Backbench Business - Whistleblowingbackbench Business

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:26 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons) 4:26 pm, 3rd July 2019

Shockingly, the BMA abandoned him, and that is a story in itself, which needs exploring further. Not just in the NHS but across the economy, people are often literally on their own, faced by expensive lawyers. I speak as a former employment lawyer and I know what happens in employment tribunals. They were intended as a layman’s court, but they are anything but that these days.

The third story I want to mention is that of my constituent Mark Wright, a successful financial planner at RBS. Things started to go wrong after he raised concerns about unacceptable practices in the bank—this was before the crash. On 17 September 2008, immediately after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, an intranet statement was put up in RBS saying that the group was “well capitalised”. That was clearly an attempt to reassure staff, including staff shareholders, customers and investors that the bank was secure. Of course when the bank crashed, those staff shareholders lost a fortune, and many, including my constituent, believe that they were badly misled by that intranet statement.

Mr Wright’s mental health was destroyed as a result of trying to challenge the bank, as was his career. He made a complaint to the Financial Conduct Authority, which reported his name back to the bank, for goodness’ sake. The FCA was later criticised by the Complaints Commissioner. I pursued his complaint with the FCA and it denied knowledge of the intranet statement repeatedly to me, yet an internal FCA email has emerged, after a subject access request to the Complaints Commissioner. It was dated 14 March 2014 and it said

“the intranet notice that Mr Wright refers to was online between 17 September 2008 and January 2009…
as staff used it to take reassurance that all was well which would tend to support Mr Wright’s allegations”.

That was an email within the FCA, yet we were never informed of that email or of that finding in that explosive document.

Clearly, the FCA has a copy of that intranet statement, yet it will not or cannot disclose it to us. The FCA says that the law does not allow it to do so. RBS, which is part state-owned, will not disclose it, yet clearly it is in the public interest that it should be disclosed. I believe I was misled by Andrew Bailey, the chief executive of the FCA, who told me, in effect, that Mark Wright’s allegations offered nothing that was not already in the public domain and he referred to an intranet statement by Fred Goodwin, which he said had been

“in the public domain for nearly 10 years”.

Yet the intranet statement has not ever been in the public domain. The Treasury Committee, which had looked into this, had never received a copy of it. So I was misled, and we have a regulator that is too close to the banks; that failed to protect Mr Wright’s disclosure or his identity; that, crucially appeared to fail to take the allegations about the misconduct of that bank seriously; and that cannot or will not put a crucial statement into the public domain. Let us just think about the damage caused by bankers in the run-up to the crash. Had we empowered people like Mark Wright to do the right thing, rather than destroyed them and ignored them, we might just have prevented the disgusting behaviour and greed of bankers, and we might now have seen some of those responsible for destroying our economy behind bars. As it happens, they have got away with it.

The fourth and final story is of foster carers throughout the country who are frightened to raise concerns about any behaviour from the council that they deal with. Of course, the council refers children into their care, so if a foster carer is concerned about the behaviour of a social worker and expresses concerns, that council can just stop the flow of children to them, and so their income stream—their ability to earn a living—disappears. This has a chilling effect on the willingness of any foster carer to speak out about child protection concerns, because they fear losing their livelihood.