Skip to main content

Prosecution of Veterans

Volume 660: debated on Wednesday 22 May 2019

9. If the Government will bring forward legislative proposals to prevent veterans who have previously been investigated and cleared of illegal shooting incidents in Northern Ireland being prosecuted for those incidents. (910959)

My hon. and gallant Friend gave a very powerful speech on this on Monday, and I would encourage anybody here who has not heard it to go back and listen again. I think he and I agree that the current situation is not working for anyone. The question is not whether things need to change, because they clearly do, but how, so we have laws that work for police veterans as well as armed forces, for unionists and for nationalists, for victims and their families on all sides of the community, and that bring truth and justice and closure so society can move on. We will bring forward proposals as soon as possible.

As an ex-soldier, and now a Member of Parliament, I am ashamed that my Government have not sorted this matter out. I ask the Minister, and especially the Secretary of State, who has been in post longer—how much longer before it can be sorted out, and are you not ashamed?

My hon. and gallant Friend, having served in Northern Ireland, speaks with huge authority on this matter. I suspect that successive Governments have to share some blame for failing to fix it over many years. Clearly, as I said in my previous answer, the situation cannot be allowed to continue—it is not right; it is not just. It must be sorted out as promptly as possible. On that, I hope that he and I agree.

It was with regret that yesterday we got the revelation from the Government—through a written ministerial statement, rather than an oral statement—about the proposals for the way forward. We should hang our heads in shame that we intend to treat service personnel who served in Northern Ireland differently from those who served overseas. When I questioned the Attorney General on the issue on 31 January, he said clearly that to treat service personnel differently would plainly be wrong. He was right, Minister, was he not?

The important thing, as we heard repeatedly in last week’s urgent question and in Monday’s Westminster Hall debate, is that for those servicemen and women who served under Operation Banner it felt the same no matter what. Our challenge is that, if we are to come up with an answer that will work when it is taken to court by the lawfare-mongers, as it inevitably will be, we must have something that works on the basis of the different legal starting points for things that happened in the UK, as opposed to things that happened abroad, but that ends up with an answer that feels the same to our servicemen and women and provides them with the same robust protections no matter what.