Minute from Alan Burnham, Acting Chief Executive,
War Pensions Agency to Nick Gibbons, Cabinet Office, dated
10 April 2001
EX-GRATlA PAYMENT TO CIVILIAN INTERNEES - ELIGIBILITY
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).