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Protect in Parliament – a six-month review

A week is a long time in politics, and six months is even longer. At Protect, we have been busy lobbying MPs and government officials to improve legal protections for whistleblowers as part of our campaign, ‘Let’s Fix UK Whistleblowing Law’.

This is a snapshot of the work we have done over the first half of this year and a look forward to upcoming work.

Whistleblower Jonathan Taylor

Jonathan Taylor remains in Croatia facing extradition to Monaco. Jonathan lost his appeal to the Croatian Supreme Court so it is now up to the Croatian Justice Minister, Ivan Malenica, to decide whether to approve the extradition.

Protect, along with 40 other organisations, campaigners and experts, signed an open letter to Mr Malenica saying,

‘In light of Croatia’s duties and obligations under the EU Directive on the protection of whistleblowers and the clearly retaliatory nature of the Monegasque request to extradite Mr. Taylor for questioning, we humbly submit that the decision by the Minister should be to reject it.’

We briefed Kevin Hollinrake MP (Vice-Chair of the APPG on Whistleblowing) who put forward Parliamentary Questions to the government on Jonathan’s case – you can read them here. Most recently, the government has said, It is for Croatia to determine whether Mr Taylor should be extradited to Monaco, and for Monaco to investigate allegations of attempted extortion.”

We also worked closely with Dame Margaret Hodge MP, Andrew Mitchell MP and Caroline Nokes MP (Jonathan’s own MP) who wrote an open letter to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, urging him to “use every diplomatic lever at your disposal to assist Mr Taylor”.

Following new revelations from Jonathan about corruption in the oil industry, and to coincide with the Euros, we wrote two blog posts – Dear Monaco and Dear Croatia – urging each country to do the right thing and release Jonathan.

We are grateful to the MPs for their support of Jonathan and we will continue to lobby the government to secure his safe release home.

The Government’s promised review of whistleblowing

In March, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – the government department responsible for whistleblowing – told The Daily Telegraph that the government would review whistleblowing rules (see here). This was in response to a reported surge of employees and workers being dismissed during the pandemic. Furthermore, in a BEIS consultation document, the government said it “acknowledges wider interest in making reforms to the whistleblowing framework and has committed to conducting a review in due course.”

We briefed Kevin Hollinrake MP to put forward Questions to the government for more details about this review (see here and here). The government’s position is that it remains committed to conducting a review of the whistleblowing framework once sufficient time has passed since the most recent reforms. It has repeated this position almost verbatim on subsequent occasions (see here).

Protect’s view is that a review should take place imminently, it must be open to public consultation, and sufficient data is available to enable a meaningful review. We will continue to push the government on this point.

Government announcement: The Single Enforcement Body

In June, the Government announced the creation of a single enforcement body to tackle exploitation of workers and abuse of labour rights. The proposal has piqued the interest of various stakeholder groups and at Protect we see scope for the SEB to set and enforce whistleblowing standards.

Our full comments on the initial proposals are here and we hope to be speak to government officials soon about the plans.

During the announcement, Paul Scully MP, said “it is right and proper that we review the whistleblowing framework, and we will do that once we have sufficient time to build the necessary evidence of the impact of the most recent reforms”.

In our view, sufficient time has passed so we followed-up with a blog by Head of Policy, Andrew Pepper-Parsons, giving the government 4 compelling reasons why it should no longer delay its review of PIDA.

Private Members’ Bills

In May, the Private Members’ Ballot took place in the House of Commons. We would like to thank all of Protect’s supporters who wrote to the 20 selected MPs, requesting that they adopt Protect’s bill. We sent briefings to the MPs explaining the urgent need to reform whistleblowing law and why our bill would protect whistleblowers and the public interest.

We are pleased that separately in the House of Lords Baroness Kramer has introduced the Office of the Whistleblower bill. The bill is due to be debated on Friday 25 June and we have sent briefings to members of the House of Lords who are due to speak at the debate. We are grateful to Baroness Kramer for the opportunity to have met with her earlier this year, and look forward to working more closely with her on pushing the bill forward and urging the government to review this complex area of law.

Consultation Responses

Responding to government and select committee consultations gives us an opportunity to share our expertise on whistleblowing with Westminster and remind MPs and ministers of the first-hand experiences of our Advice Line callers.

This year we have submitted evidence to the following inquiries and consultations:

  1. The Health and Social Care Committee’s inquiry into the Department of Health’s white paper “Integration and Innovation: working together to improve health and social care”.

The white paper proposed a new Health Service Safety Investigations Body to investigate serious incidents of patient safety. We argued that any such body needs to be a prescribed person and should follow the principles in our Better Regulators Guide.

  1. Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s inquiry on “Propriety of governance in light of Greensill”.

We argued that whistleblowing can help to identify conflicts of interest within the civil service and government, and argued for changes to be made to the Ministerial Code and Civil Service Commission to better protect whistleblowers.

  1. The Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry on “Initial lessons from the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic”

We informed the Committee about the experiences of our Advice Line callers raising concerns about furlough fraud and public health risks. We made the case for legal standards on employers so that concerns are investigated and whistleblowers are not ignored, as well as explaining how regulators could better respond to whistleblowers during a public emergency.

  1. The UK Product Safety Review

We argued that mandatory standards on employers and regulators would better protect the public interest by ensuring that concerns about product safety are properly handled. We also recommended ways in which the Office for Product Safety & Standards could change its regulatory activities to improve transparency and confidence.

We are due to respond to more consultations in the second half of the year and all of our responses will soon be available on our website.

Let’s Fix UK Whistleblowing Law

In April, we launched our campaign to reform whistleblowing law. We are grateful to our parliamentary panelists, Dame Margaret Hodge MP and Kevin Hollinrake MP, demonstrating that there is cross-party support for whistleblowing law reform. You can watch our launch webinar here (with thanks to Garden Court Chambers for hosting).

We have been speaking to MPs about our campaign as we look to build a network of strong connections in Westminster. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Uber v Aslam, for example, we wrote to MPs about the importance of reforming the law to cover all gig economy workers to ensure consistent legal protections.

A look forward

Like we said, six months is a long time in politics and there is much more that we have done behind the scenes. We look forward to engaging with MPs and government officials over the coming months, particularly in the autumn as party conference season begins.

 

If you would like any further information about our parliamentary work, please contact our Parliamentary Officer Kyran Kanda at kyran@protect-advice.org.uk