Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Public Concern at Work

  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 of employers"[2]), 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".[3] At Report stage the Minister restated to the Commons this "absolute commitment" that police officers would be afforded equivalent protection to that in PIDA.[4]

  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"[5]) 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  It will be the clearest signal of a break from the canteen culture that has fostered so many of "the outdated and outmoded attitudes" that the Home Secretary said in his Foreword to the White Paper should now be swept away.[6]

  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."[7]

  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".[8] 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."[9]

  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."[10]

  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 will—on all the evidence available—severely limit the efficacy of these provisions. For these reasons, we do hope this is an initiative your Committee will feel able to support.

Public Concern at Work

February 2002

2   Hansard HL 5 June 1998 col 614. Back

3   Standing Committee D, 11 March 1998, col 17/18. Back

4   Hansard HC 24 April 1998, col 1143/4. Back

5   (2001) Cm 5326, page 1, para 2. Back

6   ibid. Back

7   HMI Police Integrity: Securing and Maintaining Public Confidence (June 1999), p. 36. Back

8   ibid, page 55, para 9.10. Back

9   ibid, page 55, para 9.11. Back

10   PCA website: Back

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