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Whistleblowing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:15 pm on 5th April 2005.

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Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills 4:15 pm, 5th April 2005

In the few minutes that I have, I would like to add my sentiments to those expressed by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a great privilege and honour to follow Ross Cranston. His honesty, candour and sheer decency as a fellow representative of the west midlands will be sorely missed by members of all parties and of no parties in our region. His work on this subject has been of enormous importance.

I am not certain what the hon. and learned Gentleman meant when he spoke about the important position of the Minister after the election; I do not know whether it is an indication that he is retiring and seeking pastures new or whether, if my party is right, he is taking up a Front-Bench position in the Opposition.

Perhaps the greatest whistleblower that I have had the privilege to meet and know is the Japanese ambassador to Britain. He was a senior official in the Japanese Foreign Ministry, and he blew the whistle on his Foreign Minister. She was the daughter of a former Japanese Prime Minister and an enormously popular figure in Japan. The culture in Japan—a culture that prevails in much of the world—was that anyone who cites a wrong or brings it into the open is risking their job, and in the way of these things, he ended up in London in a distinguished post for a think-tank. However, the world rights itself sometimes, and, as I said, he is now Japan's ambassador to the United Kingdom.

The case that by his actions the now ambassador raised was important. Japanese public opinion came to understand that there was a deep wrong—a malaise in the Foreign Ministry that many thought was part of the signature of Japanese culture. His act—painful and difficult for him at the time, but by his honour necessary—helped change a climate of opinion in a Japan that wanted to modernise. I would like to think that senior officials in Government Departments would occasionally speak up here, but that takes me beyond the brief.

What is important is the recognition of good governance and of the fact that there is a public interest in a wider circle of people understanding the ethical basis on which Government, the administration of great companies and the actions in little businesses all help to elevate the standard of and belief in propriety across the nation. That is why people such as the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North and my colleague and neighbour Tony Wright have laboured long to bring about the legislation. It is a merit that the Government supported the measure and introduced it, allied with the other great measure that complements and reinforces it: freedom of information. I hate the word "empowerment", but these measures lift a society. We are equal citizens, and we believe in an ethical, good and just society. That is the principle behind the work.

In the natural British way, we look to institutions. We have the distinguished work, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred, of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The recommendations are clear and worth while.

Part of the difficulty that I have encountered over recent years is the tenacity with which the Department of Trade and Industry views the measure as merely an employment measure. That is limiting and gives rise to suspicions in people's minds. The principle behind the Act, which, as I said, was supported by the Government, was to raise a standard, not to be a backstop for compensation for a wrong. People that have suffered a wrong must be entitled to some form of compensation, but we have moved on to different ground and, therefore, I want to reinforce the structural point that the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North made. As in Japan, the matter should be right at the heart of Government. The responsibility would sit better with the Cabinet Office than the DTI.

If we are to tackle these areas of difficulty in public and private life—private individuals are affected as well, and the Shipman report echoes this message—the Minister should endorse the proposals and recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and argue within Government that this is the instrument by which they can effect the purposes behind the Act.