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House of Lords Hansard
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Horizon Accounting System
25 March 2020
Volume 802

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the judgment in Bates v Post Office [2019] EWHC 3408 on 16 December 2019, what steps they are taking to ensure that the directors responsible for the Horizon Accounting System are held to account.

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My Lords, the Post Office board members who took the original decision on the Horizon case are no longer in post. While this is not a matter for BEIS, my officials have drawn the Horizon case and its implications to the attention of their counterparts in the Department of Health and Social Care, which oversees appointments to the boards of NHS trusts.

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I thank the Minister for that Answer. In the debates we have had in this House on Horizon and the Post Office case, across all sides of the House we have been shocked when we have started to get into the detail of what happened and the implications for individuals’ lives. Some of those stories are quite harrowing, so I welcome the Government’s recent announcement that they have committed to an independent review. When will a chair be announced for the review? Will Her Majesty’s Government consult on the terms of the review? What is the timeline for the review to conclude? Finally, when will the framework document between BEIS, UKGI and the Post Office be published?

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On the noble Lord’s last point, I believe it was published this morning and is on GOV.UK; I will send him a link so that he can access that. With regard to the review, I am afraid I cannot yet give him a time on that. We are looking for an independent chair at the moment and finalising the terms of the inquiry. I will let him have more information as soon as I have it.

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My Lords, probably one of the most shocking things is the amount of damage done to individual lives, made more so by the Post Office’s refusal to admit even the possibility that something had gone wrong. Can we give general guidance about when an institution should start to think, “Have we done something wrong with what we have put in place?” How will that be institutionalised or made a fundamental part of all management structures in future? That is probably the worst bit of this entire process.

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The noble Lord makes a very good point. Everybody can make mistakes—we have to accept that things go wrong—but the refusal to admit that a mistake had been made and the dogged determination over many years, pursuing individuals who in retrospect had done nothing wrong, is one of the most disgraceful aspects of this affair. I am confident that the new management of the Post Office has learned the lessons—the hard way. How we reflect that in other management structures is something that all organisations should look at.