HC Deb 29 November 1949 vol 470 cc923-5
12. Mr. Blackburn

asked the Secretary of State for War what action he has now taken on reconsideration of the case of Private Watson, Parachute Regiment, who was sentenced to 112 days' detention for failing to jump from an aircraft.

14. Wing-Commander Hulbert

asked the Secretary of State for War if he can now make a further statement about remitting the sentence passed on 14473176 Private G. E. Watson. Parachute Regiment.

Mr. M. Stewart

I have made detailed inquiries into this case. After confirmation of the sentence of the court martial by the General Officer Commanding, Aldershot District, Private Watson's commanding officer recommended that the sentence should be put into execution and that, subject to his good conduct, the sentence should be reviewed after 42 days with a view to suspension. The General Officer Commanding, Aldershot District, also recommended that the sentence should be reviewed after 42 days.

The General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command, who is the superior military authority in law in this case, in view of the nature of the offence and the circumstances in which it was committed, decided personally to examine the matter forthwith, and after due consideration came to the conclusion that no immediate action was called for, but gave instructions that, as the normal review after 42 days would in fact fall on Christmas Day, the review was to be brought forward and would take place before the Christmas period, on 16th December.

The steps taken to date by the military authorities have been in accordance with normal practice. I have, however, called for the papers in order to place them before my right hon. Friend on his return from the Middle East.

Mr. Blackburn

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. May I correct a statement I made when this case was previously raised, as I have received some correspondence on it? I said that in time of war it was not the practice to court martial soldiers who refused to jump. That statement was not correct, made in that bald way. The fact is that it was not the normal practice to court martial soldiers in the course of their training if they decided not to jump. May I now ask my hon. Friend whether he is aware that the statement he has made today, with its implications, will be welcomed by all those who are interested in this case?

Wing-Commander Hulbert

Is the Under-Secretary aware that this unfortunate soldier is a constituent of mine—[Laughter.] I make that remark from the Service and not the political point of view—that his family are most distressed at the sentence he has received, and that likewise the country is shocked; will the hon. Gentleman take immediate steps to see that this sentence is again considered at once; and if he is unable to do it himself, will he communicate by cable with his right hon. Friend, who I understand is at present in foreign fields?

Mr. Stewart

I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that this case will be considered in the very near future.

Mr. Dumpleton

Has expert psychological opinion been consulted as to whether this is a case of phobia; if not, why not; and will it be?

Mr. Stewart

Oh, yes, Sir, there was a psychiatrist's report.

Mr. McGovern

Would it not be advisable, in order that he may experience it himself, that the Secretary of State should jump from one of these aircraft?

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend will forgive me if I say that I do not think that is a very relevant suggestion. He would realise, if he had been here last week, that it has not even the merit of originality.

Wing-Commander Hulbert

Will the hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that this boy will, at the earliest moment, be transferred to a branch of the Army where he can prove himself to be an efficient soldier?

Mr. Stewart

I did inform the House last week that he had already been transferred.

15. Wing-Commander Hulbert

asked the Secretary of State for War what factors were taken into consideration when 14473176 Private G. E. Watson's sentence of 112 days' detention was confirmed.

Mr. M. Stewart

In confirming a sentence of a court martial a confirming officer takes into account all the relevant factors which affect the case. In the case of Private Watson's court martial, these factors would include: The gravity of the offence; the circumstances in which it was committed; the age and character of the accused; the normal procedure by which the case can be reviewed, and the implications on discipline of a mitigation of the sentence on confirmation; the medical state of the accused at the time of the offence; whether the sentence is likely to increase or diminish the efficiency of the accused as a soldier.

Wing-Commander Hulbert

Can the hon. Gentleman say if the general officer commanding, when confirming this sentence, had before him a recent psychiatrist's report on this man, and if he was aware of the widespread concern that this case has caused?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, there was a psychiatrist's report, and I think that everyone is aware of the concern expressed about this matter.

Earl Winterton

In order to satisfy my hon. Friend, may I ask whether there are psychiatrists' reports now for every offence in the Army, and, if so, is that necessary?

Mr. Stewart

Not for every offence, but I think that most of us would agree that there was a case for getting a pyschiatrist's opinion in this case.