Extension of period for forming an Executive

Part of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 9th July 2019.

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Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon Conservative, Sevenoaks 6:15 pm, 9th July 2019

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.