Earlier today I responded to a Westminster Hall debate on the Seventh Report of the Defence Committee, Investigations into fatalities in Northern Ireland involving British military personnel, as Shadow Minister for Defence. I said:
“It is indeed a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I start by paying tribute to the Chair of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), and to the members of the Committee for their work in producing the report. This is an extremely important and profoundly serious issue and wholly deserving of the Committee’s attention. The Chair of the Committee made a very considered and thoughtful opening contribution to the debate. He outlined the Committee’s approach and, obviously, the need to consider all views.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) talked about the delicate nature of the issues that we are discussing—delicate for families and for armed forces personnel. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) made his contribution with the added knowledge from his military service. From the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), we heard a very moving reflection on the troubles. He reminded us of the complex and delicate nature of the issues that we are discussing. From the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), we heard a personal reflection on his time in uniform, as we did from the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who as a young infantry soldier served in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) gave an account on behalf of one of her constituents and talked about the links to the armed forces covenant.
The past presents many difficult and unanswered questions to families and individuals in Northern Ireland, as well as to those across Britain, including our armed forces veterans who served in Operation Banner. In all communities, there is a desire for truth and clarity about what happened to loved ones, and the quest for answers has not diminished with the passage of time. Like many hon. Members across the Chamber, I am of a generation that vividly remembers the troubles, as well as the anguish and conflict that that period represented. It is always worth reminding ourselves of the good work that led up to the landmark achievement of the Good Friday agreement. We are all committed to a future for Northern Ireland that guarantees peace and security for all citizens.
The report deals specifically with the issue of fatalities involving British personnel who served in Northern Ireland. We rightly expect the highest standards of conduct from our service personnel, and we know that members of our armed forces are keenly aware of that. Where there are allegations about improper or unlawful behaviour, they must be investigated fairly and thoroughly. Of course, there have been cases where investigations have, regrettably, not been fair. The Opposition welcomed the closure of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, because that forum relied too heavily on referrals from one discredited law firm and was simply not working.
[Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]
On the separate issue of fatalities in Northern Ireland, we are clear that the best means of dealing with this is through the full implementation of the Stormont House agreement and the institutions that that agreement provides for. The Stormont House agreement addressed many important issues relating to legacy, including providing for an independent historical investigations unit to take forward outstanding investigations into deaths relating to the troubles.
I know that there is deep frustration on all sides about the lack of progress towards fully implementing the agreement. One of the many groups eager to see progress is the Ballymurphy families, who earlier today met the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith). I know that their desire for progress is shared by all parties. The frustration at the lack of progress is also a point that the Committee’s report makes only too clearly. I fully recognise the Committee’s view that the status quo is simply not sustainable.
We all want to see progress made in resuming power sharing in Northern Ireland as soon as possible. As my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said recently, we need the Government to come forward with a clear path to rebuild trust between the parties and restore power sharing. That should involve the enlisting of an independent chair to manage the talks. Only then, and with the implementation of the Stormont House institutions, can we make the progress that we all so badly want to see, and ensure that those affected by the violence of the troubles get the answers and the truth that they deserve.”
You can also watch my speech here: https://www.facebook.com/GeraldJonesLabour/videos/1615147408570394/