New Forest East



By Simon Carr

Independent – 4 July 2000 [Extract]

... Labour backbencher David Winnick asked whether he [Defence Minister, John Spellar] would make a statement on compensation for British PoWs held by the Japanese.

"Does the Minister accept there is much support indeed bearing in mind the terrible brutality which, ah, has happened...?"

Winnick's reckless dash to establish a reputation for holding the executive to account lacks only a Zimmer frame. Spellar spent more than a minute saying he didn't know when the announcement would be made, before Martin Bell was called.

"Does the Secretary of State realise that it's not a matter of money but a matter of honour?"

the independent MP for Tatton asked.

Bell was half right. Or to put it another way, wholly wrong. But that didn't matter. Because, unlike the front bench, Bell is a man who as actually been shot at on a battlefield. This does two things: it succinctly explains his weight and his gait, and inures him to the foolish jokes I've made on the subject.

The campaign to compensate these old soldiers is his, and perhaps as a result, he has a far more deft touch than the fumbling old fool who put the lead question.

Having said that, it was Tory Julian Lewis who landed the most effective punches of the day, with the help of one Mr Griffiths, an ex-PoW who has written a gruelling autobiography revealing how he lost both eyes and both hands.

"How does the minister think it looks to Mr Griffiths,"

Lewis asked,

"when he sees the compensation culture in this country that pays out huge awards to people who've had their feelings hurt by careless remarks made in their place of employment. Or policemen who are compensated for stress while doing their duty?"

There was no real answer to that, and Mr Spellar made it.