Monday 23 March 2020

Government to launch independent review into Horizon scandal

Kevan Jones MP, kicking off the Commons debate on 19 March 2020
Last week's Commons debate on the Post Office Horizon scandal, secured by Kevan Jones and Andrew Bridgen, moved things on a little from the Westminster Hall debate I attended in 2014, but not by much.

You can watch everything unfold in real time here, or you can read the transcript in Hansard here.

During the debate, MPs demonstrated their clear understanding of what had gone wrong over the last 20 years whilst spelling out to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Paul Scully, what they thought was needed to bring proper redress to those caught up in it.

The minister deflected nearly everything.

Mr Scully did give some more information on the inquiry the Prime Minister promised to Kate Osborne during PMQs on 26 February this year. His exact words were:
"We have talked about the independent review, which the Prime Minister mentioned a couple of weeks ago. We are looking at the best way to do it. There will be a further announcement as soon as possible in the very near future. I know that hon. Members want progress, but I want to ensure that we get it right, rather than rushing into the terms of reference and other details. I want to make sure, as I said, without hiding and without washing my hands of it, that we actually get something that means something to the affected postmasters."
How a "review" differs from an "inquiry" obviously depends on its terms of scope and reference, but I suspect, given what the government has said already, finding out who was responsible for the last six years of denial and cover-up will not be part of it.

This is because on 25 Feb Lord Callanan, the BEIS minister in the House of Lords told a Grand Committee debate that when it comes to the Post Office "the Government do not propose to take any further action against current or former directors."

On 5 March, Lord Callanan also told the Lords that "the Post Office management at the time behaved disgracefully but none of them is now in post."

This is not true. Plenty remain in post, not least Tim Parker and Alisdair Cameron (who, as Post Office board members, authorised the attempt to recuse the High Court judge presiding over the class action against the Post Office) and director Angela van den Bogerd (who was found to have tried to mislead the same judge whilst on oath in court).

Mr Scully's "review" is also unlikely to properly address the issue of compensation for claimants in the class action, given that, during the 25 Feb House of Lords debate, Lord Dallanan said that because the action had been settled the government "cannot accept any further request for payment."

Mr Scully's review is also unlikely to look into whether or not the Post Office should still be able investigate and prosecute its Subpostmasters without any external scrutiny. During Thursday's Commons debate he shrugged: "individuals and companies can bring such prosecutions—they are not limited to the Post Office."

So it seems, as things stand:

a) no one will be held responsible for the dozens of lives ruined by the Post Office and its shareholder, the government, because no one in power is proposing to find out who made the decisions which allowed this to happen.

b) none of those most affected by what was done to them (ie the group of campaigning Subpostmaster claimants who brought the High Court class action) will ever receive anything close to what they lost.

For a fully-indexed, easy to digest menu of recent parliamentary activity around the Post Office scandal, including top quotes, a/v and transcripts, please click here.

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