Schedule 1 - Excluded offences for the purposes of section 6

Part of Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 27th April 2021.

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Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence) 3:32 pm, 27th April 2021

I am grateful for the hon. Member’s question. I can reassure him with confidence that we are aiming for a gold standard in welfare provision. It does not require legislation. It requires constant improvement and a deep interest across Government, and that is what the Ministry of Defence is committed to delivering alongside the Office for Veterans’ Affairs.

Additionally, we are deeply concerned about the potential unintended negative effects of Lords amendment 5B if it is included in the Bill. Notions of pastoral and moral duties are extremely difficult to adequately define, and there is a real risk that attempting to do so will lead to more, rather than less, litigation and greater uncertainty for our armed forces people. We are also concerned that, as investigations and allegations arise and often occur on operations, the amendment might have the unintended consequence of undermining our operational effectiveness.

The Government do agree with Lord Dannatt on the need to set out clearly the benefits of the Bill to the armed forces community. He has asked for a commitment that the Government will communicate the measures of the Bill down the chain of command. I am, of course, delighted to give that assurance now. We will ensure that all service personnel understand the positive effects of the Bill and the legal protection it affords them. We will explain how the measures in the Bill are beneficial to individual service personnel who have deployed or will deploy on overseas operations.

Part 1 of the Bill will reduce the number and length of criminal investigations, and our armed forces personnel should be reassured that the unique context of overseas operations will be taken into account when criminal allegations against them are being investigated. The longstop measures in part 2 of the Bill mean that we should never again see the industrial scale of civil claims that we saw in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan. These measures are delivering on our manifesto commitment and our solemn pledge to protect our armed forces personnel and our veterans and to bring to an end the shameful cycle of vexatious legal claims brought against our finest asset—our defence people. Together, both parts of the Bill will give greater certainty to service personnel that they will not have the shadow of legal proceedings hanging over them for decades after they return from doing their duty on overseas operations.

We will be clear, of course, that the Bill will not stop service personnel being held to the highest standards that we would expect from all our armed forces, and that they will still be subject to domestic and international law when they deploy on overseas operations. Similar, we will make it clear that the limitation longstops will also apply to claims by them that are connected with overseas operations, and emphasise that they should bring any civil claims connected with overseas operations within six years of either the event or their date of knowledge. The vast majority have historically already done so, but it is important that this message is understood so that, in future, an even greater percentage of service personnel bring their claims in a timely manner.

In summary, the Bill delivers for our armed forces and protects our people, but I do not believe that setting a standard for the duty of care in the Bill is necessary or desirable, so I urge the House this afternoon to disagree with Lords amendment 5B.