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 Browne of Ladyton Excerpts
Wednesday 21st February 2024

(5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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On the first point, I do not have the exact intricacies of which bank account the money sits in. I am happy to write about that, but it seems to me that if the Treasury and the Government have said we have a potential liability of £1 billion, we are good for the £1 billion. I will find out where it is sitting, if that is the question, but to me that is perhaps a lesser matter.

On the Staunton case, I am not prepared to do HR in the Chamber. That would not be fair or right. We should not talk about detailed conduct allegations in a Chamber such as this. The chairman was dismissed by the shareholder, the Secretary of State. In any company I have ever operated in, the shareholder is entitled to remove a chairman. The chairman’s job is to represent the shareholder, so if the shareholder is not happy with the chairman, it is absolutely valid that the shareholder can dismiss the chair. That is what happened in this case, and there is now a process that is better done in private. Let us not do HR in the Chamber.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, I recognise that the outcome of this competition of accounts between Henry Staunton and the Secretary of State could have significant consequences for them both, certainly for the Secretary of State if she is proved, at the end of the day, not to have been truthful to Parliament. She has another problem to do with what Canadian High Commissioner Ralph Goodale has said to the Business and Trade Select Committee, so she is in some difficulty.

I am in the space that I think the noble Lord, Lord Arbuthnot, is in. I do not think that this unedifying spectacle—this sideshow of mud-slinging—is the Minister’s priority. The priorities need to be full and proper compensation to the people who have lost out; the restoration of their good name in all the ways that will be necessary, which will involve exoneration; and, in the longer term when the inquiry is over, proper accountability for the people responsible for this. In the immediate term there is a simple way of resolving this competition of accounts: to put into the public domain all the information that it is proper to and to let the people out there see it and make up their own minds. They will in any event.

My real concern is that there is almost certainly an ongoing miscarriage of justice occurring in our justice system, as has been exposed, properly, by this Horizon scandal. It is the ludicrous presumption that if information comes from a computer, it is deemed to be reliable evidence. If that is to be challenged, it is up to the person who is claiming that it is not right—not the person who owns the computer—to show that the computer is not producing the right evidence. When on earth will we get this presumption changed around the right way? There must be daily cases in our courts that are not up to the level of the Horizon scandal, in spades and at every single level, creating other miscarriages of justice whose mess we may have to clean up in future at enormous expense to the public.

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I absolutely agree that the Staunton issue is a distraction that none of us needs; it is certainly not in the interests of the postmasters and postmistresses, who want to see compensation paid and convictions overturned. As I said, the Ministry of Justice is working expeditiously to sort the overturning of convictions. As I have also said before in this Chamber, there will be serious ramifications regarding a number of matters that will come from the inquiry when it is finally published. I imagine that the matter about which the noble Lord has deep knowledge, the presumption that the computer is always right, will be one such. I imagine that will be taken forward following the inquiry.