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Horizon Settlement: Future Governance of Post Office Ltd

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 3:30 pm, 19th March 2020

I shall come to that, which is a very good point. The complete opposite: most have been promoted or, in one case, appointed as a Government adviser when she left the Post Office.

That denial then led the postmasters to get the group action together, with 555 taking the Post Office to court. The Post Office was still denying that there was a problem when it went into court; indeed, its consistent approach has been to deny any type of liability.

Let me turn to the role of the Post Office and that of Government. The Post Office is an arm’s length body from Government, but the sole shareholder is the Government. They have a shareholder representative on the board. Despite that, millions of pounds of public money are spent every year. In fact, it is a nationalised company, whether we like it or not.

But we are unable, as parliamentarians, to scrutinise the Post Office. For example, in spite of what it knew, it is estimated that the Post Office spent between £100 million and £120 million defending the indefensible in court. That was basically designed to whittle down the case, so that the other side ran out of money. Trying to scrutinise the Post Office and get it to account for that is virtually impossible. When I have asked parliamentary questions, they are referred to the Post Office. I will come on to the role of Ministers, but I am sorry that Sir Edward Davey is no longer in his place, because I would have liked him to answer for his role—or lack of role—when he was the Minister.

The Post Office falls somewhere between a private company and a public company, but then there are the individuals involved, as my right hon. Friend John Spellar said. Paula Vennells was the chief executive of the Post Office. She left last year. Obviously, as a board member she knew what was going on, including the strategy in the court case and the bugs in the system. What happened? She got a CBE in the new year’s honours list for services to the Post Office. That is just rubbing salt into the wounds of these innocent people. There is a case for her having that honour removed, and I would like to know how she got it in the first place when the court case is ongoing. Added to that, she is now chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. Again, I would like to know why and what due diligence was done on her as an individual.