Extension of period for forming an Executive

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 9th July 2019.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss:

Clause 2 stand part.

Amendment 14, in clause 3, page 2, line 13, leave out “21 October” and insert “4 September”.

This amendment would bring forward the date for a progress report to 4 September 2019.

Amendment 8, page 2, line 13, after “report” insert

“and make an oral statement to Parliament”.

Amendment 6, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) The report under subsection (1) must include a report on progress made towards protecting veterans of the Armed Forces and other security personnel from repeated investigation for Troubles-related incidents by introducing a presumption of non-prosecution, in the absence of compelling new evidence, whether in the form of a Qualified Statute of Limitations or by some other legal mechanism.”

The subsection would include placing a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the options available to ensure that veterans of the Troubles would be able to assist in a truth recovery process, for the benefit of bereaved families, without fear of prosecution.

Amendment 7, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) The report under subsection (1) must include a report on progress made towards developing new prosecution guidance for legacy cases of Troubles-related incidents by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland to take into account whether or not the person who allegedly committed an offence had the means to do so because that person had been lawfully supplied with a deadly weapon, with a presumption in favour of prosecuting in cases where a person who has allegedly committed an offence had the means to do so because that person had been unlawfully supplied with a deadly weapon.”

The subsection would place a duty on the Secretary to State to report on progress made towards a new prosecution guidance taking into account whether or not the person who allegedly committed an offence had been lawfully armed.

Amendment 15, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) The Secretary of State shall make a further report under subsection 1 on or before 9 October 2019 at least every fourteen calendar days thereafter until either an Executive is formed or until 18 December 2019, whichever is the sooner.”

This amendment would require fortnightly reports to be made after the conference recess until an Executive was formed, or until the December recess.

Amendment 18, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) Before making a report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on progress made towards preparing legislation confirming the application of the Armed Forces Covenant in the provision of public services in Northern Ireland.”

The subsection would include placing a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the preparation of legislation confirming the application of the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland.

Amendment 19, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) Before making a report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on whether the definition of “victim” in Article 3 of the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 (Order No. 2953 (N.I. 17)) should be revised to apply only to a person who is injured or affected wholly through the actions of another person.”

The subsection would include placing a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the definition of “victim” in the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.

Amendment 21, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) The report under subsection (1) must include a report to be published on or before 4 September 2019 on progress made in Northern Ireland on—

(a) the law on gaming machines;

(b) the law on online gambling;

(c) the number of people who are seeking treatment for problem gambling;

(d) the services available to people seeking problem gambling; and

(e) the level of support from the gambling industry for problem gambling.”

The subsection would include placing a duty on the Secretary of State to report on various matters related to the law on gambling in Northern Ireland and support for those experiencing problem gambling.

Amendment 22, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) The report under subsection (1) must include a report to be published on or before 4 September 2019 on progress on the use of discretionary powers to provide assistance and support under section 18(9) of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015. The report must cover—

(a) how many times the Department has decided it is necessary to provide assistance and support for victims of human trafficking for whom there has been a conclusive determination that the person is a victim of trafficking in human beings;

(b) the reasons the Department has decided it is necessary to provide assistance and support for victims of human trafficking for whom there has been a conclusive determination that the person is a victim of trafficking in human beings; and

(c) the immigration status of those victims of human trafficking for whom there has been a conclusive determination that the person is a victim of trafficking in human beings who are receiving assistance and support beyond the relevant period.”

The subsection would include placing a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the assistance and support offered to victims of human trafficking in Northern Ireland from receiving a conclusive grounds decision.

Amendment 23, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) The report under subsection (1) must include a report on progress made in preparing legislation to extend the reporting requirements of donations to political parties in Northern Ireland to all donations made after 1 January 2014”.

Amendment 24, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) The report under subsection (1) must include a report on progress made in preparing legislation to make provision to recognise coercive control and stalking in Northern Ireland”.

Amendment 16, page 2, line 16, leave out “the report” and insert

“any report under this section”.

This is a consequential amendment.

Amendment 17, page 2, line 16, at end insert—

“(2A) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the day on which a report under this section is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of three Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the report under this section is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of three Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2B) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This amendment would require progress reports to be debated.

Clause 3 stand part.

Clause 4 stand part.

New clause 11—International obligations: oral statement—

“In the absence of Northern Ireland Ministers to address the matters identified by the Report of the inquiry concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland must make an oral statement to the House of Commons on progress on implementing recommendations in accordance with section 26(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.”

New clause 12—Requirement on Secretary of State—

“If an Executive is not formed by 21 October 2019, nothing in this Act shall remove the requirement on the Secretary of State set out in section 26(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to direct action in the absence of ministers to ensure that all Northern Ireland departments comply with international obligations, and in particular the recommendations made by the Report of the Inquiry concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.”

New clause 15—Northern Ireland: Armed Forces Covenant—

“(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to confirm the application of the Armed Forces Covenant in the provision of public services in Northern Ireland.

(2) Regulations under this section must be in force no later than 21 October 2019, subject to subsections (3) and (4).

(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1)—

(a) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament;

(b) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(4) If a Northern Ireland Executive is formed before the regulations under this section come into force, any regulations made under this section and any extant obligations arising under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect.”

This new clause would require UK secondary legislation to confirm the application of the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland.

New clause 16—Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland: debate—

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on progress made towards preparing legislation confirming the application of the Armed Forces Covenant in the provision of public services in Northern Ireland is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to amendment 18 on a report on progress made towards preparing legislation to confirm the application of the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland.

New clause 17—Northern Ireland: Definition of victim—

“(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to amend the definition of “victim” in Article 3 of the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 (Order No. 2953 (N.I. 17)) so that the definition applies only to a person who is injured or affected wholly through the actions of another person.

(2) Regulations under this section must be in force no later than 21 October 2019, subject to subsections (3) and (4).

(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1)—

(a) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament;

(b) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(4) If a Northern Ireland Executive is formed before the regulations under this section come into force, any regulations made under this section and any extant obligations arising under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect.”

This new clause would require UK secondary legislation to amend the definition of “victim” in the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.

New clause 18—Definition of victim: debate—

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on whether the definition of “victim” in Article 3 of the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 (Order No. 2953 (N.I. 17)) should be revised to apply only to a person who is injured or affected wholly through the actions of another person is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to amendment 19 on a report on whether the definition of “victim” in the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 should be amended by UK secondary legislation.

New clause 20—Law on gambling and support for those experiencing problem gambling in Northern Ireland: debate—

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on gambling in Northern Ireland mentioned in section 3 is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to the amendment 21 on a report on progress made on the law on gambling in Northern Ireland and support for problem gambling, and provides for the report to be debated in Parliament.

New clause 21—Assistance and support for victims of human trafficking in Northern Ireland: debate—

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on assistance and support for victims of human trafficking in Northern Ireland mentioned in section 3 is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to the amendment 22 on a report on progress made on the law on gambling in Northern Ireland and support for problem gambling, and provides for the report to be debated in Parliament.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

Thank you, Dame Rosie; it is a pleasure to participate in this debate and to raise with the House, at this stage, potential amendments to the legislation that I think are capable of improving it for Northern Ireland, as well as for our country as a whole.

I was a little bit startled when I read a tweet by my hon. Friend Maria Caulfield in which she, first, described the amendments as “Shameful”, which is of course a matter of her opinion, and secondly, went on to say that I had no interest in Northern Ireland. All I can say is that, having been in the House for 22 years, I have acted as a spokesman on Northern Ireland matters when we were in opposition; I served for six years, I think, on the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body; I was chair of the Conservative Back-Bench committee on Northern Ireland in my early years in the House; I participate actively in the British-Irish Association annual conference; and I try to make myself as frequent a visitor to Northern Ireland as I can, sometimes to give talks and lectures, or, indeed, to visit people, and on a number of occasions I have been there on holiday. Whatever my views may be and however much my hon. Friend may think that they are erroneous, I can absolutely assure her that I have Northern Ireland at heart. I am a Unionist and it matters to me very much indeed.

The position on the amendments is fairly straightforward. There is provision in the Bill for a report to be made to the House on how progress is being made on setting up the Executive. I greatly welcome this measure. I apologise to my hon. Friend for the fact that I was not able to be present for the debate yesterday, but it was a debate on a principle that I entirely supported. However, the measure on the report does not go far enough. Quite apart from anything else, we are at the eleventh hour when it comes to the possibility of setting up an Executive, which I believe is massively desirable for the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. It therefore seems to me to be extremely desirable for Members to provide some further impetus and scrutiny for that process, which is why I chose in amendments 14, 15, 16 and 17, along with my right hon. and hon. Friends who support the amendments, to try to move and accelerate the process forward.

For example, amendment 14 would mean that, rather than the report coming back on 21 October, it would come back on 4 September. In addition, I chose to try to make provision for the close monitoring of the process thereafter by the House, by ensuring with amendment 15 that the Secretary of State would make

“a further report under subsection 1 on or before 9 October 2019”,

which is when we come back from the conference recess, and

“at least every fourteen calendar days thereafter until either an Executive is formed or until 18 December 2019, whichever is the sooner.”

Amendment 16 is consequential to that.

Amendment 17 would provide that, in addition to what I have outlined, and so that the House may have an opportunity to indicate how it feels the direction of travel should go and to encourage the Government in their endeavours, there are opportunities within

“two sitting days beginning with the day on which a report under this section is published” for

“a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved”.

There is a similar provision for the House of Lords, which their lordships will of course wish to consider in due course. I believe the amendments provide a sensible package that can help to facilitate the setting up of a Northern Ireland Executive, which I dearly want to see.

It has been raised with me, and I entirely accept, that Brexit also features in this matter, and so it should. Brexit threatens Northern Ireland more than almost any other part of the United Kingdom. It threatens it economically; it threatens it in terms of its security; and it threatens it in terms of its cohesion. For all those reasons, we should as a House—particularly, I might add, those of us who consider ourselves to be Unionists—be exceptionally troubled by the current direction of travel. In particular, I cannot escape the fact that I have listened with astonishment to a number of references from people who may be holding high office in the near future, one of whom appears to think that proroguing Parliament to achieve Brexit is an acceptable form of activity for the leader of the Executive, when in fact it is a constitutional enormity and a gross undermining of democracy.

I freely admit that one of the purposes of these amendments is to try to ensure that this extraordinary threat of really an unprecedented character made against this House that we should be prorogued can be banged on the head. Furthermore, the fact that we should be sitting in October to consider these grave matters in relation to Northern Ireland is, in my view, a good reason why these amendments should be supported. I am mindful of the fact that a further amendment, new clause 14, has, for perfectly understandable reasons, not been selected at this stage of the proceedings because of the nature of its scope. It would have effectively provided—I want to make this point very briefly—that Prorogation could not take place, because when these statements and motions should be made and passed, the House would have to be sitting. That is desirable, because as we approach the crisis that is impending on 31 October, if this House wishes to approve a no-deal Brexit, then so be it, but it should be here to do just that, and not pushed into the margins, as some have suggested in this entirely unconstitutional fashion.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I pay tribute to him for bringing forward these amendments, but is there not a sense of irony here? This Bill is meant to bring back the ability to debate laws in Northern Ireland, yet at the same time this place faces being shut down by whoever becomes Prime Minister. There is a huge irony here. If nothing else, this place should be safeguarding democracy, and I thank him for his amendments, because that is what they will do.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

I agree with the hon. Lady. The process of debate is the process by which we continuously moderate each other’s opinions, and by listening to each other, we grow in understanding of the points of view of the other and come to sensible decisions. Heaven knows, if I have tried to do anything during this Brexit process it is to try to encourage a sound process, to prevent catastrophic cliff-edge moments and to enable this House to make reasoned decisions. What this House then decides to do is a matter for the House, but the idea that we can or should be excluded from the process, as some seem to be willing to threaten, is an enormity. Our democracy will not survive such an assault, and it is incumbent on every single one of us to take action to ensure that that does not happen.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

I understand why my right hon. and learned Friend is speaking to amendments 15, 16 and 17, and I presume moving them formally when he gets asked, but obviously new clause 14, to which he has referred, was not selected. Do amendments 15, 16 and 17 work without new clause 14 being selected?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

Yes, and I will tell my hon. Friend exactly why. First, the amendments work in their own right, so if we agree to them, they will provide a structured mechanism, which, short of Prorogation, will ensure that we have those opportunities to consider. If we enact these amendments, I have no doubt that, when the Bill goes to the other place, which is very familiar with the difficulties of our procedures, the Lords will include new clause 14, if they think it pertinent and right, and send it back to this House so that we can then consider it, which is exactly how our parliamentary processes work.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

I am sorry; let me phrase it in another way. Do these amendments, if moved and if passed, prevent the House from being prorogued?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

If all the amendments, including new clause 14, were to be passed, yes, it would prevent this House being prorogued, which is why I put them together as a package. I would like to emphasise that, even if we do not have new clause 14, my judgment is that it is worth having the other amendments in their own right. They send a clear signal about this House’s priorities. They lay down a perfectly clear timetable, which is relevant to Northern Ireland in itself. That is why I disagree so much with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, who, as I say, rather startled me with her vehemence and her belief that I had some dreadful motives. My motives are twofold: first, they are in the interests of Northern Ireland and trying to get the Executive formed and, secondly, I freely admit that they are in the interests of trying to ensure that the worst dangers of Brexit are mitigated.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Labour, Chesterfield 5:45 pm, 9th July 2019

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right that the consequences for Northern Ireland of a no-deal Brexit are very serious. I am sure that he will be as astonished as I was that a survey of members of the Conservative and Unionist party found that a majority of his party members were actually willing to see the break-up of the Union and to see what could happen to Northern Ireland if that issue would stop Brexit. If he does not recognise his own party, in some ways he might not be alone. Can he give us any insight into how the Conservative and Unionist party has got to this place?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

I find it very difficult to answer that question. I accept that, because of priorities in this House, it is often the case that insufficient attention is paid to Northern Ireland. During my career, I have had the inestimable benefit of having the views of large numbers of people in Northern Ireland imparted to me. I have been able to go, for example, to the annual conference of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, and anybody who has gone to look at cross-border issues will realise just how catastrophic a no-deal Brexit would be. I would simply say to my hon. Friends that I appreciate that there are doubtless areas on which they are expert and I am most certainly not, and I do not claim to have the greatest expertise on Northern Ireland— I do not represent that place, although I love it very much—but it is a thing that matters to me very much and that should matter to every hon. Member in this House.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

May I just take my right hon. and learned Friend back to the question he was asked a moment or two ago about whether these amendments, in the absence of new clause 14, will prevent Prorogation? Would he agree that there is at least a perfectly serious argument that might run in the Supreme Court—that is, that statute law trumps prerogative even where it does not directly take the prerogative on, and that if that were argued successfully, these amendments would be sufficient to prevent Prorogation?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

Yes, I agree. It is perhaps, as lawyers would say, a moot point, but my view is that because it specifies in statute particular days on which things should be happening in this House, it is arguable that it therefore replaces the prerogative because the Queen in Parliament has decreed that certain things should happen by law, and that, of course, replaces the royal prerogative as exercised by Ministers.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, I have a great deal of sympathy with his position, but I am very concerned that we are giving problems to the judiciary that really should be resolved in this House. Does he agree?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

Yes, I do. I agree entirely, and we should try to avoid doing that, but for the reasons that I have just given—before we start worrying about court challenges—the amendments that I have tabled, taken together, are worth having. After all, even if it does not go to court, it is a pretty clear signal to whoever is Prime Minister that this is what the House wants to be doing in October. I think that is worth having. Of course, we do at times hear that the rumours about Prorogation are completely misplaced and that nobody in their right mind would do it; in my judgment, nobody in their right mind should, so I very much hope that it will not happen, but these days one has cause at times to worry. For that reason, I think this is a very good series of amendments.

Of course, if the other place in its wisdom decides to look at the totality of our amendments, decides that new clause 14 would add value and places it in the Bill, this House would have an opportunity to consider that decision before the Bill goes through, and either to accept it or reject it.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I am very sorry for intervening again, but I think that it may be important later in the other place that this debate be brought out into the open here. Would my right hon. and learned Friend first agree that the reason that Mr Speaker quite rightly did not select new clause 14 is that it would not have been within the scope of the Bill as unamended, but that, if amended by my right hon. and learned Friend’s amendments, new clause 14 would probably be brought into scope? Secondly, does he agree that their lordships in the other place take a rather wider view of scope than is typically taken here, and therefore there is ample reason to suppose that, given the majorities we know to exist in the House of Lords, new clause 14 in some form is actually likely to be added to the package and therefore to be operative?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

Yes, I do agree. That is certainly one of the reasons this should go to the other place. I slightly hesitate over the issue of scope, particularly because we have a ruling from Madam Deputy Speaker that I would not seek in any way to impugn. It is perfectly clear ruling with a perfectly understandable base. I say no more about it than that.

Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet

Amendment 17 suggests that a motion be debated in this House and approved. We have seen in the past what we might describe as daisy-chain motions taking root in this place, many under his name and some under the names of others. Is it his intention that we should have a similar daisy-chain amendable motion if such a motion comes back to the House in future under his amendment?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

If we are seeking ways to find daisy chains, I can assure my hon. Friend that there are probably other ways in which they might be found. If the House wants do something by resolution, a motion must be tabled. Therefore, either we will get to the point where we never, ever table a motion again—meaning, effectively, that our operation is completely brought to a standstill, which would be a total absurdity—or, I am afraid, he, like everybody else in this House, will have to live with the possibility that people may use a motion to raise matters that they want to raise. Of course, the question of the amendability of a motion, and all that, is not in our hands but those of Mr Speaker.

My hon. Friend brings me back to what worries me, because in what he said there is that little echo of the suggestion that it would all be so much better if this House could just disappear—vaporise—for the next three months so that whatever he thinks should happen is what ought to happen. As I was trying to point out, if we do not meet and debate and moderate each other’s views, we are not a working democracy, and that is what we should at all times strive to be. I commend the amendments to the House.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

I rise to offer the SNP’s support for amendments 14 to 17, which stand in the name of Mr Grieve. I commend him for tabling these amendments and ensuring that there is a chance to debate this issue.

It is incredible that it has come to this—that this Parliament requires an amendment to legislation on the governance of Northern Ireland to stop the Executive riding roughshod over the democratically elected Chamber. More and more, the UK Government are like a Marx Brothers film, but without the laughs—a parade of wannabe comedians trying their best to recreate Freedonia in their own image, with the biggest joke of all reserved for when Boris Johnson enters No. 10, perhaps by zipslide. But at least Freedonia was fictitious.

Of course it would be easy for those on the Treasury Bench, now or at some point after the right hon. Gentleman takes his place, to finagle the use of the royal prerogative to prorogue Parliament—that is the benefit of the uncodified, antiquated constitution we have—but there can be no shortcuts to democracy. There can be no running away from the mess the Government have created for themselves and for the country, and no attempt to silence democratically elected Members, no matter how much the Government of the day wish to do so. I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield, who said:

“If you decide that parliament is an inconvenience, when in fact it is the place where democratic legitimacy lies in our constitution, and therefore it’s acceptable to get rid of it for a period because it might otherwise” stop

“you from doing something that parliament would prevent, then it’s the end of democracy.”

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies)

Mr Grieve has raised the issue of proroguing Parliament being unconstitutional, but is not the reality that it is very constitutional, as a rule of the present United Kingdom of Great Britain’s unwritten constitution, and that it was aped in Canada twice?

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

My hon. Friend, as per usual, makes a very good point. Obviously, we in the SNP support a written constitution, and when Scotland secures its independence, that is the route we will be taking.

The very act of asking the Crown to prorogue Parliament would involve the constitutional monarch in a profoundly political question. Given the fact that a majority of MPs have expressed opposition to the prospect of the UK leaving without a deal, the prorogation of Parliament to get a no-deal Brexit through would be unconstitutional, undemocratic and entirely untenable. We cannot have the no-deal clock being artificially run down by the Executive while Parliament is ordered to extend its holiday. The catastrophic impact of no deal on Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK cannot be allowed to happen. For those reasons, we will support the amendments tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield.

I said last night that we on the SNP Benches are not blind to the situation in Northern Ireland, and accordingly we operated a free vote on matters of conscience contained in new clauses 1 and 10. I would like to add, however, that we still hold the principle of devolution very dearly. There are many of us in this place who followed that deeply held belief in the devolution principle by abstaining on this legislation who fully support equal marriage and, equally, many who support the right of women in Northern Ireland to safely access abortion in their own country. I would not want anyone in this place or watching at home to think that abstention in this case is opposition—it is not.

To conclude, I congratulate Conor McGinn on securing potential equal marriage rights for LGBTQ couples in Northern Ireland. That is a very welcome development, and he has done extremely well.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

I rise to speak in support of amendment 6, which stands in my name and the names of my right hon. Friend Sir Michael Fallon, my hon. Friend Johnny Mercer and 16 other Members. It relates to a topic that, by sheer coincidence, I was addressing the Chamber about on 9 July exactly 12 months ago to this day. That topic is the need for protection for our service personnel against repeated reinvestigation of alleged offences committed during the troubles, even though those have in many cases been previously investigated and there is little or no prospect of significant new evidence being forthcoming.

The amendment speaks for itself. It suggests that there should be

“a report on progress made towards protecting veterans of the Armed Forces and other security personnel from repeated investigation for Troubles-related incidents by introducing a presumption of non-prosecution, in the absence of compelling new evidence, whether in the form of a Qualified Statute of Limitations or by some other legal mechanism.”

It is very important to note that the word “amnesty” does not feature in the amendment. I was particularly pleased when, in another debate on this subject on 20 May this year, my hon. Friend, as I choose to describe him, Gavin Robinson, who is an authority on these matters, intervened to make the point strongly that what the Defence Committee has in mind—namely, a qualified statute of limitations—is not an amnesty in any way, shape or form.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

I am glad to see him nodding.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

Of course I give way to the hon. Lady, just as I did 12 months ago to this day.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

I am very grateful. Since the right hon. Gentleman’s amendment makes reference to “other security personnel”, will he confirm whether he and his colleagues have taken the view of the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association, and will he elaborate on their opposition to any such amnesty or statute of limitations? That would be enlightening for the Committee.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

I am afraid that we have got into a situation where people in Northern Ireland have become, to some extent, a prisoner of their own rhetoric. As I understand it, there is opposition to what people imagine is being proposed on the basis that it draws some form of moral equivalence between the forces of law and order and those people who went out, illegally armed, to commit terrorist offences. It does nothing of the sort. The only equivalence that anyone can or should read into such measures is the basic equivalence before the law that applies to everyone.

I have made this point before, and I am afraid that I am going to keep making it until one day more people accept it: already, in the form of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, such equivalence is quite clear. What that Act provides for is that if somebody has been convicted of not just one grave offence but even multiple murders, they might well be given a life sentence, but under that legislation no one will ever serve more than two years of that life sentence in jail. That has sometimes been thought to be something that applied to paramilitaries and terrorists but not to the armed forces, but in repeated debates on this subject it has been established very clearly and unambiguously in ministerial statements from the Front Bench that it applies to everyone. That does not create moral equivalence between the people it applies to; it simply creates the same equivalence before the law that applies to every British citizen, whether virtuous or villainous.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade) 6:00 pm, 9th July 2019

We have just had the conclusions of the legacy consultation and the release of a summary of the findings. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that part of the confusion on a statute of limitations is that, due to the narrative around this, people do believe that this is an amnesty, but in fact it talks about limiting some circumstances, on the basis of fairness, which is very different from the principle of amnesty?

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

I am so grateful to the hon. Lady, and delighted that I gave way to her, because she has put that far better than I could.

What we are trying to come to here is a reasonable conclusion that would mean that, should compelling new evidence emerge—something that was overlooked and has now come to the fore, and that puts a completely different complexion on an allegation of a serious crime—indeed that would still be pursued, but where matters had been looked at previously, and where there was no compelling new evidence, a line should be drawn.

There is one more element that comes into this, which is the question whether such a qualified statute of limitations would conform to international law.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I congratulate him and others on tabling the amendment. There are two issues here for me. First, on the point of fairness and equality, does he agree that it is deeply unfair that the state seems to be actively looking not to bring former terrorists to justice while actively looking to bring soldiers, who were there legally doing their job under the law, and protected by the law, to justice. Secondly—I talk to ex-service friends about this often—is he aware of the appalling signal it sends that the soldiers who were doing their job are not being protected by the law, either recently in Iraq or 20 or 30 years ago in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

I thank my hon. Friend, who is an expert in these matters, for that perceptive observation. Certainly, on the differentiation between people who were lawfully armed, trying to preserve the peace and the good order of society, and those who went out unlawfully to try to disrupt that, I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks will address that very point in some depth, because it goes to the heart of his amendment.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

I will give way only one more time, as other Members wish to speak.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

I am exceedingly grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who is being very generous indeed. I think that it would be very helpful if he, and indeed his colleagues, clarified how many members of the British Army have been investigated, re-investigated and prosecuted in Northern Ireland. I think the numbers would be very instructive and interesting.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

I am not an expert on the subject, but I think that the numbers at the moment are very low, but the threat—the sword of Damocles—is hanging over a very large number of people.

That leads me rather neatly to the final point that I want to make, about conformity with international law, which does not require a prosecution but does require an investigation. That is why the Select Committee on Defence—we have a further report coming out that relates not just to Northern Ireland, but to the wider context of other campaigns—has always sought to combine the notion of a qualified statute of limitations with that of a truth recovery process. What might loosely be termed the Nelson Mandela solution means that we would satisfy the requirement for an investigation but remove the sword of Damocles hanging over someone’s head, because they would know that they would be required to say what they remembered of the events concerned, with an absolute assurance that no prosecutions would result. That would give the bereaved families the best chance of finding out the truth.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

Very well, for the last time.

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells

My right hon. Friend is very kind. I instinctively agree with the amendment that he has tabled. I am concerned about a statute of limitation, because if case law were applied would the other side not claim access to the statute of limitation as well? I would be grateful for his thoughts on that.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

I thought that by implication I had covered that point. The likelihood is that anyone before the law would be able to lay claim to the statute, but the reality is that what my hon. Friend calls the other side—with their letters of comfort, among other things—are the last people who need to be worried about the present situation. We must not get hung up on the terminology. The people we have to protect are those where the records exist, but to whom letters of comfort have not been given—our armed forces veterans.

In conclusion, I want to—

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

How can I refuse the hon. Gentleman?

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

The right hon. Gentleman has made a good point about the letters of comfort. I have to say that the letters of comfort were given to republicans, but those who put on the uniform of the Crown forces are being pursued for doing their duty.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

That confirms the very point that I was making, and it is why the main purpose of the amendment, although arguably it might be cited by people who are unlikely to be prosecuted, is to protect our service personnel, security forces and so on.

I would like to end—I really will end—by saying that I was encouraged in a debate in Westminster Hall on 20 May this year by the response of the Minister of State to points of the sort that I have made today. He said that I had

“mentioned the Nelson Mandela approach;
I will come back to that point, because it is central to any potential action and solution”.

He said that a solution

“must allow not only the victims and the veterans, but the whole society in Northern Ireland, to draw a line.”

He said:

“There is not an exact comparison between Northern Ireland, which is a unique place, and South Africa, but there are many parallels. We must find some way of creating an approach that will allow people to get closure, truth and justice.”—[Official Report, 20 May 2019;
Vol. 660, c. 248-250.]

That is what my amendment seeks to do, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Reform and Constitutional Issues), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit), DUP Westminster Leader

I want to speak to the amendments tabled in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and by Government Members, in relation to the military or armed forces covenant and its application across the United Kingdom, and on the definition of victims, again on a UK-wide basis. In amendment 19, we refer to the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, but we believe that we need a definition of victims on a UK-wide basis.

On the armed forces covenant, our amendment 18 calls for the Secretary of State to publish a report

“on progress made towards preparing legislation confirming the application of the Armed Forces Covenant in the provision of public services in Northern Ireland.”

This is important because, at the moment, despite the great service of so many in Northern Ireland in the armed forces of the United Kingdom over many decades, which has been recognised far and wide, and the dedication of Northern Ireland men and women in the services—and there are, therefore, many veterans—there is not the same application of the military covenant in Northern Ireland as there is elsewhere in the United Kingdom. We have of course talked about this issue in relation to the confidence and supply arrangements, and I look forward to the Minister saying something when he winds up about how we might progress this.

To give an illustration of just how difficult things are, just the other day—on 28 June—the Chairman of the Defence Committee, Dr Lewis, received a letter from the head of the Northern Ireland civil service, David Sterling, in which he replied to a previous letter asking about representation from the Northern Ireland Administration on the ministerial covenant and Veterans Board. The head of the civil service said that, unless and until there is an agreed position on participation by the Northern Ireland Executive, he was not in a position to attend or even to send another representative. This is how appalling the situation is: we cannot even have Northern Ireland represented.

Even if the Executive were back, there is no doubt that Sinn Féin would block the covenant’s application in Northern Ireland across a host of services and a host of Departments, as it has done. Of course, as we know, the armed forces covenant is not about giving preferential treatment to veterans; it is about making sure that they do not lose out as a result of their service. By any stretch of morality and law, that should apply in Northern Ireland, as it does elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

We are looking for the Government to report on progress on that matter, and to ensure there is a legislative underpinning of the military covenant. Indeed, I notice today the campaign—I think it was in The Sun newspaper —for legislative underpinning of the military covenant. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that both the leadership contenders—certainly one—have signed up to it. I warmly welcome that, and we will certainly be sitting down to discuss, as part of the renewal of the confidence and supply arrangements, how we can actually move these things forward in detail.

The other amendment that I want to speak to very quickly is amendment 19 on the definition of a victim. I referred to this when debating the previous batch of amendments. The current problem in Northern Ireland is that the definition of victim applies equally to those who have been injured as a result of their own actions and in perpetrating terrorist atrocities. For instance, the Shankill bomber, who was injured—his co-terrorist was killed in a bomb explosion that killed many innocent people—is entitled, under the law as it currently stands, to be classified as a victim, and therefore eligible, under the proposals brought forward, for a victim’s pension. Innocent victims—those who were injured as a result of terrorist activities and the families of those who have been left bereaved—of course find that extremely agonising, and they want this appalling situation rectified. Our amendment asks the Government to bring forward a report on seeking to address this very pressing issue.

Photo of Richard Benyon Richard Benyon Conservative, Newbury

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that this is part of an attempt at historical revisionism that is going on in the Province, and that at this really important moment we need to send a very clear message that this is not some game to satisfy one side or the other, but about fairness, decency and reflecting the truth about what happened?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Reform and Constitutional Issues), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit), DUP Westminster Leader

The right hon. Gentleman has put the matter extremely eloquently and concisely, and he is absolutely right. We are bringing forward a simple request to plead for justice, decency and fairness. It cannot be right that innocent victims are left without a pension because victims of their own terrorist actions may benefit as well.

We have to address, therefore, the issues of the military covenant and the treatment of our veterans, of our victims, and of our armed forces personnel, which the right hon. Member for New Forest East raised so well previously. These issues must be addressed; and if they are not addressed by this Government in their last two years, certainly they must be tackled, going forward. Justice demands it.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade) 6:15 pm, 9th July 2019

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is deeply frustrating that we have made these arguments time and again and yet they have been rebuffed by the Government and others as too controversial? All we are trying to do is something very basic indeed—to put into law the dictionary definition of a victim. A victim is a victim of an act by another person. That is a dictionary definition; that should not be controversial.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Reform and Constitutional Issues), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit), DUP Westminster Leader

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and I pay tribute to the work that she has done in this area over many years in Northern Ireland, grappling with those issues. It is frustrating that at times—I have to say this—certainly in the Northern Ireland Office, there has been a well of opposition that has served to obstruct these issues going forward. I do not speak about the current occupants of ministerial office; I am talking about a long record of institutionalised opposition to progressing some of these issues. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, and I hope that, as a result of this debate, we will finally get movement on these important areas of justice and fairness for victims, our armed forces and our veterans.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon Conservative, Sevenoaks

I hope that Nigel Dodds will forgive me if I do not address his amendments directly. I thoroughly support them and hope that he feels encouraged after tonight to continue to pursue them when it comes to any further negotiation that may take place later in the year.

I shall speak to amendment 7, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friends, although I should make it clear, as I think my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis did, that I fully endorse amendment 6 as well, both in respect of preventing the re-investigation of cases—sometimes more than once—and his suggestion that a time limit should be considered, rather than an amnesty.

My amendment is narrower in its focus. It is designed to encourage the Secretary of State and the judicial authorities in Northern Ireland to focus on the difference between the soldier and the terrorist—the soldier, who had a duty to the state, who had a duty to protect life and property; and the terrorist, who went out to kill or to maim. That difference, which we discussed in the Chamber a year ago and have already begun to discuss again tonight, seems to have been forgotten, swamped by a kind of moral equivalence. In my view, the distinction should be clear: armed troops are not civilians. They have a duty to the state. They must obey the chain of command. They are issued with lawful weapons. They are trained how to use lawful weapons, and indeed they are punished if they are found to be misusing them. They do not, unlike the terrorist, set out each morning with the intent to kill. The terrorist, by contrast, has at some point acquired an unlawful weapon—an illegal gun or a bomb—and would be doing that only if he or she intended to do harm with it.

In recognising the problem, which has been alluded to, of the convention on human rights and the difficulty of treating one group separately from another, I would like the authorities in Northern Ireland, and in particular the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, to think more deeply in approaching this issue about the presumption of intent. I would like the report we are asking for in this amendment to consider future prosecution guidance that would properly take into account whether or not a lethal weapon was involved and whether or not it had been legally authorised or acquired. It is a narrow amendment, but I think it would help the authorities to pursue this matter more clearly.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union

I rise very briefly to support the amendments moved by Mr Grieve, although I have to say I find it extraordinary that we are even having a debate about Prorogation. I hope that the very idea of proroguing Parliament to deny Members of this House the chance to express a view about the Brexit process at the vital moment—whichever side of the debate one is on, it will have enormous implications for the future of our country—will seem to many so outrageous, so underhand and so shocking. I cannot really understand why any Member, when presented with the proposition, would not say, “Well, that is completely out of the question.” It is a direct threat to our ability to have our say and to express our views.

The second point I want to make is that, if the new Prime Minister were to think, “I might be able to get away with it,” and Prorogation were to happen, it is important that he understands—I am confident of this—that there would be many Members of the House who would be determined to sit, meet, debate and express their view anyway. I do not believe that the House of Commons would be silenced in those circumstances. It would profit the Prime Minister nothing if he were to attempt to do that. I hope the idea will disappear into the dustbin of history where it belongs. If we do not succeed in putting the idea there by persuading the new Prime Minister finally to come forward and say, “Okay, I will never do that in any circumstances,” then voting for the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s amendments tonight will be a very important step in helping it on its way.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Let me begin by addressing the issues raised by the right hon. Members for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon). We will return to this theme, so they will forgive me if my response today may be more truncated than I would prefer if there were more time. There can never be a question of moral equivalence between a member of our armed forces and somebody engaged in terrorism on behalf of a paramilitary organisation. We need to make that very clear. Whatever our disagreements, the agreement over the lack of moral equivalence is absolute and we should not be drawn down that track. That said, I am extremely uneasy about the approach taken by both right hon. Members.

The right hon. Member for New Forest East referred to our international commitments. One of our commitments is as a state party to the International Criminal Court and the treaties thereof. Article 29 of the Rome statute makes it clear that crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the Court cannot be subject to a state-imposed statute of limitations. That is an absolute condition of the Rome statute. The right hon. Gentleman looks puzzled. I invite him to check that.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that the ICC, having been set up long after the troubles, does not have retrospective application, even if the hon. Gentleman’s interpretation of the law is correct.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I did not necessarily automatically assume that the right hon. Gentleman was looking for retrospective legislation. That is an interesting point. The reality, however, is that for this state to now adopt retrospectively something that is imposed would be in contravention of article 29 of that statute.

I pray in aid Lady Hermon, who made a point about the role of the police. The role of the police and of the armed forces is very similar. George Hamilton, the outgoing chief constable of the PSNI, has made it clear that he does not believe in any form of statute of limitations. He said:

“There cannot be different rules for different citizens.”

That is a fundamental challenge. The Police Federation for Northern Ireland made the point that it would be an insult to police officers who were killed or injured on duty. This is the real point: in the end, we ask our armed forces to sign an oath to uphold the Queen and Her Majesty’s laws—except for the Royal Navy, ironically, as my hon. Friend Stephen Pound, who served in the Royal Navy, knows. We are talking not about the massive and overwhelming majority who serve faithfully in our armed forces, but about the small minority who transgress the law.

The right hon. Member for Sevenoaks drew a distinction between terrorists and those who are lawfully armed, but those who are lawfully armed and misuse those arms do not deserve any protection. I say to the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for New Forest East that I am not minded to support their amendment, but we will continue to debate this.

Nigel Dodds raised an interesting question about the definition of victims, but it is probably too difficult to debate the whole point today. When I have spoken to victims of terrorism—for example, those in organisations such as WAVE—they have made it clear to me that they want to move on. They believe that, after this amount of time, pragmatism says, “Let’s get on and ensure that those who have been denied those pensions now receive them.” I have a lot of sympathy for that view. They have waited a long time for some form of recognition.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade)

The shadow Secretary of State started by saying that there cannot be moral equivalence between the perpetrators of terrorism and our armed forces. Will he take the opportunity to say, just as clearly, that there should never be moral equivalence between the innocent victims of the criminal acts of another, and people who went out to kill and murder, and ended up accidentally injuring or killing themselves? There cannot be moral equivalence between those two.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I have no difficulty in agreeing with the hon. Lady. The Victims’ Commissioner has sought not to change the definition of victim, which was fixed in 2006, because she also wants to move on. I am sure we will return to that.

On the armed forces covenant, I have considerable sympathy with the arguments made by the right hon. Member for Belfast North. We need to see what a report can bring forward and how far that can be of use without causing other problems.

I must refer to the important amendments in the name of Mr Grieve, which go to the heart of our role as parliamentarians. Parliament can never abrogate its responsibilities and pass them to an Executive, or even to a new Prime Minister appointed by as many as 160,000 of our fellow citizens. That is unconscionable. We must insist that Parliament continues to sit.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman was right to say that nowhere would be as badly affected as Northern Ireland by a no-deal Brexit. I think he said that was “arguable”; it is actually unarguable. It would be catastrophic for security and the economy, and in its capacity to induce terrorism, as well as for the important question of identity. For many reasons, Northern Ireland needs us to prevent a crash-out Brexit. We had that debate yesterday, and I can think of few organisations in Northern Ireland that would disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we cannot afford a no-deal Brexit. The Northern Ireland national farmers union, the CBI, Manufacturing Northern Ireland and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions are all of the view that it would be disastrous. Parliament must be here to protect the people of Northern Ireland, to debate their future, and, in particular, to say that if this House of ours chooses to vote for a no-deal Brexit, it will have made a conscious choice. What we cannot allow is the House to be offered no choice at all, and the people of Northern Ireland to be held hostage to the ideologies of those who do not serve their interests.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View 6:30 pm, 9th July 2019

I ask Tony Lloyd—my hon. Friend—to think very carefully about the message that will come from this place tonight if he, in his rightful place as Opposition spokesman, concludes that he cannot support, and indeed, must vote against, some of the amendments tabled in my name and that of my right hon. Friend Sir Michael Fallon.

These issues are incredibly complex, and no one has suggested that they are not, but I ask my hon. Friend to think about the human element of what is going on. I ask him to think about the reality, rather than the legal methods that could theoretically be applied to people who have abused the system: the reality for hundreds of people in this country. Many are in their 70s and 80s, and some are in their 90s. Some will have dementia, and will have no idea what is going on around them. These are people whose families are trying to support them through this process and who, having simply signed up and served their country, have been caught up in a legal system that has totally failed them. We in this place can come up with plenty of calculations to justify not doing something about this, but it will only ever change—at some point—if we show a bit of courage, the sort of courage that they showed on operations on our behalf, and make clear whose side we are on.

No one has seriously suggested any equivalence, although it has been bandied about, between someone who woke up in Northern Ireland in the 1970s or 1980s and whose objective on that day was to take life, to take innocent life, and those young men and women—and they were young men and women, aged 17, 18, 19 or 20—who were asked to serve in a country that they did not want to go to and had never been to before, and to take part in an operation that they did not really believe in, and who ended up being involved in an incident over which they had very little control. There is no equivalence between those two scenarios, but the fact is that the first group have peace of mind and are leading their elderly lives in peace, while the second group are currently receiving letters asking them to contribute to the costs of very aggressive lawyers and the very aggressive inquests that are currently taking place in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Is it not even more grotesque that these former soldiers can be summoned to an inquest or some legal process and receive no legal back-up from the Army, while those who are initiating cases against them can claim legal aid?

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Ministry of Defence, and this country—our nation, our Government—have been woefully slow in supporting individuals who are going through this process. I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale to think very carefully about the message sent by us —whichever party we are in, we ask these individuals to do our bidding on operations—before voting against amendments that do no more than request a report to start the ball rolling towards a place where there are protections for those who have served on operations in this country.

I will bring my hon. Friend back to the human case of just one individual in my constituency who I have raised time and again, and I make no apology for doing so once more. He has been diagnosed with liver cancer and has been charged; he has turned down treatment so he can fight the case and he will be dead before it comes to court. We are saying as a Parliament, “Thank you for your service,” but we do not quite have the courage to get that over the line and actually show whose side we are on by supporting two very basic but ultimately significant amendments tonight.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Johnny Mercer, and I hope he and his colleagues the right hon. Members for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) recognise that we will be supportive of their amendments.

I rise to speak to amendment 18. I will not refer to amendment 19; I have signed it so we can take as read that it has my support. Amendment 18 requires a report to be brought forward about the implementation of the armed forces covenant in Northern Ireland. Members may remember that I brought forward a private Member’s Bill on 6 February. It was supported by Members of Parliament right across the Chamber and from right across the country, all of whom accept that the armed forces covenant is a national commitment to those who served us. It does not respect devolution; it does not respect borders. It was our way as a nation of saying the service that individuals have given and the sacrifice they themselves have made, and their families in support of them, is worthy of recognition. As has been outlined by my right hon. Friend Nigel Dodds, it does not offer preferential treatment, but it ensures that those who served our country so well do not suffer any disadvantage: they are not precluded from accessing services because they have to move around, for example, or they do not lose out in their children’s applications to schools because they were not living within the catchment area at the time of application.

It is fundamentally wrong, fundamentally immoral, fundamentally unacceptable that the armed forces covenant does not apply equally in Northern Ireland. If every Member of this House accepts that to be the case, it is incumbent upon us all to support this Government bringing forward legislation that will ensure no Minister in a Northern Ireland Executive has the opportunity or is given the freedom to abide by their political prejudice and frustrate the implementation of the armed forces covenant in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade)

Does my hon. Friend agree that this provides a really good opportunity for the British Government to say very clearly to British soldiers from Northern Ireland that they are as valued as British soldiers from any other part of this United Kingdom, and whether or not they get help should not rely on the whims, the bigotry and the hatred of a particular Minister from Sinn Féin in the relevant Department denying the rights and support that those soldiers need?

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

I agree absolutely, and Members who have followed my contributions on this issue over the past number of years will recall time and again that I have shared correspondence that was sent from Michelle O’Neill, the then Health Minister, on 15 December 2016, when she indicated, “I am sorry, the armed forces covenant does not apply here.” She is wrong, but for as long as we refuse to take action, she is allowed to get away with her prejudice infecting the virtue of the armed forces covenant. It is not right.

Time and again, we have had updates in this Chamber and through the Defence Committee, on which it is a privilege to serve, where we hear in armed forces implementation reports that everything is great and that each of the eleven councils in Northern Ireland has an armed forces champion. Yet nobody ever then seeks to realise that our councils in Northern Ireland have no responsibility for health, for social services, for housing or for education. Indeed, in all the operative Departments where there is a meaningful a role to play and a meaningful gift to give to those who have served us so well, that responsibility falls to the Northern Ireland Executive. How bizarre!

My right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North has relayed to the Chamber the fact that the head of the civil service said in a letter that he was sorry he could not attend the Veterans Board, because it was not previously agreed by the Executive. We are discussing an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill that says that if it is in the public interest, senior departmental officials can take decisions, yet Northern Ireland is left with a representative from the Northern Ireland Office, which has no ministerial responsibility for or operational involvement in our health, education, social services or schools—none—yet we rely on the Northern Ireland Office when we are discussing a Bill that gives a senior departmental official the ability to decide to attend. I think that that is clearly in the public interest.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

I thank my fellow member of the Defence Committee for giving way. Like him, I believe that it is a particular privilege to serve on that Committee. Can he confirm that the decision by the permanent under-secretary at the NIO not to attend the Veterans Board was discussed at our Committee only today and that, to put it mildly, we took a rather dim view of his view?

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

That is indeed correct. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention, although it was not the permanent under-secretary at the Northern Ireland Office but the head of the civil service in Northern Ireland. Where the issue arises, the Northern Ireland Office does attend, but it has no involvement in the issues that matter most.

I want to put on record my disappointment yet again with the contribution from the shadow Secretary of State, Tony Lloyd. When considering amendment 19, he accepted that there was no moral equivalence between a terrorist and a victim, but when faced with an amendment that he could support this evening, rather than saying, “I accept there is no moral equivalence and therefore I am going to do something about it,” what was his response? He said that the victims wanted to “move on”. I think there is an opportunity for the shadow Secretary of State to reflect on that, given the comments that were made yesterday in this Chamber about the partisan nature of amendments that were considered in the earlier debate. Given Labour Members’ previous commitment always to play a constructive role when dealing with sensitive issues in Northern Ireland, they have doubled down this evening. That is hugely regrettable, and it is worthy of consideration and further reflection.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson DUP Chief Whip, Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business in the House of Commons)

I just want to add to the point that my hon. Friend is making. We have heard a lot from Opposition Front Benchers today about rights and about the need to ensure that Northern Ireland citizens are treated the same as citizens in the rest of the UK when it comes to rights, yet surely we in this House all agree that veterans of our armed forces have the right not to be disadvantaged by virtue of their service. Opposition Front Benchers are not prepared to do anything to address the fact that veterans in Northern Ireland are disadvantaged by virtue of their service. They have to go to the end of the queue when they leave service, and that is not right. That is not what the military covenant says, and the Opposition should reflect on that and do something about the rights of veterans in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

I agree with my right hon. Friend, although in fairness, the comments that we were talking about attached to the amendment on victims definition, and the shadow Secretary of State did indeed indicate that he would look at the report brought forward by the Government. But time moves on, and this is not a new issue. Today and yesterday, we have talked about the implementation of rights, and if something is right for armed forces personnel and veterans who live in Rochdale, it should be right for those who live in East Belfast and across Northern Ireland. I am grateful for the time that you have allowed, Dame Rosie, and I will now take my seat.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

I rise briefly to speak to amendments 21 and 22, which are in my name. In relation to the report under clause 3(1), amendment 21 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the law relating to gambling and on support for those experiencing problem gambling. Amendment 22, similarly, would place a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the assistance and support offered to victims of human trafficking in Northern Ireland.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 6:45 pm, 9th July 2019

I should probably start by formally begging to move that clauses 1 to 4 stand part of the Bill. If I do not say that, bad things will probably happen and we will not get to the important part of our proceedings.

I begin with the four amendments tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, which would require the first progress report under clause 3 to be made on 4 September, not 21 October. As he mentioned, fortnightly reports would then be required from 9 October until 18 December if an Executive had not been formed. Any report under clause 3 or any regulations under clause 2 would be subject to an approval motion in this House and a “take note” motion at the other end of the corridor.

The Government agree that Parliament must be kept closely informed of progress towards restoring an Executive in Northern Ireland, which is precisely what clause 3 provides for, and we are willing to consider or accept various other reporting obligations, as I made clear in response to the earlier group of amendments. I continue that good will and positive approach under this second group of amendments.

Given the fundamental importance of these issues, I am happy to confirm that we accept my right hon. and learned Friend’s amendment 14, on the progress report to Parliament on or before 4 September. However, I have to disagree with him and oppose his other amendments.

The requirement for regular fortnightly reporting throughout the autumn, subject to a vote on each occasion, would simply be an excessive and unnecessary procedure. I also note that the requirement for fortnightly reports and motions would attach to many of the other reporting obligations on different topics that hon. and right hon. Members seek to add to clause 3. The amount of parliamentary time we booked up throughout September and into the autumn, should the Executive in Stormont not have been created, would start to mount.

I appreciate that what lies behind my right hon. and learned Friend’s amendments is not solely a concern to keep abreast of the progress towards restoring the devolved Government in Northern Ireland. He is very clear that his interests are a great deal broader and are primarily motivated by concerns about Brexit. We happily accept amendment 14, but, for the reasons I have laid out, I hope he will understand that we are not minded to accept his other three amendments, which I hope he will not press after he has had a chance to consider my remarks.

I thank my right hon. Friends the Members for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) and for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) for tabling amendments 6 and 7 on veterans. There is broad agreement, after a couple of urgent questions and a couple of debates in Westminster Hall and in the House over the past month, that the current legacy system is not working well for pretty much anyone. The system has to change, and it has to provide better outcomes. The system has to ensure that everyone is treated fairly, particularly the armed forces and police officers.

The draft Bill on which we consulted last year would require a new body investigating legacy cases to do so in a fair, balanced and proportionate manner. We have just finished consulting, and we have published the responses in the past week. Interestingly, there were strong and widespread views against either an amnesty or immunity from prosecution, and both my right hon. Friends were keen, and rightly so, to make clear the difference between those two proposals and the ideas proposed in their amendments.

There is widespread concern about former soldiers being pursued by vexatious and unfair court cases 40 or 50 years after they finish serving. Amendments 6 and 7 would require the Secretary of State to report on progress towards introducing a presumption of non-prosecution, and they would require the Attorney General for Northern Ireland to produce guidance on legacy cases with a presumption in favour of prosecution in cases where a weapon had been unlawfully obtained. That is a worthy attempt to make a distinction and to unravel the tendency in some cases for people to try to create moral equivalence between terrorists and Her Majesty’s armed forces.

It is important to be clear that the specifics of the particular or associated issues that are being proposed here did not form part of the Stormont House agreement. They were not recommended or supported widely in the responses to the consultation either. There are also some other technical concerns about whether the UK Government can direct the Attorney General for Northern Ireland—I think that is problematic. In principle, however, the point is this: I intend to take the two amendments in the spirit in which I think they are intended. I think they are intended to be a valid and sincere attempt to move this issue forward.

It is time and past time that a solution was found to this issue. Whether or not the precise details of these specific proposals are approved of in all their details in the report or approved of only in part and other things perhaps brought forward instead is beside the point. The important thing is that these two reports could serve as a way to advance that cause, identify solutions and move this forward. It is overdue that we do so and I am delighted to support the amendments.

I now move on to the points made about the armed forces covenant, which several right hon. and hon. Members, particularly from the Northern Ireland Benches, put eloquently and with great passion. I am dealing here with new clauses 15 and 16, and amendment 18. As we have heard, the armed forces covenant is hardly a new policy and it has always extended, in principle, to Northern Ireland. We continue to need to strengthen the delivery of the covenant in Northern Ireland. We have heard today some concerning and sometimes shocking examples of occasions when it could and should have been applied but had not been. The principle of the covenant was formalised in the Armed Forces Act 2011. In accordance with the Act, the Secretary of State for Defence is legally obliged to publish an annual report, which sets out the key deliverables under the covenant. This report incorporates progress in delivering the covenant across the whole UK, including Northern Ireland. We also ensure that covenant delivery is kept on track through a number of committees and boards.

Everyone in this House has, as our Government and our Democratic Unionist party confidence and supply partners certainly have, consistently demonstrated a commitment to upholding the principles and universality of the covenant, which is evident in the work reported in each of the annual reports laid in the House. We will continue to report progress to Parliament, we recognise our commitment to our confidence and supply partners to have full implementation of the armed forces covenant across the UK, and we are committed to looking at further legislation if that is required.

Amendment 19 and new clause 18 relate to the definition of a “victim” and stand in the name of Nigel Dodds. The definition of a victim is laid down in legislation—the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, which is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly. As a devolved matter, any change to this definition would need to be agreed with the parties in the Executive and, ultimately, by the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Government recognise that the definition of a victim is something that a number of right hon. and hon. Members have campaigned on for a number of years, and we commit to looking UK-wide at how we can make sure the victims are duly recognised and protected in law. I hope that, with this commitment and the one I made previously, the right hon. Gentleman is willing not to press his amendment.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade)

It is important to highlight what I believe is not an accurate description of the legal position. The 2006 order refers only to matters pertaining to the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors in Northern Ireland. There is no general definition of victim, and our argument is that a victim in Northern Ireland is the same as a victim across the UK. Sadly, there are many victims of terrorism across the UK, and this should rightly be a matter for the British Government, to be legislated on here.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I hope that the commitments I have just made and the words I was able to adduce have reassured the right hon. Member for Belfast North and his colleagues, and that on that basis they will be willing not to press their amendments. I think we are in agreement on the issue, but I am sure they will intervene on me if not.

Finally, let me turn to amendments 21 and 22, to which my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce spoke briefly and eloquently late on in our proceedings. The amendments would require reports on gambling and the progress towards looking after gambling addicts, and on people who were victims of human trafficking. On the basis that we have been willing to consider other reports, I am of course willing to respond to that request and to accept the amendments.

I hope we have managed to dispose of the various amendments in reasonably good order, that everybody will treat the Government’s approach to those amendments in as constructive and positive a way as possible, and that we will therefore be able to dispose of the remaining business in Committee easily and straightforwardly. I therefore wish to do something quite unusual for a politician, which is to draw my remarks to a close, stop talking and sit down.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.