Clause 8 — Desertion

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 22nd May 2006.

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Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South 5:15 pm, 22nd May 2006

Once again, the hon. Gentleman is trying to confuse the Committee—but it is he who is wholly confused about the issue. There is nothing in international law that has proven that there are currently, or have been in the past 10 years, British armed forces engaged in an illegal action. No international court anywhere has found any member of the British— [Interruption.] The international court of public opinion is a different matter from the court of law about which the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead speaks. I am not cavalier about it; I am extremely concerned that the men and women who do their duty on behalf of this country know that they have the backing of the country for their actions, and that they are engaged in lawful business.

We have had soldiers in Sierra Leone, Bosnia and several other parts of the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. I do not believe that a significant number of those wanted to become conscientious objectors. If they had, we would know about it. We have a clear indication from the Library of the number of members of the armed forces who have sought to become conscientious objectors. We would also know because we regularly meet members of the armed forces.

I met somebody who was decorated for bravery during the past five years. He did not agree with what the Government had asked him to do, but went and did his duty, knowing in his heart that he did not believe that it was the right thing to do. He was a member of the armed forces and, in his view, he was not in a position to cherry-pick the missions that he served on. He did his duty. He could, as he said to me, have opted to leave the armed forces, but he chose not to do so. He chose to do his duty.

John McDonnell said, in the one part of his speech with which I did not have some sympathy, that when the history of what has happened is written, the real heroes will be those who refused to fight the war. That does a great disservice to the men and women who are daily putting their lives on the line for this country.