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Service Personnel: Statute of Limitations

Volume 657: debated on Monday 25 March 2019

We take the prosecution of veterans very seriously. Our service personnel are of course subject to the law, but veterans should not have to face repeated investigations many years after the events in question. That is why we have a dedicated defence team looking at this complex issue. A statute of limitations, which presents significant challenges, is the subject of inquiry by the Select Committee on Defence, and we await its report with interest.

I recently met Field Marshal Lord Bramall, the former head of the armed forces, who is one of my constituents. Since last year when so many of my constituents signed the petition on this issue, how has my right hon. and gallant Friend been ensuring that the political context of the troubles, which Lord Bramall’s book, “The Bramall Papers”, describes, is taken into account in today’s politically motivated witch hunts?

Having served as Chief of the General Staff and then as Chief of the Defence Staff during the height of the troubles, Lord Bramall clearly brings a unique perspective to these difficult issues. The House will understand that prosecutorial decisions in Northern Ireland are taken by the Public Prosecution Service and that the PPS is independent both of the UK Government and of the Northern Ireland Executive. The Government recognise, however, that the current system for dealing with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past is not working well for anyone, and that is why the Ministry of Defence is working closely with the Northern Ireland Office on new arrangements, including to ensure that our armed forces and police officers are not unfairly treated.

Members of the Defence Committee were very pleased by the way Ministers set up the dedicated unit to look into this question and by the work the Attorney General has been doing. Have the proposals that are apparently to be brought forward in the Queen’s Speech yet been finalised and accepted at Cabinet level?

My right hon. Friend highlights—because he understands them—the complexities of this issue, not the least of which is that it transcends not just Northern Ireland but different judicial systems in the United Kingdom. We are making progress, and we have applied to bring the subject forward in the Queen’s Speech, but we have yet to conclude this work.