Public Administration Select Committee: Inquiry

Leaks and Whistleblowing in Whitehall

Current Status: Report published, Government response received

Link to Government response

Link to Report


PASC proposes new route for civil servants to bring concerns to Parliament

The Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) published a report on 10 August 2009 calling for better and more accessible procedures for civil servants to raise concerns about the conduct of government. In particular, it calls for a route to be established whereby evidence that a minister had misled Parliament or the public could be reported to Parliament following a complaint by a civil servant.

In the report, which looks at leaking and whistleblowing in Whitehall, PASC argues that leaks damage trust within government and trust in government. It concludes that leak investigations are often hamstrung by the fact that many leaks are politically motivated, including leaks from ministers and special advisers. It further concludes that the most effective way to prevent leaks by civil servants is to have accessible, effective and visible ways for individuals to raise concerns about the conduct of government, either internally or through an external oversight body, the Civil Service Commissioners.

The report makes the following key recommendations:

€ The Civil Service Commissioners should have the power to report to Parliament evidence indicating that the government was misleading Parliament or the public or the fact that the Civil Service has refused to act on a justified complaint;

€ The Commissioners should also conduct independent investigation of breaches of confidentiality by special advisers, and report their findings to Parliament if ministers do not act on them;

€ The leaking of information should only be a criminal matter where there is a breach of the Official Secrets Act or there is evidence of serious criminal misconduct in addition to the leak itself, for example accepting payment; and

€ The Cabinet Office, Heads of Departments and the Civil Service Commissioners should do more to ensure that potential whistleblowers know how to raise concerns and have the confidence to come forward with them.

Tony Wright MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"It is fundamental to good government that civil servants keep the confidences they are entrusted with. However, there is a tension between this basic duty and the public's legitimate interest in having access to information about how government works and ensuring government wrongdoing comes to light. It is therefore essential that civil servants know what channels are available to them if they believe there is wrongdoing or information is being suppressed. These channels must be timely, effective and, most importantly, not be seen as career-damaging. A culture that encourages proper whistleblowing procedures is the best safeguard against leaking, and we believe the Civil Service has some way to go to achieve this."

Written Evidence:

Minutes of evidence taken by the Committee:

Thursday 2 April: Corrected transcript
Witnesses: Sir Suma Chakrabarti KCB

Thursday 19 March 2009: Corrected transcript
Witnesses: Katharine Gun, Brian Jones, Derek Pasquill and Carne Ross

Thursday 5 March 2009: Corrected transcript
Witnesses: Janet Paraskeva and Richard Jarvis

Tuesday 10 February 2009: Corrected transcript
Witnesses: Sir Christopher Kelly KCB and Dr Brian Woods-Scawen

Thursday 22 January 2009: Corrected transcript
Witnesses: Mr Guy Dehn, Mr Maurice Frankel, Mr David Hencke, Professor Peter Hennessy and Sir David Omand.

Thursday 11 December 2008: Corrected transcript
Witness: Sir Gus O'Donnell, Secretary of the Cabinet Office and Head of the Home Civil Service.

Press Notice:

9 December 2008: PASC launches inquiry into Leaks and Whistleblowing in Whitehall with first evidence session from the Cabinet Office Secretary

20 January 2009: PASC to hear views of expert commentators on Leaks and Whistleblowing

2 March 2009: PASC to question Janet Paraskeva on Whitehall Leaks and Outside Appointments to the Civil Service

17 March 2009: PASC to hear from Government Leakers and Whistleblowers

31 March 2009: PASC to question Sir Suma Chakrabarti on Whitehall Leaks