Post Office Governance and Horizon Compensation Schemes

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:26 pm on 19 February 2024.

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Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Trade 4:26, 19 February 2024

I firmly agree that the revelations in The Sunday Times at the weekend could not be more serious. In particular, if true, the claim that the Post Office was instructed to deliberately go slow on compensation payments to sub-postmasters in order to push the financial liability into the next Parliament would be a further outrageous insult in a scandal that has already rocked faith in the fairness of the British state. If that is the case, it cannot be allowed to stand, and if it is not, it must be shown to be false in no uncertain terms. We have two completely contrasting accounts: one from the former chair of the Post Office, and one from the Secretary of State. Only one of them can be the truth. I hope that we are all in agreement that Parliament is the correct place for these matters to be raised and clarified. What we need now is transparency and scrutiny.

Will the Secretary of State categorically state that the Post Office was at no point told to delay compensation payments by either an official or a Minister from any Government Department, and that at no point was it suggested that a delay would be of benefit to the Treasury? Will there be a Cabinet Office investigation to ensure that no such instruction or inference was given at any point? Crucially, is the £1 billion figure for compensation, which the Secretary of State helpfully just repeated, already allocated, and sat in the accounts of the Department for Business and Trade, ready to be paid? If it is not, will compensation payments be specifically itemised in the upcoming Budget?

The Secretary of State will also understand that following the story at the weekend, victims of other scandals—especially of the contaminated blood scandal—feel that they need to ask whether they have been the victims of deliberate inaction. Will the Government provide assurances that no such obstruction has been placed on any payments of this kind? If so, can they explain what the delay is in some cases? In the full interests of transparency, and to fully ascertain the veracity of any allegations for sub-postmasters and the general public, will she publish all relevant correspondence, and minutes of meetings between the Department, the Treasury, UK Government Investments and the Post Office during this time? Finally, when can we expect the legislation on exoneration that was promised by the Prime Minister?

I cannot stress enough that the last thing that was needed in this scandal was any further allegation of cover-up or obfuscation at the very top of Government. People’s faith in Government, already damaged by scandals such as Hillsborough, Bloody Sunday and Windrush, is hanging by a thread. This miscarriage of justice has shown the devastation that can occur when institutions are allowed to operate without oversight or are shrouded in secrecy. We should all agree that that secrecy must end, and that the full sunlight of public scrutiny should be brought to bear. If everything the Secretary of State has told us today is correct, surely there will be no objection to that happening fully.