I wanted to update my constituents and local Labour Party members regarding my decision to abstain on the Overseas Operations Bill on Wednesday night. Just to be clear, I do not support the Bill in its current form, and I am fundamentally opposed to any legislation that allows for human rights abuses by armed forces personnel or, indeed, that denies armed forces personnel access to justice.
It is important to understand that while this Bill has passed second reading, it has not become law and must pass through numerous stages in Parliament before that is the case.
My decision to abstain on its second reading was made principally on procedural grounds, as I understand that the Labour Party intends to amend the Bill at later stages. As such, I voted in line with the party’s position, in the expectation that we can make the case to substantially improve the Bill at the next stage.
The Overseas Operations Bill could certainly be written in a way that protects British soldiers against baseless accusations of wrongdoing in the course of their duty, while allowing for justice to be done in cases of war crimes and also allowing veterans to seek compensation from the Ministry of Defence in cases of injustice. In these cases, there should be no time limit on justice.
Currently, the Bill includes a presumption against the prosecution of current and former armed forces personnel for any alleged offences committed in the course of duty while overseas, if the event took place more than five years ago. While some crimes are excluded from the presumption against prosecution (in exceptional circumstances) such as sexual violence, it does not include torture or other war crimes. Not only is this morally wrong and illogical, it undermines the UK’s commitment to numerous international treaties, such as the Geneva Convention, while damaging the UK’s standing on the world stage.
My other significant objection to this Bill is that it limits access to justice for armed forces personnel and veterans. This Bill does not just place a time limit on prosecutions against armed forces personnel, it places a time limit upon civil claims that the armed forces can bring against the Ministry of Defence (MoD). This is especially concerning as there is ample evidence of potential trauma not manifesting itself until years after the event.
I genuinely hope that the Labour Party in Parliament can successfully amend this Bill. Currently, it is not fit for purpose and I look forward to making the case to remove the threats to human rights and the rights of armed forces personnel and veterans contained within it.
I have great respect for my colleagues who have taken the decision to vote against the whip on this issue and those who have resigned from their front bench positions. That is something I know my colleagues would only do after very serious thought. These are critical issues and important, personal, decisions. I remain focused on doing my best to represent the City of Durham and to serve as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Andy McDonald, Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights, a role I truly cherish.
If any of my constituents would like any more information on this, or help with any other issue, then they can contact me on email@example.com.