Retrograde step not to consult on statute of limitations for Troubles, says MP

It would be a "retrograde step" if a consultation on legacy issues in Northern Ireland fails to consider a statute of limitations for those involved on both sides of the conflict, a senior Tory MP has said.

Julian Lewis said ministers "can't always have your cake and eat it", as he again called for action on the issue to protect British veterans from prosecution for their action during the Troubles.

Mr Lewis, chairman of the Defence select committee, was one of four leading MPs on defence to write to the UK Prime Minister last year calling for an effective amnesty that would cover security force members and paramilitaries suspected of involvement in Troubles crimes.

Speaking in the Commons, he said legal advice given to his committee suggested that a statute of limitations and a so-called "truth recovery process" for everybody "could indeed be entirely legitimate in the face of any form of international legal regime".

He added: "The purpose of my raising this yet again today is because of my concern about one particular point. The previous secretary of state for Northern Ireland... he initiated a consultation exercise that is supposed to be going ahead.

"And he specifically said that the question of whether to introduce a statute of limitations on the basis which I have described would be an option included in that consultation exercise.

"I don't expect the Deputy Leader of the House to be able to answer this today, but I do expect him to take away my query, which is that I'm concerned that there have been suggestions that that option may not now be included in the consultation when it eventually happens after all.

I think that would be a retrograde step. As we have seen over the issue of Brexit, sometimes you can't always have your cake and eat it.

"Sometimes you've got to decide whether you're going to have, i.e. keep your cake, or whether you're going to eat your cake, and you can't put off that point of making a direct choice forever.

"If that is true about Brexit, it is also true about this ongoing problem of the vulnerability of our armed forces to one-sided prosecution, and the Government needs to grip this matter."

Mr Lewis raised the issue in a general debate before MPs adjourn for the May bank holiday.

Paul Maynard, the Commons Deputy Leader, said: "We've always been clear that as part of our work to implement the Stormont House Agreement, we seek to ensure that the new legacy bodies will be under legal obligations to be fair, balanced and proportionate.

"The current process is not working for anyone, including victims and survivors. That is why we want to reform it, so that there will be no prioritising of deaths caused by the security forces.

At the same time, we want to ensure our veterans, the overwhelming majority of whom served with great distinction in Northern Ireland... that they are not unfairly treated or disproportionately investigated.

"I have noted his specific query, and I will make sure my officials bring this to the attention of the relevant department."

PA


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