Public Interest Disclosure (Protection) Bill - The APPG comments.
The House of Commons facilitated the second reading of the Public interest Disclosure (Protection) Bill on 25th September 2020.
Presented to the House of Commons by Dr. Phillipa Whitford, MP with interventions from the APPG Chair Mary Robinson, MP and Kevin Hollinrake, MP.
Mary Robinson, MP commented:
"It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), whom I congratulate on not only securing the debate but on bringing forward a detailed and considered Bill that is an important and positive contribution to the growing consensus for reform of our whistleblowing legislation. Her in-depth knowledge of the healthcare sector enables her to speak with authority and passion on the subject, as was evident in her speech. I welcome the Bill, because it is right to push for reform. Indeed, dissatisfaction with the present situation among a wide range of groups, individuals and Members of Parliament across the political spectrum has grown into a clamour for reform.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for whistleblowing, I am pleased to work with the support of our secretariat, WhistleblowersUK, which shares that commitment to drive reform. The APPG has given its support to the Office of the Whistleblower Bill, which has been presented in the other place by Baroness Kramer. The whistleblowing charity Protect also continues to work towards reforming legislation. On the Government Benches, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who is a vice-chair of the APPG, has championed whistleblowers in the banking and financial sector. I also pay tribute to the Prime Minister’s anti-corruption champion, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), who spoke in the foreword to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s “Review into the risks of fraud and corruption in local government procurement” about the need to bake in a counter fraud and corruption culture from top to bottom of every Council, so whistleblowers know they will be supported rather than victimised”.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire for providing this opportunity to discuss the inadequacy of the law as it stands.
The current law, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, was at the time a trailblazing piece of legislation, growing out of employment rights and the drive for a fair relationship between employers, employees and workers. Sadly, as time has passed, PIDA has not lived up to its promise. The hon. Member is right to highlight its flaws.
For many potential whistleblowers, retaliation remains too great a threat to take the risk of speaking up. Evidence provided to the APPG suggests that, because of the grave personal consequences that whistleblowers can face, less than half of those who raise concerns follow them up. A survey last year by the APPG found that 78% of whistleblowers were subject to retaliation. Blacklisting also remains a problem. Some whistleblowers have withdrawn their cases to avoid their identity becoming public and jeopardising their future employability.
As the hon. Member said, the only recourse for an employee who faces retaliation, including unfair dismissal for whistleblowing, is through an employment tribunal, and only 3% are successful when they take their cases forward. Even after success, the compensation, which averages 28%, is often vastly exceed by the terrible financial and emotional cost of bringing a case. PIDA, sadly, is toothless and overly complex, and it lacks the backing it needs to be effective.
There is also an unacceptable lack of clarity about some simple questions. Who is a whistleblower and what counts as a whistleblowing? As long as that is unclear among businesses, institutions and even regulators, and as long as the law does not provide clear standards to follow nor ensure that those organisations understand their legal obligations to whistleblowers, those whistleblowers will not get the protection they need.
Changes over the last decade relating to prescribed persons have been welcome, but by now, three and a half years after the annual reporting requirement for prescribed persons was introduced, evidence shows that those changes have not provided sufficient protection for our whistleblowers. A 2015 report by the National Audit Office found that it was not clear what was expected of a prescribed person and that more could be done to explain their remit.
"I am grateful to the hon. Lady for pointing that out because that is exactly the case. I wonder how many MPs realise the requirements that the legislation places on them and whether they understand how best to fulfil them.
I want to think about those who have come forward and blown the whistle because they are the people we are talking about—ordinary, working people who first alerted us not only to issues in the national health service, but to furlough fraud during the pandemic, as they went to work knowing that their employers were also claiming moneys through the job retention scheme. Other workers have blown the whistle on failures to implement social distancing in the workplace and inadequate personal protective equipment provision. In doing so, they have helped protect people from exploitation and from exposure to the virus. Meanwhile, reports of the Chinese regime retaliating against whistleblowing doctors such as Li Wenliang, who raised the alarm about the virus in December, demonstrate more starkly than ever that failure to listen to whistleblowers costs a million lives and causes a global economic crisis.
In my view, every Department stands to benefit from reform. Whistleblowing has been and is vital to the Treasury’s efforts to combat financial fraud, the Home Office’s fight against modern slavery, the Department for Education’s attempts to root out malpractice, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s efforts to address procurement malpractice and fraud in local authorities and the wider public sector, as well as the uncovering of child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester and Rotherham.
I wish the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire every success. I hope that we can work together. In my view, working together on important legislation that will be robust and fit for purpose is what we all want. I urge the Minister to work with Departments to ensure that they are behind a Bill that could really make a difference to valuing whistleblowers and changing our practices."
Kevin Hollinrake, MP commented:
"I pledge my support on a cross-party basis, and I am delighted to associate my name with the Bill. The hon. Member talks about valuing whistleblowers. Does she agree that we should value them not only for the risk they take and the individual issues they raise, but for the wider cultural issues they raise within a system—particularly, as she says, in financial services—which allows this House to put the measures in place to clamp down on that adverse culture"
I will be brief, to let the Front-Bench spokespeople conclude. In the parliamentary briefing for this debate, there is a question posed to the Minister: do sufficient protections for whistleblowers already exist in current legislation? I hope his answer to that will be no. I hope that the Bill is successful today, but if not, it will be passed on a future occasion. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) and I are meeting the Minister on Monday to discuss this, because we need reform. The proper protections are not in place at the moment.
"I want to give one example, which I have spoken about before in this place, and that is the case of Sally Masterton. She was not a whistleblower. In 2013, she worked for HBOS, and she wrote a report about a fairly low-level fraud in the company. She was discredited by Lloyds to the regulator—it simply said that she was not a credible witness. The Financial Conduct Authority did not investigate. She was effectively suspended by Lloyds, through constructive dismissal. Five years later, the FCA decided that she actually was a cogent witness and said to Lloyds, “You need to do something about this. You need to compensate her and apologise,” which it did. The terrible fact about the case is that nobody at Lloyds or HBOS has been sanctioned for that disgraceful mistreatment of a whistleblower for five years. This was part of a disgraceful 13-year fraud of small and medium-sized enterprises within the bank, and still to this day that scandal has not been resolved."
" As I said in my earlier intervention, it is not just about the relatively small issues that the whistleblowers highlight. It is about the wider cultural issue. It shows the mismatch of power between the whistleblower, these big, powerful organisations and their customers, which we know we need to tackle, but we would not know that without people like Sally Masterton. I commend the hon. Lady for bringing forward this legislation. I hope she is successful; she will be sooner or later."
Please click here to see the full second reading of the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection) Bill, as proposed by Dr Phillipa Whitford Hansard.