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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:48 pm on 20th May 2019.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 4:48 pm, 20th May 2019

It is a pleasure to be called so early in the debate. I take your guidance about not speaking about individual circumstances, Mrs Moon. My purpose is to give a voice to the many veterans in Plymouth who have attended my surgeries and stopped me in the street to raise their concerns about what is happening. There is a real sense of betrayal among many veterans with regard to what is going on with veterans of Northern Ireland—not just among those who served there, but among those who wore a uniform anywhere. They feel that an attack on one has become an attack on all.

Those veterans have asked me to pass on their genuine concerns. In particular, they feel that the words spoken to date by the Prime Minister and by Government Ministers have been hollow—they were not meant. There is a sense that when veterans are needed for electoral purposes, there are lots of warm words about supporting them, but when those people who served our country need guidance and wrap-around support from their Government—the people who sent them into conflict and harm’s way in the first place—that is absent.

I would be grateful if the Minister set out answers to some of the questions that I have been asked. The first is about what new evidence means. A number of the reasons given for going after veterans relate to new evidence, but the definition of that is something that many of the veterans who have spoken to me struggle to understand. When new evidence from the past does not look that new or evidential, what does it mean now? That is not a matter of prejudging the guilt or otherwise of any individual but of understanding the legal framework within which any decisions may be taken.

What support are the Government—be it the Ministry of Defence or any other part of Government—providing to veterans to enable them to gain support? A number of the veterans who have contacted me are very old: something that my hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth also mentioned. In any other circumstance, we would be providing support for them because of their vulnerability. Strength and stoicism in this matter cannot be given as a granted because of the age of the veterans and the severity of what is taking place.

I have not met a single veteran who has said that someone who breaks the law should not be prosecuted. Indeed, every single one of them has reinforced to me, time and again, that the UK armed forces are the very best in the world because they uphold the law, are trained in what is right and wrong, and understand what is a legal order and what is an illegal one. That sense of training and duty is very important.

Why are the decisions on this matter not going up the chain of command? Veterans have raised a question about how those being looked at now, in the round, are part of a command structure. At what point does the command structure come into play—those politicians and senior officers who may or may not have given orders or set an engagement framework within which anyone serving in Northern Ireland will have operated?