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 9:00 pm on 9th July 2018.

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Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence) 9:00 pm, 9th July 2018

It is a huge privilege to follow Sir Michael Fallon, not least because, when Secretary of State for Defence, he seriously engaged with us on the Defence Select Committee when we conducted an inquiry into fatalities that arose during the troubles in Northern Ireland. He engaged with us and considered our report—we all on the Committee collectively and appropriately considered the issues at hand—and we can hear that he is one of the growing number of principled parliamentarians who recognise there is an issue that we need to address. He also fairly outlined some of the deficiencies in the amendments. I say that not as a criticism but drawing on comments he himself made.

Our report was very clear, in its second recommendation, that the Government should extend any proposal to the brave members of the RUC. We have heard many honeyed words this evening about the bravery and sacrifice of police officers, both past and present, and many Members have put forward their views on the noble cause that police officers served in our community in Northern Ireland, and yet, of course, they are absent from the amendments. There are various reasons for that. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the complexities, but the complexities applying to police officers past and present in Northern Ireland apply similarly to Army veterans. It is not the case that those complexities are confined to Army veterans in Northern Ireland or in the rest of Great Britain and do not apply to the police; they apply equally, and they are twofold. There should be no amnesty for terrorists, and there should be no equivalence between the honourable actions of service personnel and the actions of those who went out to commit murder and mayhem in our streets.

Many who have served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Police Service of Northern Ireland or the Army, and who live in Northern Ireland, will never countenance the day when their service is treated as if it were in any way comparable with what was done by those who sought to destroy our society, and I think that they are right. However, I recognise that dealing with that issue opens up another panoply of legal complexities.

Dr Lewis—the esteemed Chairman of the Defence Committee—and I have regular discussions about how we can obviate some of the legal constraints that apply to a statute of limitations. I think Members should take the opportunity to read the legal submissions from which our inquiry benefited—from Professor Richard Ekins of Oxford University, Professor Kieran McEvoy of Queen’s University Belfast, Professor Peter Rowe of Lancaster University, and Professor Phillipe Sands QC of University College London.

What can we take as an overarching lesson from the varied range of views that were expressed, which included disagreements? This Parliament is sovereign. This Parliament can set our laws, create the circumstances around natural justice, and outline what a criminal justice process should be. It can inject some equity and fairness into that process, in a way that complies with article 2 of the European convention on human rights, or article 3, in the case of torture. I think that the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks was right to refer, in his amendment, to previous satisfactory investigations. No one is trying to obviate the rules of natural justice in this country, but he is right to suggest that we should stand firm when, again or again or again, a knock comes at the door.

I pay tribute to Richard Benyon, to Sir Henry Bellingham and to the former Member of Parliament for Aldershot, Sir Gerald Howarth, all of whom have been steadfast champions of the notion of protecting those who protected us.

We talk very loosely about 90% of all troubles-related killings being carried out by terrorists, with 10% attributed to state forces, but we can state categorically that each and every one of those that fall within the 90% were crimes, carried out by terrorists who were involved in state subvention. We cannot say that of the 10%. We cannot say that of those who put their lives on the line to protect all of us. We need only look across at that door to see three plaques in memories of three Members of this House who were cut down by terrorists in this country. We do not have to look too far away.

I know that memories fade, and I know that people talk about the price of peace. I do not remember any legal constraints or complexities being raised too strongly in the House in 1998, when the prisons were opened. I do not remember too many legal complexities bothering those boffins in Whitehall when they constructed the on-the-runs scheme. Time and time again in the pursuit of peace, to please those who tried to destroy this country, legal minds and successive Governments have created conditions that have allowed the doors to open for terrorists.

I praise the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks—and I say that meaningfully—as the principal parliamentarian to support this continual quest. He tabled the amendments in the knowledge that they were not perfect, and that this was a journey that we would have to make together in a committed and principled way. It is right for Parliament to set conditions that provide protection for those who protected us and who have no equivalence with those who tried to destroy this country, in a way that does not legally extend an amnesty or state immunity, because as a state we will have discharged our duty. We are talking about cases where there has been an investigation and where we are satisfied that the information gathered is exhaustive, and it is natural justice for those being prosecuted who served this country that we should move on.

I respond to the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks not to detract from the thrust of what he is attempting to achieve or the principled spirit of what he has outlined, but to stand at one with him in recognising that this is a wrong that needs to be righted, and that it cannot be constrained or confined to Northern Ireland alone; he has outlined the implications right across this country, and indeed in theatres beyond this country.

I hope that the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman brought forward these amendments will continue to feature as we navigate the legal and moral complexities and do what is right, in the interests of our veterans, our current armed forces personnel, past and present, and those who served in the RUC, the PSNI and others. If we can get collective agreement tonight that that is our direction of travel and that is what we want to achieve, and that we will be honourable and earnest in our quest to protect those who protected us, he will have our support.