Dr Julian Lewis: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker [Nigel Evans], for pointing out at the beginning of today’s debate, that there is no restriction on the subjects that can be raised on any day of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Before I move to address other subjects, I would like to say how pleasing it was to see the Secretary of State nodding in response to the Chair of the Select Committee’s invitation to work on a cross-party basis on the grave concern about the plight of leaseholders following the cladding scandal. I am sure that the Secretary of State is as concerned as Members on both sides of the House by reports of leaseholders facing bankruptcy and lease forfeiture right now, which must be prevented at all costs.
Barely a day goes by without some fresh horror story emerging from our universities. Teenage totalitarians are shutting down free speech, egged on by activist academics and compliant administrators who could not win an election if their lives depended on it. The latest case is of a mature law student on the eve of her finals threatened with the loss of her degree for defining a “woman” in terms with which more than nine out of 10 people would agree. The Education Secretary’s proposals to put an end to such abusive indoctrination cannot come too soon.
No day was selected by the Opposition to focus on defence, foreign affairs or security. If time permitted today, I would return to such issues as I have raised in the past, including that of the 250-plus war widows who are still waiting for the return of their war widows’ pensions, forfeited when they remarried or cohabited. That loss will not happen to war widows in the future, but it has not been put right for war widows in the past.
I would refer to the possible misdiagnosis of veterans, who in reality have mild traumatic brain injury resulting from blast injuries in Afghanistan or Iraq but are being misdiagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
I would refer in particular to the urgent necessity to permit to resettle in the UK, before they become trapped, locally employed Afghan civilians, including interpreters, who helped our troops. That could lead to a wider debate about what we and our NATO allies can do to deter or counteract a total Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the slaughter of those we supported and encouraged for so many years. For example, will we maintain in the region a strategic base from which action can be taken if necessary?
Finally, I will refer to this, as opposed to just mentioning it in passing. According to a rather impressive scoop by Larisa Brown in The Times a few days ago, some very good news about the plight of Northern Ireland veterans is coming at last. It appears that troubles-related cases, up to the signing of the Belfast agreement, will have a line drawn under them, and that will be coupled with a truth recovery mechanism on the model of what was done in South Africa on the inspiration of Nelson Mandela.
The proposals, if true, are closely aligned with the recommendations of the Defence Committee’s seventh report of 2016-17, published in April 2017. That report drew heavily on the expert testimony of four eminent law professors that was given on 7 March 2017 and is well worth studying today. Their testimony made it clear that anything done to resolve the question of vexatious reinvestigations and prosecutions must apply across the board. It later became clear that, as a result of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, no more questions should be raised about putting terrorists and security forces on the same level. Everyone is on the same level before the law, and the 1998 Act said that even the most heinous murders would result in nothing longer than a two-year prison sentence.
How much better will it be to take a leaf from the book of what was done so successfully in South Africa by substituting for investigation and prosecution, with little chance of success, a truth recovery mechanism to bring closure to the bereaved?