Postmasters with Overturned Convictions: Settlement Funds

Debate between Baroness Stowell of Beeston and Lord Callanan
Wednesday 15th December 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I hesitate to give the noble Viscount an unequivocal assurance because no one can do that. I can certainly say from the current ministerial team that we are absolutely determined to learn whatever lessons we are told to learn by the inquiry, take on board its recommendations and put in place whatever measures are required to make sure that it never happens again.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, we are clearly united in agreeing that this is a scandal, and in our regard and respect for my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot. I refer to the 555 sub-postmasters who settled without knowing that more evidence was to emerge. As we understand it, the Post Office knew at the time that it was still in the wrong and had not disclosed information that later came to light.

It seems to me that the 555 have been let down by people in authority every step of the way and, if we are not careful, we are going to let them down again when they are clearly being dealt an injustice at this time. I am grateful for what my noble friend the Minister has said already, but I hope he can agree and acknowledge just how strong the feeling is that this matter is dealt with. Furthermore, is Fujitsu going to be liable for any of the funding that will be necessary to pay this compensation?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I think the answer to my noble friend is that these matters will be considered by the inquiry. I may even be right in saying that court proceedings are ongoing involving Fujitsu, so I had better be careful what I say. Again, I cannot go any further than what I have already been said about the 555. It goes back to the answer that I gave to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, earlier. One reason why the legal fees incurred in that case were so high is because the Post Office fought every step of the way and put in place the maximum legal barriers to those poor individuals receiving the compensation that they deserved. That is one of the matters that I hope will be inquired into properly and that appropriate conclusions will be drawn.

Employment Rights

Debate between Baroness Stowell of Beeston and Lord Callanan
Thursday 10th June 2021

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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This is a complicated area of employment law. We want to give employers flexibility to manage their business without producing undue effects on workers. Sometimes, sadly, it is necessary for employers to introduce changes; the alternative is that they go bust and no one has a job at all. We want to get this right and we want to introduce proportionate responses, but it is a complex area and we will be looking closely at it.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, has the Minister had the opportunity to consider the relevant employment law that made it possible for a tribunal judge, as reported in yesterday’s media, to rule in favour of an employee who was dismissed by his employer for dishonesty in respect of sick leave and sick pay? Of course, the specifics of the case are not something on which it would be proper for the Minister to comment and neither is it a matter for this House. However, I would be grateful for the Government’s view on the impact of a ruling such as this one on upstanding employees as well as good employers, especially small business owners.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for her question. She is correct that it would not be right for me to comment on the specifics of the case without being in possession of all the facts, but it is vital that employees do not abuse their sick leave and pay. If they do, the employer may be able to dismiss them on the grounds of misconduct.

There is a vital balance to be struck to protect employers and employees. As the recent judgment shows, employers must act reasonably in all circumstances, follow the right procedures and conduct appropriate investigations. They should look to the ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures and may want to refer to the guidance on dismissal.

Post Office Court of Appeal Judgment

Debate between Baroness Stowell of Beeston and Lord Callanan
Wednesday 28th April 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I cannot really add anything to the answer I gave the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. On the noble Lord’s second question, I would certainly hope that, if the situation arose in any of the arm’s-length bodies for which I am responsible as a Minister, I would ensure that attention was brought to it and the appropriate lessons drawn as quickly as possible. I hope that those in wider government have also learned the lesson of this sad and tragic case.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, my point picks up on that just made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. As horrified as we all are at this miscarriage of justice, what is also shocking to everybody is just what it tells us and shows us about the arrogance of those of us in positions of authority when we are faced with something that is so obviously wrong and has been brought to us by the general public. I understand what the Minister is saying about a statutory inquiry and the inquiry that Sir Wyn is doing at the moment. However, will he consider and express to us his understanding of the reasons why there is that lack of confidence from the sub-postmasters and many others in the robustness and validity of the review that is under way and the need for more reassurance that other steps can be taken if accountability and responsibility is not shown through that process?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Baroness makes an important point: it is vital to get the buy-in and support of the postmasters for the operation of the inquiry. I hope that we will get that. If there are any shortcomings in the process of the inquiry, we will not hesitate to go further, if necessary. My understanding is that the inquiry is proceeding well. Sir Wyn is getting on with his work; he is a well-respected judge in this field, and will hold some public hearings in June, which will, we hope, draw more attention to these matters. We will keep it under review, and I hope he will get the support of the postmasters, because that is vital to ensure that the inquiry is robust.