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Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).


Queen's recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with Bills),

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with Bills,

Question agreed to.







8.24 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, from debates, petitions and late nights, I have been campaigning for more controls on mobile phone and other masts for some years. The
7 Sept 2004 : Column 685
rights of communication companies to put masts where they want with total impunity with respect to the views of residents must end. We must listen to local people's views and need a policy that empowers local people to control and protect their own environment. We must take the precautionary approach to the possible health impact of antennae.

To add yet another six antennae to a mast in a residential area that already has 30 or so would be lunacy until we are sure that the cumulative effect of all that radiation from those masts going into people's homes will not harm them and their children. I encourage Castle Point borough council to throw out the application in the way that the petition requests.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

      Scottish Regiments

8.26 pm

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale) (Con): The future of my constituency's local regiment is close to the hearts of the people of Dumfries and Galloway. For its future to be in doubt is simply unbelievable. The King's Own Scottish Borderers have served with valour across the globe for generations while providing a local source of opportunity for our region's young people. For the Government to suggest massive cuts in our armed forces now is sheer folly. These are the same troops who are ready to serve in the dispute and conflict zones across the world and who provided a vital resource during the foot and mouth outbreak.

The petition reads:

To lie upon the Table.

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Wartime Civilian Prisoners (Far East)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Joan Ryan.]

8.27 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): This debate's full title is "Compensation for former civilian prisoners of the Japanese in the Second World War". Perhaps a better title would have referred to lack of compensation for former civilian prisoners, because that is really the theme of the debate.

I became involved in this issue at the instigation of some constituents—two families in particular—to whom I shall refer later. Little did I know when I began to put their cases forward that I would end up as chair of the far east prisoners of war all-party group, and to some degree spearheading a campaign that I know has support from all quarters of the House.

The historical background is pretty well known. After the attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, the Japanese invaded east and south-east Asia and many British nationals were captured: 50,000 members of the British armed forces were taken prisoner and an unknown number of civilians interned. The conditions in which they were held were appalling; their treatment was utterly cruel. One in four prisoners of war died in captivity at the hands of the Japanese. Of course, many films and television dramas have been produced and many books written, but none can accurately or fairly reflect the absolute horror experienced by our fellow citizens over 60 years ago.

In 1951, a peace treaty with the Japanese was concluded at San Francisco, which made arrangements, among other things, to pay compensation. A pittance was made available—£76 10s, in old money, for military prisoners of war and £48 10s for civilian internees. To qualify for that scheme, one had to be a British national over the age of 21 on 8 December 1941, normally resident in the United Kingdom before internment, and to have returned to the UK before an application for compensation was made. Approximately 8,500 civilians received compensation under those arrangements.

Of course, many more were left out, and subsequently efforts were made to persuade the Japanese to provide additional compensation—so far, and I think for the foreseeable future, fruitlessly. The Japanese simply would not reopen the issue; they claimed that the matter had been settled under the 1951 treaty. The attitude of the Japanese can be compared very unfavourably with that of Germany, which has for example reopened the issue of compensation to holocaust survivors. A significant effort has been made to provide proper restitution in respect of assets seized from families who died in the holocaust and to provide compensation as a result.

Over the years, successive Governments here have been lobbied on the issue by the Royal British Legion and, more recently, on behalf of the Association of British Civilian Internees, Far East Region—commonly known as ABCIFER. I pay tribute to the efforts of its chairman, Ron Bridge AFC, and his predecessor, Keith Martin, for their persistency and consistency in putting forward their case.
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After so many years, this Labour Government acted. On 6 November 2000, a scheme was announced. A statement was made to the House on 7 November by my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie), then Minister for Veterans, who said that the Prime Minister

My hon. Friend continued:

He concluded by saying that

—I am sure he was—

I thought, on behalf of my constituents, that we had finally cracked it and got a result. I was very pleased by the announcement and I even issued a press release for my local newspaper:

Hindsight shows that I spoke a little too soon, although that is not to say that the scheme has not been successful. It has been very successful. There have been 8,430 payments to former prisoners of war, 1,882 payments to former internees and 12,973 payments to spouses of deceased prisoners or internees, which is a total of 23,285 awards. However, that is 6,500 more than originally expected.

The original estimate was based on figures from the Royal British Legion of 6,500 POWs and 6,500 widows of POWs, and from ABCIFER, on behalf of the civilian internees, of 2,500, which provided for a range of 2,100 to 3,000 survivors. It did not make an estimate of the number of widows.

ABCIFER's figure was actuarially calculated, based on the original Japanese statistics relating to the numbers they held, and it has proved remarkably accurate in that there were 2,922 claims on behalf of the civilians, taking into account those that were rejected for reasons other than that for which we are here tonight. Unfortunately, that for service personnel was significantly underestimated. That is why I say that the scheme has not been an unqualified success. Initially, the Gurkhas were excluded, but in November 2003, they were accepted after they brought a case to the courts, over race discrimination, on the basis that they should
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have been paid out. I am pleased to say that the Government accepted the findings of the court and agreed to include them.

My main concern relates to the excluded civilian internees, whose suspicion is that the rules were changed when, owing to the number of cases, the cost turned out to be higher than expected. That is the real issue at the heart of this debate: the introduction, it appears ex post facto, of the qualification known as the blood link.

The original claim form, published in November 2000, came out soon after the announcement. I have a copy of it with me, along with the explanatory notes. It states:

I will not list those categories that are not relevant—

There is no reference in the explanatory notes, or on the claim form, to the place of birth of the claimant, the claimant's parents, or the claimant's grandparents. On the face of it, there is no reason why there should be, because the assumption, based on the original statement in the House, was that if one was British enough to be interned by the Japanese in those appalling conditions, one was British enough to receive compensation.

The nationality rules at the time of the second world war were that a person inhabiting a colony or dominion of the Crown was British, independent of whether they or their parents or grandparents had been born in the United Kingdom. They became a British subject when the colony was annexed, or having moved there and become naturalised, or having been born there. That is under the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914. There was a single and equal status of British subject throughout the United Kingdom and dominions. Such persons were entitled to a passport issued by the Crown describing them as British subjects. They owed an allegiance to the Crown. They had the right of abode in the United Kingdom and throughout the Crown colonies.

Claims were being processed pretty rapidly after that initial announcement in November 2000. By 1 February 2001, some 14,000 payments had been made. By March 2001, however, ABCIFER started to realise that some claims were being unexpectedly rejected, and it took that up with the Government. On 21 March 2001, the interdepartmental working group, which had been involved in producing the scheme, decided to restrict the scheme to claimants born in the United Kingdom or to those who had a parent or grandparent who was born in the United Kingdom. The Government say that there has been no change in the rules, and that that was what was always intended. I have no reason to suggest to the Minister that that is not necessarily true. Whether or not it is true, however, bearing in mind that that expectation was raised, the effect has been to create both a feeling of unfairness and a series of anomalies when the new rules are combined with the way in which the system is administered. I will refer to some of those anomalies shortly.

ABCIFER has been tenacious in challenging this ruling. It has referred the matter to the ombudsman, whose report we are still awaiting, and the matter is in
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the hands of the Commission for Racial Equality, because the rule discriminates unfairly against certain ethnic groups. ABCIFER also took a legal action in the courts for judicial review. Unfortunately, however, that case failed, not on the substantive issue but on relatively narrow points of law. It is worth while quoting not the ratio of the Court of Appeal's conclusions, which were on those narrow points of law—judicial review is difficult to achieve in relation to an ex gratia scheme, as the court said—but the overall conclusion:

That is the real issue.

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