HC Deb 06 April 1943 vol 388 cc472-4

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Sir JOHN WARDLAW-MILNE:

13. To ask the Secretary of State for War whether he will reconsider the decision of the Military Court regarding W. C. Wood, paymaster of a certain detachment, Royal Army Pay Corps, who was dismissed the service as a result of a court-martial held on 2nd September, 1942, in view of the fact that this officer, although arrested on a charge relating to 22nd July, 1942, was tried on one relating to the 18th of that month; that the charge of 22nd July was dropped; that the accused, was ordered to be examined by a civilian medical practitioner although three medical boards had graded him permanently in category C; that the summary of evidence was taken when the defendant could not call witnesses; that the course that Lieutenant Wood began and subsequently discontinued was voluntary and no action was taken against absentees; and that the trial generally was conducted in an unsatisfactory manner?

Mr. Speaker

I think hon. Members have been asked to try to keep Questions down to 10 lines, as far as possible. This one covers 12 lines.

Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne

This is one of the few Questions, Sir, which I think could not be put in shorter terms, to give the right hon. Gentleman a chance of answering it.

Sir J. Grigg

The proceedings of the court-martial have been carefully reviewed, and I am advised that the trial was conducted fairly according to law. I see no reason for reconsideration. The answer to the first five parts of my hon. Friend's Question is necessarily rather long, and I will, with his permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne

It is difficult to ask a Supplementary Question without knowing the full reply, but do I understand from the reply, to the extent my right hon. Friend has given it, that it is not his intention to reconsider this matter, bearing in mind the fact that this man, who served in the last war and volunteered for this war, has been dismissed with ignominy from the Army for the terrible crime of refusing to undergo a fourth medical examination when he had three times been passed category C?

Sir J. Grigg

It would be better if my hon. Friend would read the very much longer answer I am proposing to circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT. As regards his first Supplementary Question the matter has received extremely careful consideration, not only by the General Officer Commanding of the Command, but by the Judge-Advocate-General and by the Army Council, and I personally see no reason for further reconsideration.

Mr. Gallacher

In view of the fact that some time ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), before he was Prime Minister, had a Question down that took up half a page on the Order Paper, am I to understand, Mr. Speaker, that since then a recommendation has been made that Questions should be confined to a certain length, as I have not heard of that before?

Mr. Speaker

It is important, in order to save paper and for other reasons, to limit the length of Questions as much as possible.

Following is the answer:

Lieutenant W. C. Wood, Royal Army Pay Corps, was tried by General Court-Martial on 2nd September, 1942, and found guilty on a charge of disobeying a lawful command in that he on 18th July, 1942, having been ordered by his commanding officer to be medically examined, refused to be so examined by the medical officer. He was sentenced to be dismissed from His Majesty's Service. The proceedings were confirmed by the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command, and promulgated on 23rd September, 1942. Lieutenant Wood was charged on arrest with disobeying an order to attend a parade on 22nd July. It was afterwards decided to try him on a charge of disobeying a previous order on 18th July. There is nothing unusual in trying a person on a different charge from that preferred on arrest.

The commanding officer commanded him to be medically examined, not in order to seek to override the finding of the medical boards, but to ascertain whether the accused was fit to go upon parade. The command was a lawful one and the accused was bound by the Army Act to obey it. If he felt himself wronged by his commanding officer he was entitled to submit an appeal, under Section 42 of the Army Act, but instead of doing so he took the law into his own hands. He did not dispute that he had committed an act of disobedience on 18th July, 1942. It is not stated why he could not call witnesses nor can he have been prejudiced at his trial by his failure to do so. The court tried the case on the evidence given orally before them, and not on the summary of evidence. The contention that no action was taken against other absentees from the course which Lieutenant Wood began but discontinued is not relevant to the charge on which the accused was tried, namely, that he disobeyed a lawful command on 18th July, 1942.