Post Office Horizon: Compensation and Legislation - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 3:48 pm on 27 February 2024.

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The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 26 February.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a Statement to update the House on the progress that has been made to support victims of the Horizon scandal.

Since this terrible miscarriage of justice was first exposed, the Government have been working tirelessly to put matters right for postmasters. We have set up an independent inquiry and funded various redress schemes that we have continuously improved to speed up compensation for all affected. That work has been taking place for many months, and long before ITV aired the excellent programme “Mr Bates vs The Post Office”. The work included our announcement last autumn of the optional £600,000 fixed-sum award for those who have been wrongfully convicted. We continue to develop our response to the scandal, and on Thursday I made a Written Statement detailing the way that we plan to legislate to overturn Horizon-related convictions en masse. We expect to introduce that legislation as soon as possible next month.

My Statement set out that the new legislation will quash all convictions that are identified as being in scope, using clear and objective criteria on the face of the Bill. Convictions will be quashed at the point of commencement, without the need for people to apply to have their convictions overturned. The criteria will cover the prosecutors, extending to prosecutions undertaken by Post Office Ltd and the Crown Prosecution Service, as well as offence types, ensuring that those align with offences known to have been prosecuted by the Post Office. That means that only relevant offences such as theft and false accounting will be in scope. On offence dates, a set timeframe will ensure that convictions are quashed only where the offence took place during the period when the Horizon system and its pilots were in operation. The criteria will also cover the contractual or other relationship of the convicted individual to Post Office Ltd, so that only sub-postmasters, their employees, officers or family members, or direct employees of the Post Office will be within the defined class of convictions to be quashed. On the use of the Horizon system at the date of the offence, the convicted person will need to have been working, including in a voluntary capacity, in a post office that was using Horizon system software—including any relevant pilot schemes—at the time that the behaviour constituting the offence occurred.

Such legislation is unprecedented and constitutionally sensitive, but this scandal is unprecedented too. I am clear that this legislation does not set a precedent for the future, and nor is it a reflection on the actions of the courts and the judiciary, who have dealt swiftly with the cases before them. However, we are clear that the scale and circumstances of the miscarriage of justice demand an exceptional response. We are also receiving invaluable support from the Horizon compensation advisory board in this effort. Once again, I thank the right honourable Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and his colleagues on the board, including Lord Arbuthnot. The board met on Thursday. We were joined by Sir Gary Hickinbottom and Sir Ross Cranston, who will be the final arbiters of claims in the overturned convictions and GLO schemes respectively. At the meeting, the board strongly supported the proposals in my Written Statement for legislating to overturn convictions. They also proposed sensible measures to accelerate compensation for those impacted.

One of the biggest constraints on the speed of redress for those who choose to take the full assessment route is that it takes time for claimants and their representatives to gather evidence and develop their claims. To encourage early submission of claims, once the Post Office receives a full claim from someone with an overturned conviction, it will forthwith top up their interim redress to £450,000. Of course, if they have opted for our £600,000 fixed-sum award, they will get that instead. Similarly, on the GLO scheme, where claims are typically smaller, we have implemented fixed-sum award offers of £75,000, helping claimants to move on with their lives. Those who are not satisfied with this fixed offer can continue to submit larger claims, and they will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. We have committed to provide offers on a fully completed claim within 40 working days in 90% of cases. If initial GLO offers are not accepted and independent facilitation is then entered, we shall forthwith pay postmasters 80% of our initial offer, to help ensure that they do not face hardship while those discussions are completed.

We have always been clear that our first offers of compensation should be full and fair. It is early days, but the numbers suggest that in the GLO scheme we are achieving that. More than 70% of our offers in that scheme are accepted by postmasters without reference to the independent panel. We will also ensure that postmasters are kept regularly up to date with the progress of their claims.

The advisory board has made a number of other helpful proposals. Those are set out in the report of the meeting, which my department is publishing today. I have undertaken to give them serious consideration. I will advise the House when we reach decisions about those proposals, and I will doubtless return again with further updates as part of our unceasing determination to deliver justice for everyone caught up in this long-running and tragic scandal. I commend this Statement to the House”.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Shadow Spokesperson (Business and Trade), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland) 4:10, 27 February 2024

My Lords, victims of the Fujitsu Horizon scandal have lacked justice for more than 20 years now. Lives and livelihoods were taken away, victims were told that it was only them and were not believed, and little progress has been seen until recently. Better late than never is little consolation, especially when, in numerous cases, the victims are no longer with us. Nonetheless, the Government’s progression of the legislation to rightly exonerate those wrongly convicted is welcome and I commend the work that has been done to get us here. I also appreciate the regularity with which the House has been updated, and the Minister has come here to answer our questions. The legal work needed to make this legislation happen will require cross-party work and support, so I urge the Government to continue in the manner that has brought us here.

I turn to the Statement. What further details can we expect on the legislation being tabled, and when? Do the Government have a timeline for the exoneration to be fulfilled and for full compensation to be delivered to all those who deserve it?

Our legal system played a huge part in this scandal. Time and again, the courts believed the Fujitsu computer rather than the individual sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses. As my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton has asked on many occasions—and I am sure he will again today—when will His Majesty’s Government look at overturning the premise that it is for the individual to prove that the computer was wrong rather than the opposite?

Many postmasters and postmistresses have waited far too long for redress. As we all know, justice delayed is justice denied. Dealing with that point, will the Minister tell us whether there will be an opportunity within the legislation for the 66 postmasters who have died, and the four who have committed suicide, to have their convictions overturned and quashed? Surely it is only fair for their families to also have justice and closure.

Looking at the reach of the legislation, is there a specific reason why it does not cover Northern Ireland? As we know, the Northern Ireland Justice Minister has said that she supports the Government’s line of approach, calling it the fastest and most equitable legislative solution. Would it not make sense to apply it directly across Northern Ireland? On a similar note, would the Minister update your Lordships’ House on conversations that the Government have had with their Scottish counterparts regarding overturning convictions that took place under the Scottish jurisdiction?

I would also be keen to hear whether any prosecutions were made using data from the precursor to Horizon, Capture? Did any sub-postmasters or sub-postmistresses lose money due to Capture failings? If so, surely these should also be included in the scope of the legislation.

I turn to the legal ramifications. The Statement makes it clear that a precedent will not be set for the future regarding the relationship between the judiciary and the legislature, but that is easier said than done. In future, what is to stop this case being treated as a precedent where Parliament can pass law to overturn judicial decisions?

In the case of other similar scandals, would not the Government consider taking a similar approach, especially as some people are asking whether we consider that this example could be relevant in other historic or other worthy causes? I would be particularly keen to hear what specific safeguards the Government are putting in place to protect this stance, and what advice they have received to provide them with the appropriate assurances regarding their approach.

On a slightly separate note, the Government have now confirmed with the Post Office that no investigators involved in this horrendous scandal remain working for the Post Office. This is progress, but can the Minister provide us with an update on progress not on the Wyn Williams statutory inquiry but on the Government’s own investigations?

Finally, last Monday the Business Secretary told the other place that

“while Mr Staunton was in post, a formal investigation was launched into allegations made regarding his conduct, including serious matters such as bullying”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/2/24; col. 474.]

Today, Mr Staunton told the Commons Business and Trade Select Committee that it was Nick Read, not him, who was the subject of the misconduct inquiry. Can the Minister confirm that that is correct and, if so, where it leaves the Secretary of State?

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for allowing this Statement to be debated in your Lordships’ House. We welcome its direction of travel.

Everything that could be said about the horror and unfairness of this scandal has been said, but we need to remind ourselves, as the noble Lord did, of the crushed human lives that sit beneath this issue. The move to quash these wrongful convictions at the point of the forthcoming Act’s commencement without the need for people to apply to have their convictions overturned is welcome, and the fact that it is being designed to reduce or eliminate the bureaucratic application process is promising. But clearly we need to understand it.

To qualify for this, as I understand it, there is an understandable list of criteria that have to be met, including the offence, the contract that people had, the timings, their exposure to Horizon, technology and other things. Here I have concerns. Can the Minister confirm that it will not be Post Office Ltd that will be sifting through who qualifies to have their conviction overturned? Experience has shown that it cannot be trusted; it has neither the good faith nor the processes to do this effectively and efficiently. But even if it is removed from this part of the process, it is Post Office Ltd that owns and controls most of the documentation and information that is needed to decide who qualifies for exoneration. As such, the upcoming legislation must include a duty on POL to provide documentation within a timeframe, with sanctions if they do not.

There is an overall communications issue that needs to be engaged with around those victims—what is happening to them, and how is the process going forward? If people who believe that they should be on the exoneration list are not on it, we need to know what the appeals process for them will be.

Of course, once their convictions are quashed, then we move into the compensation zone. Minister Hollinrake agreed yesterday that compensation has been delivered too slowly—I think we can all agree with that. We welcome the Minister’s comments about attempts to speed up payments, but it is clear that having three separate schemes and five different classes of victims has been a nightmare for those victims when it comes to getting through the system, and they have not been helped by Post Office Ltd—quite the opposite.

The chair of the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board, Professor Chris Hodges, speaking on the radio today made it clear that in his view POL should be completely removed from the role of processing and setting compensation payments. We agree, so can the Minister confirm that that is the Government’s intention? Of course, as the noble Lord said, this announcement covers only England and Wales, so we need to know intentions in respect of the two remaining countries. As the noble Lord asked, what is happening in Scotland and Northern Ireland? We understand the issues around devolved authorities, but what is the timing going to be and when could we see it?

There is also the issue of those who have been convicted in relation to the Capture system. Kevan Jones MP has been very clear on this, and we would like to know where that is going to go and how fast it is going to move, as with people who paid back sums to avoid the scandal that the Post Office was hanging over their heads. How will they move into the compensation zone? It is still not clear.

When will the legislation happen? The Minister talks about a July Royal Assent, which was my understanding. Given the sell-by date of this Parliament, that is running things a little fine. If possible, we need to move much faster.

As the noble Lord said, this legislation is unprecedented, and we will need time to get into the detail of what the Government are proposing. Your Lordships’ House needs time properly to assess both the effectiveness of the legislation and its constitutional implications. That is not to hold it up, but it is to do our job properly. Can the Minister tell your Lordships’ House when it will be tabled in the Commons and when we are likely to see it here? We need time for proper scrutiny, but let us get on with it. Victims are dying, victims are in financial need and victims need closure.

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I thank all noble Lords for participating in all these debates and of course my two opposite numbers for their comments in their opening statements. Without me going through a great grandstanding point, it is better if I address each individual point, because that will allow me to clarify the situation as it stands.

I share the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, about the cross-party support: we have all come together to ensure that these people are properly compensated, and we have come up with an extremely bold and unique mechanism for exonerating those who were wrongfully convicted. I am very grateful to my colleagues, and I think I speak on behalf of my noble friend Lord Offord in this House and Minister Hollinrake, who has done an exceptional amount to progress this entire process. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to him.

The further details of what needs to be worked out following the quashing of convictions Bill that we hope to introduce as soon as possible cover a range of issues, some of which have been raised today. The details of eligibility are certainly something that we need to ensure we get right. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, raised the principle of linking the appeals process to people who feel they should be on this list but are not included. I can say that it will be the Government who, in effect, compile the list of people who are eligible, according to the criteria. We set out the criteria very clearly in the Written Statement yesterday and they seem to me entirely logical. Clearly, you have to have been prosecuted by a certain prosecutor, such as the Post Office or the Crown Prosecution Service; you clearly have to have worked for the Post Office between certain dates; and I believe the evidence has to be linked to the Horizon scandal and to certain specific crimes, such as theft or fraud. I have looked carefully through the list, and it seems to cover key areas that we are trying to cover. However, there may be individuals who feel that they should be eligible for their convictions to be quashed but who may not necessarily fulfil the specific and very narrow criteria, so these are the sorts of details that I believe we will have to work on. We look forward to developing those as the time comes.

The principle around the devolved nations was raised and is very relevant. As noble Lords will understand, they are different legal systems, certainly in Scotland. I know that my colleague, Minister Hollinrake, met his counterparts yesterday, or over the last few days certainly, to progress what we believe will be a logical replication of this concept. I am not aware of any decision on the part of the devolved nations to change the principles that are operating, but of course it is up to them. We very much hope that they will follow our suit.

I agree that the situation of the postmasters who were convicted and have since passed away is indeed terrible, but the convictions will be quashed automatically through the Bill and by the sheer nature of the individuals’ eligibility. This is not the same as applying for compensation; postmasters will not have to apply to have their conviction quashed. The whole point about this sweeping Bill and why it requires, as both noble Lords have said, considerable scrutiny is that all convictions will be quashed en masse at the moment it becomes an Act. That is an important point; the families of anyone who is deceased will know that their conviction has been quashed and they will have that relief.

I agree that the entire tone regarding the speed of compensation has changed dramatically over the past two and a half years. I am very grateful to Minister Hollinrake for the work he has done to ensure, most importantly, that interim payments can be made before final payments. He recently increased the payments for those who have been convicted to £400,000, which gives people the immediate payment they need before they decide to take the next step. There are also substantially increased fixed offers; the record so far is quite significant: 78% of claims have now been paid and there is a clear focus on ensuring that all offers are fully completed within 40 working days in 90% of cases for the GLO scheme.

The comment was rightly made about the number of different compensation schemes. As a Minister answering questions on this, I want to get the facts right. It is clear that there are many different pools and mechanisms for making sure that people are fully compensated. There is a great historical tale as well, which further complicates things. The Government are very aware of this; we have been doing a huge amount to make sure that people have interim payments, that there is no playing with the detail when it comes to compensating them, and that we are forward-footed in assisting postmasters in making claims. We are reviewing how the payments processing is operated, particularly in those cases operated by the Post Office. As I said in Questions, this is not a decision to be taken by me, but it is obvious that all these points remain under constant review. We want people to be compensated; the Government have allocated an enormous amount of money to ensure that they are so that there is no discussion about quantum and people can be properly compensated. As soon as the Bill goes through, I would expect a significant number of new compensation claims to be made. To claim their compensation, people will have to sign a form saying that they are eligible and have not broken the law, which is a sensible measure to take.

Finally, this is a significant and wholly unprecedented move. I am grateful to be joined by my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy, who is a greater legal expert than me and is keen to make sure that his wise counsel is included in this process. This House will have the opportunity to debate in detail this unprecedented and unique situation. However, it is absolutely the right thing to do, given the historic tale, the sheer quantum and the clarity around the falseness of these convictions in so many cases. I hope that all noble Lords will agree and support the Government in executing this crucial move.

Photo of Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom Conservative 4:28, 27 February 2024

My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the advisory board, which is now meeting not exactly in continuous session but every few days.

The Post Office itself is under investigation by the police. Is it not quite inappropriate for the Post Office to express any view as to the correctness of overturning convictions and is it not quite wrong, coming back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for it to have any position or play any part in the compensation process?

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I am grateful to my noble friend and pay tribute to his work. The Post Office will not play a role in deciding the correctness of the overturned convictions in the Bill; that will be a matter for the Government. The statement about the Post Office paying compensation is well heard. I am grateful for that and I hope I have made the point that the Government continue to look into it. Having said that, the Post Office has paid a very large quantum of compensation payments—several thousand, I think. It would be extraordinary if the team there were not completely aware of the need to ensure that they get this right, I hope including significant cultural change. There has been a wholesale change of individuals on the board of directors since 2021 and 2022. Currently, the important thing is to get the compensation payments paid and, in parallel, review how the process is working.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour

My Lords, because of the moral imperative, when I was Secretary of State for Defence, in 2006 I amended the Armed Forces Act with two clauses to pardon 309 of the 346 shot at dawn for cowardice. The evidence suggested that most of them were suffering from PTSD and the records for the rest were poor. I was told that this would be a slippery slope and that I would undermine military justice by so doing, and historians told me that I was changing history. Military justice has survived and is just as robust as before, and on the “Today” programme I said to a historian that I was not remaking history but making it. Ministers are making history now, absolutely rightly, because of the moral imperative.

The Post Office’s lawyers, who were responsible for a number of these convictions, have tried to influence Ministers. I have not seen the letter, but I understand from the way in which it has been reported that they said

“it is highly likely that the vast majority of people who have not yet appealed were, in fact, guilty” because there were

“clear confessions and/or other corroborating evidence of guilt”.

From what I have seen of the way in which these interrogations were conducted, it is no wonder that some of these people confessed. They had this evidence from the Horizon system rammed down their throats and were told what the consequences would be if they did not confess. It seems to me that these confessions are pretty poor and I cannot think of any other evidence that could corroborate the false information that this system was producing. I do not see the argument here.

The Government should look very carefully at these cases before exoneration or quashing the convictions. As I understand it, the Minister said that they will ask people whose convictions are quashed to sign a statement that may later cause them to be prosecuted for fraud. We should not leave anyone with that hanging over them. We should check all these cases and see exactly what Peters & Peters is talking about, because I cannot think of anything that was not poisoned by Horizon.

Finally, my noble friend raised this crazy presumption that computers always produce the truth. When will we do something about this in the laws of evidence in this country?

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I thank the noble Lord for those points. I was reminded of his making of history in an unprecedented and wholly unique way only a few years ago. I think he will agree that that was the right thing to do then and that this is the right thing to do now. It does not set a precedent; these are truly specific circumstances. I agree with him about the principle around the confessions. The excellent and important TV series powerfully demonstrated the relevance of this point; in a number of cases, people seem to have been given ultimatums to accept an admission of guilt for a lower level of penalty. It is right that this legislation, when it becomes an Act, will exonerate all those who fulfil these criteria.

I push back on the principle that each of the cases should be reviewed in the detail that the noble Lord suggested, because the whole point is that we want to move with a sense of pace. It has been widely reported—and, I am sure, discussed among everyone who has been following the case—that it is certainly possible that some people who have committed a crime will be exonerated. It is the Government’s view—I call on the legal experts in this House in saying this—that the clear uncertainty on which the evidence was based would impact the retrials. I would have assumed that, if there was a retrial for each case, the baselessness of the evidence being used would mean that, even if those people were guilty of committing a crime, they would probably be exonerated in many instances. It is not simply around the technical element of the necessity; it is the fact that we want to move fast, and we want to exonerate these people who are aging—in many instances, sadly, some have already passed away. It is the right thing to do, and it sends a very clear message that this country and our two legislative Chambers want to redress a significant wrong.

Photo of Lord Bichard Lord Bichard Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister said that this is unprecedented, which of course it is in many respects. However, we are seeing a number of examples at the moment of the state finding it very difficult to deal with its failures, so I wonder whether we can be reassured that some lessons are being learned. In May of this year, we will see the publication of the infected blood inquiry’s report, which will be devastating. It would be even more devastating if the victims of those events experience the same problems that we are debating today and that we have debated around Windrush and Grenfell. Can the House be reassured that discussions are taking place in government to ensure that that does not happen?

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I am genuinely grateful to the noble Lord for that point. I agree in many instances. Governments—or the state, as he rightly said; this is not party political or individually associated —and large bureaucratic machines find it difficult to accept fault. I think that there are fears of precedent-setting and financial conversations. Indeed, for those in the wrong, quite rightly there are the principles we are debating today—with significant cost to the citizenry of this country, as well as the reputational damage and other issues we have inflicted on the individuals, both those involved and those who have suffered the consequences.

Unquestionably, there will be—and rightly so—a significant discussion about how arm’s-length bodies of this nature are managed by government departments and Ministers, and how those Ministers are then called to account by Parliament. The issue, probably over the last 30 years or so, has been a culture of creating more and more arm’s-length bodies, the virtue of which seems to be their so-called independence. At a time when there should have been higher degrees of scrutiny, the culture was the issue, not necessarily the governance processes, because the governance is there in many instances. In the case of the Post Office, the Government is the only shareholder, so they were clearly in the line of slight; of course, the Post Office was also being heavily subsidised by the Government. In many instances, the structures are there, but the culture around the so-called ability for Ministers to interfere or take a greater degree of scrutiny, interest and responsibility has been reset. I think there is a significant view that a review of how those governance processes work in a cultural sense is absolutely right. We should be aware of the chilling power of bureaucratic indifference—we certainly are; it is something I take very seriously in my own role.

Photo of Lord Bellingham Lord Bellingham Conservative

My Lords, I speak from the experience of a former MP who represented a number of sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses. There were two in particular in my constituency who, with hindsight, we know were wrongly accused, but they simply handed their leases in and left. Their lives were turned upside down and ruined. Across the whole country, there must be many more in that position who have not appeared on the department’s radar screens. Can the Minister say what can be done to help that cohort? How can we find ways of stopping them being ignored? Can he find a way of including them in the scheme?

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I thank my noble friend. Absolutely, we can compensate only people who come forward. In the different pools, a large number of people who have been identified have not submitted claims for compensation yet. That makes some of the data look as though we have not been responding, when that is not in fact the case. We are here to respond, we are keen to respond, money has been allocated to respond, and we want to make sure that we do the right thing and redress those cases.

My ask to all Members of this House, if they have former constituents, neighbours or people of their association whom they believe should be entitled to compensation, is to ask them to come forward. There is no final date. The closing date has been removed— I think there was supposed to be a closing date in August this year. Clearly, we do not want this to go on for ever; we want people to come forward and get the compensation that is right. I press people to spread the word.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, notwithstanding what I said at Question Time, the Minister has been really helpful in all his replies. I wonder whether he can help me with another. When I was a lot younger, the Post Office and the railways used to run extremely well and they were run by people who had been in the industries all their lives; they knew everything about the Post Office, how it worked, the problems and so on, or about the railways or others as well.

These people were paid reasonable salaries but not hugely differently from the people who worked on the ground. What we have now is chief executives or chairmen who move from industry to industry and then to something else—if you look at Nick Read, he has been at Tesco, Vodafone, HBOS, Lloyds and Thomas Cook. They are supposed to bring the experience from one into the other but they are entirely different kinds of organisations. Then they get paid a salary of £415,000 and a bonus of £455,000. Something has gone wrong. I heard Nick Read give some evidence today and it was not very impressive. We have these people—mostly men, by the way—who move from company to company, getting bigger and bigger salaries and bonuses. Should something not be done about that?

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to carry on in my position, at least until the end of this Statement. I am glad he has such halcyon memories of the railways when he was a younger man; I am not quite sure when that was.

We need to be aware of something which has struck me in the discussions around this. There is naturally a sense of reflection over the salaries paid to senior executives in an organisation such as the Post Office which is going through such a traumatic time, and the view that we want to punish the current executive leadership. While that is a very natural instinct, we want the best people possible running the Post Office today. It is an intensely complex situation, not just in terms of compensation and the issues around the Horizon scandal but running 11,000-odd Post Offices around the country and all the issues around that. What is important is that we get value for money; if the Post Office was making a great profit, everyone was happy, all the staff were delighted and we were not in this situation, we would be extremely pleased, probably, to pay the chief executive more than he is currently paid.

It is not necessarily about the quantum; the point is the governance around how salaries and bonuses are fixed. There was a question earlier in this House about long-term incentive plans compared with short-term ones. In the financial services sector, where I come from, you are paid your bonuses over three, five and often more years, which is considered to be quite onerous but I think it has resulted in changes in behaviour. It is absolutely right that we should look at these sorts of plans for these highly paid executives in these public corporations.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my registered interest as UK chair of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group. Can my noble friend update the House on the prospects of securing a significant contribution to the financial redress from Fujitsu? Of course, Fujitsu is a Japanese company but in this context this is consequential upon its acquisition of ICL during the 1990s.

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I thank my noble friend for raising that point. I think it has been widely publicised that Fujitsu has apologised for its role in this —as one would expect and hope—but has also accepted a moral responsibility. It has also suggested that it will look to see how it will participate in this process and my colleague Mr Hollinrake has been very clear that this overall envelope of compensation to postmasters is not to be borne solely by the Government. Clearly, there is an ongoing inquiry. This is an extremely complicated process to comment on at this stage but the tone of what my noble friend is suggesting chimes completely with the Government’s view.

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business)

To build on the question from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, in his reply the Minister talked about the remuneration of the executive team, but actually the sharp end of the Post Office is the people working behind the counters—who we all see when we are getting service from the Post Office. This can be nothing but a demoralising series of news for those people. Their morale within that business is really important, as they work for a company that has been so vilified publicly and hauled through the mud. Does the Minister think that the executive team, the evidence of which we saw today, is the team that can rebuild the morale and the spirit within the Post Office, which will be needed to deliver the sort of turnaround that the Minister was talking about?

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for those comments. I should say that the Government have full confidence in the CEO and in the board whom we have appointed over the last two to three years. I am told they are extremely grateful for the services of the government representative and the UKGI representative. There are two postmasters, who I think are elected to the board, so it is a diverse board that represents the interests of the Post Office. Its members are not tarnished, as it were, by previous activities, and they have been doing a good job in responding to what can be described only as a crisis.

I echo the noble Lord’s points. The Post Office personnel are the absolute core of the business, of many communities and of this country, and it is agonising to see them put through so much distress. I agree with the comment made, I think by a colleague of mine, that in some respects the sheer greatness of our Post Office staff around the country has been magnified by this event, and I am sure that more of us will use our local services when we get the opportunity. This has also drawn a lot of attention to the needs of the postal service around the country, the conditions that its employees work in and the opportunity to improve them, with more recruitment and more people entering the Post Office service. I totally support the noble Lord’s aim; it is a magnificent organisation in its principal core ambitions of delivering great service to communities. The people who work there should be celebrated, and we certainly do that.

Photo of Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom Conservative

May I come back on a point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, about the declaration that is to be signed by those whose convictions are overturned? I am not sure that I understand this declaration. If you have signed accounts which you know to be wrong and yet you have had your conviction for false accounting overturned by the Court of Appeal on the basis that it is an affront to justice, do you sign something saying you have not committed false accounting when maybe you have? I do not understand this declaration.

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I thank my noble friend for raising that point. The signing of the form saying that you are innocent is not to do with the conviction being quashed but is in order to receive compensation. The Government do not think that it is unreasonable, and I hope noble Lords would not think it is unreasonable, that there is an element of a threshold for people to say that they were not guilty of a crime and that they deserve their compensation. The nature of the application alone should probably cover that. It is a very sensible move to make, and I do not think it distorts the process. However, clearly, these are live conversations and we will have them in more detail.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Shadow Spokesperson (Business and Trade), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland)

Just to be clear on that as we go into the last few seconds, with regard to the quashing of the convictions, is it the case that the individual postmasters or postmistresses who received judicial sanction will not need to do anything for their convictions to be quashed, as the signing is purely to do with compensation?

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

Absolutely. In conclusion, the Bill will immediately exonerate everyone whose conviction is being quashed. It is not a requirement to apply to have your conviction quashed; the Government will draw up their list. Detail has been raised about how people could appeal if they feel they should be on the list and are not, and there are clearly some details that need to be worked out about how that process will work. It will happen the moment the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. It is absolutely the right thing to do, it is our intention that it will happen before the end of the Summer Recess, and I very much look forward to all sides of the House supporting us in that move.