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 James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 4:00 pm, 27th April 2021

I stated on Second Reading that this is a good Bill and my view remains exactly the same. As we know, the other place wanted torture, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity excluded from relevant offences. We disagreed initially, but amendments 1A to 1Q from the MOD, whereby breaches of the Geneva convention and genocide are excluded from the offences, are very welcome. This Government have sent the clear message that they stand against all breaches of human rights in conflict.

My stance throughout this whole process has been very clear. The supposition from some quarters that British troops are somehow predisposed to committing war crimes wantonly and that the UK has somehow given them a “get out of jail free” card is absurd. The MOD already has one of the most effective and robust service justice systems in the world. The presumption against prosecution also in no way affects the UK’s ability to conduct investigations and prosecutions into any crime, including war crimes; it is a high threshold, not a bar. However, as Baroness Goldie stated in the other place only yesterday, there was significant concern that through exclusion of serious crimes, such as sexual offences, this Bill would run the risk of undermining the work that the Government have put in to push the UK as a force for good around the world. I agree. To be worthy of its pre-eminence, I concede that this House should absolutely agree to Lords amendment 1R.

Lord Dannatt’s revision to Lords amendment 5, Lords amendment 5B, is also worthy of consideration, but I want to point out at this juncture that service personnel are entitled to legal support at public expense when they face criminal allegations and civil claims. The Armed Forces Bill brings the armed forces covenant into statute, and there is unrivalled medical support, including mental health support, available to all personnel and veterans. I agree, again, with the Government’s continuing stance that the amendment is not necessary, and I will vote with the Government on all occasions today.