim by the Royal Navy in its letter to the captain of the FV Karen that the submarine did not correctly identify the Karen as a fishing vessel:

“the submarine therefore approached too close to you and ultimately became entangled in your nets”.

That was the explanation given to Mr Paul Murphy and Mr Tom Wills, who are present here today. The nets were retrieved from the seabed by the Portavogie trawler, Deliverance, and it transpires that the submarine’s propeller had caught in the net, which is what caused the Karen to be dragged backwards. When the nets were found—this is something that has to be answered to today—they appeared to have been neatly cut from the boat not by a propeller but, I suggest, by divers. The cuts were clear, neat and uniform. The nets were still in excellent condition and, other than having been physically detached from the boat, had sustained no damage. That is not in keeping with the Royal Navy’s explanation. If the propeller had been caught in the trawler’s nets, one would expect to see nets that had been badly torn and ripped and that were ultimately beyond repair. As I have explained, that was not the case. Given the circumstances, it is completely impossible that the submarine’s propeller became entangled in the Karen’s nets. It appears that we have yet another untruth regarding this incident.

That brings me to another point, because protocols were not followed. The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) has referred to protocols, which are important because they are laid down to ensure that such incidents do not happen. The protocols are in place to ensure that submarines and fishermen can work separately and harmoniously at the same time and in the same area. They were introduced to ensure safety at all times following the loss of the Antares and its crew, yet in 2015 we have seen that these

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guidelines were not followed in two incidents. In the Karen’s case, the protocols seem to have simply gone out the window.

We are all aware of the Subfacts system for managing the relationship between the Royal Navy and fishermen. Under that system, the Royal Navy should make the Belfast coastguard aware of any submarine activity at 7.10 am and at 7.10 pm daily, which allows the coastguard to send out warnings to fishing trawlers in the area, but that was not done. At the time of the incident, the Joint Warrior exercise was taking place involving 55 ships from 14 countries. Warnings were given to HM Coastguard at Aberdeen, Clyde and Stornoway. Belfast was not informed of any activities in its waters. Why not?

The second item of protocol that was obviously not adhered to is that submarines have to keep a distance of at least 150 feet from any trawlers. If that is not possible and they come into close contact, the submarine is supposed to surface. Again, that did not happen. Not only that, but in the Joint Warrior exercise, the Navy switched off the GPS and used gunnery, which is obviously not acceptable because fishermen are completely oblivious to whether submarines are operating in their area. That is why HM Coastguard Belfast should have been informed, and I am incredulous that it was not.

There are several critical factors in this debate, and I am sure that the Minister will be able to give a full and satisfactory response, as Mr Murphy and Mr Wills are listening intently. I understand that Admiral Matthew Parr sent letters in which Mr Murphy and Mr Wills were told that they would shortly be contacted by the Ministry of Defence to discuss compensation. As yet, neither man has been contacted about that. The letters were dated 4 September and 6 September, but given the nature of the incident and the MOD’s subsequent behaviour, contact should already have been made and the two men should have been informed of what compensation would or could be available. That is particularly important, because a simple apology will not suffice, especially because of the regrettable way in which the case has been handled.

After the incident, the Karen made its way back to Ardglass, where part of the deck had to be lifted because it was so badly damaged when another section was completely ripped off. The damage to the boat is estimated at some £10,000. We thank God that nobody was injured, but compensation must be paid.

My first question to the Minister, in addition to the questions I have already asked, is when exactly does the MOD intend to get in touch with the men involved to discuss compensation, and when can the gentlemen expect to receive it? It is important that they have this compensation so that they can move forward. My second point applies to every fishing fleet in the United Kingdom, because their relationship with the Royal Navy has been damaged. We cannot overestimate that damage and the lack of confidence and uncertainty that fishermen feel. The hon. Member for South Down has stated in the press:

“Fishermen must be confident that their vessels will not be damaged by submarine activity and where incidents do take place, the government will own up to it immediately.”

She is absolutely right, and it is imperative that trust is restored. That will be difficult, and it will take much longer than the repairs to the Karen, but none the less let us get the process moving. Let us have reassurance,

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and let us give confidence back to the fishing industry and the fishing sector that fish the seas around the coasts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Physical damage, although inexcusable, can be repaired, but the loss of trust is not so easy to resolve. So far, the MOD and the Minister have not assisted in that process. In light of that, what will she and the MOD do to ensure that relationships are healed, that trust is restored and that, if any incidents occur in the future, the Government take responsibility immediately, rather than repeating the long adherence of some five months?

I will end on this point, because I want to give the hon. Member for South Down an opportunity to speak. I have been reliably informed that the Royal Navy has changed protocols regarding fishing vessels, but whom, if anyone, did it consult from the fishing industry? In the Public Gallery today are representatives of the fishing industry, who tell me they have not been consulted. If changes have been made to the protocol—and I understand that they have—what exactly are they? Are they changes for the better? There must be a consultation with the bodies that look after the fishing industry. It would be ludicrous to put in place a protocol without involving those people in the changes. Surely in these circumstances the fishing industry cannot be kept in the dark. It needs to ensure health and safety at all times. That is the critical factor. There must be co-operation with the fishing industry to make this a reality.

We do not want to hear about any more such incidents. I look forward to the Minister’s full response, and I hope she will provide clarification and explain openly and honestly what exactly took place on 15 April.

4.10 pm

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for affording me this opportunity to make a contribution on behalf of my constituents. Mr Wills, who owns the boat, Mr Paul Murphy, the skipper of the boat, and the chairman of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation are with us today. They are all my constituents from Ardglass in County Down.

We met the Minister earlier today, and I was grateful for the opportunity to outline to her the exact circumstances of what happened on 15 April and to set out our grave annoyance at the fact that the submarine did not adhere to the proper protocols by coming to the surface. I understand that, as a consequence, the Royal Navy is currently exploring new protocols and will be holding direct discussions with the fishing industry to come to a proper determination.

The incident happened on 15 April. On 17 April, I met Mr Murphy in Ardglass. Following the incident, he was suffering from a great level of trauma because his fishing nets had been snagged and his fishing boat had been dragged backwards. He was on the boat with his crew members. We want to ensure that the fishing efforts deployed by Mr Wills, Mr Murphy and the other fishermen who ply their boats in the rich fishing grounds of the north channel and the Irish sea can continue unhindered. Impediments must not be put in their way by the Royal Navy or any other jurisdiction’s vessels that are carrying out other activities.

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I was told in a parliamentary answer on 10 June, and on the Floor of the House in Defence questions on 15 July, that it was not a Royal Navy vessel. I understand from what the Minister told me today that further investigations were carried out as part of the Marine Accident Investigation Board inquiry, which took evidence from the Royal Navy. It was then discovered that it was a Royal Navy vessel. That determination was made on 6 August, following the Minister’s probing. I hope that, as a result of that probing, the compensation due to my constituent will be made payable.

I also hope that the Ministry of Defence will give an undertaking through the Minister that such an incident will not happen again and that fishing efforts will not be interfered with. Fishing makes an enormous contribution to my constituency, in which two of the three County Down fishing ports are based—Ardglass and Kilkeel. Other incidents in the Irish sea must equally be investigated, such as the incident of 14 February 2002, which was subject to an investigation. Three people lost their lives, and their relatives want the investigation reopened.

I have several questions about this incident. I am grateful that the Minister has today directly apologised to Mr Murphy and Mr Wills for what happened and the trauma they suffered. She said in that meeting that the incident should not have happened. I would like her to put that on the record today clearly and unequivocally. We would like to know why the protocols set up in 1993 as a result of a previous incident were not adhered to. What consultations will be carried out on the new protocols? Will the fishing industry—the fishermen and those in the fish producer organisations—be directly involved in the consultations and in helping to devise the new protocols? Only the fishermen have a direct knowledge of those seas, the amount of fish in them and the places where spawning takes place, where there is biomass and where there are other issues.

What was the operational programme for the submarine activity on that day in the north channel and the Irish sea? The hon. Member for Strangford referred to the Subfax text, which clearly states that there was to be no submarine activity that day. That information was directly exchanged with the fishing industry, so why was there an error? Why did the Royal Navy breach protocol by not bringing the vessel to the surface? Why were the British Government so quick, as has been suggested by others, to blame a vessel belonging to another country? When will the new protocols be finalised? When will the report of the Marine Accident Investigation Board’s investigation be published? Will it be made available publicly to members of the fishing industry—in particular, Mr Wills and Mr Murphy—and will a copy be made available in the Library?

Several other questions arise. This incident was one of many involving fishing trawlers and submarines around our islands. It is a major public safety issue, and fishermen’s lives are at risk. Why was a UK submarine so close to the coast of Northern Ireland? It is our understanding that naval exercises take place in the north-east Atlantic, not the Irish sea. Why did it take so long to admit that?

Other issues have been raised directly with me. Was it a Trident submarine? We know it was the HMS Ambush, but was it on such a mission? Will the Minister conduct a separate inquiry, or will the incident be covered only by the Marine Accident Investigation Board inquiry? I think I gathered from the Minister earlier today that it

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is all to be part of that inquiry. She will understand from the viewpoints that I, my colleague, the hon. Member for Strangford and my constituents have expressed that we need to know that such an incident will not happen again. My constituents must get the full compensation they are entitled to, and there must be discourse between the fishing industry and the Royal Navy. Any incidents since 1993 must be fully investigated and, if necessary, reopened so that such an incident can never happen again in the Irish sea.

Our local fishing industry, which comes out of the County Down fishing ports, must be fully protected. The significant contribution it makes—both onshore through processing and offshore through fishing efforts—must not be interfered with. We already have to deal with possible marine conservation zones, and there has been a general conversation about wind power in the Irish sea. We must ensure that those issues and bits of infrastructure do not interfere with our fishing industry—an important part of our local economy. Above all, our fishermen must feel satisfied that they are safe when they get into their vessels and go into the Irish sea. We must not forget that there was a loss of fishing days, and we are already penalised by the days at sea restriction. I thank you, Mrs Main, and the Minister for being here today.

4.20 pm

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Penny Mordaunt): I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate on a subject that I know is of great importance to him and his constituents. I also thank all hon. Members who spoke and made representations on behalf of their constituents. I welcome the opportunity to address Members’ concerns and those of the fishing community, for whom safe and secure operations of our military vessels in the vicinity of their activity are essential. I repeat what I said in my written ministerial statement on 7 September: this incident and the delay in identifying and addressing the events and their consequences are deeply regretted.

I have written to the Karen’s master and met him and the owner to acknowledge the Royal Navy’s responsibility for the incident and to offer my personal apologies on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. A representative of the Royal Navy met them both personally to apologise on behalf of the Navy for the incident and the delay in acknowledging responsibility. I touched on compensation previously with the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie). Of course, there must be full compensation. My role in that process is to ensure that that happens swiftly. If there are any concerns about that process, please feel free to let me know.

Jim Shannon: Can we have a timescale for the compensation? The hon. Members for South Down and for Dunfermline and West Fife are also interested in that issue. There has been delay: five months of not working while the boat is repaired. There has been £10,000 worth of damage, so we need a timescale. Let us have it in black and white.

Penny Mordaunt: I will be happy to put in writing to the hon. Gentleman the process that will now happen. The delay is clearly unacceptable. I will talk about the

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reasons for it, but now that we know what happened, there should be no delay in ensuring that these people are properly compensated for the trauma they have endured as well as the material damage.

The Karen was very close to sinking and I have no doubt at all that that must have been a terrifying experience for the crew. The fact that the vessel did not sink was almost wholly attributable to the crew’s swift and professional response. They took immediate action to release the brake on the winch and prevent their vessel from capsizing. They are to be commended for their actions, which undoubtedly prevented a much more serious outcome.

As Members will be aware, the Royal Navy stated it was confident that no submarine was involved and I gave that advice to the House. New information that came to light as a result of the Royal Navy—not as a result of an external investigation or my inquiries—confirmed that, in fact, a UK submarine was responsible for snagging the Karen’s nets.

Once that information was confirmed, the Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) was informed on 6 August. During August, I held meetings to establish the full facts, question the Royal Navy and discuss changes to policy to ensure the safety of fishing vessels. I wanted to ensure that all the facts had been captured, that the incident and failings by the Royal Navy were fully understood, and that we had in place a policy that would provide reassurance to the fishing community and to the crew of the Karen in particular. That work was done at speed and took about a month to complete. I then took the earliest opportunity to inform the House and put the record straight on 7 September.

That answers given earlier were proved to be incorrect is deeply regretted. I am sure that the House will appreciate that our standing policy is not to comment in detail on submarine operations. However, I can say that the incident occurred because the submarine did not correctly identify the Karen as a fishing vessel with nets in the water and thus did not give her the berth she otherwise would have had.

People have questioned why the submarine did not surface at the time of the incident. It has also been suggested that the recovered fishing gear shows evidence of having been cut, further raising speculation that the submarine surfaced after the incident to remove the material. I can only repeat that the submarine was not aware of the incident at the time. I expect the issues raised by hon. Members to be covered by the Marine Accident Investigation Board report.

If the submarine had been aware of the incident, the protocols in place under the code of practice for submarine operations in the vicinity of fishing vessels would have required her to surface and remain on scene to render assistance.

Ms Ritchie: I thank the Minister for giving way. In her response, will she indicate when the report will be made available and to whom and where it will be placed?

Penny Mordaunt: Certainly. As I have already said to the hon. Lady, that report will be produced in short order. I know that there is a meeting on 24 September between Commander Operations Royal Navy and that

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body and I will do everything I can to facilitate the report’s circulation by placing a copy in the Library of the House of Commons.

If I were able to tell Members the full details, I think they would come to two conclusions. Although why the incident happened might be understandable—due to the nature of submarine operations—it is in no way acceptable. It is clear that our policy on fishing vessels and reporting such incidents must be improved and made more consistent. Having identified the very specific circumstances of the incident, the Royal Navy has already taken steps. I will come on to consultation in a moment, but changes took place with immediate effect because I felt that was incredibly important.

First, the process by which a vessel is classified has been reinforced, using stricter criteria to prevent incorrect assumptions being made. The instructions issued to submarine commanding officers have been updated to reflect the lessons learnt, which will also inform the training given to future commanding officers. If a vessel’s identification cannot be established, the commanding officer must assume that it is a fishing vessel with nets in the water and behave accordingly.

Secondly—this is critical—the Royal Navy’s reporting procedures have been reviewed to enable it to confirm more quickly whether a UK submarine was involved. For operational reasons, if we cannot confirm that it was not us in short order, we will assume that it was. There should be no delay in verifying whether a Royal Navy submarine was involved, regardless of the kind of submarine it was and the operation or activity it was conducting. We should respond within a few days and take action accordingly. I assure the House that the safety of our submarines and that of other mariners is most important to the Royal Navy.

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Jim Shannon: Can I ask the Minister why Her Majesty’s Coastguard in Belfast was never informed? If she cannot give an answer today, perhaps she can give the answer to that and the other questions we have asked later? I would appreciate that.

Penny Mordaunt: In the brief moments I have left, I am looking at what is known as a Subfax. Clearly, we want that to be as comprehensive as possible. It cannot include submarine operations from other nations, but I am looking at that and I will happily follow up with the hon. Gentleman on that. On other issues raised, with regard to speculation that it was a Russian vessel, that is not something that we have said, although I can understand the speculation in the press on that.

The importance of the relationship between the Royal Navy and the fishing communities is fully recognised. That is why the code of practice was drawn up. The Royal Navy will step up its engagement with the fishing community. Good work has been done to date: for example, close working relationships have been developed with the Clyde Fishermen’s Association and other organisations on the west coast of Scotland. However, we want to do more. Following the incident, I have asked the Navy to establish a formal working group to improve communications and consultation with the Northern Ireland fishing industry in particular and, as I have already expressed to the hon. Member for South Down, I welcome input on that.

I am afraid that I have run out of time, but I assure the House that we want to do all we can to ensure that those in the fishing industry can go about their business not only in safety, but without fear. I will be happy to write to hon. Members to give them further details.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).

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Alun Richards and Kashif Shabir: SFO

4.30 pm

Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Serious Fraud Office, and the cases of Alun Richards and Kash Shabir.

This debate concerns allegations of fraudulent misrepresentation and collusion involving Lloyds bank and receivers used by that bank. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and I both have constituents who, as customers of Lloyds bank, underwent the same ordeal: having their hitherto successful businesses revalued downwards, forced into receivership and then sold. The allegations concentrate on but are not confined to Lloyds’ operations in Wales. The facts of the cases resemble the malpractice at Royal Bank of Scotland identified by the Tomlinson report, which was published on 25 November 2013.

I bring this matter to the House today so that Mr Kash Shabir, my Cardiff Central constituent, may have his account of events put on the parliamentary record. I anticipate that my hon. Friend will do the same in respect of his constituent, Mr Alun Richards.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): I would like to put on the record the case of one of my constituents, which relates to this matter. Michael Field bought some land and borrowed from Lloyds bank to finance a project to build several houses. He maintained his payments without fail, was a good customer and fulfilled all the terms and conditions of the loan agreement, but Lloyds seized his assets and foreclosed on him. He then discovered that his assets were actually traded inside the bank, which was a great concern. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to intervene and change things to protect customers such as Michael Field?

Jo Stevens: My hon. Friend makes a very interesting and valuable point about the fact that this bank is part-owned by the taxpayer. The Government should look into its internal practices.

Both Mr Shabir and Mr Richards say that they have suffered significant financial and emotional harm as a result of the actions that are alleged. Mr Shabir built his business from scratch. He was a successful entrepreneur and property developer, with a portfolio valued at around £10 million. He enjoyed an excellent credit rating and reputation among banks and building societies. In 2006, Lloyds bank competed against Barclays bank to win a large portion of his business lending. Lending was secured by Mr Shabir with Lloyds at 1% above the base rate, because of his excellent track record. So far, so good, people might say.

As the House knows, however, the 2007-08 financial crash brought Lloyds to the brink of collapse. At the peak of the financial crisis, Lloyds requested emergency funding from the UK taxpayer. The Government set up a division within the Treasury—UK Financial Investments —to manage the bail-out of Lloyds, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Northern Rock.

For Lloyds to secure and receive that bail-out, it was essential for it to quantify and declare to the Government the amount of money required to save it from collapse. So it conducted an overall assessment of its investments and assets. This appears to have prompted Lloyds to

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take the opportunity to reassess its relationships with customers who were borrowing large sums on what are called fine margins. Customers on fine margins are good customers allowed to borrow at low rates. Due to the lack of liquidity, however, the cost of money in the money markets had risen significantly—more importantly, it had risen to a point above the contractual levels at which it was being borrowed.

Almost overnight, those businesses on fine margins, which Lloyds had regarded as its best customers, became highly vulnerable since the bank could no longer make profits from those arrangements. As Lloyds sought to improve its own position, the fine margin customers were targeted first, to eliminate them from the bank’s portfolio. That was particularly true of small and medium-sized enterprises, which did not have the resources to defend themselves.

Banks almost always lend money that is secured against assets, by way of a loan agreement. The parameters of that agreement, such as the loan to value ratio, are set out in writing at the outset. Provided that a customer’s assets do not fall below the agreed level, the customer is, in broad terms, described as safe.

During the financial crisis, it is alleged that Lloyds and other banks adopted a mechanism known as down-valuation, to engineer a shortfall. Again, that practice has been recognised in the Tomlinson report, and it has two consequences in this case. First, Lloyds was able to secure a larger bail-out from the taxpayer. Secondly, individual customers were held to be in breach of their loan conditions. That enabled Lloyds either to renegotiate more favourable terms for itself or to eliminate its customers altogether, by triggering receivership proceedings and then the sale of those businesses. It was that second engineered consequence—of being in breach of loan conditions—that brought about the unjustified failure of many successful companies and individuals, including Mr Shabir.

I will explain to the House in a little more detail the mechanism of the alleged collusion applied to engineer a down-valuation in respect of Mr Shabir’s portfolio. Lloyds bank utilised Alder King LLP, commercial property consultants and Law of Property Act receivers, for the majority of the valuations that it carried out in Wales. Alder King was the approved professional company for all receiverships in south Wales. What is of particular concern is that Lloyds engaged as a manager for its Wales operations an equity partner of Alder King, Mr Jonathan Miles, who worked within the bank’s recoveries department—the very department responsible for making receivership appointments. In this position, it is alleged that Mr Miles worked with the valuers and receivers from his own firm of Alder King, and was able to manipulate Mr Shabir’s business into failure.

I am told that Mr Miles never disclosed his own identity as an Alder King partner and misrepresented his position to Mr Shabir as being an employee of Lloyds bank and a long-time Lloyds bank manager. Mr Miles had a Lloyds email address, Lloyds-headed stationery and a Lloyds business card, all of which he used daily. I am also told by Mr Shabir that Mr Miles appointed another Alder King receiver, his Alder King partner Mr Julian Smith, as the receiver in Mr Shabir’s case. Mr Smith wrote to Mr Miles thanking him for making the appointment. Mr Smith was also given a Lloyds email address, together with Lloyds stationery. He had

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full access to confidential customer data and communicated directly with Lloyds customers, misrepresenting himself as a Lloyds employee, it is alleged.

During Mr Miles’s secondment to Lloyds, he had 2,400 live cases, each worth in excess of £1 million, within his recoveries department. Those were 2,400 live cases in respect of which, if he wished to, he could appoint receivers from his own firm, Alder King. Alder King received substantial professional fees for its services as appointed receivers. These figures illustrate the size and scale of the obvious conflict of interest and the potential for financial abuse. The role played by Mr Miles within Lloyds, with the bank’s knowledge and consent, created an immediate and significant conflict of interest.

Mr Shabir accepts that banks will utilise the services of third-party specialists, such as surveyors, in their day-to-day business, but in engaging such third parties it is the bank’s responsibility to ensure that conflicts of interest do not arise. In Mr Shabir’s case, his Lloyds portfolio was down-valued by Alder King by more than 50% from its original valuation, placed into receivership and sold. Mr Shabir has four valuations from the same period by other Lloyds panel valuers, all reflecting nearly double the valuation of Alder King at the point of placement into receivership.

Once the portfolio of properties was placed into receivership, the receivers failed to transfer all associated bills to themselves, and Mr Shabir has since become the recipient of approximately 30 county court judgments for claims against properties that had been removed by the receiverships from his control. His credit rating is now completely destroyed. This young, successful entrepreneur, who grew up in a small terraced house in Cardiff and built a business worth £10 million, has been financially destroyed. With a young family who are dependent on him, he has lost his entire investment portfolio, with only his family home remaining—on which Lloyds has a second charge.

Mr Shabir alleges that he was forced by Lloyds to take out an interest rate hedging product as a condition of his lending facility with Lloyds in November 2006. When his portfolio was transferred to the recoveries department of Lloyds, it unilaterally cancelled the hedge and levied termination fees of almost half a million pounds against Mr Shabir. It is alleged, and now confirmed by Lloyds, that the hedge was mis-sold. The sales process was non-compliant in seven respects that the Financial Conduct Authority suggests are mandatory for a compliance sale.

I turn to the regulatory framework. In March 2015, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), conducted an inquiry into the insolvency regime. At the inquiry on 4 March 2015, evidence was heard about the practice of seconding insolvency practitioners and surveyors within lenders’ restructuring divisions. Mr Graham Horne, deputy chief executive of the Government’s Insolvency Service, said that receivers should never work as active insolvency practitioners within a bank. Mr Julian Healey, head of the Association of Property and Fixed Charge Receivers, expressed concern about the impression the practice gave and concluded that if receivers on secondment also worked on the same bank’s administration, there was “clearly” a conflict of interest.

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Mr Shabir made a formal complaint to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors about Alder King’s conduct. In its response, RICS specifically confirmed that Mr Julian Smith of Alder King was on secondment to Lloyds at the time of the valuation of Mr Shabir’s portfolio, when he personally acted as the valuer, but also when he was appointed by Mr Jonathan Miles as the receiver. During the same period, Mr Jonathan Miles, as head of receiverships for Alder King, was embedded in Lloyds bank as Mr Shabir’s allocated bank manager.

Despite the evidence that Mr Horne and Mr Healey gave to the Select Committee, RICS somewhat astonishingly claimed to see nothing wrong with Alder King’s practice. It responded as such to Mr Shabir shortly after the Select Committee hearing at which the chair of the RICS regulatory board, Eve Salomon, gave evidence. Although the alleged collusion and fraudulent misrepresentation were first identified and raised with Lloyds by Mr Shabir in 2010, responses have amounted to no more than stonewalling by successive levels of Lloyds management.

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): As Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee at that time, and following personal representations from Mr Shabir, we did research into this matter. It indicated that there was a consensus across the professional bodies involved, apart from RICS, that the process demonstrated a clear conflict of interest. The bodies took it to the Minister, and I know the Minister made representations, but still absolutely nothing was done. Does my hon. Friend not agree that that reflects a serious deficiency in the monitoring process within the industry—one that results in the most devastating consequences to individuals and the economy?

Jo Stevens: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a huge gap in the regulatory framework that must urgently be addressed.

4.43 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.54 pm

On resuming

Jo Stevens: Mr Shabir told me that he is aware that not only have the issues been discussed with the chief executive of the bank, Mr António Horta-Osório, and the past chairman, Sir Win Bischoff, but the bank has dedicated senior managers, including two managing directors, to consider the case. Unfortunately, rather than seeking to address Mr Shabir’s complaint, Lloyds has applied those resources to devising a strategy to deflect him.

There has been no substantive response to Mr Shabir from Lloyds bank since October 2011. Such limited correspondence as has taken place has been issued by Lloyds’ solicitors, who have been unhelpful and dismissive, and has included a proposal to forgive the indebtedness created by Lloyds’ own actions, along with Alder King, in return for Mr Shabir’s signing a confidentiality agreement—effectively a gagging order to prevent any further discussion of any aspect of the case. Mr Shabir told me, unsurprisingly, that that was unacceptable to him, as he would have had to relinquish the £2 million of equity he originally took to Lloyds bank and have

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been prevented from speaking out about his experience. Because commercial lending by banks is not regulated by the FCA, it cannot intervene and investigate.

Mr Shabir’s case was referred to the Serious Fraud Office in September 2013. I am told by Mr Shabir that a substantial amount of evidence was provided to corroborate the allegations. I have seen correspondence between the former shadow Attorney General, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), and Mr David Green, director of the SFO. The correspondence took place between the end of October 2014 and the beginning of November 2014. In his letter to my hon. Friend, dated 7 November 2014, Mr Green confirmed that the SFO was

“working with partners to identify the extent of information and evidence that relates to the practices described and to ascertain if there is a systemic or institutionalised problem that warrants the application of the criminal law.”

Mr Green also confirmed that the SFO had met with a number of other parties concerning Lloyds and Alder King, but, since 7 November 2014, nothing further has been forthcoming from the SFO.

Mr Shabir tells me that the number of people affected by Lloyds’ actions is in the thousands, and the Tomlinson report highlighted the extensive practice of down-valuation. Following the publication of the Tomlinson report, the Federation of Small Businesses, recognised as a super complainant, met the Welsh Affairs Committee on 20 February 2014, along with representatives of RICS. Action groups have been formed. They are multifaceted and multidirectional groups because of the specific circumstances of individual group members. There has been press coverage in the financial sections of national newspapers, including in The Times today. The BBC produced a “Panorama” programme featuring the issue.

In conclusion, we are left with a situation in which it is alleged that a partly nationalised bank, having found itself in unfavourable business arrangements, has been able to manipulate matters to its advantage, steering successful companies into receivership while depressing the valuation of those companies and individuals’ assets to augment the emergency funding it would receive from the taxpayer.

The bank has been assisted by supposedly independent professional advisers who are embedded in the bank and financially benefit from receivership appointments engineered in conjunction with the bank. An obvious and significant conflict of interest has been allowed to operate, unfettered by any regulator. RICS has declined to criticise, never mind condemn, the actions of Alder King, and the SFO has, it appears, sat on its hands, all at extreme financial and emotional cost to Mr Shabir.

There is a public interest in an investigation into potentially criminal misconduct by taxpayer-supported banks, whether it is conducted by the SFO or another agency in a position to do so. Mr Shabir has waited long and patiently enough for some action, so will the Solicitor General tell us whether the Government will undertake to investigate fully the following issues by making specific enquiries of Lloyds, Alder King and RICS?

The first issue is the extent of the practice of down-valuation and the number of seconded personnel embedded in the bank who have received receivership appointments; the second, the monetary value involved; and the third,

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the number of customers affected. Will the Solicitor General raise these serious issues with the Secretary of State, so that an urgent inquiry might be considered? Finally, will the Government undertake to ensure that Lloyds, as a partly public-owned bank, is proactively contacting and meeting customers to discuss redress for the affected businesses?

Several hon. Members rose

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. Before I call Mr Huw Irranca-Davies, I should say that the debate will finish at 5.41 pm, so the wind-ups will start at 5.21 pm.

4.59 pm

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your stewardship, Mrs Main. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) for securing this debate and for laying on the record a comprehensive and detailed view of how her constituent has been affected. That is what I intend to do for my constituent, Mr Alun Richards, regarding a related issue. The story, the allegations it contains and the impact that it has had on him and his family are shocking. At best, there is a conflict of interest, with evidence of duplicity; at worst, there is evidence of collusion and real criminality that could go beyond these two cases. The points that my hon. Friend has put to the Solicitor General will help to establish the scale of the problem.

Alun Richards comes from a well-established and successful farming family of long pedigree in the Amman valley in west Wales. He is an award-winning farmer and former Wales young farmer of the year, representing the UK at European levels. His farming business expanded over years, but he knew, as many farmers do, that he had to diversify to grow further. Milk quota changes, mad cow disease, foot and mouth, milk prices and global dairy competition forced Alun to move out of milk production. Farmland was turned to crop production and farm buildings freed for other uses, initially largely funded by family money. It was successful, and the business grew and prospered. While the family had been long-term customers of NatWest RBS, other banks were keen to secure Alun’s growing business, among them Lloyds TSB.

To secure Alun’s custom, Lloyds gave him an attractive offer of the type reserved for the very best businesses: 1% over base rate. That, combined with further family money, allowed Alun to convert farm buildings and the original farmhouse into offices and meeting rooms to be let out. Further expansion included a conference centre. The original farmyard became the Tycroes business park, a beacon for employment in the area that was opened by His Royal Highness Prince Charles. Over time, the business expanded into other property, including an office block in Swansea. It was based on solid foundations and steady growth. It was successful, solvent and profitable every step of the way. The office block was financed through Lloyds, a link that originally came through Alun’s successful business being identified and snapped up by local and regional agricultural managers at Lloyds. Alun’s accounts had now been transferred to Lloyds and all was going well. Tenants were queuing up for the business park and Alun was being introduced as Lloyd’s best customer at the Royal Welsh show.

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At the same time, however, the regional manager had identified a failure by the local manager, who should, the regional manager said, have consolidated seven existing loan accounts into one and should have created an overdraft as part of those consolidated loans. Despite the issue being identified, the consolidation and overdraft rearrangement never happened. That failure became the reason that Lloyds used as the justification for Alun’s booming business—to which Lloyds was lending at premium rates for trusted and successful customers--being transferred into recoveries. To be clear, the lender, Lloyds, had identified that a consolidated loan was needed, but it was not arranged, which subsequently became the reason for the business being transferred to recoveries. That itself seems remarkable, but it was in recoveries that my constituent alleges that the real abuses took place. Let us look in detail at how the transfer to recoveries of a successful business happened.

In 2008, Alun was telephoned and told that his account was being taken over by a new manager. Alun believed that his Lloyds account was progressing to a higher level of management—it was a successful business. After two weeks, Alun had heard nothing from his new manager, so he decided to telephone his original manager to ask who his new manager was. The manager informed Alun that he had been transferred to the recoveries department at Bristol. That was a complete shock. Alun then made contact with recoveries, which asked Alun if he could enlighten them as to why his account had been sent there. Alun was told that recoveries only dealt with dead and dying accounts, not accounts that were alive and kicking like Alun’s. Recoveries duly sent Alun’s files back to Alun’s manager and his regional agricultural manager. Recoveries were amazed when Alun’s manager and regional agricultural manager quickly returned Alun’s files. Recoveries told Alun that his files could be parked on a desk for three months and that he would be able to find a new bank or a new Lloyds manager. However, Alun quickly found that, behind the scenes, the banking sector was in meltdown and that that was affecting decisions.

As this was happening, Alun’s business was slowly grinding to a halt, so he engaged his then MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), who wrote to the chairman of Lloyds bank. Alun then had a visit from a Mr Holliday and Mr Miles, who introduced themselves and presented business cards showing that they were managers in the Bristol recoveries department of Lloyds bank. Mr Miles assured Alun that everything would be resolved. In the presence of two qualified accountants, Mr Miles was asked about his background at Lloyds, because they had not met before. He went to great lengths to provide a history of his employment at Lloyds. He stated that his career had been in the branch network and that he had only recently transferred to recoveries. He produced business cards stating he was a Lloyds manager and carried on stating that he was Alun’s manager on Lloyds-headed notepaper and in emails from his Lloyds address for the next two and a half years.

It was only by pure chance that Alun later discovered that Mr Miles was in fact a qualified chartered surveyor and member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors —RICS—and also an equity partner in Alder King, which was never officially disclosed to Alun at the time. All correspondence to Alun from Mr Miles was signed

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in his capacity as a Lloyds manager. It was not stated that Mr Miles was on secondment from Alder King to Lloyds, and Alun has an internal emails, obtained by a subject access request to Lloyds, confirming that no secondment agreement exists between Alder King and Lloyds. Mr Holliday then insisted that Alun’s debt to Lloyds had to be repaid within 10 years, not the 20 years that was in the original loan agreement. Soon after, Alder King was appointed as LPA receivers over Alun’s business.

Alun was shocked to find out that Alder King was previously owned by Lloyds and contacted the receiver, a Mr Hughes. Mr Hughes had previously been a managing director at Alder King and past chairman of the Association of Property and Fixed Charge Receivers, or Nara. He was also a chartered surveyor and member of RICS, so he was well-qualified to understand the Law and Property Act 1925. Alun attended a meeting at Alder King’s offices in Bristol with Mr Hughes and Mr Holliday and Mr Miles from Lloyds. Alun was supported by his accountant, who took minutes. At no point was it made clear that Mr Miles was a chartered surveyor, a RICS member or an equity partner at Alder King. He was always introduced as a Lloyds bank manager. Mr Hughes should have made Mr Miles’ position and the potential conflict of interest quite clear.

On hearing Alun’s story, Mr Hughes immediately resigned his position as receiver, despite discussions with Mr Holliday, who insisted that Mr Hughes remain appointed. It was clear that Mr Hughes was aware of not only the conflict of interest, but potential criminal fraud and the misrepresentation of his business partner Mr Miles. There was financial profit in this situation. Another three months passed with little activity from Lloyds recoveries. Mr Smith from Alder King was appointed as LPA receiver, along with the reappointment of Mr Hughes.

By March 2011, two years on from the shock meeting with Mr Holliday and Mr Miles from Lloyds recoveries, Alun’s life and business were grinding to a halt. As a result, Alun, along with his MP, went to the main Lloyds offices in Gresham Street, London. Alun’s then MP presented a letter to request a meeting with António Horta Osório, Lloyds’ new chief executive officer. A Mr Young met them and listened to the story and stated that there

“had to be a resolution”.

By now, Alun was dealing daily with Mr Young, who had given him direct access via landline, email and mobile. Mr Young gave an ultimatum to recoveries to resolve matters with Alun or the case would be taken over by Mr Cumming, the global managing director, with overall responsibility of Bristol recoveries. After that, however, Alun was locked out of his business park, with Lloyds having sold the property as mortgagee not in possession.

Two of the tenants of the Tycroes business park bought the property for £70,000. Although Alun Richards had in his possession a valuation for the same business park of more than £2 million, carried out by surveyors Lambert Smith Hampton only two years previously, LSH had reportedly provided Lloyds with a zero valuation of the same premises. The business park had 12 units, two office blocks, a large conference centre and 5 acres of future development land—but a zero valuation.

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Notification to Alun of the sale came via solicitors TLT. It transpired that TLT was acting for Lloyds bank, Alder King, Mr Smith and Mr Hughes. Is that not a conflict of interest? Alun’s then MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli, arranged a meeting with Mr Young and Mr Cumming at Lloyds headquarters in London. Subsequently, Mr Cumming took sole responsibility for Lloyds’ actions and agreed to visit the farm to see at first hand the damage that had been caused to Alun and his family.

An auction of the remaining farmland had been planned for that evening, but was cancelled by Mr Cumming. That was strange, as Lloyds had appointed an LPA receiver to take charge of all the properties. A further property, Mansel house in Swansea, which Alun had purchased as his pension fund, had a valuation of £600,000 and a loan of £480,000 secured with Lloyds. The LPA receiver sold it at auction in London for £125,000, two years after it had been bought by Alun. Of the £125,000 realised for the property, Alder King took a commission of £50,000, realising a loss of £405,000 to taxpayer-owned Lloyds bank.

Mr Cumming kept his word and visited Alun’s farm to see the damage. Again he took full responsibility, and he declared that he would be back within a week to return Alun’s business to the position it was in before this fraud began. Alun had now had a high-profile managing director in Lloyds bank travel to his farm in rural west Wales and state that he would return Alun’s business to its original position, but the next week came and went. After three weeks, Mr Cumming wrote to state that he had decided on an independent investigation into his department’s action.

Mr Cumming appointed solicitors Hogan Lovells to lead the investigation, but over the next year Hogan Lovells parked it in the long grass. Lloyds then decided to sell the rest of Alun’s portfolio by auction—the fourth attempt to sell the properties, as the previous three had been cancelled. Alun’s father bought all the lots, but Bristol recoveries, Alder King and the other RICS auctioneers who were now involved were furious and used an opt-out clause in the small print to cancel the sale. They then sold the farmland on a first come, first served basis at a knockdown price. Shortly afterwards, Alder King resigned as receivers. Alun had started out with a portfolio valued at £5 million and a successful business, with borrowings of £1.3 million; he has ended up bankrupt and with nothing.

Where is Alun’s case now? Alun Richards and Kashif Shabir had their first meeting with the Serious Fraud Office on 11 November 2013, when they presented what they believe to be overwhelming evidence of criminal fraud. Another meeting was held one year later. I understand the file to be open and awaiting progress—that is what we are seeking. Alun made separate but identical complaints to RICS—as did Kashif Shabir—regarding his personal circumstances, which involved an additional set of regulated members. RICS refused to take the bundles of evidence from Mr Richards, but then somehow concluded that there were no breaches of its code. RICS relied solely upon the representations of its members. It would therefore not be unfair to assume that it is offering a degree of protection to its fee-paying members. Where is the professed protection for the customer?

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The Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills looked at the case on 4 March 2015, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey). In attendance were principals from five independent industry regulators, including Eve Salomon, chair of the regulatory board of RICS, Graham Stockey, principal surveyor for RICS, Julian Healey, chief executive officer of Nara, and Daniel Hardy, chairman of Nara.

I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central, who referred to the evidence given at the hearing being entirely in opposition to the practices adopted by Lloyds and Alder King working in unison, giving the appearance of collusion. Furthermore, when parties with a mutual financial interest are working in conjunction with each other, there are obvious opportunities for abuse. It is just such an abuse that I wish to highlight and that I believe my constituent Mr Richards is the victim of. In addition, it is known that Alder King, as I touched on, was the recipient of substantial fees, amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds in this case. The incentive is obvious. In Alun’s case alone, Alder King was able to charge more than £400,000 in total fees for acting as receiver.

What about the Solicitors Regulation Authority? The general case is further exemplified by the fact that both Alder King and the bank were utilising the services of not only one law firm, but specifically Mr Hayllar of TLT solicitors, who was representing both the bank and the receiver simultaneously. What chance does the customer have when facing a united front from a tripartite relationship and he is not even invited to the party? In fact, his exclusion is what makes the party happen. The consequences of the alleged criminal fraud of Lloyds recoveries in Bristol, along with Alder King, are far reaching, because more than 3,000 customers were with the Bristol recoveries at one time. Such fraud could have cost the British taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds of the bail-out money that was available to Lloyds bank.

In conclusion, there is more to these cases than my hon. Friend and I have said today. Allegations have been made against individuals and organisations such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, which appears complicit because of its failure to step in and act when concerns and allegations against its members were raised. ACCA will now only communicate with my constituent via a solicitor.

Surely now is the time for the Serious Fraud Office to take action. Now is the time to shine a spotlight on the allegations of criminality, collusion and corruption. What the two cases illustrate might be the tip of the iceberg. The SFO surely has a duty to pursue the matter, to see whether the allegations are substantiated and, crucially, whether there are more cases like this out there—we have heard that there are, with more victims suffering in silence and believing themselves helpless after their profitable businesses have been destroyed. The SFO has the power, authority and remit to do something—to make inquiries of the regulator, Alder King and the bank, and to quantify the extent of the situation. We could be talking about millions of pounds, but only the SFO can uncover this. Far from being responsible banking practice, this looks like daylight robbery. A thorough investigation is needed and it is needed now.

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5.17 pm

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) on securing this afternoon’s extremely important debate on behalf of her constituent, Mr Kashif Shabir, and the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), Mr Alun Richards. This is my first outing in the role of shadow Attorney General, which I am pleased to be taking on, in particular in a shadow Cabinet that for the first time has a majority of women. I am thoroughly looking forward to holding the Attorney General and the Solicitor General’s feet to the fire, but also working constructively with them when appropriate.

As with all Serious Fraud Office cases, those of Mr Richards and Mr Shabir are complex, but they have been carefully and passionately set out by my hon. Friends. There is much to be passionate about. As many of us know from our constituency postbags and surgeries, there are many more cases such as those we have heard about today throughout the country. Since the financial crisis, small, medium and even large firms have been brought to their knees by the banking system, with serious allegations of malpractice being made. Good and credible businesspeople such as Mr Richards and Mr Shabir have seen their credit ratings destroyed, after having worked hard for years and decades to build up their businesses. We only need to look at the Bully Banks campaign to see just how many firms and individuals have been affected by allegations of malpractice over the past few years.

Indeed, I have a constituency case involving the now acknowledged mis-selling of interest rate hedging products, or swaps; my constituent’s family, and the many who rely on them for good, skilled employment, have been reeling from the consequences of that ever since. We are not discussing the swap mis-selling scandal today, but the activities alleged by Mr Richards and Mr Shabir, and the consequences of those activities, bear a striking resemblance to the situation suffered by my constituent. I have a real fear that that indicates a systemic failure in our banking system across the country.

As my hon. Friends for Cardiff Central and for Ogmore have explained, the cases of Mr Richards and Mr Shabir involve allegations of the deliberate under- valuing by Lloyds of their properties—known as down valuation—in order to put them in breach of their loan-to-value ratios on secured debts, and thereby engineer defaults on their loans. That in itself is an extremely serious allegation. I believe it has been rejected by Lloyds, but was covered in some detail by the 2013 Tomlinson report commissioned by the Business Secretary in the coalition Government, Dr Vince Cable. In his report into banks’ lending practices and treatment of businesses in distress, Lawrence Tomlinson commented:

“This has been one of the most common complaints in the evidence received for this report. Revaluation of assets appears to be used on frequent occasions to put businesses into default of their loan agreements.”

He went on:

“Many businesses have submitted evidence demonstrating what appear to be unquestionable under-valuations of properties. They are so stark compared to original and current values of the

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property that their accuracy has to be called into question as well as the reason behind such an inaccuracy.”

The report concluded—and this is the crux of the matter, particularly in the cases we are considering:

“Not only is the undervaluation itself a concern, so is the relationship between the bank and the valuers. Often, much of a valuer’s work will come from the banks and there is therefore an inherent conflict of interest as there is a natural incentive for the valuer to act in the interest of the bank.”

In March, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee took evidence as part of its inquiry into the insolvency industry. Witnesses conceded that it is becoming more common for property receivers to be seconded to banks. Sometimes even surveyors and receivers have been known to be seconded within lenders’ restructuring divisions, therefore working on lenders’ distressed loans books. As even the industry witnesses to that inquiry conceded, in such a situation there is potential for a serious conflict of interest.

In both the cases we have heard about this afternoon, Lloyds bank utilised Alder King LLP for its property valuations. Yet Alder King also had staff seconded to Lloyds, working within the bank’s recoveries department—the very department that was responsible for receivership appointments. As reported by both the Financial Times and The Times, such staff were engaged directly in work on the cases of Mr Shabir and Mr Richards, but allegedly gave the impression that they worked directly for the bank, not Alder King LLP, the firm that was to benefit financially from the businesses going into receivership. It is that alleged conflict of interest, and its very significant consequences, about which Mr Shabir and Mr Richards have lodged their complaints to the Serious Fraud Office.

As we have heard, as no response had been received from Lloyds to the complaints since September 2011, Mr Shabir’s and Mr Richards’s cases were referred to the SFO in September 2013. Two meetings were held with the SFO, during which a substantial amount of evidence was provided to corroborate the allegations, but it was not until 7 November 2014 that the SFO’s director, David Green QC, responded and acknowledged the gravity of the issues raised. I understand that nothing has been heard from the SFO since, some 10 months on from that communication.

Of course, Mr Shabir and Mr Richards are not the only ones making such allegations about the activities of Lloyds bank and Alder King. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central mentioned earlier, when my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) was shadow Attorney General, she wrote to the SFO director about this issue on behalf of two other Labour Members of Parliament and their constituents. In his response, also dated 7 November 2014, David Green stated:

“I can assure you that we are taking appropriate steps to pursue this serious issue.”

Like my hon. Friends the Member for Cardiff Central and for Ogmore, I look forward to receiving an update from the Solicitor General—or, subsequent to the debate, in writing from the Attorney General—on the actual progress that has been made in investigating these serious allegations. We all appreciate their complexity, but it is now two years since the matter was first referred to the SFO.

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There is also clearly a significant public interest in the matter, not least because we are, after all, discussing a bank that was bailed out by the British taxpayer and remains part-owned by the public purse. In addition, since 2010, the Serious Fraud Office’s funding has been cut by just over 12%, with potential serious implications for its ability to prosecute serious and complex cases of fraud and bribery effectively and in a timely manner.

In the light of what we have heard this afternoon, hon. Members need urgent reassurances from the Government Law Officers that the SFO does in fact have the resources it needs to investigate such cases. That question is even more pressing given the further £20 billion of cuts to public spending anticipated at the forthcoming spending review, with the Chancellor reportedly requiring Departments to model budget cuts of up to 40% by 2019-20.

Although allegations such as those made by Mr Richards and Mr Shabir may make for uncomfortable listening for the Government, it is deeply concerning that every time the Serious Fraud Office wants to take on a major case—LIBOR rigging being a prime example—it now has to effectively go cap in hand to the Treasury to apply for additional funding, sometimes referred to as blockbuster funding, in order to do the job. That clearly has implications for the vital independence of the SFO, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer potentially has a veto on what is investigated. Indeed, Transparency International has stated its concern about that situation:

“The process for additional budget approval may present a substantial risk of political influence.”

Again, I would appreciate an assurance from the Solicitor General that there is no need for such concerns, in particular with regard to the case we are discussing.

During questions to the Attorney General in July, the Solicitor General stated:

“It is important that we give our full-throated support to the work of the SFO because, as the hon. Gentleman says, if there are doubts about the integrity and efficacy of that important arm of the prosecutorial authorities, we are in serious trouble indeed.”—[Official Report, 2 July 2015; Vol. 597, c. 1611.]

I could not agree more, but when we hear of cases like those of Mr Shabir and Mr Richards, who—like many thousands of businesses across the country—appear to have been badly let down by the system, such statements are understandably thrown into doubt. We need to know that the Serious Fraud Office does not just take such matters seriously but has the will, capacity and resources to investigate and then prosecute where appropriate. I look forward to hearing the Solicitor General’s reassurances in that regard.

5.27 pm

The Solicitor General (Robert Buckland): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I pay warm tribute to the hon. Members for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) and for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) for bringing this important debate to the Chamber and for having not only the courtesy but the sense of co-operation to approach me before it so that I could clearly understand the cases that would be raised. I hope, in the light of that, to offer an appropriate response. My response has to be calibrated bearing in mind the nature of the office I hold and the importance of

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having an independent prosecutorial service, and I know that Members on both sides of the House understand that.

I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) and welcome her to her post as shadow Attorney General. I was delighted to hear her remarks. Although no doubt we will disagree about some issues, I am sure we will be able to work constructively together in the finest traditions of the Law Officers and shadow Law Officers, and their unique role within Government.

The issues that have been raised—it is almost axiomatic, but it is important to say it—are important. They are wide-ranging and the presence of the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) has been helpful, because, as he reminded us, he was the Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee that took oral evidence in March. I am grateful to him for coming to the debate. He will appreciate that issues of regulation are for other arms of Government, but one function of debates such as this is for the House to hear the bigger picture, so that all arms of Government are fully aware of Members’ concerns.

The hon. Member for Cardiff Central asked for a general review. As she will know, there have been a number of reports and reviews on specific aspects of this type of alleged misconduct. We heard reference to the Tomlinson report, which, in itself, gave rise to what is termed the skilled persons report under section 166 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. That report is due to be produced at the end of the year. It relates to another bank, but the type of alleged activity is highly germane to the issues that we have been discussing.

I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for confining myself to the debate’s terms of reference. What I aim to do, first, is to offer strong reassurance to hon. Members about the importance with which the SFO regards all allegations and the threshold test that it must apply.

I listened to the shadow Attorney General’s remarks with great interest. I disagree with her about the very nature of what is a demand-led service and the importance of having blockbuster funding to allow for the flexibility that the SFO needs, in terms of hiring or engaging staff, and larger numbers of staff at different times, particularly to deal with finite inquiries. There is also the impracticability of maintaining very large staffing numbers at all times because of the inevitable pressures that will exist upon its budgets, whatever the economic weather. With respect, the point that the hon. Lady was missing was the terms of reference within which the SFO was set up, and it is important to remind the House about those, because they are highly germane to the test that has to be applied to all allegations of fraud.

Those of us with a long memory will remember the Roskill report of 1986. It was groundbreaking because it made important recommendations about the investigation of serious fraud that gave rise to the Criminal Justice Act 1987. The Roskill model, which was the embedding of investigators and prosecutors together in one group, gave rise to the Act and setting up the Serious Fraud Office.

The sort of cases that the SFO deals with are what I, and I think all of us, would regard as the very high-profile, big-risk cases involving huge sums of money, large

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numbers of victims or new types of fraud, whether the manipulation of LIBOR rates, or allegations involving major companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Barclays, Tesco and Rolls-Royce. This is a particular type of serious fraud for which the threshold has to be high and, in fact, it is set out in the Act. We therefore have to recognise that, sadly, not all cases of alleged fraud are going to fall to the SFO to investigate. As I said, it can only formally commence investigation if the criteria and circumstances set out in legislation are met.

The police have the primary responsibility for investigating crime here, and Action Fraud has been established as the national reporting centre to which reports of alleged fraud should be referred in the first instance. The SFO’s role is limited to the investigation and prosecution of cases of serious and complex fraud. However, I can assure the House that when referrals are made to it, a member of the SFO assesses every single one. That task is not to be underestimated. The vast majority of referrals to the SFO are not about matters that it can properly investigate, but it takes every single referral seriously, and it will give each one due consideration and pass on details to other agencies that may be more suited to dealing with it or placing particular cases. It also retains the material that it has been given, using that for intelligence purposes to help inform other agencies and, indeed, sometimes in its own work to identify those top-tier cases that are appropriate for it to investigate.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank the Minister for the helpful way in which he is laying out his points. He mentioned the threshold test. If evidence was to be gained that this went beyond two individual cases and that there were far more, would it pass the threshold test? If that is the case, rather than relying on the CPS or on individual prosecutions, would it be, in the light of the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central, appropriate—or, in fact, necessary—for the SFO to make inquiries of Lloyds, RICS, and Alder King in relation to how many examples of conflict of interest and potential financial gains along the way this could affect? If we are talking about thousands of people—my apologies for the length of this intervention, Mrs Main—I suspect we are in SFO territory.

The Solicitor General: I hope that the hon. Gentleman can be forgiven for the length of his intervention, because he asked a very pertinent question. Although I cannot prejudge the precise parameters of what might happen in the future, circumstances may well change, and the SFO, keeping matters under review as it does, would then have to be guided by that change in circumstances. In other words, we cannot rule that possibility out. It would be wrong of me to do that.

Dealing, then, with the specific allegations, I have to acknowledge that it would be unusual for me to comment in detail about allegations either leading towards an individual or made by an individual or a company, but I am aware of course that Mr Shabir and Mr Richards have raised their allegations with a wide range of people and organisations, and I do not underestimate their importance. The two gentlemen clearly have had a very difficult time. The consequences of what has happened are extremely serious for them. That said, I have to stress that these remain allegations. It is not for me to comment

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on their merits or whether they are well founded. I have to acknowledge the effect of allegations that are made, and that is an important point when discussing them in a public forum such as this. Those are the constraints within which I think I should operate.

Although Mr Shabir and Mr Richards have presented their cases together, they are making slightly different allegations. It is right to say, as has been said in the debate, that the SFO has met the gentlemen on more than one occasion; the allegations have been considered in great detail; and there has been close liaison with other law enforcement agencies and regulatory bodies to gather any relevant material that they may hold. However, the SFO has explained to both gentlemen that their cases, individually, would not meet the threshold and would not be investigated, because as stand-alone allegations, they do not come into that top tier. That has been made clear. We have already—I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ogmore—started to outline and discuss what might or could happen to change that position, but that is the status quo.

I have said that it is important to recognise that the SFO does not investigate every case of alleged fraud—that is not its purpose—and I know that despite referrals to other organisations, no proceedings have yet been brought. However, the material provided by Mr Richards and Mr Shabir is being kept or has been kept under active consideration by the Serious Fraud Office, and this matter is kept under review as new information may arise. It is not a closed file, but obviously at this stage the threshold has not been reached.

This is exactly what the SFO should be doing. It is seeking to make intelligent and intelligence links to identify cases of serious or complex fraud. To seek to investigate every case would defeat its purpose and overwhelm its resource, and frankly it would have no statutory footing on which to do so. I argue strongly that the current director has demonstrated that he is prepared to take on difficult and high-profile cases. The seriousness of the investigations to which I have referred will, I hope, demonstrate to hon. Members the sort of case that the SFO should be taking on. In other words, the office has a specific role that Parliament has given it. If the SFO can put all these allegations together with other intelligence to establish a case of serious or complex fraud, it will do so, and that is why it has decided to keep this significant matter under review.

5.39 pm

Jo Stevens: It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I thank everyone who participated in the debate, but particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), who is the new shadow Attorney General, and the Solicitor General. I am very grateful to you all and for having had the opportunity to put the case for my constituent.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the Serious Fraud Office and the complaints of Alun Richards and Kash Shabir.

5.40 pm

Sitting adjourned.