Response to Ministerial Statement
Dr Julian Lewis: I fear that this statement will come as a severe disappointment to members of the Association of British Civilian Internees Far East Region. Today's statement was anticipated by the Minister's testimony to the Public Administration Committee on 1 December, and it was hoped that something substantive would be announced. Instead, we have had a typically gracious apology, which is only the latest in a line of apologies – there was an apology in a written ministerial statement on 13 July, and there was another apology, and the offer of £500 compensation for the mistakes made, in a further written ministerial statement on 11 October.
In reality, the veterans and civilian internees are not looking for more apologies; they are looking for the Government to honour the pledge that they gave on 7 November 2000. Does the Minister [The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Don Touhig)] recall what Lord Moonie, as he now is, said when he held his post? He said:
"I am very pleased to be able to inform the House that, as a result of the review, the Government have decided to make a single ex gratia payment of £10,000 to each of the surviving members of the British groups who were held prisoner by the Japanese during the Second World War, in recognition of the unique circumstances of their captivity." – [Official Report, 7 November 2000; Vol. 356, c. 159.]
Does the Minister recognise that there has been a humiliating confrontation with the courts and a humiliating confrontation with the Ombudsman? An adjustment was made to the criteria that narrowed them to exclude some people who had been in the camps, but that also widened them to include some people who had not been in the camps. Does the Minister accept that some people who were never in a Japanese camp, such as those who were evacuated in 1942 or those who sheltered in Red Cross and Church homes, have been paid, which has inflated the number of claims and is delaying the process even further?
In discussing the need to act with haste, does the Minister accept that the announcement on 7 November 2000 was the culmination of Cross-Party efforts in support of the campaign for compensation to be paid, which was waged by veterans and civilian detainees for many a long year? What is it about the issue that makes it such a poisoned chalice for Ministers who are compassionate and considerate in all their other actions? Why is it such a struggle to get the compensation for people who were in the camps?
Does the Minister accept that what has happened has been a dishonouring of the people who, in this 60th anniversary year of the ending of the war, most deserve our consideration and respect? Has he ever read, as I did as a youngster, the tales of what happened to those people? Many of us read the accounts in The Naked Island by Russell Braddon and The Knights of Bushido by Lord Russell of Liverpool when we were, frankly, far too young to read of such horrors.
Does the Minister accept that this process, this ordeal, this revisiting time and again of issues that should be settled on an ex gratia payment, has gone on far too long, and will he now use his best efforts to bring it to an end once and for all?