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MP Backbench debate on whistleblowing – a summary of key points

A backbench debate led by MP Norman Lamb took place in the House of Commons (3 July 2019) to discuss whistleblowing, the current legal landscape and the urgent need for reform of the current whistleblowing legislation.  

Protect attended with Dr Chris Day, the NHS whistleblower whose case was heralded by MPs in the debate as an illustration of the need for reform. Read  more about Dr Day’s case here.

The debate was called by Rt. Hon. Norman Lamb MP and Stephen Kerr MP, who are both co-chairs of the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) on whistleblowing. Protect provided an in-depth briefing for MPs ahead of the debate that captured the key legal issues and why we are urging the UK Government to adopt elements of the EU Whistleblowing Directive, which will be introduced by 2021 by EU member state countries.

There was real cross party support and agreement around most topics including:

– imbalance of power:If the whistleblower is still employed then they are at risk of losing their job. If the whistleblower is no longer employed, they face the prospect of a tribunal case against an organisation which almost certainly has greater funds to pay for prestigious legal support; whereas the whistleblower who is unemployed simply cannot afford to risk spending any sum of money from a budget which they may have to live off for the foreseeable future. In addition, in the current legal procedure, the employee must prove that the reason they suffered was due to whistleblowing, rather than the employer showing that there were other reasons for the whistleblowers treatment.

– Regulators need to be held to account: Throughout the debate, reference was made to several whistleblowers who had been badly let down by their regulators. Often, this is due to confidentiality being breached, which Protect know is one of the worst  outcomes whistleblowers face. There is no unification of standards within regulation, and little ability for an individual to complain about bad treatment by a regulator – as the law is currently silent on the activity of regulators. An oversight body, an Office for the Whistleblower, was voiced as one mechanism which could address this gap.

– Victimization of whistleblowers cannot be tolerated: Kevin Hollinrake MP quoted an individual who said “If I knew then what I know, I would never have raised concerns.” MPs clearly felt that it was the role of regulators to sanction those who victimize whistleblowers, yet very few do this.

– The government must ensure that protection for whistleblowers in the UK is maintained at the highest possible standard: learning from other international systems; such as Australia, the EU and Ireland is vital in order for the UK to remain ‘the best place in the world to do business’.  The UK must have a competitive edge, ensuring the intelligence provided by whistleblowers is maximised. This may mean expanding the scope of the law, to cover facilitators of whistleblowing, and those in appointed or voluntary positions, rather than only in employment.

Read the debate in full from Hansard

By Protect Adviser Laura Fatah