HC Deb 13 February 1967 vol 741 cc105-9
Mr. Jack Ashley (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the arrest of Leslie Parkes by the Military Police and the future procedure to be followed.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. James Boyden)

Leslie Parkes was arrested by the civil police on 23rd June, 1966, under Section 186 of the Army Act, 1955, on a reasonable suspicion of being a deserter and was brought before the magistrates under Section 187. The magistrates discharged him. These proceedings did not constitute a trial and were not a bar to further proceedings.

He was arrested by the military police during the night 9–10th February, 1967, brought before his commanding officer, and charged under the Army Act with desertion. The commanding officer, in accordance with the Army Act and Rules of Procedure made thereunder, remanded him and ordered a summary of evidence to be taken. When this has been taken, he will again be brought before his commanding officer, who may, if the evidence justifies it, remand him for trial by court-martial. It would be wrong for me at this stage to say anything which might prejudice the future proceedings before the officer taking the summary of evidence, the commanding officer or the possible court-martial.

Mr. Ashley

Is my hon. Friend aware that the high reputation of his Department has suffered grievously by this clumsy, arrogant and totally unnecessary action in arresting Leslie Parkes? Is he further aware that, by asking a court of law to make a judgment and then rejecting that judgment and arresting my constituent seven months after the court's decision that there was no prima facie case made out against him, the Army has shown a deplorable disregard of basic human rights?

If he has any further evidence against Mr. Parkes, would he please work through the civil court? Will he release Parkes immediately while this is going on and accepted my assurance that the Army will get no rest until justice has not only been done but has seen to be done?

Mr. Boyden

Whilst it is certainly a principle of British law that a man shall not be tried twice for the same offence, the magistrates' court proceedings did not amount to a trial and, in footnote No. 7 to Section 187 of the Army Act, there is specific reference to the fact that a man who has been discharged in this way may subsequently be re-arrested under Section 74 and tried if there is evidence to justify it—and in this case there is evidence to justify it.

Sir G. Nabarro

Is it not a fact that this man genuinely believes, and all the records show, that he had completed his service with the Colours and that he was not a deserter, and that last Thursday evening, 9th February, the civil police enticed him to the police station where the military police were waiting to arrest him? Is that not a disgraceful state of affairs?

Mr. Boyden

As to the latter part of what the hon. Gentleman has said, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is making an investigation into these circumstances. As to the first part—if the hon. Gentleman really wants me to answer him, I should be prejudging the trial.

Mr. Shinwell

If there are some doubts about the matter—whether the case was properly tried or whether or not it was an effective trial—until the commanding officer has presented his case, is there any reason why this man should be kept in custody? In an ordinary civil case he would be entitled to ask for bail. Why should he not be released until the evidence is adduced?

Mr. Boyden

The charge is one of desertion, which in the Army's eyes is a serious offence. In normal circumstances, when a man is charged with desertion he is kept under close arrest.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Can the hon. Gentleman explain how it takes seven months to decide whether a man is in a state of desertion or not? Will he make some observations on the reports, that I have only had from newspapers, about the treatment of this man during his recent imprisonment?

Mr. Boyden

I regret the long delay. Part of it was due to having to call witnesses from Germany. With regard to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question—I am having the matter investigated and I will certainly see that some of the things reported in the Press do not happen again.

Mr. Thorpe

If the Army Act provides that a man who has been acquitted in a civil court may subsequently be tried for the same offence in a military court, is this not contrary to the whole principles of British justice? If the hearing before the magistrates' court was not a preliminary examination or trial, what was it?

Mr. Boyden

It is obvious that exceptions in relation to preliminary proceedings were considered at the time of the passing of the 1955 Act, otherwise this would not have been put in as a footnote.

Mr. Bellenger

While not condoning any act of desertion, if such be the case, may I nevertheless ask my hon. Friend to speed up the court-martial proceedings? The Army is notorious for its delay in bringing a man to court-martial proceedings, which will presumably settle the matter once and for all in this case.

Mr. Boyden

I have given express instructions to that effect today.

Mr. Powell

Will the hon. Gentleman plainly and unequivocally undertake to investigate both the circumstances of this man's immediate arrest and the reasons that no preceedings were taken in his case over so long a period? Will the hon. Gentleman bring the answer to the House as soon as possible?

Mr. Boyden

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Wainwright

Is it not true that this gentleman was at home and took it for granted that he was no longer a deserter? Did he not lead the life of an ordinary citizen? Is it not disgraceful that he should remain in prison while a trial is taking place in so far as he considers that he is innocent?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot comment on the guilt or innocence of the person concerned. But there is a question for the Under-Secretary of State to answer.

Mr. Boyden

You took the words from me, Mr. Speaker. I was going to say that if my hon. Friend expects me to comment on the man's intention, which is the essence of desertion, I should be pre-trying the man.

Mr. Ronald Bell

What does the hon. Gentleman mean by the word "footnote" which he has used twice?

Mr. Boyden

It is a footnote to Section 187 of the Army Act. It is part of the Act.

Mr. Scholefield Allen

Unless there are very serious circumstances, a criminal is allowed out on bail. Is there any discretion to allow this man out on bail? If there is, why has he not been let out?

Mr. Boyden

As I said, desertion is a very serious offence, and the normal custom with a deserter is to keep him under close arrest.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Can the hon. Gentleman say with any certainty whether anyone in authority at any time after the hearing in the magistrates' court ever told Mr. Parkes that he was a civilian? If not, was it then made clear to the military authorities that they were entirely free to arrest this man at any time?

Mr. Boyden

Not to my knowledge did any military authority say to him that he was a civilian.

Mr. Lipton

My hon. Friend has said that the circumstances in which this man was lured to the local police station and then arrested are being investigated by the Home Secretary. Will he give an assurance that the result of this investigation will be disclosed to the House?

Mr. Boyden

I did not say that he had been lured.

Sir G. Nabarro

I said it.

Mr. Lipton

I also said it.

Mr. Boyden

I said that I had consulted my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and that he was investigating. That is so.

Mr. Lipton

Will we get the report?

Mr. Kershaw

While I agree that magistrates' court proceedings are not the same as a court-martial, will the hon. Gentleman look at the way the Army Act is likely to work? Clearly the person in peril will think that he has been tried twice even if, according to the Army, he has not been?

Mr. Boyden

Certainly I will look at it from that point of view.

Mr. Manuel

My hon. Friend has said on two occasions that desertion is a most serious charge. Could this man be released on bail while the trial is pending? He has been far too long in custody.

Mr. Boyden

There is no way of releasing a soldier on bail, but there are various forms of arrest and these I will have investigated.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must get on.

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