HC Deb 08 November 1967 vol 753 cc1002-5
8. Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when his report on the case of Leslie Parkes will be published.

14. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his inquiries into the case of Mr. Leslie Parkes.

66. Mr. Bellenger

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has any further statement to make on the case of Leslie Parkes.

Mr. Healey

I have nothing to add to my statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT for 25th October.—[Vol. 751, c. 1731.]

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we have the strong impression in this House that the military prosecution, which was based on very sound grounds, was suspended for political and publicity reasons? Will he take this opportunity of saying that the Army was in no way to blame, because considerable aspersions have been cast on the Army for the action it took?

Mr. Healey

I think that the hon. Gentleman cannot have consulted his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) who, speaking from the Front Bench, with all his authority as a spokesman on home affairs, and with his legal and military background, asked me to do precisely what I did. No aspersions have been cast on the Army, but there were a number of factors in the case which, as the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone argued, made it desirable that if possible it should be dropped, and I took his advice.

Mr. Wall

Is it not the fact that in this case the charge was withdrawn before the summary of evidence was completed, and it was later found that the charge was fully justified? Does not this wholly vindicate the Army authorities, and prove the Minister's personal intervention, whatever his intentions at the time, to be both hasty and unjustified?

Mr. Healey

No, Sir. That is not what right hon. and hon. Members from the Front Bench and back benches opposite said at the time. The situation sometimes arises in the civil courts when, for one reason or another, the Attorney-General decides that he should enter a nolle prosequi. Unfortunately such a proceeding is not available to the military authorities under military law. I believe that it should be, that in similar circumstances it is right that military proceedings should be brought to an end as they can be in the civil courts.

I recognise that some features of the way in which the proceedings were brought to an end were unsatisfactory, and I regret this, but I believe that more damage would have been done to the public interest and to the Army's interests

if the proceedings had been allowed to continue.

Mr. Bellenger

In the original statement my right hon. Friend said that the legal department of the War Office decided to take steps to rearrest Parkes, presumably on very substantial ground. Was any Minister consulted prior to this step being taken which would have avoided the necessity for quashing the proceedings on what my right hon. Friend termed public grounds?

Mr. Healey

No, Sir. This was one of the minor errors of judgment to which I referred in my statement. My right hon. Friend will no doubt recall that when he was Secretary of State for War the right of military rearrest after the failure of civil proceedings was a matter of great controversy between his Department and another one. I think that it would have been better if, on this occasion, before this step was taken—there was no precedent for more than 20 years, and even the precedent was imperfect in many respects—there had been consultation at a higher level.

Sir J. Hobson

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether, before he procured the discontinuation of these military proceedings, he had had the advice of the Law Officers about whether it was proper to do so? I am sure the right hon. Gentleman recognises that there is great anxiety that an executive Minister should stop the ordinary processes of a prosecution because he happens to be under political or Press pressure. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Attorney-General on showing the hollowness and absurdity of withdrawing a charge which was a good one?

Mr. Healey

I really think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, with all his legal experience, should think twice about his second remark. He seemed to be suggesting that in the proceedings which he took for perjury the Attorney-General was pursuing the Army's case against Parkes as a deserter. I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not suggesting that that is the case. If he were, it would be most improper.

Mr. G. Campbell

Is the Minister aware that his reply concerning the Army's part in this is totally unsatisfactory, because it is now evident that, whatever the local police may have done, the Army was in no way to blame for what happened? As the Army cannot speak for itself in this House, will he make this clear?

Mr. Healey

I hope that nobody is trying to put me into the position of criticising the Army as a whole. I believe that some errors of judgment were made in this case, and this is why I thought it right that it should be brought to an end and Parkes released. The errors to which I have referred are the long delay between his arrest and re-arrest, the circumstances of the arrest itself, the circumstances in which Parkes was held in detention, which may be held, and were held, by many hon. Members to have prejudiced the later trial, but, above all, the propriety of using Section 74 to re-arrest a man and take military proceedings when a civil court had found that there was no case that he was subject to military law. I am trying to ensure that this type of case can never arise again. I think that the House as a whole strongly approved the statement I made a fortnight ago that in fact it should not in future be the practice to use Section 74 in cases where the magistrates have found that there was no case to be heard under Sections 186 and 187.

Mr. G. Campbell

On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this question at the earliest opportunity.

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