Select Committee on Public Administration First Report

Appendix 2

Minute from Alan Burnham, Acting Chief Executive, War Pensions Agency, to Tom McKane, Cabinet Office, dated 4 May 2001

Issue:    Civilian Internees— British Nationality

Timing:  By 9th May

Action:  To consider need for extension of criteria

1.  My note to Nick Gibbons dated 10 April refers.

2.  The concerns I expressed in that note are continually confirmed by the receipt of further information submitted in support of applications for the ex-gratia payment. We do not seem to have a sustainable definition of 'British' and I have seen a large number of cases where a rejection based upon our present position would draw an immediate and potentially difficult challenge both in legal and publicity terms.

3.  I acknowledge that WPA has both a policy and Operational interest in this exercise but we are primarily the operational wing and I do not wish to be drawn into the sole position of creating policy. I say this particularly as we have little expertise in the issues in dispute, i.e. definition of nationality and historical context of Japanese internment. I think that any policy line must be considered, understood and supported by each of those Departments who have a stake in this with a clear awareness of the potential consequences of chosen options. My purpose, therefore, in this submission is primarily to alert 'stakeholders' to a growing problem, to point to alternatives and to put forward possible solutions. I think that decision needs to be taken - quickly - by the cross-Departmental group.

Current Position

4.  The current nationality eligibility requirement for civilian internees is that they were born in the UK, or that either one of their parents or grandparents were born in the UK. The practical effect of this is to leave us with civilian cases falling into four major categories:

Cat. 1  Applicant/parent/grandparent born in the UK and evidence is available to confirm this.

Cat 2  Applicant/parent/grandparent stated to have been born in the UK but no acceptable evidence is currently available to confirm this.

Cat 3  Neither applicant nor parent/grandparent born in the UK but applicant is now a British citizen (which we assume is defined as holding/entitled to a British passport) and is 'permanently' resident in the UK.

Cat 4  Neither applicant nor parent/grandparent born in the UK and applicant is not currently resident in the UK (some in this group may claim to hold/have held a British passport)

5.  It is currently not possible to provide any meaningful statistics about how many claims fall into each group as the majority of enquiries regarding place of birth remain outstanding. However the total of all categories remains around 1600. Civilian cases are not a primary cause of the increase in claims from original forecast levels.

6.  Categories 1 and 2 are currently agreed as eligible for payment. Category 2 is merely a problem of administration and we are currently considering whether we can establish administrative links with the Records Office at Southport regarding the pro-active tracing of birth certification.

7.  On present policy both categories 3 and 4 are currently ineligible for payment. However, as I set out in my previous note, the exclusion of category 3 could be extremely problematic and would present a distinct risk of legal challenge and bad publicity. There are people within this category who underwent considerable suffering and whom 'the man in the street' would consider to be wholly British. It may therefore be deemed appropriate to introduce a further criteria of eligibility that would allow payment to this group.

Wider Eligibility Criteria

8.  The problem in establishing wider eligibility criteria is determining a clear set of criteria which would cover all circumstances. However, it seems that we might consider the following as being factors which weigh the argument in favour of making a payment:

  • that the person was interned by the Japanese because they were considered by their captors at the time to be 'British' (this covers a wide variety of differing categories);
  • that they have lived in the UK for a considerable time (just how long this might be is open to debate)
  • that they hold/entitled to a British passport.

9.  This would leave a group of people whose applications would be rejected on the basis that whilst they too were interned by the Japanese in exactly the same circumstances as para 8 above, they have not subsequently moved to live in the UK and do not currently hold 'British citizenship'. Whilst it could be argued that there is less of a case for payment of these groups many within their ranks will feel that they should be paid solely because the reason they were interned by the Japanese was because they were 'British'. We can also be certain that many of these will have personal tales of considerable suffering and privation at the hands of the Japanese.

10.  It may be that cases within this group throw up special circumstances which might merit discretion being exercised in favour of payment.

White Russians

11.  ABCIFER have raised with us the special circumstances which they feel apply to people of Russian origin who were employed by British Administration in China. These individuals were displaced by the 1917 revolution and ended up in the Far East as 'stateless persons'. In the 1920's the British Government deemed it necessary, particularly in China, to have a cadre in the local British Administration and/or Colonial Police Forces that were not of oriental ethnic origin. Accordingly such former 'Russians' were employed and were able to apply for and were granted British Nationality after five years service. The Japanese considered that these people were British and were treated as enemy aliens and interned. Their children were deemed British.

12.  It could be considered harsh to reject applications from these people who were people who were employed by the British Government and who were granted British citizenship. It may therefore be appropriate to include a further qualifying criteria that allows for payment of any person or their qualifying relatives because they were, prior to their internment, employed by or on behalf of the British Government.

Australia and New Zealand Announcement

13.  You will be aware of the recent announcement by these Governments of their intention to make similar payments. Such announcements raise an issue

14.  We have previously agreed that in the case of the Isle of Man we would seek to avoid duplicate payment (albeit that such cases have not yet been rejected pending clarification of arrangements between UK and IOM Governments regarding reimbursement and clarification that we can proceed with rejection would be helpful). Similarly duplicate payments with the Canadian scheme will be avoided on the basis of mutually exclusive qualification criteria. These schemes were however in place prior to the UK announcement on 7 November 2000.

15.  MoD is currently seeking clarification of the scope of and arrangements for payment under both schemes. However should it arise that the schemes are not mutually exclusive and we have a claim from a person otherwise eligible under both schemes, the issue of the order of application will need to be addressed.

Rosary Hill

16.  ABCIFER have expressed the view to us, informally, that payments should not be made to those people who were 'interned' at Rosary Hill in Hong Kong. Their view is based on the fact that this was a 'refuge' run by a religious order rather than the Japanese, and does not therefore 'qualify' as an internment camp. Rosary Hill was used to hold people who were unsuitable for normal internment camps e.g. suffering from contagious disease, mental instability. In some cases where other famlly members had been interned and all the assets of the family seized people elected to go to Rosary Hill although in reality they had little or no other option. ABCIFER's view is that people resident in Rosary Hill did not suffer the same level of deprivation as at internment camps generally.

17.  War Pensions Agency does not have the historical information to confirm or deny ABCIFER's account. We do not have a set definition of just what constitutes 'internment' and have in no other cases sought to take into account the relative level of suffering as an eligibility factor. We have cases where some members of a family were in Rosary Hill and some in other internment camps. Rejection could thus be problematic.

18.  Without further information we do not believe that we have a case for rejection and, on the basis that only about 30 applications are involved we would intend to make payment unless you and other interested Departments disagree.


19.  The issues on which views are now sought are:

  • the possible extension of the definition of 'British' to cover those persons now resident in the UK.
  • the possible extension of the definition of British to cover those persons employed by or on behalf of the British Government prior to internment.
  • the impact of the recently announced Australian and New Zealand scheme.
  • to confirm that we can proceed with 'rejection' letters to those people who received payment under the Isle of Man scheme.
  • the position of people who were held in Rosary Hill, Hong Kong.

20.  I would suggest that an urgent meeting of the inter-Departmental group would be the best vehicle to progress these issues. We really do need to come to an early conclusion as the pressure from various areas, most noticeable MPs, is increasing daily.

Copied to:

N Gibbons Cab Office

M Tonnison MoD

A Ward MoD

M Mitchell FCO

S Gallagher HMT

A Walker HMT

S Adams DSS

J Wareing WPA

A Mayers WPA

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Prepared 19 January 2006