§ 11 am
§ Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)
I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on this issue, which is still painful for many people. Anybody who has taken the time to speak to a war veteran or civilian internee cannot fail to be deeply moved by the atrocities that took place on the battlefields and in the prison camps of the far east. I know that several hon. Members will want to participate in the debate, so I intend to speak as briefly as possible.
I pay tribute to the bravery of those who fought on the battlefields of Asia and to the intense feelings still held by those who survive to this day. The memory of the atrocities that they suffered should not die with them. We must forgive those who were our enemies—but we should not forget. No one who had to endure the cruelty and barbarism that took place on those battlefields and in those prison camps could remain unchanged, and I do not want to undermine their still immediate and painful memories.
I call on members of associations such as the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors Association and the Association of British Civilian Internees Far East Region to display yet again the courage and determination that made them heroes not so many years ago and the indomitable spirit that has always distinguished the British both on and off the battlefield. Now is the time to use that courage and spirit finally to allow the wounds to heal.
This is not a party political issue. One cannot imagine any hon. Member using the suffering that was endured in the far east as a party political football. Successive Governments, both Labour and Conservative, have worked hard since 1945 on behalf of former prisoners of war and internees. Now is the time for us all to accept that the 1951 peace treaty signed with Japan in San Francisco cannot be reopened. We should be encouraged by the fact that in recent years the Japanese Government have, for the first time, acknowledged the extent of past atrocities. Until recently, those atrocities and a number of events were not even allowed to be referred to in school textbooks.
I know that many veterans dispute the strength of the wording of the apology offered by the Japanese Government in January 1995, which was repeated in January this year.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
The hon. Lady has clearly researched her subject well and will therefore know of my particular interest in it. I accept that the legal position is precisely as the hon. Lady is setting out, but does she not recall that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) took up the matter, he was seeking not to reopen the legal case but to assert the moral claim? Surely she will not deny that, whatever the law may say, the Japanese Government have an enduring moral obligation that a mere apology without compensation does not begin to discharge.
§ Jane Griffiths
I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that the issue of the moral claim remains, and I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Huntingdon for his efforts.
I shall give the House the briefest of lessons in the Japanese way of apology. In English, one says, "I am sorry," or, "I apologise," and there are not many more 268 ways of expressing apology. In Japanese, there are a great many ways. One says, "shitsurei shimasu," or, "gomen nasai," if one accidentally bumps into someone. The word used by the Japanese Prime Minister on behalf of the Japanese Government was "owabi," which is translated as "apology". That is a formal, high-level apology. Many representatives of the prisoners of war and internees want the word "shazai" to be used. It is not possible to translate "shazai" other than in the same way as "owabi"—"apology".
Many former prisoners of war and civilian internees argue, as did the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), that an apology is meaningless without further compensation. Article 14a of the San Francisco treaty set the amount of compensation according to Japan's economic situation at the time. The article says:
the resources of Japan are not presently sufficient if it is to maintain a viable economy, to make complete reparation for all such damage and suffering.The Japanese economy is now in a rather different state from that of 1951. It has been suggested that new evidence exists of an open door for Governments to make claims against the Japanese Government for further compensation on behalf of those heroes, but I dare to say that we must allow the door of history finally to close on the technical and legal disputes arising from the treaty. We have a modern Britain with a new Government that has modern relations with a modern Japan.
I pay tribute to Keiko Holmes, the Japanese widow of a British man, who yesterday received an honorary OBE for her work on reconciliation and in helping to heal the wounds. I pay tribute also to the Royal British Legion, the Burma Star Association and others, who have wholeheartedly welcomed those efforts at reconciliation.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)
I have listened to the hon. Lady's reasonable and careful explanation of linguistic differences and her statesmanlike approach to the problem, which she has placed in the setting of the present age. She may have constituents who have written to her on this subject, as do many hon. Members. The victims' families feel bitter about the issue, and it is a scar that will remain with them indefinitely. Does she not think that, if we were to close the door, as she put it, it would be seemly if that were accompanied by substantial compensation?
§ Jane Griffiths
I agree that those scars will not heal and that the bitterness will not simply go away. We should not wait for all the veterans to die and then say that the matter is finished, because it will not be finished.
I turn now to a forgotten war and the forgotten heroes of another Asian conflict, which did not end in victory or defeat for anyone and has never been given as much time in the House as many of those forgotten heroes and hon. Members would wish. I refer to the conflict in Korea from 1950 to 1953, during which 1,078 British troops died and 2,674 were wounded. There were 1,060 British prisoners of war held in Korea by the Korean people's army and the Chinese people's volunteers.
One of those prisoners of war was Mr. Bill Clark from Reading. He spent almost three years as a prisoner of the Chinese people's volunteers, and I pay tribute to him. He suffers now from crippling osteoarthritis. He believes—and I am inclined to agree—that his condition was 269 brought on not only by three years of an inadequate diet and sleep deprivation, but by sleeping on the ground in extreme weather conditions. Many of his comrades who were incarcerated with him are not with us today. They died too young, many from liver disease brought on by malnutrition. Prisoners in Korea lived mostly on sorghum, a grain that has little nutritional value, and cabbage.
Since coming to the House, I have had the tremendous privilege of sharing the painful memories and experiences of many heroic individuals. Mr. Bill Clark told me a great deal about his experiences, including the political indoctrination to which prisoners of war were subjected. They were offered extra food, cigarettes, pork or rice if they would accept that indoctrination and denounce the United States and the western powers. They refused to do so. British prisoners of war, in particular, refused to do so.
Anyone who has read Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley's history of British involvement in the Korean war will know of the Kangdong camp, which prisoners called the caves. In the summer of 1951, the Korean people's army held prisoners there in darkness and in partially flooded tunnels. The sick and wounded were refused treatment. To get above ground to see daylight, prisoners had to engage in anti-United States propaganda. The prisoners' leading officer, Lieutenant T. E. Waters, told his men to accept that offer and to engage in propaganda. Wounded himself, he felt unable to do so, and he died in the caves. We should remember him. He was awarded the George cross posthumously, but all too many of those who suffered in Korea received no award and no remembrance.
Of the 1,060 prisoners of war, 978—a large proportion—came back from Korea. The war was a United Nations conflict and troops from many countries took part. A large proportion of the British prisoners came back alive, which is another tribute to the indomitable spirit to which I referred earlier; but 71 are known to have died in the prison camps and 11 remain unaccounted for, presumed dead.
We are not talking only about Bill Clark from Reading, who would be in the Strangers Gallery to hear this debate if the osteoarthritis that he has suffered for so many years did not prevent him from travelling. We are talking about all those men. Osteoarthritis does not currently attract a war pension enhancement entitlement in the United Kingdom, although I believe it does in the United States. Korean war veterans are not always represented in Armistice day parades everywhere in the country, which is a shame.
I call on the House to take a moment to reflect on the forgotten heroes of Korea, most of whom were young national service men whose childhoods had been spent in the privation of the war years. I hope for the sake of future generations that our new Government will do all that they can to bring to an end the dangerous and uneasy stalemate on the Korean peninsula. I believe that other hon. Members will wish to speak today, and I am sure that they will wish to pay tribute, as one or two have done already, to the forgotten heroes, to their suffering and to the need to heal wounds that cannot heal at present.
I am sure that some hon. Members—and some former prisoners of war and civilian internees in the far east, who suffered so atrociously—will disagree with my call to let those deep and painful wounds heal, but I ask everyone to reflect on the dignity and courage that the British have always shown in the face of adversity. As a fitting tribute 270 to the many who fell and the many who suffered, let us finally lay to rest a tragic period of history as we look to the next century and to a modern Britain that has modern, positive relations with a modern Japan.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
It is always difficult for a relatively new Member to make a speech of that sort to the House. Sometimes, members of the public say that there are not many people in the Chamber, but we all know that even if there are just three people in the Chamber, it can be an awesome experience. I compliment the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) on the way in which she spoke.
I suspect that there is a very good debate to be had on the sufferings of people in Korea, but I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me if I concentrate my few remarks on the sufferings of those who were formerly Japanese prisoners of war.
I do not need to regale the House with stories of how prisoners of war were treated. Every time I speak in one of these debates, I make a point of going back through my briefing material and reading speeches that right hon. and hon. Members have made over the years. Familiarity with the material never entirely diminishes the shock of reading about those cases. Warfare, bloody and bad as it is, does not begin to compete with the indignity and humiliation to which the Japanese subjected civilians and prisoners of war. That is a matter of fact, and the hon. Lady, to her credit, has not sought to get around it.
We have heard before, and I shall not repeat it today because time is short, of the truly derisory amounts of money that the Japanese paid at the time. Those sums were all that the country was apparently capable of paying at the time. Circumstances change, and the state of Japan today is vastly better than it was in the aftermath of the war.
It is not my job to concede the legal case. From what I have read, and considering the changing state of international law, there is, to put it at its most neutral, an arguable case that international law would not prevent our returning to the subject; but let us put that to one side.
The fact that we are having this debate at all stems from the initiative undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), when he was Prime Minister. He conceded, as the Government of the day were bound to do, that, although no legal case could be argued, there was an overwhelming moral case and a moral obligation that transcended legal niceties.
My right hon. Friend was seeking to achieve two things: an unambiguous apology and an unambiguous apology backed up by compensation. Even allowing for the fact that different cultures have different ways of approaching the question of apology, an apology without the compensation that would do something to make the lives of people in their twilight years slightly more bearable would frankly be an apology that came pretty cheap.
The fact that we are here today will, I hope, convey a courteous and forthright, but unanimous, message to the Government of Japan that merely to discharge their legal obligation—if that is what they think they have done—does not for one moment discharge their moral obligation. The moral obligation remains. I would not like, and I am 271 sure that the hon. Member for Reading, East would not wish, a selective reading of what she has said today to be used by the Government of Japan as the basis for thinking that the House of Commons merely wants to let sleeping dogs lie, that an apology has been made in words suitable in that country and that there is nothing more to it. It is unacceptable for the Head of State in Japan to come to this country and think that all these things happened a long time ago and nothing further need be done.
We have had many lectures in recent times about ethics in foreign policy. Since the last war, we have been served on a number of occasions by Foreign Secretaries of character and distinction from both parties. Now, we have the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). If ethics in foreign affairs is to mean anything at all, it is about facing up to moral obligations. There is a suggestion that we do not want to offend the Japanese.
I am in the business of realpolitik; we all have jobs in our constituencies that mean we must get on with Japan. That is all well and good, but it would be an appalling dereliction of our duty to people, alive and dead, to say casually that we talk about ethics in foreign affairs but must not upset people who create jobs.
If the House of Commons means anything, it means being able to stand up fearlessly, courteously and unambiguously to talk about moral obligations when they exist. The moral obligation of the Government of Japan today is total.
§ Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)
I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) about my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths). It is no easy task to open an Adjournment debate, particularly on a subject as sensitive as this. I congratulate her on the sensitivity with which she spoke.
Many of my elderly constituents are former far east prisoners of war. One of the accidents of history is that, at the fall of Singapore, many Lancashire regiments and Lancashire people were caught up in the conflict, and, like many hon. Members, I have had many graphic first-hand accounts from survivors.
One of my constituents, Mr. lain Mitchell, who was captured as a teenager in Singapore, wrote an excellent and moving book, without rancour and without haranguing, about his experiences at the hands of the Japanese. I have that constituency debt to discharge, but there is a wider debt.
As an historian, before coming to the House, I edited a magazine in which Japan's role in the second world war was discussed. I recognise the progress that has been made, not least in the wake of the Prime Minister's recent visit to Japan, by the Japanese Government and people in addressing these sensitive issues. I welcome the pledges on the development of scholarships for the children and grandchildren of former far east prisoners of war and the programme of reconciliation visits. I welcome unreservedly Prime Minister Hashimoto's apology on the occasion of the Prime Minister's recent visit. However, that does not discharge the account. More needs to be done morally and from the perspective of international relations.
272 I regret that Japan has not addressed the issues of war guilt or war crimes officially or generally in the way that the Germans have done. Japanese society in current affairs and debates has not worked through the painful and anguished debates in which the Germans have engaged, especially in the past 15 years.
Some hon. Members may be familiar with the work of the writer Ian Buruma, who three or four years ago published an interesting book called "The Wages of Guilt" on the subject of the different attitudes of the Japanese and the Germans and the different ways in which they have treated their war legacy. One of the issues he raises which I raised in my letter to the Japanese ambassador on 15 January, is that, despite the understandable emphasis in Japan on all aspects of war suffering, not least as a result of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there has been little or no recognition or explanation in Japanese text books or teaching of Japan's part in second world war atrocities, including the ill treatment of far east prisoners of war.
I stand ready to be corrected, but as far as I am aware there has been no equivalent on Japanese television of the holocaust programme that caused such soul searching in Germany a few years ago and which prompted so many of the initiatives by the German Government in respect of holocaust survivors and others who were ill treated in the second world war. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) said on an earlier occasion, there has been no equivalent of a Japanese Prime Minister falling to his knees and asking for forgiveness as Willi Brandt did at the Warsaw ghetto. People should reflect on those matters, not just from the perspective of the treatment of and justice for far east prisoners of war, but in terms of Japan's full entry to the world as a democratic, international player.
The hon. Member for Teignbridge alluded to precedents for the reopening of matters that have been closed. Many German manufacturers and employers who used forced labour during the war have voluntarily taken up the issue. Volkswagen springs to mind. The current debate about the treatment of Jewish assets by Swiss banks is another reflection of the same principle.
Only two days ago in a Japanese court the principle of compensation for Japan's wartime sex slaves, the so-called comfort women, was acknowledged by the judge. The report stated that there seemed to be a clear case of sexual and ethnic discrimination as well as a violation of the human rights that are enshrined in the constitution. There are precedents for reopening such matters, but it is not for me to say how they should be reopened and what compensation should be paid.
As I have said, I wrote to the Japanese ambassador on 15 January. One of my suggestions was that, if the Japanese Government were not prepared to increase the compensation package for individual survivors, other steps, such as considering payments to a trust fund to help current victims of physical and mental torture, could be taken. Those people include survivors from the prisoner of war camps, many of whom still suffer physically and from severe mental trauma as a result of their treatment.
More must be done, and the Japanese Government have a duty to account to the civilised community of nations. I respectfully suggest that the British Government also have a duty continually to remind the Japanese Government, politely and diplomatically, as did the Prime 273 Minister on his recent visit, of the importance of that. Garrett Mattingly, who was a great 16th-century historian, said that it mattered that the living do justice, however belatedly. He was writing about doing justice to the reputation of a commander in the Spanish armada of 400 years ago. For the living to do justice, however belatedly, to people who died in the prison camps and to those who suffer today also matters.
We do the Japanese people and Government no favours by suggesting that a line can be drawn under the injustices although they have not been fully addressed in the debates and in the consciences of that society. Recently, in the context of the Irish question, there was a recognition of Bloody Sunday by the Prime Minister, and he commented on the potato famine. There are always opportunities for Governments and peoples in the present to take examples from the past that will carry forward and improve future relations.
§ Mr. David Drew (Stroud)
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he accept that, as we approach the millennium a full apology with compensation by the Japanese would be a symbolic, acceptable way forward?
§ Mr. Marsden
I agree that that is a way forward, but I wish to stress to the Japanese Government and to hon. Members the importance of these continuing issues. Injustices do not go away in history; any student of what has happened in central and eastern Europe over the past five to 10 years will bear that out. The issue of the Korean comfort women continues profoundly to affect relations between Japan and Korea.
In common with all hon. Members, I should like the visit by the Emperor of Japan in the next few weeks to lead to a further improvement of our strong ties with Japan. No one is keener than I am to see them developed and strengthened, but I respectfully suggest that a greater readiness by the Japanese Government to confront the issues and to accept all the domestic and political difficulties that that may entail would go a long way towards comforting those families and survivors who suffered at the hands of the imperial Japanese army.
Justice and the recognition of what it is are not time-limited or time-sensitive. Japan's acceptance of its grave misdeeds would be a comfort to my constituents who were prisoners of war in the far east and who daily remember what was done. It would also be a recognition that, as we approach the millennium, Japan is moving on to take its full place in the international democratic community.
§ Dr. Michael Clark (Rayleigh)
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths). I had come to listen to the hon. Lady and had not intended to speak, but, as result of what she said, I want to say a few words in her support.
I have taken an interest in Japanese prisoners of war for more than 40 years—my interest began long before I entered the House. I remember reading Russell Braddon's book as a very young man. He said that, although the peace treaty had been signed, it would be very difficult for him and his fellow prisoners of war to forgive the Japanese for what had happened in the prison camps. He recalled that, when he was released from the prison camp, 274 the last thing that a Japanese officer said to him was, "You have won this war, which has lasted just a few years, but we shall win the war that will last for 100 years."
Perhaps the officer meant the trade war that would take place in the second half of the century, in which there is little doubt that Japan did very well—it could even claim to have won that war. As we were magnanimous in victory and helped the Japanese to rebuild their country and their industries—we helped them back on their feet with much effort and substantial financial aid—surely the Japanese, now that they have moved forward so far in the trade war, even if not to total victory, can find it in their hearts to compensate those who suffered so appallingly in the prison camps at the hands of their army.
Eight or nine years ago, I read a book by my constituent Ernie Warwick, "Tamajo 243", which again highlighted the deprivation, misery, bestiality and cruelty of the prison camps. I have worked with Bill Holtham from Southend—he is, I think, the founder member of the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors Association, at whose dinners I have spoken several times. More recently, I read the book "Line of Lost Lives" by, I think, John CosfordI cannot quite remember his name, although I know that he was born in Royston and now lives in Bury St. Edmunds.
From all those people, we learn of the appalling conditions that the prisoners had to suffer, yet their compensation as a result of the 1951 peace treaty was £76. Admittedly, that would be worth more in real terms now, but it was none the less a miserable sum. I fear that saying sorry in whatever Japanese word the hon. Member for Reading, East mentions is not enough—words come cheap, even though the Japanese have been reticent in using the more powerful word for "sorry". Perhaps they believe that, after holding back and using a simple word for "sorry", it would be a major concession to use a more elevated word later. However, there is little difference between the various words for "sorry" if they are not accompanied by compensation worth far more than the £76 that was awarded in 1951.
Some people say that schemes for rehabilitation and reconciliation should take the place of compensation—former British soldiers will visit Japan to pay homage to the Japanese war dead, and Japanese soldiers will visit Britain to pay homage to the British who died in the prison camps. As someone said yesterday—it may have been Mr. Titherington—there is a big difference between the Japanese who died in battle and the British who died bound in barbed wire, starved of food and vitamins and probably beheaded after having been bayoneted in the gut. I do not see the comparison.
I fear—the hon. Member for Reading, East may fear it, too—that some form of compensation will be agreed in 10 years perhaps, when the number of camp survivors will have dwindled to only a few handfuls. The survivors are already becoming frail from old age, but many also have to deal with problems that arose from the deprivations and the starvation that they suffered in the prison camps. In 10 years, there will be fewer survivors, so the Japanese will have to find only a small amount of money to award compensation, even if the sums are individually generous.
If the Japanese do not pay compensation now—when we are trying to settle the issue and the emperor is visiting this country—but try to do so in 10 years as a sop to their conscience, I hope that we reject their offer. It would not 275 be right for them to offer compensation when most of the former prisoners have died from natural causes or because of what happened to them in the camps—that would be a cheap and tawdry way for them to avoid their responsibilities.
When I first started work with ICI in 1960 or thereabouts, a Japanese delegation visited the plant at which I was working and offered us all a high-quality slide rule—I still have mine. I accepted it reluctantly, however, as I did not want to receive a gift from the Japanese 15 years after the war had finished.
All that is out of the way now—like many of my constituents, I buy Japanese goods and possess Japanese electronics. We have given up boycotting goods from Japan. We meet Japanese people on equal, friendly terms—as chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, I had many good meetings with good Japanese people. However, those good people must realise that there were bad days. The Japanese nation and Government must recognise that fact and, in doing so, consider compensating the ex-prisoners.
The ex-prisoners I meet do not want pity; they want justice, as all hon. Members want justice for them. In every court in the world that I know of, especially in cases of physical hurt or where the damage sustained has affected people's earning power, justice consists of not only the word sorry, but appropriate compensation. That is the justice that the House wants for the ex-prisoners of war.
§ Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion)
I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) on securing this debate, and on the knowledge and sensitivity that informed her speech. I wish that we did not have to have this debate; the issue should have been settled years ago, in so far as it can be settled by words and money. As the generation that came after the second world war—looking around the Chamber, I guess that, with one or two exceptions, all of us are of that generation—we should not still have to be debating the issue. However, this is an appropriate time for us to debate it.
I pay tribute to the work of the Association of British Civilian Internees Far East Region, which has unearthed documents in the Public Record Office at Kew that suggest that there are grounds for us to reopen the legal question of the compensation that was agreed in the San Francisco peace treaty. It has also found that secrecy surrounded the decisions of the British Government in 1955, when this issue was brought to the attention of Ministers and civil servants. I hope that we shall hear from the Minister today that serious consideration will be given to the implication of those investigations—that the compensation issue could be reconsidered on a legal basis.
It is also an appropriate time for this debate because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) has reminded us, just this week, the Japanese courts made a decision in relation to the treatment of the so-called comfort women from Korea and the compensation that has been awarded to them.
Having inherited that legacy from past British Governments, this Government also have responsibilities. It was the British Government who advised and, in fact, 276 requested at the outbreak of the second world war that civilian workers in the far east should stay where they were in post for the good of the empire.
Subsequent British Governments have inherited a responsibility to honour their debt to those civilians working in the far east, as well as to military personnel who became prisoners of war.
I hope that this Government will carefully examine the anomalies in the social security system that may still prevent some survivors of the prisoner-of-war and internee camps from claiming benefits to which their equivalents—their colleagues—in other countries are entitled. I have heard stories that some injuries are not deemed relevant for benefit because medical records made when the injuries were received are not available. Is it any wonder that the medical records from prisoner-of-war or internee camps are not available? I hope that that is another issue that our Government will take up.
§ Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)
Is it not sad that many former prisoners of war and civilian internees too often have cause to consider the War Pensions Agency as the enemy within? I think of my constituent Mr. Ian Mason-Summers who, having spent many of his formative years in Changi, has been pursuing a claim for justice for nine years with the WPA. At a time when we should be giving recognition and respect to the dwindling number of people who served and suffered for their country, is it not sad that all too often, the WPA is adding insult to injury?
§ Mr. Lepper
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I agree with that point and use it to emphasise a message that I hope the Minister will take back to his colleagues in other Departments: we want them to examine these issues seriously.
I am sure that we all welcome the steps that have been taken—which have been described by my hon. Friends the Members for Reading, East and for Blackpool, South—by the Japanese Government both to acknowledge the serious errors of past Japanese Governments and, indeed, to make some recompense, but still not enough has been done. I find it hard to reconcile the stories that I hear from survivors of those camps of the treatment they received with my personal experience of an all-too-brief visit to Japan, and with the courtesy and frankness that I have found during my informal conversations since being elected to the House with Japanese embassy staff. I find it hard to reconcile those stories with the difference in culture that I suspect has arisen in Japan over the past 50 years.
I am pleased that I represent a constituency that shares with Hiroshima and Nagasaki the honour of having been designated a United Nations peace messenger city. Brighton received that honour, as have other cities, because of our special concern and work to help to mitigate the effects of war, particularly on civilian populations. Increasingly, it is civilians who suffer in time of war. I mean no disrespect to military prisoners of war, but I should like the House to consider in particular the experiences of civilian internees in the far east in the second world war.
I have talked about the appropriateness of this debate. There could be no more appropriate time in view of the emperor's visit next month, and I look forward to that 277 visit. It gives those of us who represent the post-war generation in both our countries an opportunity to signal the beginning of a new era in the relationship between our two countries, and it gives the Japanese Government the opportunity to take that essential step further in terms both of acknowledgment and of compensation, for time is running out.
Over the past 20 years, I have had the honour and privilege of meeting on many occasions members of the Burma Star Association in the Brighton and Hove area. Every year, of course, fewer and fewer association members are able to come to those meetings but, when the last member has died, the memory of what they and the civilian internees suffered will not have died with them. I hope that, today, we shall have some assurances from the Minister that the emperor's impending visit will be taken as an opportunity for us to settle, in so far as words and finances can settle it, this issue, which should have been settled 50 years ago.
§ Mr. Shaun Woodward (Witney)
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) on raising this subject. It is an important and obviously timely debate, with the impending visit of the emperor in May. I should declare the fact that I paid my first visit to Japan only last year as a guest of the Japanese Government. Like many people who have been fortunate to visit Japan, I could not help but be terribly impressed by it because it clearly is a different country and has a different culture from the Japan of 60 years ago, which embarked on a very aggressive imperialist policy in its world war activities. Things have clearly changed.
Japanese people are now outward-looking; they want to promote peace. Indeed, many people in Britain—65,000 or so people directly benefit from jobs from Japanese inward investment—have to be grateful; Britain has to be grateful that 40 per cent. of Japan's external investment comes this way. There is much to be said on the positive side, but—I do not wish to disagree with the hon. Member for Reading, East and I am sure that this will not be taken in that sense—I do not believe that we can close the door on the past. I say that with deeply held conviction.
One of my constituents, Arthur Titherington, chairman of the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors Association, is in the Gallery today. In the past 10 years, since founding the organisation, he has worked tirelessly in promoting the cause of the 14,500 people who have belonged to the association. The cause has been a difficult one for Mr. Titherington to pursue, as it causes him to recall not only much personal pain, tragedy and loss, but his many friends who suffered and died.
Since its inception 10 years ago, the organisation's membership has fallen from 14,500 to 9,500, simply because its members are elderly and some have died. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) said, time is running out. We cannot close the door on the organisation's 9,500 remaining members, or on the widows who have been left behind.
I do not believe that we can say that the 1951 treaty created a legal buttress to justify not pursuing the case of former prisoners of war. The argument has not only a legal basis, but a very important moral one, which is as relevant in the world today—as we consider pursuing those who committed war crimes in the former 278 Yugoslavia—as in the past. We should not forget. It is right that we should, as a civilised society, continue with negotiations, not only for the sake of those who have suffered, but to show that we will be staunch in dealing with the matter in future.
Despite the emperor's imminent visit, the Government should not avoid the issue entirely. However, I do not share the view held by some people that public protests during the visit would be constructive. In the past few years—because of the work particularly of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), but also that of the Prime Minister—the Japanese Government have shown that they are prepared to make some progress on the issue. Their new attitude was demonstrated by the fact that, last year, they offered a different type of apology from that which they had offered previously. Nevertheless, more can be done.
The prisoner of war issue is not a party political one. However, last night, Mr. Titherington and his colleagues were gravely disappointed after leaving a meeting with the Minister. They had been led to believe that more could be done, and they now rightly expect the Government to continue pressing their important case.
I ask the Minister today to tell the House what further action he will take. Much has already been achieved, for which we must give full credit to the Prime Minister and to Ministers. Nevertheless, we cannot say in the case of Mr. Titherington and his colleagues that we have done what we can; we must pursue the matter.
The House will welcome two actions: first, the Minister telling us today what he will do; secondly, his conveying to the Prime Minister the obviously very strong feeling of hon. Members on both sides of the House that the matter should not be allowed to rest. The matter should be pursued until adequate compensation and terms of apology have been received.
§ Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) on securing this debate. All hon. Members know someone who has been a prisoner of war, which shows that many former POWs are still alive and hold memories of their suffering. The House must preserve those memories, as the Japanese will neither acknowledge nor pay for their deeds. The time has come when they must stand up and pay. What better opportunity could the Japanese have to establish a fund for former POWs and—I agree—civilian internees than the emperor's visit to the United Kingdom? Let the Japanese pay now, before it is too late—and 10 years from now will be too late.
A friend of mine, Jim Hodson, is a Labour party member and former POW. He never discusses what happened to him as a POW or complains about it. He is a man of silence and keeps to himself what happened in that camp. However, I believe that he should be compensated for his suffering in the camp and for the emphysema that he now suffers. Everyone else who suffered in camps should also be compensated. Although his silence is a tribute to his qualities, he must live daily with his memories, and go to sleep each night with thoughts of what he has suffered.
The time has come for the House to unite not in attacking Japan, but in pleading with it to do the decent thing—to put compensation on the table. Let the emperor come with a gift to those who have suffered.
§ Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester)
I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) on securing this debate, which has been very positive. The speeches have shown the strength of all hon. Members' feeling about the need not only to see justice but to represent the many former prisoners of war who have come to our constituency surgeries.
As one of the co-chairmen of the all-party group representing prisoners of war, I am extremely concerned at possible events in the next month, in the run-up to the emperor's visit to the United Kingdom. Later in my speech, I shall focus on ways in which we can try to work together to make the visit a success.
Let me start by recalling a cold December evening last year, and one of my surgeries in my Winchester constituency. All hon. Members will agree that, as we look ahead to our surgeries, we often wonder what complicated issues we may have to face. However, that surgery was slightly different, because Keith Martin—one of my constituents, and chairman of the Association of British Civilian Internees Far East Region—came to discuss an issue, which I must confess that I, as a relatively young Member of Parliament, knew very little about.
Keith Martin told me about his experiences as a prisoner of war. At the outbreak of the Pacific war, he was 13. Between 1941 and 1946, he did not see his mother, as she was in Stanley prison, in Hong Kong. He was forced into hard labour. As we were nearing the end of our conversation, he said that, towards the end of his internment, he had to dig the grave of one of his friends. I was appalled to hear those experiences. I think that many young people find it very difficult to comprehend what happened to former POWs.
Keith Martin asked that an all-party group on prisoners of war should be established, to provide a forum within Westminster to deal with the issue. He acknowledged that we have come close to achieving that goal, and said specifically that the hon. Members for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) had been instrumental in raising the issue on the Floor of the House. I praise them for their work over the years. Although they came very close to establishing an all-party group, the general election intervened and stopped progress on it.
I confess that I wrestled with the idea of becoming involved in trying to establish an all-party group. My initial reaction was to ask, "Why should we drag up the past? Why should we not look forward?" However, after discussions with prisoners of war and many other people, I became absolutely convinced that we can begin to look to the future only by re-examining and properly settling the past. It was right and proper to establish the group. Unless the issue is resolved, it will always be a thorn in the side of relations between the United Kingdom and Japan.
We established the all-party group to provide a voice in Parliament to those representing former POWs and civilian internees. In establishing the group, we received help from the Royal British Legion in accessing as many groups as possible. The group has been in touch also with many individuals throughout the country. From our contact with groups and individuals alike, we have been able to develop a picture of the gritty spirit that they have shown over the years.
280 It is a shame that this is not the first time that the House has debated the issues surrounding former POWs and civilian internees; some of the groups must be wondering when any progress will be made.
The all-party group is not a pressure group; we are trying to obtain the views of the individuals concerned, and I acknowledge that there are many difficulties and differences about the way in which progress should be made. Nevertheless, it is an all-party group, and I am delighted that the right hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) are my fellow co-chairmen.
§ Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test)
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his tenacity in finally setting up the all-party group. That group has received wide support and the feeling is widespread in the House that something needs to be done to reflect what we have heard this morning. Has the hon. Gentleman raised the issue with the relevant Minister, and if so, what response has he received?
§ Mr. Oaten
I can confirm that the all-party group has been in contact with the Minister, and I am delighted to say that we had a positive response and that he is to hold a meeting with the all-party group next week. I welcome that as a chance to raise the issue, and the group is grateful for the responses that we have received.
In December, it was announced that the Japanese emperor was to make a state visit to this country. When his father came here in 1971, he was greeted by silent crowds. All hon. Members who have spoken in this debate, and the former POWs, would want to seek a way forward to avoid that happening again; but survivor groups have made it absolutely clear that they intend to use the visit as a focus for their efforts.
There is concern among survivors that the compensation and apology issues are being glossed over and that we may be forgetting too easily in order to forgive. The groups planned peaceful demonstrations, and the news early in April that Britain is to give the emperor the highest order of chivalry, the order of the garter, brought their concerns into sharp focus. I believe that hundreds of survivors will now line the Mall and turn their backs on the emperor as he passes. I do not want that to happen, but I understand the motives that may cause it to. I hope that all efforts will be made to avoid it. The Royal British Legion, the Burma Star Association and the Burma Campaign Fellowship Group have asked me to say that they have decided not to take part in those demonstrations.
Everybody is anxious to avoid the protests, but I believe that public opinion is with the former prisoners of war. There have been no opinion polls, but I fear that the Government may have misjudged the issue and that the demonstrations may capture the public mood. At annual parish council meetings in Winchester over the past couple of weeks, I have spoken to about 500 individuals, 90 per cent. of whom felt that there was great injustice in the emperor being awarded the honour in the absence of an apology or compensation.
We must address in the coming month the two pivotal issues of compensation and an apology. We should not say, as I believe the Government have been saying, that the subject of compensation should not be brought up again. It cannot be put aside so easily.
281 The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) talked about research—conducted, in fact, by my constituent, Keith Martin—into compensation. Forgotten documents from 1955 that have been found in the Public Record Office suggest that the 1951 San Francisco treaty may not be the last word on the issue.
A Foreign Office note of 26 May 1955 agreed that Japan's settlement with Switzerland—which was the equivalent of more than £2,000 per person, as opposed to the £71 that the British POWs got—and the compensation settlements with Burma, gave those countries' POWs greater advantages than those accorded to the signatories of the 1951 treaty. The document refers to article 26 of the treaty, under which, if Japan were to grant any state greater advantages than those provided by the treaty, it would be obliged to extend that to the other parties: in simple terms, what was right for Switzerland and Burma should have been right for our POWs.
The Foreign Office decided at that time that, in the interests of the restoration of the Japanese economy, it should not invoke article 26 and claim parity with the Swiss and Burmese settlements, unless there were material changes in circumstances. A note from Lord Reading at the end of the memorandum says:
I agree. We are at present unpopular enough with the Japanese without trying to exert further pressure which would be likely to cause the maximum of resentment for the minimum of advantage.I hope that the Minister will not say that, because the articles were drawn up so long ago, they cannot be revisited. If there is a chance that they are still legally binding, we should pursue the matter. After all, we have taken that stance on the issues of war criminals and gold in Switzerland, saying that they need to be pursued to the end. However remote the chance, all legal avenues should be explored.
The Prime Minister's visit to Japan in January afforded an opportunity to promote a more positive image. I warmly support that, and hope that progress will continue. The Prime Minister rightly raised the issue of the treatment of prisoners of war. He was given an expression of deep remorse and heartfelt apology to those who suffered in the second world war, but that apology failed to meet the requirements of the former prisoners of war, which I support.
The apology was not given in public or in this country, and it was published here in The Sun, hardly the most dignified vehicle for such a declaration. It was not meaningful, because the critical words were not used. Previous apologies have not been viewed as definitive, principally because the wording has never been acceptable in relation to the scale of the atrocities that took place. Despite the sincerity of those who have uttered those apologies, they have consistently been undermined by dissidents from within the Japanese hierarchy.
I urge the Foreign Office to do all that it can in the weeks ahead to make progress with the apology issue. What better way to celebrate the emperor's visit and move forward in relations with Japan than to have a proper apology? To overcome the problem of the emperor having to use his own words to make what would, I suppose, be regarded as a political statement, I urge the Japanese Government to permit him to deliver a clear, public apology in this country on their behalf. That would give the former prisoners of war what they are seeking.
I urge the Minister and the Foreign Secretary not to say that the issue is resolved but to use the visit as a focus for diplomatic action, to try to re-examine the legal issues 282 about compensation and to seek the necessary apology, so that we can celebrate the visit and satisfy the prisoners of war who have been waiting so many years for justice.
§ 12.7 pm
§ Mr. David Faber (Westbury)
Since the Jopling reforms initiated these Wednesday morning debates, there has been some scepticism about their value, but we would all agree that today we have seen the House at its very best, and have had contributions of the highest quality, without a single exception.
This is an important and timely debate, and I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths), not only on securing it but on the sensitive and knowledgeable manner in which she introduced it.
Last December saw the 56th anniversary of the outbreak of war in the Pacific. I strongly endorse all the moving tributes paid this morning to all those who fought so bravely in Asia, whose courage resulted in the lasting peace and stability that we enjoy today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Dr. Clark) movingly reminded us about conditions in the camps, and I echo the tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) to the veterans' groups. In particular, we remember those who paid the ultimate price for peace, together with those whose military service regrettably led to their imprisonment.
The hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) and for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) mentioned the recent claim by veterans that they have uncovered documentary evidence in the Public Record Office at Kew that merits a new challenge to the compensation paid to surviving prisoners under the 1951 San Fransico treaty of peace, which ended the state of war between the United Kingdom and Japan. At British insistence, the treaty specifically provided for compensation for former prisoners of war, and rightly acknowledged the brutal treatment to which allied service personnel in the far east had been subjected.
Article 14(a) of the treaty states:
Japan should pay reparations to the Allied Powers for the damage and suffering caused by it during the war".It gave the allies the right to seize and to dispose of Japanese property within their jurisdiction, although, as the hon. Member for Reading, East and others have said, that was done according to financial prosperity.
The proceeds of Japan's overseas investments were taken in settlement of claims for compensation. The United Kingdom received about £3 million and a further £1.6 million from the International Red Cross, which had in turn received £4.5 million from the Japanese Government. Former military prisoners each received £76 10s, which works out at about £1,000 in today's money, and civilian detainees received £43, which is approximately £560. However inadequate the terms may have appeared to be—they still appear inadequate—it was accepted that the Japanese had discharged their obligations. The treaty was reckoned to be the final word on compensation and was regarded as the legal fulfilment of Japan's responsibilities.
Article 26 of the 1951 treaty states, however, that, should Japan make a peace settlement or war claims settlement with any state granting that state greater advantages than those provided by that treaty, those advantages should be extended to the parties to it. 283 As the hon. Member for Winchester said, the new evidence details a reported arrangement between Switzerland and Japan under which Swiss nationals were compensated at a higher rate than those of allied countries. A story in The Observer on 18 January referred to the 1955 bilateral arrangement between the countries. The documents at the PRO have been interpreted as showing that the terms of the Swiss agreement are better than those of the 1951 treaty, which apply to the United Kingdom. Similar claims have been made about the agreement with Burma, which must be closely examined by the Government. The Foreign Office is conducting research on the documents, which we welcome, and hon. Members look forward to hearing when the Minister expects to announce the findings.
I should like the Minister to deal with a number of specific points. What factors are the Foreign Office using to determine the relative benefits of the Swiss, the Burmese and the British arrangements? How will officials determine their comparable worth in money terms after so many years? Having done so, will he say whether the terms of the Swiss agreement are better or worse than those offered to the United Kingdom? Do the Government consider that settlement to be a peace settlement or a war claims settlement?
We welcome the Government's acting quickly on preliminary legal advice. Although we heard on the radio this morning that that advice suggests that nothing has changed and that there will be no reopening of negotiations with Japan over payments, it would be extremely helpful if the Minister gave further details of what the advice suggests, from whom it came and when he hopes to receive a final opinion. There may be a problem over the time limit within which legal challenges are usually made. What advice have the Government received about the principle of extinctive prescription as it applies in international law?
Conservative Ministers discussed former prisoners of war with their Japanese counterparts, to express concern and to explore possibilities for alternative nongovernmental initiatives. Although we could not become directly involved in legal cases brought by individuals or organisations, our embassy in Tokyo has always helped ex-prisoners of war by offering advice and by arranging meetings.
In June 1997, the present Minister said:
Strong feelings, however, continue in this country and we are in close touch with the Japanese Government about these concerns."—[Official Report, 2 June 1997; Vol. 295, c. 86.]Can he say more about any specific initiatives that have been undertaken to build on the important dialogue which we established previously, and what non-governmental initiatives have been pursued with the Japanese Government since 1 May?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) said, the previous Government drew the attention of the Japanese Government to this issue repeatedly and at the highest level. The former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), broke with tradition and raised the plight of veterans with successive Japanese Prime Ministers. His visit to Japan in September 1993 marked a new stage in the discussions.
284 Prime Minister Hosokawa for the first time gave a full and detailed personal apology for the treatment of prisoners of the Japanese. He expressed his
deep remorse and apologies for the fact that Japanese past actions had inflicted deep wounds on many people including former prisoners of war".Prime Minister Murayama made an official statement on VJ day, apparently with the blessing of his Cabinet, in which he expressed his "heartfelt apology" and "feelings of deep remorse" for the damage and suffering caused to many people of many countries, including former British prisoners of war. Hon. Members will recall, however, the confusion about whether that apology had been made collectively on behalf of the cabinet or was personal.
During his visit to Japan in January, the Prime Minister raised the treatment of prisoners of war with Prime Minister Hashimoto, who gave
an expression of deep remorse and heartfelt apology to people who suffered in the Second World War".I whole-heartedly welcome that statement, but regret the confusion about whether it was collective and made on behalf of the Cabinet, or made personally by the Prime Minister. It should be considered as natural progress on top of previous apologies as a result of the work of successive Governments.
The Minister should clarify the outcome of the Prime Minister's discussions in Japan about prisoner of war compensation and what plans there are to discuss the matter again with the Japanese Government before the state visit by Emperor Akihito next month.
Conservative Members continue to respect the feelings of former prisoners of war, including those who seek compensation, and feel that the Japanese have not yet demonstrated clearly enough the sincerity of their apologies. As Jeremy Hanley, the former Foreign Office Minister, made clear:We have the greatest sympathy with those who suffered such terrible treatment at Japanese hands during the war, so we have not closed the book on the problem."—[Official Report, 4 December 1996; Vol. 286, c. 972.]I welcome the emergence of new attitudes. In government, we sought to establish what might be done to help former prisoners, and although we did not achieve all that they wanted, I am proud that much progress was made and a greater understanding brought about. I welcome the good relations between our two countries, and have no doubt that progress will continue to be made under the new Government.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Derek Fatchett)
We have had an important debate, in which the House has done itself a great favour. The contributions of the eight Back Benchers and the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber) were of high standard and dealt with a sensitive issue in an understanding way. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) on initiating the debate. Few of us can challenge her knowledge of Japan and of the Japanese language, and we were impressed by the way in which she set out the agenda at the start of the debate.
I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), my parliamentary private secretary, who was involved in the establishment of an 285 all-party group, and thank the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) for his remarks about my hon. Friend.
There is only one point at which to begin my response to the debate. Hon. Members pay deep tribute to those who fought, suffered and died on behalf of their country in the far east during the second world war. Their sacrifice enabled each of us to enjoy the peace and prosperity which, sadly, we too often take for granted. Their courage has left an indelible memorial in the long annals of our country's history. We cannot and should never forget the pain and suffering that they endured so that the rest of us could enjoy freedom.
That applies particularly to those who were held captive by the Japanese, whether as prisoners of war or as civilian internees. All hon. Members who spoke were powerfully eloquent in describing the cruelty and brutality of the treatment of our fellow citizens who were taken prisoner by an enemy who showed little respect for normal humanitarian standards. While in recent years we have rightly condemned the atrocities in places such as Bosnia, we should always remember the appalling treatment that our people suffered in captivity in the far east. We did that this morning, and I am pleased to add my words to those of Government and Opposition Members.
It is against that background that, when I came into office last May, one of my first decisions was to invite Arthur Titherington and Keith Martin to discuss their concerns with me. Quite simply, we wanted to find, within the legal constraints which we inherited and to which the hon. Member for Westbury referred, how we could most effectively help the former prisoners in the far east. At the same time, we initiated a series of discussions with the Japanese Government to explore all possibilities. The hon. Gentleman asked me to report back on the talks, and I am willing to do so. He will understand that some of the discussions are necessarily confidential, but I will outline their nature.
It may be useful if I explain the extent of the discussions. I have raised the issue with successive Japanese Foreign Ministers and with the current and previous ambassadors, as has my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I took the opportunity when I visited Japan last November to raise them again. Senior officials, including the current and the immediately previous permanent secretaries at the Foreign Office, have held talks with their counterparts in Japan on exactly these issues. As the hon. Member for Westbury and others noted, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also raised our concerns.
I hope that the House accepts that, during the year in which we have been in office, we have been active on the issue and expressed our concerns. We do not claim any party political virtue for that, because we recognise that that path was also taken by the previous Government, but we wanted to work to see what progress we could make.
During the discussions, the Japanese Government told us that they appreciated the sensitivity of the matter. They rightly saw it as the only outstanding difficulty in our bilateral relationship. They rightly pointed out that many individuals were executed or punished for their cruel behaviour in the camps as a result of the war crimes tribunals after the war. They pointed out that the question of compensation was legally settled by the San Francisco peace treaty of 1951, to which hon. Members have 286 referred. They also said in all those meetings that they were not prepared to reopen the treaty on compensation but they expressed a strong desire to promote reconciliation between Britain and Japan and with formers prisoners of war.
§ Mr. Fatchett
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I should like to continue. If time becomes available, I will give way.
It may be useful to make a short digression to respond to the points made about the legal situation. The hon. Member for Westbury in particular asked several questions. Individual members of the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors Association and the Association of British Civilian Internees Far East Region, supported by their associations, are suing the Japanese Government in the Japanese courts for compensation. The Government, like our predecessors, have no desire to obstruct such action by individuals. To put that more positively, our embassy in Tokyo has given assistance during the visits of the various organisations and individuals to Japan.
ABCIFER has recently produced documents relating to the 1955 agreement between Japan and Switzerland. It is claimed that they show that the Government of the United Kingdom should reopen the San Francisco peace treaty to secure improved compensation. Several hon. Members mentioned that. This is a highly complex matter. The Department has been engaged in thorough research of the historical facts and legal implications. Our researches continue, but it might be useful to bring the House up to date with some of the background information.
I confirm that it appears that in 1955 a conscious policy decision was taken by the then Conservative Government Minister Lord Reading not to reopen the question of compensation with the Japanese on the basis of the Swiss agreement. We make no party political point out of that. It is on the record in one of the documents that former prisoners of war have brought to our attention. It seems that the decision was based on the considerable legal and practical difficulties, as well as on what Lord Reading called, in the document to which the hon. Member for Winchester referred, the fragile state of the Japanese economy at the time.
It does not follow that, because officials thought it legally possible to reopen the question then, that remains the case. The preliminary legal advice that I have received is that it is not now open to the Government to reopen the provisions of the peace treaty on that basis. However, as I said to Keith Martin and Arthur Titherington last night, we will willingly make our preliminary legal advice available to them. I have promised to write to them on that basis. Because of the interest in the House, I will be happy to write to hon. Members setting it out. That information should be, and will be, in the public domain.
I have described the intensity and seriousness of our discussions with the Japanese Government. I do not believe that any of the allied Governments involved in the war in the far east have held such intensive discussions with the Japanese Government on the position of their citizens who were held captive. As I said, the Japanese ruled out further compensation but showed themselves alive to the sensitivities involved. As the talks proceeded, I kept Arthur Titherington, Keith Martin and others 287 informed, because I thought that that was the right thing to do. I assure the House that, whenever opportunities arise, we will continue to raise our concerns with the Japanese Government.
Those efforts culminated in the Prime Minister's discussions with his Japanese counterpart, Mr. Hashimoto, when he visited Tokyo in January. In the end, most of their bilateral meeting was devoted to this one issue. In response to our representations, Mr. Hashimoto made a formal statement on behalf of his Government expressing
his feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for the tremendous damage and suffering of that time.I have quoted the exact words. It seems to us impossible to see that as other than an official statement of apology by the Japanese Government. On that basis, we, with others such as the Royal British Legion, have welcomed and accepted it as an apology.
Mr. Hashimoto also told the Prime Minister that, although the Japanese Government could not pay further compensation, they were prepared to use their resources to promote reconciliation. They would finance pilgrimage by British veterans to the war cemeteries of south-east Asia, give scholarships to the grandchildren of former prisoners, and expand programmes of visits by formers prisoners and their families to Japan.
In making that statement to my right hon. Friend, Mr. Hashimoto was responding to the concerns felt by many ordinary people in this country, so when a British newspaper suggested that he write a signed article for it, my right hon. Friend urged Mr. Hashimoto to use the opportunity to repeat what had been said in their private meeting, directly to the British people. Mr. Hashimoto subsequently ran into some criticism in Japan for writing in a British newspaper, but he has confirmed to my right hon. Friend that he was glad to have done so. As he said in his article, his action
will not bring back the dead. But I hope the British people will see it in the spirit in which it is intended—one of reconciliation and peace and hopes for the future.These issues take us back to what is for many a tender and difficult past. As a Government, we have been trying to work with the Japanese Government in relation to that past. We shall continue our efforts, in the clear knowledge that not one citizen of this country or Member of Parliament forgets the sacrifice that was made by the prisoners of war in the far east.