No firm involved in historical blacklisting should be given public contracts until they “demonstrate regret for their actions” by supporting a public inquiry into what went on, says MP Ellie Reeves.

They should also offer retraining to victims and demonstrating that its recruitment processes are transparent and fair says the Lewisham West and Penge MP and employment law barrister.

Her comments came during a one-hour debate on blacklisting. Responding to Chuka Umunna (Lab, Streatham) she said: “As my hon. Friend knows, this is an important issue to me as I represented blacklisted members of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians in the High Court.

“Does he agree that no firm involved in historical blacklisting should be given a public contract until it demonstrates regret for its actions by supporting a public inquiry, offering retraining to victims and demonstrating that its recruitment processes are transparent and fair?”

Agreeing, Mr Umunna commended her and the huge team of people who have worked on all the litigation we have seen in the High Court brought by a number of unions including UCATT— now part of Unite—whose HQ is in the constituency, and the GMB.

He had taken up the blacklisting issue originally as a constituency issue, having been alerted to the scandal by Unite.

“Those unions deserve huge credit for the efforts they put into uncovering exactly what went on and then getting redress, working with my hon. Friend and others in the courts.

“Those cases have been settled in the past two years and millions have been paid, but the fact remains that not one director of the firms who funded the Consulting Association has ever been properly brought to book, fined or subjected to any individual court sanction for the misery they visited on construction workers over the decades.

“In fact, we are behaving as if all has been forgiven. “Tears were apparently shed last month over the fact that we will not hear Big Ben’s bongs for several years.

“We should be far more concerned about the fact that Sir Robert McAlpine, a firm implicated in all of this, appears to have bagged a multi-million pound contract for the work that is to be carried out on Big Ben tower to fix those bongs.

“Let us be clear about the role that the company Sir Robert McAlpine played. “Cullum McAlpine, a director of Sir Robert McAlpine, was chairman of the Consulting Association when it was formed in 1993.

“Later, David Cochrane, the head of HR at that firm, succeeded him as chair of the association. During a hearing of the Scottish Affairs Committee’s inquiry into all of this in 2012, the late Ian Kerr, who died that year, admitted that his £5,000 fine for breaches of the Data Protection Act was met by Sir Robert McAlpine

“on the basis that I had put myself at the front and took the flak, if you like, for it all, so that they wouldn’t be drawn into all of this. They would remain hidden.”

“How, in the light of that, can we parliamentarians sit here and say to the victims—many of whom are watching the debate in the public gallery—“It is an outrage”, while we stand by as Sir Robert McAlpine is awarded the contract to do the work on the parliamentary estate?

“There must be consequences when those who bid for public contracts are found to be involved in such practices.

“Will the Minister explain why on earth, given its disgraceful role in blacklisting, we are giving Sir Robert McAlpine the contract to fix the bongs of Big Ben, which so many parliamentarians have shed tears over?

Responding, Margot James, Parliamentary under-secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) referring to a request by David Hanson  (Lab, Delyn) on behalf of one of his constituents, Alan Wainright, – “who is a victim of blacklisting, and was party to exposing it—he was a whistleblower. “He has submitted a file of evidence to the Minister’s office on the very point about the public inquiry.”

Mr Hanson had asked: “Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister should examine it seriously and in detail as part of the inquiry?”

Margot James replied: “I have indeed received correspondence from Mr Alan Wainwright. “I have looked at it briefly and will examine it thoroughly. “The right hon. Gentleman also asked me to look again at the situation with regard to the Shrewsbury 24, and I will write to him on that subject as well.

“The Government will continue to take a very close interest in this matter. “If the Information Commissioner finds any evidence of current blacklisting, perpetrators can expect to feel the full force of the law, and I am sure—to go back to the shadow Minister’s intervention—that that would have implications for contracting as well.

“In the meantime, in the absence of clear, strong and compelling evidence to the effect that blacklisting is widespread, we remain of the view that the blacklisting regulations, alongside the proposed changes to the data protection rules, are appropriate and robust tools— the increased fines and accountability are further disincentives—to counter this abhorrent and illegal practice.

“I urge all hon. Members to talk to their constituents who raise these matters with them and to the trade unionists in their constituency who have been affected, and to use the call for evidence as a means of exposing any current practice that might be continuing, so that we can eradicate this appalling abuse of people’s human rights at work once and for all.”

Mr Umunna, welcoming the minister’s saying that she will press the Information Commissioner to do the call for evidence this year, not next year.

“I also welcome her saying—if I heard her correctly—that the Government will consider taking into account whether people were or are involved in blacklisting in relation to public procurement decisions going forward.

“There are clearly good and bad sides to this industry. “I have seen some of the good sides in my constituency during the past couple of weeks while visiting big construction sites, on Streatham High Road and the Clapham Park estate, that will make a positive difference to my community.

“But this scandal exposes the ugly underbelly of the sector, which continues to go unaddressed.

“The Minister accepts that this practice is an outrage and has said that the Government take it seriously and are not complacent about it.

“I still fail to understand why she was not able to come here today and commit to a public inquiry. “I do not understand what the Government are so afraid of.

“If it exposes embarrassing things for people politically that happened in the past, so what? “Surely justice is the key here. “That is how we prove that this Parliament is relevant.

“For all the bad press that this place gets, and given how disillusioned people are with the political process, at least with this we can illustrate that we deliver the goods and care about people.

” So I ask the minister to please think again about doing a public inquiry. “Do not be scared; just announce that you are going to do it.”

  • Earlier in the debate Mr Umunna said that in July 2014 Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and VINCI plc, who were all involved in blacklisting and in funding the Consulting Association, established a compensation scheme for individual workers affected by blacklisting and made an apology of sorts for what happened.”However, their scheme was established unilaterally without agreement on the terms with the trade unions representing workers. “Other firms that were part of the hall of shame involved with the association such as the AMEC Group, Amey, BAM Construction, Morgan Sindall and Taylor Woodrow did not sign up to the scheme.”
    (Source: TheyWorkForYou website Blacklisting Westminster Hall  5th September 2017) Ellie Reeves has been asked to comment further by News From Crystal Palace.

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