As the case of ‘Soldier F’ reached court in Northern Ireland last week, the scandal of historic prosecutions hanging over our Army veterans intensifies. Many of those who may have to face trial are old men now, some with life-threatening conditions. Once again, they are in the dock for actions carried out decades ago which have been looked at and dismissed by lawyers in the past.
Throughout my time in Parliament I have campaigned for veterans’ rights, successfully challenging the role of IHAT, the Iraq Historical Allegations Team, which was closed down in 2017, and more recently bringing a Private Member’s Bill to introduce a Statute of Limitations for veterans which would have placed a 10 year limit on historical prosecutions. In the way of most Private Member’s Bills this one did not get air time but it did generate a wave of supportive publicity and I got the chance to put the case to Ministers.
At the last West Berkshire Conservative Association Supper Club a couple of weeks ago, we were lucky enough to have Johnny Mercer as our speaker. He came into politics (in 2015) for one reason only and that was to campaign for veterans’ rights. He is MP for the Plymouth Moor View constituency which has a large population of service and ex-servicemen and women and it is largely due to his efforts that the Prime Minister has now set up an Office for Veterans’ Affairs. Overseen by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, together with Johnny in his new role as Minister for Defence People and Veterans, this will sit right at the heart of Government and will ensure that all Departments pull together to deliver the life-long support our veterans deserve. At the beginning of this month, the Chancellor announced a £5 million funding boost to kick start this work. The money will help to support our veterans in every aspect of their lives, including healthcare, housing and employment. If we can combine this with an end to unfair historic prosecutions then the UK will be well on the way to resetting the relationship with our servicemen and women who continue to risk their lives to keep us all safe.