Veteran and Vice-Chair for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Veterans, Sarah Atherton MP, has shown her support for The Overseas Operations Bill, claiming "it is an opportunity to combat the cycle of reinvestigation and vexatious claims against those who have fought for our country."
See her statement to the House below:
Sarah Atherton MP:
"I stand here as a veteran. Under current legislation, hypothetically, I could be investigated for spurious claims made against me for my service in the Army back in the ’80s. I therefore have a personal interest in the Bill. I have also spoken to many veterans at surgeries, breakfast clubs and legions, and I am acutely aware of the pressures our veterans are placed under and the injustices they feel right now. Many of the veterans I have spoken to were junior ranks, and I concur with the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson).
"The Bill represents a huge milestone for military personnel. To be incorrectly accused of wrongdoing is an unacceptable burden. For our veterans and our veterans of the future, the Bill represents an opportunity to combat that cycle of reinvestigation and vexatious claims and to support our service personnel, who have risked their lives to defend our country and our freedoms overseas. I thank the Secretary of State and the Minister for Defence People and Veterans for bringing the Bill to the House today.
"I would like to address the first part of the Bill. For me, the triple lock is the most crucial part of the Bill. The presumption against prosecution for alleged offences committed more than five years ago will both curb the often baseless claims made against veterans and stop lawfare by those who seek to abuse the legal system. Critics of the Bill cite that that provision will protect service personnel from wrongdoing. The Bill does nothing of the sort. There is no debate in this House, nor should there ever be, about the fact that if service personnel commit a crime, they must be called to account. The Bill does not give service personnel de facto immunity from prosecution. There are still provisions to allow for prosecutions of historical cases where there is compelling evidence.
"I have had conversations with veterans living life on the edge, with constant anxiety, thoughts and fears that engulf their post-service lives and the lives of their families. We have lost too many veterans to incapacity and suicide. I am committed to veterans’ health and wellbeing, and I know the veterans Minister is, too."
Sir John Hayes MP:
"I hesitate to interrupt my hon. Friend’s compelling and persuasive speech, except to say that she is absolutely right: the Bill is a huge leap forward and the Minister and the Government deserve great credit. As she may know, I am the champion of and have led the parliamentary campaign on behalf of the British nuclear test veterans. Will she ask the Minister to give an absolute assurance that those who fought a long time ago, if evidence emerges that they were damaged through that service, will not be disadvantaged by the provisions of part 2?"
Sarah Atherton MP:
"I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. I think the Minister heard it loud and clear.
"I am passionate about veterans’ health and wellbeing, and the Bill goes a long way to offering security and peace of mind. The requirement for prosecutors to consider the circumstances of warfare is a welcome element. War is not black and white; it is grey and involves instant judgments and assessments under life-threatening pressure. It is right that the law reflects that reality. Although I am extremely supportive of the Bill, I accept that there are certain limitations. I would welcome further reassurance from Ministers on how we ensure that rogue lawyers do not bypass the legislation in favour of the international criminal courts to have claims heard. How will the Bill affect service personnel and veterans who are already subject to claims? The six-year longstop in part 2 has drawn criticism. Will the Minister assure me that that will not disadvantage the armed forces community compared with civilians?
"We in this House are responsible for sending young men and women into harm’s way, and we rightly expect them to uphold the highest standards of the British armed forces. Despite limited reservations, the Bill will protect our service personnel in the future. It is wrong that servicemen and women we send into conflict should be hounded for years after their active service is over. I understand this legislation will not apply to Northern Ireland, but I am grateful for the Government’s commitment to pursue that separately in Northern Irish legislation. For the current and future service personnel and veterans of my Wrexham constituency, I will support the Bill today. To vote against it would be to deny our service personnel the support of their politicians and this country."