Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 5:02 pm ar 13 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 5:02, 13 Mai 2024

My Lords, this scandal is rightly recognised as one of the gravest miscarriages of justice in the history of the English legal system. It seems so obvious now because so much has been reported, but for years hundreds of sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses were labelled as dishonest and convicted of dishonesty offences when they were telling the truth. One of the most fundamental elements of our justice system is that it is supposed to ensure that innocent people are found innocent because, if innocent people are at risk of being found guilty, trust in our justice system will disappear. In that light, exceptional steps are needed to put these injustices right, and although the Bill proposes a novel and controversial constitutional innovation, it is being done in aid of the powerless against the powerful and therefore, despite quite strong misgivings, I feel it is justified.

To talk about this Bill setting a precedent is to overgeneralise the circumstances of the Horizon scandal. We are not talking about overturning one or two questionable cases: we are talking about rectifying what has been revealed as an industrial enterprise to maliciously prosecute hundreds of innocent people. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, made the point about how all should be exonerated. That is absolutely right; it is not enough to create, again, two tiers of those people who were so badly treated. If such a wholescale injustice does take place again, victims and the wider public can be assured that Parliament will intervene on behalf of the powerless against the powerful to secure justice, but let us all hope this is the first and last time that this unprecedented legislation is ever justified.

There is a grey cloud hanging over this Bill: to have real justice, Fujitsu’s role should be thoroughly investigated and prosecutions should start. As the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, said, it is wrong to wait until the end of the inquiry, because we already know that Fujitsu was guilty of many infractions. It was aware of the problems from the start. It was aware of its employees having remote access and, in 2009, Computer Weekly made it aware of the link between the glitches in the Horizon system and the prosecution of sub-postmasters. The chief executive of Fujitsu at the time, Roger Gilbert, said that Computer Weekly was not a publication to which he subscribed, so he clearly could not know anything about it. His press office was scandalously lax.

Fujitsu is still a major government contractor which gives money to the Conservative Party. It has numerous other government contracts and, for ideological reasons, the Government have been outsourcing all their IT expertise—exactly as the Post Office does. The next Government need to reverse this process and take that expertise back in house, or at least employ enough in-house expertise to know when a company is getting it wrong, hiding the truth or providing a service that is a complete liability and security risk. If you let major corporations run your Government, taxpayers will be ripped off and find that they are paying out millions when things go wrong.

I have two final points. First, Fujitsu should be in the dock and prosecutions should already have begun. Secondly, Fujitsu should pay the costs back to sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses, not us taxpayers.