Schedule 1 - Excluded offences for the purposes of section 6

Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 3rd November 2020.

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Amendment proposed: 1, page 12, line 6, at end insert—

“(13A) An offence under section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (torture).”—(Mr David Davis.)

This amendment is one of a series designed to ensure that the Bill’s “triple lock” provisions to block prosecutions would not apply to torture and related offences under UK law. This suite of amendments would ensure that the existing offences of torture – contained in the 1988 Criminal Justice Act and in other parts of UK law incorporating longstanding laws of war – would not be included within the Bill’s “triple lock” against prosecutions of UK soldiers.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 158 Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill — Schedule 1 - Excluded offences for the purposes of section 6

Aye: 267 MPs

No: 334 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 269, Noes 334.

Question accordingly negatived.

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.

Third Reading

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence 6:47 pm, 3rd November 2020

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

First, I acknowledge the hard work that has got us to this point today and the thousands who responded to our public consultation and shaped the measures in the Bill, as well as the legal and legislative experts who have ensured that it provides measured and calibrated protections. I thank Members from all parties who have participated in debating the Bill’s merits, including in Committee. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence People and Veterans. His passion and determination to do the right thing by personnel and veterans is genuine and his commitment to his cause is unwavering. Such central determination and duty should be a lesson to us all.

The Bill is more than just a manifesto commitment; it is a necessary and overdue strengthening of the legal framework for dealing with the vexatious claims and repeated investigations that have arisen from recent overseas military operations. There have been many inaccurate and wild accusations about the measures in the Bill. It does not prevent armed forces personnel from being prosecuted for crimes they may have committed. It does not remove prosecutors’ independence or ability to prosecute on the basis of any new or compelling evidence of any crime at any time. It does not undermine the UK’s adherence to the UN convention against torture, its commitment to international law or its willingness to investigate and prosecute any alleged criminal offences. As such, it does not increase the likelihood of International Criminal Court prosecutions.

But do not take my word for it; take the words of the former Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin QC, probably the lawyer most experienced in dealing with legacy military and security investigations across the United Kingdom, who said in a paper published this September that

“the Bill does not create, or come close to creating, ‘de facto immunity’ for serving or former service personnel in respect of serious crimes.”

However, the Bill does raise the threshold for prosecution, thereby reducing the likelihood of investigations being repeatedly reopened without new and compelling evidence. It does ensure recognition of the unique circumstances of overseas operations, including the constant threat to life and repeated exposure to traumatic events. It does take into consideration the public interest in criminal and civil cases’ being brought to a timely resolution, so that the courts can assess them while memories are fresh and evidence is more readily available. That is entirely in line with the principles of the ECHR. In short, the measures do provide greater protection from the likes of Phil Shiner Solicitors, whose motivations were not justice but money.

It is the right thing to do to defend the men and women who risk their lives to protect us. It is for all these reasons that the House should support the Bill’s Third Reading. But it is just one piece in the jigsaw to fix this issue. Let us not forget that the overwhelming number of these incidents that triggered the pursuit of veterans happened under Labour’s stewardship of defence. They failed to keep training compliance with the ECHR. They failed to equip personnel properly. They failed to reform the service justice system to ensure that they were ECHR-article 2-compliant, including Mr Jones, who was a Minister in that Ministry at that time, so it is a bit rich—

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

No, I will not. It is a bit rich for them to come here today and condemn the legislation. On the other hand, it is we who have commissioned—

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman has had plenty to say on the Bill; I will not give way. We do not have time to conclude these exchanges. On the other hand—[Interruption.] They can shout me down, but I will just continue to use up Third Reading time, and I will then listen to other speeches. I will not give way; I have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister has now added mind-reading to his many skills. The Minister, who is actually a good friend of mine, has just made an accusation against me and has not given me the right to reply to it. It was his Government, in 2010, who set up IHAT and Northmoor, not the Labour Government.

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

I do not want the point of order to become a subject of debate, but obviously—[Interruption.] Thank you; I can cope. Obviously, the Secretary of State has referred to the right hon. Gentleman, and he may feel it appropriate to give way.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence

It is a shame that the right hon. Gentleman used up more debating time by raising a bogus point of order, but nevertheless, in case Opposition Members think the way to conduct a Third Reading is to shout people down, I will repeat that this legislation is one very important part of the jigsaw. We must not forget, given the point raised by the Opposition about the thoroughness of the investigations, that it was not under their stewardship that the investigative capability of our armed forces was strengthened; it was not under their stewardship that the training for men and women about detention of suspects was improved; it was not under Labour’s stewardship that article 2 compliance was met, often, on some of these investigations that allowed those lawyers to come back and repeat inquests, inquiries and investigations into our veterans.

On the other hand, it is we, a Conservative Government, who have commissioned and started implementing a service justice review programme, who appointed a respected former judge to review and scrutinise the investigative process, and who have brought legislation to actually do something about it.

The Government have listened to many of the contributions throughout the Bill’s progress, but we have been unable to accept the amendments because they would have undermined rather than strengthened the Bill. In the case of the Opposition, they are simply, as it turned out, opposed to its aims, as Momentum has boasted today.

Despite all the warm words and sympathy, the Labour leopard has not changed its spots. In this week of all weeks, with Remembrance Sunday approaching, veterans up and down the country will note Labour’s opposition and recognise what fair-weather friends they are. However, this Government have been determined and resolute in acting to protect our armed forces, and that is why I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 6:38 pm, 3rd November 2020

We all want the same thing—Labour, the Government, the public, the armed forces: we all want to protect British troops and British values, and that should not be a matter of party politics. It is simply wrong to make debate on the Bill divisive, or to brand those who challenge Ministers on the content of the Bill as somehow standing against British troops.

This is a Bill to deal with long-running problems that have arisen under successive Governments—Labour and Conservative—and the Minister in charge was right when he just said that we must do better, but we can do much better than this Bill as it stands. We want this to be a Bill that protects British troops and their right to justice and a Bill that protects Britain’s reputation as a force for good in the world, upholding universal human rights and a rules-based international order.

In truth, the closer people look at this legislation, the less they like it. Two things have become clear since Second Reading. First, this is a dishonest and damaging Bill that does not do what it says on the tin. It entirely fails to deal with the main problem, which is baseless and repeated investigations and, worse, it breaches the armed forces covenant, it risks British troops being dragged before the International Criminal Court, and it does more to protect the MOD that it does our armed forces personnel. Secondly, despite a growing cross-party concern and chorus of criticism, especially from those with military experience or connections, Ministers are in denial about the flaws in this Bill. With the arrogance of an 80-seat majority, they dismiss those who argue for amendment as disingenuous.

This demands a signal of how serious we see these flaws as being, which is why we will vote against Third Reading. We want our troops to be better protected. We want our British military to be held in the highest regard around the world. We want our British justice system to set standards that others follow. It is because we passionately believe in these values that we cannot accept this Bill as it stands.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence) 6:56 pm, 3rd November 2020

I also thank the Clerks and the staff of the House who have worked on the Bill and the Library staff who have worked hard to ensure that Members are briefed properly. I want to mention Clorinda Luck, our own researcher, who has put a lot of work into this as well.

I echo much of what the shadow Secretary of State has said. We all wanted to solve the Phil Shiner problem. I do not think that any of us wants to see Phil Shiner mark 2, but this was not the way to do it. The Minister, with whom I enjoy these exchanges, has let himself down. He could have had a chance, as he said he wanted on Second Reading, to bring together all the Members of the House who wanted to solve the problem, and he did not accept one single amendment. On arithmetic, he might win this evening, but his powers of persuasion and politics clearly need a lot more polishing than he thinks. When this legislation comes forward on investigations next year, I hope that he will look back at the Hansard of this debate and at how he conducted the passage of the Bill and do it differently next time. He has good will in the House that I fear he has squandered irreparably, especially in the passage tonight. This Bill does not protect the armed forces; it risks them being dragged in front of the ICC. If he is happy with that as his legacy, that is for him to resolve, but it is not something that we can support. For that reason, we will be against the Bill in the Lobby tonight.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 6:58 pm, 3rd November 2020

May I too thank the Bill Committee Clerks, who worked very hard? I congratulate the Minister for Defence People and Veterans on his excellent reading of his briefs in Committee and today.

This is sad, because the Bill is fatally flawed. It will take rights away from veterans, which cannot be right, and it will lead to our international reputation being at stake. It does not solve the problem, which is investigations. That could have been put right in the Bill, but unfortunately, the Minister is not prepared to listen. He says that he is prepared to work with people; the exact opposite has been the truth throughout the passage of the Bill.

As for the Secretary of State trying to blame all this on a wicked Labour Government, it was a Labour Government who met the armed forces pay review every year and ensured that defence expenditure kept pace with inflation. It was his Government who, in coalition, put IHAT and Northmoor in place in 2010. When these cases were going on when I was a Minister, it was Conservative Members who were asking why we were not investigating them more. There is selective memory on the Government Benches. We had an opportunity to get a good Bill that would address the issues and improve the situation for veterans, and that has been missed because of the arrogance of the Minister who has led it through the House.

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 23 September).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Division number 159 Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill — Schedule 1 - Excluded offences for the purposes of section 6

Aye: 345 MPs

No: 255 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 345, Noes 260.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.