The British Defence Secretary has said she is determined to end the "chilling" threat of repeated investigations into alleged historical offences by British troops who served in Northern Ireland.

Penny Mordaunt has said she wanted plans to strengthen the legal protections for military personnel who served on overseas operations such as Iraq and Afghanistan to be extended to cover veterans of the Troubles.

Ms Mordaunt has signalled she intends to create a "statutory presumption" against prosecution of current or former personnel for alleged offences committed in the course of duty abroad more than ten years ago.

The legislation, which is subject to public consultation, will stipulate that such prosecutions are not in the public interest unless there are "exceptional circumstances", such as if compelling new evidence emerged.

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute in London, Ms Mordaunt said she hoped the measures could offer a way forward for those who served during the Troubles.

"I do think it should cover Northern Ireland," she said during a conference at the Royal United Services Institute.

"The problem is that we have failed to make progress on the whole 'lawfare' issue because we have been held up waiting for other things to happen.

"It is not going to be resolved overnight. It is a personal priority of mine that we get this resolved and we stop this chilling effect that is claiming veterans who really deserve our care and respect."

Ms Mordaunt said she had secured agreement with Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley that the concerns of defence, including the veterans, would be formally considered in her next steps.

She said that she was determined that they should not repeat the mistakes of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) which degenerated into the "pursuit of profit" by "legal firms interested in making a quick buck".

"This is not about preventing someone who has committed a crime facing justice. This is about stopping an industry that surrounds these processes which is not about the pursuit of justice," she said.

Among those currently facing prosecution in relation to the Troubles is a former soldier, known as Soldier F, who has been charged with the killing of two people during Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972.

The chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, Conservative MP Julian Lewis, called for a South African-style "truth recovery" process for Northern Ireland.

"Given that sort of immunity has already been effectively granted to so many people on the terrorist side of that bitter and awful conflict, what's good enough for Nelson Mandela should be good enough for us and we ought to draw a line in this way," he said.

The former head of the British Army, General Richard Dannatt, said members of the House of Lords would try to amend the legislation to extend it to Northern Ireland when it comes to the House.

"Soldiers did their duty, got up in the morning, sometimes they came under attack. They returned fire," he said.

"They didn't set out to murder people. Terrorists set out every morning to murder people and successfully did so. There is a huge distinction to be drawn."

General Dannatt, who is a member of the House of Lords, said the prospect of soldiers or former soldiers facing investigation or prosecution for conducting operations is "very debilitating for the morale of serving soldiers" and "the morale of the army generally".

He told RTÉ's News at One that "nobody is above the law" but the vast number of incidents involving the British Army in the 38 years of operations in Northern Ireland up to 2007 "were conducted by soldiers in accordance with the rules of engagement".

The Director of the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry, Paul O'Connor, said there is no "witch hunt" against soldiers who served in Northern Ireland.

But he said families have not had investigations and where there are investigations and there is evidence of wrongdoing the Public Prosecution Service should make a decision on whether the criminal law was broken.

Sinn Féin's spokesperson on victims and legacy issues has said no British soldier should be exempted from the due process of the law.

"No British soldier should be above the law and whether crimes have been committed in Ireland or Iraq, those crimes should be investigated and those responsible held to account," Linda Dillon said in a statement.

"Sinn Féin has rigorously opposed any and every attempt to introduce a statute of limitations or immunity for crimes committed by British soldiers in Ireland. We have stood in support of victims and and will continue to do so."

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly also expressed concern at the Government's plans.

"The SDLP remains opposed to amnesties designed to let those who break the law off the hook for their crimes. It doesn't matter what uniform you wear, everyone must be equally subject to the rule of law," she said.