HL Deb 23 February 1995 vol 561 cc1252-4

3.32 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they have authorised the initiation of procedures intended to secure the discharge of Private Clegg from the Army.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley)

My Lords, Private Clegg's commanding officer was bound to do so under Queen's Regulations. It does not automatically follow, however, that that will lead to Private Clegg being discharged from the Army.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply, but will he explain why he was not guided by the precedent of Private Thain who, in very similar circumstances, was convicted of murder a number of years ago? When the similar case came before Ministers at that time, they directed that he should not be discharged.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I believe that the cases are different and I do not think that it is necessarily helpful to make comparisons between the case of Private Clegg and the case of Private Thain. Each case is individual and must be treated as such. I know that my noble friend is more familiar with the case of Private Thain than I am because he was involved at the time, but it is evident from my researches that the Army chain of command considered, as did my noble friend, the case of Private Thain's discharge under Queen's Regulations. But that case was determined to be so exceptional that he was retained in the Army.

I repeat what I said in answer to my noble friend's first Question. It does not automatically follow that merely initiating the proceedings will lead to Private Clegg being discharged from the Army.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, as a matter of information, will the noble Lord give the House an idea of precisely what those procedures are and at what point Ministers can intervene to influence them one way or another, regardless of whether or not it is the affair of Private Clegg?

Lord Henley

My Lords, it goes through the entire Army structure and the case is considered with the utmost care at a number of different levels. The important point is that ultimately it comes to the Army Board which has discretion to decide in the end whether Private Clegg is discharged or retained. I assure the noble Lord that the Army Board is chaired by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, does not the behaviour of the Parachute Regiment, both at the time of the Clegg incident in trying to obstruct the course of justice and in its members exulting in their canteen over the loss of civilian lives, make that regiment totally unsuitable for duties in support of the civil power? Will the Government make sure that that regiment's postings are adjusted accordingly?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I do not believe that that is relevant. Also, it is a rather disgraceful slur on an honourable and fine regiment.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Henley

My Lords, nor do I believe that that is relevant to the case of Private Clegg. The individual facts of that case should be considered purely in relation to him.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, reverting to the Question on the Order Paper, will my noble friend say whether or not Ministerial approval was given before that procedure was initiated?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that Ministers were informed, but under Queen's Regulations it is a matter for the commanding officer. I could write to my noble friend and specify the relevant paragraphs of the Queen's Regulations. It is a matter for the commanding officer of that unit to initiate the appropriate proceedings.

Lord Richard

My Lords, does Private Clegg have the opportunity to make representations as regards staying in the Army?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that Private Clegg does have those opportunities and will be encouraged to make the appropriate representations either by himself or through his representatives at the appropriate time.