Skip to main content

Protecting Veterans from Prosecution

Volume 699: debated on Wednesday 21 July 2021

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on bringing forward legislative proposals to protect veterans from prosecution for actions taken during the troubles. (902941)

The Government have always been clear that they will deliver on their commitments in Northern Ireland to veterans, as part of a wider package to address legacy issues in Northern Ireland that focuses on reconciliation. As part of that work, I continue to hold regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues, including the Prime Minister, as well as with Northern Ireland parties, the Irish Government and society across Northern Ireland, with a view to bringing forward legislation.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer thus far. I welcome the decision of the courts basically to discharge many of the elderly and vulnerable people, particularly the veterans, who were accused of crimes in Northern Ireland. However, many elderly and vulnerable veterans still have hanging over them the threat of prosecution, so will my right hon. Friend expedite his discussions and bring forward legislation urgently to ensure that those people who served our armed forces in Northern Ireland and risked their lives on a daily basis are not threatened with prosecution literally 50 years after the event?

My hon. Friend outlines one of the challenges we see. It cannot be right that, as in the situations we have seen this year, people have to wait 50 years to get information and get to the truth. We are clear that we want to get legislation brought forward. We are working intensively across parties and with partners in Northern Ireland so that we can bring forward legislation that delivers reconciliation and information recovery for Northern Ireland and ends the cycle of investigations for our veterans across the armed forces, the majority of whom served with great honour and put themselves at risk to protect other people’s lives.

I trust that the Secretary of State is aware of the immense hurt, the volume of tears that have been shed and the retraumatised victims in the wake of his statement last week, and has reflected on both its content and the way this matter has been handled so far. One issue that victims have raised is the fear that now, without the threat of justice, terrorists or former terrorists will go out and almost glorify some of the atrocities in which they have been involved, with no sanction, while the victims remain voiceless. How does the Secretary of State respond to that fear?

The hon. Gentleman and his party have been and are strong supporters of the Stormont House agreement, which itself effectively created a statute of limitations on some 40,000 crimes—everything except for murder—following the changes made in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 to the justice options for people after the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. The reality is that we need to ensure that, which is why it is important we are clear that there is no moral equivalence. People who went out to do harm to others were acting in a way that was unspeakably horrendous. So many people put their lives at risk to protect others throughout that period. It is important that we continue to do that, which is why is it important that we have an information-recovery process that gets the truth and gets accountability, so that we avoid the very problem the hon. Gentleman outlined. To an extent, this has been happening because of the problems of the criminal justice system not seeing justice for people in the past few years.