Issue of sum out of the Consolidated Fund for the year ending 31 March 2019 and appropriation of that sum

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 8:49 pm on 9th July 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon Conservative, Sevenoaks 8:49 pm, 9th July 2018

Absolutely, and some cases have been reopened more than once.

Nobody in this House would suggest that our troops should be exempt from investigation or prosecution for any kind of wrongdoing—of course not. Parliament itself requires, through the armed forces Acts, that any such allegation should be properly investigated by the service police. If there is new evidence concerning recent allegations, then of course they should be looked at. Equally, however, we cannot accept a situation where the whole process begins to be abused by cases simply being reopened for the sake of it, where there is not substantive new evidence. That was the case as allegations accumulated under the Iraq historical allegation apparatus, which was one reason why I shut it down as Defence Secretary and why, on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, I laid evidence before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which eventually resulted in the key solicitor involved being struck off.

In Northern Ireland, the opposite is happening. Allegations of misconduct are being reopened 30 or 40 years later, when memories cannot be trusted and evidence may be hard to come by. Can a court really be sure 45 years after the events exactly what warning was shouted at two in the morning in a street in west Belfast in the early 1970s? These are the kinds of cases that are now being reopened, and I submit to the Committee that Parliament now needs to draw a line. The purpose of amendments 1 and 2 is to introduce a statute of limitations for the first time to say that cases more than—there can be different views on this, but this is what I have said in the amendment—20 years old, so from the date of the Good Friday agreement, cannot now be reopened if they have already been investigated.

Of course, a statute of limitations in itself raises complexities. I understand that. Many issues around it would need to be looked at. For example, we heard much in the previous debate about the bravery of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and the police are not included in this amendment. I understand that there are some reservations about including them. There are complexities, but there is nothing unusual about a statute of limitations. In a previous debate, my hon. Friend Robert Courts reminded the House that there are statutes of limitation in commercial law: cases cannot be reopened when companies have dissolved and documents cannot be traced, and it is not possible to properly ascertain the change of responsibility, or rules and regulations from an earlier period no longer apply.