Mr. Lilley: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what functions are performed by the Horizon programme information technology installed in post offices. 
Mr. Byers: I understand from the Post Office that the Horizon system is now installed in nearly 15,000 post offices.
A major upgrade of software for the Horizon system was introduced from 23 October and now includes smartcard compatibility for the automated payments service, direct electronic links between branches and the stock and cash management system and an electronic messaging system. The Horizon equipment has the latest touch screen technology and a small scale monitor, bar code reader, printer and keyboard with card reader for magnetic swipe cards and smartcards. Horizon also operates an electronic point of sale service, which captures transaction details, centrally manages product changes such as tariff updates, and produces an electronic cash account recording weekly payments and receipts which is electronically transferred to the central accounting system. An order book control service for the Benefits Agency is operated by the system, using a barcode reader providing an electronic stop list to reduce fraudulent order book encashment. In addition Horizon integrates several stand alone automated payment systems enabling payment of utilities‘ bills using magnetic swipecards and barcoded bills.