Memorandum submitted by Public Concern
As part of the Committee's scrutiny of the Bill,
we are writing to ask it to support moves to amend the Bill by
bringing police officers within the scope of the Public Interest
Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA).
The Committee may recall that the exclusion
of the police from PIDA was criticised by all consultees, including
the Police Complaints Authority and the Association of Chief Police
Officers. The reason for the exclusion was that police officers
were not employees and as such it was not appropriate for them
to come within what was technically an employment measure. However
recognising that PIDA was as much a governance measure (Lord Nolan
commended it for so "skilfully achieving the essential but
delicate balance between the public interest and the interest
the Government accepted the need to ensure that police officers
are not deterred from blowing the whistle.
Accordingly the DTI Minister, Ian McCartney
MP, stated that "It is clear that the police should be covered
by whistleblowing protection...The Home Office has given a commitment
that the existing regulatory regime will be upgraded if necessary
to make sure that the Bill and the police regulatory system offer
the same standards of protection. . . If it does not, action will
be taken to ensure that it does".
At Report stage the Minister restated to the Commons this "absolute
commitment" that police officers would be afforded equivalent
protection to that in PIDA.
We do hope the Committee will be able to support
moves to amend the Bill by bringing police officers within the
Public Interest Disclosure Act. There are three reasons why we
believe such an amendment is now necessary:
1. All the evidence is that the whistleblowing
provisions in the Police Regulations and arrangements outlined
in Part 2 of the Bill do not and cannot provide equivalent protection
to PIDA and so fail to give honest officers the confidence they
need and deserve;
2. As the opening to the White Paper Policing
the New Century makes clear ("a modern police service
requires more modern employment terms and conditions")
the technical objection to including police officers within PIDA
no longer applies; and
3. It will be the clearest signal of a break
from the canteen culture that has fostered so many of "the
outdated and outmoded attitudes" that the Home Secretary
said in his Foreword to the White Paper should now be swept away.
The way that PIDA gives people confidence that
there is a safe alternative to silence is by providing them with
a right of redress should they be victimised and in this respect
it works in the same way as sex and race discrimination legislation.
I should add that PIDA is working well in practice and maintains
the support of the CBI, IoD and TUC and also that of key regulators.
By contrast, the whistleblowing provisions under
the Police Regulations confer no right of redress. If an honest
officer who reported wrongdoing were victimised in breach of the
Regulations his or her only recourse would be to bring a grievance.
As the Bill is presently drafted, this will remain the case notwithstanding
the duty in clause 10(4) on the IPCC to protect people from victimisation.
This reliance on grievance procedures, according to HMI's Report
Police Integrity, will not give officers any or any sufficient
confidence. This states:
"The Inspection found grievance procedures
were widely held to be ineffective, with a misunderstanding of
what they might achieve . . . Although some good examples were
given where grievance procedures had achieved satisfactory outcomes,
in most forces for a variety of reasons there was little or no
confidence in the system."
It is difficult to see how a whistleblowing
protection scheme which depends exclusively on such grievance
procedures can afford police officers equivalent protection to
that in PIDA and, most importantly, thereby deter wrongdoing.
Turning to the role of and need for a whistleblowing
culture in the police, the HMI commented that "a vital line
of defence against a lack of integrity is for staff to `police'
their own workplace, by challenging and, where appropriate, reporting
wrongdoing wherever they see it".
However, the HMI found that
"Less than half the forces have any form
of confidential line, and the evidence is that most of those are
only used sporadically. There is a strong feeling amongst officers
and support staff that retribution, subtle or direct, would result
from making complaints against colleagues. There is a perception
no one commends such officers for demonstrating moral courage."
The continuing importance of effective protection
for honest police is also clear from the work of the Police Complaints
Authority which comments:
"The provision of information and evidence
from fellow officers is often the most effective means of cracking
down on serious officer misconduct including corruption. The PCA
is aware of cases where internal informants or whistle blowers
have come under pressure from their superiors to submit false
statements or to withdraw damaging statements about their colleagues'
behaviour. To the whistleblower the choice can be to collude with
malpractice or to jeopardise their career. At the same time whistleblowers
can experience victimisation, intimidation, ostracism and threats
by colleagues which inevitably lead to high levels of distress."
For the above reasons, if honest police officers
are to have the confidence to question or report wrongdoing we
consider they should be given an enforceable right to seek redress
should they be victimised. Critically the mere existence of such
a right will deter those for whom loyalty to colleagues and the
canteen culture have in the past taken precedence over the integrity
of the service.
Following an approach by Ross Cranston QC MP,
the Home Office is considering this point. However, as the commitment
was originally given to Parliament it is right that the matter
should be pursued there. Lord Borrie, the sponsor of PIDA in the
Lords, has moved an amendment to the Police Reform Bill to ensure
that police officers have the equivalent protection that the Government
has promised. While the Bill goes some way in Part 2 and Schedule
3 to provide for arrangements for a similar disclosure regime
to that which exists in PIDA (notably to the IPCC), the absence
of any redress mechanism willon all the evidence availableseverely
limit the efficacy of these provisions. For these reasons, we
do hope this is an initiative your Committee will feel able to
Public Concern at Work
2 Hansard HL 5 June 1998 col 614. Back
Standing Committee D, 11 March 1998, col 17/18. Back
Hansard HC 24 April 1998, col 1143/4. Back
(2001) Cm 5326, page 1, para 2. Back
HMI Police Integrity: Securing and Maintaining Public Confidence
(June 1999), p. 36. Back
ibid, page 55, para 9.10. Back
ibid, page 55, para 9.11. Back
PCA website: www.pca.gov.uk/investig/others. Back