MPs reject bid to include Scotland in Bill to exonerate Horizon scandal victims

The UK Government has resisted attempts to include Scotland in the proposed law to exonerate subpostmasters caught up in the Horizon IT scandal.

MPs voted 265 to 42, majority 223, against a motion from the SNP seeking to ensure the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill can also apply to Scotland.

Business minister Kevin Hollinrake argued Holyrood should bring forward proposals to address the matter given Scotland’s separate legal jurisdiction.

Some MPs also noted the Lord Advocate – the country’s top law officer – previously said she did not favour blanket exoneration for impacted subpostmasters in Scotland.

Speaking for the SNP, Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) said it was “absolutely disgraceful” that Scotland would not be included in the legislation.

She told the Commons: “This is a Westminster problem, Westminster must and should sort it out, and it’s easily done.

“Ask for a legislative consent motion and you’ll get it, the Scottish Parliament will put a Bill through to exonerate these postmasters but they cannot do it, they cannot mirror exactly what is done in this place until this Bill goes through all of its stages.”

Ms Fellows claimed “party politics” was behind the UK Government’s position, adding: “Why should Scottish postmasters wait longer for justice?”

Mr Hollinrake said “legal controversies” prevented the Bill being amended to include Scotland.

He said: “(Ms Fellows) said this Parliament is sovereign. Absolutely it is sovereign, but on these matters her Parliament is also sovereign.”

He later added: “Scotland has a historically separate legal jurisdiction and the Lord Advocate and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service have a unique role in respect of prosecutions in Scotland.

“We feel this 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.”

Labour abstained on the SNP’s motion.

The exchanges came during a rowdy Commons session as the SNP benches clashed with the Government and opposition parties.

The Bill as originally drafted aims to exonerate those convicted in England and Wales on the basis of the faulty Horizon accounting software, which made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

The long-running scandal, which has been branded the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history, received widespread attention after ITV screened its acclaimed drama Mr Bates Vs The Post Office.

Convictions will be automatically quashed if they meet the necessary conditions, which include if they were for certain offences between 1996 and 2018 connected to Post Office business and the Horizon system was being used at the time.

It was announced last week that the Bill would be extended to include Northern Ireland, with the amendments enabling this expected to be approved on Monday evening.