Part of Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 29th November 2022.
I think this is the last occasion I have to address the Committee, so I thank all Members for their contributions. We have had very constructive debates throughout the days that we have looked at the Bill. I thank the officials for all their work in these areas.
Not for the first time, I am very sympathetic to the new clause and to the previous one on failure to prevent. Nothing I have seen or heard since I started as a Minister only a few weeks ago has changed my mind on the things I have said in the House and other places about the need for whistleblower reform and failure to prevent reform. There is no conspiracy behind the scenes here. There is a difference between arguing against the principle of something and arguing against the provisions of something. That is where we probably differ a little.
As the hon. Member for Glasgow Central said, I have said before that 43% is the stat for the discovery of financial crime. In my experience, it is much higher than that—about 100%. Everything I have dealt with has been brought to the attention of authorities through whistleblowers, not least Ian Foxley, my constituent who was very important to the case on GPT Special Project Management Ltd that the right hon. Member for Barking referenced. He was the bloodhound in that case. We need those bloodhounds.
Since taking over as Minister with whistleblowing in my portfolio, I have asked officials to prioritise this review and to get it moving properly, and that is what we have committed to do. There are differences in where we go with it: do we do something to address the cases like Ian Foxley’s and the others the right hon. Lady references? Sally Masterton addressed those cases. Do we do something longer term and more complex? It is either low-hanging fruit or something more radical.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle has done fantastic work in this area. I am keen to engage with her and my hon. Friend John Penrose to make as much progress as we can as quickly as we can. Ian Foxley’s case is interesting because he was prevented from getting compensation. He was very successful in getting that case highlighted and the authorities successfully prosecuted it, but he was denied compensation because the PIDA rules on what it describes as an employee did not cover his particular category. That is a relatively easy issue to fix and something I want to look at.
The other part of the current legislation is around prescribed persons. There are 80 prescribed persons at the moment: people to whom others can make a protected disclosure. We are extending that this week when I introduce a statutory instrument on extending the number of prescribed persons to whom whistleblowers can go to seek assistance. Indeed, some of those prescribed persons are in this room. Members of Parliament are prescribed persons, as are some Ministers, but so too are our agencies. That is probably my biggest concern.
I took the case of Sally Masterton, who was key to highlighting the HBOS Reading scandal, which I have referred to many times in Parliament, to the Financial Conduct Authority. When I asked Andrew Bailey, who was then the chief executive of the FCA, whether he had followed his own whistleblowing procedures in relation to Sally Masterton, who was terribly mistreated by Lloyds Banking Group, he refused to answer the question because I was not a relevant person, under the relevant legislation. That is quite astounding, when it was Parliament that legislated to introduce the whistleblowing protections in the first place.
There are things that we need to do quickly that would address many of the problems, but we have done much. We have improved the guidance on what a prescribed person needs to do. We have a requirement on people to make public annual reports on what they have done in terms of whistleblowers, but I am keen to hold regulators’ feet to the fire in this area. I ask the right hon. Member for Barking not to pre-empt the review that I am urgently undertaking, because she knows how serious I am. I would like to bring forward effective reform very quickly, and to effect change more quickly. I fear that the new clause would delay the reform, when we can make progress by other means.