Question Time Panel Rounds On Government Over Failures With Post Office Scandal

Lisa Nandy, Andrea Leadsom and Stuart Rose
Lisa Nandy, Andrea Leadsom and Stuart Rose

Lisa Nandy, Andrea Leadsom and Stuart Rose

Health minister Andrea Leadsom was repeatedly challenged over the government’s response to the Post Office scandal last night on BBC Question Time.

The Post Office is facing intense scrutiny after it wrongly accused hundreds of sub-postmasters of theft, fraud and false accounting between 2000 and 2015 because of a flaw with its own IT system.

An ITV drama about the scandal triggered public outrage as the full extent of the devastation caused to the victims of the scandal were revealed.

It was only then that the government announced emergency legislation to exonerate those convicted and speed up the compensation process.

Host Fiona Bruce asked the BBC Question Time panel last night why has it taken the government “so long” to act on the Post Office scandal.

Leadsom said “a lot of politicians and other people” had been campaigning for justice for a while – but, when pressed by Bruce, she admitted that only a limited number have had their convictions overturned so far.

Bruce noted that while some legal processes have been happening over the last few years, the speed of action taken over the last few days is “like night and day”.

The minister replied: “That is of course true, because MPs are all in politics to try and help their communities and make the world around them a better place.

“Nobody could help but be moved by that programme and by the profile that it gave to the subject.

“But all I’m saying is that, it’s not that nothing was happening beforehand.”

Leadsom also admitted that the Post Office’s current right to privately prosecute individuals does need to be examined.

Bruce wasn’t the only one to point out problems with the government’s response to the Post Office scandal.

Asda chairman Lord Stuart Rose, who was also on the panel, said: “What we really want is leadership. Somebody should have said, it’s easier to say – post hoc – up with this we will not put, action this day.

“And it didn’t happen, because it gets stuck with arguments about the judiciary or arguments about process, or are we going to give too much compensation to somebody, will somebody who might have been guilty get compensation.

“That’s an irrelevance. Let’s get it sorted.”

Meanwhile, Labour’s Lisa Nandy said there was a “pattern emerging with these kind of cases”.

The shadow international trade secretary explained: “There is a clear trend of ordinary people who sound the alarm being ignored, and dismissed, and being crushed by bigger systems that they can’t possibly compete with.”

She said she welcomes the government’s emergency legislation to quash the convictions and hurry the compensation process – but, she added “no compensation can undo the wrong that has been done” for the victims.

Nandy explained: “What they want to see is we get to a position where never again can so many ordinary citizens in this country be ignored and dismissed and overlooked by bigger systems.”

The final member of the panel,  the director of the UK in a Changing Europe, Anand Menon, also pointed out that the government has cut legal aid – which makes it harder for people like victims of the Post Office scandal.

He added that the government also oversaw legislation in 2014 to make it harder for people to access compensation over miscarriages of justice.