Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
Thank you, Mr Walker. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) on giving a very vivid account of blacklisting in this country.
I have argued since the general election that in this House of minorities, there is potential for this Parliament to be called the justice Parliament. That is by ensuring there are inquiries to deal with the Shrewsbury conspiracy, the wrongful conviction of miners during the miners’ strike and this issue of blacklisting, as well as for those caught up in contaminated blood. While there is now an inquiry into contaminated blood, which I welcome very much, I support the efforts of the hon. Member for Streatham and others to have a public inquiry on blacklisting.
Blacklisting is covered in a fantastic film called “The Happy Lands”, which is based in Fife. The historical context is the general strike there, and in that film blacklisting is revealed. It is difficult to comprehend the extent of blacklisting in this country, thanks to the levels of denial and secrecy surrounding this odious practice, but what is not difficult to understand is the dreadful effect that blacklisting has on people’s lives and the suffering of not just the workers targeted for their trade union activity but their family members as well. Denial of the most basic of human rights—the right to work and provide for your family—by the same companies that have grown rich on lucrative public sector contracts is a shameful act and an abuse of power.
Make no mistake: blacklisting is a deliberate decision taken by company directors and managers who are in the business of maximising profits for shareholders by punishing those who seek to stand up for their rights and the health and safety of their fellow workers. The account given by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) of his personal circumstances is commonplace in the construction industry, where people turn up for work and within a day or two are told that there is no longer a position for them, because companies have been looking at the blacklist.
The Scottish National party is clear that blacklisting in any form is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Despite employment law being a reserved matter—which is unfortunate, given the consensus in Scotland that it should be devolved—the Scottish Government have introduced legislation: the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2015 and the Procurement (Scotland) Regulations 2016, which came into effect in April last year. Those changes will ensure that any company in Scotland found to be involved in the practice of blacklisting will be excluded from bidding for public sector contracts. The general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, Grahame Smith, has welcomed that action and said that any company applying for new public contracts where blacklisting has taken place in the past must make an apology to the affected workers, issue a statement on future conduct and prove compliance with any tribunal ruling made against it in relation to blacklisting.
I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Streatham about the delays to 2018, flagged up by Unite the union. That is more pathetic, Brexit-induced stalling, and yet another kick in the teeth to those who want not just justice for past wrongs but security for present and future workers.
Some of the context for the move towards greater transparency has come through action through the High Court. In an attempt to body-swerve liability, a number of construction companies attempted to almost name and shame themselves, including Laing O’Rourke, Costain, Kier and Sir Robert McAlpine, which I will come on to later. Let us make a mental note of the last company named there. One of its directors, Cullum McAlpine, who has already been mentioned, was interviewed under oath by the Scottish Affairs Committee when it conducted its inquiry into blacklisting. As an important aside, I hope that the Scottish Affairs Committee now goes back to that inquiry, which was chaired by my predecessor, Ian Davidson. The three interim reports all made clear that there is a case for a full public inquiry, which is essential if we are ever to expose the true extent of the practice and take measures to stop it.
I return to Sir Robert McAlpine, which was a founding member of the Consulting Association. Cullum McAlpine refused to answer many of the questions put to him by the Scottish Affairs Committee members and relied heavily on his lawyer for advice throughout the session. Despite that, he was forced to admit that the company had used the blacklist to vet workers on the Olympic stadium. In the light of that, it is most shocking, as the hon. Member for Streatham rightly said, that the company has been awarded a £20 million contract to refurbish Big Ben—one of the most iconic buildings in the country, symbolising the seat of power and London as a global destination.
I am calling today for McAlpine to be stripped of that contract. It is an absolute disgrace and scandal that it was awarded the contract in the first place and that none of the actions taken in Scotland are happening here in Westminster. The Government should look at what the devolved Administrations have done about companies in the public sector that have engaged in blacklisting. It signals bad faith that one of the main perpetrators of this conspiracy—and blacklisting is a conspiracy—is accessing public money to boost its profits.
I support the hon. Member for Streatham in relation to a public inquiry. I hope that the Government will announce a public inquiry into blacklisting, because there are many, many unanswered questions. I congratulate him once again and all those who have spoken so far. They have the support of the SNP for a public inquiry into blacklisting.