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 4:00 pm on 27th April 2021.

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Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (PPS to the Westminster Leader) 4:00 pm, 27th April 2021

May I first take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on their new position? It is always good to see Dochertys in very lofty positions, even ones that are lofty in the wrong direction.

The Bill was supposed to tackle vexatious claims, yet the evidence received, both written and in Committee, pointed to the problems arising from flawed investigations. Nothing in the Bill improves service justice or tackles repeated investigations. The Bill was an opportunity to overhaul the system, but that is an opportunity now lost. Unless the Government establish proper structures and processes for investigations, including independent investigators, personnel will remain vulnerable to repeated investigations and indeed investigations by the International Criminal Court.

Still, the Government have been forced into significant concessions in other areas of the Bill because of the work of Members in the other place. The Government agreed last week that genocide, crimes against humanity and torture would be excluded from legal safeguards in the Bill. The threat of a further possible defeat at the hands of peers has, I am glad to hear, forced the Government also to exclude war crimes from the presumption against prosecution. Although we on the SNP Benches recognise this change, it should not have taken until the last gasp of this Bill for the Government to make it.

In their refusal to listen to evidence presented in Committee and to the calls of Members of this House, the Government, at least from our perspective, have profoundly damaged the UK and Parliament’s reputation internationally. We also see that the final version of the Bill retains the six-year longstop on civil claims against the MOD, denying members of the armed forces justice in valid civil claims. Indeed, it will significantly disadvantage those who have served abroad. The House should be making it easier for personnel to make claims when the MOD has been negligent, but this legislation seems to be crafted especially to protect the MOD and not the personnel themselves.

Lords amendment 5B ensures care and support for personnel involved in investigations, and every Member of this place should be supporting it. The House knows from discussions with personnel that the structures currently in place are not working for those facing prosecution, and we have seen that in evidence to the Armed Forces Bill Committee, of which I am a member. Finally, if that support is already there and it is not working, we need to strengthen it through statutory requirements. I wonder whether the Minister and the Government are willing to do that.