HC Deb 09 May 1972 vol 836 cc1110-2
7. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services to what extent he discussed at his meeting in April with the deputation from the National Federation of Far East Prisoners of War Clubs and Associations the modification of the over-seven-years' rule; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Dean

The meeting to which my hon. Friend refers took place only yesterday afternoon. I promised then to consider a number of points raised with me by the deputation, including the operation of the seven-year rule.

Mr. Blaker

It was evident at the national service of remembrance and reunion held by the Federation last month in my constituency that the number of Far East prisoners of war are diminishing fast. Is my hon. Friend aware that Australia, the United States and Canada have consistently treated their Far East prisoners of war and their widows more sympathetically than we have in this country? Will he take these points into account in the review?

Mr. Dean

I would not accept entirely what my hon. Friend says about the treatment afforded by the United States, Canada and Australia, but I recognise that there are special problems here. I am taking steps to improve the arrangements which I think will reassure the Federation.

Mr. Simon Mahon

Many of the troubles and illnesses of Far East prisoners of war are just coming to light today, sometimes after 30 years. Is it not basically essential that each case of a FEPOW who has been in the hands of the Japanese should be treated on its individual merits? Is it not essential that these men are examined by medical practitioners who know something about what the Japanese did to them and not by people who have little cognisance of the matter?

Mr. Dean

I agree with the points which the hon. Member made and we must ensure in every case that where there is doubt, that doubt goes in favour of the claimant. The new steps which I am working out are designed to achieve this.

Sir H. Harrison

I speak as one of these men. Is the Under-Secretary aware that the meeting took place only yesterday and that as a whole we have great confidence in him and in Ministers in the past? These are new facts that have come to light, and we look forward in due course, now that he has heard the repre- sentations, to the Under-Secretary making another statement to the House.

Mr. Dean

I am obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend for his comments and I will inform the House as soon as the details are worked out.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Will the Under-Secretary agree to reconsider the terms of his original reply and to make a full and further statement to the House at the earliest possible date?

Mr. Dean

I have assured the House that as soon as more information is available and the details are worked out I will see that they are made available to the House in the most appropriate form.