Last week saw the Overseas Operations Bill return to the House of Commons, with the aim of providing greater certainty for Service personnel and veterans in relation to vexatious claims and the prosecution of historical events that occurred in the uniquely complex environment of armed conflict overseas. It does so by placing a statutory presumption against prosecution on service personnel after five-years have elapsed from the date of the alleged incident, with provisions for exceptional cases to be brought forward.
I am certainly in favour of the the general purpose of the Bill, which is designed to give service personnel and veterans the protections needed in some prosecution cases. This is a positive and necessary step. There remains a need for our Armed Forces personnel to be protected from the vexatious claims and repeated investigations that so many have suffered in recent years.
However, there were a couple of specific flaws in the Bill and I agree that victims of torture in particular need to be confident that their allegations will be taken with the utmost seriousness. That is why I voted, at an earlier stage, for my colleague David Davis MP’s amendment that would have ensured that allegations of torture were not covered in the scope of this legislation.
The area of greatest disappointment, however, remains the complete lack of provision for those who served in Northern Ireland in the Bill and the circumstances that led to the Veterans Minister, Johnny Mercer, being sacked. Whilst it is very much welcome that the new Minister announced that a specific Bill relating to the Northern Ireland issue will be forthcoming, it is extremely disappointing that this has yet to happen. Especially given that two soldiers are due to go on trial this week for something that happened 49 years ago. I sincerely hope that this proposed Bill is brought forwards as soon as possible at the beginning of the new parliamentary session on Tuesday 11th May in the Queen’s Speech.
On the subject of the Queen’s Speech, it is unthinkable that the long-awaited reforms to social care will not be in the speech. Successive governments of all colours have failed to grasp social care reform, often placing it in the ‘too difficult’ category. Not only is this unacceptable, it’s getting to the point where it is simply unsustainable; the social care system desperately requires reform. I have made frequent representations to government about this and will be incredibly vocal if it is missing from the speech. The Covid-19 pandemic cannot be used as a convenient excuse to avoid reform, if anything, it has clearly shown and indeed accelerated the need for urgent reforms and conversations to take place!
Another area of reform that is required is a change to how we afford, appraise and pay for medicines and medical devices in this country. As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Access to Medicines and Medical Devices I have a longstanding interest in this area and the work we have been undertaking has made it clear that reform is urgently needed in this space as well.
Finally, the Fire Safety Bill returned to parliament this week for a vote on the House of Lords amendments. I will once again be voting for the McPartland/Smith amendments which are designed to ensure that leaseholders are not excessively burdened with the cost of remedying design faults that they had no say over.
Leaseholders have never asked the Government to pay for the full costs of remediation, but just to provide a safety net to ensure the fire safety works are undertaken. Only the Government can afford to provide the cashflow to pay for these works up front and only the Government can then introduce the levies on those responsible to claw that money back over the next ten years.
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