As a veteran, it was a privilege to speak in the 2nd Reading of the Overseas Operations Bill. At its simplest level, the imposition of a statutory presumption in law against prosecution after five years will provide greater certainty and support for our service personnel and veterans. Since 2002, the MOD has faced over 1400 judicial review claims and 1000 civil claims relating to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, and a further 1130 civil claims brought by UK law firms on behalf of Iraqi nationals. While many are valid, around 3400 allegations of unlawful killings have also been received by the Iraq Historical Allegations Team under Operation NORTHMOOR, of which at least 70% have been filtered out as being spurious. This has fixed the MOD and its lawyers at huge expense and no stone has been left unturned in its statutory responsibilities to bring perpetrators to justice. The Al Sweady inquiry, which cost the taxpayer 31 million pounds, was also proven to have been based on 'deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility'. So, where no additional evidence is provided of any wrongdoing, our veterans should sleep easy in their beds.
To tackle the unhealthy conjecture if I may, the bill does not absolve any member of HM Forces from operating outside the law, does not impact on criminal investigations, does not create any de facto immunity for service personnel and does not prevent any prosecutor from prosecuting, as the few bad apples that we have seen will always be brought to justice. Nor does it threaten the UK's commitment to the UN Convention Against Torture, place our troops on a collision course with the Geneva Convention or the Hague and does not break international law. In fact, I cannot think of a more robust institution than the MOD for upholding the law and the UK has a proud record of overseas military service, which is to be applauded, not undermined. As for Part 2 of the bill, this does not absolve the MOD of fulfilling any of its statutory duties either. Given the pressure on its staff, I am generally comfortable that the 6-year longstop for civil claims for personal injuries and death is fair and about right, given that 94% of all claims since 2007 have been settled within 6 years.
I was also pleased to be able to speak in the Report Stage of the Internal Market Bill. The first duty of any Government is to protect its people from existential threats – it's called defence of the realm – so not only is the bill a necessary piece of legislation in its own right, but it provides an insurance policy against the EU seeking to divide the Union or subjugating our right to exist as a sovereign trading nation. The central premise of the bill is to provide clarity over the internal market, shared regulation and to apportion powers in at least 70 devolved areas to the home nations. So, this is not just about life after Brussels but about supporting countless jobs and livelihoods across the whole of our country. Given that seamless trade between our devolved nations is proven and sacrosanct, there is no question that we are better off together within the Union, that the Belfast Agreement is vital and that those who seek to divide us are not working in the best interests of our great nation.
I was therefore happy to support the Government at all stages, as the Internal Market Bill will allow the economic freedoms enjoyed across the UK to be maintained, providing the certainty, security and opportunity that British businesses need to survive and thrive. I am clear too that the duty of British MPs is to the UK, not the EU, but that we still can and must do everything possible to secure a good deal with the EU as a close friend, ally and partner.