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Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): In welcoming this good news, may I relate to the Minister my experience of only this morning? I spoke with four constituents of mine who are survivors of the far east prisoner of war camps. When I spoke about the announcement, it was telling that not one of them asked, "How much?". What was important for them was that the statement was taking place at all. While £10,000 may change the financial position of some of the survivors, my conversations with them reinforced for me the fact that what was important was that at last a Government of whatever political persuasion had recognised their unique suffering, and for that I thank the Minister.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I thank the Minister and the Government for the statement. I, like the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond), am the son of someone who was lucky enough not to be captured, but did serve in a far east theatre. May I ask for a couple of points of clarification? Will the Minister's colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office request that the money be repaid to the British taxpayers by the Japanese Government? Where someone is the surviving widow of a far east prisoner of war, will she still receive compensation even if she has remarried, perhaps after nursing her first husband for many years?
Dr. Moonie: It is not a matter of making a request to the Japanese Government. They are well aware of our views. They have been repeated many times. I am happy to say again that if someone has remarried following the death of her husband, she will still be eligible.
Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch): I congratulate my hon. Friend on the announcement and I hope that he accepts the congratulations of my constituents who are surviving POWs and their relatives. I have to say that the Japanese Government should be making the payments. Does my hon. Friend accept that on days such as this I realise how important it is to be a Labour Member of Parliament, because it has taken a Labour Government to make this announcement and make the payments?
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): As the daughter of a Japanese prisoner of war, may I on behalf of my mother and my constituents, particularly the civilian internees, thank the Government for the announcement? Will the Minister clarify whether the War Pensions Agency's records on pensioners will enable it to pay the £10,000 without their even asking for a claim form? May I double-check that the £10,000 will not be taken into account under the capital rules for benefits?
Dr. Moonie: As a point of amplification, I confirm the latter point. One of the reasons it has taken so long to make the announcement is that we have had to ensure that we get the regulations watertight.
On the hon. Lady's first point, clearly, not everyone will be registered with the War Pensions Agency. Although to some of us it might appear to be a simple form, many elderly people might require help to fill out what they regard as a complicated form. I am sure that many organisations are ready to give a hand to identify all those who are entitled to the payment and to ensure
Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): My hon. Friend the Minister will probably be aware that people from Norfolk were disproportionately represented among those imprisoned in Japan. I probably have met, know and represent disproportionately more former prisoners of war than any other Member. I therefore thank my hon. Friend wholeheartedly for this decision. However, given that the one thing that will be said almost universally about the decision is that it is late, will he ensure that, whatever computer hiccups there are, everything will be done so that, in the weeks to come, we do not have to apologise for any further delays? Will he ensure that, having made the right decision, it is followed through and payments follow rapidly?
Dr. Moonie: I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance, but it will take a little time to make sure that the regulations are properly in place to allow us to implement our decision. However, we shall do that with all possible expedition.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I wholeheartedly welcome the Minister's announcement and thank him on behalf of my constituents, including Mr. Yerbury, who came to my surgery in Frome soon after I was elected and expressed to me in no uncertain terms just how bitterly the view that these prisoners had been ignored and perhaps actively misled by successive Governments was held.
I have one specific question. I very much welcome the extension of the provision to civilian prisoners of war, but do we have adequate records to ascertain the whereabouts of those of them who do not receive war pensions and are therefore much more difficult to trace?
Dr. Moonie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. He has put his finger on a problem. We do not know where all these people are; it would be impossible for us to do so. Initiative will be required by the people involved or by their relatives and friends, who, I am sure, will know who might be eligible for the payments. As I said, we are happy to employ extra staff to deal with the matter and to ensure that all inquiries are properly answered. I am certain that the decision will be widely publicised, and we shall do everything that we can to ensure that everyone who is entitled to the payment receives it.
Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun): On behalf of my constituents--in particular, Brian Brown, James Miller and Hugh Irvine--I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the statement and congratulate the Government on the decision. Those constituents were former Japanese prisoners of war and they have campaigned for decades for this day; thankfully, they have lived to see it. However, will my hon. Friend take this early opportunity to lay to rest the speculation in today's
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I thank the Minister for the announcement. Although he said that it can be only a token payment, it is more than a gesture; it is a recognition of the sacrifice that so many have made for us.
On a practical note, in the search for the former prisoners of war and their relatives, will special targeting be carried out, with the assistance of the Royal British Legion and other associations, of the nursing and residential homes where former prisoners of war and their relatives may now be?
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): In expressing my appreciation of this thoroughly welcome announcement, may I ask to what extent Her Majesty's Government have been able to discuss the matter with the Governments and service authorities of India, Pakistan and Nepal, to identify potential recipients? People in those countries served the empire, shared the sacrifice and, as the Minister said, are equally entitled to the benefits.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): In welcoming what the Minister said, I note that he referred to the appalling conditions in which far east prisoners of war were held. Will he confirm for the record that many thousands of people did not come back because they were deliberately executed, including several members of Her Majesty's Fleet Air Arm who were killed after the war had ended? Will he also confirm for the record that, as the late Lord Cheshire VC explained, the Japanese would have murdered all remaining prisoners of war in their captivity, but that that was pre-empted by the dropping of atom bombs? Will he also consider a small group of members of the British services who were incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps? They have not been mentioned, but they underwent similar experiences and suffered similar privations.