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Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): On behalf of the Opposition, I wholeheartedly and without reservation welcome what is frankly a generous settlement. As the Minister knows, we support the inquiry and the settlement and there is no question but that he has our support today. I also congratulate the Royal British Legion and far east prisoners of war on conducting a dignified and successful campaign that has finally brought their case to the Government's attention and resulted in a settlement.
The Minister was clear about the appalling death rate and special circumstances that apply to all those who were Japanese prisoners of war, and on that basis we all welcome his statement today. The settlement applies to all service men, to those who served in the merchant marines as well as to civilians. That was a key area of concern and I welcome the Government's generosity.
I particularly welcome the Minister's reference to widows. There is no question but that war widows occupy a very special place in the hearts and minds of the British public for the privations that they suffered, first not knowing what had happened and then discovering the terrible circumstances under which their husbands suffered. I also welcome the generous inclusion of those who served in the ex-colonial forces--the Indian army and the Burmese forces. It is a generous gesture and quite right and proper. The fact that the settlement is not being taxed and will not affect benefits is also a welcome gesture.
Dr. Moonie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm words and associate myself with everything that he said. I am glad to say that this is not a party political issue. Governments of successive hue have held a consistent line on the issue for many years. I am glad to say that today we have changed that.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): This is indeed good news, including for the widows. Are we not today recognising our debt of honour to these very brave people who suffered so much? Obviously, compensation should have been paid by the Japanese; failing that, we have done our duty and rightly so. Would it not be appropriate at this stage for us to remember again all those who were held as prisoners--military and internees--who were never to return home and who suffered and died as a result of the starvation diet, the slave working conditions, the cruelty and often the torture? It would be a sad day if this country ever forgot them or forgot to honour their memory.
Dr. Moonie: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. He, with other Members on both sides, has played a major part in keeping the matter at the forefront of our attention. We shall take on board all that he has said about recognition.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): This has been a victory--if victory it be--for Back Benchers, and I congratulate those on both sides who have pressed the case with vigour and robustness over a long period. Does the Minister agree that, welcome though £10,000 may be, the true measure of his announcement for many of those who will receive the money will be the public recognition, albeit belated, of the terrible privations that they had to endure? I hope that that will help the recipients, if not to forget, at least more easily to come to terms with those terrible experiences.
Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth): Will my hon. Friend pass on to our Government the congratulations of my constituents, particularly ex-service men? Does he agree that we, as a civilised and decent society, should recognise all the--often young--men and women who have put their lives or health on the line for their country? Does he agree that they all deserve recognition of this nature? That said, I do not wish to spoil today's events, and I congratulate the Minister and thank the Government.
Dr. Moonie: I thank my hon. Friend. The announcement will clearly be welcome in all parts of the country, and I join him in paying tribute to all those who have given their lives or suffered for their country.
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): I am delighted to participate in a rare moment of unanimity in a defence-related debate. On behalf of my constituents and the Select Committee on Defence, which I chair, and in my role as honorary adviser to the Royal British Legion, I am delighted to express my gratitude to all the Departments that participated in this welcome statement. The Government appear to have covered all possible angles of criticism by including widows, merchant seamen, civilians and those from the Commonwealth and empire who fought on our behalf.
I ask the Minister to pass on our rare collective congratulations to the many organisations that fought through all adversity and overcame every obstacle to achieve justice. Finally, and without ringing a note of disharmony, I hope that the Japanese Government are hanging their heads in shame at the fact that it was left to the British and Canadian Governments to repair the damage caused by something that was not their fault and to take the responsibility for it.
Dr. Moonie: I thank my hon. Friend. It has taken us a long time to come to this decision, largely because of its complexity and the need to ensure that all those who are properly due the payment will receive it. A lot of hard work was done by our officials, and I am happy to say that it has paid off.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I thank and congratulate the Government, but must ask the Minister to ensure that the old and frail are not faced with filling in complicated forms before they can have the money.
Dr. Moonie: I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall do all in our power to ensure that compensation is as simple and easy to understand as possible. I am well aware of the difficulty that elderly people have with filling in forms.
Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): I join my hon. Friends and other hon. Members in expressing a heartfelt welcome for the statement. Many of us have hoped for such a move for a considerable time. Can the Minister confirm whether compensation for civilians who were prisoners will be paid to those who were children at the time, or whether it will apply only to their parents? Does he join me in hoping that there will be no move in the House to condemn the Japanese Government at this time? Demands have been made for an apology from the Japanese and I understand the feelings behind those demands, but at this time we should welcome the move by the British Government, and that of the Canadian Government previously, to give some--[Hon. Members: "Question!"]
Dr. Moonie: I can confirm that all the prisoners are entitled to the payment. Of course, those who were children then are no longer children now. The position of the Japanese Government has been clearly stated and recognised in international law. They have expressed regret for what happened and, today, I think that I should leave it at that.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): I congratulate this Labour Government on taking a courageous decision--a decision that was deferred for far too long by successive previous Governments. In congratulating the Government and welcoming the announcements, may I ask whether the Minister agrees that the decision, which will be widely welcomed by all who were affected, would be greatly enhanced if, even at this late stage, the Japanese Government had the decency to apologise?
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): In welcoming this announcement, for which many of us have campaigned, I must mention Arthur Titherington and Keith Martin, who have steadfastly maintained the campaign for many years. We must also have regard to the Prime Minister's victory. For 50 years, Foreign Office lawyers said that the money could not be paid, Ministry of Defence bureaucrats said that it should not be because it would set a precedent, and Treasury officials said that it must not be because it would cost money. While those wonderful people resisted the Japanese army for five years, this Labour Prime Minister has defeated Whitehall--and for that we should all give thanks.