Line of Duty: Who is the Ted Hastings of Westminster?

There was a time when all our politicians wanted to be in the US political drama The West Wing.

Everyone in Westminster aspired to be as idealistic, witty and worthy as the characters in Aaron Sorkin’s fictional White House.

If you lingered for too long in the corridors of Parliament, you risked being stampeded by young staffers trying to emulate the show’s famous “walk and talk” set pieces.

Then came Brexit, where the parliamentary machinations, backroom negotiations and vitriol drew Game of Thrones comparisons.

Suddenly, MPs wanted to be Tyrion Lannister – the clever, cunning and cynical power behind the throne.

This week, it seems, politicians are fighting over who is Westminster’s answer to Ted Hastings.

Attacking the government over alleged cronyism, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was time to call in the upstanding, seemingly incorruptible police chief from the BBC’s crime series Line of Duty.

Boris Johnson told MPs that it was his government that was “getting on with rooting out bent coppers”.

Conservative MP William Wragg also weighed in, saying he was “more than happy to take up the role of the AC-12 of Whitehall”.

But which politician can really claim to be the true Ted Hastings of SW1?

The former Conservative minister Eric, now Lord, Pickles, has said he would be happy to take on the Ted Hastings role, after watching Line of Duty on a Sunday evening with a cup of tea.

He already chairs the AC-12 of Whitehall also known as Acoba (the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments).

That’s the body which advises former ministers and civil servants on outside employment and warns them against taking on inappropriate roles.

But unlike AC-12, the anti-corruption unit at the centre of the show, Acoba has no legal force and cannot impose harsh fines on those who don’t abide by the letter of the law.

Lord Pickles told MPs that if they wanted Acoba to be as forceful as AC-12, the committee needed more staff.

He admitted to feeling envious of Ted Hastings’ workforce, sadly telling MPs he only had four members of his team.

MPs who chair select committees often like to see themselves as fearsome inquisitors in the Ted Hastings mould.

And there have been a handful over the years that have inspired real fear in the witnesses hauled before them.

For many years, Labour MP Margaret Hodge chaired the Public Accounts Committee – and her brutal questioning of witnesses made an AC-12 interrogation look like a tea party.

For Ted Hastings, it’s rooting out police corruption, for Ms Hodge it was tax avoidance and wasting public money.

She tore a strip off executives from Amazon, Google and Starbucks for not paying a “fair amount of tax”.

She called BBC bosses “either naive or totally incompetent”.

And she told HMRC senior civil servants she wanted “to put a bomb under you guys”.

When it comes to accents alone, the DUP MP for Strangford, has a strong claim to be the real Ted Hastings.

Not only that but like the copper, played by Northern Irish actor Adrian Dunbar, he is also interested in the secretive, dark corners where few of his colleagues will venture.

Ted Hastings explores the seedy underbelly of police corruption. Jim Shannon attends the end-of-day Commons adjournment debate.

By the time the adjournment debate begins most MPs have long-since left the chamber, but Mr Shannon can usually be relied on to be sitting on the green benches, listening intently and expressing an interest in the topic no matter how niche or seemingly parochial.

He is also the MP who has most often used the word “fella” apart from…

The former Commons Speaker left Parliament more than a year ago but he gets an honourable mention for his dedicated and consistent use of one of Ted Hastings’ favourite words.

Mr Bercow has called his colleagues “fella” a massive 70 times – far more than any other MP.

So those are just some the contenders for the Ted Hastings of Westminster.

But who is the “H” of Westminster?

Well, at this point several of the BBC’s lawyers have suggested we don’t go any further…

Lord McFall elected Lord Speaker to oversee peers

Lord McFall of Alcluith has been elected as the Lords Speaker, to oversee peers in Parliament.

The former Labour MP beat rivals Lord Alderdice and Baroness Hayter to the role.

The election was triggered by the resignation of Lord Fowler who said he was standing down to “speak his mind” on issues he cares about like Aids.

The Lord Speaker presides over debates in the chamber and is responsible for security in the Lords’ area.

Lord McFall said he was “humbled” to have been chosen.

He said the Lords’ return to Westminster after the pandemic, and the restoration and renewal programme were challenges to be faced in the months and years ahead.

“The valuable and often unheralded work of the House of Lords and its members contributes to improving the lives of millions of people, but I know we need to do more to tell our story and to explain the value that we bring,” he said.

“As Lord Speaker, I stand ready to play my part in meeting the challenges that lie ahead. I want the Lords to be a vibrant, outward-facing legislature that reaches out as widely as possible across all parts of the United Kingdom.”

Ex Labour MP Lord McFall is best known for chairing the Commons Treasury select committee during the 2008 financial crisis.

From 1987-2005 he represented the Scottish constituency of Dumbarton and from 2005-2010 West Dunbartonshire. Before becoming an MP he worked as a chemistry and maths teacher.

He is currently the senior deputy Speaker and helped ensure peers could take part in the House of Lords from home during the pandemic.

During his campaign he said : “Reaching out to young people, particularly in hard to reach communities, is vital if we are genuinely going to reinvigorate interest in the House of Lords.”

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said of Lord McFall “you couldn’t find a nicer, kinder more welcoming politician” adding that he had “demonstrated a zeal for impartiality and fair-mindedness” as senior deputy Lords Speaker.

Lord Fowler also congratulated the new Lords Speaker tweeting: “I know he will embrace the challenges and opportunities ahead with energy and purpose.”

Johnny Mercer: Tory MP resigns as defence minister

Tory MP Johnny Mercer says he was “forced” to resign as a defence minister over the treatment of veterans who served in Northern Ireland.

No 10 confirmed his exit on Tuesday – ahead of the Overseas Operations Bill returning to the Commons on Wednesday.

The new law is designed to protect veterans from unfounded prosecutions.

But British soldiers who served in Northern Ireland will be excluded from the bill. Mr Mercer called that a “red line” for him staying in government.

In response, Boris Johnson said the government was “committed to doing more over the coming months, including for those who have served in Northern Ireland”.

A No 10 spokesperson said Prime Minister Boris Johnson had “accepted” Mr Mercer’s resignation and thanked him for his service as a minister.

But posting a resignation letter on Twitter immediately afterwards, Mr Mercer said he had been “relieved of my responsibilities in government”.

The MP – who is a former Army captain – wrote that the government had “abandoned people in a way I simply cannot reconcile” in allowing “endless investigations” into historic killings to continue.

He added: “Veterans are being sectioned, drinking themselves to death and dying well before their time, simply because the UK government cannot find the moral strength or courage we asked of them in bringing peace to Northern Ireland in finding a political solution to stop these appalling injustices.”

Plans were announced last year by the government to restrict the number of Troubles killings which could be fully investigated under a new approach where “new, compelling evidence” would be required.

But the Overseas Operations Bill would go further for other veterans, such as those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, proposing a five-year limit on criminal prosecutions.

Six former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles are currently facing prosecution.

In 2019, the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland said of 32 “legacy cases” it had ruled on since 2012, 17 related to republicans, eight to loyalists, and five were connected to the Army.

In his letter, Mr Mercer said “no discernible efforts have been made” to introduce similar legislation to cover Northern Ireland veterans, despite previous pledges, adding: “I can see no prospect of this changing.”

The Tory MP said he was “deeply proud of my predecessors who served in Northern Ireland”, adding they were “not second-class veterans” and deserved “the protection of the Overseas Operations Bill like everyone else”.

No 10 later shared a letter from the PM to Mr Mercer, thanking him for “highlighting the importance of legislating to protect our Armed Forces against vexatious and repeated claims”.

Mr Johnson wrote: “The conclusion of the enactment of the Overseas Operations Bill is a crucial part of that, addressing veterans who have served overseas.

“But we are committed to doing more over the coming months, including for those who have served in Northern Ireland.”

While the government has not moved on Mr Mercer’s calls, it has changed course over another contentious part of the bill, ahead of the debate on Wednesday.

The law had come under fierce criticism by human rights groups, former military commanders and lawyers for including a “presumption against prosecution” after the five-year time frame for the most serious of crimes – namely torture, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Labour’s Lord Roberts brought an amendment to the bill in the House of Lords to ensure the rule does not apply for those actions, which won the support of peers.

And now, ahead of the debate, the Ministry of Justice has conceded to the amendment, promising to exclude torture, genocide and crimes against humanity from the rule.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence said: “Whilst we maintain nothing in this bill prevents those accused of breaking the law from being prosecuted, we have listened to concerns, and in order to send a powerful message to the international community, amendments will be made to the Overseas Operations Bill.”

However, the department confirmed it would seek to overturn three other amendments agreed by peers earlier this month.

Gay conversion ban: Therapy is a humiliating and harmful practice

Gay conversion therapy is a humiliating and harmful practice that needs to be banned, a Stormont assembly debate has heard.

Politicians on Tuesday passed a motion calling for a ban on gay conversion therapy “in all its forms”.

It was proposed by Ulster Unionist assembly members (MLAs) Doug Beattie and John Stewart.

The non-binding motion argued it is “fundamentally wrong” to view the LGBTQ community as needing a “fix or cure”.

It passed by 59 votes to 24.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said her officials had started work to inform the drafting of legislation to ban conversion therapy.

MLAs rejected a DUP amendment that stated “legitimate religious activities” do not constitute conversion therapy.

It said those include preaching, prayer and pastoral support, and argued they “must be protected”.

The amendment, tabled by DUP MLAs Pam Cameron and Robin Newton, called for legislative options to ban the practice of conversion therapy but did not include the “fix or cure” wording.

The main Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) motion was not supported by the DUP or by Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader.

The term conversion therapy refers to any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity.

The practice is already outlawed in Switzerland and parts of Australia, Canada and the United States.

Opening the debate, Mr Beattie said he was born a straight man and there was no fix or cure for him.

“There is no therapy that would make me a gay man. So why would we say that a gay man can be fixed or cured?” he asked.

“Why would we say that there’s a therapy that can change a gay man to a straight man? There isn’t. It’s ludicrous. Conversion therapy is humiliating.”

He said the motion was not about stifling religious freedom, but about banning a “harmful practice”.

My experience was in a setting of a religious organisation, it was one-to-one work – it involved prayer, Bible studies and teaching around opposition to what they phrased as same-sex attraction.

It was really to reinforce that this was something that wasn’t Biblical and was to persuade but also to teach me that my homosexuality was wrong.

It is a brainwashing technique… to try [to] reinforce that shame, to make you in many ways feel like there is no way forward with your sexuality in that way.

I went through the process over a year or year and half.

At the end of it I felt like I had nowhere to go – I felt completely destroyed by it in terms of my faith and I felt completely isolated by it.

The DUP’s Ms Cameron, introducing the amendment, said the party was “firmly opposed” to conversion therapy and does not believe that members of the LGBTQ community need a fix or cure.

“However, we are concerned at the absence of any clear or evidence-based definition of conversion therapy contained anywhere within the motion. There is a risk that such ambiguity, if translated into legislation, would criminalise legitimate activities or conversations.

“We want to avoid unintended and unjustified consequences.”

In an earlier statement, the DUP said discrimination against someone because of their sexual orientation was wrong.

The party said it did not support gay conversion therapy but said there must be a balance between safeguarding against “dangerous practices” and any attempt “to restrict freedom of religious belief, speech and association”.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey agreed that the practice was cruel and inhumane and said legislation would be introduced as soon as possible.

Sinn Féin MLA Sinéad Ennis said it was fundamentally wrong to view the LGBTQ community as needing a fix or a cure.

“There is no cure required for being yourself, and you do not need to be fixed, because you are not broken,” she said.

The SDLP’s Mark Durkan said no-one should be told their identity was wrong.

“It needs to be said emphatically that sexual orientation is not a sin that needs to be confessed,” he said.

Alliance MLA Andrew Muir said the DUP amendment had caused hurt and offence.

“All this amendment does is harm. The DUP needs to recognise that they are on the wrong side of history on this,” he said.

Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister said he had no difficulty condemning “gruesome practices historically associated with conversion therapies”.

Mr Allister added LGBTQ activists wanted to “criminalise preaching in accordance with the sexual ethics that are set forth in holy scripture”.

“They want to criminalise praying. Where there has been legislation, that’s exactly what happened,” he said.

Conversion therapy is an imposed title and one that we reject.

What I underwent was standard psycho-therapeutic and counselling support from registered psychologists and a psychiatrist – I found as I worked on my behaviours, the feelings subsided.

That is perfectly legitimate but unfortunately it has been demonised by those who put everything in one bag and call it conversion therapy.

We have to have checks and balances – we have ideological diversity here and both sides need to come to the table.

It cannot be that the LGBT community simply wipes out the ex-gay community.

This is the first time the assembly has ever formally debated calls to ban the practice.

In July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to ban the practice in Great Britain.

Last month, Equalities Minister Liz Truss said the UK government would bring forward plans to ban gay conversion therapy “shortly”.

The motion put forward by the UUP MLAs urged the assembly to declare “that it is fundamentally wrong to view our LGBTQ community as requiring a fix or cure”.

It called on Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to commit to bringing forward legislation before the end of the assembly mandate to ban the practice.

Climate change: UK to speed up target to cut carbon emissions

Radical new climate change commitments will set the UK on course to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035, the UK government has announced.

Hitting the targets would require more electric cars, low-carbon heating, renewable electricity and, for many, cutting down on meat and dairy.

For the first time, climate law will be extended to cover international aviation and shipping.

But Labour said the government had to match “rhetoric with reality”.

It urged Boris Johnson to treat “the climate emergency as the emergency it is” and show “greater ambition”.

The prime minister’s commitments, which are to become law, bring forward the current target for reducing carbon emissions by 15 years. This would be a world-leading position.

Homes will need to be much better insulated, and people will be encouraged to drive less and walk and cycle more. Aviation is likely to become more expensive for frequent fliers.

The government has accepted the advice of its independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) to adopt the emissions cut, which is based on 1990 levels.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted a major surge in CO2 emissions from energy this year, as the world rebounds from the pandemic.

The UK’s new commitments come as US President Joe Biden prepares to stage a climate summit from Washington DC.

Environmentalists welcomed the government’s move, but warned that ministers had consistently failed to achieve previous CCC-set targets.

And they insisted that Chancellor Rishi Sunak must show clearly how the transition is to be funded.

Tom Burke, who chairs the environmental think tank E3G, explained what policy changes were needed to achieve the goal: “The most important thing, I think, is for [the prime minister] to focus his policy around energy efficiency, around wind and solar, and around storage of electricity and the management of the grid,” he said.

However, he told the BBC’s Today programme: “At the moment, it’s… a bit of a Boris blunderbuss and is a huge range of marginal things instead of a concentration of effort on those things that will deliver the most emissions reductions in the fastest time.”

Leo Murray of the climate charity Possible called the announcement “fantastic”, but added: “We’re not on track to meet previous climate commitments and in many ways the government is still failing.”

Mr Murray said ministers were “facing both directions at the same time”, as they had scrapped the Green Homes Grant for insulating homes, had not stopped airport expansion and were “still pushing a £27bn roads budget”.

The CCC report accepted by the government says low-carbon investment must scale up to £50bn a year in the UK. But it adds that in time fuel savings from more efficient equipment will cancel out investment costs.

The CCC believes around 1% of GDP – national wealth – would need to be spent on shifting away from fossil fuels over 30 years.

Its chairman, Lord Deben, said previously: “The implication of this path is clear: the utmost focus is required from government over the next 10 years.

“If policy is not scaled up across every sector, if business is not encouraged to invest, if the people of the UK are not engaged in this challenge – the UK will not deliver net zero by 2050. The 2020s must be the decisive decade of progress and action.”

Ed Matthew, campaigns director of E3G, said: “Setting an ambitious emission reduction target would boost the UK’s diplomatic drive to persuade other countries to set out ambitious targets of their own.”

He added: “The UK now has the opportunity to spark a global green industrial revolution, but ultimately its credibility will rest on action.”

Net zero means cutting emissions as far as possible, then balancing out any remaining releases by, for example, tree planting.

The government has adopted the new 2035 deadline for a 78% emissions cut because scientists say this is needed to keep the rise in global temperatures close to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

For Labour, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said: “The character of this government on climate change is now clear: targets without delivery.

“So while any strengthening of our targets is the right thing to do, the government can’t be trusted to match rhetoric with reality.”

He added: “We need a government that treats the climate emergency as the emergency it is. That means greater ambition than this government matched with much more decisive action.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas commented: “The most glaring problem [with the plan] is the government’s failure to address what’s driving the climate crisis: an outdated and exploitative economic system that treats our planet and natural world as peripheral to our lives and, worse, expendable.

“The Prime Minister needs to accompany stronger climate targets with an economic reset to put the health and well-being of people and planet above short-term profit and growth.”

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Stop treating rough sleepers as vagrants, say MPs

MPs from across the political spectrum have argued it is time to decriminalise rough sleeping and begging to help deal with the UK’s homelessness crisis.

They want the Vagrancy Act of 1824, which is still in force, to be repealed as soon as possible.

Tory MP Nicki Aiken said it was no longer “fit for purpose” and Labour’s Thangam Debonnaire argued the homeless needed “assistance, not arresting”.

The government said it agreed the legislation’s time had “gone”.

Anyone convicted under the Vagrancy Act faces a fine of up to £1,000 and gaining a criminal record.

The legislation – which refers to people sleeping in carts and wagons – initially carried a penalty of up to a month’s hard labour.

In February, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told MPs the act should be “consigned to history”.

And. in 2019, the BBC obtained data showing that arrests under it had halved between 2016 and 2018.

During a debate in Parliament’s Westminster Hall, Ms Debonnaire, the shadow housing minister, said the homeless “need assistance, not arresting” and that the UK required a “mass house-building programme”.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said “the price of inaction is high” and she was “saddened” that Mr Jenrick had yet to commit to a timetable for repealing the act.

“The Vagrancy Act is no longer fit for purpose,” said Ms Aiken, adding that it did not “deal with any issues around rough sleeping in the 21st Century”.

She said councils and charities “cannot be expected to put in place the services that are required” to help homeless people “without long-term funding”.

In response, housing minister Eddie Hughes described the causes of rough sleeping as “complex and multifaceted”.

He said the government had committed £433m to creating 6,000 homes for rough sleepers, and it “wholeheartedly” agreed it was “time to reconsider the Vagrancy Act”.

“Its time has been and gone,” Mr Hughes added.

But a review into the legislation had “been knocked off course” by a change of prime minister and general election in 2019 and the global pandemic.

Mr Hughes said he was “confident” that in due course “progress will be able to be made”.

MP Flick Drummond quits Twitter over out of hand abuse

An MP has quit Twitter after saying the number of abusive comments sent to her has got out of control.

Speaking at a debate about the online abuse of women MPs, Flick Drummond said she would not return to the platform “for the foreseeable future”.

The Conservative member for Meon Valley in Hampshire told Westminster Hall: “Social media is getting out of hand, and it is intimidating.”

She said women would be put off from public life unless things changed.

The BBC has asked Twitter to comment.

It comes after the Premier League said it was planning a social media blackout next month in response to continued online abuse of players.

In her speech, Ms Drummond said: “Like others, I have come off Twitter. There was no point in looking at comments designed to hurt one personally rather than deal with politics.”

She cited The Fawcett Society’s recent findings of a trend towards women not seeking to be elected into positions of power, with online abuse playing a factor.

She added: “If a woman raises her head above the parapet, it triggers even more abuse, so many of us wonder whether it is worth talking about a controversial topic.

“That is stultifying discussion, especially given that the diversity of a woman’s perspective is often helpful.

“We are tough as politicians, but we are also human beings. Many of us have families whom we want to protect as well as ourselves.

“I challenge every single person to confront this unacceptable behaviour, otherwise we will have to put further consequences in place to combat it.”

The debate was put forward by Maria Miller, the MP for Basingstoke, to discuss the increasing problem of online abuse.

In 2018, Birmingham Yardley Labour MP Jess Phillips said in one night she received 600 rape threats and was threatened with violence and aggression every day.

SNP MP Patricia Gibson faces sexual harassment claim

An SNP MP is facing an allegation of sexual harassment.

Patricia Gibson has denied a claim of inappropriate behaviour, which she told The Scottish Sun was “malicious” and “without any foundation”.

It is understood a complaint against the MP was made in March.

The SNP said individuals were entitled to have complaints dealt with confidentially and it would be inappropriate to comment further.

Ms Gibson has been the MP for North Ayrshire and Arran since 2015.

In a recent reshuffle, she became the SNP’s spokesperson for housing, communities and local government.

The allegation comes a month after the SNP’s chief whip in the House of Commons, Patrick Grady, stepped aside while the party investigated a sexual harassment complaint against him.

The party said it had received a formal complaint against Mr Grady and that “due process” would take place.

The formal complaint against Mr Grady relates to an alleged incident in 2016.

Mr Grady, the MP for Glasgow North since 2015, became his party’s chief whip in June 2017.

Grenfell: Government defeated on fire safety costs plan

The government has been defeated for a third time in the Lords over its plans for who pays for fire safety work on buildings in light of the Grenfell tragedy.

Peers changed the Fire Safety Bill again to prevent owners of blocks of flats passing the costs for remedial work on to leaseholders.

They argued a government grants and loan scheme should be in place first.

The government says the changes are “inappropriate and unworkable”.

Peers voted by a majority of 86 to reinsert provisions to shield residents from having to foot the bill for safety improvements.

A previous attempt by them to introduce the changes was rejected by MPs in March.

The Fire Safety Bill was brought forward to strengthen regulations following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 which killed 72 people.

There has been an intense debate about who should pick up the costs for works such as changes to emergency exits, after inspections found many other flats were covered in combustible cladding.

Thousands of leaseholders have faced huge bills amid warnings of financial ruin and mental health emergencies.

Housing, Communities and Local Government minister, Lord Greenhalgh, opened the debate by telling peers it was “time to accept the will of the democratic chamber”.

He said MPs had twice rejected the moves to change the legislation and he warned it would “ultimately cost lives” if the legislation was further delayed.

He said ministers had brought forward an “unprecedented” package of support to “alleviate the burden” on leaseholders.

In February, the government announced it was putting £3.5bn towards removing unsafe cladding from buildings more than 18m high – on top of £1.6bn for cladding removal announced last year.

It said flat owners in lower-rise blocks would be able to access loans to cover repair work and repayments would be capped at £50 a month.

But the schemes – which take the form of grants and loans – have not been introduced yet and flat owners say they still face costs of up to £50,000 for other works and insurance premiums.

The Bishop of St Albans, the Right Reverend Dr Alan Smith, who brought forward the amendment, said the government’s current offer was not acceptable.

He said the prime minister had been able to “rearrange his busy diary and intervene personally” to solve the problem in English football but there was no such “radical action” for the hundreds of thousands of people facing “desperate dilemmas”.

He said he knew it was a “nuisance” to once again disagree with the government’s plans as the bill overall was “good” but without changes, people could “within months face very large bills”.

The bishop said there had been no assurances to prevent the costs being passed to leaseholders until the government’s support scheme was operational and other historic fire safety defects were not covered by the plans.

“In the absence of an adequate plan or scheme to properly and fairly deal with the issues of remediation and the consequences of this bill – it’s my duty to stand up,” he added.

For Labour, Lord Kennedy of Southwark argued the government had “neither listened nor recognised the plight of the people trapped in their homes”.

“It’s not good enough. We must stand with the innocent victims – the leaseholders and the tenants.

“It is a disgraceful, monumental scandal and the government cannot be let off the hook,” he said.

The Liberal Democrat peer, Lady Pinnock, accused ministers of “trying to defend the indefensible”, with “innocent victims” who had “done everything right and nothing wrong” facing bankruptcy.

She said the problem could only be solved with “upfront funding from the government, “which could then be recouped from developers, construction firms and manufacturers.

Lord Greenhalgh said the idea ministers were “unleashing a torrent of issues” for residents was “overstated” and details of the financial support schemes would be published “very shortly”.

The bill will now return to the Commons again in what is known as parliamentary “ping pong” – the term used when legislation goes back and forth between the Commons and Lords as they reject each others’ changes.

Leo Docherty: Minister pledges protection for Troubles veterans

The new veterans minister has pledged legislation “soon” to protect British troops who served during the Troubles from unfounded prosecutions.

Leo Docherty, who took up the role on Wednesday, said ministers would give ex-soldiers who served in Northern Ireland the “protection” they deserved.

His predecessor in the role, Johnny Mercer, quit on Tuesday in protest at their treatment by the government.

He was unhappy at their exclusion from a bill debated by MPs on Wednesday.

The government says the Overseas Operations Bill will protect soldiers from “vexatious claims” for alleged historical offences in conflicts overseas.

Mr Mercer said he had been “forced” to resign because the government had failed to deliver on promises for a similar law covering Northern Ireland.

He said the government had “abandoned people in a way I simply cannot reconcile” in allowing “endless investigations” into historic killings to continue.

On Wednesday, the PM’s official spokesman said details of the new legislation would be announced “in the coming weeks”.

“There is more to be done on the issue of the Northern Ireland legacy and we are committed to making progress on this as quickly as possible,” he added.

“We are engaging with Northern Ireland parties and the community in Northern Ireland, including victims’ groups as well as the Irish government, on the way forward.”

Six former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles are currently facing prosecution.

In 2019, the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland said of 32 “legacy cases” it had ruled on since 2012, 17 related to republicans, eight to loyalists, and five were connected to the Army.

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