I think the hon. Gentleman is right, and I thank him for his comments about me. I am one of the lucky ones; I am a member of a party of 10 MPs, but I have not faced what my colleagues or their families have faced. I have not faced the threat that they endured for many years, and I am grateful for that. Society in Northern Ireland has moved on, but fear of invoking something that is wrong cannot be right. It cannot be the path that our Government walk.
There was some suggestion over the weekend and last week that Northern Ireland’s not being included in the statute of limitations was the Democratic Unionist party’s fault. I have heard said over the past six months, “The confidence and supply partners are holding back the expansion of the proposal,” but let me nail that myth today. Anyone who serves with me on the Defence Committee knows my position and that of my party. We will never stand up for an amnesty that equates terrorists with service personnel, but we will work for and provide the protection that our service personnel need.
I have a letter here that we sent to the Prime Minister on
“As we have done in the past, we reiterate again that we will vigorously oppose any attempt to introduce an amnesty for the criminal actions of illegal terrorist organisations. There can be no legal or moral equivalence made between the armed forces acting under the rule of law and terrorists who acted outside the law. Affording legal protection in the form of a statute of limitations or similar mechanism to the armed forces and those who served alongside them including the Royal Ulster Constabulary, will not mean an amnesty for anyone. This was the conclusion of the Defence Select Committee and it is a point of view we will uphold.”
I simply want to share that for clarity.
We should not be surprised that we face this challenge. Governments of various hues find it within their gift to respond to the calls of armed service personnel only when the cost of not doing so is higher than the cost of doing so. That is true in my experience of the armed forces covenant in Northern Ireland, where we have Ministers who, because of their political prejudice, say, “I’m sorry; the armed forces covenant does not apply here.” I have shared with Members in this House correspondence from Michelle O’Neill, the leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, who wrote just that when she was Northern Ireland’s Minister for Health—“The armed forces covenant does not apply here.” She was wrong. It was a national commitment. Do we have a Government who are prepared to enforce that national commitment and repay the trust and the service of our armed forces personnel in Northern Ireland? No, we do not—at least, not yet.
When Joanna Lumley campaigned for Gurkhas who sought the right of abode in this country if they had served before 1997, the Government said no continually. It was only in the dying throes of the Gordon Brown Government that they finally acquiesced, because not doing so was causing them too much trouble in the run-up to an election. That is not how we should honour those who protected us.
I want to share some context—for the rest of this debate, not for the rest of my speech—about Bloody Sunday. I recognise entirely what was said at the start of the debate, and I will not go into specifics about the day. I will not breach any of our conventions about what is sub judice and what is not; it would be inappropriate to do so. Bloody Sunday happened on
In Northern Ireland, 1972 was a dreadful year, with more murders than any other; 258 people lost their lives. I will take the three weeks before
The hon. Member for Beckenham focused his remarks on the yellow card, which was not the be-all and end-all. It was revised in the ’80s because it was seen to be too complicated. When Lee Clegg was convicted in the ’90s, it was changed again. We have taken evidence on the yellow card not being worth the paper it is written on, yet those were the rules of engagement that our service personnel were told they had to abide by.
We had Bloody Sunday, Bloody Friday and the Claudy bomb all in 1972. During the three-week period that I mentioned, four members of the IRA were killed. Two innocents were killed as well. On
I am deeply disappointed that, unlike the scores of groups that our Government fund to research cases on behalf of victims and their families in Northern Ireland, our Ministry of Defence does not take an overview from one case to the next; that it does not contextualise the support that it gives; and that there is no equivalence between the documents retained by our state, those used against our state, and those that protected our state.
As I say, today’s petition is opportune. All the contributions this afternoon have asked us to do more. When I asked the Attorney General on