CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

DEFENCE – OVERSEAS OPERATIONS (SERVICE PERSONNEL AND VETERANS) BILL - 03 November 2020

DEFENCE – OVERSEAS OPERATIONS (SERVICE PERSONNEL AND VETERANS) BILL - 03 November 2020

Dr Julian Lewis: I have put in three written questions about this Bill, and yesterday I had answers to them. Two of the answers were helpful, but one, on the point that the right hon. Gentleman [Kevan Jones] is making, was not. I was trying to establish how many investigations had not resulted in prosecutions, and I could not seem to get an answer, yet that is central to the whole problem. The core of the problem is not the small number who get prosecuted but the large number who get investigated.

Mr Kevan Jones: The right hon. Gentleman is correct. That came out in evidence that we took throughout the Committee. The issue is not the number of prosecutions but the number of investigations and how we can speed up the length of time they take.

The problem is that the Ministry seems to have a deaf ear when it comes to recognising that we need to address the issue around investigations, which is what new clause 1 would do. It would ensure that we had judicial oversight of the investigations. We can see what we have at the moment from the example of Major Campbell’s case, which went on and on. New clause 1 states that after a certain period of time, the evidence should be put before a judge to see whether there was a case to answer. Clearly, if the evidence did not meet the test and the case was going nowhere, it would get thrown out there and then. Alternatively, it could be decided that the case needed further investigation, but at least that would ensure that, after six months, there was some judicial oversight of the investigation. That would be a way of ensuring that these investigations did not go on for a long time.

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Dr Lewis: When the Defence Committee was looking at the matter in the previous two Parliaments, it recommended a Bill of this sort provided that the time limit was qualified by the absence of compelling new evidence. Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman [Dan Jarvis] saying that he does not feel that that proviso is in the Bill? If that proviso is in the Bill, if there were compelling new evidence that had not come forward in the first five years but came forward afterwards, then indeed a prosecution could proceed.

Mr Dan Jarvis: The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. I certainly assume that all of us attend this debate and seek to make contributions in good faith, and I think there is a genuine desire from Members from all parts of the House to improve this Bill. The Minister has indicated on a number of occasions that in good faith he wants to have that continuing conversation with Members about how we can improve the Bill. There is still time to do so, and I very much hope that we will not miss out on that opportunity. ...

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Dr Lewis: I agree with my right hon. Friend [David Davis] that the prosecution system is not out of control, but does he agree that the investigatory system is? To answer my own intervention on the hon. and gallant Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), is my right hon. Friend aware that clause 3(2)(b) says that the five-year limit will not apply unless

“compelling new evidence has become available”?

Why is he not reassured by that?

Mr David Davis: I will tell my right hon. Friend in a moment exactly why I am not reassured by that, but he is quite right that the issue is the repeated investigation of people who are innocent, in most cases. That is a harassing and destructive thing. The best known case is that of Major Campbell, who underwent eight investigations. I am afraid that the real blame lay with the Ministry of Defence for at least four of them. That is what we should address. ...

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Mr John Healey [Shadow Secretary of State for Defence]: ... The answer to the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) about the number of investigations is this: only 27 prosecutions have arisen from Iraq and Afghanistan, yet 3,400 allegations were considered by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team and 670 from Operation Northmoor. Therefore, less than 1% of allegations were prosecuted. ...