Pre-employment protection of whistle-blowers

Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 15 December 2016.

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Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families) 2:45, 15 December 2016

I beg to move amendment 39, in clause 31, page 20, leave out line 4.

This amendment would retain reference to the Health Service in the Employment Rights Act 1996.

This brief amendment would retain reference to the health service in the Employment Rights Act 1996. Social workers and others in the sector have been pleased to see that whistleblowing arrangements have been included in the Bill, but we query why child protection and other children’s social workers employed by the health service have been omitted from the whistleblowing provisions, given how many there are. Why are children’s social workers employed in hospitals and other areas omitted? It would be a shame, especially in the wake of what we know of institutional abuse in certain hospitals, if such employees were not accorded the same whistleblower protections as their peers employed privately or by local authorities.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip

I apologise for my earlier error, Mrs Main.

The Scottish Government acknowledge and respect the need for whistleblowing and believe that procedures should be in place across the public and private sectors to support staff in raising any concerns in order to ensure that people can work in a safe and secure environment. Without whistleblowers, serious concerns may take longer to be noticed and rectified. Any proposals that strengthen whistleblowing procedures and help protect employees and service users across the public sector are welcome.

Robust whistleblowing procedures are in place across Scotland, including in our NHS, but the Scottish Government and the SNP support further reforms to protect and embed an honest and open reporting culture in which all staff have the confidence to speak up without fear and in the knowledge that any genuine concern will be treated seriously and investigated properly. All children and young people have the right to be cared for and protected from harm. The amendment will help with that and we support it.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education)

As we have heard, the clause provides the Secretary of State with the power to make regulations to prohibit relevant employers who carry out children’s social care functions from discriminating against those applying for roles in the children’s social care sector on the basis that it appears to the employer that the applicant has made a protected disclosure. This includes when the employer refuses the application or in some other way treats the applicant less favourably than it treats others for the same application. I am pleased that we were able to work so productively with Lord Wills in the other place over the summer to produce these important protections.

For the benefit of the hon. Member for South Shields, let me clarify that social workers employed in the NHS are already covered by the 2006 provisions and will be captured in the relevant regulations, with the consultation due in the new year. That is another consultation that I suspect she will want to keep a close eye on, and to which she might wish to contribute.

The Government are clear that those working with the most vulnerable must be able to report their concerns. They deserve effective protection when they make a protected disclosure. Workers with such concerns can already make a disclosure to their employer or the prescribed bodies for child protection and wellbeing social workers. We agreed with Lord Wills’ proposals that, in addition, we should protect those seeking employment with specified bodies in roles relating to local authorities’ children’s social care functions. We are delighted to have worked with him to produce a suitable amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 31 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 32