HL Deb 13 January 1976 vol 367 cc88-115

6.27 p.m.

Lord GRIDLEY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the position of certain members of the Armed Forces who fought as volunteers in the Malaysian Campaign of 1941–45, became prisoners of war, and who now are unable to obtain disability pensions on the ground of ill health. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it was in the sum of 1975 that I first became aware that ex-members of the Malayan Volunteer Forces who fought in the Far Eastern war of 1942 were at present, in cases of a breakdown in health due to captivity and war service, unable to sustain a claim to disability pension, so I decided to carry out some investigations into the situation. I am a Government trustee of the Far East (Prisoner of War and Internee) Fund, and my duties in that connection bring me into close contact with the National Federation of Far Eastern Prisoner of War Clubs and Associations, operating throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In making my inquiries, I have received a great deal of help from the officers of the Associations in various parts of the country—from doctors, welfare officers and so on. I should record that I am most grateful to all of them for the sympathetic advice and help which they have given me, and particularly to Harold Payne, their distinguished President—a former prisoner of war—for his encouragement and help at all times. I believe we both felt when we were undertaking this task that we were on a moral crusade and, so far as it was within our ability, we wanted to right a wrong and see that justice was done.

Before I come to individual cases to illustrate my comments, I think it would be appropriate if briefly I said something about the ex-Malayan volunteer and the part he played in the Far East war, in case that goes by default. I know Malaya fairly well, and for some years prior to the outbreak of war I was myself a member of the Volunteer Forces. But about one year before the Japanese attack I was taken out of those Forces and placed in reserved civilian duties.

Those duties meant that I was right up in the North of Malaya when hostilities broke out. They also meant that for the whole of the attack I was just behind the front line—if you could call it a front line, for we were continually cut off when enemy units landed behind us. This continued for about five weeks. I was thus able, from the position I occupied, to see and know for myself the part played by selected members of the Malayan Volunteer Forces.

When, in desperation, we sent two capital ships up the sea coast of Malaya to stop the Japanese invasion early in the war—a desperate manoeuvre which was carried out by Admiral Sir Toni Philips who went down with his ship—we did not succeed, but the manoeuvre was justified at the time. While this was happening and when what Air Force we had was virtually destroyed, the Army lacked information of Japanese plans and intentions. It was at that stage that volunteers, in small parties and at risk to their lives, went off in small boats, infiltrated behind the Japanese lines, went into the jungle and came back with information. This information was necessary for the Command to find out what was the position about the disposition of the Japanese troops.

The Malayan Volunteers could do this better than anybody else. They spoke the language; they knew the people; they knew and were accustomed to the Malayan countryside. In civilian life they were tin miners, rubber planters and business executives. Some were members of the Overseas Colonial Service who spoke Chinese. It is a thrilling story and one day the full story will be told, but there is no time to do that now. In the event, all of us were captured. I went to Changi gaol and the others to various prisoner of war camps that had been established by the Japanese.

In order to explain the position I must describe briefly the procedure regarding claims to a disability pension. Members of the Armed Forces arc recruited under Royal Warrant. When disabled, they should lodge their claims in the United Kingdom, and so far as I am aware there is no difficulty whatsoever about this when claims are justified. That is not the case with the Malayan Volunteers. Malayan Volunteers were recruited and paid by the Singapore Government or, in the case of the Federation, by the Malayan Government. They must claim on the overseas Government. I do not quarrel with this procedure. When Malaya and Singapore became independent it was reasonable to expect these Governments to accept responsibility for disability pensions. However, I consider it an injustice at present when these overseas Governments fail to meet the established, legitimate procedure for Malayan Volunteers making these claims. The United Kingdom Force, the Volunteer Force and men from the Commonwealth were all in the same boat and battle and eventually found themselves in the same prisoner of war camps.

If it is to be argued that the Malayan Volunteer was recruited for the defence of Malaya, Yes, my Lords, he was, but it did not turn out that way. In that war, the defence of Malaya was part of Allied war strategy—it was the defence of Australia—and the war in the Far East was an American commitment. In all of this the Malayan Volunteer was an integral part. So all were equal, and when it comes to the consideration of claims fox disability all must be treated equally and all must have an equal claim to such a pension. However, as I have indicated, this has not happened in the case of the Malayan Volunteer.

By way of illustrating the injustice and difficulties facing former Malayan Volunteers claiming disability pensions, I do not think I can do better than to quote facts which are in my possession and take the case of Captain Snell, formerly of the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force. He was considered to be such an able officer in the Volunteers that in 1939 he came to England from Singapore and was on a training attachment to the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. When the Colonial Secretary discovered that he was in England he sent a personal letter to Captain Snell and instructed him not to join any unit in England but to hold himself in readiness to rejoin his unit in Singapore. In retrospect, how wise was the Colonial Secretary in the decision he took, for I have quoted to your Lordships the way in which the Volunteers were used in that campaign. His decision showed certain perspicacity.

On his return Captain Snell was Japanese attack, on Straits Settlements Volunteer Force, in anticipation of the Japanese attack, on Straits Settlement Volunteer Force rates of pay, and after the war arrears of pay were made to him by the Army Pay Office in Manchester. During the Malayan war the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force was brigaded with the Manchesters and Gordons, Regular Army units, and they became known as the Second Malayan Infantry Brigade. In 1942 Captain Snell was in Changi prison where he suffered from typhus and black water fever. Later that year he was transferred to the notorious Burma-Siam railway where thousands of prisoners of war died. From 1944 to 1945 there was a further grave deterioration of his health and the diagnosis was myocarditis—heart blackouts—and malnutrition, and he had 41 malarial relapses.

In 1948, after recovering in England, Captain Snell was back in civilian employment in the Far East. He was transferred by his firm from Singapore to Colombo as it was considered that possibly in that climate he would be in a better position regarding his health, but in Colombo he suffered pneumonia. In 1950, because of ill-health, his firm transferred him to Hong Kong, but again he was ill there. His company's doctors diagnosed emphysema and, again, bronchitis. In 1950 he was awarded the Efficiency Medal in recognition of a minimum of 12 years' efficient service with the Volunteer Corps. I have that recommendation in my file, and I recognise, because I knew him well, the signature of the Colonial Secretary of Singapore. From 1957 to 1965 Captain Snell had pneumonia four times and was a patient in the Matilda Hospital, Hong Kong, where he had been transferred. There he was under the continuous care of four doctors, and I have their names. In 1970 he was ill again, and so I could go on.

In 1972, as his condition deteriorated further, Captain Snell, when claiming a disability pension, was admitted to Ward 17of the Far East Prisoner of War Unit, Sefton General Hospital, Liverpool, for investigation of his claim. The medical report was sent to Singapore claiming a disability pension through the Pensions Branch of the Department of Health and Social Security in the United Kingdom. In their letter they said that they could advise the Singapore Government only on the approximate disability pension which should be paid, but that they could not influence any decision that the Singapore Government might make. The sequel to all this was that on 3rd June 1974 Captain Snell was paid a gratuity of £77 under paragraph 6 of the Personal Injuries (Civilians) Scheme 1941. While in Singapore, Captain Snell did not receive a disability pension. He was not a civilian and was not injured as a civilian. His claim was for a disability pension for combatant war service, as a prisoner of war on the notorious Burma-Siam railway and for the way that his suffering continued.

I have with me all the correspondence upon this matter. Of course, this injustice was taken up with the Department of Health and Social Security in this country. I have their correspondence. In short, their answer was that they could do nothing, and there the matter rests. It was taken up by the Singapore High Commission in London who, on 22nd April 1975, indicated that the matter was closed. No reason was ever given for the Singapore decision. At the moment at which I speak Captain Snell is living in the Isle of Man. He is 70 years old and can walk only a few yards with difficulty. He attends the clinic of the chest specialists at Nobles Hospital, Ramsey, Isle of Man. My Lords, will this country do him justice before it is too late?

Briefly, my second case is that of Lieutenant Corless of the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force. On the 14th July, 1975 the Department of Health and Social Security wrote that: The Singapore Government have agreed to take full responsibility for the awarding of war disablement pensions to ex-members of the Singapore Volunteer Corps and the Department would, if required, arrange for Lieutenant Corless to receive a tropical disease check-up. They went on to say that when Singapore considered the claim they could then ask "us"—that is the Department of Health and Social Security— to arrange a medical boarding". They then go on to say that they would advise on the entitlement to pension.

They also warned in their letter that they were quite unable to advise on the amount of that pension and what Lieutenant Corless might be able to expect. They then sent on the claim form, along with all the other evidence and this was sent to Singapore. On the 28th July 1975 a reply via the Singapore High Commission in London was received as follows: As Lieutenant Corless has not submitted his claim earlier it is regretted that his claim in respect of his war injury cannot be approved under Rule 4(a) of Gazette Supplement No. 115 dated 24th December 1952. I have a copy of that ordinance in my file. The answer in effect was this: noclaim for a disability pension would be considered unless lodged in Singapore before the 1st April 1953, and we now have the extraordinary situation of the Department of Health and Social Security in the United Kingdom writing, on the 14th July 1975, that Singapore had agreed to take full responsibility for the award of disability pensions, whereas in effect Singapore, in legal terms, ceased to do this after the 1st April 1953.

With reference to paragraph 4 of Singapore Gazette Supplement No. 115 of 24th December 1952, I notice that it was the Governor in Council who enacted Rule 4(a), which in effect made it statutory that no claim for disability pensions would he considered after 1st April 1953. So this was done by the British civil administration in 1952and before the independence of Singapore in 1959. In effect, it was not the independent Government of Singapore—Mr. Lee Kuan Yew —who was responsible for this rule, though the independent Government is now using the Rule 4(a) provisions. As your Lordships will now understand, the rules were made under Section 5 of the Civil Liability Ordinance 1950 of Singapore during the British civil administration.

It seems to me to be wrong to have made it law that no disability pensions would be paid to men in Japanese captivity after 1st April 1953, or only eight years after the cessation of hostilities in 1945. I say that for on 11th September 1975 a doctor who has had considerable experience in the medical examination and reporting on former prisoners of war wrote to me as follows: One of the features of captivity under the Japanese has been the long-term effects. Not only have these been so well demonstrated by continuity of follow-up of survivors by Roehampton Hospital but by similar studies carried out in Europe on concentration camp survivors (starvation and stress effects), and in a recent tribunal appeal claim in the United Kingdom Dr. J. A. Waters, former consultant to Roe- hampton, made a special point of quoting both sets of studies. So it would seem to me quite wrong to lay down a time limit within which severe disability might appear as a result of Japanese captivity. I respectfully ask Her Majesty's Government to take note of my points on this situation.

Also, with respect, I would draw the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the fact that no difficulty in securing disability pensions, where justified, is being experienced by former prisoners of war of the Hong Kong Defence Volunteer Forces now suffering disability in this country. The procedure is straightforward under a Hong Kong Ordinance, and as regards the point that it would be wrong to lay down time limits within which claims would be acceptable, as Singapore is doing or has done, Hong Kong has just approved a disability pension to a former Hong Kong Defence Volunteer involved in the Far East War of 1942 to 1945. So Hong Kong is applying no time limit.

I now briefly return to Lieutenant Corless where I left him. The Singapore Government having turned down his claim to a disability pension because he had not submitted his application before 1st April 1953, there was a dramatic turn in events. On 9th October in a letter received from the Department of Health and Social Security somebody, somewhere, seems to have shown some quality of mercy and taken a hand in the situation. I quote a part of the letter. They wrote: We too are concerned about this case and we find that now that the High Commission have given a decision we are able to consider it under special provisions which were introduced to deal with this kind of contingency. We shall therefore go ahead with urgent arrangements for Mr. Corless to be admitted to Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton. We will write to him direct about this. On the face of it, it now seems possible that Lieutenant Corless may obtain a disability pension, but what are these "special provisions" on which nobody has any information? We must know. Will Her Majesty's Government pay the disability pension if they are satisfied that a disability pension is justified? Will Singapore? We must know the procedure. Does it mean that men must go through the time-wasting business of applying to the Singapore Government to have the claim turned down (as will happen), and only then be eligible for consideration under the special provisions? I cannot emphasise too strongly that if a volunteer applies for a disability pension and he was 25 years old in 1945, and is a deserving case in 1975, he is now 55 years old. Many are older, and time is running out. For these men to struggle for such rights is unjustified and I submit it is quite intolerable.

Briefly, the final case concerns Mr. Woodroffe Hill. He has suffered an operation which I understand is considered to be due to his captivity in prisoner of war camps. His case is known to a Dr. Pavillard, who was also a prisoner of war and attended him when he was on the Burma-Siam railway. Dr. Pavillard himself has been able to obtain a disability pension. Mr. Woodroffe Hill has submitted his claim. It was turned down in Singapore on the ground that there is no record of Mr. Woodroffe Hill ever having been a volunteer in the forces overseas. So far as Singapore is concerned he just did not exist. There seems to be no doubt at all that Mr. Woodroffe Hill was a volunteer and he was a prisoner of war, and I know for a fact that at present he is suffering severely. The point I wish to emphasise is this. What is Mr. Woodroffe Hill to do? Nobody seems to know, nobody seems to be in a position to help. Does anybody care?

Finally, I would ask the Government to look into the cases I have mentioned, and to do this now as a matter of urgency. It seems that this should be done at ministerial level, and that firm policies and directives should be laid down which apply generally in situations of this kind. It is arguable, for the reasons I have given, that disability pensions for Far East Volunteers should be the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government, and not of the overseas independent territories. After all, these men in Malaya were involved in a global war in defence of the whole of British interests.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the distinguished noble Lords who will follow me in this debate and who, in making their own valuable contributions, will probably do so with a much greater degree of expertise than I have brought to my speech. I have cut out emotion, but from my own experience, and from what I have known of these years, about which I have not told, I feel deeply. I appeal for justice in this case. I ask Her Majesty's Government to give their sympathy to all the points I have raised. I ask them to carry out an inquiry, and to rectify some of these injustices by ministerial investigation.

6.51 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, asked me whether I would take an interest in this debate, "because of my connection with Malaya". I believe I am right in saying that the noble Lord started his career in the Malayan Civil Service when my namesake was Governor there. I only arrived there at the end of the war to take over, as my first job, the soldiery who were then guarding the Japanese prisoners of war at Changi gaol, of which I believe the noble Lord also has some experience. Afterwards, I went on to do the same job in Stanley Gaol in Hongkong.

My Lords, the subject raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, concerns me more directly because I am currently President of the Devon Branch of the Royal British Legion. In Devon, we have two of the largest associations of Far East Prisoners Of War. I think these are the strongest branches. One of my nearest neighbours and oldest friends is the man who, I think, medically speaking has more knowledge of what Far East prisoners of war had to suffer than anyone else in this country today. He began when, as a colonel in the Indian Medical Service, he was responsible for receiving back all the Indian Army prisoners of war from Japanese hands. He has since been for a long time connected with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and is part-author of the Roehampton Report, to which I shall refer later.

My Lords, before going on to the medical details, I would say that we cannot differentiate between a soldier who volunteered in Malaya and one who joined up here. When it comes to medical disabilities, all those who have served King and country should be treated equally, especially with regard to a pension. So far as FEPOWs are concerned, the present position in this country is that the seven-year rule has been relaxed, which is manifestly just. Three area boards have been set up, in London, Liverpool and Exeter, to deal with their claims. A FEPOW writes to his regional pension officer, and if he claims a pension he will probably go to Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton. If the Department of Health and Social Security reject a man's claim, there can be an appeal to a pensions appeal tribunal. When the man's disability has become worse, he can be re-examined by, say, Queen Mary's Hospital, or one of the regional boards.

Although the proceedings work quite well, many claims are rejected because the Department's medical advisers arc far too conservative in appreciating the factor of stress during three and a half years imprisonment by the Japanese as a cause of psycho-neurosis and cardio-vascular degeneration. There are signs of improvement in the attitude of the Department, with the retirement of the old and the appointment of the new cardiologists.

The real trouble is that no overall survey of the health of the British FEPOWs—and this applies to volunteers as well, of course—has been carried out by the Pensions Department of the Department of Health and Social Security, although they subscribed to the limited Roehampton Survey. Also, no exact figure of mortality of FEPOWs during their captivity has been published. Of the supposed 40.000 men who worked on the Bangkok/Moulmein railway, 16,000 are said to have died. Apart from severe malnutrition, some were shot by their Japanese and Korean guards, many were tortured, and all suffered frequent and recurrent attacks of malaria and dysentry. Many got cholera, from which few survived. Infective hepatitis and worm infestation were common. Vitamin deficiencies such as riboflavine deficiency were universal, leading to sore mouth and scrotium; pellagra, dry beri-beri—peripheral neuritis due to aneurin or B1 deficiency—nutritional optic neuropathy, central blindness, nutritional spinal cord disease causing atascia and spasticity, or stiffness of the legs, and "happy feet", an intolerable tingling and burning of the feet, a liver disease due to protein deficiency often combined with infective hepatitis. Many prisoners had frank cirrhosis on release. Most of these have since died. The incidence of permanent psychological damage among survivors is unknown, but my expert tells me that it very high.

Can the Government tell us the numbers who were transported to Japan? Many were drowned when their transports were sunk by American submarines. In Japan, malnutrition, cold and torture were common, but those who got there had no tropical diseases to contend with, and their mortality rate was lower. FEPOWs sent to the Pacific Islands suffered an even higher mortality rate than those on "the railway". Survivors from the Ambon Islands say that only 40 per cent. came out.

My Lords, the Roehampton Survey, referred to earlier, was very limited in its coverage, but gave the following percentages of diseases of those who were, so to speak, "on their books": hepatitis, 15.3 per cent.; malaria, 68 per cent.; hookworm, 17.8 per cent.; peptic ulcer, 10.6 per cent.; pulmonary tuberculosis, 4.8 per cent.; cardio-vascular symptoms, 12.8 per cent.; psychiatric sequelae, 40.6 per cent. Of those with organic neurological disease only those with beri-beri improved;all others deteriorated, or remained static in the follow-up of that Report. Of the liver-diseased ex-prisoners only those who had the disease mildly improved. There were not enough funds to follow up the cases of men with psychiatric symptoms—I am still referring to the Roehampton Report. This would have meant employing a full-time psychiatrist for a further two years.

Reports on the late sequelae to Far East imprisonment have come from the United States Veterans Association 1954 arid 1968; in 1975 from Richardson of Canada; in 1967 from Australia, and most remarkable and important of all, a monograph from Norway by A. LØnnum, published in 1969, which covers world literature on the health of prisoners of war and civil internees. These Reports all agree in their findings regarding the consequences of prolonged stress and imprisonment, especially in the Far East. They are, first, physical aging; many ex-prisoners are 10 years or more older than their actual age; secondly, they are psychological. There is a high incidence of what is known as the "KZ Syndrome". This shows itself in weakness, insomnia, difficulty in concentration, social and family maladjustment, alcoholism and general inefficiency leading again to premature aging.

My Lords, this brings me to the conclusion I have been trying to point out to your Lordships. Far East prisoners of war must have special consideration in the way of disability pension, and I say this as an ex-European prisoner of war. Those young men who enlisted at 20 to 25 years of age are now 55 to 60 years old, and many of them arc physically and psychologically 10 years older or more. This group is developing senile degenerative cardio-vascular disorders well before their time. It is this group which is not receiving the sympathy they deserve, and their claims are far too often rejected by the pensions authorities of the Department of Health and Social Security.

To end with, I should like the Minister, if he can, to give us an assurance that his medical advisers have studied the Norwegian report I have referred to, and also the Third—that is, the 1975—US Veterans' Association Report on the subject, which strongly supports my view that many FEPOWs are unduly susceptible to premature cardio-vascular disease. Finally, my Lords, I end as I began: all who served the Crown, wherever they enlisted, must get the same pensions and compensation. There alone lies Justice.

7.2 p.m.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, Lord Gridley has, with much evidence, asked the Government to look again at these cases. I am rather horrified that after 35 years it should be necessary to put such an Unstarred Question to the Government. I was not there in 1941. I was in London. But I spent four years in Singapore, and I naturally got to know a little of some of the things that happened. The stories are horrifying. It is not for me to enlarge on them, and I will not do so this evening. But the fundamental points, to my mind, are twofold. First, the responsibility for the defence of Singapore and Malaya was British. We had that responsibility. Secondly, it was the Governor in Council who decided that he would not accept any further claims after 1952. I do not believe that decision would have been made or could have been made against, or indeed with out the approval of, the Government in this country. On these two counts we carry a very heavy responsibility for those who enlisted.

This was perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of British arms at any time. It was a time when Sir Winston Churchill spoke of our greatest hour. It was certainly the greatest time of stress in which we have found ourselves. These men did their bit to try to break the tragedy of that moment. As Lord Gridley knows, they did a wonderful job of great hazard, without stinting themselves at all. We have had from Lord Gridley medical evidence of a formidable character. I do not think it is a matter of medical evidence wholly. Anyone who has known people who have endured what they did endure knows without any shadow of doubt that a legacy has been left. The seriousness of the legacy may well be a matter for medical adjudication, but that there has been a legacy is something which nobody can possibly deny. I shall only say this. There are not very many of them, and I ask the Government to look at these cases. These are people who, in a moment, without thought of the future, gave themselves and gave to the full.

7.5 p.m.

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

My Lords, my intervention in this debate is gratuitous. It will probably be less effective than any other and, for that reason, it should be brief. I describe it as gratuitous because I have no particular information to impart to the House of a technical nature, or of a detailed kind, and I was not myself in Malaya, and still less in a prisoner of war camp. That was, however, my war. I was four years in South-East Asia. I lived in the jungle. I knew what was going on. The Japanese were my enemy. The various terms, many of them produced by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, are all too familiar to me, as indeed are the case histories of all too many men who were my friends or became my friends, to whom such names as Changi and the Burma-Siam Railway are, sadly, to this day words they would prefer, as I have no doubt Lord Gridley would, to forget.

I would draw your Lordships' attention to something in the speech of my noble friend Lord Gridley. He ended by saying that he had kept emotion out of his speech. I cannot believe that I am the only one struck by the enormous restraint with which he made that speech. He kept emotion out of it. But I find it impossible to believe that the whole thing did not have emotion as the driving force. If I am not wrong, then that emotion was chiefly composed of indignation, in which I share, In all this, I follow my noble friend Lord Selkirk, who has spoken with great power and in fact more emotion.

The noble Lord, Lord afford of Chudleigh, has produced a vast amount of highly distressing medical evidence. He has said that special consideration should be given to South-East Asia prisoners of war. Special consideration is what these men, if they require it still, should be entitled to receive and should receive. But it is not in fact what Lord Gridley has asked for in this Question. All he has asked for is common ordinary justice, and this is what they are not getting.

At this point I become, perhaps, naïve. Very well, there is sometimes no harm in that. I do not care very much about legalistic arguments about who signed an ordinance of this kind or that, or who was responsible for the well being of former prisoners of war, or former volunteers, whether or not prisoners in Malaya or Singapore. This appears to me to be the minutiae of the argument. The main argument is simply that these men were us, they were some of us. They fought the same war and they deserve the same treatment. If they cannot get it from the Government of Singapore or of Malaysia, then the responsibility comes firmly back on to Her Majesty's Government at home.

I hope—I believe I am justified in this hope, and I am fairly sure I have the sympathy of the noble Lord, Lord WellsPestell—that, no matter what legalistic arguments there may be, ultimately if the Government at home find that they cannot get anybody else to pay these pensions they ought to pay them themselves. That is what the nation believes to be right and would wish to be done. For that reason I support wholeheartedly the request made by my noble friend Lord Gridley and others who support him that the Government should look very closely into this matter and see that justice in the end is done.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that I must begin by acknowledging what has been done for the FEPOWS during the years that followed the war, largely due to the campaigns organised by the Far Eastern Prisoners of War Association and their friends in both Houses, and to the gradual awareness of successive Governments of the very special needs of FEPOWS. I would say too that FEPOWS and their many friends are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, for raising this matter tonight. I said once before in this House that he is following his noble father's example, because the late Lord Gridley was always willing to press the claims of disabled ex-Servicemen when he was a Member of the House of Commons and when later he became a Lord.

My own interest in FEPOWS dates back to Southampton when I received them in those grim experiences just after the war, and to the time when Brigadier Sir John Smyth, V.C., and the late Lord Rowley Regis, and the present Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, the right honourable George Thomas, and others campaigned to get compensation from the Japanese for some of the cruelties they had inflicted on their prisoners of war. In the end we managed to secure about £5 million from the Japanese. Every FEPOW received a small sum, and we have something like £250,000 in a trust fund. One of the trustees is the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, and another of the trustees is my noble friend Lady Vickers, who is to speak tonight.

Ever since then, the FEPOW Association has pressed the special claims of FEPOWS, and especially for special hardships inside the FEPOW groups. They are wholeheartedly in support of the claim that the noble Lord is making tonight on behalf of one anomalous group of men who served Britain in the Far East. I do not need to remind your Lordships of the hardships endured by the FEPOWS. Every Government has recognised their special needs, and gradually special arrangements have been built up to deal with FEPOWS who suffer, as the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, has said, many years after their captivity. What we are asking tonight is that all FEPOWS should be treated in the same way, whether they are British Servicemen or whether they are volunteers for Far Eastern military forces.

The group of men we are pleading for tonight were volunteers in the Straits Forces before the war. When the war came, I understand that they wanted to transfer to the British Army. They were advised not to do so, for what reason I do not know, but it was regarded as being in the British interest that they should not be transferred. Whatever the reason, the fact that they remained Hong Kong volunteers, or Malay volunteers, was not of their choosing. They fought alongside their comrades in arms: some suffered death, others were imprisoned, and, like the other FEPOWs, often suffered almost worse than death.

Now when a FEPOW claims for one of these disabilities which has emerged over the years, he goes before a special medical board. Three of them have been mentioned tonight. FEPOWs campaigned for that for years, and are delighted that they now have those special medical boards. If the board, which knows all about tropical diseases and prison conditions, recommends that they be given a disability award, they get it from our Government, unless they are volunteers from the old Malay or Straits Forces. In that case their claim is sent to the Far Eastern Government. The noble Lord, Lord Gridley, has found out, as FEPOW found out, that the claim that the medical board have recommended be paid is not paid. If we cannot persuade these Governments to make the payments for these disabilities when our own special board has recommended them, we ought to accept our own responsibility. We ought to treat these volunteers exactly as we treat the vast majority of FEPOWs. In fact, so grave is this injustice that I almost feel it is something that an Ombudsman might look into. Your Lordships will remember that years ago the Ombudsmen raised the case of British soldiers who were on the edge of a German concentration camp, and who, because they were not in it, were not entitled to be helped. Finally they were helped.

The FEPOWs, most of whose leaders are friends of mine, are solidly behind their colleagues in this claim. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, with her intimate knowledge, is enthusiastically in support, and will be saying so soon. It has been my privilege to work with all the ex-Servicemen's groups —with FEPOW, with Blesna, with Ajax, with the Royal British Legion—and I have found that while they have always pressed their broad general claims, each of these great ex-Service associations reaches out to the unfortunate odd creature caught up and not getting the benefits to which he is entitled. Every Legion branch has its welfare officer. I am proud tonight to be associated with such a distinguished group of speakers urging the Government to right what is really an injustice, and to give these ex-prisoners of war what the hulk of our Far Eastern prisoners of war are getting.

7.17 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I also am a trustee of this Fund spoken of so well by the noble Lord, Lord Gridley. I must say that I felt a little ashamed of myself, having been on the Trust for a considerable number of years, because I did not know about these people sooner. That is the reason I am very keen to support the Question, as the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, just said. I went out there in 1945 before the Far East war was finished. The object was to prepare camps in India for the reception of these men. Fortunately, a great number of them were able to come straight back by ship, so the camps were not very much used. But those who did use them were in a very sorry state, and most of them were people who had been volunteers because they had been living in Malaysia, as it is now, for so many years. A great many of them felt it worse because they had these disabilities even before they went in, in the way of malaria, dysentery, and so on. They were less able to resist these diseases, and some of them had not even a home in England to come to having lived out there for such a long time. This is one of the reasons why they need special consideration.

It was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, that quite a lot of them came from the West Country. Nobody has mentioned the people who were in Sabah and Sarawak. A great number were in Sarawak because the White Rajah recruited all his men from Devon. They all had to be six foot, they all had to have a certain calibre of education, they were all taught the local languages and they were invaluable in helping with the guerrilla tactics. When I went out with the Red Cross a lot of these men had not seen any women for a great number of years. I am not going to relate tonight the different things they said to me, but it was most moving to hear not about their illnesses, not about their complaints, but what they had done and how they had done it. Some of them even said that one of the things so marvellous was the wonderful sunsets and butterflies they saw which they had never seen before. That showed tremendous courage. I had been to Europe to help the prisoners of war there, but it was a great shock to see men in the condition they were in, some of them literally walking skeletons. As the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, said, he received some of them when they came back to Southampton in ships, and he will know the state many of them were in. It was not just a question of their physical state. In many cases their mental condition was disturbed, and frequently this persisted for a considerable time.

What was so remarkable about these men was the fact that, despite all they had gone through, a great many of them went back after six months to help what they considered to be their country or company. Many of them had been working in the mines and at rubber stations, and under their contracts of employment they had to join the volunteer force. I believe that this had something to do with insurance; most firms insisted that they had to join, so that while some of them may not have wished to do so, it was in their contracts that they had to join. When the guerrilla warfare started and they came back after six months their service was again invaluable. I wonder how many of these people are left now? We in the West Country have two reunions a year. The next one will take place in Torquay, and people come to them from all over the country, from Manchester, Scotland and elsewhere, and I am not speaking just about volunteers. These are remarkable people and are unlike, say, prisoners of war in Germany who seem not to hold reunions. It is obvious that the FEPOWs want to keep together in this way, and I recall a splendid evening last year when about 3,000 got together, FEPOWs and relatives, at the Festival Hall.

It should be remembered that those who were working on the estates and as volunteers were not just British people. There were quite a number of Australians, and I understand that they have been very much better served; in many more instances they have received disability pensions and it is clear that the Australians have been much better looked after. Some were also in Indonesia, having been taken by the Japanese to Indonesia, and regrettably a tremendous number of them died. What is so moving when one visits these countries is to see the thousands of graves—for example, after the Long March in Sabah and Sarawak—and this is particularly so in Sumatra. They died in large numbers and the graves are now being transferred to Singapore, which means that Singapore still has a share in looking after at any rate the bodies of the people who died in the Service, and they should feel grateful to them for what they did. If it had not been for the British Army—I appreciate that things did not go as well as we had hoped, the Japanese coming in and so on—things might have been even more different. These people volunteered and gave their full service to a country that was not theirs.

One can understand how people in Britain—say, during the air raids—volunteered to help save what was their own. Here we are talking about an extra bit of service because these men were doing it on behalf of a country which they had come to love. They served not for their personal benefit but for their mother country, Britain, and to help the local people. I therefore support this Question and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will be able to give us some information. For example, can he say how many of these people are left and how many would require some sort of pension? Would a great sum of money be involved if these pensions were paid by Her Majesty's Government? I hope that if it is not possible to get the money from Singapore, the British Government will take some action. I am thinking not just of dates alone but of the fact that, as people arc rather against having been colonised, there may be something in the minds of the Singapore people. They may make this excuse in respect of the 1963 date, or they may not wish to offer disability pensions, or it may be that it would be too costly if they gave them to these people, because of their own people who are fighting. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give an assurance that if he is not successful in getting the Singapore Government to think again, he will take action, with the British Government, to see whether something can be done by this country on their behalf.

7.25 p.m.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, this is the kind of issue which it is very fitting should be taken up in your Lordships' House, and I rise to say how much I admired the way in which my noble friend Lord Gridley raised the issue today and the way in which my noble friend and neighbour Lord Clifford of Chudleigh spoke from first-hand experience. I rise to speak briefly for only one reason, and that is the fact that two or three decades ago—I forget how long ago now—I was Minister of Pensions and had to grapple with these sort of issues. I had the good fortune to have as my Parliamentary Secretary Brigadier Sir John Smythe, V.C., whom the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King mentioned, and I was glad of his skilled and devoted assistance.

I remember well how in those days claims for pensions came up in great numbers. It was, of course, directly after the war and sometimes Ministry doctors would say, "We cannot find any immediate disability for this injury"; but, being sympathetic people, they nearly always went on to say, "However, we cannot be sure that in years to come, when these people get older, some deterioration in health will not take place." I learned very quickly to have a disbelief of anything like a cut-off date for applications. Gradually we learned that if justice was to be done it was wise to say, "We cannot trace a disability now, but if your health deteriorates later in life, come back and be examined again and it may be then that it will be possible to trace back your disability to something that happened many years earlier." Many disabilities of that kind show themselves only with the approach of old age.

In those days—I am speaking of 20 or 30 years ago—we were sometimes deeply concerned about the cost of administering these pensions because the numbers con- cerned then were very large. Today, time having gone by, the number of individuals concerned is getting fewer year by year, and in some cases they must amount to a very small total indeed. I therefore ask the Minister, who we know to be a humane and sympathetic person, to tell us what he can and to consider these cases again. Cannot he find some way of ensuring that justice, with a little generosity, is done in cases where it can be shown that the disabilities from which they are now suffering were wholly or partly the result of their experience years ago? We should not be too legalistic over this—I speak as an old Treasury Minister—because the cost of doing what we would like to do for these people is surely, to use a modern expression, chicken feed. In the light of that, I support what my noble friends have said and I thank my noble friend Lord Gridley for having raised this issue in the way he did.

7.29 p.m.


My Lords, as a member of the post-war generation I rise with great hesitation to join my noble friends in seeking the Government's awareness of the position of certain members of the Armed Forces who fought as volunteers in the Malaysian Campaign. I joined the Army after the war, in 1949, so my knowledge of the predicament of these very gallant men and women who fought as volunteers is gained from records and other material. Such material includes Bridge Over the River Kwai which noble Lords will agree personifies the FEPOW in his particular disability and the noble part he played during his captivity.

I feel a very real sense of humility in speaking at all. Nevertheless, I should like to bear out what my noble friends have said and to draw to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, three courses of action which have been suggested. My noble friend Lord Selkirk suggested—and here we all join with him —recommending that Her Majesty's Government should accept responsibility for the volunteers. My noble friend Lady Vickers suggested that Her Majesty's Government should get the Singapore Government to think again. The noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, suggested that the Ombudsman should examine the particular circumstances in which these volunteers find themselves as a very suitable way of looking into the matter.

I have served on a committee which was concerned with help to ex-Service war disabled and it is very clear to those who have been working in this field that the predicament of our forgotten allies in regard to pensions is particularly unfortunate. Those who know a little about the circumstances of the Polish and Czechoslovak forces and of others who fought alongside the allies during the war know full well that the Polish and Czechoslovak forces were able to enjoy pension rights because they were in receipt of payments under the Royal Warrant. The situation referred to by my noble friend Lord Amory is a legalistic one and surely it is not a moment to regard the niceties of this position. As he said, rather, we should look on it with generosity. The best estimate which we have been able to obtain—and here I speak advisedly—is that there are fewer than a thousand volunteers in this category. There are not many and their number is diminishing.

I do not believe that any of us could emphasise more clearly than has the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, the fact that these people are subject to advanced disabilities brought on by premature old age. Here is a case where some generosity by the present Government and, I hope, by future Governments will be very much borne in mind. My noble friend Lord Gridley has surely followed in the footsteps of a very old friend of all your Lordships, the late Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, who throughout his Parliamentary career both in the other place and in this House supported the needs and urged the cases of the ex-Service man and woman.

7.33 p.m.


My Lords, let me say at the outset that the Government, and certainly the Department for which I speak, needed no conversion so far as this matter is concerned. We recognise that it is an unsatisfactory and, to some extent, an untidy situation, I say that because I want Members of your Lordships' House to realise that we are not unsympathetic. People reading tomorrow's Hansard may feel that the Department has shown a great deal of indifference and un interest and that we are ogres. That is not true, as I hope to show your Lordships in a moment.

We are dealing with one particular group, unfortunate as that group is. I wish your Lordships to bear in mind that this is a situation which has not just arisen, nor is it something which has been created by the Government. It has been with us for a good many years and many may feel that it should be changed. Following this debate, I and my colleagues will certainly read what has been said and see whether it is possible to do something more than we arc doing at the moment. However, what I want to do now is to have the benefit of explaining the exact situation to those of your Lordships who are not aware of it because we are to a certain extent controlled by rules and regulations and by Acts of Parliament.

The noble Lord, Lord Gridley, referred to the Malaysian peninsula and the Straits Settlements volunteers who served during the emergency period from 1939 to 1945. At the end of the Second World War the Crown Colony of the Straits Settlements, where the volunteers were raised, was dissolved. Its territories were then divided between the newly organised British Colonies of Malaya and Singapore. In 1963 the Federation of Malaysia which included Singapore, was founded. In 1965 Singapore left the Malaysian Federation and became a fully independent State.

Responsibility for the award and payment of war disablement pensions (or gratuities, if appropriate), for service in the locally recruited Straits Settlements Volunteers has always been vested in the successive Governments which have administered the territory. At no time— and I emphasise that—have the British Government been responsible for administration of these pensions awards, and the Malaysian and Singapore Governments have, since 1963 and 1965 respectively, accepted responsibility for all these awards, irrespective of the date from which the award was first made. This is the basis on which we have to work.

My Lords, you may wonder why, when these volunteers were first raised to defend this colony and fight alongside the troops of the Commonwealth, they were not regarded as part of the British Army. Under the Royal Warrant concerning pensions in respect of disablement or death due to service, however, members of the Army are defined as "officers and soldiers whose units are based in the United Kingdom or the Isle of Man". Similar provisions apply to the Navy and Air Force. Clearly, my Lords, forces recruited overseas, even if they are British nationals, do not come within this definition of the Royal Warrant as it exists at the present moment. But this does not mean that we lose sight of these pensioners altogether. Many expatriates return to this country. We, sometimes act as agents for the Singapore Government in arranging for medical examinations. We may also be consulted about the appropriate assessment of disablement and, if requested, we advise on entitlement to pension which the volunteer would have had, had he been a member of the British Forces.

The position therefore, my Lords, in a nutshell, is that responsibility for pensions arising from service in the Armed Forces of overseas Governments, including former colonial Governments, is their responsibility alone at present. Where the State in whose forces the pensioner served no longer exists—as is the case with the former Straits Settlements which are divided between Malaysia and Singapore—responsibility lies with the successor State. It is, of course, important to establish where the locally recruited force was raised, and sometimes, after an interval of many years, this is not easy. The division of responsibility can thus be quite complex, particularly where claims for war disablement Pensions are first made some 30 years or more after service has ended. It is, therefore, my Lords, our practice to refer claims to the competent authorities if they do not fall within our ambit, and to assist in every way possible. We have done, and are doing, that quite successfully.

Some overseas Governments have provisions which are analogous to the Royal Warrant I have already referred to, while other Governments have local ordinances which cover civilian employees as well. Some overseas Governments continue to accept responsibility for war pensioners of former colonial territories, but do not follow Britain in increasing their pensions or do not up rate them at the same dates. In some cases, the rate of pension awarded under local legislation may be higher than a British war pensioner would receive, but in other cases, where the overseas Government has not aligned their pensioners with British war pensioners, we usually have arrangements to supplement the pension; these arrangements are administered by the Ministry of Overseas Development.

I have been asked how many pensioners are involved. I simply do not know, but I will take the figure given by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys. I know however that at present about 50 are receiving pensions from the Department at our levels and not at the levels they would normally have got. These arrangements are administered on behalf of the Ministry of Overseas Development and I wish to stress that the Department of Health and Social Security is only an agent for that Ministry. The matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, this evening is one that is controlled by the Ministry of Overseas Development. I think that we have discharged our agency work extraordinarily well, although I have much sympathy and understanding of the view taken by the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, and other noble Lords regarding the lack of equity in this situation.

We advise Governments and we act as agents in certain respects, but ultimately the decision on whether there is to be a pension or an award is really a matter for those Governments. In this connection, I should add that we have wide experience of the problems of Far Eastern prisoners of war (FEPOWs.). The Black-pool War Pensions Office of the Department of Health and Social Security has set up a special unit of lay and medical staff who specialise in this work and who have a particular knowledge of the problems which have arisen while these gallant people were in captivity. Having said that, I wish to add on behalf of the Department how much we regretted reading of the death as recently as two or three days ago of Brigadier Sir Philip Toosey, who was the National Chairman of FEPOW. He was more than appreciative of the amount of time and effort that the Department of Health and Social Security has given to Far Eastern prisoners of war.

Your Lordships need no reminder that the award of a war pension depends on the causal connection between service and disability. This is a factor which we have to take into account. I can assure your Lordships that a particularly sympathetic approach is adopted when considering claims from FEPOWs. I have made myself reasonably well familiar with regard to what goes on. Perhaps I ought not to say this—I do say some extraordinary things from time to time—but I am most impressed by the understanding and sympathy, as well as the drive and the desire on the part of those officials whom I know and with whom I have discussed this matter. They leave no stone unturned to get pensions for Far Eastern prisoners of war. They really make a determined, sincere and sustained effort to see that something is done.

It is now some 30 years since the end of the war, and many of these FEPOWs, like the rest of us, become subject to the ills of middle age or old age. Although we always try to give the benefit of any reasonable doubt, that is not to say that captivity automatically has long-term effects without regard to individual circumstances. As the situation is at present, we shall do our level best to see that Far Eastern prisoners of war who are entitled to a pension receive it, by some means or other. As I have said, the Royal Warrant does not apply to them. Many of your Lordships will remember that the Personal Injuries (Civilians) Scheme, which was passed some years ago, restricts compensation to war injuries and to war service injuries, and does not cover other conditions due to service. But it has enabled us in certain instances to use the provisions of the Personal Injuries (Civilians) Scheme to help some of the Far Eastern prisoners of war. We shall go on doing that as long as we can.

I do not know whether it would be wise for me at the Dispatch Box to deal with individual cases. The noble Lord, Lord Gridley, mentioned Captain Snell. We know not only of his existence, but of the circumstances. Here again I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, that my officials have worked very hard on this particular case, and they will continue to do so. I hope that within a very short time there will be some happier news so far as Captain Snell is concerned, but I am not in a position to hold out any promise. The noble Lord, Lord Gridley, said that Captain Snell has been suffering considerably since, I think, 1950. The noble Lord will know that I am not in any way taking him to task here, but I should say, in case there has been any misunderstanding, that Captain Snell did not make an application for a pension until 1972. Therefore, this matter has not gone on since the 1950s so far as we are concerned.

We also know about the other case—that of Mr. Corless—and I believe that here again the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, will say that we have done much to try to help this man. We have got him inpatient investigation for tropical diseases at Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton, and we even paid treatment allowances while he was receiving treatment. I realise that that is not the answer and we are trying to see what can be done with regard to a pension or a gratuity. I say "pension or gratuity", because I do not know what is to be the outcome.

Notwithstanding the fact that perhaps they are prevented from getting a pension which is probably their right from Malaysia or Singapore, we try to find ways and means to bring them into a particular scheme whereby they can get a pension or an award if we can establish, after a good deal of inquiry and medical evidence, that they are entitled to one.

I do not want to say anything more other than to repeat that we really are not unmindful of the inconvenience, the frustration, the despair and the depression that this situation must cause a number of Far Eastern prisoners of war. I can only say that we have helped quite a number of them. Whether we ought to take them over lock, stock and barrel and absorb them into our own pension scheme is a matter at which I think we shall have to look. This has been going on for a long time, and I can only say to the House that I shall certainly bring the suggestions which have been made tonight, and which I personally am glad have been made tonight, to the notice of my right honourable friend, to see whether we can do something along the lines which have been suggested.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could he say whether many individual cases are excluded because of the decision made by the Governor in Council in Singapore in 1952?


My Lords, I cannot reply to that other than to say, from my own personal observations, that where we have been satisfied that there have been medical grounds we have tried to do something about a pension, even if it is to try to bring it within the framework of, as I have said, the Personal Injuries (Civilians) Scheme.