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Points of Order

Volume 660: debated on Wednesday 15 May 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Forty-two years ago, in the early hours of the morning, a brave British soldier from 3 Company 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards was abducted or captured by the IRA. Captain Robert Nairac was my captain. He was a gentleman who, in the boxing ring, broke my nose—the first person to have done so. We still do not know what happened to him. The country owes a debt to our soldiers in Northern Ireland, and particularly to those who have given the utmost for their country. Mr Speaker, is there any way for me to mark 42 years since Captain Robert Nairac gave his life for this country and for the peace of Northern Ireland?

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the point of order, and I am minded to hear that of the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), if it is on a similar subject. I believe it to be.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am mindful of the respect that should be shown to the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning). On 31 January, I sought and received an assurance from the Attorney General that any proposal that was brought forward to protect veterans would apply equally across the United Kingdom. In fact, he said it would be plainly wrong should it not apply equally. I am therefore perturbed to read in the press—and not hear in this House—that proposals brought forward to protect veterans from our country will not apply to Northern Ireland. Aside from the discourtesy to this House, it shows scant regard for people the length and breadth of the United Kingdom who stood to protect our interests, our values and our democracy. Mr Speaker, are you aware of any indication from the Defence Secretary that she intends to make an oral statement on the matter?

I will respond to that point of order before coming to others. I have not been advised of any imminent statement by the Secretary of State, or indeed any other Minister, but I have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. I recognise that this is a matter on which there are very strong feelings indeed. If he is dissatisfied with what he believes to be the Government’s intention, and with the absence of any confirmatory oral statement to clarify the matter, it is open to him to seek to air that further in the Chamber by means that are well known to him.

The nodding of the head in assent to my proposition by his right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds), the leader of his party, is testimony to their recognition of what I am saying. If they want to return to the matter very soon, it is open to them to seek to do so.

I am very sensitive to the point that the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) has raised, but rather than giving an inevitably provisional and possibly unsatisfactory reply off the top of my head, I say to him that I am very open to the idea of recognition in the way that he suggests. It seems to me that that warrants further discussion, and if he wants to come to see me, either alone or accompanied by colleagues—particularly if it is a cross-party delegation—I would be very open to seeing him and to exploring whether, and if so how, recognition might be provided. Meanwhile, I will of course take other points of order.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State for Defence announced overnight that she would introduce a Bill to bring in a 10-year statute of limitations on the kind of cases that we have been hearing about, but excluding those relating to Northern Ireland. Am I right in believing that that Bill would be amendable and that therefore, if the House chose to do so, we could bring Northern Ireland into it?

I have not seen the said Bill; I do not know whether it is yet drafted. I might be taking a modest risk in saying this, but with very few exceptions, Bills are amendable. Indeed, the concept of the unamendable Bill is by no means empirically proven. Sometimes people draft Bills in the hope that they cannot be amended, but their hope is usually dashed. I have no reason to suppose that a Bill of the type that the hon. Gentleman describes would be unamendable, and if it required a fertile mind, that would be no bar to the efforts and perspicacity of the hon. Gentleman.

Further to the point of order made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), Mr Speaker. Captain Nairac was posthumously awarded the George Cross, our highest civilian gallantry award. May I remind the House that he was tortured heinously for several hours, beaten up and hit with a wooden post. Eventually, an IRA terrorist killer came to him and said, “You’ve had it.” Apparently, Robert Nairac then said very little except to ask for God’s grace. He died in an incredibly gallant way, and I agree with you, Mr Speaker, that we should recognise the gallantry of this man.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I was particularly interested to hear him develop his point fully, even though it was not entirely a point of order, out of respect for the track record of not only his political service but his military service, which is well known across the House and which itself has been marked by extraordinary professionalism, resilience and bravery.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I entirely concur with my hon. and gallant Friends, and I welcome your approach to recognising Captain Robert Nairac, who served with such distinction and who died in such appalling circumstances. As I understand it, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is going to make a written statement rather than an oral statement—[Interruption.] She is nodding; perhaps I have got that wrong. I should like to make the point, if I may, that this pursuit of 200 of our armed forces veterans for things that were allegedly done many years ago is totally unacceptable and it must end forthwith.

The hon. Gentleman has made his point with force and alacrity, and it will have been heard on the Treasury Bench. There is certainly no confirmation of the notion of a written statement, and he will have seen dissent from that proposition. I am aware that consideration has been given to a statement, but I think it would be seemly if we were to leave it there and await the development of events. I say in all courtesy to the hon. Gentleman, and I do not expect him to dissent from this, that I do not want to produce a ranking list today, but suffice it to say that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has in my experience been among the most courteous of members of the Government in keeping the Chair informed of her intentions and trying to do the right thing by the House. I have found her absolutely fastidious in that regard. Let us just wait to see how events unfold. I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said, and I respect the sincerity with which he said it, just as I respect his own background as a soldier, which I am sure has motivated him today.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am seeking your advice on an issue relating to my constituent, Sabir Zazai. Mr Zazai is to be honoured by the University of Glasgow for his service to civil society over the past 20 years. He is the chief executive officer of the Scottish Refugee Council. Understandably, he wishes his family to join him on that very special occasion but unfortunately Mr Zazai’s father’s visit visa has been refused. I have written to the Home Secretary about this matter, but his Department has unfortunately declined to intervene and referred my office back to UK Visas and Immigration, which has a 20 working day timeframe. The graduation is on 11 June, and the next opportunity for Home Office questions will not be until 3 June. Can you advise me of any other means or channels that I could use to raise this matter directly with the Home Secretary?

To a considerable extent, the hon. Gentleman has achieved his own salvation. He has aired the matter on the Floor of the House, and I rather imagine that the fact he has done so will quickly be communicated to the Government. If he is in any doubt on that point, he should try to ensure that his words are conveyed to UKVI sooner rather than later, and I would hope that some resolution can be achieved. The idea that the award should have to be deferred to some subsequent date naturally occurs, but it would be regrettable and I very much hope that he can achieve a speedy resolution to this matter. I quite understand why he wants this to happen, as anyone receiving such an award would naturally want to receive it duly accompanied.