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 Overseas Operations Bill must protect our troops

Labour’s Shadow Defence team is looking to forge a constructive consensus on legislation to protect our Armed Forces from vexatious claims following controversial Bill before Parliament.

Key provisions of the Overseas Operations Bill the Shadow Defence team will seek to change include:

  • The potential breach to the Armed Forces Covenant as the Bill, currently drafted, removes the court’s discretion to extend time for civil claims under s.7 of the Human Rights Act beyond six years, or twelve months from the date on which the key facts were known, whichever is the longer.
  • The risk of undermining our commitment to the Geneva Conventions, The Convention Against Torture and Rome Statue, as the Bill introduces a presumption not to prosecute crimes after 5 years from when the allegation took place, which includes torture and other war crimes. The treaties require states to investigate, and where appropriate, prosecute allegations of torture and war crimes. Any state that is unable or unwilling to so risks dragging their Armed Forces personnel in front of the International Criminal Court.
  • The Bill currently does nothing to propose reforms to the flawed investigations process. It is focussed on changes to prosecutions, when the Government’s own data shows that the 3,400 allegations made only led to seven prosecutions, of which all but one have been dropped, the rest would need to be addressed by changes to investigations practices.

The Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, John Healey said:

“We all want the same thing. We want to protect British troops and we want to protect British values. And this should not mean a matter of party politics.

“We will seek time overhaul investigations, set up safeguards against vexatious claims consistent with our international obligations and guarantee troops retain their right to compensation claims when MoD failures lead to injury or death of our forces overseas.”

Shadow Minister for the Armed Forces, Stephen Morgan MP, added:

“Labour will always defend the interests of our Armed Forces who serve our country with courage and distinction. Those British service personnel who have been subject to vexatious legal claims and years of judicial reviews have been let down by successive governments. There is a problem for British troops but this Bill gets the solutions badly wrong.

It undermines Britain’s proud long-standing adherence to the Geneva Conventions, by bringing in a presumption against prosecution after five years which covers torture and other war crimes.

The bill risks UK service personnel being dragged to the international criminal court in the Hague, instead of being dealt with in our own British justice system.”

 

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Shadow Armed Forces Minister conducts tour of HMS Prince of Wales

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan today visited HMS Prince of Wales, a Queen Elizabeth-Class aircraft carrier docked in Portsmouth, for an extensive tour of her capabilities and time with personnel.

Alongside HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Prince of Wales forms the largest, most powerful, and technologically advanced ships built for the Navy, capable of carrying up to 40 aircraft and a crew of up to 1,600. The flight deck is four acres and four fighter jets can be moved from the hangar to the flight deck in one minute. The MoD forecast that it will complete the carriers build project for £6.405 billion, an increase of £193 million (3%) from the £6.212 billion agreed in the re-baselined project in 2013.

Led by the vessels Commander of Logistics, Mr Morgan spent time in both main galleys, the operations room, the Hangar, and was given access to the ship’s Highly Mechanised Weapon Handling System.

Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Stephen Morgan MP said:

“HMS Prince of Wales is a fine example of our nation’s Naval might and is a testament to the capabilities of our Great British shipyards.

I had the honour of visiting the vessel in Rosyth two years ago, while she was still preparing for active service, and the opportunity today to see her progression highlights the dedication of our Naval personnel.

As one of the most powerful surface warships ever constructed in the UK, HMS Prince of Wales is a reminder of what we can achieve when we have a Labour government at the helm.”

As well as observing the vessel’s equipment and capabilities, Mr Morgan spent time with the personnel onboard learning what life is like living on an aircraft carrier. The Shadow Armed Forces Minister reiterated that ‘It’s the people who make our armed forces the best in the world’. With time spent in the overflow accommodation, medical center, and flight deck the visit gave the Shadow Armed Forces Minister insight into all the elements needed to maintain the ship’s capability.

Mr Morgan was joined by Public Accounts Committee for the visit, who are carrying out an investigation into the cost-effectiveness of the carrier strike project entitled – Delivering Carrier Strike. The inquiry looks at exploiting commercial opportunities, delivering capability, and analysis of value for money.

Mr Morgan said:

“I was delighted to welcome and join the Public Accounts Committee, the oldest and most prestigious committee in Parliament, on a visit to HMS Prince of Wales today.

Showcasing our Naval capability and the skill of our shipbuilders, the Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers are a source of great pride for our city and our nation. A product of the last Labour government, they tell a story of a time before the recent decade of crude Tory defence cuts.

I will continue to follow closely the work of the PAC and advocate on behalf of building ships in Britain, which is best for our economy, jobs and shipyards.”

The construction of the Queen-Elizabeth Class carriers, which has supported over 10,000 British jobs and reinvigorated British shipyards, was commissioned by the last Labour government in 1997. Mr Morgan has continually called for greater commitments to British shipbuilding and the need to build in Britain.

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Stephen Morgan MP calls to set aside party politics to get Overseas Operations Bill right

Stephen Morgan MP has called for the government to forge a constructive consensus on legislation to protect our Armed Forces from vexatious claims. 

The purpose of the Overseas Operations Bill is to provide greater legal protections to Armed Forces personnel and veterans serving on military operations overseas.

The Shadow Defence team has vowed to fight for serving troops and veterans for their right to justice from the government, arguing the bill protects the government, not armed forces personnel.

However, the Shadow Armed Forces Minister has argued the bill does not in fact offer the legal protections that it is said to provide, and risks damaging Britain’s international reputation.

Speaking in the House of Commons this afternoon, Stephen Morgan MP said,

“Unfortunately, the government has got important parts of this Bill badly wrong.

“In its current form it risks damaging our reputation and failing to protect of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.

“If I have one message for the Minister it is this: As this bill continues its passage through Parliament, commit to improving it alongside us.

“Let’s work together to protect our troops, their reputation and our international standing.”

The Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, John Healey MP, added,

“We all want the same thing. We want to protect British troops and we want to protect British values. And this should not mean a matter of party politics.

“We will seek time to overhaul investigations, set up safeguards against vexatious claims consistent with our international obligations and guarantee troops retain their right to compensation claims when MoD failures lead to injury or death of our forces overseas.”

You can read the full text of the Member for Portsmouth South’s speech via his website, or see a clip here.

 

 

 

 

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Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Stephen Morgan MP – Overseas Operations Bill – Full Speech

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I would like to start by paying tribute to our armed forces – and join colleagues from across this House – in expressing gratitude to those who serve.

They truly give us a reason to be patriotic.

Mr Speaker, there is consensus across the House here today.

Labour, the Government, and the Armed Forces all want the same thing.

We all agree that we must protect our troops from vexatious claims.

And, we all agree that we must defend those that serve our country overseas with courage and distinction.

Government promised to bring forward legislation to do just that in their first 100 days of government.

Now, 284 days later, they have disappointingly got crucial elements of this Bill badly wrong.

The question we must be asking is: what does this mean for our troops?

It risks breaching the armed forces covenant and rolls back on their employment rights.

It fails to properly protect against vexatious claims.

And, it undermines Britain’s proud adherence to the international laws like the Geneva Convention that we helped create.

But it is not too late.

There is still time for Ministers to work with us to get this right.

The Government’s introduction of a 6-year limit for bringing civil claims will prevent troops who suffer injury from taking cases to court.

Over the last 15 years, there have been 25 cases brought by injured British troops against the MoD – for every 1 case brought by alleged victims against our forces.

That means the main beneficiary of this Bill is the MoD. Not our personnel.

This Bill should be designed to protect troops, not the purse strings of Government.

So, I put it to the Minister, if this Bill is for our armed forces community, why does it deny them the same employment rights as civilians?

Mr Speaker, Labour is also deeply concerned this Bill does not meet its primary objective – it does not do enough to protect our troops from vexatious claims.

In letters sent to the Defence Secretary by the Defence Committee, the point is made that this Bill does nothing to prevent arduous investigations processes.

It just protects from prosecutions.

It does nothing to deal with the serious failings in the system for investigating allegations against British troops.

Something that the defence minister himself admits –

“Had they been done properly – and self-regulation had occurred – we probably wouldn’t be here today”.

This means that perhaps the toughest, most intrusive aspect of the vexatious claims process is not dealt with in this Bill.

And this is not the only way in which it leaves our troops open to ’lawfare’.

By going back on our commitments to the Geneva convention, it risks dragging our people in front of the International Criminal Court.

I put it to the Minister, does he really want to make it more likely that the ICC could open investigations against British troops?

Mr Speaker, there are also a set of wider issues here.

Vexatious claims are not the only major problem our forces face.

Action on this issue is not a licence to neglect others.

Low pay.

Ten years of falling morale.

A decade of falling numbers.

And a housing crisis across the tri-services.

If the Minister is serious about tackling its poor track record on Defence, we need to see action on all these issues.

This presents an opportunity to turn the tide, break the mould, and work with Labour to get this right.

Mr Speaker, in this country we are proudly patriotic.

And, reinforcing that patriotism, that love for our country, is the high regard in which our armed forces are held.

When you see Union Flags on the shoulder patches of service personnel overseas, that means something.

It means honesty. It means respect for the rule of law. It means justice.

From Sandhurst to Britannia Naval College, there is a reason is why countries from around the world send their officers to be trained in our military institutions.

But, Mr Speaker, this Bill puts all that at risk.

It is at odds with the rules based international order we helped create.

In its current form, this Bill would make Great Britain the only nation among our major allies to offer a statutory presumption against prosecution.

As the previous-chief of the defence staff, the ex-attorney general, and the former-defence secretary have said:

“it undermines Britain’s proud long-standing adherence to the Geneva convention.”

Great Britain has proudly stood, and must stand, against the use of torture – and against the use of rendition.

Mr Speaker, I urge the Minister:

Do not undo the work of Churchill.

Do not undo the work of Attlee.

Do not chip away at our nation’s proud reputation.

I put it to the Minister, how can we expect Great Britain to speak with authority on international law to China, Russia and Iran if we go back on our own commitments?

In years gone by, a commitment made by this proud nation meant something.

Last week this government tarnished that reputation by breaking international law with the Internal Markets Bill.

I urge the Minister to commit to working with us to make sure this Bill does not do the same.

So, Mr Speaker, unfortunately, the government has got important parts of this Bill badly wrong.

In its current form it risks damaging our reputation and failing to protect Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.

But it is not too late. As I said, there is consensus across this House today.

There is still time for Ministers to work with the opposition to get this right.

Protecting troops from vexatious claims does not need to be at odds with our commitments to international law.

It does not need to be a trade-off between safeguarding our armed forces and eroding the reasons why we are patriotic.

As many Members of this House have said today, this should not be a matter of party politics or point-scoring.

Labour stand foursquare behind our troops.

We want to work with Government to build the broadest consensus possible around a Bill tailored to supporting our forces and safeguarding human rights.

If I have one message for the Minister it is this:

As this bill continues its passage through Parliament, commit to improving it alongside us.

Let’s work together to protect our troops, their reputation, and our country’s international standing.

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City MP responds to new Covid restrictions

Responding to the announcement of the Prime Minister of new Covid restrictions, Portsmouth South’s Stephen Morgan MP said:

“Here in Portsmouth we have all played our part by working together in fighting this virus through largely following government guidelines. But we can’t be complacent.

Whilst infection levels have remained relatively low compared to the rest of the country, we have seen a rise in the last few weeks.

With the concerns over recent handling of the pandemic and real challenges with the testing strategy, Government’s new measures must make a difference and save lives”.

 

 

 

 

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Shadow Armed Forces Minister calls out Government over declining recruitment figures

Today during Defence Questions, Stephen Morgan MP called out Ministers over a decade of dwindling armed forces personnel numbers. Sitting on the opposition frontbench, the Portsmouth South MP called on the Minister from the Despatch Box to outline how the Government will put an end to the current crisis.

The action comes against the backdrop of figures painting a damning picture of Tory’s defence record. The latest quarterly figures show that our armed forces have declined in size for 10 years in a row. Meanwhile, a major national survey of our armed forces found that morale has fallen from 52%, expressing high morale in 2010 to 41% in 2020, whilst satisfaction with basic pay has fallen from 52% in 2010 to 39% in 2020.

Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Stephen Morgan MP said:

“Ten years of falling personnel numbers running parallel to a decline in satisfaction and morale points to the government’s failure to act as a cause for the recruitment and retention crisis we face.

Data shows that not only is Government failing to meet its recruitment targets with record numbers withdrawing from the process, the number of people leaving the armed forces is increasing as well.

The minister’s failure to get recruitment and retention figures in check lets down our troops and weakens our national security. That is why today at the Despatch Box I demanded the government makes personnel a key priority of the upcoming Integrated Review.”

Mr Morgan’s action in the chamber follows a written question he tabled exposing nearly 50,000 people have withdrawn from the armed forces recruitment process between January and June, reportedly up 7,000 from the year before. 

Mr Morgan added:

“The Defence Secretary recently said that the MoD’s greatest asset was “not tanks or our aeroplanes, but it’s people”.

Yet, the private contractor the government has entrusted to deliver more troops has faced heavy criticism for being inefficient and presiding over a system that puts off potential recruits – an idea supported by the withdrawal statistics.

The government must improve the ‘offer’ to our troops and urgently iron out the issues dissuading swathes of young people interested in joining from doing so.”

The concerns over personnel numbers are not the only reason that the Conservatives have drawn fire on defence. The government announced plans to axe 20,500 jobs in the armed forces by 2020, imposed pay freezes that have led to a real-terms pay cut for troops since 2010, meanwhile the Ministry of Defence has a funding black hole of at least £13bn in its 10-year plan to equip the UK’s armed forces.

 

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City MP backs local Portsmouth charity’s ‘Shrink the elephant’ campaign

Stephen Morgan MP has backed Portsmouth Abuse and Rape Counselling Service’s (PARCS) campaign to ‘shrink the elephant’, that aims to raise awareness of issues surrounding sexual abuse and challenge cultural norms that perpetuate abuse.

The charity argues sexual abuse can sometimes feel like the elephant in the room, and believes we all have the power to ‘shrink the elephant’.

The campaign comes as part of PARCS’ wider initiative ‘Project Catalyst’, that seeks to support and empower local young women in Portsmouth to become leaders in the reduction of violence and abuse against women and girls.

Stephen Morgan MP commented:

“I am proud to support PARCS’ important campaign to highlight the challenges survivors of sexual violence and domestic/sexual abuse face everyday.

The work of the entire team of PARCS and Project Catalyst is truly inspiring and I am keen to do all I can to offer the support they need.”

It was reported in late July that more than 40,000 calls and contacts were made to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline during the first three months of lockdown, most by women seeking help.

In June, calls and contacts were nearly 80% higher than usual, according to charity Refuge, which runs the helpline.

The Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, added:

“I’m deeply concerned by the recent figures that have shown a worrying spike in cases of domestic abuse nationally, particularly during lockdown.

“As we head into the winter period and the risk of a second lockdown looms, it is incredibly vital these issues experienced both here in Portsmouth and nationally are raised in Parliament, and I will be doing just that in the coming weeks.”

Mr Morgan went to visit PARCS in his constituency ofPortsmouth South earlier this month, and has previously written to the Home Secretary earlier this year, highlighting the rise of domestic abuse in the UK during lockdown.

 

 

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Covid-19 update: Stephen Morgan MP’s recent parliamentary actions on testing

In recent days, Mr Morgan has been receiving an increasing number of enquiries about issues with Covid-19 testing and social care support.

He has recently asked the government to provide urgent answers on:

Mr Morgan is also awaiting answers from the government on distances travelled by constituents for testing, testing for our Armed Forces and the pandemic’s impact on both ports and schools.

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City MP reacts to ‘disappointing’ new court ruling stating pension age changes are not discriminatory

News has broken that the three senior judge’s ruling on the Court of Appeal challenge have found that despite feeling sympathy for WASPI campaigners, the state pension age did not amount to unlawful discrimination under EU or human rights law.

Committed WASPI supporter, Stephen Morgan MP said:

“It is highly disappointing that millions of women born in the 1950s have lost the Court of Appeal Challenge today, ruling that raising the state pension age did not amount to unlawful discrimination.

This is yet another kick in the teeth for a grassroots movement of inspiring women who have been fighting tooth and nail for justice.

The ruling is deeply disheartening, but we must not lose sight of who is responsible for the origins of this severe injustice. The way in which the Conservative Government has implemented the 1995 State Pension Act has caused turmoil for hundreds of thousands of people, hitting the most vulnerable hardest.

I have had the privilege of working with Portsmouth’s campaigners on this important issue for some time and will continue to support them in their fight for justice.”

Stephen Morgan MP has been a long-time supporter of the WASPI campaign. He has hosted local rallies, held meetings up in parliament, raised the issue through parliamentary questions, and regularly meets with local Solent WASPI organisers.

 

 

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Controversial UK Internal Markets Bill: why I voted against

Following the debate in the House of Commons today, Stephen Morgan MP sets out why he voted in the Second Reading of the Internal Markets Bill.  

Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South said:

“After standing on a pledge during the General Election to ‘get Brexit done’, the government is now in fact undoing it, whilst time is running out to secure a deal.

In tearing up parts of the Withdrawal Agreement that the Prime Minister himself drafted, Mr Johnson is making a monumental admission of failure. Whilst we are in the middle of a pandemic, Portsmouth residents have told me they want Government focusing on saving lives not going over covered ground.

When considering the future of our city, and our nation, there are a number of reasons why I could not vote for the Bill this evening.

Firstly, it empowers ministers to pass regulations even if they are contrary to the withdrawal agreement. This knowingly and openly breaks international law and will frustrate the process of getting a deal.

Former Prime Ministers from Mr Johnson’s own party have commended this flagrant disregard for legislative process over the weekend. You will have seen these comments in the national press. Even as far as America, senior politicians have expressed outrage that the Government is trying to break international law at a time when they are preaching compliance.

Not only does this Bill erode Britain’s reputation on the world stage, it could cause a race to the bottom within our shores, affecting Portsmouth people. Under the law proposed by government this evening, if one nation within the union lowers their standards, for example over the importation of chlorinated chicken, the other three nations will have to accept chlorinated chicken too. These are not the high standards that British people deserve.

Britain’s greatness is built upon our values and the fact we have long stood up for the rule of law. I therefore could not vote to allow the Prime Minister to throw all that away by disregarding an international treaty he personally negotiated and signed up to, undermining our standing in the world. 

Now is the time for competence and consensus, so the country can move on and recover. The Bill put forward by Government did nothing to help us move on and progress. It would let down Portsmouth, and it would let down our nation”.