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18 Dec 2007 : Column 788

I have already breached my promise; I do not want to renege on promises I have made. All I can say is: let us have that debate on a Monday morning, get it off our chests and give the Government an opportunity to say, “It is not right—surely it cannot be right.” Happy Christmas, Madam Deputy Speaker.

4.37 pm

Jon Cruddas (Dagenham) (Lab): I will try to follow that. In fact, I want to discuss the issue of financial irregularities, which the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) touched on, too, but in a slightly different way.

I want to use this debate to make a number of points regarding the apparent illegal activity and financial irregularities in the internal operations of the British National party. The BNP claims to be a mature political party—some within it argue that it is the fourth national political party—yet the allegations that have come to light over the past few days directly contradict such claims and need to be thoroughly investigated.

For that reason, I wrote last week to the police to request an investigation into claims of illegal spying in the BNP. Today, I have received a 20-page dossier entitled, “Financial Irregularities in the British National Party: An Investigation by Searchlight Information Services”, which I will in turn send to both the police and the Electoral Commission following my speech here today.

Today, the far right British National party is engulfed in a political crisis that threatens to tear it apart. On 9 December, the party leadership sacked two of its senior officers amid claims of gross misconduct after they were found to be behind a blog that criticised fellow BNP officials. As a consequence, more than 58 BNP organisers and regional officials have resigned their positions and eight councillors have declined the party whip and become independent nationalist councillors in a show of support for their two sacked colleagues.

Although, like everyone in this House, I welcome those divisions, I would like to highlight some particularly unsavoury aspects to that feud which are unbefitting to any legitimate political party. I believe that much of the behaviour of the BNP leadership is illegal. I am particularly concerned about the following allegations. The first is that the BNP has posted on its website a recording and transcript of a private conversation between the two people who were subsequently sacked. It is the belief of the people concerned that their house, phone or computer has been bugged. In two meetings over the past week—in the north-west last Wednesday and in Leicester on Saturday—BNP leader Nick Griffin is believed to have admitted to some device being used and insisted that he would not hesitate to use such devices and methods in future. The BNP has boasted that this information was gleaned by its intelligence department. This House might be interested to note that this intelligence department consists of former police officers from apartheid South Africa. Some of these men have been linked with the apartheid regime's intelligence services.

Secondly, on Saturday 8 December, members of the BNP's security division, under instructions from leader Nick Griffin, entered the house of Sadie Graham in the east midlands by deception. A second security team attempted to gain entry to the home of Kenny Smith in Scotland, but were unsuccessful.

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Thirdly, property belonging to Sadie Graham—including her personal computer, bought for her by her father—was removed without consent. This is nothing short of burglary.

Fourthly, the BNP leadership has subsequently been trawling through Sadie Graham's computer and, on Tuesday 11 December, Simon Darby, the deputy leader of the BNP, posted an e-mail found on her computer on his blog. The content of this e-mail was subsequently referred to in an article by Nick Griffin that was posted on the main BNP website. That implies that the BNP leader has been privy to a criminal act.

Fifthly, e-mails sent to Sadie Graham between Saturday 8 December and 10.15 am on Monday 10 December have also been opened and read by the BNP leadership. That, in turn, is a clear breach of the Data Protection Act.

Sixthly, Sadie Graham is a councillor on Broxtowe borough council and much of her council work, including correspondence from constituents, was on the computer. Not only is that again a breach of the Data Protection Act, it puts her constituents at risk and has prevented her from carrying out her duties as an elected councillor.

Briefly, I wish to turn to the issue of financial irregularities. The feud in the BNP is a clash of personalities and competence rather than politics and much of it relates to allegations of financial mismanagement by the BNP's treasury team. I have mentioned that I have a copy of a report prepared by Searchlight Information Services into the financial irregularities in the British National party. Today I wish to put the contents of the report into the public domain. It is this unpublished dossier that I will send to both the police and Electoral Commission. I would like to take a few minutes to outline some of the serious issues that the report raises. Time permits only a brief rehearsal of some of the many points included in the dossier.

First, the BNP's 2006 accounts have still not been submitted to the Electoral Commission, more than five months, so far, after the due date. The BNP's excuses for the delay do not stand up to scrutiny and the long delay suggests that irregularities have occurred.

Secondly, the BNP has blamed one of the expelled individuals for up to £17,000 that has not been accounted for. Whether or not that individual carries any blame in the matter is not the point; it is clear that substantial party funds are unaccounted for.

Thirdly, another former national officer resigned recently, laying various serious charges of incompetence against the BNP's treasurer, and especially against its deputy treasurer, who is responsible for the funds of local branches and groups.

Fourthly, the BNP failed to report a donation of £5,315 in the period from 1 July 2007 to 30 September 2007 in contravention of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Act 2000.

Fifthly, BNP financial records were shredded at the home of the party's former national treasurer in 2004.

Sixthly, the BNP has solicited donations from overseas to an organisation by the name of Civil Liberty, which Searchlight considers is merely a front organisation set
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up to circumvent the prohibition on donations to political parties from individuals who are not registered to vote in the UK.

Seventhly, before the prohibition of overseas donations introduced by the 2000 Act, the BNP raised money in the USA by a method that contravened US law.

Eighthly, there are allegations that Nick Griffin, the chairman of the BNP, has personally brought US donations into the UK in cash.

Ninthly, the BNP attempted to earn insurance commission by means of an insurance entity that was not authorised by the Financial Services Authority, and there were serious doubts whether the activity was exempt from the requirement for authorisation.

Tenthly, there is evidence that the BNP financed its insolvent position in 2006 by a failure to pay sums owed to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in respect of pay-as-you-earn and VAT.

Eleventhly, there is evidence in the document that the BNP is not accounting for income tax and national insurance contributions under PAYE in respect of workers by incorrectly treating workers as self-employed, which also deprives those workers of employment rights; the failure appears to be long standing.

Twelfthly, there are allegations that the BNP has paid workers in cash to avoid tax and national insurance contributions and to enable them to claim state benefits.

Thirteenthly, the BNP reassured its auditors that it would continue in existence because of the availability of funds in its so-called regional accounting unit, but it is doubtful that the BNP had any legal recourse to those funds.

Fourteenthly, there is no evidence that the BNP has accounted for corporation tax on profits on its own commercial activities.

Fifteenthly, the BNP omitted to prepare any accounts for the period 1 October 2001 to 31 December 2001.

Finally, the BNP claims to have spent at least £70,000 on printing equipment in 2005 alone, but no such expenditure is shown in the accounts.

In short, what is being uncovered in the internal workings of the BNP appears to be systematic illegality in data protection, bugging, money laundering, theft and the operation of the 2000 Act. That demands a thorough investigation. This is not the behaviour of a legitimate political party, and I very much hope that the police and the Electoral Commission will investigate the charges. The most shocking aspect is that it is being orchestrated by the leader of a political party. The BNP leadership, and Nick Griffin in particular, are showing us their true colours.

4.46 pm

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): It is a pleasure, Madam Deputy Speaker, to have caught your eye and to have an opportunity to raise a few constituency matters.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the birth of the new city of Milton Keynes. We have had a tremendous year of celebrations, culminating some two weeks ago in the visit of Her Majesty the Queen, during which she opened the magnificent new MK Dons stadium, which
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is a tribute to the hard work of the Winkelman family. Let me start, however, by paying tribute to John Moffoot, the unsung hero at Milton Keynes council, who organised that visit.

Milton Keynes faces many challenges, but the majority of them seem to stem from the Government’s desire to force the expansion of the city on its residents. Personally, I have no great problem with the expansion of Milton Keynes; however, I strongly feel that it should be a local decision. For a community to be truly sustainable, it must have the support of local people, and much of the expansion does not. Scant lip service has been paid to the views of local people by the unelected and unaccountable quango, Milton Keynes Partnership, in imposing its will. I have been campaigning for four years now for “I before E”—infrastructure before expansion. If we are to expand in Milton Keynes, it is vital that we provide the infrastructure first. Many of the comments I shall make today are based on the premise that, unfortunately, the Government are simply not providing that infrastructure.

I start on the subject of schools and the desperate news that has been given to Milton Keynes in recent weeks that the Government will massively cut our basic needs allocation for building new schools. That allocation is very much a basic need: it is for the provision of new schools. The cut will result in a shortfall of some £64.5 million over the next three years for our new schools. Already we have identified that we need 15 new schools over the next few years to accommodate the increase in pupil numbers that the expansion will bring. That is one new primary school every year. Let us take as an example Gifford Park, a primary school in my constituency that knows that locally it will have 476 new dwellings, yet because of the cut it will probably not get an extension.

We will also need five new secondary schools over the next few years to accommodate the increase in pupil numbers. Oakgrove is a marvellous new school in Middleton in my constituency. It has already had two phases of extension and is waiting for the third. However, it now has no idea whether it will get the money to extend.

I wonder whether the Minister can offer any advice to my constituents: given that the funding has been cut—some £64.5 million—where exactly does she suggest that my parents send their schoolchildren? At best, we will see kids bussed around Milton Keynes, as we have seen for several years previously. What exactly are we going to do—and what exactly are the Government going to do to make sure that there is no such shortfall?

I turn to another theme affecting my constituency, and in doing so I want to add a few points to those made in early-day motion 317, on the Open university, which is in my name and has been signed by some 210 Members of this House. There are many flourishing businesses in my constituency bringing employment to the area, but one stands out for the scale, quality and uniqueness of its contribution. One of the first coups of the founding fathers of the new town of Milton Keynes was to secure a very special university within its boundaries.

Milton Keynes attracted the fledgling Open university to occupy a major site near the village. Many felt that this revolutionary institution, which harnessed technology to deliver higher education at a distance, simply would not survive. They did not believe that it was possible to
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enable students to study in their own time, away from the life of a traditional campus, and to graduate on equal terms with students from the best traditional universities. To borrow a cliché, the rest, of course, is history.

I am happy to say that some 38 years later, the Open university is not only one of Milton Keynes’s biggest success stories, with more than 200,000 students studying every year. It is one of the UK’s best success stories and is emulated worldwide—for example, in the middle east, where its staff helped to set up, and provided the teaching materials for, the Arab OU, which already has 30,000 students. Recently, the Open university has started talking to the Government of China about exploring the benefits of collaboration on open and distance learning in order to meet the huge growth in demand for higher education that China’s economy requires.

In Milton Keynes, the OU has played a major role in helping to develop the cultural, scientific and social life of the area. It is an exemplary citizen—a founder member of the Community Foundation, and of the local theatre and art gallery. More than 400 of its staff still serve on school governing bodies or work as volunteers in community organisations and local charities. From next January, the whole university will be involved in fundraising events for the Prince’s Trust.

The OU runs a microwave link to local schools in Milton Keynes, enabling them to access a wider curriculum and to link with schools all over the world. It has supported dozens of local schools in setting up and running their own local history projects, in order to give parents the chance to acquire IT skills alongside their children. It has supported Bletchley Park in preserving its computers and cryptographic history, and in making it accessible to the world.

Far beyond Milton Keynes, the Open university has served as a beacon in bringing education to ever-greater numbers of people. It led the world in harnessing the widest possible range of assistive technologies to enable people with disabilities to study on an equal platform with their peers. From its earliest experiments using the latest technology to take education right into people’s lives via their TV sets, it has continued to pioneer ways of reaching ever more people in ever more places using the full power of the digital age.

Let me give just a couple of examples. In 2007, the OU’s audience includes new migrants in London developing language skills, alongside studying for OU qualifications in health and social care; naval pilots studying for an OU foundation degree in military aviation, alongside their flying training; and upwards of 125,000 teachers in Uganda, Sudan and Nigeria, who are using the OU’s learning materials. The OU has rightly been the recipient of a Queen’s award for export achievement.

One of the biggest challenges facing the UK economy is addressing the IT skills gap. That is not just because the IT sector is booming, but because all business areas are now leveraging competitive advantage by adding value through IT. More than 70,000 of the jobs advertised in the UK now have an IT component, and the only way to address the gap between the supply of, and demand for, people with appropriate IT and business skills is to upskill and reskill those already in work. The OU is a major contributor in this arena nationally, allowing people to dip in and update their IT and business skills
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in line with their job requirements, without the need physically to attend a classroom. Every year, more than 30,000 computing, IT and business course places are taken up by part-time OU students.

The Open university is also a centre for space and other such research. Technology developed for space missions could soon be exploited to provide a cost-effective, rapid and accurate tool for diagnosing tuberculosis. In sub-Saharan Africa, TB, combined with AIDS, is the major killer. The OU is exploring using that same technology to identify the signature of the TB bacterium, and to provide accurate and rapid diagnosis of TB without the need for a specialist laboratory.

The Open university has achieved all that without any compromise on quality. Since the introduction of the teaching quality index in 2005, the OU has topped the overall student satisfaction ratings three times in a row. Under the previous system, it was in the top 5 per cent. of universities for teaching quality. It is a truly remarkable institution and a great British success.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a strong and spirited case for the Open university. He mentions the early-day motion that he wisely tabled, which has been signed by hon. Members from all parties—this is not a partisan issue. It criticises the Government’s decision to stop funding for second degrees and subsequent qualifications. Is that evidence of the fact either that the Government have either misdirected their policy or that it is incoherent, given that they say that they want to broaden access, and to upskill and reskill in the way that he describes?

Mr. Lancaster: Absolutely, and it is indeed strange that the Open university should have been one of the principal victims of a decision taken without consultation either in the sector or with business.

As my hon. Friend says, the decision was taken to remove funding for those studying for courses that are part of equivalent or lower qualifications—precisely those courses needed by the economy, as workers have a higher need to keep reskilling. These men and women who are sacrificing their time to re-educate themselves, in conformity with the Prime Minister’s stated aim of lifelong learning—he used to be an Open university tutor—and who mostly remain in work, paying taxes and supporting our economy, are to be treated less favourably than other students. For many, their employer will not make up the lost funding, and for those who are trying to break away from their present career or profession, their employer will not provide any support.

These men and women, who entered university straight from school but who, in mid life, have been out of the workplace for a number of years as parents bringing up the next generation or as carers looking after relatives, are to be denied the chance to find their feet again and to re-equip themselves for the changing world of work by going back to university to study.

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