Immunity for Soldiers — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 20th May 2019.

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Photo of Damien Moore Damien Moore Conservative, Southport 4:30 pm, 20th May 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered e-petition 243947 relating to immunity for soldiers.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I extend my gratitude to Karen Webb-James for starting this e-petition, which has attracted over 146,000 signatures, including 238 from my constituency, and calls on the Government not to

“prosecute the military for its work in Northern Ireland”,

and to prevent

“criminal investigations after a period of time.”

I am pleased to address this topic and the sentiment behind this e-petition. Through the Defence Committee’s 2017 report, “Investigations into fatalities in Northern Ireland involving British military personnel”, and written evidence to the Committee from individuals such as Professor Richard Ekins, we have learned more about the extent of this issue, and we have discovered that there could easily be prosecution of our armed forces personnel who were involved in other, more modern, theatres of conflict. I know that right hon. and hon. Members will want to refer to those instances. I pay tribute to all those who have served in operations, especially those who have died in the service of our country.

Given the nature of the petition, I am concentrating my remarks on the situation in Northern Ireland; I hope hon. Members will see that there is good reason. In recent days, the Government have unintentionally drawn a distinction, when it comes to immunity, between those who have served in Northern Ireland and those who have served in other theatres. I hope to address that lack of parity later.

The Government responded to the e-petition on 1 April, stating:

“This Government is unequivocal in our admiration for the Armed Forces whose sacrifices ensured terrorism would never succeed. However, our approach to the past must be consistent with the rule of law…
This Government will always salute the heroism and bravery of the soldiers and police officers who served to protect the people of Northern Ireland, and in too many cases paid the ultimate price. It is only due to the courageous efforts of our security forces that we have the relative peace and stability that Northern Ireland enjoys today. Our security forces ensured that Northern Ireland’s future will only ever be decided by democracy and consent, and never by violence. Over 250,000 people served in Northern Ireland during Operation Banner, the longest continuous military deployment in our country’s history, the vast majority with courage, professionalism and great distinction. This Government will never forget the debt of gratitude we owe them.”

Despite the Government’s unwavering gratitude to our armed forces, there remains a disproportionately high, and arguably unnecessary, number of investigations in the light of the number of killings attributed to the armed forces in Northern Ireland. In a speech in this Chamber in 2017, Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson said:

“The reality today is that 90% of the resources of the legacy investigation branch…are devoted to investigating 10% of the deaths during the troubles, and 10% of its resources are devoted to investigating 90% of the deaths.”—[Official Report, 10 January 2017;
Vol. 619, c. 68WH.]

This e-petition seeks to address that issue.