Dr Julian Lewis: I think I heard my name in the list the Secretary of State read out earlier.
As early as April 2017, the Select Committee on Defence recommended a statute of limitation combined with a truth recovery process. One reason we felt able to recommend this is that the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 meant that no one, no matter how many murders they had committed, could face a jail sentence of longer than two years, which meant being released in one year or 18 months at most. So there is no question of punishment fitting the crime, and there is no question of it not being the same for service personnel and terrorists – the Act has already established that – so the question is, what will stop the process, because the process of trying elderly veterans is the punishment, rather than the sentence.
[The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Brandon Lewis): My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I am very aware that the Defence Committee has published two reports in this area, and they are well worth reading. They recognise the changes that mean the criminal justice system for these cases is not like the criminal justice system for other types of crime across the United Kingdom. The reality is that, after the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, we had the 1998 Act and decommissioning, among other things that I will touch on in a moment, and it means that we in Government are looking at what we can do, based on the reality of where we are, with a very difficult and imperfect situation that has developed through difficult decisions made in the past, to deliver a better outcome in the future.
It is also about understanding that, regrettably, a distorted narrative of the past has developed over time. This legislation will help to ensure that more victims and survivors, some 90% of whom are of course victims of terrorist violence, are able to obtain answers about those who caused it.]
Dr Lewis: Given the length of time that this has all gone on, is it not quite clear that there is no way that there is a single solution around which consensus can be built? Therefore, the Government are left with two choices: either do nothing and carry on as has been happening, or come forward with the best solution they can come up with, in the full knowledge that everybody who has been fighting among themselves without reaching a solution will find something to object to in it. The fact that they are all objecting to it by no means means that this is wrong; it is the only way forward, other than doing nothing.
[Richard Thomson: I thank the right hon. Member for his intervention. He is certainly correct that this is a very difficult and intractable set of issues that need to be navigated through, but if he really imagines that by introducing this Bill the Government are in some way cutting the Gordian knot, he is very sadly mistaken. I do not think that that kind of approach is the one that could yield the greatest amount of fruit. I do not believe that it needed to be the case that this was the outcome. ...]
[For Julian's speech in this debate click here.]