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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:50 pm on 20th May 2019.

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Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View 5:50 pm, 20th May 2019

I do not seek to add to the incredible speeches we have heard today, particularly from individuals who served in Northern Ireland—I did not. I want to add just two or three new points and not take up too much time.

People are very well aware of my general feelings on this subject, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Damien Moore for securing the debate. This is not a niche issue for people who have served or who have a particular interest in this subject; it is as basic an injustice as this House has seen for some time. I urge colleagues to think about what more can be done.

When the Good Friday agreement went through in Northern Ireland and the settlements were reached, it was deemed more politically tolerable for soldiers, servicemen and policemen to take the hit, rather than other sides. That is why we are where we are—it was simply more politically tolerable for politicians to do that. I urge my colleagues to do whatever is required to ensure that this Government do not continually speak warm words that ultimately mean nothing, and to hold them to account on behalf of people who need it.

I know the Minister personally and none of my remarks is directed at him—he only recently took over the job. This weekend’s revelations were genuinely shocking, with the Prime Minister’s clear mindset that people who served should receive treatment

“equal to, not preferential to” other groups in the conflict. Many people have written to me in the past two days on the back of that specific sentence. The situation reminds me of three years ago, when I took part in a Westminster Hall debate, with the then Minister for the Armed Forces, who is now the Secretary of State for Defence, on the Iraq Historic Allegations Team. That is the point I want to make: nothing ever seems to change. We say a hell of a lot in this place. I remember her looking up at me and saying, “No one hears from these investigative teams first”, but that morning I had been on the phone to someone who had heard from those private investigators first.

MPs who recount their experiences are not turning oxygen into CO2 for the hell of it. This actually means something; this is people’s everyday experience. I know the responses will be, “We’re thinking about this and we’re thinking about that,” but there has been a clear moral failure by the Prime Minister and the Northern Ireland Office to deal with the situation. I am afraid that it simply cannot go on.

As many hon. Members have alluded to, this is not about whitewashing history. I urge colleagues to be really careful with the language they use. It is not colleagues who said this but last Thursday the front page of The Guardian read, “Mordaunt to give veterans amnesty for battle crimes.” Nobody has ever asked for that, and nobody has ever thought about it. That is deliberately inflammatory wording, designed simply to prey on the grief and the hell that some families and veterans are going through. In this case, an amnesty is not appropriate in any way whatever. On its own, a statute of limitations cannot work. There can be no time limitation on serious criminal behaviour.

Last week, we began to see the beginnings of a presumption not to prosecute, which is the sort of area we should be working in. That came from the Attorney General.