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Prosecution of Veterans: Northern Ireland

Volume 648: debated on Monday 22 October 2018

16. What steps he is taking to ensure that veterans are given adequate protection from prosecution in relation to their service in Northern Ireland. (907174)

Our service personnel perform exceptional feats in difficult circumstances to protect this country. The Government’s view is that the institutions set out in the draft Stormont House agreement Bill, on which public consultation has just concluded, are the best way to ensure a fair, balanced and proportionate approach to addressing the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the case mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) in the Select Committee last week? If I understood this correctly, the case related to a 77-year-old veteran who is suffering from terminal cancer and whose case has already been investigated. The soldier was cleared in 1975, and I understand that everyone else involved in the incident is now dead. Can my right hon. Friend tell us why this has happened?

I believe that my right hon. Friend is referring to the case of Dennis Hutchings, which has been discussed on several occasions in this Chamber. Indeed, Mr Hutchings has very much become the figure who demonstrates why so many colleagues across the House are so uneasy about this process. I would like to reassure my right hon. Friend that the Ministry of Defence continues to support Mr Hutchings in every way we possibly can. This underlines why we are absolutely determined to put this right and sort out this issue.

To echo the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), my constituent Mr Tom Lynch received a service medal that he asked me personally to return to the Prime Minister when he received a very distressing letter from the Historical Enquiries Team. Please can we have every assurance that these investigations, although necessary, will be carried out in the most sensitive manner, especially for those veterans who suffer from dementia and who are in their 80s?

Frankly, in my 14 years in Parliament, I have found few issues on which the House is unified to such an extent. The consultation has recently closed. Speaking as a serviceman, I can only reassure the House of how keen we are to try to address this issue. I am sure there will be an announcement in the House in due course.

Order. We are about to move on to topical questions, but I advise the right hon. Members for Warley (John Spellar) and for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett), and the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen), that, having missed out on substantives, they can take their chance in topicals. I am trying to encourage them.