Post Office Horizon scandal: What is Parliament doing about it? - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 33

3 May 2024
©Bob Neill MP
©Bob Neill MP

Should Parliament simply overturn the convictions of postmasters caught up in the Post Office Horizon scandal? That’s what the Government proposes to do through the Post Office (Horizon system) Offences Bill. But quashing of convictions is normally a matter for the courts. Some MPs have misgivings about setting a constitutional precedent as well as practical concerns about how the Bill will be implemented. We talk to the Chair of the Justice Select Committee, Sir Bob Neill MP.

Meanwhile, SNP MPs are furious that UK Ministers have declined to extend the provisions of the Bill to postmasters convicted north of the border. So why does the Bill apply to all other parts of the UK but not to Scotland? Does this tell us anything about the politics of devolution?

As Westminster braces for the local election results we discuss what to look out for – not just winners and losers but turnout and the size of the party swing - and the implications particularly for Rishi Sunak.

Following Conservative MP Dan Poulter’s defection to Labour we ask what does it take to cross the floor of the House of Commons? Is it an act of conscience or the act of a cynical turncoat? How often does it happen?

And we answer listener’s questions. Hypothetically, what would happen if a Prime Minister’s party retained a parliamentary majority at the general election, but the Prime Minister lost their seat?

  • Local election results: what will happen next?

  • Party defections: what does ‘crossing the floor’ of the House of Commons involve

  • Legislative oddities: late government amendment of Bills and unbalanced selection of witnesses

  • The Post Office (Horizon system) Offence Bill: why is it not being extended to Scotland?

  • Should Parliament overturn the postmasters’ convictions: why not leave it to the courts?

  • The Justice Select Committee: how much influence and leverage does it have?

Parliament Matters is supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

Parliament Matters is supported by a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a Quaker trust which engages in philanthropy and supports work on democratic accountability.

©UK Parliament

Sir Bob Neill MP is the Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst which he has represented since 2006. Prior to entering Parliament he was a barrister specialising in criminal law. Since 2015, Sir Bob has served as the chair of the Justice Select Committee in the House of Commons. Between 2010 and 2012 he also served as a minister in the then Department for Communities and Local Government, and subsequently as Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party until 2015. He is the chair of three All Party Parliamentary Groups, for London, Gibraltar, and Stroke.

Hansard Society

House of Commons Library

Please note, this transcript is automatically generated. There are consequently minor errors and the text is not formatted according to our style guide. If you wish to reference or cite the transcript copy below, please first check against the audio version above. Timestamps are provided above each paragraph.

You're listening to Parliament Matters, a Hansard Society production, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn more at 00:00:17:10 - 00:00:43:18 Welcome to Parliament Matters, the podcast about the institution at the heart of our democracy, Parliament itself. I'm Ruth Fox, and I’m Mark D’Arcy. Coming up, the calm before the storm. Westminster braces for the local election results. Will they save Rishi Sunak or will they sink him? Act of conscience or cynical turncoat? As conservative MP Dan Poulter switches to Labour, what does it take to cross the floor of the House of Commons? 00:00:43:20 - 00:01:01:23 And should Parliament simply overturn the convictions of postmasters caught up in the horizon scandal en masse? We talk to chair of the House of Commons Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill, about this and much more. 00:01:02:00 - 00:01:21:11 But first, Ruth, let's get started on those local elections now. We're speaking in that kind of caesura, that missing of a beat period where the voters are out there voting. The politicians can't really say or do much more than get out their voters to the polling stations. And so all is quiet until the results come. And the results this time are going to be rather dragged out. 00:01:21:12 - 00:01:42:04 The agony is extended, you might say, because with all these big metro mayoralties, they will be counting votes into Saturday afternoon. So quite a long time for the results to unfold. There'll be good news and bad news for all the parties, doubtless, as the results dribble out and Rishi Sunak will then have to handle the political aftermath. 00:01:42:05 - 00:02:02:07 But before we get on to that, both of us, I think, battled through the morning mist this morning to get to our respective polling stations, and the one thing you didn't have to battle was vast crowds of eager voters trying to get in there. We were the only people in our polling station, my other half and I when we went in, glancing at the register it looked like about 20 people had voted at about 8:00 in the morning. 00:02:02:07 - 00:02:19:11 So a pretty derisory turnout in my neck of the woods in Sussex, where the voting was purely on who's going to be the next police and crime commissioner. Well, same for me in an East Hertfordshire. So we just got a vote on the police and crime commissioner as well. And I actually asked the polling station staff, what's the turnout like? 00:02:19:11 - 00:02:34:16 And they said, oh, you’re our sixth voter and this was 8 a.m., so I was the voter that put them over the top. They've officially now had more voters than polling stations staff in the station. So it was slow. I think it's fair to say they were hoping for better as the day wears on.

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