The Labour Party is to whip its MPs to vote against the UK Government’s Legacy Bill, saying it “doesn’t prioritise victims” of the Troubles.
Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Kyle said Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis were “getting on their steamroller” and accused them of “wrecking a one-off opportunity to deliver for victims”.
“Those who committed serious crime and murder could get a better deal out of the commission than victims, and, for me, that is a red line,” said Mr Kyle.
The controversial legislation will get a second reading on Tuesday. If it passes through both the Commons and the House of Lords it will give immunity to anyone who cooperates with an information-gathering commission.
With a Conservative majority in the Commons, the Bill is expected to pass the second reading. If passed into legislation, legacy investigation powers will be transferred to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), which will be headed by a judge. That is expected to last for five years with a £30m-a-year budget.
The Government has been widely criticised for the decision to introduce the legislation, which does not have the support of any of the victims’ lobby groups, with only the veterans’ lobby giving it a cautious welcome.
The prime minister had pledged to stop future prosecutions of soldiers who served in Northern Ireland.
Mr Kyle said: “The commission puts a priority on reviewing, not investigating. The Government have driven themselves into a cul-de-sac over this.”
The MP added that the Bill gave parity between “those who may or may not have acted unlawfully while in the military and those who perpetrated terrorist-related crime”.
“They’re treated exactly the same — and I don’t think veterans should be treated as terrorists,” he added.
The Government has been accused of trying to shut down any scrutiny of the state’s actions during the Troubles.
Mr Kyle, the MP for Hove, said: “I believe Boris Johnson and Brandon Lewis are smarting from the onslaught from the right-wing libertarian faction of their own party.
“I have sat in the Commons as Brandon Lewis was called a liar by his own backbench MPs and it’s all coming from those who want an amnesty for all veterans. That is not feasible.”
Mr Kyle added: “What I want is to recognise that 250,000 people served under Operation Banner. Over 720 were murdered by acts of terror during the course of their duties and they are victims who also need justice.
“It’s complex… but I am certain that there is a way forward that will achieve priority and empowerment for victims and their families.”
Mr Kyle said there should be “independent and rigorous investigations and, where possible, justice and, where not possible, information”.
The legislation will also stop future inquests and civil actions related to the Troubles. It does not fully close the door to criminal prosecutions, although it is unclear who will be responsible for policing that.
“This is not about Labour against the Tories. This is about delivering something that is very long overdue.
“I have spoken now to lots of victims’ organisations. I have spoken to people who have been involved in formal investigations to get their perspective. I have spoken to numerous victims directly and also to the political parties.
“All of them are very aware and very informed of the legislation and, secondly, all have very deep and fundamental objections to the approach outlined in the Bill. So that is why the Labour Party will be opposing it.”