Select Committee on Public Administration First Report

Appendix 1

Minute from Alan Burnham, Acting Chief Executive, War Pensions Agency to Nick Gibbons, Cabinet Office, dated 10 April 2001


Issue:  Eligibility of civilian internees born outside of the UK

Timing:  A response by Wednesday 11 April given increasing ABCIFER pressure and media interest.

Recommendation:  That there is an urgent meeting to reconsider the eligibility criteria for 'British' civilian internees born outside of the UK

1.  Following Sandy Adams submission to you dated 15 March we have been seeking to resolve outstanding claims from former civilian internees. We have issued over 1600 enquiries seeking further information to determine if the claimant has a parent/grandparent who was born in the UK.

2.  When Sandy Adams made his submission the expectation was that the proposed definition of eligibility would allow the bulk of outstanding cases to be paid. It now appears that if we apply the agreed criteria we will still be left with up to 800 cases which do not qualify.

3.  Not only will this result in a much larger number of rejections than expected but the individual circumstances of many of these cases will be very hard to defend. Many of the individuals involved, now 'fully naturalised British citizens', have lived in the UK for over 50 years and would be deemed by the general public to be wholly 'British'. Most importantly, for presentational purposes, it appears that they were interned solely because the Japanese deemed them to be 'British'.

4.  We expect that rejection of these cases will be strongly opposed by ABCIFER and we have already been advised by solicitors acting on behalf of individual claimants that they will legally contest any rejection based upon an assertion that they are not 'British'. One individual with a particularly compelling case (she has lived in the UK since 1947) has involved the Sun newspaper. They have contacted this Agency regarding the case and whilst accepting for the moment that the claim is still being processed they seem likely to run the story if it is rejected. I am now receiving an ever-increasing number of enquiries from MP's who are pressing for a resolution of claims for constituents who fall into the disputed category.

5.  Despite previous concerns at expansion of the eligibility we are now firmly of the belief that the evidence of individual cases suggests that the present stance will be impossible to defend on grounds of fairness and logic. It does not seem that rejection of these cases will be in keeping with the original intent and spirit of the scheme. I have a real concern that rejecting claims on the current 'nationality' criteria could very quickly put the whole scheme into prominence as a 'bad news' story.

6.  The claims which have the most compelling case for payment are those where the individual subsequently moved to the UK and acquired full British citizenship. However, the combination of circumstances applying is infinitely variable and it may prove very difficult to identify a 'cut-off' point if we extend eligibility. Some people stayed in the far east, others emigrated to Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada.

7.  Having seen some of the detail of individual cases I think there is a case for considering an extension of eligibility. This will need to be carefully considered to ensure that we do not 'open the floodgates' to significant numbers of claims from groups which the Government did not intend to benefit. However, if we maintain the current policy we need to look at the handling problems. We will face a large number of disgruntled individuals, many of whom suffered considerably at the hands of the Japanese, a fate they were subjected to fundamentally because their captors considered them to be 'British'.


9.  I think there is a need for an urgent meeting of the inter-departmental steering group. We need to take stock of the possible consequences of the current policy and consider whether to issue rejection notices to those cases which fail the 'nationality test' or to extend eligibility.

10.  Arrangements for the meeting can be made via Alan Mayers (FEPOW Operations Manager).

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