BUSINESS QUESTION – FAR EAST POW PAYMENTS – 27 October 2005

Dr Julian Lewis: Does the Leader of the House recall from his time as Secretary of State for Defence the settlement announced in 2000 of claims for the British internees in the Far East under the Japanese, and the award of £10,000 for each of them? Five years later the Government stand condemned by the parliamentary Ombudsman for retrospectively excluding about 700 people who suffered in that way. May we have a statement on the Floor of the House from the Minister with responsibility for Veterans about the derisory offer of £500 compensation to those people affected, instead of him continuing to shelter – it saddens me to say this – behind what have so far been two written ministerial statements?

[The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Geoffrey Hoon): The hon. Gentleman has followed these matters with great care, and I heard supporting voices from the Opposition Benches, but I was very proud of what the Government did in providing compensation to Far Eastern Prisoners of War. My father served in the Far East and I recognise that that was a particularly brutal and nasty aspect of conflict that affected many people. It is necessary that these decisions are subject to rules, and I assure him that a great deal of thought and care was given to drawing them up. This was a matter not of looking at the cost, but of trying to ensure that the rules were fair. The hon. Gentleman referred to 700 people. I hope that he will take it from me that drawing in another group will not necessarily solve the problem to which he refers, because by adjusting the rules to take account of a further group, another larger group may well become eligible. These matters have also been subject to litigation. I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and other relevant Ministers look at these issues with as much compassion and sensitivity as possible. Bearing in mind that no previous Government had taken such a decision, we brought forward the scheme because we felt that the country owed a debt of honour to those people who suffered in that way in the course of the Second World War. But it is not possible simply to provide an unlimited scheme. The scheme has to be subject to certain rules, and those rules necessarily unfortunately exclude some people from participation.]