What characterises Whistleblowers is that they all recognise when something is wrong. It may only be a gut feel, an instinctive reaction, subtle feelings that something is just not right through to encountering raggedly more blatant behaviors. Generally, we all have a moral compass that guides us and provides direction that forms the moral backbone of our society. When something is wrong, we tend to just know it, to feel it, and to want somehow to fix it. These are all positive natural reactions, why would we not cherish and embrace these inherent qualities of people?
The words of HS2 Whistleblower Doug Thornton – who himself said he didn’t even know what a whistleblower was until he became one.
Indeed, for many of us we do not need to worry about this, until we are in the midst of it. And I would like to commend the Honourable Lady opposite, the member for Central Ayrshire, and colleagues across the House for continuing to ensure that others do understand the importance of protecting whistleblowers and ensuring they are not treated unfairly or negatively as a result.
The Public Interest Disclosure Act of 1998 does seek to do that. Its own passage through this House was also influenced by the plight of whistleblowers beyond its walls and again it was the persistence of members that secured its position on the statute books.
Richard Shepherd MP had in 1988 introduced his Protection of Official Information Bill, which was to replace parts of the Official Secrets Act 1911, with intent to provide limited protection to some whistleblowers. This first attempt was unsuccessful but following much interest in cases such as that of Graham Pink, a nurse and whistleblower at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport who worked on wards for elderly patients and his complaint about poor standards of care and insufficient staff lost him his job did lead to an amendment to the Employment Rights Act in the form of the Public Interest Disclosure Act of 1998, known as PIDA.
The Government have committed to reviewing the whistle blowing framework and I do hope that today’s debate will serve to expedite this review.
And whilst keen to see this review undertaken to ensure that whistleblowers are protected and can shine a light on practices that do need calling out, the Bill we are debating today would repeal the Public Interest Disclosure Act of 1998 which has to date enabled whistleblowers, to a certain extent, to speak out more safely.
Indeed the work of my honourable friend, the member for Cheadle, with the All Party Parliamentary Group proposes an alternative solution with the creation of a national Office for the Whistleblower to protect, advise and support whistleblowers by overseeing, co-ordinating, setting standards and holding to account the regulators and employers.
I hope today’s debate will highlight the issues around whistleblowing again and help raise awareness of and the benefits of reporting a wrongdoing – indeed in the midst of a global pandemic where there is wide acceptance that mistakes are unavoidable, being able to speak out safely about what has happened, may save lives as we unfortunately look at a probable second wave of the virus.
As Whistleblowers UK detail they seek change because crimes and wrong-doing go undetected and unpunished when people do not come forward to report them for fear of reprisals. Even when they are reported the original allegations are often ignored in favour of pursuing the whistleblower.
I hope today’s debate will shine a light back onto this and that the government review will be forthcoming.