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 4:15 pm on 27th April 2021.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 4:15 pm, 27th April 2021

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I echo the comments by others in relation to those who served in Northern Ireland and the protection that we need. The Minister has responded on that very positively, but we also need a timescale for that to happen.

In the short time that I have, I want to refer to the legal, pastoral and mental health support provided to service personnel who are involved in investigations or litigation arising from overseas operations. I am aware of this because I am aware of a young fellow in my constituency who served overseas and fought with many demons in his own life. I am not blaming the MOD for it, but I ask the question: could we do more? Lords amendment 5B on the duty of care to service personnel could give them the level of care that is earned from putting the uniform on. Subsection (6) of the new clause inserted by the amendment states:

“In subsection (1) “duty of care” means both the legal and moral obligation of the Ministry of Defence to ensure the wellbeing of service personnel.”

When it comes to mental health and the effects on people’s families and lives, our moral obligation should and must be to go the extra mile. That is why I support the premise of the amendment. It reminds us of our moral obligation, which is as important as our legal obligation, to those who serve in uniform.

A five-year programme of study has been carried out in tandem with Queen’s University. The results show—and I want to have this on the record, in Hansard—that more than a third of all military veterans in Northern Ireland are likely to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Those are the stats, according to this study. More than 1,300 veterans responded to the survey, with 36% reporting signs of PTSD and the same number reporting problems with alcohol.

We have many charities in Northern Ireland that help out. I think of Beyond the Battlefield, in particular, which reaches out to those whom other charities perhaps miss; that is not to take away from the importance of other charities. Some of those cases are incredibly complex, and there are lots of issues for not just the individuals but family members. We need to address the duty of care, both morally and legally.

This is not helped by the fact that those who served in Northern Ireland continue to see no movement. They seek protection, which is very important to have in place for those who served in Northern Ireland. I know that the Minister has given a commitment, but could he tell us where discussions are with the Secretary of State?

I usually say that I will not rehearse previous speeches, but this, I believe, bears repeating. Veterans who served in uniform and operated legally with honour, great courage and great fortitude deserve to be treated with equality. I say to the Government: please do the right thing and bring legislation on this issue forward in the Queen’s Speech in May. Let us show that our moral and legal obligation extends to those who have served on every occasion and from every region of this great nation of ours, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.