Post Office: Compensation for Horizon Scandal

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:40 am on 30th June 2022.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 11:40 am, 30th June 2022

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement and for keeping the House informed of progress. The Horizon scandal is perhaps the greatest miscarriage of justice in our country’s history. Its victims have waited for justice for far too long. I pay tribute to the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance for its tireless work and acknowledge the work of colleagues on both sides of the House who have gone to considerable lengths to highlight the plight of their constituents. In particular, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr Jones, whose commitment to the cause has been unwavering, and to Lord Arbuthnot in the other place.

I also pay tribute to the Minister—and I do not say that lightly. Successive Conservative Governments have sat on the scandal, but he has made real progress in moving us to a place where we can see that justice is in sight. I acknowledge that. I also welcome the update on the March announcement that, as Labour has repeatedly called for, the 505 litigants will receive the compensation payments that they are entitled to. However, I emphasise that, as I am sure the Minister will acknowledge, it is unacceptable that it has taken so long when the right course of action was always clear. There really was no need for victims to have spent so long in limbo.

At the core of this unforgivable scandal is the belief that workers were dishonest and technology was infallible. Perhaps that is not surprising, given the Government’s track record on defending the rights of working people. Decent, honest people have had their lives torn apart, been put in prison and been made to wait years for justice. For some, that wait has been too long. We must not forget those who are not with us and will not see the justice to which they were so entitled.

As I have previously done in the Chamber, I implore the Minister to act quickly and decisively to draw a line under this horrific miscarriage of justice. There can be no further delays in providing the compensation that will go at least some way in helping to right this wrong. As such, will he provide a timescale for when all compensation payments will have been made? Will he confirm that the compensation will not affect the Post Office’s core funding, day-to-day operations or viability in—I stress this—any way? Given the vital role that post offices perform in our communities—we all acknowledge that—it is essential that today’s communities are not made to pay for the unacceptable mistakes of the past. Labour has called for all those involved to be held accountable. Will he therefore update the House on what investigations are ongoing into the role of Fujitsu and others involved in the technology that led to the failure?

The Minister spoke about learning the lessons from this horrific scandal. The Government were, and remain, the only shareholder in the Post Office. They have a financial responsibility and a moral responsibility to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.