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3 Mar 2003 : Column 649—continued

7.46 pm

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): I thank the House for giving me this opportunity to address the serious issue of the Coniston hotel in my constituency and the workings of the National Asylum Support Service—NASS for short.

First, I should like to apologise to the House. I said sometime in early January on a radio phone-in programme that I was in favour of a two-year moratorium on asylum seekers. Sometimes, on live programmes, we say something that, almost before we have finished the sentence, we know we will live to regret. On reflection, I should have added the words, "Except, first, for bona fide refugees and, secondly, for economic migrants." Of course, what constitutes a bona fide refugee goes to the heart of the current debate about asylum seekers, and we have not reached agreement on what constitutes an economic migrant. Although I would be happy to develop those arguments, this evening is not the time to do so.

I wish to dwell on the decision, taken by NASS, to select the Coniston hotel as an induction centre for 111 refugees and asylum seekers. I have asked questions in the House, as well as tabling two early-day motions. In response to a question that I asked during Home Office questions, the Home Secretary said:

Later, at Prime Minister's questions, the Prime Minister said:

The consultation period should have begun at the outset. All parties have signed up to that and it has now happened, although I have asked that the decision be taken independently of NASS, as it was at fault in the first place.

Two petitions have been presented over the past six weeks—one to the House and one to the Prime Minister. The first had more than 5,000 signatures and the second more than 7,000. Moreover, as I understand it, more than 4,000 constituents have written to NASS about the Coniston hotel. Swale borough council, largely due to the good offices of Councillor Truelove, has submitted its response, as has the local residents association, SACK, representatives of which came to see my hon.

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Friend the Minister two weeks ago. May I place on record my thanks to her and her staff for seeing them, the time that she gave them, and the manner and way in which she listened carefully to their arguments. They left the meeting feeling that there was a heart and soul to this government process after all. My response will go in tomorrow, and I sense that this debate is the end of the formal process. I know that the Minister must probably wait not only for NASS's recommendations on the Coniston, but for Swale borough council's legal objections, based on a change of use for the hotel. In her response, perhaps she will let us know when she thinks that she will be able to make a decision, and whether it will be after the legal process has been completed.

First, let me raise my objection to the way in which NASS reached its decision with Accommodata in respect of the Coniston hotel. The Coniston hotel was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Kleczowski. They wanted to sell the hotel, which had been in the family for two generations. They were expecting to sell it to a bona fide hotel group so that it could be improved. They gave instructions to Christie and Co., and on 10 September 2002 a sale was negotiated with Multinational Trading Ltd., with a registered office at P&O distribution unit, 2 Rockware avenue, Greenford, Middlesex. The lawyers acting for the owners were Jarmans solicitors, of Bell house, Bell road, Sittingbourne. The solicitor doing the deal, or acting on behalf of the owners, was Brian Slater. On 13 September, papers were sent to the buyers' solicitors, Jeffrey Green Russell, for the attention of Mr. Benton at 56, New Bond street, London W1. On 15 November 2003, a new company, called Heatherside Ltd., company No. 106771C, with a registered office at St. George's court, Upper Church street, Douglas, Isle of Man, was going to be the potential new owner of the Coniston. Contracts were exchanged on 19 November, with completion fixed for 20 January 2003.

On 7 January, that changed again—this time with a new company and a new set of lawyers. A notice was received from Jeffrey Green Russell, but a contract had been signed with Munro Properties Ltd., care of RBC Trustees (Guernsey) Ltd., of PO box 48, Canada court, St. Peter Port, Guernsey. Their solicitors were stated to be GSC of 31-32 Ely place, London EC1. Accommodata, of which the owners had not heard, never appeared anywhere in the sale document. On 10 January 2003, GSC wrote to the owners direct as the licence holders to say that the applicants would be Paul Greenwood and Ian Michael Richards of Accommodata Ltd., and stated:

On 15 January 2003, a licensing application was received by Jarmans, the solicitors for the owners, when it first became aware that the new licensing owners would be Accommodata. Finally, on 4 February 2003, the hotel acquisition was completed.

It seems to me that NASS began negotiations with Accommodata well before it owned the hotel—I suspect in the middle of 2002. It had certainly signed a deal with Accommodata to provide an asylum and induction centre by 13 November 2002, with a start date of 29 January 2003. If you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I find this part of the process extraordinary. The lawyers for the hotel owners had no idea that it

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would end up with Accommodata and that it would end up as an induction centre, but NASS did. That is not how a Government agency should be allowed to work or act. You will see, Minister, that the owner of the Coniston—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read the Speaker's recent letter, but he is in breach of it in two respects at present. He must not use the second person when referring to another hon. Member. I shall leave him to think about what the other matter is.

Mr. Wyatt: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and you are quite right.

My hon. Friend will know that the Coniston's former owners did not know until 6 January the intent of the owners, who were finally revealed as Accommodata. Their lawyer, Brian Slater from Jarmans, did not know until four days later, and Slater's partner handling the change of title for the liquor licence did not know for another five days, on the morning of the request at our local magistrates court in Sittingbourne. Our support services in Kent were given less than two weeks to cater for 111 refugees and asylum seekers, yet NASS had begun negotiating with Accommodata perhaps as early as six months before anyone knew that that would happen. Will my hon. Friend tell us, as I asked at our second meeting, whether NASS will put into the public domain its due diligence on Accommodata? I hope that she will tell us tonight that that will be done.

Let me turn to one or two people behind Accommodata. I shall concentrate on three companies in particular. The first is a company that I think was established in 1988 called Buckingham International. By 1993, it had losses of approximately £100 million. We may have to take this with a pinch of salt, but according to Private Eye:

The second company, Petersham House Kensington Residents Association Ltd., went into compulsory liquidation. A petition was presented by the directors to the High Court on 10 June 1992, reference 003594. Its directors included N. N. Jivraj and N. G. R Jivraj. Three firms of accountants were reported to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Milton Keynes, which took four years to reach a deliberation. As the investigation committee at the ICA included members from PKF and Stoy Hayward, it is strange to record that no action was taken. After all, they were two of the three accountants reported to the ICA in the first place, so no surprises there then.

The local council, Kensington and Chelsea, in an unprecedented move, also instituted proceedings. Mr. N. Brydon from the Insolvency Service handled the case, and J. R. Sibley was listed as the official receiver. It may be—this is part of the complication of some of the companies that I am talking about—that PHKRA Ltd. was a subsidiary or owned by another company called Brimtal Ltd. A DTI inquiry into Brimtal Ltd. took place in 1993–94. Apparently, it had committed five breaches of company law, and its accounts had understated losses by £160,000. Peter Joyce, then the chief executive officer

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of the Insolvency Service, part of the DTI, failed to take any criminal proceedings against the directors. That is despite the fact that from 1981 to 1989 it appears that the company was treated as dormant, although in fact it was trading. It appears that no annual general meetings were held between 1981 and 1989, no accounts were distributed to shareholders, and information to Companies House apparently may have fallen outside the law of the day. A third company, Calfayre Ltd., owners of the 157-bed Holiday Inn hotel in Cromwell road, Kensington went into receivership with estimated debts of £20 million. The joint receivers were Alan Barrett and James Wilding of Price Waterhouse.

Let us move forward to 2000, when Accommodata Ltd. was incorporated on 16 February with an address of 5th floor, Regina house, 124 Finchley road, London NW3, registration No. 04663698, company No. 3926871. Other shareholders included Shallan Ltd. and Zareno Ltd., which are also wholly or partly owned by Nurdin and Nick Jivraj. The last accounts were registered on 31 December 2001, and the next accounts were due on 31 October 2003. As we know, Accommodata Ltd. appears to have purchased the Coniston hotel through Multinational Trading Ltd., then Heatherside Ltd., and then Munro Properties Ltd.

For my peace of mind, will the DTI, the FSA and the Serious Fraud Squad undertake an analysis of those companies, especially Buckingham International? Last Thursday's Financial Times ran a leader asking for an independent system of monitoring auditors. I wish that it had also asked for an independent system of monitoring liquidators. The Government need to look at preventing offshore companies registered in tax havens from owning residential properties in the UK. Alternatively, the rules governing those offshore companies' finances should be the same as ours. I could not access the Jivraj's accounts in the Isle of Man or Jersey because their financial rules and obligations hide the information. That cannot be right. The Tories may have sat on their hands for 18 years over that, but our people expect better from the Labour Government.

However much information I put into the public domain, my sense about NASS is that because Accommodata had already worked with it at centres in Leicester and Cardiff, it never undertook an original forensic due diligence examination of the company directors back when it was formed in February 2000. Therefore, when the Coniston was put up for another induction centre, it was already a done deal. I hope that the legal department at NASS is subject to a separate inquiry.

That is enough about NASS—let me turn to the Coniston itself. The Coniston is our only major hotel in Sittingbourne.

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