Mr. Touhig: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. We have a very constructive and useful working relationship and, as I said in response to the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), my hon. Friend and ABCIFER have an important contribution to make in helping me to get the criteria right, and I look forward to ensuring that we do so.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Is the Minister aware that more than 2,500 Royal Norfolks were captured by the Japanese when the Singapore garrison surrendered? All those prisoners of war suffered appalling brutality, and many died on the River Kwai rail project. There are very few survivors left, but many impoverished widows. Of course I welcome today's statement, but does the Minister agree that it is a disgrace that the Japanese Government have not given more money to the survivorsmore than about £100 or so per prisonerand that surely the second richest country in the world should be doing more to help those survivors and the impoverished widows who are still left?
The Government, and previous Governments, have made quite clear this country's views about the Japanese Government's attitude in the past to apologies and compensation. I cannot add much more to what the hon. Gentleman says; I am sure that it is a view shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. However, the Japanese Prime Minister has made an apology. People may well feel that that should be expressed more tangibly, but although I accept the points that the hon. Gentleman makes, my first responsibility is to do something about the people for whom we are responsible. It is our duty to do that, and I am seeking to do it.
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Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): Although my hon. Friend's statement is very welcome, this issue has always been not just about consistency, but about equitynot just about money, but about honourand it is important that when the scheme finally comes to fruition, it covers as many people as possible, including my constituent, Mr. Peter Hall. Will my hon. Friend ensure that when the details of the criteria are worked out and the guidelines are issued, they are interpreted as generously as possible?
Mr. Touhig: Yes, I will certainly do that, working within the framework that I have announced today. A number of colleagues will know that I have been very much involved with the miners' compensation schemeI have 500 cases in my constituencyand I share the point made by my hon. Friend: what is important for most people is not money, but recognition for the suffering, pain and horrors that they endured. We as a country must recognise that debt of honour; this is a tangible way to do so. There is no way that we can ever put right the wrongs and horrors that those people suffered.
Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): I thank the Minister for the statement, and specifically for the tribute that he has paid to my constituent, Ron Bridge, of ABCIFER. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that this a very good example of lobbyingquiet, constructive, fact-based and very persistent. Will he say a little about whether the scheme will be retrospective? A lot of the people eligible will be elderly, but some people whose eligibility for the extension will now be established may already have died. Will the scheme cover eligible people who have died and will the money be paid to their families?
Mr. Touhig: I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said about Ron Bridge, who, as I say, has been extremely helpful, informative and constructive in the discussions that I have had with him. Yes, as I have made clear, the scheme will apply to those who were alive on 7 November, when the scheme was originally introduced. If people have died, their widows and estates will benefit as a consequence of the proposal introduced this afternoon.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab):
Of course I welcome the announcement today, and as my hon. Friend says, it is right to take a little time to ensure that we get things right this time. My constituent Jim Hodson was a beneficiary of some of the £250 million that the Government made available, and we cannot thank the Government enough on behalf of those POWs of the Japanese. However, as has been mentioned already in the Chamber, there is a clear message to the Japanese Government: they ought to be shamefaced, and they ought to find the money to compensate the people who are still left. We should not let the Japanese Government off the hook. We ought to send them that clear message, and I hope that the Government will raise it on every possible occasion, and say that those people were used as slave labour by the imperial Japanese army, so the people of Japan ought to compensate them properly before it is too late.
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Mr. Touhig: I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome for the scheme. I have dealt with his second point, which has already been made by Opposition Members, and I have no doubt that Members' comments will be taken into account by the Japanese and their Government. Whether they respond is a matter for them, but there is no doubt that there are strong feelings on this issue in all parts of the House, and this is the place where they should be expressed.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I welcome the Minister's statement, and I commend the work of ABCIFER and the cross-party pressure applied by a number of Members, particularly as it affects Diana Elias, a constituent of mine. Nevertheless, is not the delay that has led to this situation a travesty? To get to this point, the Government have had to be dragged through the courts and have had to deal with both the parliamentary ombudsman's complaints and the Public Administration Committee. Will the Minister confirm that he will fully adopt the ombudsman's recommendations? Will he recognise the fact that for constituents such as Diana Elias, the fight not to be treated as a second-class citizenas someone who is "not quite British enough"has taken not five years but 60 years to win? In that time, Mrs. Elias's sister and cousin have died, and her brother-in-law has recently been diagnosed with cancer and has only a few months to live. Will the Minister acknowledge that although one could say, "Better late than never", for many it is indeed too late and they have died as second-class citizens?
Mr. Touhig: I do acknowledge the pain and suffering that Mrs. Elias, her family and others have gone through throughout this process. As I said at the beginning of my statement, there were problems with the criteria that we introduced, which were not consistent. Until I appeared before the Public Administration Committee, of which the hon. Gentleman is a member, we believed that they were consistent, and it is the inconsistency that led to some of the difficulties. I fully understand the views that he expresses, and I can only say that I sincerely apologise to Mrs. Elias and others for the grief and worry that has been caused by the manner of the scheme's operation. I am seeking to put that right today to the best of my ability, with, I hope, the support of the whole House. My understanding, based on evidence given in court and on matters considered by the parliamentary ombudsman, is that Mrs. Elias qualifies for the scheme. I hope that that will be the case.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab):
I thank my hon. Friend warmly for his statement, which shows that he has been determined to get to grips with this mess; I hope that his close-link criterion will indeed sort it out. I also thank the parliamentary ombudsman for an excellent investigation that drew attention to the maladministration and injustice in the scheme, and Professor Jack Haywood, whose case went to the ombudsman for investigation. His complaint, reflecting those of others, was not that he wanted the money, which he did not. Rather, he was incensed by being told, in effect, that he was not British enough, despite a lifetime of distinguished service to this country. Has the Minister not said today that Professor Haywood and the ombudsman are right? If so, that is the right outcome.
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Mr. Touhig: I thank my hon. Friend for making those points, and I pay tribute to people such as Jack Haywood, who have fought consistently on this issue. There has never been any doubt in my mind, or any other Member's mind, that he is totally British, and I very much regret the inference that he and others have drawn that they are not sufficiently British to qualify. My understanding is that under today's proposals, Professor Haywood will qualify. I might disagree with some of the points made by the ombudsman, but it would be churlish and wrong of me not to pay tribute to the work done by the ombudsman on Parliament's behalf, and to the work of the Public Administration Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). I believe passionately that the Government are answerable to this place for their actions, which is why I am here. It is right and proper that Committees such as my hon. Friend's ensure that the Executive are held to account. The work done by the ombudsman points out where we get things wrongand with the best will in the world, Governments do not get everything right. I am admitting where we got it wrong and seeking to redress that.