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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:38 pm on 20th May 2019.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 5:38 pm, 20th May 2019

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank Damien Moore for raising the issue and giving us a chance to participate in and contribute to the debate. I declare an interest as a former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment; I was also in the Territorial Army for 14 and a half years.

When Bob Stewart spoke about the yellow card, I was reminded that some 45 years ago, when I joined the Ulster Defence Regiment as an 18-year-old, the yellow card was preached into us every night before we went out. We were very clear about what it meant. I thank the Lord that I never had to fire a gun in anger—I never had the opportunity to do it, was never in a position to do it, and was never confronted with it.

All hon. Members have spoken exceptionally well, but I hope that they will not mind if I pick out the hon. Member for Beckenham, who displayed the leadership and courage that many of us respect him for—not only in uniform, but as a Member of this House. He probably does not understand just how much we all consider him a friend. It is also a pleasure to follow Dr Lewis, whose speeches —like his work on the Defence Committee—always have an honesty and calm that give us a chance to participate. I will not leave out my hon. Friend Gavin Robinson either: his speech was exceptional and encapsulated what we all think.

How topical it is to hold this debate the day after a memorandum was leaked from Downing Street that states, according to The Sunday Telegraph, that veterans should be offered

“equal, rather than preferential, treatment” relative to other groups covered by the plan to investigate historical killings. Let us consider that idea for a moment. At first view, it seems right and proper—in a normal situation, it would be right and proper to treat soldiers in the same way as we treat Joe Bloggs on the street. But that assumes an even playing field. It assumes that the soldier in uniform decided, off his own bat, to take a weapon, enter a mission hall in Darkley and open fire, killing men whose crime was to worship their God in church. It assumes that officers chose to pull over a vehicle, take out 10 Protestant workmen and kill them, as a Roman Catholic man runs to safety. It assumes that soldiers set up a honey trap to trick three young men to their death. It assumes that officers set a bomb at Ballydugan in Downpatrick to murder four UDR men, three of whom I knew personally. It assumes that soldiers knowingly placed a bomb on a busy shopping street and gave false information about its position to secure maximum death and destruction.

For all things to be equal, rather than preferential, all inquiries should start from the premise that an act of terrorism with a determined and planned aim is very different from the events under investigation. That is not our starting point in these investigations, so things are not equal—never mind preferential.

These incidents began the second that there was a call saying that there was a suspicion of terrorist activity. These actions took place when soldiers looked to their officers for advice and relied on their training and on the yellow card, which said that if they were attacked, it was okay to defend themselves, as the hon. Member for Beckenham clearly illustrated. The events took place when unlawful terrorists were attempting to kill these men—to all intents and purposes, at the very least.

The actions of soldiers were a reaction to the environment around them—an environment that did not allow them to relax for even a second, lest they lose their lives or see their brothers murdered by the very people who now cry out for preferential treatment and a rewrite to justify what is unjustifiable. That is why I have to say respectfully that, yet again, the Prime Minister is flawed in trying to rationalise and equalise everything in Northern Ireland. It grieves me to say that about my Prime Minister—our Prime Minister—but that is the way I feel.

Some things are not equal and cannot be equalised. We cannot and must not attempt to equate a soldier in uniform with a terrorist. Yes, feel free to equate the murders of the IRA with those carried out by loyalist terrorists, which were outside the law, unacceptable and despicable. But to try for a second to allow republicans to rewrite our history and equate the actions of a soldier, carrying a legally held weapon and instructed to uphold law and order, with the actions of someone with an illegal weapon and a determination to bomb and murder his or her way to a political endgame is horrifying. It must end here.

Soldiers are not asking for equal or preferential treatment. They are asking our Government and our Prime Minister to acknowledge that they put them into life-changing and horrific situations and asked them to carry out actions to save us in this place from having to deal with evil men with bloodlust and a desire to wipe out any and every person who dared to consider themselves British—I am British and very proud to be British—or even to speak with those who did. Soldiers are asking the Government, who trained them and told them what was and was not acceptable in times of attack, and us in this place—in this debate and all the other times we have spoken on these matters—simply to be honourable and do right by them. That is what this debate is about: doing right by our soldiers. It is important to put that on the record.

I served on the streets of Northern Ireland. I listened to the unforgettable wails of mothers when they were told that they would never see their children again. We have all lost loved ones and friends—that is no secret in this world. My cousin Kenneth Smyth was a sergeant in the UDR and a former police special; he was murdered with his Roman Catholic friend Daniel McCormick. No one was ever made accountable for that.