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Dr. Moonie: I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will have listened closely to my hon. Friend. Something was needed to break the logjam of many years and my right hon. Friend provided it.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): May I underline the comments of the Chairman of the Defence Committee, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), including those on the Japanese? I congratulate the Government. This announcement will be very welcome in Kent among members of the Buffs, the Royal West Kents and other elements of the armed forces who served in the far east. Finally, as the grandson of an Indian army officer, may I say how welcome are the provisions on certain members of that army?
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): May I add my congratulations to the Government on behalf of the many far east prisoners of war in my constituency who were caught up in the surrender of Singapore, in particular Mr. Ian Mitchell and Mr. Bill Griffiths, both of whom have written moving books on the subject? On top of all
Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton): On behalf of the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors Association, of which I am president, I thank the Minister for the announcement. It is a debt of honour, long overdue, paid to a band of British heroes to whom we owe so much for their service and sacrifice. As politicians generally--because this is not a party political issue--perhaps we might reproach ourselves that it has taken so long.
Dr. Moonie: I pay tribute again to the sterling work undertaken by the hon. Gentleman on this matter. After his three and a half years in this place, he will realise that it is sometimes difficult to move Governments from their chosen path--especially when the Government are trying to do that to themselves. I am happy that we have managed to succeed on this occasion.
Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): May I add my thanks on behalf of many of my constituents? I also congratulate those organisations and individuals involved in the matter. I add personal thanks because my father fought in Burma and never lost the fear that he might be taken prisoner.
As we prepare for the weekend when we shall honour the dead of those wars, is this not the best way in which we can repay our debt of honour to many of those survivors who are still living, and to surviving spouses?
Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): The Minister will remember our exchanges over the years on this subject. I offer my unreserved congratulations on his announcement today. The statement was comprehensive; he and his right hon. and hon. Friends are rightly to be complimented on it.
I remind the Minister of the remarks made by Members on both sides of the House--his hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) was the first to mention the matter: a Japanese Government should have been making this gesture. If the Government of Japan want to see their country join the full community of civilised nations, they will hang their heads in shame that we have had to make this gesture today.
I have a question on one detail--not to carp, but to ensure that no problem arises. After the Minister's statement today, it will inevitably take several months to see the whole matter through. Am I right to assume that the announcement refers to those survivors or widows of survivors who are alive today? Unhappily and inevitably,
Dr. Moonie: I am happy to pay tribute to the passion with which the hon. Gentleman fought his case during several debates. I am also happy to assure him that what he says is absolutely right. All those alive today will benefit. We shall do everything in our power to make the payments as quickly as possible; we do realise that some people will die before we can make them.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): I thank the Minister for his statement. For many of my constituents who were Japanese prisoners of war, the Japanese Government's expression of regret is still not enough.
It must be recognised that, despite the Minister's modesty in pointing out that the issue is not party political, it took a Labour Government to deliver the settlement. For many of the survivors, the £10,000 is not the real point; it is the fact that they carried a psychological burden for many years and that society has now recognised the trauma that they suffered. This is a day of celebration for those former prisoners of war, because they have finally received that recognition.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): I thank the Government and I congratulate the Minister on the announcement. After hearing the graphic account of my constituent, Arthur Christie of Porthmadog, who suffered with many of his colleagues at unit 731 in Manchuria, I know why the statement was necessary; it should have been made a long time ago.
Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin): The announcement is welcome not least because it is inclusive and generous and also because it is based on an ethical decision rather than on the expediency of the past.
Will my hon. Friend join me in regretting that it has taken so long? In fact, it has taken so long that my constituent, Mr. Ian Mason-Summers, who waged a long and futile battle with the War Pensions Agency for some recompense, has died. I am glad that his widow will now benefit.
Will my hon. Friend give the House a clear assurance that the Government will continue to put pressure on the Japanese Government to issue an apology to those who were subject to such persecution that we had to make this payment? For those who survived, it is a matter not of
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Given that a number of the far east prisoners of war will have died since the 1951 treaty of San Francisco, either unmarried or without a surviving spouse, will the Minister--I accept the generosity of his statement and congratulate him on it--consider making a payment to a suitable military charity or charities in memory of those prisoners of war and to assist with their work?
Dr. Moonie: The hon. and learned Gentleman makes an interesting point. We have managed to be generous today and to recognise the unique suffering and the unique collective experience of those who were in Japanese prisoner of war camps during the second world war.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): As one of those who have pursued this issue with the British Government and the Japanese Government in the past 17 years, I welcome what my hon. Friend the Minister has said this afternoon; but is it not important that we remember that, for former prisoners of war and their families, money can never compensate for what they endured in the wartime years? Should we not recognise that most of them believe that the Japanese Government should be paying the money, not the British Government, and that Japan's financial position now is very different from what it was at the time of the San Francisco agreement in 1951?
Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): I welcome the fact that all members of families who were interned will receive the payment, and that there will not be just one payment per family. May I bring it to the attention of the Minister that it is in the nature of such families that many have not returned to Britain or may not live here? Will he assure me that where they are living will make no difference to whether they receive the payment?