It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow Anneliese Dodds. I congratulate Norman Lamb, who set the scene, and I thank the hon. Members for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) and for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) for making such valuable contributions, as others have previously and will afterwards. The members of the all-party group have been engaging on this subject and are to be congratulated on sustaining their interest and on their efforts today.
Like the hon. Member for Oxford East, I would not be happy to make known all the cases I have been involved in over the years, because of the individuals and organisations in Northern Ireland that were involved. I know of cases involving the health service, the council, sometimes the police and sometimes other organisations, but I shall not go into any of the details, because that would inhibit the people who came to me. I am always clear about the confidentiality of those conversations.
I wish to dwell on one case, because it has dragged on for so long. When I describe the case, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton will know it and the person involved, because he is indirectly involved in the case or has knowledge of the person. First, though, let me say that a review of the 20-year-old PIDA is welcome and necessary to ensure that the UK remains the best place in the world to do business. Piecemeal reforms, often as a result of individuals bringing claims, have extended the scope of who is protected, but unfortunately there remain gaps and inconsistencies. The Government recently committed to ensure that workers’ rights keep pace with those in the EU, whatever the Brexit outcome. This is an opportunity to reiterate the commitment to ensure that worker protection does not fall behind in the coming years.
I feel that I can say all that for a few reasons. In my constituency, I had a constituent who was engaged in what was at the time the longest-running employment tribunal case. It ran from 2007 to 2012 and involved 50-plus tribunal days. It was an absolute endurance test for my constituent and led to his substantive mental health problems and a complete physical and emotional breakdown. My parliamentary aide and I supported the employment tribunal process for some 18 months while he recovered. We helped that gentleman and his family. Sometimes, we need to be aware not only of the impact on the individual who does the whistleblowing, but the financial, emotional and mental impact on the family, too. It is clear that what that gentleman went through was horrendous.
In the end, the employment tribunal found that my constituent had made 12 protected disclosures involving going concern matters for the UK company and intangible asset valuations that could not be justified. Does that sound familiar? We had Carillion and BHS in 2018 and 2019. If people learned their lesson, wouldn’t that be great? But people do not learn their lesson, because these things seem to happen over and over again, as has been explained here today.
I make that point because, during those 18 months, my constituent and I engaged on occasion with the FRC on an investigation into his disclosures. The investigations by the FRC and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales were lamentable. In fact, in response to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee audit inquiry, the FRC’s chief executive officer recently refused to disclose what whistleblowing investigations had been undertaken in the last 10 years.
In 2011 and 2012, the predecessor of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy had a consultation on the Sharman inquiry on going concern, which started in late 2011, to which I made an extensive contribution.
The 30-plus responses have all been removed from the FRC website. Eight years on, we have another BEIS/FRC consultation on going concern. Will this accounting profession ever get things right? Concurrently, in November 2011, the then Department issued a consultation on the reform of the FRC.
“The issues we investigated do not warrant us taking any enforcement action, either against the firm or against individuals.”
How disappointing. It continued:
Last month, eight years later, we had a further report from the FSA’s successor, the Financial Conduct Authority. Disappointingly, it essentially concluded the same.