FIRST Minister Alex Salmond was involved in talks with the Treasury about putting Rangers into administration ahead of the club doing it itself.
The revelation emerged in a debate in the House of Commons on the beleaguered Old Firm club where Labour MP Thomas Docherty accused Rangers’ disgraced majority shareholder Craig Whyte of being “a liar”.
Docherty, the MP for Dunfermline and West Fife and a Pars supporter, also said that the decision by the administrators to withhold ticket money due to Dunfermline Athletic and Dundee United was “nothing short of theft”.
He also reminded MPs that Hearts are owed £1 million in transfer money from Rangers and said there are other clubs waiting for money.
The debate in Westminster Hall only featured two Scottish MPs – Docherty and SNP Perth MP Pete Wishart – with all seven Glasgow MPs absent.
Docherty suggested that his colleagues were afraid to speak on the subject because feelings on it are running high. But he pressed Treasury minister David Gauke to explain what involvement the Scottish Government had in the process.
And Gauke admitted that Salmond discussed with HMRC putting the club into administration. He said: “Let me say this, ministers were kept informed of significant developments such as the timing of court proceedings. HMRC did not take or seek advice from ministers on how to handle matters which were entirely within HMRC’s responsibility.
“Equally, with regard to the Scottish Government there were discussions with HMRC to inform the Scottish ministers there were issues.
“At his request, HMRC explained to the First Minister their general policy for customers that were having problems paying their tax debt and gave him an idea of the likely timescale of HMRC initiating administration proceedings if tax debts were not paid.”
A spokesperson for Salmond said: “The HMRC tribunal over the tax dispute reconvened last November, and the issue has been in the public domain for a very long time.
“The First Minister has had one discussion with HMRC on the issue – a phone call on 11 January. As the First Minister has already made clear in an interview broadcast two weeks ago, the discussion centred on securing a settlement to enable Rangers to meet their obligations to the taxpayer and continue in business.”
During the debate, Docherty and other MPs called for an overhaul of the way clubs are run. He said: “I hope that the Treasury is looking at ways to ensure that the fit and proper person test does not just mean that you don’t get liars like Mr Whyte in charge of clubs but that club finances going forward are something that we can all have some comfort in.”
Docherty hit out at the management of Rangers under owner Whyte, and claimed the club had not paid PAYE or VAT to HMRC since May last year. He also told MPs two clubs were owed ticket money by Rangers.
Docherty said: “The TV deal in Scotland is worth approximately 1 per cent of the deal south of the Border. The annual wage of a Dunfermline player is less than the weekly salary of a Manchester City, Chelsea or Manchester United squad player. The recent events at Rangers FC cannot be seen in isolation.”
Docherty described the ticketing debts owed by Rangers to United and Dunfermline as “simply disgraceful”. He said: “This money does not and never has belonged to Rangers. It’s not only morally wrong, to hold it is nothing short of theft.”
And Docherty said it was known money was also owed to other clubs, including Hearts. So he asked the minister: “I would like HMRC to proactively contact the other 11 clubs to establish what liabilities they have as a result of Rangers going into administration. I believe it is right and proper all 12 clubs should meet by the end of the season their obligations to the taxpayer. But they need to be given space to sort out the mess caused by Craig Whyte.”
SNP MP Wishart said he was disappointed at the thin attendance for the debate, which saw only two backbench speeches other than that of Docherty.
He added: “We get so few opportunities to discuss Scottish issues yet not one of my colleagues could be bothered to turn up. I think that’s a disgrace and says a lot about my Scottish colleagues.”
Wishart told the debate it would be “inconceivable” for Scottish football to exist without Rangers. And he added: “Others are experiencing some real difficulties and pressure.”