§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Brigadier Smyth (Norwood)
I beg to move.That this House is of the opinion that His Majesty's Government should give very early consideration to the claim of the British Far Eastern prisoners of war, and the dependants of those who died in captivity, for compensation from the Japanese through treaty or by other methods for the brutalities, indignities and gross under-nourishment to which they were subjected in flagrant contravention of The Hague Convention, on similar lines to the action already taken by the United States Government or that decided upon by the Australian Government in this connection.This Motion has stood on the Order Paper for some little time in the names of 297 Members on both sides of the House. I would suggest that it has just as wide sympathy and support in the country as in this House. The Motion was put down as a result of considerable discussion in the constituencies over a fairly long period, and then of certain discussions within the precincts of this House.
2220 The Far Eastern prisoners of war have for some time been trying to bring their case to the notice of this House and to the country. But it is not easy for 35,000 ex-Service men living in different parts of the country to state their case to this House. Eventually, with the warm support of ex-Service mens' associations and regimental associations in different parts of the country they were encouraged to form their own local associations, and last December a central sub-committee sat in London under the chairmanship of General Percival who was our Commander in Singapore.
Early in the present year that sub-committee invited the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) and myself to attend their meeting and hear their case; and if we agreed to it, to try to arrange that they should be able to state their case to an all-party meeting in this House. That we did. We arranged an all-party meeting on 7th March at which General Percival and some of his colleagues stated the case of the Far Eastern prisoners of war. It was a very representative meeting of Members of this House. The meeting decided to accept the claim of the Far Eastern prisoners in principle, and they set up a subcommittee, with myself as chairman, to go into the matter in rather more detail and to report back to another meeting, which we held on 21st March.
I would emphasise the non-party nature of these discussions. Everyone who attended those meetings can testify that there was nothing of party politics which entered into them. We did and do feel most sincerely that this matter which affects so deeply a body of men who suffered so much in the cause of this country should not be in any way a matter of party politics. I will take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West, who has supported me so generously and wholeheartedly in all these discussions. I assure him that had he been chairman of these meetings, I would have supported him just as loyally and wholeheartedly.
I hope very much that the House and the Government will accept this Motion, and that if it is not accepted and there is a vote, it will be entirely a free vote. I would express our gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) who has given us this half Supply Day, without 2221 which we would not have been able to debate this matter at all.
In a sense this Motion was born just over seven years ago when my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington, then Foreign Secretary, made a very grave announcement in this House regarding what was happening to our British prisoners of war in the hands of the Japanese. That statement was considered to be so serious that it was made simultaneously in London and Washington. He disclosed the ghastly conditions under which the Allied prisoners were actually having to work, and the present Minister of Defence—at that time a back bench Member of the Labour Party—in supporting the Foreign Secretary said that this statement would shock the whole of the civilised world.
Later, in 1944, the then Secretary of State for War made another very grave announcement in this House regarding the dreadful conditions under which our prisoners of war were having to work on the notorious Siam—Burma railway, which was generally known as "The railway of death." He said at that time that we intended to hold the Japanese responsible. That is exactly what we propose shall be done. We intend to hold the Japanese responsible for the deliberate brutality exercised on our British Far Eastern prisoners of war, as a result of which no less than 10,000 of them died in captivity.
We cannot hold an enemy nation responsible for killing and wounding our own troops in battle. That is a risk which the fighting man has to take. But we have laid down, the civilised nations have laid down, very carefully, certain rules which should apply to helpless prisoners of war. They are laid down in the Hague Convention of 1907 which the Japanese signed, and in the Geneva Convention of 1929 which they signed, but which was not ratified up to the beginning of the war. But in February, 1942, they did send a telegram to the British Government via the Argentine saying that they would agree to the Clauses in the Geneva Convention which applied to prisoners of war. Article III of the Hague Convention lays down that a belligerent which violates this provision with regard to prisoners of war is liable to pay compensation.
This Motion is framed on very broad lines. We purposely do not try to tie the Government down very closely to any 2222 particular measures which we consider should be taken. It simply asks that very early consideration should be given to the claim of the ex-prisoners, either through the Peace Treaty or by any other method which the Government may decide, on the same lines as have been adopted by the United States and the Australian Governments for their prisoners. When we say "on the same lines," we do not mean that those lines should be followed exactly. We hope that the Government may perhaps have better lines of their own. In 1948, the American Government passed legislation to compensate their ex-prisoners, and did, in fact, pay them a certain sum of money based on a dollar a day for every day of captivity. They took that money, we understand, from frozen Japanese assets.
Australia set up a committee in 1950 to consider the claims of their ex-prisoners of war rather on the same lines as those which we are asking our own Government to follow with regard to British prisoners. They did not recommend exactly the same procedure as the United States Government had followed, but they did recognise the claim in principle, and they have passed a Cabinet resolution that their delegates at the Japanese Peace Conference shall press a claim for money to be paid in compensation to their ex-prisoners of war.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
May I interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend? He has spoken as if action taken in regard to ex-prisoners of the Japanese was only in the cases of the United States and Australia. I think there is some doubt in the House whether that is so or not. Could my hon. and gallant Friend make it clear whether it is so limited?
§ Brigadier Smyth
I understand that the Australian Government will first press its claim in the Japanese Peace Treaty discussions, and, probably, in the discussions on the German Treaty as well, but they are still discussing that matter, and I do not think they have arrived at actual finality. The American Government have actually made a claim, into the details of which I do not want to enter, because, obviously, we cannot follow on the same lines as they have taken.
The British Far Eastern prisoners-of-war claim is based upon the sum of 3s. a day for every day of captivity, and we 2223 reckon that that will amount to a sum of between £9 million and £10 million, which, as sums go in international finance, and as compared to the sums we have been talking about today, is a very small amount. Our own prisoners of war organisations have actually suggested that it should be a flat-rate claim, and that the same amount should be paid to every ex-prisoner of war, simply because it would obviously be very difficult, and might involve a whole lot of committees, to go into the case of every ex-prisoner.
All of us who listened to the claim when it was put forward by General Percival and his committee at the all-party meeting were quite clear on certain important points. First of all, it is not a claim of any sort on the British taxpayer. Let me make that absolutely clear. On no account will they accept money from the British taxpayer. If it cannot be obtained from the Japanese, they do not want anything at all. Secondly, it does not preclude other ex-prisoners of war, either of the Germans or the Italians, making their own claims for compensation if they think that those nations contravened the laws and customs of war to such an extent as to make a good case.
Thirdly, I should like to be absolutely emphatic on the point that the Far Eastern prisoners of war are not claiming any sort of amenities in the way of pensions. I feel that there have been misapprehensions about this among people who did not attend the meeting, but the ex-prisoners have no intention of competing with other ex-Service men in the way of pensions. We have perfectly good machinery in the Ministry of Pensions for dealing with this matter, and I think it would be utterly wrong to try to claim any preference in the way of war pensions, either as wounds or disability pensions, for the ex-prisoners of war.
I am quite sure that, in that respect, all ex-Service men should be treated alike, and the Far Eastern prisoners of war would be the last to claim that they should have any preference as far as war pensions are concerned. It may well be that the medical categories or some of the ex-prisoners of war will need re-examination, but that is an entirely different matter, which I suggest should be taken up with their own local Members of Parliament and brought to the notice of the Ministry of Pensions.
§ Dr. King (Southampton, Test)
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman make quite clear that the claim is not only for living ex-prisoners, but also on behalf of the dependents of those who did not come back?
§ Brigadier Smyth
That is the case, and it is very clearly put in the Motion.
This is a bill submitted by the British Far Eastern prisoners of war to the Japanese people for atrocities committed in contravention of all the laws and usages of war, but that bill can only be presented through the good offices of the British Government. Obviously, it is not one that the Far Eastern prisoners could lodge themselves. I was not a prisoner of war myself, so that I have no ulterior motive in pressing this claim, but I was in command of troops out in the East at the time, and so I can view this matter with sympathy, knowing the local conditions at the time and yet without being so concerned with it, as I should have been had I been a prisoner myself. I saw a number of these men go into captivity, and I saw some of them come out of it at the end of the war, and that was not a pleasant thing to remember.
I want to remind the House for a moment of the conditions appertaining in the war against the Japanese at that time, because there is a tendency in some quarters to attach some blame to the ex-prisoners for having been captured. I should like to remind the House that the vast majority of them were taken prisoner in that period of the first few months of the Japanese war which was so disastrous for the British cause. It was a time when the Japanese were sweeping all before them, when they were sweeping over South-East Asia in a task for which they had been trained and prepared for years, and those were for Britain some of the darkest days of the war.
The Japanese chose their time carefully, when we were stretched to the limit with our war with Germany, and I would say quite definitely, although I was rather at the receiving end at the time, that the confusion and the lack of material which existed at that time was nobody's fault at all. It was a situation which was unavoidable in view of the fact that we were stretched to the limit in our war against Germany, at the time the Japanese attacked. But there was considerable 2225 confusion in India and the whole of that area at the time when these men went into captivity.
Although I do not want to quote personal examples, perhaps I may be allowed to give just one in order to give the House an idea of the position. The 17th Division, which I was commanding at the time the Japanese War started, was a new division of Indian and British troops combined which had been trained and equipped entirely to fight in the broad open spaces of the Middle East. It was equipped with tracked vehicles, half-tracked vehicles and wheeled vehicles, and the men had just been issued with thick battledress as it is generally cold in Baghdad for which place we were bound. They were only partially trained and were going to finish their training when we reached the other end. I saw the 45th Brigade off at Bombay. They were diverted at sea and flung into the jungle, of which they had never heard, on the West Coast. The brigadier was killed, the brigade was cut to pieces, and the survivors went into captivity.
Those are the sorts of things at which we would look with horror at this moment with regard to the troops we are sending into action in Korea. But the present situation is quite different. We can gradually nurture our troops into action with training and proper equipment, which we were unable to do in those days. The 44th Brigade which followed went straight into the bag on Singapore Island. The remainder of the division in Burma had no transport, no pack rations, no wireless, and practically no air support, which meant that every time a detachment was sent into the jungle, it was very probable that it would be surrounded and cut off.
It was largely a matter of luck as to who were captured and who were not. One example of this was the case of our famous General Alexander who went to take over command of the Burma Army just before the fall of Rangoon. I think he was given a far too optimistic report of the conditions. On getting to Rangoon he found the whole place surrounded. He tried in vain to get out, and it was only because of the stupidity of the Japanese, who had been told to take Rangoon from the west—they had already taken it from the north—through their stupidity in obeying the letter of that 2226 order, that General Alexander escaped with the remains of his little force. But for that, a commander who made one of the greatest reputations of the war and who has now made a great reputation as Governer-General of Canada, would no doubt be now watering a little cabbage patch in England like some other generals who were not so fortunate.
I want now to deal with one or two of the objections to this claim. I will take the easiest one first—the financial one. Not being a financier myself, I have the greatest admiration for what the economists can do with figures. If the way of a man with a maid is supposed to be mysterious, still more mysterious is the way of a financier with figures. They can make them do anything. As a young subaltern before World War I, I had it explained to me that the Germans, owing to their economic situation, would be unable to go to war, and, sitting in a wet trench in Flanders a few months later, I tried to figure out where they had gone wrong. I had the same thing explained to me still more strongly by some most accomplished financiers before the Hitler war. They said that even if Hitler started a war, he could not carry it on for more than a year. Tramping back to Dunkirk and Rangoon I had to puzzle that one out.
I am quite certain that if the financiers really approached this matter from the point of view that it could be done, they would find some way of paying this money to the British Far Eastern prisoners of war. If there are no assets from which it can be paid, what about letting the Japanese work an hour longer each day for the next year, as they made our prisoners work when they had them in their hands? Japanese industry is going to compete very severely with some of the industries in this country pretty soon, so do not let us be too soft with them. The important thing about this claim is its moral principle. The Far Eastern prisoners of war do not mind so much about the money side as they do that the principle should be established that no nation shall treat the nationals of another when they have them in captivity as the Japanese treated our men.
Some people say that the prisoners of the Germans and the Italians suffered in just the same way. I know that in certain cases appalling brutality was inflicted on 2227 British prisoners in German and Italian hands, but there is no comparison between that and the case against the Japanese. We have only to compare the figure of the 4 per cent. who died in German hands with that of the 27 per cent. who died in Japanese hands to see that in the latter case it was a matter of deliberate brutality.
I do not want to go into these brutalities, but when part of my divisional headquarters was captured in the battle of the Sittang River my A.D.M.S.—head doctor—was also captured. He spent three years in Rangoon gaol, which even for a hardened Asiatic criminal before the war was an ordeal which he probably did not survive. The Japanese would not allow him any surgical instruments or drugs. In the case of one airman who crashed near the gaol, it was necessary to amputate both his arms, and also to perform a small operation on his head. This my A.D.M.S. did, but the Japanese refused to allow him to change that man's bandages even when the doctor pointed out that his head was being eaten away by maggots. Having no arms, the man could do nothing about it himself, and over a period of weeks he was just allowed to die. As far as I know, that did not generally happen in the German camps.
There are some people, again, who suggest that if this claim for the Far Eastern prisoners of the Japanese were met, it would cause jealousy among other ex-Service men. That is not my experience at all. Ex-Service men are an extraordinarily generous crowd of people, and their attitude is, "Well, chaps, if you can get anything out of the Japanese, get it, and good luck to you."
The final point I want to mention is more important, because it is an attitude taken up at the moment by some of our senior commanders, and I know that it has had a certain effect on some of the Government Front Bench. They suggest that it would be bad for morale to do anything like this for an ex-prisoner of war, and that would encourage men to surrender. I think that is rather a disgraceful suggestion to make where the British soldier is concerned, but I have heard it quoted quite seriously. I should like to read this small extract from the Air Commander-in-Chief's report which 2228 has just been published regarding casualty evacuation by air from Burma.This service was easily one of the best morale builders among allied front line troops. It inspired the fighting man's confidence and allayed any fears he may have had about being surrounded with the possibility of falling into the hands of the Japanese as a prisoner.He regarded that as the worst fate.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Strachey)
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will forgive me, I understood him to make a statement—I hope I have it right—that commanding officers or important officers on the staff at the moment were suggesting to Ministers that if we made this concession, it would be bad for morale because it would encourage men to surrender. I have certainly never heard that suggestion from any officers on my staff or from my advisers nor heard of any Minister who gave the idea countenance. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will explain what he had in mind.
§ Brigadier Smyth
I am very glad it has not got so far as the Secretary of State for War. I am delighted to hear it. Some people far more senior than commanding officers—after all they are small fry compared with the right hon. Gentleman—hold that idea. I know that, because I was brought up with many of them. I know that the Japanese fight to the last round and last man. They are the only nation in the world who do that, but all the same they are not nearly as good soldiers as the British. The British when well led and properly equipped and trained are better soldiers than the Japanese at any time. However, the point of view to which I have referred is one held by some people and I am very glad to hear it has not reached the right hon. Gentleman.
I know that between the wars, there was a Japanese tennis player who because he was beaten at Wimbledon dropped off the boat on the way home rather than face the disgrace of having been beaten. That is not the sort of attitude we should adopt; and what a lot of British lawn tennis players would be drowned this summer if we did adopt it.
My own son was a prisoner of the Japanese for a very short time. He was in a field dressing station which was captured by Japanese who immediately bayoneted all the wounded in their beds. 2229 My son and one or two others managed to escape. When, a few months later, he was killed in action leading his company of the Queen's Royal Regiment in the battle of Kohima ridge, I am sure he would have said, if he could, "It was better so, better than a lingering death in the hands of the Japanese."
It is a matter of principle which the prisoners of war want to establish far more than a matter of money. I think it is very opportune that we should be laying this claim and discussing it in the House with the war going on in Korea and our gallant battalions, like the Gloucesters, being overrun and a considerable number of prisoners falling into the hands of an Oriental enemy. As far as my information goes, and I hope the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, the International Red Cross have been allowed no facilities in Korea. If we do not watch it, we shall have the Minister getting up in this House and making much the same sort of unpleasant statement that my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington had to make seven years ago.
Therefore, it is important that we should establish this principle very firmly now, at this moment. I believe that by giving whole-hearted assent to this Motion we shall not merely put in a clause on behalf of Far Eastern prisoners into the peace treaty—although I hope we shall do that—but we shall be showing the whole world that we are absolutely determined to outlaw war and those who wage aggressive war. We shall show that if war does come upon us despite our efforts, there are certain codes of humanity and human decency, particularly with regard to women and children and helpless captives of war, which we, the British people, insist shall be observed.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
I beg to second the Motion.
The hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Brigadier Smyth) has spoken in moving and eloquent terms. Even those hon. Members who may disagree with the point of view advanced must acknowledge the deep sincerity with which he put it forward. He has spoken from the background of a distinguished military record. I have no military record, but I must confess that as I 2230 listened to him I was more and more moved as he went along.
I join with the hon. and gallant Member in thanking the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) for so readily stepping forward and giving us an opportunity of having this debate. This is an all-party issue. It transcends any difference we may have on the customary items of our political faith.
I should like to make it clear at once that we do not regard this Motion as a sort of culmination to a hardship campaign. It is not. If I may quote General Percival, who was in charge of the troops in the Far East:This has not been the campaign of discontented people.In the long and proud history of these Islands, there have been certain principles for which our people have earned renown, and not the least of these have been the unfailing regard of our fathers for a sense of justice. Fortified by the knowledge of our history, I feel that the House will expect me to devote the time I have firstly to proving the justice of our case and secondly to proving the practicability of the proposals we put before the Government.
What are the arguments heard against these proposals? First of all, there is the one to which the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood has referred, among others—the attitude of other prisoners of war. Secondly, there is the argument that the Ministry of Pensions can deal with any cases of need among these men. Thirdly, there is the argument that reparations might ruin the economy of Japan and that international Socialists, such as we like to call ourselves, can hardly ask for reparations of this sort. There is the further argument that we ourselves, by the use of the atom bomb on Japan, were guilty of an atrocity for which a counter-claim might be made.
§ Mr. Thomas
Further, it is said that this is mere sentimentality, that one cannot reward a man who has been a prisoner of war and that, as a soldier, he must expect to face the normal hazards and risks of the battlefield. Each of these arguments has been put forward to me in due seriousness by hon. Members, and I believe they are deserving of reply.
2231 I should like to submit at once that this appeal is not for a reward but for just compensation for treatment unparalleled in the history of great nations. It is not a part of the ordinary hazards of war, for these had already been endured before captivity. The Japanese Government, as a matter of calculated policy to undermine morale, pursued a policy of complete and callous disregard of international conventions relating to the treatment of prisoners of war. Their instructions to commanders of the prison camps not to be obsessed with ideas of mistaken humanitarianism makes it quite clear that this was not the cruelty of isolated commanders but the calculated policy of a government.
I recently read in a newspaper circulating in this country an article by one of these lads who was fortunate enough to come home. He said:The building of the Burma-Siam railway"—and he was one of those who took part in it—by slave gangs of prisoners is unique in the records of the civilised world. Fine upstanding young men were reduced to desperate-eyed skeletons upon whom the Japs showed no mercy. Sickness, though obviously leading to death, was regarded as indiscipline and sabotage.Like the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood, I do not propose to burden the House by reminding them in too great detail of the terrible conditions which our men endured, but it is just as well that we should remember; it is just as well that we should have a sense of perspective, in view of world conditions today. I understand that in the Far East questions of face and prestige are of great importance, and, apart from the point of view of the men themselves, it would be damaging to Great Britain if the Far East felt that they could do this sort of thing to our men and get away with it. They were conscious as a people, as was said by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), that they were violating not only the principles of international law but the canons of decency and civilised conduct.
What of the other prisoners of war? I know that hon. Members are able to quote the tragedy of the 50 Royal Air Force officers who were shot after they tried to escape from a prison camp in 2232 Germany. We acknowledge that there were isolated examples of similar atrocities in various theatres of the last world war, but there is nothing anywhere that compares with the unique outrage upon human standards of conduct over a long period of time, which occurred in the Japanese theatre of war. Even in war, when hate and cruelty run riot, certain standards of decency and humanity must be observed. I, naturally, would support the claim of any ex-prisoner of war who can maintain a case that he suffered by a complete disregard of international conventions. But to fail now to take cognisance of the sadistic breaches in the standards by the Japanese, is to invite such conditions to be repeated if ever the tragedy of international carnage were to be repeated.
What about the suggestion that the Ministry of Pensions can deal with the matter? The hon. and gallant Gentleman has dealt forthrightly with this question. I would readily pay tribute to the wholesome and humane manner in which the Ministry of Pensions have functioned since the war. Hon. and gallant Members on both sides of the House have, from time to time, paid tribute to the Ministry of Pensions for the way in which they have set about their task. But this is a different issue. This is an attempt to recognise that special circumstances warrant special treatment, and that there is a clear case for compensation for those who endured more than any other British Tommies in captivity have ever been called upon to endure in our history.
I now come to the question of the high moral argument that we used the atom bomb, and I am prepared to face up to that argument. Heavy mass bombing and the use of the atom bomb, like all war, is revolting. War is not a Christian business; it is not a love-and-brotherly affair. I certainly have never sought to justify the use of the atom bomb. But that neither adds to nor detracts from the fact that all civilised nations in the world have accepted standards of conduct towards prisoners of war, and that there is no nation in the world which has inflicted what amounts to torture upon helpless, hapless captives in the way that Japan has.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Before my hon. Friend leaves this point, may I ask this question about the use of the atom bomb? I appreciate the argument of my hon. 2233 Friend, and I think I agree with most of it. But supposing we put in a claim to the Japanese Government for reparations for the treatment of our prisoners of war, would my hon. Friend agree that our Government or the American Government should be called upon to agree to a claim for damages by all the victims who suffered as a result of the atom bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima?
§ Mr. Thomas
My hon. Friend will be aware that unhappily in war there is destruction common to both sides, and the Pearl Harbour incident preceded the events which we are discussing. I do not try to justify the use of the atom bomb. If we try to argue that out, it will be like trying to ascertain which came first, the hen or the egg. There is no adequate answer. There is a principle that no nation shall violate flagrantly the accepted customs and usages of war. I should like to quote again from General Percival. He said:We believe that if we fail to bring home to the Japanese Government its responsibility for the barbarous treatment of British prisoners of war and civilian internees, we shall lose a great deal of prestige abroad and in the eyes of foreigners who will think that Britain no longer bothers about the welfare of her nationals.I believe that the justice of this case has been maintained. Is it practicable? The fact that certain action has taken place in America and Australia has, of course, added to the strength of the campaign. No one would deny it. Some hon. Members have reminded me that the agitation reached the Commons after action had been taken by the American and Australian Governments. That is not an important point of principle.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Scotstoun)
What the hon. Member is quoting other hon. Members as having said is not true. I brought this question to the House of Commons before the American law had even been printed.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. But the impression has been created among hon. Members that this Motion is a kind of attempt to get on the tail of a policy which has been successfully implemented in America and Australia. That, I believe, is something which need not disturb the House in trying to assess the real value of this claim.
2234 Hon. Members may ask, "Why is this Member taking such an interest in the question?" I have left it until my closing words to tell the House that one of the earliest duties I can recollect performing after my election in 1945 was, together with the Lord Mayor of my city, to welcome home a large number of Welsh boys who had spent their years in captivity. God knows—and I say this with due reverence—I shall never forget what I saw. I have met others from other theatres of war, but here there was a very noticeable difference which I think the House should bear in mind.
It is true that we cannot undo for these people the sufferings of yesterday. We cannot undo the barbarism and the cruelty which the Japanese showed to them in the prison camps. But I think we can remember that oft, when on their couch they lie, "in vacant or in pensive mood," they recall the nightmares of yesterday, which trouble many of them, let us acknowledge it, even today. By passing this Motion we can give them a feeling that they are not forgotten and that we have a sense of our obligation towards them.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. A. R. W. Low (Blackpool, North)
The House has listened to two very moving speeches. I do not think we could have had the case for this Motion put better, more clearly and with more feeling than was done by both my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Norwood (Brigadier Smyth) and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas). It is all the more difficult, therefore, for me to try to put before the House a slightly different point of view.
I would say at once that I wholeheartedly accept the principle which my hon. and gallant Friend said was behind this Motion—that everything should be done to see that in future no Power treats prisoners-of-war in the way in which our prisoners-of-war were treated by the Japanese. I am wholeheartedly behind that principle and, as I will show in my speech, I hope His Majesty's Government will do all they can to see that steps are taken in the peace treaty to show to the Japanese people as a whole that they are responsible for the foul treatment meted out by their soldiers and officers to our prisoners.
2235 But it is because I think there are certain other important principles raised by the Motion that I want to warn the House against accepting its full implications, as it is drafted. I accept the principle on which the hon. and gallant Gentleman addressed the House. He said that the main object behind the Far Eastern Prisoners-of-War Association, which urged this Motion, is to see that never again will an enemy Power treat our prisoners as they were treated by the Japanese. It is wise that we should think of that objective at this time, when we hear such awful stories about our men and others who have been captured in Korea.
Before I turn to state the reasons why I object to certain implications in the Motion, I should like to make two points. The first is that I am as aware as anybody can be to the bestial and brutal treatment which was meted out to our prisoners. I saw many of the returned prisoners shortly after they had landed here. Further, as I think my hon. and gallant Friend knows, and certainly as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. R. Robinson) knows, the Blackpool Field Regiment was captured complete. I happen to hold an honorary title in the successor to that Regiment today. Thus, I cannot be charged with having no sympathy or only grudging sympathy with these men for the treatment meted out to them, and I hope nobody will think that such a lack of sympathy is at the back of my mind. I have seen the ghastly pictures and have heard the ghastly stories. I am as keen as anyone that just and fair compensation shall be given to these men and to the dependants of those who died. I do not object to that; indeed, I seek it as much as anyone.
This Motion, however, raises the question of the method by which compensation shall be obtained. It raises two separate points. There is the general matter of principle to which I have already referred and which I think justifies a large reparation claim by His Majesty's Government. Certainly I hope the Japanese people at least will be compelled to acknowledge their guilt as a nation in this matter. The point that the Japanese nation were responsible, as well as their officers, was 2236 well put by both hon. Members who have spoken, and many of the officers have already been punished under war crimes charges.
But the nation, too, has a responsibility, and I hope the Minister of State will accept that point. International law is so often flouted that every opportunity should be taken of bringing home to nations the fact that it cannot be flouted with impunity. I hope, therefore, that there will be a claim for reparations. Whether or not those reparations can or will be paid is another matter, but at any rate there is no doubt that a claim for reparations should be submitted.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes rose——
§ Mr. Low
I would rather not be interrupted. This is a difficult speech. The hon. Member will no doubt catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
The second and separate question which is raised by the Motion is that to which I shall confine my speech. Shall the money so recovered from the Japanese be paid direct and equally to all who were in captivity and to the dependants of men who died there? My answer to that question is different from that given by the two hon. Members who have spoken today. I say that is not the right way to compensate those who have suffered.
I shall risk wearying the House for a moment, if I may, with a statement of principles with which I think the House will be familiar but which it is important that we should have in mind. I shall quote two statements by Ministers of His Majesty's Government—and the first of those was by the Minister of Defence on 4th April, 1950. He said:His Majesty's Government has done everything in its power towards the restoration of health and the resettlement of members of the Forces who were made prisoners-of-war by the Japanese. It is not, however, its policy to give financial benefits to such members other than those given to other ex-Service personnel."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th April, 1950; Vol. 473, c. 134.]That is the first statement of principle I want to put before the House.
§ Air Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
But it will not be the British Government giving compensation here; it will be the Japanese people.
§ Mr. Low
That is exactly the point, but I want to get this statement of principle before the House. I think my hon. 2237 and gallant Friend might well accept it, for I want to build up the case principle by principle. The second statement I wish to quote is one made by the former Financial Secretary to the War Office, who I am glad to see is in his place. On 13th June, 1950, he said:I would ask the House to consider this statement of general principle which, I believe, is sound; that a soldier, whatever his rank, should be paid for his services, and that it is recognised that, in the course of that service, he may run greater or less risk or hardship, and that at the end of his service all possible action should be taken to rehabilitate him in respect of any injury, physical or mental, which he may have suffered and to restore him so that he may take his place in civilian life; and if he has suffered any lasting injury, that appropriate provision by pension, or other proper means, should be made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th June, 1950; Vol. 476, c. 178–9.]I think the House will accept that. I am only dealing with the matters for which His Majesty's Government are responsible.
The next principle I would explain is this. It is generally accepted—and perhaps this sums up those two statements—that it is the duty of His Majesty's Government to take all possible action to compensate all its former soldiers who have suffered, whether physically or mentally, in the course of war service and also to compensate the dependants of those who have died; and that the compensation is paid for the injuries suffered, for the damage done to their health, and not for the treatment which was meted out. In other words, no attempt is made to distinguish the way in which men are wounded or killed or ill-treated; but the measure of the compensation paid out is based upon an estimate of the damage to their health.
Next, it must be agreed that it would be wrong for such compensation to be made greater or less because of the chance of one enemy paying reparations and another enemy paying no reparations. It is the duty of His Majesty's Government to be, as it were, the insurer so that all who serve their King and country in action are properly compensated for injuries done to them, whatever may be the financial position of His Majesty's enemies at the end of the war; and the amount of compensation paid to them should have nothing to do with the chance—for it is a chance—of whether the enemy is able to pay reparations or not. I believe that to be a matter of principle upon which 2238 neither hon. Member has spoken has touched.
If the House accepts that principle, it must also accept one of two points which I shall now make—either that ex-prisoners of war in the Far East have not yet received proper compensation through the Ministry of Pensions, or that they have already received proper and fair compensation by comparison with others and that they are now to be given a little extra. If the principle which I have just stated is accepted, then one of those two propositions must follow.
I should like to add that I think the House would accept that the degree of injury to health—and this follows on something I have already said—both physical and mental, and not the theatre of war or the place of captivity, must fix the amount of compensation to be paid. Next, such compensation, when paid—as a matter of practice it is paid through the Ministry of Pensions—should have regard to each individual case separately; it should have regard to the injuries suffered by each individual person. One cannot generalise over damage done to health in war. The great value of the Ministry of Pensions is that through its excellent machinery it is able to take each individual case separately, and compensate each individual for the damage that he has suffered.
I believe that these principles are correct; and if the House follows them it will see the objection that I have to the underlying principles of this Motion. I am sure that the House will realise that I am not trying to deprive anyone of any benefit to which he is entitled. I am trying to concentrate upon principles. Perhaps I may interpose here a word to say how difficult it is in a matter—not a sentimental matter—but a matter which so much affects our emotions—as this does those of all of us—to put forward with success a case based upon logic; because my case really, I am afraid, is based upon the cold, hard logic of cold, hard principles.
So to sum up my objections to the full implications of this Motion as at present drafted. It seems to me to ask expressly or impliedly for an equal payment to all ex-Far Eastern prisoners of war—and for the dependants of those who died—without regard to their 2239 present state of health at this moment—to the damage they have suffered in health, mental and physical.
§ Brigadier Smyth
Will my hon. Friend allow me? I do think I should make it absolutely clear what the Far Eastern prisoners of war claim is, because what my hon. Friend has been saying has really nothing to do with the claim we have raised, and I should not like the House to think that it had got anything to do with it at all. We are not making any claims for these pensions for health. We think that has been adequately dealt with by the Government. As I said before, it is a claim on the Japanese for atrocities rendered, and we do not want to go into any of these cases for pensions, for which the British Government and the British taxpayers would have to be responsible.
§ Mr. Low
I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend has quite followed the purpose of my argument. I wish one of my hon. and gallant Friends here would be good enough to keep quiet. He keeps on interjecting. This speech is a difficult enough one to make in any circumstances, and these interjections make it more difficult still. This is a matter which affects me as deeply as it affects him, and I would ask him not to interrupt in this way.
In answer to what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Norwood has said, I fully realise that, of course, the claim is against the Japanese. However, it is a claim for compensation to be paid to particular people on grounds of justice, and I maintain that it is His Majesty's Government's job, as the insurers, as it were, to see all are properly compensated who have suffered in war; and if we carry that principle out to its bitter logical end—which is, I admit, a horrible argument to use in this particular case—then the Government, as insurers, have the right to step into our shoes and claim from the Japanese who have caused the damage. But the point surely is that His Majesty's Government are responsible for providing this compensation, and it is to them and to the Ministry of Pensions that we should look.
I was talking about equal payment with regard to the distress and the damage suffered. I believe that to be the objection which the Australian Government 2240 are very likely to deal with. I think it has been wrongly said that the Australian Government have reached a decision about this matter. They have had a commission and they have had recommendations, but they have not reached a decision about what they should do. It has also been wrongly implied, I think, that the American Government have paid all this money only to prisoners of war in Japanese hands. That is not true. Their law covers all prisoners of war. This Motion, therefore, differs from the American measures in that way.
It is happily true that many of these prisoners who suffered damage have recovered, just as many others who were ill or wounded in the war have recovered largely their full health. But it is unhappily true that far more have not recovered, and I am as anxious as anybody else to see that these men are properly looked after through the Ministry of Pensions.
My second objection is that this Motion selects for special treatment prisoners of war in Japanese hands without regard—though I know the point has been covered—for those who suffered in Germany, and particularly the dependants of those who were killed—who were murdered: brutally murdered—by the Germans. I think that that is a blemish in the Motion which is acknowledged impliedly by the mover and seconder when they say that they have no objection to those claims being put forward and that they would support them.
My third objection is that it selects for special money benefits those who had the misfortune to be captured and the dependents of those who died in captivity, while nothing special is done for those who lost limbs or lost senses—sight, for instance—fighting the Japanese, and those killed in action. I do not think that we should be wise in this way to adopt a Motion which draws a distinction between the sufferings of men who were wounded, or the dependents of those who died in action, and the dependents of those who died in captivity.
I keep on referring, as I am going to again, to the Ministry of Pensions because I believe that that is the Ministry through which full compensation should be paid. I believe it is true to say that in 1945, whatever steps were taken by the Ministry of Pensions, it could not know, because 2241 of the medical knowledge at that time, the full damage done to so many of these people; and I would suggest to the Government, on this pension side of the problem raised today, that the Minister of Pensions calls for a review of the cases of all prisoners of war in any theatres who have applied at any time for pensions. I would suggest that a special review is given, and that the help of the British Legion and of the Far Eastern Prisoners of War Association is obtained in order to encourage those men to put forward their cases. I believe that that is the right way to look after the interests of these men, and of their families, who have suffered damage.
I think that we should be making a mistake now to introduce a new principle into our treatment in this country of people who serve our King and country in war. I think we must guard carefully the principles upon which we base treatment of these men. I do plead with the Government that they take this opportunity of making a special review of all cases submitted to them of men who have suffered, particularly of men who have suffered damage to their mental health because of those three and a half long years in captivity.
I finish as I began, by saying that I accept the matter of principle that the Foreign Office should take all possible steps to see that never again does any other nation treat prisoners of war in the way in which these prisoners were treated.
§ Colonel Hutchison
Before my hon. Friend sits down, I wonder if I may put this question to him? He built up the whole of his case on the mental and physical suffering of those who had been prisoners of war. He took no calculation—and I wonder if he has dismissed it in his thoughts—of the fact that these prisoners of war were entitled to certain standards of rations which were denied to them, and that, therefore, they had not those rations and that they did not get ration money.
§ Mr. Low
I have taken that into account. I did not want to weary the House with all the points. My hon. and gallant Friend should know—and he will find the fact recorded in the columns of HANSARD—that no deductions were taken from the pay of those prisoners—the 2242 ordinary deductions from prisoners' pay to cover payments for extra things. The deductions were not taken because they had not the proper rations. I did not mention that point because it seemed to me to be covered.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
There are many hon. Members who want to speak, and I think we had better get on. Mr. Benn.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I hope the House will not mind if I follow the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low), and tell him quite frankly, to begin with, that I am substantially in agreement with the points he has raised. Certainly, nobody who feels as the hon. Gentleman feels, and as I feel myself, could be accused of being unsympathetic in this particular matter. The number of people held in captivity in the Far East was so great that there can be few Members of this House who have not very close friends or even relatives who were themselves captives in Japanese prisoner of war camps. But I do feel myself a little unhappy about the wording and the implications of this Motion, and I should like to detain the House for a few minutes, while I put those fears forward for consideration by the House.
First of all, I find on looking at this Motion that it is a little difficult to understand. The hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Brigadier Smyth), and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), who moved and seconded the Motion so effectively and so movingly, put a case I find a little difficult to understand—a case that is based on prestige and "face." I must tell the House quite frankly that if I were confronted with a Japanese at this present moment and were asked to tell him that I believed that he was wrong in the treatment of those British prisoners in his hands, I could not but accept a similar criticism from him on the question of the atom bomb. I should be quite unable to avoid it.
I am afraid I must say on the question of principle here involved—this question of moral principle—that I believe it to be humbug, when so many people, women, children, old folk, were 2243 killed by the atom bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. For every individual photograph that could be produced of a wounded and battered British prisoner of war in Japanese hands, I think one could find an equally horrible photograph of a victim of the atomic bomb. [Interruption.] An hon. Friend of mine says that the two things are not comparable. I do not myself believe that it is possible to draw any distinctions in war between the brutalities on both sides.
This is the real issue which we have to face. No war is pleasant. What the Japanese did to our prisoners of war in the last war could be found in the annals of the British treatment of their prisoners in the far distant past. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] War from the beginning has been horrible. I am very sorry to disagree with so many hon. Gentlemen here, but I very strongly doubt whether in the last 400 years there have not been cruelties inflicted on prisoners held by the British similar to the ones inflicted on our men by the Japanese. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] I think the massacres that took place in the Zulu wars were sufficiently horrible to be comparable in this respect.
Certainly the atomic bomb was as horrible as anything, not only at the time when it was dropped, but also in its after-effects on people who have been suffering from radio-activity in the last five years—as horrible I believe, as the after-effects on the people who suffered as prisoners of war. I feel I have to say this because I believe that it would be wrong for this House to consider and debate this matter and for no hon. Member to get up and say these things. I am sorry that it falls to me to do so, so early, but I do think that it is important.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I think one would agree with my hon. Friend, but he is comparing a moral principle with something else which has been accepted as and become part of the international code of conduct. The conduct here complained of is contrary to international convention accepted by the Japanese and everyone else.
§ Mr. Benn
The point raised by my hon. Friend is a difficult one to answer. All I can say is that when we talk about the customs and traditions of war, I feel 2244 that there is something unsatisfactory about that distinction. If we are prepared to drop the atom bomb, as we have done, on women and children who had nothing to do with the war, how can we possibly say that the treatment of prisoners is in a separate category?
Moreover, the civilians who were captured by the Japanese do not come under the terms of this Motion. No mention has been made of the British women and children who were captured by the Japanese in Hong Kong. They are not covered by this Measure, because they are not Service people. I believe that if compensation is to be made available, it should be made available on a different basis.
§ Brigadier Smyth
I do not think that one could include civilians in a claim like this. Hundreds of civilians have written to me. They all had property of varying value in these particular countries, and their cases must have individual consideration. It is impossible to consider their claims as a whole. I have been into that question very carefully.
§ Mr. Benn
I hope that I shall not be as unpopular with the House when I come to the second part of my speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] I would like to say, on the question of civilians who were captured that I do not believe that those, for example, who were taken by the Japanese in Hong Kong need special treatment, one by one, any more than the Army prisoners who were captured by the Japanese in the course of military operations. I believe that every case should be taken on its own merits, and that any general treatment is unsatisfactory for reasons put by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken, with which I am in substantial agreement.
May I conclude this point by telling the House about one very intimate friend of mine who was captured by the Japanese at Singapore? His ship was sunk by Japanese aircraft in Singapore Harbour, and he was sent to Changi Gaol and then served for a considerable time on the railway of death, the Siam Railway. During his months there he counted the hours of the day by the burial parties that went out from the camp. The effect on him, when he came home at the age of 26, was to make him, at that late age, take a medical training so that he could go back as a missionary to the Far 2245 East. The spirit of that man is more in accordance with the moral principles that I value, than the moral principles that are behind this Motion now before the House.
I find it very difficult at a time when Japanese troops are being re-armed again, when many war criminals who perpetrated these very crimes are being released, to regard this debate as being in touch with the realities of the situation. I think that it is also out of touch with the moral principle in which I myself believe.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
I think that the whole House is rather anxious about the point which the hon. Gentleman has raised. He said earlier that in his view the British Army had been guilty during the last 400 years of similar treatment of prisoners of war. I am an amateur in regard to military history, although I know something about it, and I gather that the hon. Gentleman has made that statement without one concrete example to give to the House.
§ Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I agree with very little that my hon. Friend has said, but I think that each of us in this House, on occasions, has given out some theory like that and has not been able on the spot to produce the evidence. I could myself provide the evidence of what my hon. Friend has said, in connection with the Jallianwallah Bagh at Amritsar.
§ Mr. Benn
I have been questioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, and I should not like to leave this matter without giving some answer. I cannot myself produce chapter and verse now for what has happened during the last 400 years, and therefore I withdraw that statement unreservedly and leave it to each Member here to ask himself if he does not believe that there have been British atrocities similar to the ones perpetrated by the Japanese. It is inconceivable that in the history of the Colonial wars which this country has waged during the last 400 years there should not have been atrocities of that kind. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am prepared to leave that point, because I believe that some will accept the things which I have said as having some validity; but for the purposes of record, I withdraw my statement absolutely because I cannot give an example.
2246 My second point deals with the machinery of this particular claim. The reality of the thing is whether we should raise this point in the Japanese Peace Treaty negotiations. The United States have built up Japan since the war. Under the guidance of General MacArthur and with the help of the American occupying forces, Japan has been put on its feet. The history of reparations in respect of Germany after the first war and Germany after the last war shows that when we are engaged in reparations claim we are engaging in a claim against the Power mainly responsible for having put that country back on its feet.
I think that we shall find severe difficulties if we submit this claim in the course of the Japanese Peace Treaty negotiations. I do not think that it would be paid in full. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member would be prepared to distribute whatever proportion of that claim was paid by the Japanese. Suppose that a claim of £15 million or £25 million were put in by the British Government in the course of the Japanese Peace Treaty negotiations and only 10 per cent. of all the claims put in were accepted, would the mover of the Motion be prepared to accept a scaling down of the full claim to 10 per cent.? If not, it would fall on the taxpayer.
I believe that if there is substance in the claim put up on behalf of these people, it should fall on the British taxpayer. The argument that there is a crying need for this for the men but that we should not worry because it will not fall on the British taxpayer, is fundamentally unsound. If there is a crying need, if there was injustice, then there should be compensation and the compensation should fall on the British taxpayer, for he is the man who benefited by the courage and gallantry of our men during the war.
§ Brigadier Smyth
The Far Eastern ex-prisoners of war do not intend to accept any money from the British taxpayer. This is a claim on the Japanese for atrocities perpetrated upon these men in contravention of all the laws of war. Another point is that, if the Government put into the peace treaty a claim for compensation, whatever was received would have to be distributed as the Government 2247 thought fit. It would not be for me as a private individual to undertake that task; it must obviously be for the Government to do so.
§ Mr. Benn
I am very grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for that intervention, for it has at any rate solved one aspect of the problem. I understand that in the United States the payment has already been made. America had Japanese assets from which the payment has been made, but we have none. If the Americans submit a claim in the peace treaty negotiations and Japan can pay only 10 per cent. of it, the net result to the American Exchequer would be that 90 per cent. would be paid by the American taxpayer. We have no Japanese assets available, and if we pay the money now and receive only 10 per cent. of our claim from Japan, the remaining 90 per cent. will fall on the British taxpayer. If we pay out nothing now and only 10 per cent. is received from Japan, the Far East ex-prisoners of war will get only 10 per cent. of their claim.
I must be honest with the House. I find something distasteful about the Motion, in that we are all urged to support it because it will not cost us anything. Surely we should be prepared to accept responsibility for meeting the claim if it is a just claim, and if it is just it should be paid not only to the men of the British Army and their dependants but also to the civilians who suffered—including civilians and Service men who suffered from this sort of thing in other theatres—irrespective of whether we can make a claim against the ex-enemy country concerned.
If I leave any thoughts in the minds of hon. Members out of this confused and much lengthier speech than I had intended, I should hope to leave, first, the thought that whatever we do we must not humbug ourselves about this. The atom bomb, I maintain, was an atrocity as great as any in the history of mankind, and if a moral principle is involved it must be one of forgiveness. We must not make the claim out of a sense of retribution, but if we do make a claim, it must be from other motives. There is no room for retribution, particularly in the current political situation in the Far East Reasons 2248 of prestige we cannot allow to enter our calculations.
The second thought I should wish to leave with hon. Members is that the machinery proposed in the Motion is unsatisfactory in that it, somehow, appears to allow us all to do something generous without any cost to ourselves. I hope that anyone who supports the Motion will feel, as I certainly do, that if there are legitimate claims—I believe there may very well be legitimate claims on grounds of atrocities, injury to health, worry, and so on—as a result of that period of captivity, the British Government should fairly and squarely accept the responsibility and make what allocation is possible. And if any attitude remains in our minds as a result of this debate, it should be the attitude of my friend who, not long from now, will be returning to serve and work in that part of the world which gave him the toughest time he has had in his life.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Turner (Oxford)
I believe that I am the only hon. Member in this House who was actually a prisoner of war in the Far East on the Burma Railway. I had three-and-a-half years—they seemed like centuries—on that task, and we had no N.U.R. to protect us and no powerful Mr. Figgins in the background. I should like to pay my tribute to the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Brigadier Smyth) who so forcefully moved the Motion and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), who seconded it and added a little Welsh oratory to the occasion.
I believe that many of the graves of my former colleagues are now not even traceable in the jungle, though the ones at Kanburi, Chunkai and Nakum Paton are all right. But, graves or no graves, I feel that I should be betraying those with whom I worked under almost unimaginable conditions for so long and who certainly will never be able to speak for themselves, if I did not in this House raise my voice and lift the curtain just a little on the things which I, for one, was lucky to survive.
We base our case as ex-J.P.O.W. on the ground that we should have been supplied with a reasonable amount of drugs and a reasonable amount of food. Up to Christmas, 1943, all those who died, including British, Australians and 2249 the Dutch, many of whom were Eurasians, died really of malnutrition. There were 10,000 of them by Christmas, 1943.
It may technically have been beri-beri for which vitamin B was essential. It may have been tropical ulcers, for which at any rate the humble bandage is essential. I never saw a bandage issued by any Japanese in the course of my captivity. Tents we tore up, mosquito nets we tore up, but we were never issued with a bandage. We had iodoform for tropical ulcers after the railway had been completed. It may have been dysentery and I myself was a victim of amoebic dysentery, but it was not until much later downstream, that we received any emetin at all. It may have been S.T. or B.T. malaria. It is only fair to recall that we were issued from time to time with prophylactic quinine. We had, of course, cholera and blackwater fever sweeping through our ranks, but the point I want to make is that those who died, died in nearly every case of malnutrition.
I shall not weary the House with a whole lot of ghastly cases, which those of us who served will always remember. I should like to give one case if I may because I think it has a bearing on this debate. There was a private—he is still alive—who failed to salute a Nippon sentry and was taken to the guardroom and beaten up. That was a daily and hourly occurrence, so there was nothing in that. Unfortunately he had his ear drum broken, and in the pain of that experience he again forgot to salute. He was hit over the head with the handle of an axe. That man is alive today but he was operated on by two Australian surgeons, who, in order to allow the injured brain to expand, had to keep open the skull with the handle of a mess tin. That man will never be mentally strong. He has a wife and three children at Aylesbury. It is for those people that I and I hope others wish to speak.
I want to say another thing. We felt it was our due as prisoners of war that we should have Red Cross facilities. It has been mentioned in the course of the debate that we did not receive any Red Cross parcels whatever. I know they were sent and that they arrived in Thailand. They were marked "International Red Cross" and the mentality of the Japanese was such that they said that they were to be sent to the fighting Nippon troops 2250 in Burma. These Red Cross parcels contained the very thing we all needed, food, drugs, clothes and comforts. I myself got one-seventh of one parcel in 3½years' captivity, because I stole it.
I feel that the Japanese is a curious mentality which is very difficult for us, who had not been in the Far East previously, to understand. I recall working on the railway one day, when a Nippon corporal, who was in charge of our party, announced that India had been captured by the mighty Nippon forces. We learned afterwards that they were at Kohima near Imphal and that technically they were on Indian soil. We were delighted with this, because it meant a break of a few minutes in our work. In order to keep the conversation going, we asked about Europe and were told that mighty Nippon had long ago conquered Europe. Apparently they had not heard of Hitler, who was the resident landlord at the time.
We did not want to go back to work, so we inquired about North, Central and South America. We were informed that the mighty Nippon Pacific Fleet would shortly sail for the Americas, which would shortly be conquered. In desperation one fellow asked: "What about the Isle of Wight?" In the East, they do not like to lose face. I do not think we much like it in the West. Of the Isle of Wight they had never heard, but the reply we got was something like this: "Wights a very tough race. Soon mighty Nippon Pacific Fleet conquers Isle of Wight."
That shows the mentality and the sense of geography they had. The International Red Cross to them meant "Red Cross for fighting Nippon troops in Burma." They did not remember, and unless they are taught, they never will remember, what the great Japanese nation itself owed to the International Red Cross after that disastrous earthquake, when all Europe turned out to help the Japanese people. Yet they denied help to the remnants of us who were there.
I shall not go into the question of pay, which one hon. Gentleman has mentioned. We got, according to our rank, varied scales of pay, ranging from 10 cents to 20 cents or 30 cents a day. I do not wish to make any kind of claim for compensation in that respect. Officers were forced to sign for fabulous sums of pay and of course, they did not receive 2251 it. It was mythically banked for us in Bangkok. After the war, we found that it was not there at all. The British Government, through the War Office, did compensate us for that, as has been stated.
I want to give one more case, an Australian case. I know of an Australian, who was a friend of one of the servants of this House, and who was, literally, kicked to death because he arrived late at work. As his legs were covered with tropical ulcers and sores it was not surprising that he could not walk or march as fast as the others. That is the sort of case I want, from first-hand experience, to put before the House. We do not seek revenge in any sense of the word at all. We ask for justice from the compatriots of those who treated us badly. We do not ask, and we did not ask, that Nippon "chokos" or "gunzas" should be hanged or shot after the war. We had never asked for that, even though it was done. What we asked for is that those who suffered behind bamboo at the behest of our Japanese masters, should be compensated for by the Japanese race, so that those who survive and still suffer and those dependants of the dead might also benefit.
I hope that this House will have one of its generous impulses, and will respond to our case, and that the Government themselves will give a sympathetic ear to our pleading so that there may be a last and happier chapter to what was a Malayan threnody.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
As an ex-German prisoner of war I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Turner), because I believe all ex-German prisoners of war will agree with me that although our time was far from easy, we never experienced the atrocities that was the lot of so many of those who were prisoners of Japan. Though I am a member of an ex-prisoners of war association, I wish to make it clear that I do not claim to speak for all ex-German prisoners of war. I speak in an entirely personal capacity.
The question of diet has been raised. In the case of the Japanese ex-prisoners that is one of the points which have been raised in making this claim. I think that German prisoners of war could make a 2252 similar claim on grounds of diet. It must be remembered that the standing ration provided by the Germans was a bowl of greasy water—it was only on the days that the Red Cross Commission visited the camp that we could call it soup—one-fifth of a loaf of bread and a microscopic piece of margarine.
The reason why a large number of German prisoners of war did not die of malnutrition was because we were able to get Red Cross parcels and supplies. I should not like any debate in this House on the question of prisoners of war to pass without paying a sincere tribute on behalf of all those who benefited from the work of the Red Cross Society and the thousands of people of this country in all walks of life who contributed to those parcels. That was the main reason why the German prisoners, by and large, had a much better time. There is also the case that though the differential between the diet to which we were entitled and what we actually got was probably the same as the differential in Japan, Western Germany is a Western country and the standard we should have had was very much higher than the standard which, by international convention, the prisoners of war in Japan should have had.
My third point is that in Germany our lot was extremely difficult in the first year for two reasons. First, because the Germans at that time were quite convinced that they would win the war. That made an enormous difference in the way in which they treated prisoners and also civilians from occupied countries. They thought that there would be no question of having to answer for what they did. Secondly, there were no Red Cross parcels. A third reason was that we had then very few German prisoners in this country. In Japan that important factor never entered into the treatment of prisoners belonging to other nations, because there was no question of the effect it might have had on the treatment of their own prisoners.
I do not think that prisoners of war as a class have any special claim either on the Government or on the community. It would be a very bad thing if ex-prisoners of war were to organise themselves, because they have been prisoners of war, into any kind of political pressure group. Certainly I, and I think most of 2253 the ex-German prisoners of war, would dissociate ourselves from any attempt to that end. Although I have great sympathy with the claims of the Japanese ex-prisoners of war because of the atrocities they suffered, I should not like the House to forget that there are still many ex-German prisoners of war whose physical and mental condition is as bad as those who were in Japan. Their numbers are probably not so great, but that does not affect the fact that there are many who have a claim against Germany.
No matter what atrocities may have been committed against prisoners of war, I do not think that they have any claim against the British taxpayer. The hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Brigadier Smyth) made that point, but I go further and say that they must not have any indirect effect on the British taxpayer. Certainly if they can be compensated from the frozen Japanese assets they have a prior claim to the ex-shareholders in Japanese companies. When a matter of pressing for international justice is concerned, it is no use having reparations of the old-fashioned kind. I say that for two reasons, one economic and one political. I will deal first with the economic reason.
At the moment we are in difficulties because of the shortage of cotton. We claim that the Americans are sending too much cotton to Japan. What would be the point of America sending even more cotton to Japan to enable her to pay us in cotton goods, in which event we shall be having deputations from the Lancashire cotton industry to protest. I do not think that anyone would want to see that consequence. In general, reparations have proved to be an economic disaster.
I turn to the political point. Many ex-prisoners have genuine grounds for hatred of individual Germans, individual Italians or individual Japanese. Speaking personally, and probably on behalf of many people, I do not think that we want to extend that sense of grievance against individuals to an attack on or hatred of the race itself. I feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) was, when speaking tonight, drawing his inspiration more generously from the Old Testament than from the New. I do not think that we shall take any steps forward if we look at this matter purely as one of revenge.
2254 My final point concerns the question of distribution. I agree with what has been said by other speakers on this point. I cannot see the justice of a claim for the making of a flat-rate payment per prisoner of war. I cannot see why the dependants of a man who happened to die in Japanese captivity have any greater claim than the parents of a boy who died in German captivity—and there were many—or of someone who was killed in action in the ordinary way. Surely the dependants of Japanese ex-prisoners of war had no greater anxiety in that respect. I do not see that they should have a claim of an equal kind to the other prisoners who return.
Logically, if there is any compensation to be got from Japan, it should rightly go to the Government, because through the Ministry of Pensions and so on the British taxpayer—very willingly—has paid and compensated and looked after all those who suffered, whether they were prisoners of war or were injured in any other way, to try to make life possible for them. I do not think in fact that the Government would be anxious to take such compensation if it were claimed and used it to relieve the taxes. But certainly if some compensation is got it should be put into a fund and administered for those who need the money because of their special circumstances.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I think that the hon. Member is now at the most difficult point on which to get agreement on both sides, and I believe this is the cause of the whole of the difficulty between us. It was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low). If we are to expect the Government to get the compensation out of the Japanese, it is very important that we should be quite clear in our minds as to whom we think the money should eventually go. If it is distributed by the Government, it will go to people who have nothing to do with it at all and it will be spread evenly.
§ Mr. Mulley
I think the hon. and gallant Member has misunderstood my argument. I am suggesting that the Government have it as a right. I am merely saying that if it is held that the Japanese should pay compensation for the injury they did to our people the Government has had responsibility, on behalf of the taxpayer, of meeting that liability. It could be argued that they would have the 2255 right of relieving the taxes by that amount of the compensation. I certainly would not press that view. All I would stress is that I cannot accept the claim that everyone, whether they had a relatively easy or extremely arduous time as a prisoner, has an equal claim on the amount received.
I cannot accept the view that the dependants have any special claim at all as compared with the dependants of anyone else who happened to be killed or taken prisoner in another country. I cannot accept the argument that because a son was in Japan, there is any special monetary reward due to the parent, and many parents I know would not accept any monetary reward because it would be no compensation to them.
I would suggest that if money is got, it should be put in a fund to be administered by a trust. Probably the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood would agree to that. But I do not see that there is any case for a flat rate of payment per head per year. If such claim were to be made against Germany, as I do not feel that I have any permanent consequences of having been a German prisoner, I should not wish to participate. I think that view will be shared by the dependants of Japanese prisoners and by some Japanese prisoners themselves.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. McKibbin (Belfast, East)
I have no intention of keeping the House very long but I must put in a word for the 860 ex-Japanese prisoners-of-war and their dependants in Ulster who have written to us. Many of them have told me horrible tales which I do not propose to repeat, because hon. Members have heard enough already from the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Turner), who spoke from his own experience. But when the United States were in the strong position of having frozen assets, to keep themselves covered, and they decided to pay their ex-prisoners of war a dollar a day, no one did very much to see that our ex-prisoners got similar treatment.
Eventually these ex-prisoners found leaders among themselves of sufficient influence and spirit to form themselves into an association to fight for their own rights. For this they deserve the greatest credit, and let us hope that the saying, "God helps those that help themselves" will 2256 prove right in this case. Money cannot compensate the people for some of the horrors to which I have listened, but in some cases of which I know it would ease the consequences.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ The Minister of State (Mr. Younger)
It might be useful if at this stage I said a few words on behalf of the Government. This is a matter which the Government wish to leave entirely to the House. The debate has given proof of great eloquence, depth of feeling and sincerity from supporters of both sides of the question. It has become clear, as the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Brigadier Smyth) said, that this is in no sense a party matter. The hon. and gallant Member for Norwood and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), who moved and seconded the Motion, come from opposite sides of the House and one may fairly say they approached the matter from different backgrounds. The House is bound to be impressed, both with their eloquence and sincerity and also with the sincerity and courage of those who have argued the case against this Motion.
The Government yield to none in their sympathy with those who have suffered and the dependents of those who died under this inhuman treatment; and in their indignation at the total disregard of the conventions of natural and human justice and the inhumanity shown in the treatment of these prisoners of war. I wish to make one comment about the question of the treatment of prisoners of war, and that is that there was created what I think was perhaps a rather exaggerated impression that, apart from the Far Eastern prisoners of war, the cases of ill-treatment were only isolated ones. I think it is a bigger problem than that, but that, as my hon. Friend who was a prisoner in Germany said, no German prisoner of war would claim that his case was on all fours with that of a Far Eastern one.
We should never forget that there was very great suffering, and very many deaths were caused, in the last weeks of the fighting, when so many of these prisoners had to make those forced marches in bitter weather, virtually without food, and entirely without shelter. If we were to broaden our perspective, then not only could the prisoners of all the Allied 2257 Nations be brought in, but the treatment of which we are talking tonight could easily be paralleled in the treatment of Russians and Poles and many other nationalities.
If the British Government have misgivings, as they have, to some extent—misgivings both of principle and of practice—about this Motion, they are in the main due to their awareness firstly, of the great difficulties which there would be in making a claim of this kind effective and in getting actual compensation; secondly, and this comes nearer to being a point of principle, the difficulty of picking out this way of claiming money from many which could have a high priority, if it were possible indeed to obtain a sum of money for the purposes of compensation at all.
I think there was great force in what has been said, I think more than once today, but first by the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood, that, with a claim of this kind, it certainly seems wrong that it should be made to depend almost on the chance whether we can or not get a large sum of money out of a particular ex-enemy country. These are the sort of misgivings which we principally have, but I should like to say to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Motion that it never occurred to us to raise as objections to it such instances as the possible jealousy that might be felt by other prisoners, of which I have no evidence at all, and still less the possible effect on the morale of the fighting men.
§ Colonel Hutchison
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me? A good deal of his argument is based on the difficulty of getting money. Japan is supposed to have gone all democratic, though some of us may doubt how far and how deep that has gone. If, in fact, they have done so, should they not of their own volition, want to expiate some of these atrocities by making a payment without being too hard pressed to do it?
§ Mr. Younger
That may well be so. It has been suggested, and I have heard that suggestion made in respect of both Germany and Japan, but I really doubt whether that is a consideration which can seriously influence His Majesty's Government's attitude one way or another towards this Motion.
2258 One point of which much was made and with which I have great sympathy was that the object of this proposal was not to get money, but to establish a principle, and to make it clear to the Japanese, and, indeed, to the whole world, that treatment of this sort cannot with impunity be meted out to our soldiers, or, indeed, to any others. On that I would simply make this comment. I believe that the general question of bringing home their guilt to any of the nations whom we consider to have been guilty of aggression and war and all its consequences, and of deterring them from doing the same thing again, is really the task of the occupation régime, of the eventual peace treaty, and, in some extreme cases, of the war crimes trials, and I doubt whether that particular argument can be applied with any very great force, though I agree it is not entirely irrelevant, to this particular proposition. It is a very much broader question—the question of bringing home to those with whom we were at war the true responsibilities for what was done.
The Motion asks that the Government should give very early consideration to the claims of the British Far Eastern prisoners of war and their dependents for compensation from the Japanese. The first thing I wish to say on that is that the Government have, in fact, for some time been giving very close consideration indeed to that particular problem.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
I cannot see how the Government have been giving very close consideration to the matter when it has not yet been put to them.
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. and gallant Gentleman really must not assume that the Government were not aware of this matter. We had, in fact, been studying it for a very long time, and it has, indeed, been under discussion in this House at intervals.
§ Major Beamish
I happen to be a member of the Council of the British Far Eastern Prisoners of War and happen to know that a detailed case has not yet been put by that body to the Government. How, therefore, can the Government have considered the matter?
§ Mr. Younger
I do not know anything about a particular body having made a 2259 case, but I do know that this general question regarding Far Eastern prisoners, and how the suggestion could be put into practice, has been under consideration by the Government over a long period.
The House will be aware that much has been done through the Ministry of Pensions towards the rehabilitation and the resettlement of prisoners of war, and, indeed, also of civilians who suffered in the Far East. That is something, I think, upon which we are all agreed. There was a debate some nine or 10 months ago upon that subject, and the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low) referred to it and to the speech made by my hon. Friend the then Under-Secretary of State for War. He enunciated certain principles and reinforced those principles himself today during what, if I may say so, I thought was an extremely able and interesting speech.
We entirely accept the position which he put forward in broad terms, that His Majesty's Government are in a sense the insurers of their armed men in respect of injuries they may receive. I thought he was right in the emphasis he placed upon the function of the Government and the Ministry of Pensions in dealing with the real cases of hardship not covered in respect of these prisoners of war. He suggested that there should be a special pensions review. I am sure he will appreciate that that is something outside my province, but I can assure him that I will see that his suggestion is brought to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Minister.
I should like to give the House some information regarding certain matters to which reference has been made. The main reference was to the action taken by the United States Government and to the decision of the Australian Government. Of course, circumstances in both those countries are very different from those in which we find ourselves. Taking first the United States; at the end of the war that country's War Damage Corporation was in the fortunate position of having a very considerable surplus of some 210 million dollars. The premium for insurance against war damage had far exceeded the claims on the fund. A further sum of 90 million dollars was also provided from the sale of enemy assets in the United States. Payments by the 2260 United States Government to ex-prisoners of war and civilian internees from the Far East and to their dependants were made from this large sum. They were not supplied by the Japanese Government.
In this country, on the other hand, our war damage insurance scheme has had to meet enormous losses as a result of enemy action. As regards Japanese assets in this country, the amount is much smaller than that of Japanese assets in the United States. The value of the Japanese assets in the United Kingdom is estimated at about £1,250,000. The Australian Government have decided to set up a fund of £250,000—to be financed, if necessary, by the Exchequer—for making payments in cases of special hardship. They have also stated that if reparations are obtained from Germany and Japan, from which compensation could be paid in respect of lawless acts committed against Australian Service men during the war, the claims of former prisoners of war will be promptly considered by the Government.
If, therefore, we were to follow either the American or Australian arrangements we would have to find funds from sources already within this country, which is what they have proposed, and as I have explained the only such source would be Japanese assets, the value of which is relatively small. The Government are at present considering whether, after the peace treaty, the net value of the Japanese assets in this country, such as they may obtain might be used for the endowment, or otherwise for the benefit of, organisations and institutions whose work has been and can be of value in helping those in the United Kingdom who have suffered and the dependents in the United Kingdom of those who died as a result of captivity or internment in enemy hands during the war. A further statement on that particular aspect of the subject will be made in due course.
The question has been raised why in these circumstances we should not look to Japan herself to provide compensation. I recognise that the practical question of how much money could be obtained has been minimised in this debate and that the principle is the main thing to which hon. Members have had their attention drawn. But we must consider practicability. The scale of damage and the number of individuals concerned 2261 would be beyond computation if one considers the cases of hardship and suffering in our Far Eastern Dependencies—in Hong Kong, Malaya, Borneo and Western Pacific territories. In addition, similar claims of far greater importance could undoubtedly be submitted by other countries affected by war in the Far East such as Burma, China, and the Philippines.
One has to ask oneself if one attempts to get compensation for those purposes and earmark it, where the Japanese are going to obtain foreign exchange which would meet the just claims—we recognise they are just claims—of those who suffered at their hands. Japan's minimum imports of food and raw materials have been costing the United States Government little short of one million a day ever since September, 1945, and the Japanese economy, though improving steadily, still shows a balance of payments deficit.
Whilst, therefore, the Government are fully in sympathy with the motives of those who support this Motion, I must give the frank warning that there is really very little chance indeed of obtaining compensation from the Japanese. Against the background of the facts I have given it would be quite wrong to encourage those concerned to entertain any false hopes in the matter.
§ Mr. Younger
Perhaps I might say that if the proposal is that there should be some kind of levy on Japanese trade in some form or another for many years—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Hon. Members who ask "why not," have to consider in particular how that could possibly be enforced. I should have thought that experience of reparations after the first world war to which one of my hon. Friends referred showed that anything like that would be a vain illusion which it would be most unkind to ask ex-prisoners of war to rely upon.
I do not think it would be right to allow any prisoner of war in this country to think that any such method would be a way by which they would eventually get compensation, assuming we could get agreement on it from a considerable number of other countries who have claims and are interested in the right sort of 2262 treaty for Japan. I very much doubt whether this principle of levying this particular sum, assuming it to be appropriate to meet claims in this way, is one on which there would be much chance of obtaining agreement in peace treaty negotiations.
I am afraid this statement which I have made must inevitably be discouraging to hon. Members who support the Motion. There are misgivings, partly in principle but largely from the point of view of practical possibility. As I have already said, the House is taking a free decision on this matter, and the Government are anxious to leave it to the House. For their part, the Government feel that they should accept the proposition that consideration should be given to this matter as it has been given in recent weeks and months, perhaps more especially because we have reason to know that at least one Commonwealth country has said that it proposes to pursue the claim. I think, therefore, that it would perhaps be wrong for us to close the door on any consideration of this matter, but I should not like the House to think from anything I have said that we believe that the principle is likely to be acceptable to all who are engaged in the peace treaty, or, even if it was, that it would be possible to obtain any substantial compensation for these prisoners of war.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I have no doubt that the House will appreciate where the right hon. Gentleman's heart lies. I have no doubt that he sympathises with the terms of this Motion. I must confess that I was not very clear whether the Government accepted the principle behind the Motion. I feel that they might tell us whether they accept the principle that this is a just claim on the Japanese Government and nation for a calculated policy of atrocities carried out on prisoners of war during the late war.
When we know the answer to that, there comes the question of whether or not this claim can be enforced. I must say that I am not completely convinced by the argument that reparations proved a failure after the last war. They were, of course, on an entirely different scale. I think an interesting suggestion was made by the hon. and gallant Member 2263 for Scotstoun (Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison). I can see that there are certain objections to putting it to the Japanese Government themselves that if they now wish to come into the comity of nations they should accept their responsibilities for these acts in the past; but I think it is an attractive suggestion. I do not think the House should be entirely discouraged by the practical difficulties the Government have mentioned, although I must admit that I think when the Minister of State rightly points out that many other nations would have similar claims, that is a point we must take into account and with which we should be in sympathy.
I should like to address one or two remarks on the speeches made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low), and the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Wedgwood Benn). The points they made were rightly put, and I thought they were well put. The hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Brigadier Smyth) and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), pointed out that no one wanted to make political capital out of this matter, and I would say that no hon. Member who signed this Motion wants to make personal capital out of it. We do not claim that we have any more sympathy for prisoners of war in the Far East or in any other theatre than those who feel bound, for conscientious reasons, to differ from the terms of this Motion.
The hon. Member for Bristol. South-East, mentioned the case of the atom bomb. I would say to him that I think it is emotional to talk about the atomic bomb. To my mind there is no moral difference between dropping 100 high explosive bombs and dropping the atomic bomb.
§ Mr. Grimond
That may be. I understand the case of the extreme pacifist who says that anything to do with war is outside the pale of human society. But then of course we must drop all talk of reparations and all talk of war trials. Our Government are committed, as I understand it, to the principle that there are certain rules and practices in war which civilised nations accept. The war 2264 trials which have been carried on are one example of the acceptance of that principle.
The hon. Member mentioned that other nations, Britain in particular, might themselves have committed faults; let us put it that way. I think he mentioned atrocities, but let us call them mistakes. I do not accept that argument. Because one nation in far-off times has been guilty of evil things, is not an argument which permits nations today to conduct the sort of organised campaign of atrocities which the Japanese undertook. We heard that argument used before the war about the concentration camps in Germany. People said, "There is anti-Semitism in this country; there have been pogroms in other countries." But there was nothing like the calculated extermination of a race which took place in Germany before the war.
The hon. Member for Blackpool, North, accepted the main principle behind the Motion. He said he was in favour of the House expressing the view that we hold the Japanese Government and the Japanese people, in so far as any people are responsible in some degree for the action of their Government, responsible for what they did to our prisoners of war. I understand he accepted the view that we had a right to make a claim—a claim partly in compensation and partly to impress upon the world and the Japanese that no one can with impunity behave in that way to this nation or any other civilised nation in time of war and subsequently escape all responsibility.
I understand that he accepts that, and also accepts that this was a special case and that our men in Japan were treated in a way clean outside the ordinary hazards of war and quite beyond what a soldier may expect when he enlists. He then spoke about the Ministry of Pensions. He and the Minister of State spoke of the Government insuring the fighting man against the risk of war. But to my mind, if he accepts that these risks were outside the ordinary risks of war, then he cannot talk of insurance. One can only insure against a reasonably known and expected risk, such as the risk of being killed or being a prisoner; but the Ministry of Pensions and the Government, as I understand it, do not pretend to insure or protect a man 2265 against the continuous organised atrocities which went on in the Japanese prisoner of war camps. That is the difference. It is not a question of a man being wounded or a man suffering the ordinary hazards of war. These are people who suffered special hazards.
§ Mr. Grimond
I do not want to pursue the matter further at this stage. But if we accept that there is a special case here—a case of a nature which entitles the British Government to go to the Japanese Government and say, "Over and above the ordinary reparations you pay at the end of the war, we are entitled to demand a special payment because of what you have done to our prisoners of war"—then we accept the principle that what has happened to these people is outside the ordinary hazards of war.
§ Mr. Low indicated dissent——
§ Mr. Grimond
I see the hon. Gentleman does not agree. I fully appreciate his point of view. At any rate, I should not pursue this argument if I felt that by doing so we were absolving the Ministry of Pensions from responsibility for these men. I thought that point was made clear by the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood, who stated that all the ordinary pension rights would remain to these men. As has also been pointed our, both by the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West, this Motion does not in any way preclude from compensation civilians in the Far East or German prisoners of war. Naturally, a Motion like this must be limited in some way, but if the House wishes to go further and to investigate other claims I am sure no one would be happier than myself.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Would the hon. Gentleman be prepared to consider the claims of Japanese prisoners of war in Russian hands?
§ Mr. Grimond
No. We are responsible only for the acts of our own country. We are not responsible for running Russia. If we were, we might run it differently; 2266 at least, some of us might. Another argument advanced concerned the reparations claim over property. I do not believe that is relevant. This is over and above the question of property. This was a calculated campaign to exterminate human values in the prison camps.
The terms of the Motion are deliberately drawn widely. We do not seek to pin the Government exactly to this Motion. The Minister of State says he is examining the possibility of endowing certain institutions for helping people who may have suffered in the Far East. Speaking entirely for myself, I would say that that is a most attractive proposition. We are not in the least saying to the Government, "You must pay these men exactly this money and do it in exactly this way and give it to precisely these people." We are trying, first of all, to establish a principle for people who suffered from gross ill-treatment in an organised policy. Secondly, arising out of that, we are trying to establish that the Government should make some claim against the Japanese, should do what they can to enforce it, and should do something for those who suffered.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
Listening to the debate, I have been rather distressed by some of the arguments used from both sides of the House. There has been a tendency to produce some rather facile logic about equating the dropping of the atomic bomb and its results with the treatment of our prisoners in the Far East. I shall return to that point later in my speech.
At the outset, I would say, I think, that as they read the literature and the expressed views issued by the Far Eastern prisoners of war, hon. Members will have been struck by the very studied moderation with which they have presented their case. Do not let us be under any delusions that this country, where we frequently pride ourselves on being so calm, is not, in effect, subject to emotion. Many of us, even those of us who are relatively young, can remember the sort of emotionalism that was aroused at the end of the First World War, and I think that the Far Eastern prisoners of war would not have been outside their rights had they given the greatest publicity to the more horrific instances that occurred when they were 2267 prisoners in the Far East. They did not do that, and they have preferred—I think rightly—to base their case on one of principle, and to appeal to the moderate and modest sense of the people who have to adjudicate in these matters.
I should like to refer to one or two of the comments made by the Minister of State, as I frankly do not accept his official viewpoint that the economic capacity of Japan would not bear the imposition of some very strong penal demand. If one studies the photographs and documents of life in Japan now, one cannot help feeling that, for a nation that did what they did in the last war and committed the crimes that they did, a large part of the population is not having such a bad time.
That may be due to the under-pinning of the Japanese economy by the United States of America, and it may be that in the back of my hon. Friend's mind was the thought that we were going to find it very difficult to try to write into the peace treaty with Japan some clause to produce the compensation for which we are asking because, taking it to its logical conclusion, it would be the Americans who would pay for it. I do not think that that sort of consideration should be considered very much, because I have no doubt that some claim could be worked out whereby the compensation which is asked for tonight could be produced over a period of time in such a way that it would not wreck the economy of Japan.
Reference was made to the effects and the hopeless situation resulting from demanding excessive reparations from Germany after the First World War. I think it will be generally agreed that the knowledge of monetary technique has improved since then, and that we ought to be able to extract—if a satisfactory case can be proved—some adequate compensation for the people for whom we are speaking tonight.
I did have some correspondence with the Treasury last year on the subject of the Japanese frozen assets in this country, and I was rather amazed in one letter that I received from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to read that we were not disposed to earmark such frozen assets as we had for any particular purpose as this would be the subject of international 2268 agreement. But the United States did not do that. I think it was the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) who asked earlier on whether it was not a fact that the American legislation referred not only to Japanese but also to German ex-prisoners of war. I do not see how that affects the issue.
The fact is that the Custodian of Enemy Property in the United States was permitted by an Act of Congress to sequester the frozen assets and pay them into a fund for the compensation of prisoners of war. We are trying to build up some sort of Western democratic morality, and if it is moral for the Americans to do this, why should it not be moral to use what frozen assets we may possess, and, indeed, to secure other funds from Japan, in order to give our own people what the Americans have given theirs? I know that I am putting this in rather simple terms, but to my mind there is no particular harm in doing that.
I should like to refer now to one of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Wedgwood Benn). I do not think he is in the Chamber now. I am not blaming him for that. I think he said in his speech that the customs and usages of war have always taken into account the sort of atrocities which are the subject of our Motion tonight. But that just is not so; because if we create international law, if we create international conventions such as the Hague Convention and the Geneva Convention, with the express purpose of preventing these sorts of atrocities, then when these atrocities happen we should take steps to enforce them.
I should like to refresh the memories of hon. Members with the provisions of the Hague Convention and the Geneva Convention. The Hague Convention provides under Article III that the belligerent violating the principles and regulations annexed to the Convention shall, if the case demands it, be liable to pay compensation; and it further declares that such a belligerent shall be responsible for the acts committed by persons forming part of its armed forces.
The Geneva Convention provides that camps shall be in healthy areas—and one of my hon. Friends has given some evidence on that score. It also provides that the food and sanitation space must be 2269 on the same scale as that provided for the troops of the holding Power; that there should be hygienic and medical facilities; that work must not be connected with military operations; and that the discipline—except for corporal punishment, which is expessly forbidden—should be the same as for the troops of the holding Power, and that imprisonment for 30 days at one time is the severest form of punishment allowed.
All these provisions and many more were violated. I want to be as little offensive as I can, and to carry with me even the more extremist elements in the House, when I ask, What is the use of setting up a United Nations Organisation and all the world authorities if, when the time comes to enforce its rules, we have not got the guts to enforce them? Perhaps I have expressed myself rather heatedly, but a few days ago I had a chance meeting with one of the members of my local constituency association. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who introduced this Motion quite rightly drew the attention of the House to the fact that this was not a party matter, and could not and should not be a party matter. I wish that my own experience in my constituency had been the same, but I do not hold the House responsible for a local Conservative controlled newspaper which gave me a rather tough time.
It so happened that I had a chance of meeting with one of my local ex-prisoners of war. He was in Nagasaki and had been attending an electric motor at a factory when the atomic bomb fell. For days before that particular incident, when the whole place was virtually obliterated, he had been tending this motor although he was not technically equipped and fitted to do so, and at regular intervals the Japanese foreman whipped his legs. I examined his legs. There were rings of scars all the way up the calves. It seems to me that there is in this country a tendency to want to forget what happened in the years that these men spent in Japan.
There are many unpleasant things happening in the world which we would like to forget. There are great problems developing in Africa which we wish were not there, but they are there, and they have to be faced. Do not let us get into the habit of forgetting what went on. We must see that the nation 2270 does not forget, and that we do not forget. It may well be that in this post-war period we have to find new allies. Every single ally ought to be made to understand precisely what international morality is. Hon. Members in this House may remember a photograph that was published during the war, which fell by accident into Allied hands—a photograph taken by a Japanese soldier of some poor devil—I believe he was an Australian pilot who was shot down and captured in the Pacific—which showed him kneeling in front of a block, with a black ribbon across his eyes, about to be beheaded. I cannot forget that. I think that it is to the great credit of the people who asked us to put forward this Motion that they have not indulged in that sort of publicity in the country. I do not excuse myself for reminding hon. Members of that incident. I am merely saying that it is one of the things which should lend emotion and colour to this debate.
Lastly, let me say this: I think that the Government must understand that there is a strong feeling in the country about this matter. Many of us started off with the idea that this was a sort of pressure group trying to get money on the cheap. Some of us began by being rather hostile to the idea. I did. I have since studied the matter, and I consider that there is a strong case. May I suggest to my hon. Friend that if this Motion is carried tonight we shall regard it as the moral responsibility of the Government to bring this point to the attention of the Treaty Powers when they are convened.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I shall try to be brief and to compress my remarks into a few sentences. First, I see no objection to reparations, but those who may think that they are going to get something out of this should bear in mind the traditional difficulties of getting the actual money as the years pass. Our experience has been unhappy in that matter, and we must remember that we can only pay from one nation to another in goods.
Reparations, if paid at all, should be for hurt done which has caused lasting results to mind or body and, therefore, they should be distributed on a medical assessment of the hurt which has resulted 2271 and is still present. They should not be divided in relation to the number of days spent in a certain place. Some may have spent easy days even in Japan. There have been individual cases of prisoners who have acted as batmen and have consequently been tolerantly treated. There have been other cases where men have been most brutally treated. The test should not be how many days a man was a prisoner but whether he was hurt and how much.
If there were a fund out of which payment could be made, I am not sure that it ought really to go to prisoners of war. It ought to go to those who have been wounded, generally according to a medical assessment of their wounding. If it did go to prisoners of war I am sure that it should be done on the basis of a medical assessment. I cannot see any claim on behalf of widows, and it is only right that I should say so. Who can say that the widow of a man who died as a prisoner in Japan suffered greater anxiety than the widow of a man who did not come up from the submarine the other day? How can we pick out one widow for a bonus, from whatever source it comes, and leave other widows without it? I cannot think that that is fair.
The Government have shown a profound lack of courage in dealing with this matter. They have come here with a half-baked suggestion about using assets in this country for some benevolent purpose and a half-suggestion that there should be a fund for these men, but the scheme is not yet worked out although they have been considering it for months. They ought to have had the courage to come here and say where they stood. If there was a Division I should vote against them and would support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Norwood (Brigadier Smyth) in his Motion.
The Government ought to have said where they stood, either that they had a plan or that they had not a plan. To leave it to the House and then say that they have been giving the matter consideration for months shows a shameful lack of responsibility. I would vote for the Motion if there was a Division, but I plead with the House that there should not be a Division. It is essentially a matter about which there ought not to be a vote. Let the Government accept 2272 the Motion, and I beg them, when they come to consider it, to deal with it according to the principles which in these very few minutes I have tried to establish.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)
All hon. Members will feel that it is pleasant on certain occasions to have a discussion which does not proceed strictly on party lines and I believe that we should all like to pay tribute to the speeches which have already been made. A certain amount of heat has been engendered on one or two points, but they have been points only of argument and not of prejudice. This is not just a cry from the past; it is a matter which is of present practical importance. Our troops are engaged in hostilities against forces many of whom served with the Japanese Army in the last war, and, therefore, the result of this discussion and any decision that the House may take may do something to see that those who are unfortunately taken prisoner in the present campaign are rather better treated.
There are three stages in the argument. The first is the vindication of the claim itself and the obtaining of the judgment; the second is the assessment and the collection of the damages; and the third is the distribution of the proceeds. As to the distribution of the proceeds. I do not believe that any strong views are held by-anybody who has spoken in favour of the Motion, although the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) put forward an interesting suggestion and my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) has made another suggestion for the distribution of any money which may be obtained. There has been some criticism of the figure that has been put forward for the assessment or the computation of the claim. It was very difficult to get any rough and ready basis of assessment, and so the calculation was suggested of so much for each day of imprisonment, thus quantifying the claim but not regulating the manner in which the money would be distributed.
I am perfectly certain that one is speaking on behalf of these prisoners of war when one says that they do not want to get anything at the expense of their fellow countrymen and they do not want to do anyone out of their just rights in other 2273 sections of the community that may have been similarly wronged. I was very disappointed with the reply of the Minister of State, and speaking personally I do not think it is good enough. The best part of the speech was his announcement that there would be a free vote, and I am authorised for the Opposition to say that there will also be a free vote on this matter on this side of the House tonight.
The hon. Gentleman emphasised the difficulties of collection. What I should like to have had from him was a clear statement that this claim is going to be formulated and prosecuted, and that we are going to see it is acknowledged by the Japanese. There was nothing in the hon. Gentleman's speech to give us any hope that any of those things were going to be done. We further suggested that some action might be taken along the lines taken by the Americans of using sequestered Japanese assets, though in our case it would only be as a token, or to consider the Australian action of setting up a commission to report on the matter.
What I do not understand is, what is the difficulty about this matter? The real point is that we should vindicate the rule of law in international affairs. Sections of The Hague and Geneva Conventions have been read to the House, and I will not weary hon. Members with the actual words again. But they specifically provide for an offending Power to pay compensation, and they further lay down that a belligerent is responsible for all acts committed by persons forming part of their armed forces. Therefore, we have a clearly, defined legal right, and if we are ever going to get international law to work we have got to make use of it.
All these arguments about what should be done, what claim should be formulated or not formulated, and so on are completely irrelevant to that issue. What we want to establish is that there has been a breach of international law, and if there has been such a breach the Government should prosecute the suit on behalf of those offended against and, at least, bring the offending Power to judgment. Whether any money is got out of it afterwards is a different matter, but the important thing is to vindicate the rule of international law.
We come then to a question of fact. I do not think there is any dispute in any 2274 part of the House with regard to the fact that there was a breach of these two conventions, one of which the Japanese Government signed and ratified, and the other of which they agreed to by telegram in February, 1942. What is more, it is quite clear that the breaches of these agreements or conventions were a deliberate act of Government policy. I was told only today that one Japanese officer when discussing this matter, said, "You have got to remember that this is a 100 years war. We may lose the first round, but we shall win in the end." Possibly that throws an interesting light on what the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), said about the re-armament of the Japanese. If it is indeed to be 100 years war, it is as well that the Japanese nation should know at a comparatively early stage that they are expected to observe the conventions and the rules of international law.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Do I understand the hon. and learned Member is against Japanese re-armament? Am I to get no reply?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I have no intention of being distracted, for there have been enough distractions in this debate already. My point was that this was a deliberate act of Government policy, and I give an example to show something of the Japanese mentality which might be behind that. Another Japanese officer said that it was, in fact, their intention and desire that the white man should lose face throughout the East. It was deliberately done to discredit and disparage the white man, as a deliberate act of policy.
I am told that in committing that deliberate act of policy considerable lengths were gone to in certain cases. In one case where a camp was visited—very much an exceptional happening—by a representative of the protecting Power, all the conversations were vetted beforehand. Officers were required to tell what they were going to say to the visitors, and they were threatened with the severest penalties if they said anything which had not been previously vetted. False notices were put up to indicate that there was a canteen in a certain place and that certain goods were purchaseable there when in fact no such goods were purchaseable and there was no such canteen. I give that example to show that the Japanese knew perfectly 2275 well what were the rules and that they were deliberately refusing to carry them out.
The Japanese Prime Minister himself is reputed to have said to the commanders of prison camps that they must not be obsessed by mistaken ideas of humanitarianism. The Japanese Government actually issued a manual dealing with the most effective methods of torture. It is clear that this was a deliberate act of Government policy and these were deliberate breaches of international law.
To reinforce this point—this is a personal matter which comes back to the rights and wrongs of the individual—and to show that we really cannot continue to do nothing about this matter, I should like to give particulars of the case of an interpreter who expressed the opinion to the Japanese commandant that the Japanese had no right to strike a prisoner. As a result, he was severely assaulted and beaten up in the office and was then confined in a Japanese air raid shelter in front of the guardroom for 86 days. He was fed on one bowl of rice and one mug of water per day. He was not allowed to wash or shave or to speak to anyone. As the result, at the end of his confinement he became mentally deranged, contracted blackwater fever and nearly died. That is a typical case. To those who study these matters the horrifying thing is that it is difficult to select one example which is more horrible than the others. It was the general course of treatment meted out.
I do not think any hon. Member can dispute that there were these breaches of international law. The figures speak for themselves, by the percentage of deaths. My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale asked why should the widow of a former Far Eastern prisoner of war be compensated because of the death of her husband. We believe that in the case of by far the greatest percentage the deaths were completely unnecessary and would not have happened but for these breaches of international law.
§ Sir I. Fraser
I did not raise the question whether a widow ought to be compensated. I asked: "Shall we put the widow of an ex-prisoner of war before the widow of a man who was in that submarine?" 2276 That is what I said, which is quite a different question.
§ Mr. Lloyd
They are in two completely different categories and I would take each of them upon its merits. One desires that they should both be adequately compensated. The point is that one man would not have died except as a result of a breach of international law, and that there is a claim for compensation. All we are dealing with in regard to these people is claims under the international convention to which the Japanese were parties.
The suggestion is made that it is the Government's duty to compensate. It may be so, it may be the Government's duty to pay proper pensions but what has that to do with the right of action under international law? They are completely different matters. If we want to uphold the rule of international law we have to see that breaches of it are punished. One hon. Member said that he did not like the idea of equal payments. But that is a comparatively minor matter. Again there is the objection that the Motion does not cover the position of ex-German prisoners of war. If any of them were treated in breach of international law they have an equal claim, and I hope that the Government would be the first to acknowledge that, and come forward and sustain their case.
Nor am I despondent about the possibility of collection. I am told that the Japanese Prime Minister has announced, or it has been announced by some one speaking for the Japanese Government, that they desire the interest of their foreign bonds to be paid again. Why? To re-establish their financial credit. If they want to re-establish their moral credit, if they want to be admitted to the comity of nations, if they regret what has gone on in the past, let them make some payment on account of this claim.
It is impossible for the House to forget these things. I do not think that the attitude of the Government has been as outspoken and definite as it should have been. I hope very much that the House will not see fit to defeat this Motion; I hope that it will accept it with no one voting against it, and that the Government, having accepted this Motion, will then proceed to take some definite and active steps to prosecute this claim.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Booth (Bolton, East)
I cannot adduce any further arguments, I have not the time to do so, but I am more than grateful to have the opportunity to link myself with others in support of this Motion. I can only say, like so many more who saw those prisoners come home, and remembering that the Bolton Battalion had scarcely landed at Singapore before it fell into Japanese hands, that I listened with alarm to the Minister talking about reparations after the previous war and the dislocation that they caused. I quite agree with what he said in that respect, but for him to link it with the payment to 35,000 men—not much more than a phantom brigade—disappointed and bewildered me.
If the Government have been considering this matter—I cannot see much evidence of it, but I will certainly accept that that is so—I am fairly sure that the Government will consider it to much better purpose if they are directed by this House. If they accept the will of this House tonight they will give consideration to this claim. That is all that we are asking. I am not concerned about other prisoners or about the payment——
§ Brigadier Smyth rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. Booth
I am concerned only that whatever proposals emerge, whatever payment may be decided upon, a token will be laid upon the altar—I put it that way because I feel that way about it—in reparation of a breach of that international law to which we have all subscribed, and which, it has been truly said, is the only hope of the nations in the coming days.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House is of the opinion that His Majesty's Government should give very early consideration to the claim of the British Far Eastern prisoners of war, and the dependants of those who died in capitivity, for compensation from the Japanese through treaty or by other methods for the brutalities, indignities and gross under-nourishment to which they were subjected in flagrant contravention of The Hague Convention, on similar lines to the action already taken by the United States Government or that decided upon by the Australian Government in this connection.