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Whistleblowing Framework

Volume 830: debated on Tuesday 16 May 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether the whistleblowing framework will include an assessment of the desirability of setting up an independent Office of the Whistleblower to deliver its objectives.

My Lords, the Government recognise how valuable it is that whistleblowers are prepared to shine a light on wrongdoing and believe that they should be able to do so without fear of recriminations. The Government launched a review of the whistleblowing framework on 27 March this year. This will examine the effectiveness of the existing framework in meeting its intended objectives, which are to enable workers to come forward and speak up about wrongdoing and to protect those who do so against detriment and dismissal. The review will provide an up-to-date evidence base on whistleblowing.

My Lords, the APPG for Whistleblowing, many Members of both Houses, scores of whistleblowers, significant legal counsel involved with whistleblowing, and even regulators in their evidence to the APPG have called for an office of the whistleblower. Will this review give full consideration to such an office —yes or no? If not, why not?

My Lords, the review will gather and examine evidence on the effectiveness of the GB whistleblowing framework in meeting its objectives. The framework was introduced way back in 1996, updated in 1998 and appended to since. I do not believe that an office of the whistleblower is part of this review. Having said that, once the review has been completed and has reported, that is clearly something that should be considered.

My Lords, while I appreciate my noble friend’s sentiments and objectives, do we really have to prostitute the English language in order to achieve them?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his letter yesterday to those of us who spoke in the debate on the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, on this very issue on day 6 of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill Grand Committee. It deals particularly with data reporting. That is very helpful, although it shows that the regulators implement this patchily, inconsistently and, arguably, uselessly. So is it too late for the terms of reference of the review to be revised specifically to include an office of the whistleblower but, more particularly, to look at whether we could financially reward whistleblowers for information? That has generated a dramatically better climate for whistleblowing in the United States of America. Could we also look at our experience from the pandemic? Given the poor recovery rate for the public funds misspent on PPE, surely this is worth trying.

The noble Lord has asked a lot of questions. The regulators and the level of consistency in reporting are absolutely part of the brief. The review is not currently structured to look at the question of a department of the whistleblower but, as I said in my Answer, I believe that that may well be a recommendation that comes out of it. I am afraid I cannot remember what the other question was.

My Lords, maybe I can help the Minister out on this point by following on from the question from the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and asking what consideration has been given to replicating what is done in the United States in offering financial incentives? Different levels of compensation are paid out commensurate with the quality of information on economic crimes and for the strengthening of sanctioning regimes overall.

My Lords, at the moment the Government do not think that financial incentives to whistleblow are an appropriate way to take this review or any future interest forward.

I congratulate the Government on having a review of whistleblowing, which clearly is long overdue. I thank my noble friend for his letter and engagement with us on the whistleblowing issue in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, but does he consider that there is adequate protection in the current framework against career detriment and dismissal for whistleblowers? Does he not think that those who are working inside firms are best placed to blow the whistle and uncover crimes before any regulator tries to sweep up the mess afterwards? Therefore, looking at examples overseas, such as in America, that seem to work much better than here might be worth considering.

My Lords, I think I have answered the question about the American system. Having said that, we will of course look at what is current practice and best practice overseas to see how we can take this whole process forward. Surely what we are trying to do is to come up with a world-class whistleblowing framework and structure that protects workers who come forward and risk their employment and, to some extent, their financial future in calling out this potential fraud.

My Lords, my direct experience of whistleblowers is that doing that actually devastates their life, their income and their circle of friends. They have a very tough time, particularly if they come from the police or the military. I am slightly concerned that the Minister almost seemed to rule out an office of the whistleblower, because it would be wrong to have a consultation and not look at all the options. It seems to me that we need something very drastic, because the current legislation is no protection at all.

My Lords, I quite agree that taking any form of case to an employment tribunal is risky and difficult for the individuals involved, and it is no less so in a whistleblowing case. When the review is done and we are able to take a look at what the recommendations are—I think I have said this twice already—it will be very surprising if the question of an office of the whistleblower did not come up.

My Lords, evidence suggests that the UK’s law on whistleblowing is falling behind international best practice and has not kept pace with the modern workplace or the scale of the problem. We welcome the Government’s announcement of the establishment of the review into the whistleblowing legislation, but perhaps the Minister could tell us when this will report. In the light of that, would he not agree that the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, shortly going to Report, provides an ideal opportunity to act now to bring in immediate, obvious improvements? Further, does he agree that requiring all employers to introduce effective internal arrangements would be a beneficial step forward?

I absolutely agree that the current whistleblowing framework is not current best practice. This was basically put in place in 1996 and 1998, and that is one of the main purposes for the review being carried out now. The review is due to complete its work in October this year and will report very soon after that. Hopefully, from that, we can get to a situation where we are able to move forward to something that really is world-class.

My Lords, does the Minister have any information on the percentage of whistleblowing claims that are false?