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Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): The great-grandparent of one of my constituents went to the far east to represent the Government. There was no question about his nationality, that of his grandparents or that of his own parents; but having been born abroad and then spent a period of internment as a result of the occupation, he is refused any form of compensationdespite having spent a great deal of his formative years in internment. That clearly is not fair on him, and I think he is entitled to some kind of recompense.
Let us examine some of the anomalies. First, there are those who have been paid. Under the grandparent rule, foreign nationals who were never British themselves have been paid. Stateless people and United States citizens have received money. People who have renounced British nationality have been paid. People who have never set foot in the United Kingdom have been paid. So far there have been 847 payments to overseas residents. Irish citizens who can show a grandparent link before 1922 have been paid. Some can do so, although all the records were destroyed in 1916, by reference to birth announcements in local newspapers. Birth records relating to the period between 1860 and 1886, when the grandparents would have been around, were destroyed.
I have heard of the case of a man whose father was born in Shanghai. Although there is no grandparent link, he has been paid because under the 1860 treaty with China, at the time of his birth British law applied extra-territorially. In 1860, Shanghai was classified as British. That seems a bizarre anomaly. People who have not been detained or interned have also been paid. Anyone covered by the 1950s scheme, whose rules I mentioned earlier, has been paid. A good example is that of diplomats put under house arrest by the Japanese. They were never put in internment camps, and in the summer of 1942 were freed in return for the repatriation of Japanese diplomats. Although they had not been interned, they were paid.
Then there are children under five with mixed parentage. I know of an example of someone with a Chinese mother. It was Japanese policy not to intern
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those under five who were born of mixed parents. Such people have been paid. People who were resident in Red Cross camps, not interned but usually dependants of people who weregenerally wives and children of mixed marriageswere not detained, but free to move around freely in the camps. I am thinking of, for example, the Dominican monastery at Rosary Hill in Hong Kong and the camp at Bahau in Singapore. Although never interned by the Japanese, they have been paid.
Perhaps there is a fear of a "floodgate" rulea fear that if we allow people who may not have a European background to qualify, there will be a huge rush of claims. There will not. In Shanghai, police constables were mainly Indians and Nepalese, and in Hong Kong and Singapore mainly Indians and Chinese. They were never interned by the Japanese; in fact, they were used to maintain the police service under Japaneseand in the case of Shanghai, Frenchofficers. Given those anomalies, there is no risk of large numbers of claims.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Like us, he knows that this is not a party political issue; we are all here to represent relatively few constituents. I am sure he would not wish to suggest, however, that those whom he has just listed should not have been compensated. Does the fact that they were compensated not indicate that in November 2000 the Government intended to be generous? Is that not borne out by the letter from the Prime Minister to Keith Martin, Ron Bridge's predecessor, in November 2000? In that letter the Prime Minister wrote:
"I am so glad that we have been able, at last, to give proper recognition to the terrible experience of the civilians interned in the Far East".
Mr. Dismore: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He is right: the intention was to be generous and an enormous amount of money has been spent, yet we are spoiling the ship for a relatively small amount of tar. I do not want to deny any of those people whom I have quoted the right to compensation; I simply want to contrast their cases with my next series of anomalies concerning people who were rejected.
I referred earlier to Shanghai. The birth certificate of a father who was born in Bombay was virtually identical to that relating to the Shanghai case, yet the claim was rejected. I should have thought that, in the days of the British empire, Bombay was regarded as rather more British than Shanghai. That is a complete anomaly. Let us consider some other cases that were rejected. Women who obtained their nationality by marriage, stuck by their husbands when they were interned and were interned themselves, have received no compensation. Peopleusually of European parentagewho were naturalised before the last war and served in the British Army in the first world war, or in the colonial administration, have not received payment. We should also remember those born in colonies such as British India; indeed, I have already referred to one such person.
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Irish people who cannot produce a copy of their local newspaper to show that their grandparents were born in Ireland have been rejected because the records were burned in 1916. The British far east Jewish community is almost entirely excluded; indeed, the two cases in my constituency to which I referred fall into that category. Some 314 UK residentspeople who have lived in the United Kingdom and contributed to its economy for most of their lives since the warhave been rejected under this bizarre ruling.
This issue arose during Defence questions in November 2001, and a few such examples were given. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) referred to the case of Dr. Mark Erooga, who was naturalised in 1940, swore allegiance to the King, served in the Hong Kong defence reserve and was interned in 1941 while working at Kowloon hospital. After the war and until his retirement, he worked in the national health service from its inception, yet he was not compensated. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) referred to a Mrs. Leeson, who was interned as a child in Singapore, where her father died. She lost her documents while fleeing from the Japanese. There was also the case of Mrs. Pyett, who was separated from her parents and interned in Singapore at the age of seven. Her stepmother received compensation, even though she did not marry Mrs. Pyett's father until 1947. Mrs. Pyett received no compensation.
Let me turn to cases in my constituency. Mr. Isaac Shalom Abraham was born in Shanghai on 12 October 1934; by then, Shanghai's status had changed. His paternal grandfather was born in Baghdad under the Ottomans, but he had a UK passport; his paternal grandmother's birthplace was unknown. His maternal grandfather was born in Russia, and his maternal grandmother was born in Russia, or in Poland under Russian rule. His father was born in British Bombay in 1891 and his mother was born in Russia. His parents took him as a child to Shanghai in 1910, where he married. He was arrested in Shanghai and interned on 5 April 1943 until August 1945.
Mr. Abraham and three of his siblings now live in London. He remained in the camp in Shanghai until March 1948, as a British citizen under British administration. He came to Britain in November 1949, having been evacuated by the RAF from Shanghai to Hong Kong on 16 May 1949. After qualifying here, he worked as a schoolteacher for nearly 30 years, and he worked for a further 10 years within the Jewish community. He has lived in Britain all his adult life. He was interned because he was a British subject, and he finds it impossible to understandas do Iwhy he has been excluded from the compensation scheme.
The second case from my constituency concerns Mrs. Sophie Sopher, née Hardoon, who was interned by the Japanese in Stanley camp. Nothing is known of Mrs. Sopher's grandparents. Her mother was born in Baghdad under the Ottoman empire. Her father was born in Bombay in British India, and Mrs. Sopher herself was born in British India. Mr. Hardoon, her father, had been working in Hong Kong, where he was detained by the Japanese. The family were interned until 1945, and they were then repatriated to Bombay, in
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British India. Mrs. Sopher's father, Mr. Isaac Hardoon, died soon afterwards in Australia. Mrs. Sopher came to the UK in June 1964, and upon her marriage she became a UK citizen in 1969. Her sister, Mrs. Elias, provided a graphic account of her wartime experience, in which she said:
"The Japanese had already been to the British consulate to get a list of British passport- holders. They came to our house and told us to get into a van. They hit my father because he was not quick enough. We were all taken to the camp. When we came out four years later, ill and malnourished, our house had been pulled down. We all suffered from beri-beri, typhoid and diphtheria. My brothers had been beaten. My father was so ill that he could not be treated and he died a few months later."
What makes the case even more bizarre is that although Mrs. Sopher and her sisters have not been compensated, their two elder brothers have been, even though they had exactly the same parents. That seems to me to be an utterly bizarre anomaly in the administration of the schemeand these people cannot understand why. It is not surprising that they have a sense of grievance. The Hardoon family believed that they would be paid out, but they have not been.
The problem is compounded by evidence that has recently come to light about the failures of successive Governments to reopen the 1951 treaty with the Japanesedespite our right to do so in the 1950s and subsequently. I have with me a Foreign Office paper, FO 371/115281, of 25 May 1955. It is headed, "Claims against Japan" and it states:
"Article 26 of the Treaty of Peace with Japan states that, should Japan make a peace settlement or a war claim settlement with any State granting that state greater advantages than those provided by the San Francisco Treaty, those same advantages shall be extended to the parties to the San Francisco Treaty . . . Japan has recently signed a Peace Treaty with Burma . . . which gives Burma greater advantages in respect of reparations than those enjoyed by the parties to the San Francisco treaty . . . Japan has also recently signed a War Claims Agreement with Switzerland which . . . constitutes a greater advantage".
"Those states which are parties to the San Francisco Treaty are thus entitled to claim from Japan benefits similar to those stipulated"
"The Japanese realised the risk of that happening when they were negotiating the agreement with Switzerland . . . In agreeing to the San Francisco Treaty Her Majesty's Government waived a very large proportion of their just claims against Japan".
"It is recommended that we should not invoke Article 26"
"Nor should we do so in regard to any similar Article of any Peace Treaty or reparations agreement which Japan may conclude with another country in the future unless there is a material change in circumstances. We should not of course give any publicity to this decision."
Since then, at least 12 countries have signed peace treaties with Japan that give far better terms than under the San Francisco treaty. On 19 December 1955, however, it was decided that we should not reopen the treaty. That was confirmed in a document signed by Mr. Coplestone of the Treasury, which stated that
"the Financial Secretary has accepted the conclusion . . . on general grounds of foreign relations, despite the possibility or domestic political embarrassment in connection with Allied
If the Government are not prepared to examine the scheme further, pressure to reopen the San Francisco treaty of 1951 will continue. In 1998, the Government reviewed it and said that it was time-barred, as it was so long ago. That argument has been refuted by a series of four legal opinions obtained by former POWs and internees, most recently from Professor Ian Brownlie, QCan extremely eminent international lawyer, of whom I suspect most hon. Members will have heard. He argued a similar point successfully in an international law case in Australia. I have a post-graduate degree in international law myself, albeit a long time ago. Having read these opinions, I believe that there is a strong argument for reopening the treaty.
What is the way forward? We should either reopen the treaty with Japan and seek reparations similar to those negotiated with Germanywe should at least use further legal opinion to check whether that is an optionor the Government should compromise on the strict rulings made in the schemes.
There are two possible compromises. First, the Government could pay those who claimed before 25 June 2001, when the blood link rule was first announced to claimants who were then rejected. That compromise assumes that the people involved claimed correctly as internees and British nationals. Of the 851 cases that were rejected, some were rejected on grounds other than the blood link, so the correct figure would therefore probably be below 600. The maximum cost of that approach would be about £6 million.
A cheaper compromise for the Government would be to pay out on the basis of residency in the UK. Claimants who had resided in the UK after the war for 20 or 25 years, and were still resident here, would be eligible for payment. That would cover the relevant people in my constituency, and those referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). The maximum number of people involved would be 314, and in fact the number would probably be rather lower, as some would be rejected for other reasons under the scheme. The total payment would amount to nearer £2 million than £3 million. That is a small amount compared with the overall cost of the scheme.
The Government were extremely generous when they set up the scheme, as was noted earlier. However, that generosity has been tarnished by the exclusion of such a small number of deserving cases. The problem has been compounded by the anomalies raised by the people who have been covered by the scheme in rather questionable circumstances. We are talking about a few hundred people at most, to whom this country's debt of honour remains unpaid.
The far east campaign used to be known as the forgotten campaign. The former internees are mostly very old now, but they will not allow themselves, or their suffering, to be forgotten. They will not go away. Next year is the 60th anniversary of VJ-day. It is time for these people to have closure in this matter, and for justice to be done. It is time for us to pay these poor internees their due.
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