Armed Forces Veterans

Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Conservative, North West Norfolk

What steps his Department is taking to support armed forces veterans in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Before I begin, may I pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, on what I believe is—I am not sure—your penultimate day in the Chair? As I have said before, despite the odd disagreement in my past life as Government Chief Whip, your energy, drive and commitment to this role has been without parallel. I hope you will indulge me if I also pay tribute to two other departing Members with a strong interest in Northern Ireland: first, Stephen Pound, who has served his constituents with good grace for over 20 years and clearly cares deeply about Northern Ireland and its people; and secondly, my ministerial colleague my right hon. Friend Mr Hurd, who has been in indispensable to me since I took over this role. He has been critical in driving forward preparations for Northern Ireland’s exit from the EU, and also in his tireless work for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. I would also like to wish all colleagues who are leaving Parliament my best wishes; as Chief Whip, I saw at first hand how tough this period of political history has been for all colleagues.

The UK Government are fully committed to the covenant. A veterans strategy was published last year and a consultation event held in Belfast in conjunction with the veterans support office. I am now working closely with colleagues to develop a comprehensive response to that consultation so that we can ensure that every veteran receives the support they need and the recognition they deserve.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Conservative, North West Norfolk

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply, but when is the pursuit of brave Northern Ireland veterans and former members of the security services going to come to an end? Is the Secretary of State aware that the Ministry of Defence supports a presumption against prosecution when a case has already been fully investigated, unless there is new evidence? May I urge him to support that proposal and make it an election pledge?

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

My hon. Friend will be aware that there is a consultation going on, as he has referred to. The Northern Ireland Office is looking at the Northern Ireland challenges on legacy. These are very sensitive issues—the system is not working, and we will be reporting back to this House over the coming weeks.

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

May I, on behalf of my party, extend our best wishes to Stephen Pound and the Minister of State, to Mr Hurd, who has been incredibly helpful to me on a particular issue and, indeed, to Kate Hoey, who has been a recurring strong voice for Northern Ireland?

The Secretary of State said three weeks ago that no party in Northern Ireland would have a veto, yet Sinn Féin used its veto on the extension of the armed forces covenant in Northern Ireland; it does not apply in whole or in part, because of Sinn Féin’s sectarian intransigence. Will the Secretary of State keenly pursue the full implementation of the covenant in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The Government are committed to the armed forces covenant. As I said, we are engaging with the consultation that has occurred. We are clear on our responsibilities; the covenant is working across Northern Ireland, but we obviously need to ensure that it is working as efficiently and productively as possible for members of the armed forces.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

In the 30 years since I attended the Remembrance service at Enniskillen after the tragedy and atrocity there, there has been recognition of the service by nationalists, Catholics and Irish people in the great war and in the second world war. Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to encourage the joint remembrance of a joint sacrifice?

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I will be joining Remembrance Day in Enniskillen in a week or so, and I will be thinking of all the people who have contributed in the way that my hon. Friend refers to.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Leader of the Independent Group for Change

Further to the question from Gavin Robinson, may I gently say to the Secretary of State —and I apologise for all the grief I have given him over the past few years—that, on this very important matter, when I was the Veterans Minister I had the great honour of visiting Northern Ireland, and I have to say to him that the covenant, which the coalition Government did so much to advance in that time, has just not happened in Northern Ireland, and it is because of sectarian differences? That is not fair, and those in Northern Ireland must have exactly the same rights under the covenant as those in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question and pay tribute to her for the work she did in that role. I am aware that there is more to do, which is why we have been consulting on how the covenant is being implemented. There are things to improve, and we will make sure that we improve them.