1 Lord Harries of Pentregarth debates involving the Department for Business and Trade

Horizon: Compensation and Convictions

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Wednesday 10th January 2024

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for that. This is another area that will demand further consideration. Within the system of government now, we have a lot of quangos, third-party agencies and off-balance-sheet activities. The question that must always arise is what the relationship is between those and the shareholders, who are effectively the taxpayers. What is the role of Ministers to sit in between them, and what is the accountability of Ministers to make those decisions? A large number of noble Lords in this House have been Ministers and understand how that works and that we have conservations with officials. But we also need to have a sniff test, do we not, about what sniffs right and what sniffs wrong. There is a requirement to look at this again, so as to not be in a position where we just always take what officials tell us, and a need to actually be a bit more canny about the questions we ask.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, the enormity of this seems so appalling that, even when the sentences have been overturned, the compensation paid, and the committee inquiry taken place and blame apportioned, we will need some great public, symbolic act to recognise that something terrible has gone wrong and that hundreds of people who were wrongly accused have now been clearly and publicly vindicated. Will the Minister think about the possibility of doing something, perhaps in Westminster Hall, on behalf of the state and in a public and symbolic way, to express the sorrow of the state and the clear, public vindication of these hundreds of people?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for that intervention; it is a very insightful comment. Ironically, when the management were asked in court what they felt one of their core duties was, they said it was to protect the reputation of the Post Office. But what of the reputation of the Post Office today? I would argue that, funnily enough, the reputation of the Post Office has in some ways gone up, in that people now understand the value of sub-postmasters. Are they not what the Post Office actually is? Those who have suffered reputational damage have been the management of the Post Office, and rightly so, but has not this sorry saga perhaps brought to our attention just how valued the sub-postmasters must be in our community? What the noble and right reverend Lord has called for is a demonstration of that. It is a very good idea, and one that I will take back to the department.