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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:25 pm on 20th May 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells 6:25 pm, 20th May 2019

My hon. and gallant Friend is absolutely right: the IRA did not keep such records, which is a great unfairness. Those of us who have had to apply lethal force have taken the decision in a split second, hoping that all our training, instincts and everything we have learned since first going into the Army, Navy or Air Force will mean that we take the right decision. We know there is a danger that we might get it wrong and we need to know that, provided we are in the rules of engagement and can say squarely that we perceive the threat to be there, our Government will stand behind our actions.

The written ministerial statement that may come tomorrow is great news for those of us who served on Operation Herrick and Operation Telic. My tours of Afghanistan in 2005 happened more than 10 years ago; my tour to Basra in 2007 was 10 years ago; and at the end of October, my final operational tour to Iraq and Afghanistan will be more than 10 years ago. That statement should be, and will be, huge comfort to tens of thousands of veterans who served in those theatres.

As somebody who served in Northern Ireland, an MP with many constituents who served in Northern Ireland and a former rifleman with many ex-riflemen friends who served in Northern Ireland, I’m all right, Jack. We must remember that it is not okay—in fact, it makes it worse—to have one statute of limitations that applies to the conflicts that are most on people’s conscience, while ignoring those who fought in Northern Ireland in just as trying circumstances, as we have heard so many times this afternoon. They are left behind.

The legal premise on which my former comrades served in Northern Ireland is not their fault. The failings of any investigation that happened at the time is not their fault. Conversely, the quality of the investigations at the time, which allows vexatious politicians and lawyers to pore over the detail and challenge it decades later, is not their fault. The political situation in Northern Ireland is not their fault. The fact that they pulled the trigger in Northern Ireland rather than in the Falklands, the Balkans, Iraq or Afghanistan is not their fault. The fact that the Government have not yet done anything about this is also not their fault.

This situation cannot drag on any further. A universal statute of limitations across all theatres is required now. This is not an amnesty. Our armed forces are not above the law—we ask of them higher standards than we do of those in civilian life. When they fall short, we punish them in a way that would be draconian in any civilian employment setting. If we understand some of what they do, as many of us here do, we understand why they deserve protection. We ask that they accept unlimited liability in defence of our nation. We must accept the political liability that comes with saying, “Come what may, we’ve got your back.”