Post Office Governance and Horizon Compensation Schemes Debate

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Department: Department for Business and Trade

Post Office Governance and Horizon Compensation Schemes

Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom Excerpts
Wednesday 21st February 2024

(5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom Portrait Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the Horizon compensation advisory board. Of course, if you are a sub-postmaster, you do not really care who said what to who. There are two questions that a sub-postmaster would be interested in: when will the compensation be paid and when will the convictions be overturned? As for when the compensation will be paid, I would like to pick up a question raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol; namely, the accounts. In which department’s accounts is the £1 billion that it is expected will be paid out in compensation to the sub-postmasters? I hope it can be found in some department’s accounts. As to the convictions, this is an interesting Statement, but when can we expect a Statement on precisely how those convictions are going to be overturned and when can we expect a Statement on the legislation to come before both Houses?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot. I will take the second one first: there are live conversations going on right now, at great speed, to finalise the legal process with the Ministry of Justice, which will result in the overturning of all the convictions in England and Wales by an Act of Parliament, excepting that there may be some small number of people who, in fact, have had legal or safe convictions, but they will be overturned—as we discussed before—because the greater good is to wipe the slate clean as quickly as possible. That will be coming to this House in short order, and I imagine there will be unanimous support for that.

As for the timing and the finance, the finance for this will come ultimately from the Treasury. The Treasury has been funding DBT, in order for it to fund the Post Office, and, in the course of last year, under the chairmanship of Henry Staunton, £253 million was paid by the Treasury, via DBT, to Post Office Ltd, of which £150 million was for the compensation schemes—and £160 million has now been paid—and the £103 million was for the replacement of the Horizon system. There are regular funding lines going to the Post Office via DBT.

This money has been ring-fenced and identified by the Government—it sits within the Treasury—but we have also had conversations in this House about the fact that there may be some other sources of compensation to be had from other places, and why it should not necessarily be just the taxpayer who picks up the bill for this when there are perhaps other stakeholders involved in this sorry saga who should pay their part. It may well be that that the taxpayer can be relieved of some of the £1 billion ring-fencing because it may be that we can get other sources, not least Fujitsu, to pay for that.

The commitment given by my department—we are working flat out on this—is to get 90% of the claims processed and settled within 40 working days. There is no going back from that; as we have said before, 78% of postmasters and postmistresses—a figure of 2,270—have been fully paid and settled. We are now at the sharp end of this process for those who were treated the most egregiously. Therefore, those cases are more complex, and perhaps need more time—not demanded by the Government—for the process of how they put their claim together. We have a situation where it is openly known that Mr Bates has submitted his claim and is not happy with the response: that is part of the process that we are in, and it will go on. We will move as quickly as we can to make sure that everyone is restored to the position that they should be in.