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Post Office and Horizon Software — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 5th March 2020.

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Photo of Lucy Allan Lucy Allan Conservative, Telford 1:30 pm, 5th March 2020

The hon. Lady makes an important point. It is unbelievable that the announcement was made by the Post Office on 11 December, when we all know what we were doing on 12 December. It was supposed to be part of a confidentiality agreement, and the Post Office announced that £57 million was to be paid to sub-postmasters when that was of course not the case. That is further evidence of the way in which the Post Office has conducted itself throughout the process. It is not acceptable to mislead in that way. The judge said almost the same thing regarding some of the evidence that was put before him. I therefore fully agree that that was a shameful part of this saga, although the whole saga is deeply shameful.

I invite the Minister to consider the many very real conflicts of interest. I will not outline them all, but I will put on record that his Department owns the equity in the Post Office, provides up to £1 billion in debt funding, approves the board, monitors performance, and provides annual grants. Last year’s grant was £50 million. I will say no more on that, but I will give him a list of the conflicts of interest, which also include personnel, at a later date. In a modern business environment, we need to be alert to the fact that such conflicts do not prevent justice from being done.

I am encouraged by discussions with Ministers and across parties. There is a clear will in Parliament to move forward and see justice done. Whatever obstacles the Post Office continues to put in the way, I hope it senses the appetite in Parliament and hears the voice of the judge in this case. The Post Office needs to stop putting obstacles in the way of justice; it is doing the organisation no favours whatever.

I am sure the Minister will agree that the Post Office has had the opportunity to be part of the solution over and over again, and that that time has passed. Given all its actions throughout, including the mediation process back in 2015 that it simply cancelled—it did not like what the forensic accountants were saying, and it fired them—the Post Office has had its opportunity to be part of the solution. Its behaviour in the litigation suggests that it has no interest whatever in finding a solution for postmasters; its interests lie in preserving the institution no matter what.

I hope we can all ensure that the Post Office does not stand in the way of the work of the CCRC or the Court of Appeal. I put on record my thanks to the campaign group, which has done amazing work against the odds, and to the Chairman of Ways and Means, who allowed this debate. I know that many others wanted to be granted a debate on this subject, and I am grateful that I was given the opportunity. It is we, in this place, who must now find a solution to this grotesque injustice—a miscarriage of justice of immense proportions—and we must do so whatever the obstacles, come what may.