A move to exempt members of the military from prosecution under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) passed the first Parliamentary hurdle to becoming law.
The motion said that the “unintended consequences” of the UK’s Human Rights Act 1998 – which incorporated much of the convention into our law – has led to a “catalogue of injustice involving hundreds of soldiers”.
Meanwhile, DUP MP Gavin Robinson today said he was seeking clarity at Westminster about how veterans’ access to social housing could be improved in Northern Ireland in the absence of an Assembly to pass any laws.
The motion concerning prosecutions was presented by backbench Tory MP Leo Docherty, who said that 10 countries including France and Spain “have in effect opted out of certain aspects” of the ECHR. The MP called on the UK to do the same.
Mr Docherty told Conservative colleagues they should back the Armed Forces (Derogation from European Convention on Human Rights) Bill “because we have promised to do it – it is on page 41 of our manifesto”.
He continued: “They need to know they can deploy and fight on our behalf and will not then not face spurious legal accusations years and decades after the event.”
The bill was unopposed, and moves on to its Second Reading in the Commons, but it is unlikely to become law in its current form due to a lack of Parliamentary time available, and would need government support to make it on to the statute book.
Mr Docherty requested the bill returns to the House for the next reading on March 8.
Mr Robinson, MP for East Belfast, said changes were being planned to help veterans access social housing, and that a consultation on the matter has been announced – but that these changes apply only to England.
He said these changes particularly focus on veterans with mental health problems.
Mr Robinson said in a statement: “I would like further clarity about how, in the absence of devolution, similar changes could be made for Northern Ireland.
“Whilst in Great Britain the Military Covenant ensures veterans are not disadvantaged in accessing government functions as a result of their service, Northern Ireland lags behind.”
He blamed this on Sinn Fein’s “narrow political objection to anything to do with the armed forces”.