Let me begin where the Secretary of State ended, in saying that there can never be moral equivalence between the acts of the broad mass of those young men and women who were asked to serve in Northern Ireland at the behest of our society and those who instead sought to damage, maim and kill through the paramilitary groups of either side. As with other Members, I wish to pay tribute to those who served our nation. I wish also to follow the words of Lady Hermon in recognising as well the important role of the RUC during the troubles.
I recognise the argument put forward by Sir Michael Fallon, and he rightly was struck by and acted on the claims farming that he saw as a result of the situation in Iraq. However, there is no equivalent that reads immediately across to the situation in Northern Ireland, and it is important to establish that, even though I recognise that his motives are honourable in what he proposes.
I again follow the Secretary of State’s line in saying that there is currently a consultation on the historical inquiries, and it is important that that is allowed to take place and to go forward. It is important that we take the opportunities of the Stormont House agreement to move forward in the way that she outlined. In the debate on Second Reading, I said that we should make progress with exactly those kinds of institutional arrangements. It is important that we bring things to a rapid conclusion in the interests of victims on all sides.
The right hon. Member for Sevenoaks was challenged by the hon. Member for North Down on why the RUC/PSNI has been left out of the amendment. It is helpful to quote Mark Lindsay, the chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, who says:
“Let me be clear: This organisation is totally opposed to any legislation which proposes an amnesty”— a loaded word—
“for any crime. That’s any crime, whether committed by a police officer or terrorist from any side of the divide. Society must now decide, whether the solution is a political solution or a criminal justice solution.”
He goes on to say that it would be a “monstrous injustice” to his members were we to go down those lines. It is important that we listen to those words.
I met Mark Lindsay recently, and one point that he made to me was about the enormous importance of the Police Service of Northern Ireland having the trust of people across all communities. One way to damage that trust would be to open the PSNI up to the accusation that it somehow gained special treatment for its members, when the Police Federation for Northern Ireland does not want that kind of special treatment. That is important.
In response to Gavin Robinson, I should say that even the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, Arlene Foster, has expressed her own doubts about going down this road. She makes the point that the DUP has not been pushing for this as a party, and her concern is that it could lead to demands for a wider amnesty. That is important because, as the Secretary of State said, she has to sign off the legislation as compatible with the UK’s human rights obligations under international law—not things that we can change or arbitrate; things that we have signed up to as part of the UK’s global commitments. These are things that the UK signs up to as exemplars to be applied not just here in the United Kingdom but all around the world. They give us the freedom to criticise those who transgress human rights obligations. A strong body of opinion—I know this opinion was given to the Defence Committee—makes it clear that if the state is seen to act partially in a way that denies victims access to justice, it is transgressing its obligations under international law. In particular, if in doing that the state is seen to be partial and to be protecting state actors while not offering the same kind of procedure to others, the state is, in that partiality, accused of breaching its wider human rights obligation.