Speaking in the Chamber on Tuesday, 3rd November 2020, Sarah Atherton MP, has shown her continued support for the Overseas Operations Bill.
As a veteran and Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Veterans, Ms Atherton has been vocal on her support for this landmark piece of legislation, claiming it will 'combat the cycle of reinvestigation and vexatious claims against those who have fought for our country'.
Addressing the House on Tuesday, Sarah spoke of the Bill's importance, "The Government of the day sent the British military into operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for over a decade after, these troops were hounded by lawyers, chasing the money and putting our troops through hell once again. So prolific was this hunt that it was given the name 'lawfare', and it is this lawfare that we seek to address."
See her statement to the House below:
"It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), who is a fellow patron of the women’s veterans charity Salute Her, part of Forward Assist and the only other female who sits with me on the Defence Committee.
"In consideration of new clause 1, I remind the House why the Bill is necessary. The Government of the day sent the British military into operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for over a decade after, these troops were hounded by lawyers, chasing the money and putting our troops through hell once again. So prolific was this hunt that it was given the name “lawfare”, and it is this lawfare that we seek to address.
"Over the past few months, I have spoken to a significant number of serving personnel and veterans about the Bill. What sticks in my mind are five soldiers who specifically told me about their experiences of being investigated through Operation Northmoor and the Iraq Historic Allegations Team. All were vexatious claims and four left the service as a direct consequence of their treatment—exemplary soldiers all feeling let down and betrayed. All five believe the Bill would have protected them in some form, and they all welcome its introduction.
"Retention is a big challenge for the military, especially the Army. In the British military, we train soldiers to the highest standard. Their professionalism and capabilities are renowned across the globe, but the military is a bottom-up organisation. Someone cannot enter the Army as a regimental sergeant major. Promotion comes from within the ranks. We have lost many to this lawfare and even worse is the feeling that service personnel and veterans are not valued. There have been over 4,000 lawfare compensation claims made against personnel, and only one went to prosecution. Just think about that litigious process and what it did to the remaining 3,999 people’s mental health and wellbeing and the impact on their families, and it was allowed to happen.
"Opponents of the Bill suggest that it protects soldiers from prosecution against war crimes and crimes against humanity, and I support the comments made by my hon. Friends the Members for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) and for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) regarding the Geneva convention. The Bill offers no such protection. The service personnel I have spoken to are unanimously affronted by the suggestion that they want and would be protected by such an Act. They find the mention of blanket immunity abhorrent.
"I cannot miss out on the opportunity to mention Northern Ireland. More service personnel died in those troubles than in Iraq and Afghanistan put together, and I have already received ministerial assurances, but I urge the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Northern Ireland to expedite this provision for those veterans who served.
"They too should be afforded certainty that the unique operational pressures placed upon them will be taken into account. Prosecution decisions are made on alleged historical offences, and I understand that there will be some debate in this House on that matter.
"I have spent the past few weeks scrutinising the Bill line by line in the Public Bill Committee, along with a number of other Members. Is the Bill perfect? No, it is not, but it is infinitely better than where we are now. No Bill or Act will ever suit all people in all circumstances, but which group would object to this Bill the most? It is the group who would lose out the most: the unscrupulous human rights lawyers. Service charities welcome the Bill, although I acknowledge that they have some reservations. But all service personnel and veterans want to be and should be supported by the Government, their politicians and their people. After all, they are prepared to, and do, put their lives at risk for us, and this is the duty of care these service personnel want. This Bill goes some way in offering that support, and I welcome it."
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