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House of Commons Hansard
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Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill
03 November 2020
Volume 683

Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 1

Judicial oversight of investigations

(1) This section applies to any investigation by a police force into alleged conduct as described in subsection 3 of section 1.

(2) The police force investigating the conduct must place their preliminary findings before an allocated judge advocate as soon as possible, but no later than 6 months after the alleged offence was brought to their attention.

(3) The judge advocate shall have the power to determine—

(a) that no serious, permanent or lasting psychological or physical injury has been caused; and order that the investigation should cease;

(b) that the evidence is of a tenuous character because of weakness or vagueness or because of inconsistencies with other evidence, and that it is not in the interests of justice to continue an investigation; and order that the investigation should cease; or

(c) that there is merit in the complaint; and make directions as to the timetable and extent of further investigation.”—(Mr Kevan Jones.)

This new clause would set a timetable for police investigations into alleged conduct during overseas operations, to ensure they are as short as possible and provide an opportunity for a judge to stop an unmeritorious or vexatious investigation early.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—Limitation of time for minor offences

“No proceedings shall be brought against any person in relation to a relevant offence, where—

(a) the condition set out in subsection 3 of section 1 is satisfied,

(b) the offence is subject to summary conviction only, or is one in the commission of which no serious, permanent or lasting psychological or physical injury has been caused, and

(c) a period of six months has passed from the time the offence was committed or discovered.”

This new clause would dispose of minor allegations of misconduct by imposing a time limit similar to that which exists in relation to summary only matters in Magistrates’ Courts.

New clause 3—Access to justice for service personnel

“Within 12 months of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State shall commission an independent evaluation comparing—

(a) access to justice for members and former members of the regular and reserve forces and of British overseas territory forces to whom section 369(2) of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (persons subject to service law) applies, in relation to legal proceedings in connection with operations of the armed forces outside the British Islands, with

(b) access to justice for asylum seekers and prisoners seeking to bring an action against the Crown.”

New clause 4—Ability to conduct a fair trial

“The principle referred to in section 1(1) is that a relevant prosecutor making a decision to which that section applies may determine that proceedings should be brought against the person for the offence, or, as the case may be, that the proceedings against the person for the offence should be continued, only if the prosecutor has reasonable grounds for believing that the fair trial of the person has not been materially prejudiced by the time elapsed since the alleged conduct took place.”

This new clause is intended to replace Clause 2 of the Bill. It replaces the presumption against prosecution with a requirement on a prosecutor deciding whether to bring or continue a prosecution to consider whether the passage of time has materially prejudiced the prospective defendant’s chance of a fair trial.

New clause 5—Restrictions on time limits: actions brought against the Crown by service personnel

“Nothing in this Part applies to any action brought against the Crown by a person who is a member or former member of the regular or reserve forces, or of a British overseas territory force to whom section 369(2) of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (persons subject to service law) applies.”

This new clause amends Part 2 of the Bill so that it explicitly excludes actions brought against the Crown by serving or former service personnel from the limitations on courts’ discretion that the Part imposes in respect of actions relating to overseas operations.

New clause 6—Duty of care to service personnel

“(1) The Secretary of State shall establish a duty of care standard in relation to legal, pastoral and mental health support provided to service personnel involved in investigations or litigation arising from overseas operations, as defined in subsection (6) of section 1.

(2) The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of this standard before Parliament within six months of the date on which this Act receives Royal Assent.

(3) The Secretary of State shall thereafter in each calendar year—

(a) prepare a duty of care report; and

(b) lay a copy of the report before Parliament.

(4) The duty of care report is a report about the continuous process of review and improvement to meet the duty of care standard established in subsection (1), in particular in relation to incidents arising from overseas operations of—

(a) litigation and investigations brought against service personnel for allegations of criminal misconduct and wrongdoing;

(b) civil litigation brought by service personnel against the Ministry of Defence for negligence and personal injury;

(c) judicial reviews and inquiries into allegations of misconduct by service personnel;

(d) in such other fields as the Secretary of State may determine.

(5) In preparing a duty of care report the Secretary of State must have regard to, and publish relevant data in relation to (in respect of overseas operations)—

(a) the adequacy of legal, welfare and mental health support services provided to service personnel who are accused of crimes;

(b) complaints made by service personnel and, or their legal representation when in the process of bringing or attempting to bring civil claims against the Ministry of Defence for negligence and personal injury;

(c) complaints made by service personnel and, or their legal representation when in the process of investigation or litigation for an accusation of misconduct;

(d) meeting national care standards and safeguarding to families of service personnel, where relevant.

(6) In section (1) “service personnel” means—

(a) members of the regular forces and the reserve forces;

(b) members of British Overseas Territory forces who are subject to service law;

(c) former members of any of Her Majesty‘s forces who are ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom; and

(d) where relevant, family members of any person meeting the definition within (a), (b) or (c).

(7) In subsection (1) “Duty of Care” means both the legal and moral obligation of the Ministry of Defence to ensure the well-being of service personnel.

(8) None of the provisions contained within this clause shall be used to alter the principle of Combat Immunity.”

This new clause will require the Ministry of Defence to identify a new duty of care to create a new standard for policy, services and training in relation to legal, pastoral and mental health support provided to service personnel involved in investigations or litigations arising from overseas operations, and to report annually on their application of this standard.

New clause 7—Duty of care to service personnel

“(1) This section applies where—

(a) a person has been acquitted of an offence relating to conduct on overseas operations; or

(b) a determination has been made that an investigation into an offence relating to such conduct should cease under section (Judicial oversight of investigations).

(2) No further investigation into the alleged conduct shall be commenced unless—

(a) compelling new evidence has become available; and

(b) an allocated judge advocate determines that the totality of the evidence against the accused is sufficiently strong.”

This new clause would require a judge advocate of the armed services to determine if new evidence is sufficient to grant reinvestigation of armed forces personnel for alleged offences in which they have been acquitted or the original investigation was ceased.

Amendment 11, page 1, line 4, leave out clause 1.

Part 1 of the Bill introduces restrictions on prosecution for certain offences, including a presumption against prosecution. This amendment is one of a series that would remove Part 1 from the Bill.

Amendment 18, in clause 1, page 2, line 2, leave out “5” and insert “10”.

This amendment is one of two providing that the presumption against prosecution should apply after 10 years (instead of 5 years).

Amendment 19, in clause 1, page 2, line 4, leave out “5” and insert “10”.

This amendment is one of two providing that the presumption against prosecution should apply after 10 years (instead of 5 years).

Amendment 64, page 2, line 12, leave out clause 2.

This amendment, which would remove Clause 2 from the Bill, should be read together with NC4, which replaces the presumption against prosecution with a requirement on a prosecutor to consider whether the passage of time has materially prejudiced the prospective defendant’s chance of a fair trial.

Amendment 13, page 2, line 18, leave out clause 3.

Part 1 of the Bill introduces restrictions on prosecution for certain offences, including a presumption against prosecution. This amendment is one of a series that would remove Part 1 from the Bill.

Amendment 24, in clause 3, page 2, line 20, leave out

“(so far as they tend to reduce the person’s culpability or otherwise tend against prosecution)”.

This amendment would ensure that, in giving particular weight to the matters in subsection (2), a prosecutor may consider whether any matter tends to reduce or increase culpability, tending against or in favour of prosecution respectively.

Amendment 21, in clause 3, page 2, leave out lines 23 to 29.

This amendment is one of two that together would delete the requirement for a prosecutor to give “particular weight” in a prosecution decision after 5 years to the adverse effect on a person of the conditions the person was exposed to during deployment.

Amendment 25, in clause 3, page 2, line 33, at end insert—

“(ba) the thoroughness, promptness and efficacy of any ongoing investigation into the alleged conduct or any relevant previous investigation, and the reasons for any delays in such investigations;”.

This amendment would ensure that the adequacy of any investigative process to date is given particular weight by a relevant prosecutor.

Amendment 26, in clause 3, page 2, line 33, at end insert—

“(bb) the public interest in maintaining public trust in the criminal justice system and upholding the principle of accountability of the Armed Forces;”.

This amendment would ensure that a relevant prosecutor gives particular weight to maintaining public trust in the criminal justice system and upholding the principle of accountability of the Armed Forces.

Amendment 27, in clause 3, page 2, line 33, at end insert—

“(bc) the nature of the alleged conduct, in particular whether it engaged the obligations of the United Kingdom under Articles 2, 3, 4 or 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights;”.

This amendment would ensure that particular weight is given by a prosecutor where the alleged conduct engages the UK’s obligations under Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (prohibition on torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, Article 4 (prohibition of slavery and forced labour) or Article 5 (prohibition of arbitrary detention) ECHR.

Amendment 28, in clause 3, page 2, line 33, at end insert—

“(bd) whether the person had command responsibility for the alleged conduct, and to what extent;”.

This amendment would ensure that particular weight is given by a relevant prosecutor where the person had command responsibility for the alleged conduct.

Amendment 38, in clause 3, page 2, line 33, after subsection (2)(b), insert—

“(c) the quality and duration of relevant investigations.”

This amendment would require prosecutors to give weight to the quality and duration of relevant investigations when deciding whether to bring or continue proceedings against a person relating to alleged conduct during overseas operations.

Amendment 22, in clause 3, page 2, leave out lines 34 to 43.

This amendment is one of two that together would delete the requirement for a prosecutor to give “particular weight” in a prosecution decision after 5 years to the adverse effect on a person of the conditions the person was exposed to during deployment.

Amendment 14, page 3, line 1, leave out clause 4.

Part 1 of the Bill introduces restrictions on prosecution for certain offences, including a presumption against prosecution. This amendment is one of a series that would remove Part 1 from the Bill.

Amendment 15, page 3, line 15, leave out clause 5.

Part 1 of the Bill introduces restrictions on prosecution for certain offences, including a presumption against prosecution. This amendment is one of a series that would remove Part 1 from the Bill.

Amendment 31, in clause 5, page 3, line 29, at end insert—

“(c) where the offence is punishable with a criminal penalty by the law of Scotland, except with the consent of the Lord Advocate.”

Amendment 39, in clause 5, page 3, line 29, at end insert—

“(3A) Where the consent of the Attorney General is sought under subsection (2) or (3) above, the Attorney General must prepare a report containing his reasons for granting or withholding consent, as the case may be, with reference to sections 1 to 3 of this Act, and must lay a copy of this report before Parliament.”

This amendment requires the Attorney General to lay out their evidence and assessment as to why they granted or refused consent to prosecute.

Amendment 16, page 3, line 40, leave out clause 6.

Part 1 of the Bill introduces restrictions on prosecution for certain offences, including a presumption against prosecution. This amendment is one of a series that would remove Part 1 from the Bill.

Amendment 20, in clause 6, page 4, line 13, at end insert—

“(2A) An offence is not a “relevant offence” if it amounts to—

(a) torture, within the meaning of section 134 Criminal Justice Act 1988; or

(b) genocide, a crime against humanity or a war crime as defined in section 50 of the International Criminal Court Act 2001.”

This amendment provides that the presumption against prosecution does not apply to war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide or torture.

Amendment 32, in clause 6, page 4, line 13, at end insert—

“(3A) A service offence is not a “relevant offence” if it is an offence whose prosecution is required under the United Kingdom’s international treaty obligations.”

This amendment would exclude the prosecution of serious international crimes (such as torture, genocide, crimes against humanity, and certain war crimes) from the limitations otherwise imposed by the Bill.

Amendment 17, page 4, line 27, leave out clause 7.

Part 1 of the Bill introduces restrictions on prosecution for certain offences, including a presumption against prosecution. This amendment is one of a series that would remove Part 1 from the Bill.

Amendment 33, page 6, line 4, leave out clause 8.

Amendment 34, page 6, line 15, leave out clause 9.

Amendment 35, page 6, line 26, leave out clause 10.

Amendment 23, page 6, line 38, leave out clause 11.

This clause would introduce a hard deadline for human rights claims and also includes detailed provision around the impact of proceedings on the mental health of Armed Forces witnesses. This amendment deletes this clause from the bill.

Amendment 60, in clause 11, page 7, line 23, at end insert—

“(c) the importance of the proceedings in securing the rights of the claimant.”

This amendment adds a further consideration to which UK courts must have particular regard when determining whether to disapply the standard HRA limitation period of one year so as to ensure that the claimant’s interest in having their claim proceed is not subordinated.

Amendment 46, in clause 11, page 7, line 30, leave out from “before” to the end of line 34 and insert

“the end of the period of 6 years beginning with the date of knowledge.”

This amendment is one of a series that change the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing claims under the HRA arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 41, in clause 11, page 7, line 34, at end insert—

“(4A) The court may disapply the rule in subsection (1) (b) where it appears to the court that it would be equitable to do so having regard to the reasons for the delay, in particular whether the delay resulted from—

(a) the nature of the injuries;

(b) logistical difficulties in securing the services required to bring a claim, so long as the claimant was making all reasonable attempts to secure such services, or

(c) any other reasons outside the control of the person bringing the claim.”

This amendment introduces a discretion for UK courts to allow a Human Rights Act claim arising out of overseas operations to proceed in prescribed circumstances so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing such claims.

Amendment 29, in clause 11, page 7, line 36, leave out

“first ought to have known”.

Amendment 47, in clause 11, page 7, line 40, at end insert—

“(c) of the manifestation of the harm resulting from that act which is the subject of the claim; and

(d) that they were eligible to bring a claim under the Human Rights Act 1998 against the Ministry of Defence or Secretary of State for Defence in the courts of the United Kingdom.”

This amendment is one of a series that change the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing claims under the HRA arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 40, page 8, line 14, leave out clause 12.

Clause 12 would require the Secretary of State to consider making a derogation under Article 15(1) ECHR in respect of any significant overseas operations. This amendment would remove this requirement.

Amendment 37, in clause 12, page 8, line 20, at end, insert—

“(1A) No order may be made by the Secretary of State under section 14 following consideration under this section unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by, each House of Parliament.”

This amendment would require significant derogations regarding overseas operations proposed by the Government from the European Convention on Human Rights to be approved by Parliament before being made.

Amendment 66, page 11, line 1, leave out schedule 1.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 16.

Amendment 1, in schedule 1, page 12, line 6, at end insert—

“(13A) An offence under section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (torture).”

This amendment is one of a series designed to ensure that the Bill’s “triple lock” provisions to block prosecutions would not apply to torture and related offences under UK law. This suite of amendments would ensure that the existing offences of torture – contained in the 1988 Criminal Justice Act and in other parts of UK law incorporating longstanding laws of war – would not be included within the Bill’s “triple lock” against prosecutions of UK soldiers.

Amendment 2, in schedule 1, page 12, line 40, leave out “or” and insert—

“(b) a crime against humanity within article 7.1(f),

(c) a crime against humanity within article 7.1(i)

(d) a crime against humanity within article 7.1(k), or”.

This amendment is one of a series designed to ensure that the Bill’s “triple lock” provisions to block prosecutions would not apply to torture and related offences under UK law. This suite of amendments would ensure that the existing offences of torture – contained in the 1988 Criminal Justice Act and in other parts of UK law incorporating longstanding laws of war – would not be included within the Bill’s “triple lock” against prosecutions of UK soldiers.

Amendment 3, in schedule 1, page 12, line 42, leave out “or” and insert—

“(ii) article 8.2(a)(ii) (which relates to international conflict),

(iii) article 8.2(b)(xxi) (which relates to international conflict), or”.

This amendment is one of a series designed to ensure that the Bill’s “triple lock” provisions to block prosecutions would not apply to torture and related offences under UK law. This suite of amendments would ensure that the existing offences of torture – contained in the 1988 Criminal Justice Act and in other parts of UK law incorporating longstanding laws of war – would not be included within the Bill’s “triple lock” against prosecutions of UK soldiers.

Amendment 4, in schedule 1, page 13, line 2, at end insert “, or

(iv) article 8.2(c)(i) (which relates to armed conflicts not of an international character) insofar as it relates to the offences of cruel treatment and torture,

(v) article 8.2(c)(ii) (which relates to armed conflicts not of an international character).”

This amendment is one of a series designed to ensure that the Bill’s “triple lock” provisions to block prosecutions would not apply to torture and related offences under UK law. This suite of amendments would ensure that the existing offences of torture – contained in the 1988 Criminal Justice Act and in other parts of UK law incorporating longstanding laws of war – would not be included within the Bill’s “triple lock” against prosecutions of UK soldiers.

Amendment 5, in schedule 1, page 13, line 14, leave out “or” and insert—

“(b) a crime against humanity within article 7.1(f),

(c) a crime against humanity within article 7.1(i),

(d) a crime against humanity within article 7.1(k), or”.

This amendment is one of a series designed to ensure that the Bill’s “triple lock” provisions to block prosecutions would not apply to torture and related offences under UK law. This suite of amendments would ensure that the existing offences of torture – contained in the 1988 Criminal Justice Act and in other parts of UK law incorporating longstanding laws of war – would not be included within the Bill’s “triple lock” against prosecutions of UK soldiers.

Amendment 6, in schedule 1, page 13, line 16, leave out “or” and insert—

“(ii) article 8.2(a)(ii) ((which relates to international conflict),

(iii) article 8.2(b)(xxi) (which relates to international conflict), or”.

This amendment is one of a series designed to ensure that the Bill’s “triple lock” provisions to block prosecutions would not apply to torture and related offences under UK law. This suite of amendments would ensure that the existing offences of torture – contained in the 1988 Criminal Justice Act and in other parts of UK law incorporating longstanding laws of war – would not be included within the Bill’s “triple lock” against prosecutions of UK soldiers.

Amendment 7, in schedule 1, page 13, line 18, at end insert—

“(iii) article 8.2(c)(i) (which relates to armed conflicts not of an international character) insofar as it relates to the offences of cruel treatment and torture,

(iv) article 8.2(c)(ii) (which relates to armed conflicts not of an international character).”

This amendment is one of a series designed to ensure that the Bill’s “triple lock” provisions to block prosecutions would not apply to torture and related offences under UK law. This suite of amendments would ensure that the existing offences of torture – contained in the 1988 Criminal Justice Act and in other parts of UK law incorporating longstanding laws of war – would not be included within the Bill’s “triple lock” against prosecutions of UK soldiers.

Amendment 8, in schedule 1, page 14, line 8, leave out “or” and insert—

“(b) a crime against humanity within article 7.1(f),

(c) a crime against humanity within article 7.1(i),

(d) a crime against humanity within article 7.1(k), or”.

This amendment is one of a series designed to ensure that the Bill’s “triple lock” provisions to block prosecutions would not apply to torture and related offences under UK law. This suite of amendments would ensure that the existing offences of torture – contained in the 1988 Criminal Justice Act and in other parts of UK law incorporating longstanding laws of war – would not be included within the Bill’s “triple lock” against prosecutions of UK soldiers.

Amendment 9, in schedule 1, page 14, line 10, leave out “or” and insert—

“(iii) article 8.2(a)(ii) ((which relates to international conflict),

(iv) article 8.2(b)(xxi) (which relates to international conflict), or”.

This amendment is one of a series designed to ensure that the Bill’s “triple lock” provisions to block prosecutions would not apply to torture and related offences under UK law. This suite of amendments would ensure that the existing offences of torture – contained in the 1988 Criminal Justice Act and in other parts of UK law incorporating longstanding laws of war – would not be included within the Bill’s “triple lock” against prosecutions of UK soldiers.

Amendment 10, in schedule 1, page 14, line 12, at end insert—

“(iii) article 8.2(c)(i) (which relates to armed conflicts not of an international character) insofar as it relates to the offences of cruel treatment and torture, or

(iv) article 8.2(c)(ii) (which relates to armed conflicts not of an international character).”

This amendment is one of a series designed to ensure that the Bill’s “triple lock” provisions to block prosecutions would not apply to torture and related offences under UK law. This suite of amendments would ensure that the existing offences of torture – contained in the 1988 Criminal Justice Act and in other parts of UK law incorporating longstanding laws of war – would not be included within the Bill’s “triple lock” against prosecutions of UK soldiers.

Amendment 67, page 15, line 33, leave out schedule 2.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 33.

Amendment 48, in schedule 2, page 16, line 5, leave out

“the section 11 relevant date”

and insert “the date of knowledge”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in England and Wales so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 30, in schedule 2, page 16, line 5, at end insert

“save for exceptional cases where the overriding interest of justice should be served.”

Amendment 42, in schedule 2, page 16, line 5, at end insert—

“(1ZAi) The court may disapply the rule in subsection (1ZA) where it appears to the court that it would be equitable to do so having regard to the reasons for the delay, in particular whether the delay resulted from—

(a) the nature of the injuries;

(b) logistical difficulties in securing the services required to bring a claim, so long as the claimant was making all reasonable attempts to secure such services, or

(c) any other reasons outside the control of the person bringing the claim.”

This amendment introduces a discretion for the courts of England and Wales to allow a civil claim for personal injury arising out of overseas operations to proceed in prescribed circumstances so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing such claims.

Amendment 49, in schedule 2, page 16, line 30, leave out

“the section 11 relevant date (ignoring, for this purpose, the reference to section 11 (5) in paragraph (a) of the definition of that term)”

and insert “the date of knowledge.”

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in England and Wales so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for wrongful death arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 50, in schedule 2, page 16, line 35, leave out

“the section 12 relevant date”

and insert “the date of knowledge”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in England and Wales so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for wrongful death arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 43, schedule 2, page 16, line 36, at end insert—

“(2Bi) The court may disapply the rules in subsections (2A) and (2B) where it appears to the court that it would be equitable to do so having regard to the reasons for the delay, in particular whether the delay resulted from—

(a) the nature of the injuries;

(b) logistical difficulties in securing the services required to bring a claim, so long as the claimant was making all reasonable attempts to secure such services, or

(c) any other reasons outside the control of the person bringing the claim.”

This amendment introduces a discretion for the courts of England and Wales to allow a civil claim for wrongful death arising out of overseas operations to proceed in prescribed circumstances so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing such claims.

Amendment 61, in schedule 2, page 17, line 5, at end insert—

“(c) the court must also have particular regard to the importance of the proceedings in securing the rights of the claimant.”

This amendment adds a further consideration to which the courts of England and Wales must have particular regard when determining whether to disapply the standard limitation period of three years so as to ensure that the claimant’s interest in having their civil claim proceed is not illegitimately subordinated.

Amendment 51, in schedule 2, page 17, leave out from beginning of line 35 to end of line 5 on page 18, and insert—

“‘the date of knowledge’ means the date on which the person bringing the proceedings first knew, or first ought to have known—

(a) of the act complained of;

(b) that it was an act of the Ministry of Defence or the Secretary of State for Defence;

(c) of the manifestation of the injury resulting from that act which is the subject of the claim, and

(d) that they were eligible to bring a claim against the Ministry of Defence or Secretary of State for Defence in the courts of the United Kingdom.”

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in England and Wales so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury and wrongful death arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 68, page 20, line 1, leave out schedule 3.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 34.

Amendment 62, in schedule 3, page 20, line 32, at end insert—

“(c) the importance of the proceedings in securing the rights of the claimant.”

This amendment adds a further consideration to which the courts of Scotland must have particular regard when determining whether to disapply the standard limitation period of three years so as to ensure that the claimant’s interest in having their civil claim proceed is not subordinated.

Amendment 52, in schedule 3, page 20, line 41, leave out

“the section 17 relevant date”

and insert

“the date of knowledge (see subsection (13))”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Scotland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 53, in schedule 3, page 21, line 4, leave out

“the section 18 relevant date”

and insert

“the date of knowledge (see subsection (13))”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Scotland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for wrongful death arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 54, in schedule 3, page 21, line 9, leave out

“the section 17 relevant date”

and insert

“the date of knowledge (see subsection (13))”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Scotland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 44, in schedule 3, page 21, line 9, at end insert—

“(7A) The court may disapply the rules in subsections (5) to (7) where it appears to the court that it would be equitable to do so having regard to the reasons for the delay, in particular whether the delay resulted from—

(a) the nature of the injuries;

(b) logistical difficulties in securing the services required to bring a claim, so long as the claimant was making all reasonable attempts to secure such services, or

(c) any other reasons outside the control of the person bringing the claim.”

This amendment introduces a discretion for the courts of Scotland to allow a civil claim for personal injury or wrongful death arising out of overseas operations to proceed in prescribed circumstances so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing such claims.

Amendment 55, in schedule 3, page 22, leave out lines 12 to 17 and insert—

“‘the date of knowledge’ means the date on which the person bringing the proceedings first knew, or first ought to have known—

(a) of the act complained of;

(b) that it was an act of the Ministry of Defence or the Secretary of State for Defence;

(c) of the manifestation of the injury resulting from that act which is the subject of the claim, and

(d) that they were eligible to bring a claim against the Ministry of Defence or Secretary of State for Defence in the courts of the United Kingdom.”

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Scotland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury and wrongful death arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 69, page 23, line 38, leave out schedule 4.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 35.

Amendment 56, in schedule 4, page 24, line 5, leave out

“the Article 7 relevant date”

and insert “the date of knowledge”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Northern Ireland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 45, in schedule 4, page 24, line 5, at end insert—

“(1Ai) The court may disapply the rule in paragraph (1A) where it appears to the court that it would be equitable to do so having regard to the reasons for the delay, in particular whether the delay resulted from—

(a) the nature of the injuries;

(b) logistical difficulties in securing the services required to bring a claim, so long as the claimant was making all reasonable attempts to secure such services, or

(c) any other reasons outside the control of the person bringing the claim.”

This amendment introduces a discretion for the courts of Northern Ireland to allow a civil claim for personal injury or wrongful death arising out of overseas operations to proceed in prescribed circumstances so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing such claims.

Amendment 57, in schedule 4, page 24, line 29, leave out

“the Article 7 relevant date (ignoring, for this purpose, the reference to Article 7(5) in paragraph (a) of the definition of that term)”

and insert “the date of knowledge”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Northern Ireland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury out of overseas operations.

Amendment 58, in schedule 4, page 24, line 34, leave out

“the Article 9 relevant date”

and insert “the date of knowledge”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Northern Ireland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for wrongful death arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 63, in schedule 4, page 25, line 5, at end insert—

“(c) the court must also have particular regard to the importance of the proceedings in securing the rights of the claimant.”

This amendment adds a further consideration to which the courts of Northern Ireland must have particular regard when determining whether to disapply the standard limitation period of three years so as to ensure that the claimant’s interest in having their civil claim proceed is not subordinated.

Amendment 59, in schedule 4, page 25, leave out lines 25 to 43 and insert—

“‘the date of knowledge’ means the date on which the person bringing the proceedings first knew, or first ought to have known—

(a) of the act complained of;

(b) that it was an act of the Ministry of Defence or the Secretary of State for Defence;

(c) of the manifestation of the injury resulting from that act which is the subject of the claim, and

(d) that they were eligible to bring a claim against the Ministry of Defence or Secretary of State for Defence in the courts of the United Kingdom.”

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Northern Ireland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury and wrongful death arising out of overseas operations.

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For the sake of time, I will not speak to every single amendment.

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My hon. Friend says, “Please do,” but I am sure that other Members want to contribute to this debate.

Since speaking on Second Reading and in Committee, it has been my aim, and that of the Labour Front-Bench team, to try to improve the Bill. In my nearly 19 years in this House, I have been someone who is proud of our armed forces, considers myself a friend to them and wants to help them in any way I can. I stand up for them, and I speak passionately, I think, in defending not just them but the case for defence.

It has therefore been disappointing that the Government have not really engaged to amend the Bill. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) said to the Defence Secretary that he wished to work with the Government to try to improve the Bill today, and he got a single-word reply: “No.” We then had the reply from the Minister for Defence People and Veterans in response to a question on the Bill when he said that he would be

“happy to work with anybody to improve this Bill, but we must operate in the real world.”—[Official Report, 2 November 2020; Vol. 683, c. 13.]

The only problem with that is that it is the real world according to the Minister, and that world obviously has a different colour sky from the one that we all live in. The idea that, somehow, as long as he is saying it, it has to be true, even when his evidence is counter to that put forward by various witnesses in Committee, is telling. What was sad in Committee was that all the Minister did was read out his civil service brief to us in response to the various amendments. He was reluctant to accept any interventions, even from rottweilers such as my hon. Friends the Members for Blaydon (Liz Twist) and for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck). When it comes to the Government Members on the Committee, I must congratulate the Whips Office on selecting so well, because those Members must have taken a collective vow of silence, which would have been admired by any silent ecclesiastical order. We had no contribution whatever from them, so it has been very difficult trying to engage with the Government on this Bill. The line is, clearly, that this is the answer, irrespective of what has been raised in Committee. We had some very good witnesses before us in Committee, but the Government are just not interested in changing the Bill, because the world and this Bill are perfect, according to the Minister and the Government.

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I concur with much of what my right hon. Friend is saying. He has always been a champion of the armed forces, both in his time in Government and, indeed, during the course of this Bill. Does he share my surprise that even the Government witnesses were saying things that disagreed with the Government’s account of this Bill? Professor Richard Ekins said that the Bill certainly does not stop investigations. He said:

“In fact, if one were to make a criticism of the Bill, one might say that it places no obstacle on continuing investigations”––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 6 October 2020; c. 35, Q63.]

Does he not find it surprising that even Government witnesses did not agree with the Government?

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Indeed. Time and again, supposed Government witnesses went against the Government. My hon. Friend raises a good point with the example that he has just provided.

The other thing that came out, which relates to my new clause, was about investigations. Investigations, or the problems that lead to these issues around investigations, were the thread that ran throughout the evidence. In spite of that, what we had at the weekend—this was a really dangerous move on the part of the Ministry of Defence—was tweets promoting this Bill from the MOD and saying that it would stop investigations. It will do nothing of the sort. As a former Defence Minister myself, using the MOD’s website and tweets to politicise things would not have been allowed in my day. What was put out is just not going to happen. Let us look at the evidence that we heard in Committee from a number of witnesses. The first one I will mention, again a Government witness, is Hilary Meredith, solicitor. She was very good and concentrated on the issue around investigations. She said:

“It is the procedure and investigation in the UK that need to be reviewed and overhauled, and not necessarily a time limit placed on…prosecutions.”––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 6 October 2020; c. 16, Q24.]

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The right hon. Gentleman has a long track record of supporting the armed services here. Is he concerned by the expression of doubt that has been put by members of the Royal British Legion? They have put in writing to all Members of Parliament the fact that they believe that part 2 of this Bill should be improved and that the time limit really gravely concerns them.

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I am, and I will come onto part 2 in a minute. The hon. Gentleman has hit on an issue relating to the Government’s approach to this Bill. The Minister is saying that it is standing up for members of the armed forces. It is doing nothing of the sort. In part 2, it is actually taking away rights.

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Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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I will let the Minister intervene, even though he is very reluctant to give way to me. I asked him if I could intervene on numerous occasions in Committee, but he would not tear himself away from the civil service briefing in front of him.

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I just wish to intervene briefly. It is a litany of accusations and they are complete rubbish. Where have I ever said that I wanted to stop investigations in this Bill? That is what I would like the right hon. Gentleman to indicate to me.

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Order. That is a perfectly reasonable question, but, although it is not exactly unparliamentary language, perhaps the Minister, speaking as he does with dignity from the Front Bench, might use a different phrase than “complete rubbish”—just something a little bit different.

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It is better than he did in Committee when he called me a hypocrite, Madam Deputy Speaker, but if he listens to what I am saying, he will know that I am not saying that. I know that his attention span is not very good, and he does not tend to listen. What he tends to do is just stick to what he has in front of him and his view of the world, rather than hearing what people are saying. The issue is—[Interruption.] Well, he can say “brilliant” and chunter as much as he likes, but this is the issue—the delays that are taking place because of the investigations.

I have referred to Judge Blackett, and the Minister was there when the evidence was taken. Judge Blackett is a just-retired senior judge of the service justice system, and he said:

“The Bill is effectively looking at the wrong end of the telescope. It is looking at the prosecution end, and you have got to remember that you do not prosecute until you investigate—and you have got to investigate. This will not stop people being investigated and it will not stop people being re-investigated and investigated again. Lots of investigations do not go anywhere, but the people who are investigated do not see that.”—[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 8 October 2020; c. 120.]

That came up when we took evidence from Major Campbell. I will put it on record again that his case was a disgrace, because it took 17 years, but this Bill will do nothing to speed up such cases or to ensure that reinvestigations do not occur. That is the key problem. The problem is not the prosecutions, because their number is very small.

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I have put in three written questions about this Bill, and yesterday I had answers to them. Two of the answers were helpful, but one, on the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making, was not. I was trying to establish how many investigations had not resulted in prosecutions, and I could not seem to get an answer, yet that is central to the whole problem. The core of the problem is not the small number who get prosecuted but the large number who get investigated.

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The right hon. Gentleman is correct. That came out in evidence that we took throughout the Committee. The issue is not the number of prosecutions but the number of investigations and how we can speed up the length of time they take.

The problem is that the Ministry seems to have a deaf ear when it comes to recognising that we need to address the issue around investigations, which is what new clause 1 would do. It would ensure that we had judicial oversight of the investigations. We can see what we have at the moment from the example of Major Campbell’s case, which went on and on. New clause 1 states that after a certain period of time, the evidence should be put before a judge to see whether there was a case to answer. Clearly, if the evidence did not meet the test and the case was going nowhere, it would get thrown out there and then. Alternatively, it could be decided that the case needed further investigation, but at least that would ensure that, after six months, there was some judicial oversight of the investigation. That would be a way of ensuring that these investigations did not go on for a long time.

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My right hon. Friend has always been a strong supporter of the armed forces. Does he agree that, while drafting the Bill, the Government, who claim to be champions of our armed forces, continued to ignore the impartial advice of the Royal British Legion, which has stated again and again that it breaches the armed forces covenant?

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But it really does not matter, because if my hon. Friend wants to see the attitude of the Minister to the Royal British Legion, he has only to read the evidence that came before the Committee.

New clause 2 would provide a way of ensuring that minor offences were dealt with speedily. As Judge Blackett said, this could be done in a magistrates court, where, after a period of time had passed, the cases could be looked at judicially and ticked off and dismissed on the basis that the there was no evidence to go forward. That would deal with a lot of the smaller issues. People ask why that is important, but if we look at the Iraq Historic Allegations Team—IHAT—and Northmoor, some of those cases involved assault and other things that in normal circumstances could be dealt with very quickly in a magistrates court. At least if we had a judge looking at them, he or she could make a decision as to whether or not those cases had any merit. It is amazing that the Government fail to recognise that the problem is not prosecutions but actually the investigatory process.

Then, halfway through the Bill Committee, the MOD announced it was coming forward with a review of investigations, to feed into next year’s Armed Forces Act, when the obvious place to have put that would have been in this Bill. The reason for doing that was given away by the Minister in the evidence session: this Bill has nothing to do with making sure of these matters. There is no reason why what I am suggesting and other issues around investigations could not be put in the Bill now and improve it, yet for reasons of tidiness the MOD wants to do it next year.

I have some sympathy with the MOD on that, because perhaps the best way to do this is in those five-yearly reviews of the Armed Forces Acts—and I think I have been on the Committee for every single one for the past nearly 20 years as either a Minister or Back Bencher. But the reason this Bill is before us has nothing to do with that; the Minister let the cat out of the bag in Committee when he said he had to get this through now, because one of his general election pledges was to do it within 100 days. I am sorry, but that is not a good way of bringing in legislation—just trying to press it forward irrespective of whether or not it is flawed.

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I have a lot of sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but may I drag him away from his politics for a second? Would it not be very simple to incorporate the recommendation in a 1960s magistrates Act of a judge advocate general, as that would deal with exactly what he is talking about?

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It would. That and judicial oversight would improve the Bill tremendously. It would then actually do what it is supposed to do, which is stop reinvestigation and stop the worry that these individuals have, but it does not do that; that is the big hole in the Bill.

It is not as though the Minister has not had a chance to look at this. I have raised it with him—I tabled amendments in Committee, which he pushed aside, and we are going to go ahead with what we have now, which will be a flawed Bill. Once it has passed, it will lead to a situation whereby a lot of people think that as a result they have protections when, frankly, it will do nothing of the sort, because it will not stop investigations and reinvestigations. One of the worst things we can do in politics is promise people things and give them the impression that we have done something when actually we have not, because once the penny drops and they see it is not actually the case, they rightly feel very bitter.

As the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) has just said, there is time to put this in the Bill. If Ministers are not going to do it in this place, they should do it in the other place, because it will improve the situation.

There is another dishonesty with this process. From, again, using the MOD website, which I do not think is appropriate for political reasons, we see there is a promise about Northern Ireland. The Minister is on record as saying that similar legislation will be brought in to cover historical cases in Northern Ireland. Well, I am sorry, but it will not do so if it is like this Bill; if it is like this Bill then, frankly, it will do nothing at all on investigations. If it is a mirror image of this Bill, all those people who think that somehow they are going to get protection will find that they do not, and that is just not fair.

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I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the officers who served under Operation Banner have been completely jettisoned and abandoned. That is the bottom line, and that is the crying shame of this—and I do not trust anyone in the Northern Ireland Office to bring forward a Bill that will help those ex-servicemen in the years to come.

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The hon. Gentleman makes a clear point: do I feel it right that, frankly, people in their 70s or 80s and even younger are worried about this happening? No, I think that is appalling, frankly, because there is an evidence test: is it in the public interest for those individuals to be now dragged before the courts? No, it is not. Here we have another promise that will not be delivered. I must say he is right in terms of the Northern Ireland Office. I have looked at the matter in detail—I have met all parties in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Féin, along with the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis)—and I think that finding a mechanism is going to be virtually impossible.

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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. The fact is this will end up in Northern Ireland Operation Banner officers being a trade-off between what the NIO finds politically helpful to buy off bartering with the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin.

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I defer to the hon. Gentleman’s knowledge of Northern Ireland politics, but I will say that this will not be solved by the promise that has been made. That again is not the issue.

I turn to new clause 3. It relates to the point that was raised on part 2 and is covered by an amendment tabled by Members on the Labour Front Bench. The issue is the stripping away of rights from veterans. I find it absolutely astonishing that, in this week of remembrance, we have a Government who have introduced a Bill that will actually take rights away from veterans. The longstop of six years will mean that veterans—and families—will not have access to section 33 of the Limitation Act, which allows people to bring cases out of time.

In Committee there was a lot of discussion about how many people would be affected. The Royal British Legion was very clear in its opposition to part 2 because, as Charles Byrne said in response to the Minister:

“I think it is protecting the MOD, rather than the service personnel”––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 8 October 2020; c. 86, Q163.]

He said that the Royal British Legion thought it did breach the armed forces covenant. I agree, because the covenant states:

“Those who serve in the Armed Forces, whether Regular or Reserve, those who have served in the past, and their families, should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public…services”

and so on. I agree with that, but this strips away their rights under section 33, which means that if somebody brings forward a case after the six-year longstop, they cannot have recourse to section 33 of the Limitation Act, because the Bill will take those rights away. Those rights are open to every single Member in the House today, and to prisoners and asylum seekers—anybody who wants to bring a case.

The Minister said that 94% of cases were brought within the time limits anyway. That is irrelevant to me, because 6% clearly are not, and it is those 6% that will then possibly use the Limitation Act.

May I put this on record, as I did in Committee? Bringing forward a section 33 case is by no means easy. It pertains to a very small number of individuals who could not bring their case within the time limit because their circumstances were unique; and they have to go before a court and argue out the reasons. I have done it myself when I worked for a trade union on injury or disease cases that were out of time—although you would not take on such a case in the first instance if you thought you would not get anywhere. However, there are those important cases that you can take, and which do make a difference.

The case that was mentioned time and again in Committee was the Snatch Land Rover decision in 2016. The families took forward the case under the Human Rights Act, which I will come on to in a minute, on the basis that their loved ones had been killed and injured in Iraq because of negligence on behalf of the MOD.

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Order. Just for clarification, in the silent exchange that the right hon. Gentleman and I have just had, I was trying to indicate to him that it would be helpful to the House if he concluded his remarks quite soon. I know it seems that he has not been speaking for very long, but it has been 22 minutes. I appreciate that he has taken a lot of interventions and this is important. I am requiring not that he finishes now but that he takes into consideration that there are many points of view on this Bill and that there are many people who wish to speak and, although we have a long time, we do not have long enough for everyone to take more than 20 minutes. He has some serious points to make, and I trust he will make them as quickly as possible.

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On one occasion, I spoke in Committee for an hour and 10 minutes.

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Could the right hon. Gentleman take a moment to reflect on what he said in his opening remarks, when he said there was near silence from Conservative Members in Committee? I was there, and I did not hear silence, but his contributions probably put us to sleep. With respect, could he think about it again for one moment?

On our side, we had valuable contributions from Members of Parliament who have served this great country of ours, like my hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) and for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson). They know what they are talking about. Would the right hon. Gentleman care to think again about saying they were silent?

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Order. Let us get this straight. Interventions will also be brief this afternoon. We want interventions because there is a serious debate to be had. As I look around the Chamber, I see experienced parliamentarians and others who understand that this is a very important Bill, and much of it is very sensitive, so let us try to behave with sensitivity and consideration for others.

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I made a mistake this morning, because I was going to count the number of interventions. There were no speeches from Conservative Members in Committee, although I think there were six interventions.

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Order. I do not care how many interventions there were in Committee. This debate is not about Committee; it is about the important matters before us, and that is what we will stick to.

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Sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I was being polite in replying to the hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines).

The families took the case against the MOD on the basis that they did not know about the Snatch Land Rovers until the Chilcot inquiry reported. That was way past any time limit.

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Surely the right hon. Gentleman realises that the proposed six-year time limit applies from the point of knowledge or the point of diagnosis, so it is not clear what point he is trying to get across.

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He who waits it all comes to. I was going to answer that point in a minute.

The MOD argued two things in that case. First, it argued that the case was out of time, and the families won the limitation hearing to take the case forward. The hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) has just said it would be within the six-year limit. No, it would not. Let us suppose they had taken the case not in 2016 but six years later. They would not be able to take a limitation hearing at all. The Minister does not quite understand that problem.

The case I raised in Committee was of an aircraft engineer who developed a very serious nerve condition from paint. The only reason he was able to take forward his case was because the technology had changed and research had shown that the paint actually damages people’s nervous system.

The Minister said in Committee that, somehow, he is on record in The Sun as guaranteeing that no one will lose out, but he cannot because that will not happen: as I said to him in Committee, using the Robin Day analogy, we are all here-today, gone-tomorrow politicians. Frankly, what will happen is that MOD lawyers will use this to stop people making claims.

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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

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If I must.

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My right hon. Friend does not have to if he does not want to.

Will the passing of the Bill mean that civilians working for the MOD down the road will end up having, in effect, more rights than Army service personnel who have served in operations overseas? Does that not bring us back to the fundamental issue of the breaking of the armed forces covenant, on which the Government really must think again?

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It does. The Bill’s provisions will also mean that prisoners will have more right to sue the MOJ, for example, than armed forces personnel. The Minister said in Committee, “That’s terrible because you’re comparing armed service personnel with veterans”; no, I am not. I am saying that if the Bill goes through, prisoners will have more rights than armed forces personnel. That cannot be right. The Minister mentioned the 6%; I am sorry, but if even one veteran loses their rights under this Bill, I am not prepared to support that.

My next point is about the Human Rights Act. I support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), because it is about how this looks in terms of our international reputation. There is derogation in the Bill; I accept that there cannot be derogation for torture, but it can and will be used to stop claims by MOD personnel against the MOD itself. The Snatch Land Rover case was brought under the Human Rights Act. Some people have the idea that the Human Rights Act is there to protect nasty foreigners and people we do not like; no, it is not. It is there to protect us all, including armed forces personnel. I am sure that that derogation will be used again by the MOD to deny the rights of individuals to take cases.

People should look at the Smith judgment on that case. What were the Government arguing? They were arguing that combat immunity, which is covered and was reinforced by the Supreme Court judgment, applied in that case because it happened in Iraq. No, that was not the case; the case was actually about the design and the decision to procure those Land Rovers and put them into theatre. The derogation will clearly be used in such a way.

I wish to make one final point, about our standing in the world. I am a supporter of the service justice system—it works well and we should be proud of it—but the problem with the Bill is this: do I want to see British servicemen and women tried in the International Criminal Court? No, I do not. I want them to be tried by their peers in a court in this country. As the Judge Advocate General, Judge Blackett, said in Committee, under this Bill there is a danger that if we have a presumption against prosecution and the issue around torture, we will get a situation whereby individuals will be tried not here but elsewhere. That would be terrible, not just for those individuals but for this country’s international reputation.

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I had been hoping to manage this afternoon’s proceedings without a time limit, but I do not think that is going to work; therefore, I am now obliged, in order to try to get a fair and equitable debate, to start with a time limit of eight minutes, but that will be significantly reduced later in the debate. If hon. Members who have eight minutes choose in an honourable way to speak for less than eight minutes, that would be remarkable.

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The right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) set me a target of 30 minutes, Madam Deputy Speaker, and you have reduced it to eight. It is a crying shame.

The Bill’s importance comes down to the penultimate points that the right hon. Gentleman was talking about. The importance of the Bill is all about the Human Rights Act. It is all about the defence not just of British service personnel—which is absolutely right—but of these islands, this nation and our citizens. The point about this Bill is that the law not only interferes inappropriately in the way that the combat forces of our country conduct themselves, but it actually weakens the defence of our realm. Let me break down what I mean by that and explain clearly why this is a problem.

We are seeing today armies being stopped from deploying in certain areas and individual personnel being asked to stop operations because the law is geared to a civilian environment. We have seen legal action brought against the MOD to protect the rights of an individual on operations who has volunteered and specifically stepped up to serve in a risky environment, knowing the dangers and the consequences. The important difference between the civilian environment and the military one and between, to use the jargon, international humanitarian law and international human rights law—or the Geneva convention and civilian law, if you like—is that the law is geared to the environment. If it is not, we end up doing something most unfortunate that nobody in the House wants to do: we end up giving ammunition to the enemy and power to those who would seek to take power from us.

Let me give one example. Today, British forces are actively involved in operations in Ukraine. They are not actually on the frontline fighting Russian forces—I suppose I should more politely call them mercenaries, acolytes or something like that. British forces are training the Ukrainian armed forces, and in that sense, they are supporting the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe mission. As part of that job, they are driving around the country. We can imagine a situation where the environment changes and the United Kingdom Government decide to change the order from merely supporting through training to taking an active part in peacekeeping or peace enforcement. If they were to do that, we can imagine the next scenario: legal action bought and paid for by a Russian hand. [Interruption.] If you do not believe it, you had better start listening.

We can absolutely see the possibility that a Russian hand will use the Human Rights Act, which is currently being deployed in various other ways, to stop our forces from deploying by arguing that kit is inappropriate and that operations are therefore too dangerous for soldiers to be deployed. It may be true that the operation is too dangerous or that the risk is not appropriate, but it is the job of this House, of Ministers, of generals and officers to decide. It is not the job of lawyers.

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I like the hon. Member, but he is talking complete nonsense. If he has read the Smith case, which went before the Supreme Court, he will know that combat immunity is completely covered under the Human Rights Act. It did not change that one iota, so what he suggests just will not happen. That case reiterated the point about combat immunity under the Human Rights Act.

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I am sorry, but the right hon. Member is completely wrong. If he reads “The Fog of Law” written by—oh—me in 2013, a paper for Policy Exchange written alongside actual lawyers, rather than me, such as Richard Ekins, with a foreword written by Lord Moses of the Supreme Court, he will see exactly what I am talking about. If he reads “Clearing the Fog of Law”, which explains the situation, he will see clearly why this is a problem. This is absolutely an issue.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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I will carry on.

It is also an issue for the human rights of some of the people we are fighting. Bizarrely, there were situations in Afghanistan where individuals could only be detained for a certain number of hours. They could not, for various reasons, be handed over to the Afghan authorities, despite the fact that we were, in theory, supporting the Afghan Government. It meant that after a certain number of hours—normally about 96 hours—they had to be released. The fact that they were known bomb makers who had definitely been handling explosives because chemical evidence showed it, could not be used, because in order to be used, those people would have had to be handed over to the Afghan authorities, and various people argued that the Afghan authorities were too inappropriate, too corrupt or too violent.

So, what happened? What do you think happens when someone who has taken up arms against you, literally tried to kill you and planted bombs to try to maim you cannot be detained? It is simple: after the legal limit was reached, the prisoners were released and followed for a number of hours, until they did exactly what we would expect: they went back to a weapons cache or arms unit and were engaged again as lawful military targets. How is that a defence of the human rights, even of the individual concerned?

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The hon. Gentleman, who is a good Member and a friend, is making a really interesting argument, but I fail to understand how it has anything to do with the Bill. How has limiting the ability of service personnel to take civil action against the MOD got anything to do with what he is talking about? How is requiring a five-year statute of limitations on things like torture anything to do with what he is saying about the operation in war? Can he explain how the interesting points he is making are relevant to what is in the Bill? I and, I think, my colleagues fail to see it.

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I am sorry that the hon. Member is failing to see it, because I thought I explained it quite clearly with the Ukraine example. We also see in other operations how the use of law has undermined the combat effectiveness of the armed forces. We see time and again in operations the opportunity for an individual with nefarious intent to try to bring legal action against the MOD to prevent operations.

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Will the hon. Member give way?

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I will not give way any more; I had two interventions and they are done. We see again and again how legal intervention could be used to try to prevent operations. That, absurdly, prevents the armed forces from doing exactly what they are there for: to be the strong defending the weak. Instead, soldiers deployed on lawful operations will not be able to act in defence of the most vulnerable. The Bill clearly intends to go some way towards dealing with that. I do have a criticism of the Bill in that it does not go far enough to prevent multiple investigations, but the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) will agree with me on that. It is true that it goes some way, but not nearly far enough.

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I declare an interest as a veteran. It is a pleasure to be called in the debate and a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat). I do not share his analysis on this occasion, but it is a pleasure to follow him none the less.

I begin with what I hope is a point of agreement across the whole House. We all appreciate and understand the strength of feeling and high regard that Members across the House have for those who serve in our armed forces. Sadly, we are all too familiar with stories of our armed forces personnel being hounded for years and years. The Bill seeks to address such abuses but—here is where I part company with the Minister and the Government—in a manner that I believe will see Britain reneging on its international legal commitments. I will focus my remarks on the exception of torture from the Bill.

Torture, aside from being wholly ineffective, is illegal, immoral and inhumane. However, having listened to the Government’s arguments throughout the passage of the Bill, I remain convinced of the need for safeguards on torture. For the most part, Ministers have sought to dismiss the suggestion that the triple lock will weaken our stance on torture, yet an ever-growing number of legal experts, military figures and parliamentarians on both sides of the House think there is a need for a rethink.

It is obvious to see why there is a problem with the Bill. In my view, the Government have taken the correct decision to exclude sexual offences from the Bill. They could not have been more explicit when doing so. In response to the public consultation, the MOD said:

“the use of sexual violence or sexual exploitation during conflict is never acceptable in any circumstances.”

I believe that the same applies to torture. It is never acceptable in any circumstances. When pushed on that matter, Ministers have argued that an allegation of torture could arise as a consequence of the unique and often dangerous tasks that soldiers are instructed to carry out on overseas operations. That is just not correct. The rules on detention and interrogation are clear. The British Army’s training on detainee handling and tactical questioning is rigorous and leaves no room for doubt.

There is no debate on what constitutes torture, nor can an act of torture be conducted in error or as a result of a split-second misjudgment. It is a premeditated action for which there can be no justification. There is a reason why our soldiers are taught where the line is: we lose our legitimacy if we sink to the level of our opponents. By not excluding torture in the Bill, the Government are taking another step backwards on international law and on human rights.

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My hon. Friend is making points with which I absolutely concur. The prohibition on torture is absolute. I have witnessed first hand the training given to our armed forces personnel on the issues that he has described. Does he share my concern, which was expressed in Committee, that not excluding torture in the way that the Government could have done, and have done on sexual offences, puts our armed forces personnel at bigger risk of being taken to places such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which nobody wants to happen?

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My hon. Friend raises an incredibly valuable point. That is a real risk and an unintended consequence of the Bill. I hope that the Minister gives pressing thought to that during the remainder of its passage through the House.

My hon. Friend will have seen the excellent report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which raised significant concerns that the Bill breaches the UK’s international legal obligations under international humanitarian law, human rights law and international criminal law. The Committee recommended that at a minimum, the Government should exclude torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide from the Bill’s presumption against prosecution. That is precisely what the Government should be doing.

When I spoke to the Minister before Second Reading, he said that he was amenable to looking at such changes. I am sure he believes, as I and many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House believe, that torture is incompatible with the values and standards of our armed forces.

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There is nothing in the Bill that prohibits any investigation within or after the five years for any such acts. There is nothing that favours them; there is no amnesty, no pardon, and no statute of limitations. By the way, I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman’s book, which I read a couple of weeks ago, but I have to say that on this occasion, he is mistaken.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for the comments towards the end of his remarks. There is a weight of expert opinion. I am reassured about the strength of the case that I and other hon. Members are seeking to make today by the contacts I have had with my former colleagues who are still serving in our armed forces. There is a genuine debate still to be had about this. I am sure that the Minister will want to engage with the substance of the debate. Let us keep talking about it.

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When the Defence Committee was looking at the matter in the previous two Parliaments, it recommended a Bill of this sort provided that the time limit was qualified by the absence of compelling new evidence. Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman saying that he does not feel that that proviso is in the Bill? If that proviso is in the Bill, if there were compelling new evidence that had not come forward in the first five years but came forward afterwards, then indeed a prosecution could proceed.

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The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. I certainly assume that all of us attend this debate and seek to make contributions in good faith, and I think there is a genuine desire from Members from all parts of the House to improve this Bill. The Minister has indicated on a number of occasions that in good faith he wants to have that continuing conversation with Members about how we can improve the Bill. There is still time to do so, and I very much hope that we will not miss out on that opportunity.

To conclude my remarks, no one here today—none of us—is denying that there is a problem with members of our armed forces being hounded for years. We all know of occasions and examples where that has happened, and lives have undoubtedly been ruined as a consequence, but I believe, and I know that others share my belief, that the Bill as drafted is not the answer to resolving those particular issues. As Judge Blackett said in the evidence he gave to the Public Bill Committee:

“This will not stop people being investigated and it will not stop people being re-investigated and investigated again.”––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 8 October 2020; c. 120, Q246.]

We must address the deficiencies of the investigative process and provide those who are under investigation with our full support, but we cannot use deeply regrettable instances of failure to renege on our legal and moral obligations. Let us show some leadership and lead by example. I very much hope that the Government will think again.

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It is a privilege to follow the gallant and hon. Gentleman, who is a co-signatory with me to amendments 1 to 10, which deal with the issue of torture. If this country stands for anything, it stands for the rule of law. That enhances our reputation abroad and increases our influence abroad. It is also important to the reputation and effectiveness of our armed forces, who are made safer and more effective because of it. The right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) spoke at length about the Bill not dealing with investigations, so in the interests of time I will move past that.

As the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) said, the Judge Advocate General—the most senior judge in the Service Prosecuting Authority, the person who is the most knowledgeable about all these issues and who was in place for 16 years when these issues were being dealt with—says that this Bill does not address the issue. I will quote him again later on, because he is clearly not some left-wing, liberal lawyer or somebody who wants to undermine the armed forces; he is somebody who wants this country to succeed.

In the witness statements to the Bill Committee, the overriding view of the witnesses was that the principal failing was the failure to include war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture in schedule 1, which in their view contravenes the UK’s commitment to international law and invites the attention of the International Criminal Court.

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Article 3 of the Geneva conventions covers torture and crimes against humanity, and there is a convention on torture itself. When I was a member of the armed forces, we were subject to that as our highest priority. Indeed, I often used the Geneva conventions to justify my actions, and the Geneva conventions guide the armed forces. All those people who go on operations are guided by the Geneva conventions, I promise that.

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My hon. and gallant Friend is exactly right, and I want to see the reputation that comes from that preserved after this Bill becomes law.

I will briefly address the weaknesses of two parts of the Bill separately—this addresses directly my hon. Friend’s comments: first, the criminal prosecutions and then the civil cases.

Prosecutions against armed forces personnel are not brought by just any lawyer. They are brought by the Service Prosecuting Authority, which is part of the Ministry of Defence. As it stands, a prosecution can be brought only where there is sufficient evidence that the accused committed the offence and where it is in the public interest that the prosecution should be made. There is therefore already a high threshold for prosecution. As a result, since 2000, there have been 27 prosecutions. Given how many thousands of members of our armed forces have been in operations in difficult circumstances—in close quarters with the civilian population, fighting against an asymmetric enemy—that is an astonishingly low number. That is not a prosecution system that is out of control. That alone shows that the system is not slanted against soldiers.

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I agree with my right hon. Friend that the prosecution system is not out of control, but does he agree that the investigatory system is? To answer my own intervention on the hon. and gallant Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), is my right hon. Friend aware that clause 3(2)(b) says that the five-year limit will not apply unless

“compelling new evidence has become available”?

Why is he not reassured by that?

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I will tell my right hon. Friend in a moment exactly why I am not reassured by that, but he is quite right that the issue is the repeated investigation of people who are innocent, in most cases. That is a harassing and destructive thing. The best known case is that of Major Campbell, who underwent eight investigations. I am afraid that the real blame lay with the Ministry of Defence for at least four of them. That is what we should address.

As I say, the prosecution system is not slanted against soldiers. I will give the rather gruesome, well known example of Baha Mousa, a 26-year-old Iraqi man who, in 2003, was dragged from his desk while working as a hotel receptionist by British soldiers, handcuffed and taken to a detention facility in Basra. Thirty-six hours later, he had been beaten to death, having suffered 93 separate injuries while in the custody of British forces. The number of solders convicted of murder as a result: zero. The number convicted of manslaughter: zero. There was a single conviction of one soldier, who confessed to inhumane treatment and got one year in prison.

It is difficult for prosecuting and other authorities to make out a clear-cut case of torture, inhumane treatment or even manslaughter, so I do not believe that the system operates against the interests of the armed forces. Indeed, on the several occasions on which the Government have been asked to produce a case of vexatious prosecution—not investigation, but prosecution—they have never been able to name one. That is not surprising. The Service Prosecuting Authority—the body that brings prosecutions—already dismisses claims that it believes are vexatious. In evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Nicholas Mercer, the former Command Legal Adviser in Iraq, said:

“Before I left the army, I gave legal advice on a number of prominent cases…I found a case that was without merit and I closed it. It was as simple as that. I do not need legislation to do that. It happens already.” That is a good reflection on our system, and we should not be ashamed of it.

The area of contention, which has been mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Barnsley Central, is the triple lock against prosecutions. The Government’s own stated aim is to raise the bar for prosecutions after five years. In its scrutiny of the Bill, the Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded:

“a limitation period that would prevent prosecutions is unlawful under international law if it prevents investigations and prosecutions in relation to torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”

The Government state that the measure is not a statute of limitations. The Law Society, which some may dismiss, agrees with the JCHR, and concludes that the presumption against prosecution creates a “quasi-statute of limitation” that is “unprecedented” in criminal law, and represents

“a significant barrier to justice.”

Rather more importantly, the Judge Advocate General, whom I described earlier, has said:

“In my view, what this Bill does is exactly the opposite of what it is trying to do. What it is trying to do is to stop ambulance-chasing solicitors and vexatious and unmeritorious claims. The Minister quite rightly said we want rigour and integrity. What it actually does is increase the risk of service personnel appearing before the International Criminal Court. That is why I said it was ill conceived.”––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 8 October 2020; c.117-18, Q234.]

That is the Judge Advocate General, the most expert person in the country on this subject. He also described, incidentally, the Bill as bringing

“the UK armed forces into disrepute”.

If the Government really think that schedule 1 does not make justice more difficult, they would not have excluded sexual offences from the remit of the Bill. If it is not difficult to get a prosecution, why exclude any category? It was right to exclude sexual offences, and the Government should exclude torture on exactly the same grounds. That is the point of the amendment in my name and in that of many others.

I have a couple of minutes, so I will deal briefly with the issue of civil claims. There have been 1,000 civil claims, according to the Ministry of Defence, all of them against the Ministry, not against individual soldiers—as far as I can tell. Surprise, surprise, someone trying to get money goes to the Ministry, not to a poverty-stricken soldier. However, that does not help veterans; it actually hinders veterans.

The point has been made by other Members, so I will press it no further, except to quote the British Legion director-general:

“it protects the Ministry of Defence from civil action—from someone bringing a case. That longstop does not protect the armed forces personnel.”––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 8 October 2020; c. 86, Q161.]

Of course, what the Bill could stop are the sorts of cases that exposed Snatch Land Rover, the lack of provision of body armour and a number of other scandals, which quite properly improved the operation the MOD.

The Bill does the same for torture cases. All the stories about torture and rendition came in the first instance from civil cases—all of them. That is what brought them into the public domain; there was not a single criminal prosecution in the first instance. It is difficult to bring a torture case. In most, only two people know about the torture: the victim and the oppressor—the torturer, or torturers. Typically, no other evidence is available in the public domain. A case is difficult. Even in the case of Belhaj, the most famous torture case—we delivered Mr Belhaj and his pregnant wife to the Libyans, for heaven’s sake—it took 10 years, essentially, to get to court, and of course he got an apology from the Prime Minister. That is why the issue of torture is almost impossible to bring to court.

Time is running out, so I will finish by quoting the questions that the Judge Advocate General put to the Minister in Committee. He said that

“six Royal Military Police were killed…in 2003”,

and asked:

“would we accept that there would be a presumption against… prosecution”

of their murderers? Would we expect special arrangements—

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Order. I will let the right hon. Member read the quote before finishing.

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I will read the quote:

“Would we be content that a member of the Iraqi Government’s consent would be needed to prosecute? Would we accept a decision by that person not to prosecute? In my view, there would be outrage in this country if”––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 8 October 2020; c. 128, Q278]—

the Iraqis behaved in that way. The Judge Advocate General said that we should always remember that the law should be “even-handed” to all people.

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It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate on Report, and to do so early, following the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and a number of other contributors. Time is tight on proceedings, but had the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) spoken for the entirety of the Opposition, Members would have been largely content. I was clear on Second Reading that, while we support the Bill, many aspects of it could have been—and I regret were not—improved in Committee.

I will make this broader point at this stage: just because the Government have the strength of votes does not mean that they have a monopoly on wisdom, or that they should not engage more productively and proactively with some of the concerns that have been expressed. I do not say that belligerently or to cause difficulty; those who have served with me on the Defence Committee know that I approach such matters sincerely. I say it because we want to see the right outcome and the right protection for our service personnel. I am afraid that, following the Bill Committee, we are not quite there yet. We have the opportunity this evening to make necessary amendments.

I will repeat at this stage, although it is not part of the Bill, that I resent the fact that Northern Ireland provisions have not been brought forward. The Minister gave me a commitment on Second Reading—I am glad that he did—that the Government will not resile from the commitments that they have given to veterans who served in Northern Ireland. I accept that progress on those provisions is now, regrettably, outwith the Minister’s domain, but that commitment is still there from the Government and we look forward to seeing how they will honour it.

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Does the hon. Member recognise that there is already an international agreement—it is called the Stormont House agreement—to deal with issues of legacy in Northern Ireland? It seems now that the Government are determined to abandon that agreement and abandon the victims of the conflict too. Does he think that that is a sensible way to proceed—that the Government will again abandon an international agreement?

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The hon. Member’s contribution is timely. We know what commitments were given during the New Decade, New Approach agreement on legacy matters in Northern Ireland, and we wait to hear from the Government where they are. Both of us have engaged in conversations recently about where that may go. While we may wish it to go in different directions, I am not sure that either of us will be overly satisfied with what emerges.

I want to touch on a number of key aspects of the Bill. I saw that the Minister, with his normal enthusiasm, talked at the weekend about some of those seeking to amend the Bill being “deeply disingenuous”, “repeating campaign lines” and

“talking a good game…but fundamentally unwilling to lift a finger”

to protect service personnel. He made those comments. I am sharing them because I want to say categorically that they do not accord with me as a signatory of amendments 1 to 10, and nor do I believe that they appropriately accord with others who have signed the amendments.

I think it is right to say that people are being disingenuous if they think that war crimes or genocide are issues that are precluded under the Bill. They are not—they are clearly included in schedule 1—but the Government are wrong not to refocus and think again about torture. Torture should be exempted from the provisions of the Bill. I say that very clearly, drawing on the comments by the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). He was right to reflect that clause 3(2)(b) draws on cases where there has been an investigation before, but what it does not do, and what it should do—I referred to this on Second Reading—is rule out the provisions of the Bill being used where there has not been an investigation at all.

Can it genuinely be the case that where issues are raised around torture where there has not been an investigation at all, we accept that the presumption against prosecution should be engaged? I do not think so. I have clearly argued, alongside the Minister as a member of the Defence Committee, that where the state has discharged its duty through a satisfactory investigation, then we can seek to protect our service personnel from prosecution, but not before.

We are asking the Attorney General to make the determination through the provisions of this Bill. That is the very same Attorney General who will be asked to agree that, because this Bill is being used, our service personnel have to go to the International Criminal Court. That cannot be right. Take these issues back to St Aquinas on what a just war is; he considers the morality of war. We as a country stand firmly against torture. When we engage in armed conflict, we operate on the basis that we share those values—that there is an international norm: our guys will not be tortured because we give a clear commitment that we will not torture theirs. That goes with this Bill.

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The hon. Gentleman is making an incredibly strong and important point. Does he not also agree that it potentially undermines our standing in some of the key institutions which we are party to internationally? He may not be aware, but we are actually chair of the optional protocol to the convention against torture subcommittee. The gentleman who chairs it on behalf of the United Kingdom is a graduate of Llanrumney High School in my constituency. We have a key role to play in international institutions and in setting standards for the world. If we undermine that through the Bill, we risk Britain’s reputation globally.

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The hon. Gentleman is right that there is a huge danger. The Government are not tearing up our international obligations—I accept that. The Government are not resiling from our international obligations to say torture is wrong, it is abhorrent, it is immoral and it is not something that we will engage in. I agree with the Government on that. But if that is their position, then why not close the circle in the Bill? Why leave it to others to determine in the International Criminal Court, when those issues should be determined here? I say again very clearly that in the context where there has been no investigation at all that cannot be right, be it five years, 10 years or whatever else. I will listen thoughtfully to the Minister in his summing up and hear what he has to say on that. I know he has the strength of numbers. I know he can push it through. I know he can reject the amendments that have been tabled, whether they are amendments 1 to 10 or amendment 32. But I ask him to reflect seriously on that.

Finally, the right hon. Member for North Durham dealt with this issue well in his new clause 1, but new clause 1 should be what the Bill is about: not dealing with the prospect of a prosecution five years after the fact, but dealing with repeated investigations, again and again and again, before the provisions of the Bill are ever engaged. That door remains open. We know some of the Northern Ireland cases that are going through the courts at the moment do not just involve a veteran, elderly and frail, but have also included dawn raids on an elderly and frail veteran of service in Northern Ireland in the ’70s and ’80s. That is outrageous, but none of that is precluded under the terms of the Bill. The investigations issue is worthy of further exploration during today’s proceedings.

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We will have to introduce a five-minute limit now, because of the pressure of speakers.

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I will address briefly some of the points raised in this excellent debate. First, I would like to congratulate the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), for his efforts to bring the Bill before the House. He has been a tireless champion of the veterans community ever since he was elected and it has been a privilege to serve on the Public Bill Committee with him. And I am so pleased he has had his haircut, finally.

This is a Conservative Government who are delivering on our manifesto commitment to begin to ensure that the men and women this House sends on operations, often into harm’s way, are safe from the sort of vexatious, repeat investigations and harassment that some have had to endure after operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In this country, we are rightly proud of the men and women of our armed forces. In this season of remembrance, it is right for the House to be considering legal safeguards for them on future operations overseas. The Bill begins to address what many have talked about over many years and which we are finally getting to grips with: it provides some reassurance and protection for those deployed in the service of our nation on operations abroad in the future.

With the greatest respect to Members across the House, there has been a great deal of nonsense spoken about this proposed legislation during the passage of the Bill so far. The statutory presumption against prosecution after five years of any incident does not constitute a pardon, an amnesty or a statute of limitations. Prosecutors will still have discretion over whether to act, bearing in mind the public interest and if there is adequate or new evidence, and, critically, after careful consideration from the Attorney General, who will act in the public interest.

Our service personnel are trained to the highest possible standard and are taught about the laws of armed conflict, as well as the Geneva convention, as some Members mentioned. The Armed Forces Act 2006 clearly states that any criminal act will be considered as an offence under UK law. This proposed legislation does not overturn that principle or statute. This Bill does not make it virtually impossible to bring prosecutions for charges of torture—this is not correct—and I welcome the fact that the threshold for a new prosecution will have to be of an exceptional nature after five years. This legislation will dramatically change the existing culture, where our armed forces personnel are seen as fair game by some lawyers. It is right that any investigation must consider the unique pressures of conflict and decisions made under great stress. This provision will, I am sure, be welcomed by serving personnel and veterans.

This Bill does not prevent personnel from bringing civil claims against the MOD. The six-year time limit proposed applies from the point of knowledge or the point of diagnosis. The MOD estimates that 93.8% of claims by service personnel or their families arising from service in Afghanistan or Iraq would be eligible under the provisions of this Bill. I also welcome the establishment by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence of the judge-led review of the wider service justice system. This will I hope ensure that from the beginning when allegations are made or incidents occur, they will be dealt with more swiftly.

The message from this House must be clear to our allies around the world: this Bill does not exclude British personnel on operations from their obligations under international law or the Geneva convention. The wider interpretation of the European convention on human rights has produced additional confusion. In an area where we have unattributed forces acting in grey zone operations, or not wearing uniforms or insignia, the opportunity to provoke incidents and then claim the use of excessive force will be a more attractive option from these states or others who wish us ill. Crucially, other NATO allies, such as France, obtain a derogation from the ECHR when their forces are deployed overseas on operations. This Bill will put in statute the proviso for Ministers to consider that they would derogate from the ECHR.

In welcoming this Bill, I look forward to supporting the Government’s measures to extend similar protections to our Northern Ireland veterans, which is long overdue. This Government are proud to stand up for our armed forces while they protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

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I will speak to the amendments and new clauses tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench, those in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and those that I have signed tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and others.

I do not want to stray too far from the amendments to hand, but I would like to say that I have sat in on many Bills in this place and I have yet to see one leave Committee completely unamended. Most Ministers accept that Bills as introduced are never perfect. They engage and listen to evidence sessions and Members in Committee, and try to make changes accordingly. It is astonishing that the Bill before us today is identical to the Bill we were presented with on Second Reading—astonishing because not a single witness in oral evidence or in written evidence has expressed full support for the presumption against prosecution in part 1 of the Bill or the civil litigation longstop in part 2 of the Bill.

In fact, there have been strong calls to scrap part 2 of the Bill in its entirety. If the civil litigation longstop part of the Bill remains unamended, there is a high risk that the Ministry of Defence will not be held accountable for violations of soldiers’ and civilians’ rights. The largest proportion of claims made against the MOD are claims of negligence and of breaches of the MOD’s duty of care towards its soldiers. Between 2014 and 2019, the available data shows that such claims amounted to more than 75% of all claims. This legislation will benefit only the Ministry of Defence, yet the Ministry of Defence is the defendant in all those claims. There is a clear conflict. The Minister and the Department have created legislation that protects them from legitimate legal claims. I am unaware of any other instance of our legislation being drafted in such a way to give such inbuilt protection to the defendant over the claimant, especially when there is already legislation in place under the Limitation Act to strike out any baseless claims.

This Bill allows the MOD to strike out not just baseless claims, but any claims, including rightful ones. Those suffering from hearing loss or post-traumatic stress disorder will not always be able to bring claims within the six-year timeframe, for the reasons many in our Committee’s evidence session gave.

There remains a lack of clarity about the number of people who would be disadvantaged by the longstop, but the Government’s impact assessment shows that at a minimum, 19 injured or bereaved members of the forces community who made claims from operations in Afghanistan and Iraq would have been blocked had the legislation we are debating today been in place. One member of our brave forces being blocked from a claim is completely out of order, never mind 19. Crucially, we do not know what will happen in the future, but it is likely that there will be drastic unintended consequences and our forces will have less protection than civilians and, in some cases—as has been said—prisoners. There is simply no justification for introducing a time limit where one currently does not exist.

Time and again, we heard that the problem is with the investigative process. Major Robert Campbell’s appalling treatment is something none of us would ever condone, yet there is nothing in the Bill that will solve the problem of investigations. There is nothing in the Bill that will solve the problem of repeated investigations. There is nothing in the Bill that will afford our forces and veterans a duty of care when they are undergoing these investigations. In fact, what the presumption against prosecution and the exemption of torture and war crimes does is make it more likely that our forces personnel will face investigations from the International Criminal Court, for reasons outlined clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central and the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis).

The Government have rightly identified that there is a problem, and there is a need to provide greater legal protections to armed forces personnel and veterans serving overseas, but they have drafted legislation that makes the problem worse. I urge all Government Members to look beyond the rhetoric and the political spin, read the actual legislation before them and consider these amendments and new clauses carefully before voting tonight to put our armed forces and our veterans at a disadvantage.

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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), who is a fellow patron of the women’s veterans charity Salute Her, part of Forward Assist and the only other female who sits with me on the Defence Committee.

In consideration of new clause 1, I remind the House why the Bill is necessary. The Government of the day sent the British military into operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for over a decade after, these troops were hounded by lawyers, chasing the money and putting our troops through hell once again. So prolific was this hunt that it was given the name “lawfare”, and it is this lawfare that we seek to address.

Over the past few months, I have spoken to a significant number of serving personnel and veterans about the Bill. What sticks in my mind are five soldiers who specifically told me about their experiences of being investigated through Operation Northmoor and the Iraq Historic Allegations Team. All were vexatious claims and four left the service as a direct consequence of their treatment—exemplary soldiers all feeling let down and betrayed. All five believe the Bill would have protected them in some form, and they all welcome its introduction.

Retention is a big challenge for the military, especially the Army. In the British military, we train soldiers to the highest standard. Their professionalism and capabilities are renowned across the globe, but the military is a bottom-up organisation. Someone cannot enter the Army as a regimental sergeant major. Promotion comes from within the ranks. We have lost many to this lawfare and even worse is the feeling that service personnel and veterans are not valued. There have been over 4,000 lawfare compensation claims made against personnel, and only one went to prosecution. Just think about that litigious process and what it did to the remaining 3,999 people’s mental health and wellbeing and the impact on their families, and it was allowed to happen.

Opponents of the Bill suggest that it protects soldiers from prosecution against war crimes and crimes against humanity, and I support the comments made by my hon. Friends the Members for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) and for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) regarding the Geneva convention. The Bill offers no such protection. The service personnel I have spoken to are unanimously affronted by the suggestion that they want and would be protected by such an Act. They find the mention of blanket immunity abhorrent.

I cannot miss out on the opportunity to mention Northern Ireland. More service personnel died in those troubles than in Iraq and Afghanistan put together, and I have already received ministerial assurances, but I urge the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Northern Ireland to expedite this provision for those veterans who served.

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The hon. Lady brings up a pertinent point. Obviously, the Bill provides protection, but there does not seem to be the same protection for soldiers who served on Operation Banner, the greatest operation in British history. Does she feel that this protection should be extended to those who served in Northern Ireland on Operation Banner, so that they have the same protection as they would have if they had served in Afghanistan or Iraq?

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I am just about to say that they, too, should be afforded certainty that the unique operational pressures placed upon them will be taken into account. Prosecution decisions are made on alleged historical offences, and I understand that there will be some debate in this House on that matter.

I have spent the past few weeks scrutinising the Bill line by line in the Public Bill Committee, along with a number of other Members. Is the Bill perfect? No, it is not, but it is infinitely better than where we are now. No Bill or Act will ever suit all people in all circumstances, but which group would object to this Bill the most? It is the group who would lose out the most: the unscrupulous human rights lawyers. Service charities welcome the Bill, although I acknowledge that they have some reservations. But all service personnel and veterans want to be and should be supported by the Government, their politicians and their people. After all, they are prepared to, and do, put their lives at risk for us, and this is the duty of care these service personnel want. This Bill goes some way in offering that support, and I welcome it.

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I am grateful to you for the opportunity to take part in this debate, Mr Speaker. As the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) indicated, it bears a remarkable similarity to the one we had on Second Reading, because, it would appear, of how matters were proceeded with in Committee. That is unfortunate, because on Report the House is charged with the more detailed scrutiny of the sort we would normally expect to have and the Bill will be the poorer for its lack. I have listened with care and attention, occasionally trying to intervene, but I am struck by the fact that so many of those who speak in favour of the Bill continue to do so on the basis of seeking somehow to limit civil claims being brought against the Ministry of Defence.

The hon. Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) spoke about lawfare and made a good point; I speak as a distantly former solicitor and the behaviour she refers to was disgraceful. However, the way to deal with such utterly disgraceful behaviour lies with the regulatory authorities for the legal profession; it is not necessarily for this House to start driving a coach and horses through the important protections we all enjoy, which ultimately benefit most of our armed forces personnel. I do not understand why part 1—an interference with the prosecution and the creation of a presumption against prosecution in criminal cases—will make any difference to the spectacle we saw in relation to lawfare.

Let me deal briefly with the provisions tabled by the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). His suggestion in new clause 1 is sensible: judicial oversight of some sort for investigatory processes in the context where, as we all know, it is difficult to come by evidence, because it has to come from a theatre of conflict. That sort of protection is sensible, and it is unfortunate that the inadequacy of our proceedings today will not allow his proposal the sensible scrutiny and debate it deserves.

However, I wish to focus the bulk of my remarks on amendment 1, tabled by the hon. and gallant Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). For me, the operation of the presumption against prosecution in relation to torture is the most egregious aspect of this Bill. I suspect that if we could sort that—I am pretty certain that it will be sorted when the Bill goes to the other place—then we could probably fairly easily build a consensus around the Bill: the sort of consensus that, by and large, we manage to achieve most of the time in relation to the conduct of and support for our armed services.

I was struck by what the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) said about the various protections that he claims are within the Bill and how that would still make it possible to bring prosecutions in the exceptional circumstances envisaged by its authors. There is some merit in his proposition, but it did occur to me that if these provisions are adequate for torture, they should also be adequate for protections against sexual offences—but sexual offences are carved out in schedule 1 expressly because they should never be countenanced under any circumstances. It is absolutely right that they should be carved out in schedule 1 for those reasons, but it is for those reasons that torture should also benefit from the same sort of exemption that we have seen in respect of sexual offences.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden touched on Belhaj. I will say only this: let us remember that the Belhaj papers were only found, following the fall of Gaddafi, entirely by accident. That is how difficult it can sometimes be to obtain the evidence of torture.

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I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for being a tireless advocate for veterans and making this Bill possible. I also thank the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) for his loquacious advocacy for veterans throughout the Bill Committee. He raised questions about the participation of other Members, but I would wager that his words that poured forth throughout the Committee covered every aspect of anything we may have an interest in.

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I was not in the Chamber when that was said earlier, but it is fair to say that I made over 40 interventions in the Back-Bench debate, so I certainly contributed to the Bill Committee in that regard, as did many other Members. It would therefore be unfair to say that there was no contribution from Conservative Members.

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It was indeed an honour to serve on the Committee, because I myself, although not serving in the military, had two brothers who were veterans, and I saw the way that war and conflict tore their lives and our family apart.

I have spoken to many veterans who have said that they were at the point of wanting to kill themselves—some attempted it—for the fear of being prosecuted through these kinds of claims. The Bill protects the men and women who have risked their lives and fought to keep us safe and free. It allows our brave servicemen and women to go overseas to fight and represent us, and then come back and safely carry on their lives. That is what the Bill was intended to do, and I believe that that is what it will do.

I appreciate the plethora of amendments presented by the right hon. Member for North Durham. I am grateful for his studious nature in making sure that we have covered every aspect of these clauses. As my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) mentioned, the investigative system is out of control. The Bill goes some way towards mitigating that, and we could perhaps have gone even further. The issue of derogation, which was raised at the start, was not further discussed, but we could have done so with a greater level of debate.

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Will the hon. Member give way?

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Not at the moment.

The issue of derogation before an overseas conflict or an overseas mission is started might go a long way in any claims made retrospectively after the mission and whatever conflict we have engaged in is completed.

Those are small things that we could have looked at in further detail, but I appreciate and support the Bill. I am grateful to all those who have contributed, and I hope that we will be able to do what we promised in our manifesto commitment, which is to take care of veterans.

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Since this Bill came before us, I have had serious misgivings about its aim and its effectiveness. As it has progressed unamended, we have heard evidence from military and legal experts as well as charities, all stating that the Bill does not provide the protections that the Government claim it does for our armed forces. Worse than failing to protect our armed forces and their families, it risks limiting them from holding the Ministry of Defence to account when it fails to equip armed personnel properly or when it makes serious errors leading to injury and, in some cases, sadly, death. That was confirmed when the Royal British Legion director general told MPs on the Committee:

“I think it is protecting the MOD, rather than the service personnel”.––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 8 October 2020; c. 86, Q163.]

During the past 16 years, there have been 25,000 civil cases against the MOD by British troops who have been injured or their families. If this Bill goes through without protecting the armed forces covenant, we could potentially see thousands of personnel, veterans and families left wanting when what they deserve is justice. When looking at legislation, I always ask, “What’s the problem that this is trying to solve?” When we compare the 25,000 civil cases against the MOD with the number of vexatious claims, we should be questioning who is really being protected with this Bill. Unlike the Minister, I completely agree with the Royal British Legion’s director general: this Bill is about protecting the MOD, not service personnel.

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It is important to correct the record. The claims that the hon. Lady refers to have not happened overseas, so those figures are not right. This Bill is specifically designed for overseas operations, and the figures that have repeatedly been raised are incorrect.

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As has been raised many times by Members on both sides of the House, we would like to know exactly how many, yet we are left wanting.

We know that the armed forces risk their lives every day—[Interruption.] The Minister does not want to hear this. I have already had to suggest to him that he should turn off Twitter and listen to the genuine concerns of Members around the House. We know that the armed forces risk their lives every day, and we owe them a huge debt. We also know that they are sometimes faced with difficult decisions, but even in the heat of war, the rule of law still applies. The Government have provided no rationale for why sexual crimes should be excluded from the Bill, but not torture and other war crimes. All is not fair in love and war. Our armed forces are still bound to international humanitarian law, and the Bill risks UK personnel being dragged to the International Criminal Court, which is why I urge Members to support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis).

The exclusion of sexual crimes but not torture is important. Under international law, torture is clearly defined as intentional infliction of very serious or cruel suffering, yet the Minister said in Committee that

“we expect our service personnel to undertake activities that are intrinsically violent in nature. These activities can expose service personnel to the possibility that their actions may result in allegations of torture”––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 14 October 2020; c. 206.]

The definition of torture in international law is clear, yet the Minister seemed to deliberately muddle the violent nature of the work of the armed forces with legitimising torture. Given the world that we live in at the moment, that is a very dangerous path to go down. We are rightly condemning the horrendous abuses by the Chinese state in Xinjiang, the violations of human rights in Kashmir and the plight of the Rohingya people, but how can this Government call out other states for their use of torture and human rights abuses when they seek to pass legislation that legitimises the very same? Some Members on the Government Benches have loudly, and in some cases rather surprisingly, become self-appointed champions of protecting human rights overseas, yet we will see them again walk through the Lobby to vote for a Bill that erodes the international human rights laws that we should all uphold. Our armed forces can and should be held to the same high standards, being protected by, and adhering to, the same international law that we expect of others.

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It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) in this debate.

My colleagues and I support the good intention of this Bill. It is the right thing to do to protect those who have protected us and this nation, and indeed many other innocents, in the face of the threat to life and the oppression of fundamental rights.

The Bill is not drafted perfectly, but tonight we have an opportunity to address and debate its deficiencies. One area of significant concern is torture. Amendments 1 to 10 seek to address that deficiency and, indeed, go a long way towards addressing this matter of grave public concern. That is the right thing to do. Like sexual offences, torture must fall outside the provisions of this Bill. Let us do nothing to undermine the values we hold dear as a nation. Where no investigation has taken place, it is absolutely right that the provisions of this Bill do not apply.

Cognisant of the purposes of today’s proceedings, I still wish to raise once again the plight of veterans of Operation Banner. I represent many such veterans who live in my constituency, and indeed hon. Members right across this House do so as well. While the operation was in Northern Ireland, those who served came from right across our United Kingdom and beyond. In the previous debate on this Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) and I asked the Minister to state that the provisions of this Bill will not become law until the assurances made in the House on 18 March regarding Northern Ireland are fulfilled. The Minister said in response:

“We are clear that we will deliver our commitments to Northern Ireland. In a written ministerial statement on 18 March, we committed to equal treatment for those who served on Op Banner. We will not resile from that position.”—[Official Report, 23 September 2020; Vol. 680, c. 1049.]

That is a good intention—it is the right intention—but there is no guarantee. I know from our conversations with veterans that the longer this delay continues the more suspicious they get. This is wrong, and I need to know that the Minister believes it is wrong as well, so what is the cause of the delay? Those who await the knock at the door for standing up to terrorism deserve answers, and I urge the Minister to give those answers today.

The Bill is welcome and delivers on promises made by the Government, but we must no longer leave some veterans behind as prey to vexatious prosecutions. That is wrong, especially if, as suspected, it is for no other reason than to give a sop to the political front of the very people who killed and maimed many of those they served beside.

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Having been spared the commitment of serving on the Bill Committee, I am fortunate also to have been spared some of the polarisation that has affected this Bill, so I talk today from a position of complete objectivity. Having also tracked this important journey very carefully for many years, both professionally and personally, I believe this is an essentially good piece of work that deserves a fair passage through Parliament.

As I stated on Second Reading, any new legislation needs to be set in the context of the prevailing macro-conditions and previous legislation. This Bill fills a void where little has previously existed, so I commend the Minister for his vision, resilience and fortitude to date.

The bottom line is that this Bill delivers on the Conservative manifesto commitment to address the issue of vexatious claims and makes the first substantial amendments of their kind to the Human Rights Act by limiting the time during which claims can be brought. I can say from experience that this is what our armed forces want. They aspire to better protected in law. They want to know that the country values their service. They need to know that they will be supported if they pull the trigger lawfully and, after the misery of the ambulance-chasing years, they want the threshold for prosecution to be raised so that the endless knocks at the door finally stop. This is a no-brainer.

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Not only the ambulance-chasing lawyers, but it is really good that we will not ever see the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, which really made our soldiers’ lives hell when it investigated them. That will not happen again either.

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I could not agree more.

I am aware that several amendments were tabled in Committee, but none was agreed to. The Bill is hence essentially unaltered from Second Reading, so perhaps it is no surprise that such a large list is being considered today. I will admit that some of the amendments have merit. Having been contacted over the weekend by the eminent hon. and gallant Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), I have looked in particular at amendments 1 to 10. My view, however, is that this Bill will not prevent the UK from rightly prosecuting acts of torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, and that the Bill does not need to exclude these from its triple lock because existing provisions already exist in law.

I also struggle with the notion that the MOD would somehow fail to investigate or prosecute, because the bad apples will always face justice, as indeed they did during my time in uniform. Regarding torture, the Government’s position is that the presumption against prosecution will not prevent any prosecutor from considering the severity of the crime or the unique circumstances in which it was committed. Indeed, war is a nasty business, so I do not believe that a court should somehow be prevented from giving weight to the mental health of the individual or the prevailing conditions. Hence I am minded against amendments 21 and 22. I agree with the Minister that this would be nonsensical, as prosecutors should give recognition to the difficulty, the trauma and the acute stress of military operations, as any member of HM forces will testify.

In addition, the Bill confirms that on a case-by-case basis, a prosecutor can determine that a crime is exceptional, so there is no collision course here with the UN convention against torture, the Geneva convention, the Hague or even NATO, as nothing will be swept under the carpet. As for the five-year time limit, this is correct, as the clock will start ticking from the point at which matters come to light, not from the time of the alleged incident. That was also the overwhelming preference during the public consultation. Not only should it be possible for all the evidence to be gathered within a five-year period, but I concur with the Minister that memories do fade, that evidence does deteriorate and that it remains in the interests of everyone involved to deliver justice quickly. I do not therefore support amendments 18 and 19, which seek to lengthen the period to 10 years. This is ultimately about taking pressure off our people, not prolonging it.

Part 2 of the Bill relates to claims by service personnel against the MOD. As 94% of all employer liability claims against the MOD since May 2007 have been brought within the limitation longstop of six years, I agree that there should be a time limit here, too. To be fair, I have considered the suggestion that this Bill is more about protecting the MOD than it is about protecting HM forces, but that, too, is ridiculous. I note that the time limit extends here, too, from the point at which the issue first came to light. There is more than enough time here for any complaint to be submitted, and the MOD cannot simply write a cheque for yesteryear. I will be voting against new clauses 5 and 6 and amendment 23 if they are divided on.

Lastly, I am aware that this Bill has attracted lots of interest in the media in recent months, so I want to set the record straight: I am not convinced that the criticism from the Royal United Services Institute, the Royal British Legion, the Joint Committee on Human Rights or other senior figures is necessarily fair, as the Bill delivers what it says on the tin. Having read it in detail, I am clear, too, that any new presumption against prosecution is not a statute of limitations and does not in any way create a bar to either investigations or prosecutions. Unlike some, I have complete faith in both our legal system and our armed forces, so I commend this Bill to the House.

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We all agree that the aims of the Bill are noble, and that the idea of revolving investigations or a life in investigatory purgatory, never knowing when a vexatious investigator will come knocking at the door, is wrong and must end. The mental stress of that legal uncertainty needs clarity. The loopholes need to be closed and fixed, but this Bill does not do that. It does not even come close. In fact, in a number of areas, it makes things worse.

On Second Reading, I said that we needed a system of oversight that limited the investigations and allowed investigations to be paused if they were vexatious or unnecessary. New clause 1 proposes a system along those lines. That is where the Bill really should have ended; the rest of the Bill is almost superfluous. But instead the Government have insisted on adding law. My view is that, where it is unnecessary, we should not have law. Bad law, which is what the Government are adding, is often worse than no law.

One of the areas of bad law was dealt with by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis). To prohibit war crimes and crimes against humanity, which include torture, and to include a specific mention of torture and genocide, is needed. If people say that that is not needed, the question is, why is it needed for sexual crimes, for which the Government rightly admit it is needed in the Bill, but not for those other serious crimes?

The other area that the Bill disadvantages is veterans themselves. The amendments from the Labour Front Bench would, I hope, correct that, but unless they are passed, it seems that the Bill inadvertently makes veterans second-class citizens in our country in terms of employment and liability law. That really cannot stand. It cannot be the basis of law to disadvantage veterans over others. That is a fundamental wrong that should not be allowed to pass. That is why the Labour Front Bench’s amendments are important and must be supported.

The reality is that the current prosecuting requirements for public interest are sufficient, in the main, for the issues that the Government are trying to deal with in the other clauses of this Bill. If they are not, renewed prosecutory guidelines can always be presented. The Bill beyond new clause 1 was actually unnecessary.

When I stand in remembrance, as many—I hope all—Members will next week, of people who have lost their lives, I always say, “Never forget. Never again.” If the Bill passes without amendment, it will be a great shame on all of us, because it will disadvantage our veterans. It will not uphold their rights or the best practice of the best of the British armed forces in this country.

The idea that we could see our veterans or active armed service personnel in front of an ICC investigation is one of the most shocking parts of the Bill. I can imagine an investigation being launched by the ICC prosecutor in a few years’ time, because they are obliged to look into matters where there is not due process in the home country. I can see that threshold being quite easily met. Prosecution may never come, but the terror of the investigation will. I can see the clamouring of Government Members who will say, “This is disgusting—foreign prosecutors prosecuting our service personnel!” Well, it will be disgusting, and it will be this Bill that will have caused it. We must not allow that.

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During last year’s general election campaign, the protection of our service personnel and veterans was the biggest issue that I encountered on the doorsteps of Wakefield, beside Brexit. From tackling the morally bankrupt state of homelessness among the veteran population to ensuring that they are protected from vexatious litigation claims, I am proud to stand behind 4,200 veterans in my constituency and will continue not only to represent and defend them but to champion their causes and those of their families, and to ensure that they receive fair treatment by our society, to which they have given so much.

It is the Conservative party that has always championed and defended our service personnel and veterans. It is the Conservatives who have consistently defended Trident and raised defence spending above the NATO target of 2%. This Bill is doubling down on our beliefs and commitments. It is designed to provide our service personnel and veterans with the protections needed from vexatious claims and repeated investigations.

We should, of course, hold our armed forces servicemen and women to the highest standards. For that exact reason, the Bill does not prevent prosecutions where genuine wrongdoing is found to have occurred. The five-year threshold for prosecutions means that victims have a long window in which to put forward their allegations. As I understand the Bill, the threshold does not apply in cases that are exceptional and begins only from the point of knowledge, such as in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Those on the Opposition Benches unfairly claim that the Bill legalises torture and war crimes committed by service personnel, risks undermining our justice system and defends only the Ministry of Defence. That is ridiculous and demonstrably false. Credible investigations can and will be pursued when there is either new compelling evidence or, as I mentioned, in exceptional circumstances, such as cases of sexual offences.

For almost 20 years, before I was returned to this place, I often found myself in diverse places spanning four continents, living and working alongside our courageous armed forces. I am committed to ensuring that those who have, continue to or will gallantly serve the United Kingdom in our armed forces should not have to face repeated investigations years after they have served on operations. The Bill advances the protection of our service personnel, but not to the detriment of victims or at the cost of our revered justice system. I urge all Members from all parties to support the passage of the Bill.

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Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the former deputy legal adviser at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, says that the Bill calls into question the UK’s commitment to a “rules-based international system”. As of today, nearly a dozen United Nations human rights special rapporteurs and experts have declared that the Bill will violate the

“UK’s obligations under international humanitarian law, human rights law and international criminal law”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission says that it is

“profoundly concerned by the risk to human rights that this Bill poses.”

The Judge Advocate General of the Armed Forces says that the Bill risks bringing

“the UK armed forces into disrepute”.

How can the Minister justify sticking his fingers in his ears in the face of such grave concerns voiced by legal, defence and human rights experts? Why is this legislation so out of step with the similar legislation of allied countries such as the US and Canada?

I am proud of the strength and unity of Labour’s opposition to the Bill on final Reading, because our party has a record of championing human rights and fighting for the dignity of workers and for the rule of law—everything that the Bill flies in the face of. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) said at the time of the recent publishing of the Human Rights Joint Committee report, it is not the drafting of the Bill that is the problem, because it is perfectly drafted in accordance with the policy; it is the policy itself that is the problem.

This Bill is rotten to its core. Speaking of the Human Rights Joint Committee report, the Minister was unable to explain which vexatious prosecutions would have been stopped by the Bill, so perhaps he can tell us today. No? I didn’t think so, because the answer is none. What is particularly disrespectful and distasteful is this Government’s disingenuous claim that anyone who opposes the Bill is anti-armed forces. I suppose that includes the Royal British Legion, too. A Government source, in characteristically anonymous fashion, told The Guardian this morning that Labour’s stance on the Bill

“confirms their long-held disdain for armed forces personnel”.

Let me tell Conservative Members what disdain for our armed forces personnel looks like. It is shoving through this Bill, despite concerns from the Royal British Legion and senior military figures; it is breaching the armed forces covenant; it is stripping soldiers of their employment rights; and it is rewarding new recruits with poverty pay, with one of the lowest salaries in the public sector at just over £15,000 a year. For more than 300 years, torture has been illegal in this country. The Bill would overturn that principle, and that would be a moment of national shame. So tonight, as a matter of pride, I will be voting against this Bill—this irredeemable anti-veteran and anti-human rights piece of legislation—for the second time.

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I am sure that I will have a different view to the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome). I find myself in a surreal place, because I have gone full circle. I once moaned, as a soldier, about not enough being done in this House for the armed forces. Now, I am contributing to legislation that I honestly believe will have a positive impact on our armed forces.

Looking back at the different overseas operations I have served on and being able to bring those experiences to the House has been a huge honour. I was fortunate enough to speak in the first debate about what I did on operations, and also to sit through several weeks of scrutiny on the Bill Committee. I have learnt a lot during this process, and gained a greater understanding of the huge complexities involved in bringing legislation through this House. It is clear that the Minister for Defence People and Veterans has done so much to get the Bill here, and I pay tribute to all the work he has done to get it to this stage.

When I look at all that is said in this House in support of our armed forces, I scratch my head and wonder why it has taken this long to bring this legislation to the House. I have looked back and reflected to try to find out why this was the case. When I joined the Army straight from school several decades ago, the armed forces were not popular. We were not high on satisfaction ratings. We were not allowed in any of the places in the towns where we were posted. We were restricted from most places we went to. People did not come out into the streets and clap for the armed forces, so maybe it would not have been a popular decision to bring a Bill such as this to the House at that time. This has quite rightly changed now, and people do support our armed forces. Maybe that is why people are now saying so much about the forces that they have not said in the past. In this House, you cannot move for support for our troops, yet it is only now that this Bill is being brought forward.

I genuinely think that there is honest support across the House for our troops, and that all Members want the best for them. However, words do not protect our troops. We need to go further, and action is what is needed. As MPs, if we suffer a bad day, we hit the headlines. We might have a media campaign against us, someone might put graffiti on our office or we might end up having harassment. None of that is right, but it passes. It does not change our lives forever. However, when someone is serving on overseas operations, a split second can change their life forever when that shot is fired, that improvised explosive device is set off or that rocket comes into their base when they are asleep. A limb is lost. They witness a friend being killed. Ultimately, people lose their lives.

After an overseas operational tour, something is left on that battlefield. You never come back the same. The time for words has passed. We now need to support our armed forces, and we need to do so by supporting the Bill.

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It is a pleasure to speak in the debate and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson). When my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) was in her place, she outlined the concept of lawfare. There can be no doubt that that exists and has been exploited, leading to vexatious claims against our brave armed forces personnel over a considerable period of time.

Cases such as that of Major Robert Campbell are absolutely scandalous. This man had to face eight separate investigations over 17 years into a single incident that took place back in 2003. He is only 47, so we are talking about more than a third of his life. Each investigation cleared him, only for the goalposts to be moved for each successive investigation. The toll taken on that completely innocent man, who put his life on the line for his country, is enormous.

Tragically and shamefully, he is not alone. To put it into perspective, a long-running streak of claims have been dismissed as far back as the 2009 al-Sweady inquiry, which took five years, cost £25 million and the conclusion of which was that the allegations were

“wholly without foundation and entirely the product of deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility”.

Furthermore, the Iraq historic allegations team determined that 70% of cases did not have a case to answer or that it would be disproportionate to conduct an investigation. Similarly, as of June, the service police legacy investigations had closed or were in the process of closing 1,200 allegations. Operation Northmoor, which took three years and cost £10 million, resulted in no charges, but all that takes significant time and causes huge distress to those under repeated investigation.

Our servicemen and women make enormous sacrifices on behalf of our country and the practice of hounding them must come to an end. It is therefore right that the Government seek to raise the bar for prosecutions in overseas operations by requiring prosecutors to have proper regard to the uniquely challenging circumstances into which we send our personnel to risk their lives on our behalf, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West.

Opponents of the Bill have said that it would issue an amnesty for torture and war crime offences, but that is simply not the case. As the Minister has been at pains to make clear, the Bill does not provide blanket immunity from prosecution; it merely raises the threshold for the prosecution of alleged offences. Those opponents have also claimed that it would damage the reputation of our armed forces. I question instead what sort of a country we would be if we allowed our armed forces to continue to make enormous personal sacrifices only to return back home and be at the mercy—for years—of tank-chasing lawyers such as Phil Shiner, who was, of course, struck off for his actions. The Minister has outlined at length how the Bill meets the UK’s obligations under domestic and international law. I look forward to hearing him do so again in his closing speech.

Most Members on both sides of the House sincerely support our armed forces, but there have always been some who have taken sides against our armed forces and shown no respect whatsoever for our veterans. I am not among them. I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), who said that the Bill goes some way to protecting our armed forces but probably not far enough. However, it does improve the current unacceptable position. I therefore support the Bill to protect our armed forces.

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May I say at the outset that I am extremely proud of our armed services and their conduct, their calibre and their gallantry? They are well renowned and well supported across Ulster. They are applauded, and have been for many years, even through the dark years when people did not like the armed services so much, because people know the sacrifice that young squaddies made to hold the line between peace and chaos in a part of the United Kingdom. They were, and are, applauded.

In principle my party welcomes the Bill and wants to support it. We do think there are many ways in which it could be improved, and we hope the Minister is listening to those calls for improvement. We are bitterly disappointed that the legislation will fulfil only part of the Government’s manifesto commitment—part of the commitment on which Members canvassed around the whole of this nation to obtain support. I will come to the detail of that in a moment.

When I was a student at university, I had a tutor from Germany. She recounted to me a story about one of her earliest and most confusing experiences of Northern Ireland. She wanted to call a colleague here at King’s College London, and for her it was not a problem. She picked up the phone, she dialled the number, and she was told by the switchboard operator at Queen’s University, “That’s fine—that’s a local call.” Some time later, she had to call a colleague at Trinity College, Dublin, but she was not able to make the call, and was told by the switchboard operator, “Oh, that is an overseas call, down to Dublin.”

So I understand the confusion that some people might have, and indeed the justification that the Government have put into this piece of legislation to leave Northern Ireland out, and leave Operation Banner soldiers out, because in theory Northern Ireland is not overseas, and service in Northern Ireland is not an overseas matter: it is a local matter—a domestic issue. But the Government’s manifesto commitment was to all of their personnel, and no matter what way we cut it, and no matter what the small print may now say, those brave and gallant people and soldiers who served in Northern Ireland under Operation Banner have been jettisoned by this piece of legislation.

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It may be helpful if at this stage I restate to my hon. Friend the commitment in the Conservative manifesto, which we do not resile from one bit—that those who served with such distinction in a very, very difficult time in Northern Ireland will be entitled to equal treatment when that Bill is brought forward. They have not been jettisoned, they have not been forgotten about, and we will not leave them behind.

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I thank the Minister for getting to his feet and making that commitment again from the Dispatch Box. That is important, and will go some way to alleviate some of the concerns that have been expressed.

I would just say this. People in Northern Ireland—for good cause—do not believe in the good will of the Northern Ireland Office and its mandarins there. They believe that their attitude to our armed services is that they are expendable, and that there will be a time, when push comes to shove, and if it is expedient, that our soldiers who served in Operation Banner and the police officers in the gallant RUC who supported them would be easily jettisoned in some sort of trade-off with the people who were quite happy to fire bullets at our armed service personnel.

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I support exactly what my very great friend is saying, but may I point out to the House that no Bill will protect someone like Dennis Hutchings, who has been repeatedly brought back and reinvestigated, in Northern Ireland or elsewhere? This legislation will not be retrospective, as I understand it. Does my hon. Friend agree?

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I thank my dear friend, who has travelled widely in Northern Ireland, both as a soldier and as my guest in my constituency, with former squaddies. The applause that they gave to him is now legendary in Ballymoney; but the Minister will forgive me for saying that probably the less said about that adventure, the better for both of us.

Some Members have made the point that it is difficult to make a prosecution stick. One of the cases that got me into active politics was that of the UDR Four, on which I worked as a researcher, where four soldiers were wrongly convicted of the murder of a civilian in Northern Ireland. Many Members have advocated today the books that they have written on these subjects. I actually did write the book on the case for the UDR Four, with an exceptional foreword by Robert Kee, the eminent historian. In that book, we detailed the case for those soldiers and how their conviction should be quashed. I am delighted to say that three of those convictions were quashed, but it took us 10 years to get that case before the courts and to have those wrongful convictions quashed. So I do not buy that prosecutions will be hard to pursue and make stick.

There is, unfortunately, an unhealthy appetite out there among some people to blame veterans and our armed services. That will not end with this Bill, but we wish it Godspeed and hope that we can get a piece of legislation that will defend our armed services with the integrity that the Minister speaks with.

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I rise to support amendments 1 to 10 in particular. I thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for his eloquent argument for the amendments, and I thank the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) for putting them forward. I am proud to have put my name to them.

I fear that the Bill fails to meet our obligations on human rights abroad, but it also fails to meet our obligations to service personnel when they return home. The UK should rightly aspire to be a global torch-bearer for human rights, and our military should be held to the highest professional standards. The triple lock and five-year limit on prosecutions in the Bill make a mockery of any claim that we might have respect for human rights and international law. Human rights do not change depending on the miles travelled or the borders crossed. They are universal and non-negotiable. From Hallam to Herat, we all have the right to live free from torture and war crimes. That is why I was appalled to read in the report of proceedings in Committee that Ministers had excluded torture because

“we expect our service personnel to undertake activities that are intrinsically violent in nature,”––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 14 October 2020; c. 206-207.]

which may lead to “allegations of torture” or “war crimes”.

Torture is clearly defined in international law. It is never accidental. It is not a grey area. It is an intentional act of inflicting very serious and cruel suffering on another person. It cannot be justified with heat-of-the-moment arguments, and it is ridiculous to say that conventional military operations could be mistaken for torture. Alongside hundreds of constituents who have contacted me about the Bill, I completely oppose any suggestion that there are any circumstances in which torture might be excusable.

Not only are these proposals an affront to human rights, but they fail to support our veterans, the group the Government say they are defending. The largest number of civil claims made against the MOD are claims of negligence brought by former soldiers. The proposal for a six-year limit on lodging civil claims makes it harder for ex-military personnel to sue the MOD for failure in its duty of care to them. It means that troops who develop PTSD, blindness and other conditions will be left with no recourse to justice. Far from supporting veterans, the Government’s proposals are entirely self-serving.

We should reject any attempt to run down the clock on civil claims, and there can be no “get out of jail free” cards for torture or war crimes. There is no stopwatch on justice, and there are no exceptions—no ifs or buts—on torture or human rights. That is why I will join colleagues in supporting amendments 1 to 10 this evening and in voting against the Bill.

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When the Government brought this Bill forward, their aim was to end vexatious claims against former service personnel and the Ministry of Defence, but the evidence does not bear out what the Government say is the scale of the problem. No service personnel, present or former, deserve to be investigated and prosecuted for a crime they did not commit, or to be repeatedly investigated without good reason, but the figures, as the Government well know, are not of a scale that would justify the proposals in the Bill.

In relation to Iraq, only a handful of prosecutions have been brought against junior personnel.

Of the civil prosecutions against the MOD over the past five years, just 0.8% related to Iraq. The Minister has said, in relation to the majority of the repeat investigations or delayed prosecutions, that

“one of the biggest problems…was the military’s inability to investigate itself properly and the standard of those investigations…If those investigations were done properly and self-regulation had occurred, we probably wouldn’t be here today”.

Rather than put forward proposals to tackle the real reason behind any repeat investigations or delayed prosecutions, the Bill instead proposes unprecedented and dangerous legal protections, which will create a legal regime that secures immunity for serious offences and inequality before the law for victims of abuse and armed forces personnel.

The former professional head of the armed forces, Lord Guthrie, has said that he is dismayed by the proposals. The Bill, in his view,

“provides room for a de facto decriminalisation of torture”,

which, in turn,

“would be a stain on Britain’s standing in the world.”

It is noted that sexual violence is exempt from the time limitations, but not murder or torture. Not only does that undermine the fundamental credibility of the Bill, as General Nick Parker, former commander of the land forces of the British Army, has said, but it risks undermining Britain’s long-standing and proud adherence to a number of treaties and conventions, notably the Geneva convention. How do this Government think that the Bill, as it stands, in decriminalising torture, enhances the standing of our armed forces? It is more likely to risk British service personnel being dragged into prosecutions at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. That is not my theory, but that of Judge Advocate General Lord Blackett, our most senior military judge.

If the true aim of this Bill was to support serving or ex-forces personnel, it would not have included the time limit on the ability of service members to bring claims against the MOD for negligence and maltreatment. There is plenty of evidence to show how the impact of overseas operations on service personnel is not immediately apparent, with post-traumatic stress disorder especially taking a long time to diagnose—often years after service has ended. How is this fair or just, and how is that helping our armed forces personnel?

It is a fact that the MOD benefits most, and this Bill will make it harder for anyone, civilian or soldier, to hold the Ministry of Defence to account for unlawful actions and human rights abuses. Why does the Minister continue to ignore the impartial advice of the British Legion that the Bill risks breaching the armed forces covenant, and will he not take another look at the amendments that will prevent that from happening? Unamended, this Bill benefits only the Government and offers no support to our armed forces, and I cannot support it.

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I am grateful to be called in this important debate.

I believe that this House should promote internationalism that is anti-imperialist and peace seeking, yet as I have raised before in this House and as has been noted by many, the Bill before us could result in torture and other serious crimes being protected from prosecution five years after being committed. That is so clearly in breach of the human rights of those affected by conflicts involving UK armed forces. Due to the amount of time that trials relating to services personnel often take, the five-year period proposed in the Bill is likely to mean that many prosecutions would not be made. Indeed, the whole tenor of this Bill is to deter cases being brought regardless of their merit. I echo Grey Collier, advocacy director at Liberty, when I say that a war crime does not stop being a war crime after five years. This Bill also offers no protection to armed forces personnel; neither does it offer them access to justice.

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I thank my good friend the Deputy Speaker and the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene. I do not understand why she thinks a war crime will not be a war crime after five years. A war crime is a war crime forever, and if the Attorney General considers it to be a war crime, it will be brought to a court. I do not think this Bill stops a war crime being prosecuted if a British soldier, sailor or airman carries one out.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for making his point, but I disagree with him. The point I am making is about prosecution and allowing for that war crime to be considered by the courts.

If I can continue, I believe in a fair justice system for all. Such a system would have built into it access for justice for armed forces personnel and those bringing cases against them. Most fundamentally, in order to pay tribute and show respect to those who have lost their lives in foreign conflicts—both from the UK and abroad—we must set in place a system of transparency and political accountability. We must face head-on the lasting effects that wars in, for example, Iraq and Afghanistan and sectarian conflicts have had on the lives of many in the UK and around the world. It is only with proper accountability and transparency that we can ensure that such mistakes and injustices are a thing of the past.

Hiding from accountability does not do anyone favours. Rather, it feeds mistrust, because for most people it is only those who have something to hide who fear scrutiny. Going to war and other activity by the armed forces involve decisions about some of the most fundamental values, and people have the right to know what is being done in the name of our country.

I conclude by saying that this Bill will act only to entrench a culture of fear and mistrust, increase the risk of crimes being committed overseas and instigate an opaque justice system, benefiting neither armed forces personnel nor the victims of war.

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Wind-ups will begin at 5.26, so I will ask whoever is on their feet at that time to resume their seat.

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I have co-sponsored a number of amendments in the hope—perhaps it is naive—that some of the rougher edges of the Bill can be improved. Ultimately, I think this Bill is flawed from top to bottom and is unnecessary. We have, for example, existing prosecutorial tests. One is the evidential test and the second is the public interest test, which are more than adequate to take into account some of the concerns raised by Members. The Bill also raises the question whether our judiciary are not capable of weeding out vexatious claims whenever they come before them. I believe they are, and we should have confidence in their abilities to address those very points.

The Bill creates some very difficult and unnecessary precedents by breaking up the long-standing convention that everyone is equal before the law. There is no need to put in place measures that create additional prosecutorial tests and hurdles to be jumped in relation to certain categories of people—even those who on the face of it are incredibly deserving of our support, such as our veteran community and current active service personnel.

The most egregious aspect of the Bill is what it does in relation to torture. A number of Members have already said this, but in effect it decriminalises torture. I say “in effect” because that is not on the face of the Bill. That is the outworking of what the provisions entail. People will say that torture and war crimes can still be prosecuted through the courts, but it is a fact that a triple lock of additional hurdles, which do not exist for any other category of criminal offence, is to be put into law, and that makes this situation much more difficult and challenging.

I am conscious that we are all looking across the Atlantic today to see what happens in the US presidential election, and there is a clear interest in ensuring that the values of decency and support for democracy, human rights and the rule of law prevail over those who are pursuing other agendas. At the same time, it is deeply troubling that the Government, and potentially this House, are willing to implement measures on torture in legislation that overturns centuries of precedent. That should be very troubling to us all.

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I rise to oppose that comment. The Bill does not decriminalise torture. Torture remains a major crime, and I speak as someone who has given evidence in five war crimes trials at The Hague. Torture is torture, and it is still something that the Government deeply oppose. The Bill does not actually legitimise torture in any way.

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I am grateful to the hon. Member for his comments. I very much respect his service, and his commitment in that service to upholding the rule of law and the highest standards of international humanitarian law. The point I am making, however, is that while on the surface the Bill does not do what he says, the fact that the triple lock and the additional prosecutorial hurdles in effect create that outcome is, I think, deeply troubling to us all.

There are just two other points I want to make in conclusion, to try to let someone else say a few words. First, anyone who opposes the Bill today should not be labelled as someone who is opposed to our armed forces. It can be viewed and construed as respecting our armed forces. Let us ask ourselves the question: what was it that they were actually fighting for, particularly when they were in Iraq and Afghanistan? I appreciate that both of those interventions were controversial in many respects, but surely it is about peace, upholding the rule of law in those countries and upholding international law? We therefore do ourselves a great disservice if, in recognising their contribution, we in turn undermine those very values in what we do in the Chamber today.

My final point relates to Northern Ireland. Members have made reference to potential legislation in that regard. I do not look forward to seeing similar legislation being put in place for Northern Ireland—

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Order. We must come to the winding-up speeches. I call Stewart Malcolm McDonald.

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I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am only sorry we did not get to hear the end of the speech by the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry).

I rise to support the new clauses, and to speak to amendment 32 in my name and those of my hon. Friends. I want to begin by thanking my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), who served on the Bill Committee, among other hon. Members who find themselves here this afternoon. I am afraid to say to hon. Members, particularly those who were with us on Second Reading, that very little has changed from what I said then. In fact, almost nothing has changed from what I said then and that is a great shame. It is the case, then as now, that senior legal, military and political opinion was united in consensus against the Bill. That has not changed. [Interruption.] That did not take very long, did it? The Minister should not worry; I will come to the points that he loves to chunter.

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It is not fair to say that opinion is united against the Bill. That is not factual from the evidence given to the Bill Committee.

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Well, we will go through some of that evidence, shall we? We will go through some of the comments made by senior military, legal and political opinion that make it quite clear that what I have said is correct. I accept, of course, that there are differences of opinion within those fields, but it is the case, I am afraid to say to the hon. Gentleman and to the Minister chuntering at me from the sidelines, that senior military, legal and political opinion believes that the Bill is farcical in several respects. I will go through them in turn.

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We cannot get more distinguished than the Judge Advocate General, Judge Blackett, who was firmly of that opinion. The Minister did not perhaps listen, but the judge made his position about the Bill very clear.

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Yes, that is entirely correct. Or we could take the former Conservative Defence Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind. I think I said in the previous debate that he is not exactly known as a sandal-wearing, lentil-munching, Guardian-reading lefty hipster type, is he Mr Deputy Speaker? I suspect you know him way better than I do, although we have some experience of him in Scotland, of course. He is against the provisions in the Bill. So when the Minister chunters away that what I have said is incorrect, I am afraid what he needs is a mirror, because what he is saying is fundamentally incorrect.

It did not have to be this way. Back in that Second Reading debate, I said, along with others, that we would try to bring forward amendments to get a Bill we could support. But with every attempt to do so—we will see it again, I am quite sure—we have had the door slammed shut in our faces.

The Minister might win in the Lobby tonight, but for a man so convinced of his powers of charm and persuasion, he has failed to bring forward a Bill that the House can unite behind. Those who were here before the election, and who have been in the few defence-related debates we have had since, will know that, on defence matters—setting aside the nuclear question, certainly for myself—there is actually a lot of consensus in the House. So why is it that the one Minister who brings forward a Bill on issues of security, supporting the armed forces and the rule of law, where that consensus exists, has failed to get any Opposition Member to support him? It is his failure that the Bill will divide tonight, with one or two honourable exceptions, between Government and Opposition Benches.

The hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) made a fine point, and it speaks to the purpose of amendment 32. If what Conservative Members are saying on torture is correct—if there is really nothing to worry about—I expect all of them to have no issue whatsoever with going into the Lobby with Opposition Members tonight to ensure that torture is removed from the provisions of the Bill that we are so concerned about. Of course, I do not think we will see that.

What we have here is a Bill that does not do what it says it wants to do. I think we all agree that the flawed investigation system needs to be fixed. We are in this situation because the Bill does not address that. The Bill ensures that members of the armed forces will be further exposed to the International Criminal Court, which I do not believe any Member wishes to see. As has been highlighted time and again, the Bill is written in such a way as to protect the Minister and his officials in Main Building, not to best serve members of the armed forces and veterans.

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Does the hon. Member share my worry that potentially putting our armed forces up against the International Criminal Court could be the beginning of a path to undermining the Court itself? It is quite easy to see a situation where British service personnel are investigated, and then Conservative Members start braying for us to leave the Court in its entirety.

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That is exactly the slippery slope I fear we are on. I hate the phrase “the thin end of the wedge”, but I am afraid that it rather fits where we are with this Bill and this Government. We have those senior opinions in military, legal and political circles against the Bill. That is before we get to the recent damning report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which made clear the number of flaws in the Bill.

I am conscious of time, so I will conclude. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), suggested that, were we to change our defence posture with regard to training or peacekeeping in supporting Ukraine, we could be subject to what he called “a Russian hand” trying to take legal action here—no doubt that Russian hand is a Tory donor. That is exactly the kind of thing that would see UK personnel further exposed to the International Criminal Court.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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No, I am going to wind up.

The Minister has to take that into account, but he has failed, and the failure is his alone. I do not want him to think that, when he gets his way tonight, the job is done. The job is not done. He has promised the House legislation to fix the investigation system. My goodness, I hope he will do a better job on that than he has done on this Bill.

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This is not a wind-up speech. We have had a good debate, with 23 Back-Bench contributions, some really good speeches and serious concerns about the Bill raised on both sides of the House. We are legislating, and I want to say to the Minister that it is wrong to see all criticism as opposition or all opposition as hostility. The Government never get everything right, especially with legislation, and no one has a monopoly on wisdom, especially Ministers. I say to him, it is wrong to dismiss anyone arguing for amendments to the Bill as ill informed or ill willed. There has never been a Bill brought to this House that could not be improved—this is certainly one of those. That is our job as legislators.

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Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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I will not give way, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. I am going to deal with some of the points made in the debate, despite this not being a wind-up speech.

From the outset, I have said that Labour wants to help build a consensus to convince the Government on the changes needed to make this legislation fit for purpose—that is, a new legal framework for this country when we have in future to commit our servicemen and women to conflict overseas. There has been a long-running problem, with baseless allegations and legal claims arising from Iraq and from Afghanistan under both Labour and Conservative Governments. But this Bill, as it stands, is not the solution.

The Public Bill Committee heard powerful evidence on a series of problems that our amendments on Report, and others on the amendment paper, are designed to fix. I want to stress the strength and depth of those criticisms. On investigations, the former Judge Advocate General, Geoff Blackett, said:

“The presumption against prosecution does not stop the investigation; the investigation happens.”—[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 8 October 2020; c. 127, Q275.]

The expert from Policy Exchange, Professor Richard Ekins, who originally published “Clearing the fog of war”, said:

“It certainly does not stop investigations. In fact, if one were to make a criticism of the Bill, one might say that it places no obstacle on continuing investigations”.––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 6 October 2020; c. 35, Q63.]

On criminal prosecutions, the former Commander Land Forces in the Army, General Sir Nick Carter, said:

“I do not understand why sexual acts have been excluded, but not murder and torture. I do not understand why that distinction has been made”.––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 8 October 2020; c. 96-97, Q196.]

The Judge Advocate General again, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) stressed, said of the Bill:

“What it actually does is increase the risk of service personnel appearing before the International Criminal Court.”––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 8 October 2020; c. 117-118, Q234.]

On civil claims, the former chairman of the British Armed Forces Federation said:

“Imposing an absolute time limit places armed forces personnel claimants themselves at a disadvantage compared with civil claimants in ordinary life”.––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 6 October 2020; c. 9, Q6.]

The director for the Centre for Military Justice said that

“it is quite extraordinary that part 2 will only benefit the Ministry of Defence, and the Ministry of Defence is the defendant in all those claims.”––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 6 October 2020; c. 57, Q108.]

The director-general of the Royal British Legion said of the Bill:

“I think it is protecting the MOD, rather than the service personnel”.––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 8 October 2020; c. 86, Q163.]

When my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan) pressed him—

“So it would breach the armed forces covenant, in your view?”—

he replied:

“That is what we think, yes.”––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 8 October 2020; c. 84, Q155.]

Our new clause 7 and our amendment 38 are designed to sit alongside the amendments of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). The answer to the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) about the number of investigations is this: only 27 prosecutions have arisen from Iraq and Afghanistan, yet 3,400 allegations were considered by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team and 670 from Operation Northmoor. Therefore, less than 1% of allegations were prosecuted.

The problem here is investigations. The serious, consistent problems lie in a system of investigation that has proved to be lacking in speed, in soundness, in openness, and in a duty of care to alleged victims or to the troops involved. Those are all problems well before the point of decision about prosecution, which is the point at which the provisions of the Bill kick in.

That is a widely held criticism. It is a widely held conviction, one held by the Minister himself. Before he became a Minister last year, he declared that

“one of the biggest problems….was the military’s inability to investigate itself and the standard of those investigations…If those investigations were done properly…we probably would not be where we are today”.

He was right then; he is wrong now to resist using the Bill to correct those problems.

Another review, Minister? Look, there have been three reviews—and this one will be chaired by Richard Henriques—in the last five years. There are more than 80 recommendations on investigations that the Government could act on. For goodness’ sake, get on and do that! The amendments are in scope, workable and implementable. The Bill is an opportunity to fix long-standing problems. I hope the Government will start to see our proposals on investigations as being additional to what is in the Bill, not as a direct challenge.

Part 1 of the Bill restricts prosecutions of certain offences. The Bill’s purpose is to make it harder to prosecute British troops for some of the most serious crimes under the Geneva conventions. It does that by legislating for a presumption against prosecution after five years. Our new clause 4 deals with that presumption against prosecution; it replaces it with a requirement on the prosecutor, in coming to a decision, to take into account the passage of time, and whether it prejudices the prospect of a fair trial.

The Government say that sexual crimes, in all cases, are so serious that they will be excluded from this presumption, but they are placing crimes outlawed by the Geneva conventions—torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity—on a lower level, and downgrading our unequivocal British commitment to upholding international law. That poses the direct risk that the International Criminal Court will act to put British armed forces personnel on trial in The Hague if the UK justice system will not.

Let me dwell on that point. The contradiction that we are creating in the Bill is this: under clause 2, only exceptionally are proceedings defined in clause 1 to be brought, or continued, against a person. However, as the Red Cross has made clear,

“only in exceptional circumstances will the Prosecutor of the ICC conclude that an investigation or a prosecution may not serve the interests of justice.”

In other words, in the International Criminal Court, it is exceptional not to pursue a case; we are making it exceptional to pursue a case. That is the contradiction, the risk, and the jeopardy for our troops serving overseas in future.

If we adhere to the highest standards of legal military conduct, we can hold other countries to account when their forces fall short—a point made clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis). If we do otherwise, it compromises our country’s proud reputation for upholding the rules-based international order that Britain has helped to construct since the days of Churchill and Attlee.

On civil claims, new clause 5 would amend part 2 of the Bill so that claims by troops or former service personnel were not blocked in all circumstances, as they are under the Bill at present. It is simply wrong for those who put their life on the line serving Britain overseas to have less access to compensation and justice than the UK civilians whom they defend—or indeed than their comrades whose service is largely UK-based. There are already safeguards in the Limitations Act 1980, but part 2 penalises this group of people by applying to them a unique deviation from that Act. That clearly constitutes a disadvantage for those armed forces personnel, their families and veterans. It directly breaches the armed forces covenant, as the director general of the Royal British Legion has confirmed. Frankly, it beggars belief that Ministers are asking Members of this House to strip forces and their families of their right to justice—to penalise them, instead of protecting them. Our new clause 5 flatly rejects that.

On the duty of care and our new clause 6, one of the things that struck me most when talking to troops and their families who have been through the trauma of these long-running investigations is that they felt cut adrift from their chain of command and from the Ministry of Defence. We heard that clearly from Major Campbell, who gave such dramatic evidence to the Committee. When he was asked what support the MOD gave him, he simply replied, “there was none.” Of course, for veterans, it is even worse: for them, there is nothing, not even the chain of command, as Hilary Meredith, the specialist solicitor told the Committee. I have to say to the Minister that although some of the previous decisions—for instance, to cover the legal costs of those who were involved in the Iraq Historic Allegations Team investigation—were welcome, there is a higher standard to reach for us in this regard. I hope that, as we move the Bill into the Lords, he will use new clause 6 as a model so that we can establish a new duty of care standard providing legal, pastoral and mental health support to those who are put under pressure and under investigation or prosecution. I hope that he will do the same with our amendments on derogation and on the Attorney General’s veto. We need greater transparency. We need some role for Parliament in both those areas, and I know the Lords will be keen to look at that.

We have heard in this debate about cross-party amendments and concern. We hear a growing chorus of criticism, especially from groups or figures with long military or legal experience. It is not too late for Ministers to think again about the best way both to protect service personnel from vexatious litigation and to ensure that those who commit serious crimes on operations abroad are properly prosecuted and punished. Labour Members will continue to work to help forge a consensus on the changes needed to make this Bill into legislation that serves the best interests of British troops, British justice and British military standing in the world.

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I appreciate all the contributions made this afternoon, some of which were very thoughtful.

I know that Members get upset when I think that they are disingenuous, but the amount of misinformation that has come over today is quite extraordinary. The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) just said that the Royal British Legion has said that this directly breaks—

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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister has just accused my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) of being disingenuous. Is that actually parliamentary?

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I am sure the Minister meant “unintentionally disingenuous”.

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It is quite extraordinary the way that individuals carry on in this House. That is precisely why I became a Member of Parliament—because quite frankly the military were sick and tired of some of the warm words that come out of this place when actually the actions are what matters.

I thank the Chairs of the Public Bill Committee and my fellow members of the Committee for their scrutiny of the Bill. As I said in Committee, we may not always agree, and that is to be expected, but I have listened to the views put forward, including those of Members who have spoken today. I hope that I will be able to address a number of the points raised and set out the Government’s position on the amendments chosen for debate.

On part 1 of the Bill, as I have said before, I fully recognise the importance of striking an appropriate balance between victims’ rights and access to justice. This has meant seeking to have a balance in the Bill. On the one hand, we are introducing protective measures that set a high threshold for a prosecutor to determine that a case should be prosecuted and ensuring that the adverse impacts of overseas operations would be given particular weight in favour of the service personnel or veterans. On the other hand, we must ensure that in circumstances where our service personnel fall short of the high standards of personal behaviour and conduct that is required, they can still be held to account. That is one of the reasons why we have not proposed an amnesty or a statute of limitations for service personnel and veterans as part of these measures—a claim again produced by Labour Members today. That is not true. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne can chunter from a sedentary position about what is in the Bill, but all that has been mentioned all afternoon is what is not in the Bill. It is literally a waste of everybody’s time. I see that Momentum has said this afternoon that we have forced Labour Front Benchers to vote against it. I was unaware that Momentum had any seats in the House of Commons, but clearly Labour Members are unable to think for themselves. However, that is a matter for them. We have also ensured that the measures are compliant with international law.

I recognise that alleged misconduct by service personnel is dealt with most effectively if individuals are investigated and, where appropriate, subject to disciplinary or criminal proceedings at the time of the conduct. Nobody should underestimate the often inordinate difficulty in delivering timely justice in relation to investigations of alleged historical offences. As we have heard in many oral evidence sessions, this can leave our service personnel with stress and mental strain for many years afterwards. There is a danger that if we fail to recognise that all the elements of the armed forces have come a long way from the beginning of the Iraq conflict, it looks like we are not continuing to learn and adjust. That is not true, which is why the Secretary of State has announced, in parallel with this Bill, a judge-led review of how allegations of wrongdoing on overseas operations are raised and investigated. The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne raises time and again the issue of the investigations, but he knows that they are for the forthcoming armed forces Bill and will be addressed there. That is why it might be unintentionally disingenuous to suggest that nothing is being done, Madam Deputy Speaker.

A number of amendments are proposed to clause 6 and schedule 1. A number seek to exclude torture offences from the presumption, and we know what this is; I should make it clear again that there is no requirement in customary international law for a state to prosecute a war crime or other breach of the Geneva convention in all circumstances where it has sufficient evidence of the offence, irrespective of this clause. We believe that the statutory presumption, which still allows the prosecutor to continue to take decisions to prosecute, is consistent with our international obligations.

Similarly, amendments 1 to 10 seek to ensure that the offences in section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 in relation to torture, and the relevant sections of the International Criminal Court Act 2001 in relation to offences of torture, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, should be excluded offences in schedule 1. I am very much aware that many people have misinterpreted the decision to exclude only sexual offences from the presumption against prosecution, including by suggesting that it somehow undermines the UK’s continuing commitment to upholding international human rights law and humanitarian law, including the UN convention against torture. As Opposition Members well know, that is completely untrue. The UK does not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture for any purposes, and we remain committed to maintaining our leading role in the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

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Will the Minister give way on that point?

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I think I have put up with enough this afternoon; I will not take any interventions.

The Bill does not decriminalise torture or war crimes, and it will not encourage or allow our service personnel to act with impunity. We will continue to take other offences such as war crimes and torture extremely seriously. The severity of the crime and the circumstances in which it was committed will always be factored into the prosecutor’s considerations. I have previously explained the Government’s decision to exclude only sexual offences from the Bill, and I am not going to say it again.

I wish to discuss new clause 5, which seeks to amend part 2 of the Bill so that it explicitly excludes actions brought against the Crown by current or former service personnel. None of the measures in part 2 of the Bill will prevent service personnel, veterans or their families from bringing claims against the MOD in connection with overseas operations within a reasonable timeframe, which most have done historically. To exclude, as Opposition Members would want to me to, claims from service personnel and veterans from part 2 of the Bill would amount to a difference in treatment between categories of claimants, including the civilian personnel who deploy alongside service personnel on overseas operations. That would not be justifiable and it would likely be discriminatory. Therefore, in the interests of fairness to all claimants, claims from service personnel and veterans are not excluded. I am confident that these measures do not break the armed forces covenant. The new factors and limitation longstops apply to all claims in connection with overseas operations, and I have dealt with that point a number of times before.

I wish to say to colleagues that this House has a poor record on looking after those who serve. There comes a tangible moment, which the public can see and feel, when Members must cross the divide. In my experience, Members never tire in this place of warm words towards our armed forces or sombre reflections, particularly at this special time of year, as we run into remembrance weekend, but, as I said, there comes a moment, which the public can see and feel, when we must do better and match our words with action. This is that moment—one our predecessors have consistently failed, time and again, to seize. I am proud that this Government will move from warm words to actually dealing with how we look after those who have served. Gone are the days when this was an afterthought, and I pay tribute to this Prime Minister for his resolution to allow me to change this.

There are a lot of amendments that I am unable to speak to, but what I will say is that I have listened to all the contributions. I know that there is this kind of feeling that I do not listen and that I am not going to change the Bill. The reality is that I did not write the amendments—

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Will the Minister give way?

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No, I am not giving way—I have suffered enough. The House has suffered enough at the hands of the hon. Gentleman. I have listened to all the points about the amendments, but I did not ,write them. I wrote the Bill and the Bill as it stands deals with the problem that we are trying to fix, and hon. Members fully know that. Imagine my surprise—the Al-Sweady inquiry has been picked out by Opposition Members, but they would not believe who was the Minister at the time of the Al-Sweady inquiry: the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). If Members are really going to contribute honestly with a debate that they know the answers to, it has to be done with the sort of standards, values and ethos that we expect our people to adhere to.

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Actually, it was the Minister of State who was dealing with the Al-Sweady inquiry. As I told the Minister in Committee, it was not the Labour party that set up the IHAT committee or Northmoor—it was his Government—so he should not start lecturing people when Members on the Government Benches at the time were calling for investigations.

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I appreciate the intervention, but the fact is that when the Al-Sweady inquiry took place, the right hon. Gentleman was a Minister in the Department. The claimants in the Al-Sweady case were supported by Leigh Day. Leigh Day gave £18,000 to the Labour party. This stuff is quite transparent ,and it is all on the record.

Look, at some point, hon. Members have to make a decision as to whether they are just going to speak very warm words, feel very strongly and think that our armed forces are the best of us, or actually do something that will change their lives, improve their lives, protect them from this new pernicious nature of lawfare and vote with the Government to get things done. I commend the Bill to the House.

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My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and others have tried to improve this Bill. The Minister is just not listening. He throws cheap shots. I am sorry, but I stand up for members of our armed forces and veterans. I do not need to get paid £85,000 a year, as he did as a Back Bencher, to support veterans. I do it for nothing because I believe in them, so do not give us lectures about people who take money to support veterans for their own pockets, rather than just supporting our veterans.

The problem is that the Bill has gone through Committee and today’s debate and it is not going to be amended. The Minister is not listening at all. He said that actions are what matter. Yes, they do, because what we are going to have is a Bill passed here tonight that does not address the main issue, which is investigations, because the Minister will just not accept it. Part 2 means that veterans and members of the armed forces will have fewer rights than anybody in this House—fewer rights than prisoners—and he cannot say, in the lead-up to Remembrance Sunday, that taking fundamental rights away from members of our armed forces is right. But that is exactly what he is—

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Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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No, I am not going to take an intervention. I am sorry; the Minister, both in Committee and tonight, is one thing if one thing only—consistent. He sits there, chunters from a sedentary position, never takes interventions, reads his civil service brief and will just not listen to anyone because he thinks he is right. I am sorry; he is wrong on this.

I will not press my new clauses and amendments to a vote, but I will end with this point. The Bill is flawed. It could have been improved in Committee and it could be improved here tonight. It will not be, because the Minister stubbornly refuses to accept it. He will then use the parliamentary majority in this House to ram it through. This Bill will do nothing to protect veterans. They will still be investigated. They will still be prosecuted, possibly before the International Criminal Court, and their basic rights, which we should all have under section 33 of the Limitation Act, will be taken away from them. That is shameful.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, 23 September).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

New Clause 5

RESTRICTIONS ON TIME LIMITS: ACTIONS BROUGHT AGAINST THE CROWN BY SERVICE PERSONNEL

Nothing in this Part applies to any action brought against the Crown by a person who is a member or former member of the regular or reserve forces, or of a British overseas territory force to whom section 369(2) of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (persons subject to service law) applies.—(John Healey.)

This new clause amends Part 2 of the Bill so that it explicitly excludes actions brought against the Crown by serving or former service personnel from the limitations on courts’ discretion that the Part imposes in respect of actions relating to overseas operations.

Brought up.

Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.

Division 156

3 November 2020

The House divided:

Ayes: 266
Noes: 336

Question accordingly negatived.

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The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.

Clause 6

“Relevant offence”

Amendment proposed: 32, page 4, line 13, at end insert—

‘(3A) A service offence is not a “relevant offence” if it is an offence whose prosecution is required under the United Kingdom’s international treaty obligations.’.—(Stewart Malcolm McDonald.)

This amendment would exclude the prosecution of serious international crimes (such as torture, genocide, crimes against humanity, and certain war crimes) from the limitations otherwise imposed by the Bill.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 157

3 November 2020

The House divided:

Ayes: 262
Noes: 335

Question accordingly negatived.

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Schedule 1

Excluded offences for the purposes of section 6

Amendment proposed: 1, page 12, line 6, at end insert—

“(13A) An offence under section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (torture).”—(Mr David Davis.)

This amendment is one of a series designed to ensure that the Bill’s “triple lock” provisions to block prosecutions would not apply to torture and related offences under UK law. This suite of amendments would ensure that the existing offences of torture – contained in the 1988 Criminal Justice Act and in other parts of UK law incorporating longstanding laws of war – would not be included within the Bill’s “triple lock” against prosecutions of UK soldiers.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 158

3 November 2020

The House divided:

Ayes: 269
Noes: 334

Question accordingly negatived.

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The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.

Third Reading

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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

First, I acknowledge the hard work that has got us to this point today and the thousands who responded to our public consultation and shaped the measures in the Bill, as well as the legal and legislative experts who have ensured that it provides measured and calibrated protections. I thank Members from all parties who have participated in debating the Bill’s merits, including in Committee. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence People and Veterans. His passion and determination to do the right thing by personnel and veterans is genuine and his commitment to his cause is unwavering. Such central determination and duty should be a lesson to us all.

The Bill is more than just a manifesto commitment; it is a necessary and overdue strengthening of the legal framework for dealing with the vexatious claims and repeated investigations that have arisen from recent overseas military operations. There have been many inaccurate and wild accusations about the measures in the Bill. It does not prevent armed forces personnel from being prosecuted for crimes they may have committed. It does not remove prosecutors’ independence or ability to prosecute on the basis of any new or compelling evidence of any crime at any time. It does not undermine the UK’s adherence to the UN convention against torture, its commitment to international law or its willingness to investigate and prosecute any alleged criminal offences. As such, it does not increase the likelihood of International Criminal Court prosecutions.

But do not take my word for it; take the words of the former Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin QC, probably the lawyer most experienced in dealing with legacy military and security investigations across the United Kingdom, who said in a paper published this September that

“the Bill does not create, or come close to creating, ‘de facto immunity’ for serving or former service personnel in respect of serious crimes.”

However, the Bill does raise the threshold for prosecution, thereby reducing the likelihood of investigations being repeatedly reopened without new and compelling evidence. It does ensure recognition of the unique circumstances of overseas operations, including the constant threat to life and repeated exposure to traumatic events. It does take into consideration the public interest in criminal and civil cases’ being brought to a timely resolution, so that the courts can assess them while memories are fresh and evidence is more readily available. That is entirely in line with the principles of the ECHR. In short, the measures do provide greater protection from the likes of Phil Shiner Solicitors, whose motivations were not justice but money.

It is the right thing to do to defend the men and women who risk their lives to protect us. It is for all these reasons that the House should support the Bill’s Third Reading. But it is just one piece in the jigsaw to fix this issue. Let us not forget that the overwhelming number of these incidents that triggered the pursuit of veterans happened under Labour’s stewardship of defence. They failed to keep training compliance with the ECHR. They failed to equip personnel properly. They failed to reform the service justice system to ensure that they were ECHR-article 2-compliant, including the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who was a Minister in that Ministry at that time, so it is a bit rich—

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Will the Minister give way?

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No, I will not. It is a bit rich for them to come here today and condemn the legislation. On the other hand, it is we who have commissioned—

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rose—

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The hon. Gentleman has had plenty to say on the Bill; I will not give way. We do not have time to conclude these exchanges. On the other hand—[Interruption.] They can shout me down, but I will just continue to use up Third Reading time, and I will then listen to other speeches. I will not give way; I have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman.

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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister has now added mind-reading to his many skills. The Minister, who is actually a good friend of mine, has just made an accusation against me and has not given me the right to reply to it. It was his Government, in 2010, who set up IHAT and Northmoor, not the Labour Government.

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I do not want the point of order to become a subject of debate, but obviously—[Interruption.] Thank you; I can cope. Obviously, the Secretary of State has referred to the right hon. Gentleman, and he may feel it appropriate to give way.

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It is a shame that the right hon. Gentleman used up more debating time by raising a bogus point of order, but nevertheless, in case Opposition Members think the way to conduct a Third Reading is to shout people down, I will repeat that this legislation is one very important part of the jigsaw. We must not forget, given the point raised by the Opposition about the thoroughness of the investigations, that it was not under their stewardship that the investigative capability of our armed forces was strengthened; it was not under their stewardship that the training for men and women about detention of suspects was improved; it was not under Labour’s stewardship that article 2 compliance was met, often, on some of these investigations that allowed those lawyers to come back and repeat inquests, inquiries and investigations into our veterans.

On the other hand, it is we, a Conservative Government, who have commissioned and started implementing a service justice review programme, who appointed a respected former judge to review and scrutinise the investigative process, and who have brought legislation to actually do something about it.

The Government have listened to many of the contributions throughout the Bill’s progress, but we have been unable to accept the amendments because they would have undermined rather than strengthened the Bill. In the case of the Opposition, they are simply, as it turned out, opposed to its aims, as Momentum has boasted today.

Despite all the warm words and sympathy, the Labour leopard has not changed its spots. In this week of all weeks, with Remembrance Sunday approaching, veterans up and down the country will note Labour’s opposition and recognise what fair-weather friends they are. However, this Government have been determined and resolute in acting to protect our armed forces, and that is why I commend the Bill to the House.

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We all want the same thing—Labour, the Government, the public, the armed forces: we all want to protect British troops and British values, and that should not be a matter of party politics. It is simply wrong to make debate on the Bill divisive, or to brand those who challenge Ministers on the content of the Bill as somehow standing against British troops.

This is a Bill to deal with long-running problems that have arisen under successive Governments—Labour and Conservative—and the Minister in charge was right when he just said that we must do better, but we can do much better than this Bill as it stands. We want this to be a Bill that protects British troops and their right to justice and a Bill that protects Britain’s reputation as a force for good in the world, upholding universal human rights and a rules-based international order.

In truth, the closer people look at this legislation, the less they like it. Two things have become clear since Second Reading. First, this is a dishonest and damaging Bill that does not do what it says on the tin. It entirely fails to deal with the main problem, which is baseless and repeated investigations and, worse, it breaches the armed forces covenant, it risks British troops being dragged before the International Criminal Court, and it does more to protect the MOD that it does our armed forces personnel. Secondly, despite a growing cross-party concern and chorus of criticism, especially from those with military experience or connections, Ministers are in denial about the flaws in this Bill. With the arrogance of an 80-seat majority, they dismiss those who argue for amendment as disingenuous.

This demands a signal of how serious we see these flaws as being, which is why we will vote against Third Reading. We want our troops to be better protected. We want our British military to be held in the highest regard around the world. We want our British justice system to set standards that others follow. It is because we passionately believe in these values that we cannot accept this Bill as it stands.

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I also thank the Clerks and the staff of the House who have worked on the Bill and the Library staff who have worked hard to ensure that Members are briefed properly. I want to mention Clorinda Luck, our own researcher, who has put a lot of work into this as well.

I echo much of what the shadow Secretary of State has said. We all wanted to solve the Phil Shiner problem. I do not think that any of us wants to see Phil Shiner mark 2, but this was not the way to do it. The Minister, with whom I enjoy these exchanges, has let himself down. He could have had a chance, as he said he wanted on Second Reading, to bring together all the Members of the House who wanted to solve the problem, and he did not accept one single amendment. On arithmetic, he might win this evening, but his powers of persuasion and politics clearly need a lot more polishing than he thinks. When this legislation comes forward on investigations next year, I hope that he will look back at the Hansard of this debate and at how he conducted the passage of the Bill and do it differently next time. He has good will in the House that I fear he has squandered irreparably, especially in the passage tonight. This Bill does not protect the armed forces; it risks them being dragged in front of the ICC. If he is happy with that as his legacy, that is for him to resolve, but it is not something that we can support. For that reason, we will be against the Bill in the Lobby tonight.

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May I too thank the Bill Committee Clerks, who worked very hard? I congratulate the Minister for Defence People and Veterans on his excellent reading of his briefs in Committee and today.

This is sad, because the Bill is fatally flawed. It will take rights away from veterans, which cannot be right, and it will lead to our international reputation being at stake. It does not solve the problem, which is investigations. That could have been put right in the Bill, but unfortunately, the Minister is not prepared to listen. He says that he is prepared to work with people; the exact opposite has been the truth throughout the passage of the Bill.

As for the Secretary of State trying to blame all this on a wicked Labour Government, it was a Labour Government who met the armed forces pay review every year and ensured that defence expenditure kept pace with inflation. It was his Government who, in coalition, put IHAT and Northmoor in place in 2010. When these cases were going on when I was a Minister, it was Conservative Members who were asking why we were not investigating them more. There is selective memory on the Government Benches. We had an opportunity to get a good Bill that would address the issues and improve the situation for veterans, and that has been missed because of the arrogance of the Minister who has led it through the House.

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 23 September).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Division 159

3 November 2020

The House divided:

Ayes: 345
Noes: 260

Question accordingly agreed to.

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Bill read the Third time and passed.

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.