HC Deb 19 January 1954 vol 522 cc828-30
42. Mr. Swingler

asked the Secretary of State for War how many soldiers were court-martialled in Korea during the period of hostilities; how many were charged with cowardice, desertion, or mutiny; how many were convicted and what sentences were imposed; and in how many cases war correspondents attended the trials.

53. Mr. Anthony Greenwood

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a statement on trials for cowardice which have taken place among British troops in Korea.

62. Mr. G. M. Thomson

asked the Secretary of State for War how many courts-martial have taken place in Korea in which the charge was cowardice; and if he will state the details of convictions and sentences.

Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison

I am sorry that the full information asked for in the first three parts of Question No. 42 is not readily available. I can, however, say that one man was court-martialled in Korea during hostilities on a charge of cowardice and was found not guilty on that charge but guilty of an alternative and less serious offence. This man is now serving a sentence of four years' imprisonment. There were 26 serious cases of desertion for which men were sentenced to imprisonment for three years or more. Finally, there were 11 convictions for mutiny for which sentences of two years' detention were imposed.

I cannot give the numbers asked for in the last part of Question No. 42. I can, however, say that my right hon. Friend, from the inquiries he has made in Korea and from certain war correspondents, is satisfied that there has been no withholding of information or refusal of facilities in that theatre.

Mr. Swingler

Can the hon. Gentleman give an absolute assurance in regard to the charges of cowardice that this information is correct and that General West's statement was incorrect? In view of General West's grossly inaccurate statement on a subject of which he is apparently ignorant, what steps have been taken to ask General West to withdraw the statement that there had been several courts-martial for cowardice and that correspondents were not able to attend those trials?

Mr. Hutchison

The hon. Gentleman is confusing a straightforward charge of cowardice with other cases in which an element of cowardice may come. Furthermore, I think we must give General West the credit for having got well over the difficulty of having to deal with a completely unrehearsed broadcast.

Mr. Shinwell

Why does the hon. Gentleman persist in evading this issue? What good does it do to the War Office or to the country to do so? Is it not true to say that from the actual script it appears that General West said in reply to a question—he may have been inaccurate; it may have been an accident, a slip—that several cases of cowardice occurred? Is that true or not?

Mr. Hutchison

On the technically legal interpretation of a charge of cowardice it was inaccurate, and I have now given the accurate figures.

Hon. Members

Why not say so before?

Mr. Greenwood

Are there any charges of cowardice pending?

Mr. Hutchison

I should have to have notice of that question, but I believe not.

Mr. Wigg

If general officers are to be given facilities to make inaccurate and tendentious statements, will the War Office take steps to make sure similar concessions are given to private soldiers?

Mr. Hutchison

If it were considered desirable that private soldiers should make unscripted broadcasts I have no doubt permission would be granted. What the War Office says is that it must have knowledge of who is going to make the broadcast; that is all.

Mr. Thomson

Will the hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Press in Korea will be given full information in advance of all courts-martial pending?

Mr. Hutchison

I want to remove any thought in the mind of the House that there was any attempt to side-track or eliminate the Press from any of these courts-martial. In 1950 an agreement was reached between the War Office, the Newspaper Society, the Newspaper Proprietors' Association, and the News Guild requiring prior notification of forthcoming courts-martial. It was then arranged that notice should be given within reasonable time before the assembly of the court by public announcements posted at the headquarters of the convening authority, and outside the building in which the court-martial was to assemble. No further notification by the military authorities is obligatory, but in practice newspaper correspondents in overseas theatres of operations such as Korea receive information through direct liaison with the military authorities, and that works perfectly well.