Stephen Kerr has made a good and wide-ranging speech, and he is right that this is the start of the process, not the end of it: there is clearly a need for significant legislative reform. I thank Norman Lamb for getting this debate under way and for the consistency he has shown over a number of years in supporting those who blow the whistle, and indeed for how he set out today why there is a need for a fundamental review of the regulations. It has been clear for some time that we are simply not protecting people in the way I think we would all like to see.
We have had piecemeal reforms, often as a result of case law, which have given some notable advances in protection, but that has also left gaps and loopholes, and it still remains the case, as we have heard on a number of occasions today, that the best-run organisations with the most comprehensive policies in place can be very daunting places for someone to blow the whistle in, and it does not come without consequences.
I know from my own experience as an employment lawyer before I was elected to this place about the issues employees face across a range of sectors when they are brave enough to speak up. We must not underestimate how difficult that is and how brave people are when they decide to blow the whistle, because there are many examples of how people have suffered, with careers destroyed, and worse, as a result of sticking their head above the parapet. This can involve anything from being shunned by colleagues to being dismissed on spurious charges. There are a number of unfortunate consequences that can arise from blowing the whistle, so we really should support those who have the courage to do it. Sadly, the treatment that some people receive can continue even after they have left their employment. This is far from being the benign environment that we would like to see. We are having new laws in Ireland and Australia, and a new EU whistleblowing directive is coming in in 2021, so if we are to ensure that our workers’ rights at least keep pace with those in the EU, which is what the Government have committed to, we must begin to think about how we can strengthen workplace protections for whistleblowers.
I have spoken before about whistleblowing in the NHS and the importance of providing a workplace environment where NHS staff are able to raise concerns about things they are worried about. It should be an environment where there is no fear of repercussions or unfavourable treatment and where staff feel confident that action will be taken to resolve their concerns.