This week Boris Johnson appeared to agree with the evolving position of the Business Minister Paul Scully* to agree during Prime Minister's Questions that all Subpostmasters who have been left out of pocket by the Post Office should be fairly compensated.
In response to a question from Seema Misra's MP, Jonathan Lord, the PM said:
"we are determined to ensure that postmasters and sub-postmasters are fairly compensated for what happened"
It's hardly unequivocal, but when put in the context of the question it reads much better. Here is the exchange in full:
Mr Jonathan Lord (Woking) (Con)
"On behalf of my constituent Seema Misra and other wrongly convicted sub-postmasters, I am grateful that the vital inquiry of Sir Wyn Williams into that scandal has now been given more teeth. However, there is widespread concern, shared by Post Office CEO Nick Read, that the compensation received by the sub-postmasters who were party to the civil litigation at the High Court was simply not fair. I urge the Prime Minister to ensure that those civil litigant sub-postmasters will be included in the anticipated Government compensation scheme."
The Prime Minister
"I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue—a tragic case of injustice. I have met some of the postmasters and sub-postmasters who have been affected by that miscarriage of justice. As he knows, the Government were not party to the initial litigation, nor the settlement that was agreed, but we are determined to ensure that postmasters and sub-postmasters are fairly compensated for what happened."
|Jonathan Lord MP|
Mr Lord is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Post Office, which Paul Scully attended on Wednesday evening. I asked Mr Lord both about the question he asked the PM and what he made of Mr Scully's performance at the APPG:
“It was a great opportunity to urge the Prime Minister that there should be proper compensation for the Subpostmasters who were civil litigants at the High Court, and I think that the PM’s response was reasonably positive.
I was also pleased that Paul Scully agreed to be the main guest of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Post Office on Tuesday evening. It would not be right for me to quote extensively from the private exchanges that took place. However, I have permission from the Chair to report that Minister Scully received frank and robust comments and very searching questions from each of MPs and Peers present on behalf of Subpostmasters and that he listened extremely carefully to all of the points that were made.”
Mr Lord's question follows on from Lucy Allan's question to the PM on 24 March to which Boris Johnson agreed the people responsible for the Post Office Horizon IT scandal should be held accountable. The exact exchange was as follows:
|Lucy Allan MP (taken from the British Sign Language replay of the debate on parliamentlive.tv)|
Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
"My constituent Tracy Felstead is at the Court of Appeal today, along with 41 other sub-postmasters. She is seeking to clear her name in a grotesque miscarriage of justice: the Post Office Horizon scandal. The Court has heard about the “institutional imperative” to back a flawed IT system and to convict sub-postmasters, destroying the lives of decent men and women in a ruthless determination to protect the Post Office come what may. Taxpayers will be picking up the bill for this multimillion-pound reckless wrongdoing. Does the Prime Minister agree that, in order for justice to be truly done, those responsible for this failure and its cover-up must be held to account? Does he agree that heads should roll?"
The Prime Minister
"I certainly understand my hon. Friend’s strong feelings on this issue, and her campaign is shared by many Members across the House. That is why we launched the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, which has made quite fast progress. Yes, we do want to learn the lessons. Yes, we do want to make sure that the right people are held to account for what happened and that the Post Office never repeats a mistake like this."
Again - my emphasis added for clarity.
Now two High Court judgments and a Court of Appeal ruling have put beyond doubt that Very Bad Things happened to a large number of people, the two outstanding issues are accountability and compensation. The Prime Minister has agreed with campaigning backbench MPs he wants to see people held to account, and now, that he wants to see everyone fairly compensated. The only remaining resistance appears to be from the Whitehall officials (the one who a government source told me didn't want any inquiry at all) who have the most to lose by allowing the Prime Minister and the campaigners to get their way. I hope the PM's endorsement of the campaigners' position makes a difference.
* During a debate to announce the new statutory footing of the Post Office Horizon Inquiry, Mr Scully said:
"On the group litigation settlement, I have talked about the fact that it was a full and final settlement, but I understand exactly where the right hon. Gentleman is coming from. That is not within the scope of the inquiry, but we will continue to look at what we can do to give a fair settlement of compensation for postmasters in the different tranches of the stages of the civil and criminal cases."
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