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 Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 9:00 pm, 9th July 2018

It is an honour to follow Gavin Robinson; he is always a profound speaker, and he captured the spirit today, and the whole Committee was, I think, enchanted by his contribution. I thank my right hon. Friend Sir Michael Fallon. His time as Secretary of State for Defence was more than distinguished; he was an absolutely superb Defence Secretary. He stood up for the armed forces and the military in a way that few could, and I want to put on the record how much I enjoyed working with him. I was once his Whip, and he was quite difficult to whip, I have to say, because he was very determined in what he wanted to achieve, but we worked together very well and managed to get some significant changes to legislation through, and I enjoyed working with him immensely.

I also want to put it on the record that this Government will always salute the tremendous heroism and courage displayed by members of the armed forces and the Royal Ulster Constabulary throughout the troubles in Northern Ireland. Operation Banner was the longest continuous deployment in British military history, lasting from 1969 to 2007. During that period, over 250,000 people served, more than 7,000 medals for bravery were awarded, and the RUC was collectively awarded the George Cross for valour. As I said to the annual Police Federation for Northern Ireland conference in May, without the contribution of our armed forces and the RUC, and—in so many cases, their sacrifice—there would, quite simply, have been no peace process in Northern Ireland. For years, they stood between the rule of law and the descent into anarchy, and by their actions ensured that the future of Northern Ireland would only ever be determined by democracy and consent, never by violence. All of us in this House and beyond therefore owe them an enormous debt of gratitude, something we must never forget.

We remember the more than 1,100 members of the security services who were murdered, and the many thousands more who were maimed or injured, physically and mentally. And as this Government have always made clear, we will never accept any kind of moral equivalence between those terrorists who sought to destroy the rule of law and the security forces whose job it was to maintain the rule of law.

We will also continue to reject any attempt to rewrite the history of the troubles in order to justify or legitimise republican and loyalist terrorism. Let us not forget the bare facts: 60% of deaths in the troubles were caused by republican terrorists; 30% by loyalist terrorists; and just 10% by the state, and the vast majority of those were entirely lawful.

For most of the period of Operation Banner, the role of the armed forces was to support the civil power in maintaining the rule of law against the terrorist threat. Northern Ireland was not an armed conflict, and we should be careful in the language we use to describe what was happening in a part of our own country. In upholding the rule of law, the armed forces were at all times required to operate within it while being fully accountable to it. This is what set them apart from the terrorists, who operated outside the law.

As we know, in the vast majority of cases, members of the armed forces and the police carried out their duties with exemplary professionalism and restraint, often in the most provocative and dangerous of circumstances, yet, as with any deployment of this scale and duration, there were also mistakes. The Government have quite rightly apologised whenever the state or those acting for the state fell short of the high standards we expect, but I cannot emphasise enough that events like Bloody Sunday are not the defining story of Operation Banner, and those who served can rightly be proud of the role they played in ultimately bringing Northern Ireland to the much improved place that it is today.

I fully understand the concern expressed by Members of this House about the treatment of former service personnel in respect of Northern Ireland, and about the apparent disproportionate focus on their actions rather than on those of the terrorists. I also understand the continuing concerns being expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks over the issue of the so-called on-the-runs and the letters that were issued under the scheme introduced by the Labour Government.