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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

It is, but how could somebody be given a CBE when this scandal was out there? How could somebody be appointed to the non-executive board of the Cabinet Office and a healthcare trust, given what is coming out of this court case? I find that remarkable.

Then there is the role of Government. When the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton was the Minister, he said that the Post Office

“continues to express full confidence in the integrity and robustness of the Horizon system and also categorically states that there is no remote access to the system or to individual branch terminals which would allow accounting records to be manipulated in any way.”

That is despite a board minute of 2009 which said that remote access was possible. What his role in it was I do not know, but he clearly did not ask many searching questions of the Post Office.

I turn to how we scrutinise the Post Office. I have tabled numerous written parliamentary questions, but because the Post Office is an arm’s length body, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy shift them over to the Post Office—it is at arm’s length, and therefore it is nothing to do with the Department. There is a question here about how we can scrutinise the Post Office. This week, I asked a question about what the complex case review team in the Post Office is. My able assistant rang BEIS and asked, “What is it?” BEIS did not even know about it. The parliamentary question has now been given to the Ministry of Justice, but it does not know what that team is. I know that last week two cases were settled out of court, each for £300,000. This is public money we are talking about here, and we need full scrutiny. I would love to see whether the Minister can shed some light on what this organisation actually is.

Then we come to the role of Ministers. I have already mentioned the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton, but Jo Swinson, Claire Perry and the Minister’s immediate predecessor Kelly Tolhurst were all involved. They all completely believed what they were being told by the Post Office, never asked any questions about how public money was being spent and allowed the Post Office to continue what it has been doing. The Government cannot say that they never knew about this, because when the new Government came to power in 2010, myself, James Arbuthnot and the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire went to see Oliver Letwin, then a Cabinet Office Minister, to put our case to him. He had sympathy for it, because he had a similar case in his constituency. What happened to that? Nothing happened at all. Clearly there is an issue that the Government cannot hide from it.