Richard’s contribution to the Westminster Hall debate on Historic Allegations Against Veterans, on Tuesday 15th May:
I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Minister here—as a Defence Minister, he can reflect this issue right across the Government. As a veteran of Operation Banner who has been involved in this issue for many years, I am angry. We want to hold the NIO to account. I strongly believe that there is a cadre of officials in that Department who can think up a thousand reasons why they should not do something. Just occasionally, they should be encouraged to think about how they can solve a problem that is an affront to every decent person in this country.
I have a solution, which builds on what my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) proposed. It will come before the House on 15 June.* Okay, it is a ten-minute rule Bill and it has got to the bottom of the list—we all know how this place works—but the Government should pick it up and run with it. I suggest that there should be a 10-year statute of limitations for all servicemen who serve on operations. I agree entirely that there can be overrides and caveats, and I am happy to talk about the time—I am happy to talk about anything—but we must get the principle in law so that the young men and women currently training with my son in the British Army know that the system in this country will stand by them when they make the awful decision to take somebody’s life, under all the constraints we impose on them.
We are in a situation in which a 78-year-old man with kidney failure—a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray)—is being taken to court. What other country would do that? Why are we so shaming? I know that we have a devolved justice system in Northern Ireland, and that the people who take that case forward will have to be held to account for that, but we have reached the point where we as a society must ask, “Is it right to take an old man who is in poor health away from his family and put him through this?”
I believe that we have a solution. I am desperately keen that we should work constructively with all elements of the Government. If we start from the basis that it is all too difficult, nothing will happen, but we have to find solutions.
* Richard introduced his Armed Forces (Statute of Limitations) Bill 2017-19 under the 10 Minute Rule last November. It is expected to have its second reading debate in Parliament on Friday 15th June. It is a Private Member’s Bill and is seeking to create statutory limitations on bringing court proceedings against current and former armed service personnel for alleged offences committed during military operations.