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

I am conscious that I am trying the patience of the Deputy Speaker, and I need to get to the conclusion of my remarks.

The brilliant organisation Protect highlights the fact that a number of laws, such as in the utility sector, make it an offence to disclose certain information and include no public interest defence exceptions for whistleblowing. Even if there is awful wrongdoing, the person is prevented from speaking out, because they would commit a criminal offence. That surely has to change.

The brutal truth is that brave people who do society a service by exposing wrongdoing are not adequately protected, and many have no protection at all. After Gosport, I met the Prime Minister and made the case for reform. I explained to her that these are life or death situations in many cases. I have heard nothing from the Prime Minister at all since then, and that was last summer. It is time for a fundamental review by the Government and for new legislation. Such a review needs to listen to all the interested parties—to the all-party group on whistleblowing, to Protect and to Compassion in Care, which has set out proposals as part of what it calls Edna’s law. All must be involved, and we must look at international best practice.

The all-party group has a report due out soon. It follows a comprehensive survey, which included getting the views of very many people who have tried to whistleblow, and it will offer vital evidence to the Government. It will propose an office for the whistleblower, which could be of extremely powerful value in supporting people and would be a centre of excellence, providing guidelines to employers, monitoring activities and providing support, advice and training to members of the public, public institutions, private sector bodies and so on. It is a very important proposal.

I want a commitment from the Minister to undertake a thorough review, because it is long overdue. I also want a commitment to ensure that if the UK leaves the EU, it will at least meet the standards of the proposed new EU directive and preferably go much further. The UK was a pioneer, but the legislation is flawed and inadequate. New legislation to deliver high standards of governance in the public and private sectors is long overdue. We need safe space for brave people to do the right thing; effective mechanisms to hold people to account for wrongdoing that is uncovered, including potential criminal sanctions; and effective compensation and support for those who suffer as a result of speaking out.