By Dr Minh Alexander retired consultant psychiatrist 31 May 2022
There has been great concern that the controversial Whistleblowing All Party Parliamentary Group (a collection of parliamentarians with no formal status) has been trying to shape UK whistleblowing law in the interests of the US bounty hunting lawyers whose money helped to establish the APPG.
A now defunct Bill introduced by the APPG Chair Mary Robinson Tory MP for Cheadle could be understood as a bounty hunters’ Bill. It contained a number of disturbing features and omissions:
Alarmingly, John Penrose Tory MP for Weston and the Prime Minister’s Anti Corruption Champion expressed public support for the Whistleblowing APPG’s Bill in April. Penrose gave an interview to GB News just before Mary Robinson made a speech about the Bill on 26 April 2022. In this interview, Penrose alluded to insertion of whistleblowing clauses into the Economic Crime Bill as a back up option, if the APPG’s Bill did not pass.
Penrose batted off correspondence from me, on the pretext that I was not a local constituent, even though I had explicitly written to him in his capacity as the national Anti Corruption Champion.
I complained to the Home Office Permanent Secretary about this specious rebuff. Penrose wrote to me again, this time on Home Office stationery and signed in his proper capacity as Anti Corruption Champion. He justified his support for the Whistleblowing APPG Bill as democracy in action. A bit thin really, given that he had just undemocratically tried to ignore dissenting voices.
APPGs are notorious for exerting influence on behalf of private interests, particularly when well funded and amply resourced to drive an aggressive lobbying/ media campaign. The Whistleblowing APPG is notably glossy in its presentation, with very active media liaison and a steady stream of coverage.
|Longstanding concerns about hidden interests and unethical conduct by APPGs |
The parliamentary Standards Committee (the Committee that will be investigating Boris Johnson’s conduct in the partygate scandal) issued an important new report this month on All Party Parliamentary Groups.
Important conclusions of this report included:
“37. Lobbying is an important part of a healthy democracy. It is crucial that the interests of different sectors, organisations, and communities can be brought to the attention of Members and Ministers. All-Party Parliamentary Groups provide a significant benefit to the House by providing a forum where matters of policy can be discussed and a vehicle for making representations to Ministers and the wider House.
38. It should not be the case, however, that those with greater financial means should enjoy a greater advantage in lobbying Members and Ministers, or that those without financial means should be excluded. All-Party Parliamentary Groups must not be a vehicle by which paid external interests can achieve a level of access and influence not available to others. There are few, if any, safeguards in place to ensure that APPGs are genuinely Member-led and are not simply used by external bodies as way to amplify their own message with the added advantage of an informal parliamentary imprimatur. The danger is that an APPG could all too easily become a parliamentary front for an external commercial entity. That would be wholly inappropriate. We therefore believe some limits must now be placed on secretariat services to APPGs.
39. We also advise that Members who set up, chair or play a role in an APPG should be extremely vigilant that the APPG’s agenda, funding and activities do not bring the House into disrepute; are genuinely led by Members rather than any external organisation or individual; and do not provide an inappropriate or unequal degree of influence to any one organisation, individual or set of organisations.”
I had also made a formal request for information about Penrose’s contact with the Whistleblowing APPG and requested disclosure of correspondence between him and the APPG.
This is the resultant FOI response from the Home Office on 30 May 2022:
The Home Office disclosed that there was a meeting between Penrose, the APPG and others on 1 December 2021:
The Home Office also disclosed a friendly email chain between Penrose and Mary Robinson the Whistleblowing APPG Chair, in which he agreed to support her ten minute rule Bill.
Most significantly of all, Penrose forwarded their correspondence to the Home Office on 21 April 2022 with these comments:
“Hi All FYI I have just agreed to be a co-signatory to this 10-minute rule Bill next week, as a way of getting it onto the Government agenda in advance of ECB2. No need for any of you to do anything in particular, but wanted you to know so you aren’t blindsided or surprised!
So there we have it. The target was indeed the Economic Crime Bill, and the big bucks from bounties in the financial sector.
Bounty hunting is a billion dollar industry in the States, and US lawyers have been trying to break into the UK market for years now.
Enter the ruthless jackpot model of excessive bounties for a small handful of whistleblowers and their attorneys, who manage to recover enough money for the government. Devil take the hindmost. Tough cheese if you are a genuine whistleblower and your disclosure brings in less than the target amount to qualify for a bounty.
And all a million miles away from whistleblowers who report poor care and bring in no money at all. A million miles away from public sector Nolan principles of selflessness.
The US style Office of the Whistleblower, if created, will likely be stuffed with cronies, backscratching and promoting private industry interests. It won’t be about justice or real public protection, but milking as much profit as possible.
I have now written to the two government departments responsible for the Economic Crime Bill, BEIS and the Home Office to raise concerns about both the Whistleblowing APPG’s ambitions and Protect’s bid to establish its flawed Whistleblowing Commission on the back of the Economic Crime Bill.
Up to now, the Whistleblowing APPG has had an easy ride in the right wing and financial press, with little critical analysis of its motives and plans.
Byline Times has now covered the opposition to the Whistleblowing APPG’s bid to monetise whistleblowing:
Posts about the troubling history of the Whistleblowing APPG and its disturbing secretariat WhistleblowersUK
Nolan Principles of selflessness in public life make rewards for whistleblowing anathema in the public sector. In the NHS, workers are contractually obliged to whistleblow through the duties conferred by the NHS constitution, and registered professionals are additionally required by their professional codes of conduct to whistleblow. Any suggestion of rewards for whistleblowing in the NHS are particularly and deeply problematic.