Senior lawyers have criticised Lord Hain’s decision to name Sir Philip Green as the businessman at the centre of #MeToo allegations of sexual harassment and racial abuse.
Former Cabinet minister Lord Hain used the protection of parliamentary privilege to identify the Arcadia chairman as the individual behind a legal injunction preventing The Daily Telegraph from publishing “confidential information” from five employees.
Sir Philip “categorically and wholly” denied being guilty of any “unlawful sexual or racist behaviour”, in a statement issued hours after the Labour peer’s dramatic intervention in the House of Lords.
There have been calls for the retail tycoon to be stripped of his knighthood over the claims.
But legal experts have questioned former Cabinet minister Lord Hain’s decision to exercise his right to name Sir Philip because the case is going through the courts.
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve QC said Lord Hain’s behaviour had been “clearly arrogant” and he had abused parliamentary privilege in deciding he knew better than the courts.
“You cannot operate a democratic, free society subject to the rule of law when peers or MPs decide quite capriciously to take the law into their own hands,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One.
And ex-lord chief justice Lord Judge told the programme he thought Lord Hain was wrong, adding: “I don’t think that parliamentary privilege is designed to take away any citizen’s rights, even if we don’t very much like them.”
The principle of parliamentary privilege means that MPs and peers cannot be sued for libel for comments made in the Houses of Parliament, and offers protection to media outlets reporting those comments.
Lord Hain said he felt he had a “duty” to name Sir Philip.
There were calls for the Honours Forfeiture Committee to consider withdrawing Sir Philip’s knighthood – previously challenged in the furore over shortfalls in the BHS pension scheme.
The chairman of the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee Frank Field, who led condemnation of Sir Philip over his treatment of BHS pensioners, said: “The charge sheet against the knighthood is growing.
“Parliament and the country have made their views clear on this matter. Ultimately it’s a decision for the Honours Forfeiture Committee.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said Sir Philip “narrowly and luckily escaped losing his knighthood over the pensions scandal”.
And he added: “If these allegations are correct, he should certainly be stripped of his knighthood.”
Downing Street stressed that the Honours Forfeiture Committee was independent.
“They are constantly reviewing evidence in relation to matters like this,” a Number 10 spokeswoman said.
She added that the Prime Minister had been clear on the wider issue that “bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace is against the law and that kind of behaviour can’t be tolerated”.
Lord Hain told peers on Thursday he had been contacted by someone “intimately involved” in a case of a wealthy businessman using non-disclosure agreements and payments “to conceal the truth about serious and repeated sexual harassment, racist abuse and bullying”.
He said: “I feel it’s my duty under parliamentary privilege to name Philip Green as the individual in question given that the media have been subject to an injunction preventing publication of the full details of a story which is clearly in the public interest.”
Sir Philip responded in a statement, saying: “I am not commenting on anything that has happened in court or was said in Parliament today.
“To the extent that it is suggested that I have been guilty of unlawful sexual or racist behaviour, I categorically and wholly deny these allegations.
“Arcadia and I take accusations and grievances from employees very seriously and in the event that one is raised, it is thoroughly investigated.
“Arcadia employs more than 20,000 people and in common with many large businesses sometimes receives formal complaints from employees. In some cases these are settled with the agreement of all parties and their legal advisers. These settlements are confidential so I cannot comment further on them.”