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Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill (Instructions)

Volume 749: debated on Monday 29 April 2024

Bill to be considered in Committee.

Before the House resolves itself into Committee, I draw the House’s attention to the instruction motions on the Order Paper. They are subject to selection by the Chair, and Mr Speaker has decided to select the motions in the name of Secretary Kemi Badenoch, to allow the Bill to extend to Northern Ireland, and in the name of Marion Fellows, to allow the Committee to make provision in the Bill for it to make provision relating to Scotland.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill that it has power to make provision in the Bill for it to extend to Northern Ireland.—(Robert Largan.)

On behalf of the Justice Minister, First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and indeed Northern Ireland MPs, I want to put on record briefly our gratitude to the Minister and the Government for listening to the arguments we have put forward and for including Northern Ireland in the Bill. It has made an enormous difference and we are extremely grateful. I just wanted to make sure that that was properly placed on record.

I agree with the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry) and thank the Minister for reaching this point. There has been considerable effort and collaboration across the House and across parties. The hon. Gentleman mentioned most particularly the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister, the Justice Minister for Northern Ireland and, indeed, all Northern Ireland MPs, who are all agreeable to the aspiration of the instruction to the Committee. It is right that Northern Ireland be included in a UK-wide system, and the outcome should benefit our constituents who have been most deeply affected by the Horizon scandal.

Question put and agreed to.

I beg to move,

That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill that it have leave to make provision relating to Scotland.

At the outset, let me say that if I cry this afternoon, it is not because I am upset; it is because I am angry and feel got at by other parties in this place, which are determined not to bring Scotland into the Bill.

This morning, Robert Thomson, Chris Dawson and Keith Macaldowie—three sub-postmasters—travelled from Scotland to be here to listen to the reasons that Scotland should not be included in the Bill. Unfortunately, there were two urgent questions, a statement and a train break-down, so they have had to go back and could not be here to watch the people in this House hold the fate of their exoneration in their hands.

There are huge legal misgivings about and potential constitutional implications to the Bill, as legal authorities across the United Kingdom have said. However, to use the words of the Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake):

“We recognise that this is an exceptional step, but these are exceptional circumstances.”—[Official Report, 10 January 2024; Vol. 743, c. 302.]

Postmasters across the United Kingdom want this exoneration Bill to succeed, as do those of us on the SNP Benches. It must succeed; we need to get the exoneration through this place in order that convicted sub-postmasters across the United Kingdom can claim compensation and redress for what they have suffered.

I have before me the witness statement from Robert Thomson, who, during his court case, had to sit down with his two young sons to tell them of the real possibility that he would have to go to prison. How awful is that? How awful it is for all the other sub-postmasters who have had to go through the very same experience?

My hon. Friend talks about going to prison. My constituent lost her liberty, her good name, her house, her marriage, her family—her whole existence—because of this situation. She has had to move to my constituency —a life on her own. The Government are denying my constituent the justice she deserves. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is utterly shameful?

“Utterly shameful” does not even begin to describe it.

Right up until quite recently, the Government said that they would include Scotland in the Bill, but they have decided not to do so for spurious reasons. Today, I have been talking to sub-postmasters, and I have invited Scottish MPs to come and speak. The main reason some Scottish MPs, whether they are Liberal Democrats or Conservative Ministers, did not want to include Scotland was that the First Minister said that he did not want to see criminals exonerated when they were guilty. No one wants that—[Interruption.] I have heard the Minister himself say that previously in this House.

I admire the passion with which my hon. Friend is speaking on behalf of sub-postmasters. Does she agree that part of the sense of insult upon injury is that there is no proper explanation as to why Scotland cannot be included, so it looks like petty partisanship? And I have to say, Madam Deputy Speaker, that that is borne out by the chuntering, sniggering and laughter going on behind me as my hon. Friend speaks.

My hon. Friend is right: I am passionate about this. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on post offices, I have deliberately worked on this issue, across parties, for years—I have worked with everyone. Indeed, when I wrote to the Prime Minister at one point, I had signatures from every party, including from a Member of Sinn Féin, a party that does not attend the House.

I have also heard it said today that the Lord Advocate does not want this. Well, at no point has the Lord Advocate taken a view on proposed legislation either in Westminster or in Holyrood. The Lord Advocate is not responsible for bringing cases of miscarriages of justice before the court of appeal in Scotland.

I have worked with the hon. Lady in her role as chair of the APPG, and I commend her for her work over many years. The point about the Lord Advocate is surely that the route to justice must go through the Scottish Parliament, because the route to prosecution went through the Scottish Parliament. That is where the route of accountability lies. [Interruption.] There was some talk about chuntering earlier, but it seems to go in more than one way. I refer the hon. Lady to the comments of the Lord Advocate in the Scottish Parliament on 16 January. If the Lord Advocate really wants the Bill to proceed, she could say so in terms herself. [Interruption.] Chunter on, boys.

Is my hon. Friend as surprised as me that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), a former prosecutor, does not understand that prosecutions do not go through the Scottish Parliament? The prosecution service in Scotland is completely independent of Parliament. That is a fundamental aspect of our constitution. Is she as shocked as me that the right hon. Gentleman does not understand that, and does she agree that the fact that he misses such a fundamental point rather undermines the force of his argument?

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for making that point. The body responsible for bringing miscarriages of justice before the court of appeal in Scotland is the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which is not under the spell of the Lord Advocate. That argument is spurious to say the least.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Is she aware of the evidence given by Professor James Chalmers of the University of Glasgow to the Justice Committee a couple of weeks ago? He was asked this very question, and he said that in his view, it was better that the legislation goes through this place with legislative consent motions in the Scottish Parliament, because it is tied directly to the UK compensation scheme for this area.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Yes, I am very aware that the regius professor of law at the University of Glasgow made that very point to the Justice Committee. There has been widespread disquiet; I think the Chair of that Committee, the hon. and learned Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), would agree that no one in the legal profession really wants this Bill. It is breaking all precedent, but for a really good reason.

Postmasters have suffered. Robert Thomson, the postmaster who was going to be sitting in the Gallery, was convicted in 2006 while his mother was still alive. He is the man who had to talk to his sons and tell them, “I might not be here tomorrow.” He did not go to prison, but he could not get a job that gave him the income that he had when he was a postmaster. He has been in penury, his life has been turned upside down, and his children have suffered enormously. That is the case for so many sub-postmasters across the United Kingdom: they did nothing wrong, yet people were pointing at them in the street and whispering. Another sub-postmaster who was going to be in the Gallery watching us all today had to move back to his hometown because, five years later, he heard people in the supermarket saying, “There’s the guy who stole from the Post Office.” This kind of thing never leaves those victims—they will carry it to their dying day. Robert Thomson’s mother died before her son spent two years going through the Scottish courts to be exonerated.

Every time I have been in this place when any legal issue comes up, I am told that this Parliament is sovereign. Well, prove it: put the provisions of this Bill into Scotland-wide use as well. [Interruption.] Members can stand at the back, smile and snigger, but I mean it—it is absolutely disgraceful that you are saying to Scottish sub-postmasters who were convicted that they cannot get justice at the same time as their English, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts. This is a Westminster problem. Westminster must and should sort it out, and it is easily done. Ask for a legislative consent motion, and you will get it. The Scottish Parliament will put a Bill through to exonerate these postmasters, but it cannot do it—it cannot mirror exactly what is done in this place—until this Bill has gone through all of its stages.

Having regard to the evidence of Professor Chalmers, who of course is regius professor of criminal law at Glasgow University—that addressing this problem would be best done in this place—does my hon. Friend agree that we often hear sanctimonious lectures from the UK Government about how Scotland’s two Governments should work together to benefit Scotland? This legislation deals with a problem made on the UK Government’s watch; is it not the perfect example of an issue on which Scotland’s two Governments should act together, with the UK Government taking the lead in the same way that they have done for Northern Ireland and the Scottish Government consenting, so that we can get justice done swiftly for Scottish postmasters and postmistresses in the same way as it has been done for other people in this glorious Union that Tory Members are always telling us about?

Yes. I was appalled, upset and disturbed by the fact that the Scottish Government had been trying to contact Westminster Ministers to get this Bill to cover Scotland as well, and there was no comeback and no correspondence—nobody bothered. One afternoon, within a two-hour period, the Minister—who I greatly admire, as he knows; I have a very good working relationship with him—was able to phone the Northern Irish First Minister, Deputy First Minister and Justice Minister.

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I have met the Scottish justice Minister twice online; the reason I met the Northern Ireland Ministers physically is that they came here to Parliament to meet us.

May I push back on something that the hon. Lady said a few moments ago? She said that this Parliament is sovereign. Absolutely, it is sovereign, but on these matters, her Parliament is also sovereign. [Interruption.] Clearly, as she said earlier in her remarks, there is legal controversy on these matters—she has admitted that herself. This Parliament is taking the legal risk in that area, but is the hon. Lady aware of her Lord Advocate’s position on this particular matter? These are her actual words:

“It is important to recognise that, in Scotland, there is an established route of appeal in circumstances such as this…and that due process must be followed.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 16 January 2024; c. 14.]

Does the hon. Lady not believe that in that situation, her Parliament should act to overturn these convictions?

I am quite anxious that we do not have too many long interventions so that, if hon. Members want to catch my eye, there is plenty of time for debate.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I hate to disagree with you—as you know, I do not do that—but there will be no more time for some Members to speak on this Bill if it does not include Scotland. In his intervention, the Minister said that the Scottish Parliament is sovereign—well, there is a surprise. We on the SNP Benches all want Scotland to be sovereign, but it is the people who have sovereignty in Scotland, not the Parliament.

We are dancing on the heads of pins, Madam Deputy Speaker, which is not my intention. It is very clear—so clear that it is transparent— that party politics is involved in all of this. Six days ago, the Secretary of State for Business and Trade described the Scottish Parliament as lazy, and asked why it did not put through its own legislation. Believe me, it can and it will if it has to, but why should Scottish postmasters wait longer for justice? On Second Reading in this place, I said that there was likely to be to-ing and fro-ing, and that it would probably be July before this Bill is passed.

On behalf of my constituents who have been affected by this scandal, I thank my hon. Friend for the astonishing amount of work she has done in this area. Is it not the case that, while it would certainly create issues for the legal officers in Scotland if Scotland were included in this Westminster Bill, a Bill in the Scottish Parliament would create exactly the same issues for them? The concern for legal officers on both sides of the border is that they do not like it when parliamentarians overturn the decisions of the courts, but it has to be done this time, because some of the postmasters will not live to see their compensation if we do not get on with it soon.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I heard the Minister chuntering from a sedentary position that Scottish Ministers should take responsibility for this.

They will, but they did not cause the need for this Bill. This is a Westminster issue and should be sorted out here.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am incensed—people may have realised that. This is not fake anger: this is a real issue for those men who came down here today. They were representative of the 100 sub-postmasters and mistresses in Scotland, and we have not even started to talk about the effect on their families and those who have died. Two years it took Robert Thomson to go through court, during which time his mother died, and it is the same story right across all the postmasters who have lost family members, and postmasters have committed suicide. This has to be sorted.

I go back to my original point. Scottish postmasters will be behind the curve when it comes to applying for the due compensation they are entitled to if they are not exonerated at the same time as the rest of the postmasters in the UK. This is a piece of nonsense. Get it done for Scotland. The Government have done it for Northern Ireland. Get it done for Scotland.

I thank the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) for her remarks and her engagement. It has always been a pleasure to work with her both in the Chamber and in other areas. Yes, we have worked cross-party, and I have been very keen to do that all the way through on these matters, but that does not of course mean we always agree.

I was very grateful to have the opportunity to meet the hon. Lady earlier with the Scottish postmasters she referred to. I am sorry that they have not been able to attend this debate. However, at that point I was able to explain to those postmasters why the Government oppose this motion, as our position remains unchanged that this Bill should not be amended to include Scotland.

I beg your pardon, Madam Deputy Speaker. What did the Scottish sub-postmasters say to the Minister this afternoon? Were they pleased, were they happy and did they feel they were getting justice through this action?

I listened to the postmasters very carefully, and of course they would prefer us to legislate in the way the hon. Lady describes. I set out very clearly the reasons why we would not do so, and I think they heard the concerns we raised about how we think we should proceed.

Scotland has a historically separate legal jurisdiction, and the Lord Advocate and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service have a unique role in prosecutions in Scotland. We feel it is more appropriate for the Scottish Government to bring forward proposals to address prosecutions on this matter in Scotland, and for those to be scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament. The First Minister has previously made public comments suggesting that the UK Government’s approach to the criteria in our legislation was too broad in relation to the convictions it would quash. He is reported, in The National on 27 March, to have said that he wanted

“to make sure that people who have genuinely committed a crime…do not then have access to…compensation.”

We have been clear from the start that there is a real risk of that happening with our approach.

Has the Minister taken the time to read the evidence taken at the Justice Committee when Professor Chalmers said that the purpose of the Bill is to make sure convictions can be quashed so that innocent people can be compensated? The scandal originated with a faulty computer system and dubious investigatory procedures within a UK-wide institution. The scheme for compensation is to be UK-wide, so the paving legislation should be UK-wide, too. That is the opinion of the regius professor of criminal law at the University of Glasgow. Has the Minister given that any thought, and can he tell me why it is wrong?

I thank the hon. and learned Member for her point, and I heard the points she raised earlier. It is very clear that all that is required for someone to access the compensation is the overturning of a conviction, and that can be done by means chosen by the Scottish Parliament or the means that have been chosen by the UK Parliament. There will be identical access to the compensation schemes: it makes no difference by whatever mechanism those convictions are overturned.

As I said earlier, the Lord Advocate has said very clearly that

“It is important to recognise that in Scotland, there is an established route of appeal in circumstances such as this…and that due process must be followed.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 16 January 2024; c. 14.]

She is of course entitled to that view. These are difficult political choices, which we have taken in defining the cohort criteria, and it is right that responsible Ministers remain accountable for those decisions. The buck stops here, and it must also stop with the Scottish Government.

I am confused at the inconsistency here, so perhaps the Minister could help us. The Government are putting through a Criminal Justice Bill that impacts on Scotland, which has required the Scottish Parliament to pass a legislative consent motion for that Bill. So if it is good enough for the Criminal Justice Bill going through this place, why is it not good enough for this Bill to go through this place?

As I said earlier, Scottish Ministers have the responsibility and the means to be able to form this legislation. We think it is important that they take responsibility for their decisions in this area, given the nature of these issues.

I will make some progress, if I may.

I note that the First Minister stated on Thursday 18 April that the Scottish Government are prepared to introduce legislation to the Scottish Parliament to overturn convictions—I understand from the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw that that legislation has actually been drafted—and I believe it is possible and necessary for the Scottish Government to do so swiftly. Our position on Scotland’s inclusion in the Bill is very clear. The Government made a statement on 22 February to that effect, and I have written to the Scottish Government on this point. Indeed, the First Minister’s comments, together with the proposed draft amendment to the UK Bill that the Scottish Government have published, suggest that they should be in a position to do so.

The UK Government remain committed to supporting the Scottish Government to progress their own approach to their legislation. I have met Scottish Government Ministers multiple times since this Bill was introduced, and officials at the Department for Business and Trade and the Ministry of Justice hold weekly meetings with officials in the Scottish Government to discuss these issues.

In conclusion, I remain of the view that the Scottish Government should introduce their own legislation to quash convictions in their jurisdiction. As such, the Government oppose this motion.

The Horizon scandal is one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice in British history, and it has robbed sub-postmasters of their lives, their liberty and their livelihoods. We welcome the Government’s inclusion of Northern Ireland in the territorial scope of this Bill following our representations, including on Second Reading.

We agree that sub-postmasters in Scotland who have been victims of this devastating scandal need urgent exoneration and compensation as much as cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I want to commend the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) for her work in tirelessly campaigning for victims across the United Kingdom, especially in Scotland, and her work in the APPG. However, the case of Scotland’s inclusion provides a unique set of issues. Unlike in Northern Ireland, there has not been united support for Scotland’s inclusion in the Bill. Both the Scottish judiciary and a number of MSPs have publicly opposed this course of action.

Does the hon. Lady agree with me that many people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have vociferously opposed the Bill, but actually understand, as people do in Scotland, that it is necessary and that it is a pragmatic solution to a situation that has been going on for far too long?

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but the reality is that this is a very unusual Bill, and there are serious issues, which we will go on to debate, about the separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary.

In a context where, as I have said, there is disagreement between the judiciary and the legislature in Scotland, we believe it is not appropriate for the United Kingdom Parliament to overrule the Scottish judiciary. It should be for Holyrood to make that call and pass a mirror Bill. Therefore, we intend to abstain on this motion to include Scotland.

I thank the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) for organising the briefing for us today. I attended it; I think there was only one sub-postmaster and one solicitor present at the time, but it was useful to hear from them. I pay tribute, as I have done before, to her for the work that she has done.

I suppose it is a consequence of the motion before the House that we have emphasised its procedural aspects more heavily than the outcomes, but the House today needs to focus on the best possible outcomes for sub-postmasters. If there had been insistence on the Northern Ireland Assembly drawing up legislation, that would have required a 12-week minimum statutory consultation period, and that would have produced a worse outcome for sub-postmasters in Northern Ireland. For that reason, I thought that the direction in which the Minister moved was absolutely sensible.

I am afraid that I do not take the same view on the position in Scotland. Including Scotland in the Bill would leave unresolved issues, and the Bill would therefore leave Scottish postmasters in a poorer position than those in the rest of the country.

Will the hon. and learned Lady let me explain why I take that view? On 16 January, the Lord Advocate made the following observations, and I think that she is quite right:

“The vast majority of the cases that may be affected by the issue were cases in which the accused pled guilty to the offence. Often, those pleas were tendered under legal representation. Although it is impossible to comment on every case, prosecutors do not mark cases to proceed in the absence of corroboration—they simply do not do that. Defence solicitors do not advise clients to plead guilty in the absence of corroboration. In cases that proceed to trial, the sheriffs do not convict in the absence of corroboration. As a result, it is reasonable to infer that, in cases that resulted in a conviction—whether by guilty plea or conviction after trial—other evidence was available that was capable of supporting the finding of guilt…As I have explained, not every Horizon case will involve a miscarriage of justice. In some cases, there was sufficient evidence to support a criminal conviction.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 16 January 2024; c. 22-27]

That is the view and analysis of the Lord Advocate. Essentially, what she is saying—I have always believed that this is right—is that because of the way that the laws of evidence and procedure operate in Scotland, and in particular because of the need for corroboration, qualitative safeguards that bring better outcomes are available to people who are before the Scottish courts. The presence of corroboration is an important part of Scots law, and the Lord Advocate is right to highlight that. As she has raised these issues, I believe that it is better for legislation to be made in the Scottish Parliament, where the equivalent to this stage would take place in a committee, and not in the Chamber, as is the case here; again, that is preferable.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not appreciate that the concerns that the Lord Advocate has expressed are similar to those expressed by lawyers from across these islands about this legislation? Ultimately, it is Parliament’s decision whether to exonerate. Has he read the evidence given to the Criminal Justice Committee, and does he disagree with Professor Chalmers, who said that the purpose of the Bill is to make sure that convictions can be quashed, so that innocent people can be compensated quickly; that the scandal originated with a faulty computer system and dubious investigating procedures in a UK-wide institution; and that the scheme for compensation is UK-wide, so the paving legislation should be UK wide? That is not my opinion; it is the opinion of one of Scotland’s most pre-eminent criminal lawyers, the regius professor at Glasgow. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me why he is wrong?

The hon. and learned Lady has said herself that this is a matter of opinion. I put great confidence in the opinion of Professor Chalmers, but I come to a different conclusion, because the route to conviction lay through civil servants employed by the Scottish Government—[Interruption.] As the hon. and learned Lady reminds us, almost three decades ago, I was one of them, so I understand perfectly how the system works, and I also understand that if I ever got it wrong—incredible though that suggestion may seem—the accountability for my mistake would be through the Lord Advocate.

I note that nobody has challenged the very important point that because the Scottish legislation has to mirror UK legislation, it cannot be passed until this Bill has had Royal Assent. The right hon. Gentleman has experience of the system; in his experience, once the Scottish Parliament can start considering legislation, what would be the minimum delay before Scotland caught up? Secondly, does he agree that it would be outrageous for anyone to try to shut down the Scottish Parliament in the meantime, to build in further unnecessary delay?

I am intrigued to know what that final question about shutting down the Scottish Parliament is about, but it is open to the Scottish Parliament to deal with such matters through an emergency procedure. That would be sensible, and it would bring sub-postmasters across the whole United Kingdom to exactly the same place at the end of the day. That can be done in a matter of days, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware. We have heard from others that the legislation is drafted and ready to go, so as a matter of politics, what is it that the Scottish National party does not want to admit?

As far as I am concerned, and as far as the SNP is concerned, politics does not come into this. It is about getting justice for Scottish sub-postmasters and postmasters across the rest of the United Kingdom at the same time.

The hon. Lady knows that I agree with her a lot more than either of us would ever admit, but on this matter, there is clearly a difference of opinion. The decision on whether the route to exoneration should be through the Scottish Parliament or through this place is a political choice.

I sense that the right hon. Gentleman is reaching his peroration, and as we are both Scots lawyers, I wonder if he will join me in correcting the Labour party spokesperson, the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali). She said repeatedly that the Scottish judiciary did not want this legislation. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Scottish judiciary, like the English judiciary, would never comment on the desirability of legislation. Does he agree that the hon. Lady was getting mixed up with the Lord Advocate? Perhaps she should have a chance to correct the record later, because it is very important that the House does not give the impression that the Scottish judiciary have been criticising Parliament when they have not.

I say gently to the hon. and learned Lady that the Scottish judiciary would never comment publicly because, in my experience, they have ways of making their views known. But she is right to point out that on this occasion, the Opposition spokesperson confused the office of the Lord Advocate with the judiciary. I would say to the hon. and learned Lady, however, that that in itself demonstrates to me the need for this matter to be dealt with where the expertise lies, which is the Scottish Parliament.

I find myself in the unusual position of supporting an SNP motion. It is probably the first time; I suspect it will be the last. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) has shown her dedication to the people whom she represents. I have sat in Committee with her, and I have listened to her in debates, and I know how passionately she feels about this matter. She is not, in my view, just making a political point; she honestly believes that postmasters and postmistresses in Scotland who have been wronged by the Post Office, which carelessly dealt with her cases, deserve the same justice as those in Northern Ireland, England and Wales.

I appreciate the fact that the Minister listened to voices from Northern Ireland. Since coming into his position—this matter has gone on for a long time—he has been dedicated to resolving the issue, and I praise him for that, but we have one last part of the jigsaw that needs to be dealt with. It could be dealt with by including Scotland in the Bill, as Northern Ireland has been included.

Like others who have spoken, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) for the work that she has done. We all feel for the postmasters throughout Scotland, but does the right hon. Gentleman accept that a lot of people in Scotland watching this are wondering why the SNP’s argument is not with the Lord Advocate, the person responsible for this delay? Why are SNP Members bringing it here? Why are their Government not taking this up with the Lord Advocate?

I do not know about the relationship between the Lord Advocate and the Scottish National party, but I do know that a remedy is going through this House today that could dispense with whatever differences there might be in Scotland, and deal with an issue that all of us in this House are agreed needs to be dealt with quickly.

I have listened to the argument made by the Minister and others that due process needs to be followed. Indeed, I have listened to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who said, “You have to remember that the Scottish system is different. The level of proof in Scotland is different. There was greater information available.” The implication is that when the Scottish Parliament considers this, it might come to the conclusion that some of the convictions were safe, and some postmasters and postmistresses would not be exonerated at all. We have not taken that view for the rest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, some judges have argued that not all the convictions were unsafe, but we have decided that given how the whole Horizon situation was dealt with, it is fair that we take the view that the problems may affect some people who were rightly convicted and do not start going through each case. I remember that an argument made by a number of Members here was, “Why don’t we do this case by case?”

The situation is different in Scotland; the Lord Advocate’s position is exactly that she does not want to risk one person who was rightly convicted being exonerated. It is therefore impossible for Scotland to follow the same route as us at the moment. As was detailed in the Scottish Parliament earlier this year, the Lord Advocate is against mass exoneration. Until she changes her position and the advice that she gives to the Scottish Government, it is impossible for them to follow what we are doing in the House of Commons through this Bill.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was not listening to me, but I made the point that although there may be cases in other parts of the United Kingdom that are in the same situation, given the exceptional circumstances, we are prepared to exonerate. If the Lord Advocate’s position is as he says, fair enough, but Parliament is making this decision for people in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. As the Bill is available to us, we should apply it to people in Scotland as well.

I am grateful to be given the chance to make possibly the only supportive intervention I will ever make on the right hon. Gentleman. Does he not agree that if the possibility of a single guilty person walking free was really such a barrier, we would never have the requirement for guilt to be proven beyond reasonable doubt not only in Scotland, but in England, Wales and Northern Ireland? In a judicial system, we accept that it is better for a guilty person to go free than for an innocent person to go to jail.

I will not, because I just want to make two more points. First, the Minister has said, “It can be done quickly through the Parliament in Scotland.” The Scottish Parliament cannot start the process until the law has gone through here. I think I can say this, although some SNP Members might not be able to: the situation in Scotland at the moment does not look good for getting legislation through quickly for any reason, because of the uncertainty around the leadership, what will happen and what support there will be. There is a parallel with the situation we had in Northern Ireland. One of the arguments we made was over special circumstances, with the Assembly just being set up again and the delay that might cause. The Minister’s argument could mean further delay in getting justice for postmasters and postmistresses in Scotland.

May I just point out that the legislation apparently has already been drafted for Scotland? There is no requirement for Scotland’s legislation to mirror our legislation; that would be up to the Scottish Parliament, and it is clear that is the case. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is not just the Lord Advocate who is against what we are doing? The First Minister himself said, as I said earlier, that people with safe convictions should not have access to compensation. We are clear that the route we are taking raises that likelihood. It is therefore only right that the Scottish Parliament takes this decision.

That has been the Minister’s position throughout the discussions we had earlier. I am still arguing for including Scotland, on the basis of consistency, fairness, speed and the political signal we should be sending to people in Scotland. No SNP Member will make this point, but I will. We have already heard in this debate that this is more of a political decision. The Scottish National party feels that it is being got at—sometimes it deserves to be got at—but my point is this: when there is a mechanism to avoid it, why create a sense of victimhood? People feel they have been got at and have been treated differently when they could have been treated in the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not think there is any political merit in excluding Scotland from this legislation. For the people who have been wronged in the Horizon scandal, for the people who have had their reputations damaged, and for the picture of this Parliament as a fair Parliament, dealing with people right across the United Kingdom who have been affected by a United Kingdom problem, I believe this motion should be passed today and Scotland should be included along with Northern Ireland.

I start by paying tribute to several people across this House from a number of different parties. When I arrived here last year, I could tell they had already been working hard on this issue, including my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows). There is consensus across the House that this huge injustice must be righted. The question, as we have heard from a number of people, is how that is done in Scotland, and that is what I want to speak to briefly.

I want to make two points. First, there is the question of speed, which we have heard about a number of times, but more importantly, there is the question of accountability. Accountability is important. The Scottish Parliament has responsibility for justice in Scotland. Scotland has always had a separate legal system—since long before the Scottish Parliament was re-established—and, as we have heard, there are the questions of the Lord Advocate’s position, of how convictions were taken forward not by the Post Office by but by the Crown, of the basis of evidence used—

May I make a bit of progress? I will then give way.

There is also the question of the evidence used around corroboration. There are differences in the convictions.

More importantly, the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw spoke about one of the organisations involved—the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which she rightly said was the body that brought cases for review in Scotland—but she did not mention the accountability aspect. The commission was created by an Act of the Scottish Parliament, is responsible to the Scottish Parliament and gets its budget from the Scottish Government. There is a clear line of accountability between the Scottish Justice Secretary, the Scottish Government and the bodies responsible for reviewing these convictions, so the accountability is clearly with the Scottish Parliament.

May I put it to the hon. Gentleman that he is completely misunderstanding what we are dealing with? We are dealing with absolutely extraordinary legislation that is quashing convictions as a gateway to compensation. Giving us a lecture of dubious accuracy on the lines of accountability of the Crown Office in Scotland does not address that. This legislation is going over the head of the Crown Prosecution Service in England, just as it would go over the head of the Crown Office in Scotland. Why cannot he appreciate that point? Is it because he is playing politics with the issue, like his Front-Bench colleagues?

The suggestion of dubious lectures coming from the Scottish National party is slightly misguided. I accept the point that the legislation goes above normal legal precedent, but there is no reason why the Scottish Parliament could not invoke its emergency Bill procedures as it has done in the past, recognising that this is an extraordinary situation.

The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) clearly does not understand how prosecutions are done in the UK—sorry, in England. [Interruption.] Well, not in England. In England, the Post Office took the prosecutions—they never went through the CPS. In Scotland, they did actually go through the Crown Office and the Advocate General. That is the difference. In terms of where decisions were taken and the people who reviewed cases before they went to court, the cases are not similar.

That is absolutely right. The key point is that there is no question about the Post Office being held to account for the institutional levels of cover-up—

May I just make the point and then I will give way? The Post Office must be held to account for that institutional cover-up, and it is the responsibility of this place and the inquiry to look into that, but the prosecutions in Scotland were taken forward by the Crown Office, which is responsible to the Scottish Parliament. That is the point that I am making about accountability.

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that accountable for all of this is Post Office Ltd, which is wholly owned by the UK Government as its single shareholder, and that the UK Government took their eye off the ball, did not follow through, and took years to admit that there was a problem in the first place, and that if the UK Government caused this, they should fix it?

I am happy to agree with the hon. Lady about the responsibility of Post Office Ltd—I said that a few moments ago—but the prosecutions based on that Post Office evidence were taken forward by the Crown Office. There is responsibility to go around here. [Interruption.] I will just answer the point, if that is okay.

The evidence absolutely came from a flawed system, and Post Office Ltd must be held to account. That does not deal with how prosecutions in Scotland were taken forward not just on evidence from Horizon but with corroboration from other sources.

I wonder whether the hon. Member shares my distaste at some of the things said in the Chamber today, including that we cannot bring this legislation forward in Parliament today because some of the postmasters in Scotland might indeed be guilty of theft and that we have to tread carefully. That bar has not been placed on postmasters elsewhere in the UK.

I would share that distaste, but those comments were reflecting what the Lord Advocate has said. I have letters from the Lord Advocate in my hand that repeat that point a number of times. Of course, the Lord Advocate sits around the Cabinet table with, I think—I will need to check—the current First Minister, Humza Yousaf.

No. I have taken a lot of interventions and am going to make a bit of progress.

My second point is about timing. I do not accept the SNP’s argument at all that the timing is an issue. I have heard the Minister make the point on a number of occasions that the compensation regime will be available to people who have been exonerated—by whatever means that is—at the moment they are exonerated, so there is no question about that.

On the point about the Scottish Parliament not being able to rush through legislation, it does not have the same processes as the Northern Ireland Assembly—it does not have to go through a lengthy consultation process—so it could introduce a Bill tomorrow and have it passed before there is a vote on any of the confidence motions on Thursday. Indeed, in 2020, the Scottish Parliament passed an emergency Bill on covid—a considerably more difficult piece of legislation, stretching to 138 pages—in just two days, and the idea that this Bill is somehow more complicated than that is ridiculous.

There is no reason why the Scottish Parliament cannot take responsibility and introduce a Bill now. Indeed, if there was a question about not being able to finalise the Bill until the UK Bill had passed, the Scottish Parliament could take it all the way to the final amendment stage and amend it as necessary. But actually, again, the Minister has said that the Scottish Bill does not have to mirror directly the UK legislation for people to have access to the same compensation, which is what the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw and I both want to see.

If the SNP is unwilling to act in the Scottish Parliament to introduce the Bill, my colleague Michael Marra MSP has already drafted a Members’ Bill and will introduce that Bill this week.

If the SNP is unable to act, there will be no more dithering and there will be no more delays, because Labour will act. For that reason, I will not be supporting the SNP motion.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. At no time have the Scottish Justice Secretary or the Scottish Parliament said that they will not pass legislation—

Order. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Michael Shanks) has finished his speech. If the hon. Lady would like to make a few comments, she can. She does not need to do so through a point of order.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have here the Justice Secretary in Scotland’s remarks. She said:

“We remain crystal clear that the best way to achieve parity for the sub-postmasters across the UK who were convicted on the basis of tainted evidence from the Post Office Horizon system is for the UK Government’s Bill to be extended to Scotland, as it has been for Northern Ireland, just as we have been clear if this isn’t the case we will bring forward a Scottish bill that mirrors the UK bill as quickly as possible.”

Question put.