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Horizon Settlement: Future Governance of Post Office Ltd

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:48 pm on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London) 4:48 pm, 19th March 2020

I will not, because I am running out of time. I stress that the Government have robust mechanisms in place to maintain oversight of the Post Office, and they are regularly reviewed. I have regular meetings with its chief executive officer and chair, and the Government have increased the frequency of wider shareholder meetings to make sure that, among other things, the actions arising out of the litigation can be tracked. UK Government Investments, as the shareholder representative for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, challenges the Post Office on its corporate governance and strategy, and on its stewardship of financial and other resources on behalf of shareholders, as well as holding a non-executive seat on Post Office Ltd’s board.

The Department also recently expanded the BEIS Post Office policy team, which works closely with UKGI to hold the Post Office to account at official level. We have a new framework document that makes sure that the responsibilities and accountabilities of the Post Office, BEIS and UKGI are clearly defined. We will publish that soon. It includes an open and transparent information-sharing agreement between the Government and the Post Office.

I will meet the Communication Workers Union, which has been referred to, at the end of the month to understand the views of postmasters—I look forward to that—and will be tracking progress at the highest levels of the Post Office in quarterly ministerial meetings with the CEO, Nick Read. Governance arrangements between the Government and all its arm’s length bodies are kept under regular review. In the light of developments in the Post Office, the Government have considered and addressed all those arrangements.

The right hon. Member for North Durham talked about the Post Office’s right to prosecute. This was a private prosecution; individuals and companies can bring such prosecutions—they are not limited to the Post Office. There is, however, a continuing duty to disclose material information that comes to light that might relate to the safety of any conviction, so the CCRC and those convicted will be able to take up that information.

I will write to the right hon. Member for North Durham with more detail about the Post Office serious case review team to which he referred. BEIS has pressed management on the issues around past prosecutions of postmasters, instigated a review of the Post Office’s handling of that in 2015, and supported the Second Sight mediation scheme. The chair committed to the review in 2015, but it took all the litigation for all the facts to come to light. The suspense account was referred to; Nick Read wrote to Lord Arbuthnot recently on the subject, and we will monitor it closely. On the CCRC and the convictions that Chi Onwurah talked about, there is a meeting on 24 March to consider those cases further.

To conclude, I reassure the House that the Government are working hand in hand with post offices, the Post Office, postmasters and other stakeholders to ensure that there is follow-through on the lessons learned from the litigation and the steps to be taken following the settlement. I look forward to sharing with Members as soon as possible further details of the review on the issue promised by the Prime Minister. I will leave a minute for the right hon. Member for North Durham, but I thank all postmasters—those impacted by the litigation and those not—for the value that they add in providing an exceptional service to communities, people and businesses across the UK, and for their contribution to this case. I thank hon. Members once again for their contributions to this excellent debate, and for their interest in the Post Office.