On 21 July 1988, I drew the attention of the House to an early-day motion which had attracted a large number of signatures. It stated:
That this House, in welcoming the growing friendship between Japan and the United Kingdom, believes that this friendship will not fully blossom until the wrongs done during the Second World War to Allied prisoners are fully accepted by the Japanese Government and due reparation made.
The response of the Minister of State was strangely ambivalent. He conceded that a debt of gratitude was owed to all who had fought and suffered in world war 2, but a Labour Government had signed the 1951 treaty with Japan and their Conservative successor had ratified it. That treaty, said the Minister, was binding on us all, and was a full and final settlement. It was nothing of the kind. British service men who survived Japanese cruelty and neglect—I emphasise the word "survived"—received the pitiful sum of £76·50, and civilian internees received £48·50 from the proceeds of Japanese assets seized here at the outbreak of war. That was all. Worse than that, the treaty ignored all the established international conventions governing the laws of war and the treatment of prisoners.
Ironically, although I have never heard anybody say it, the treaty spat in the face of the third Geneva convention of 1949 to which we had put our signature two years earlier. The House may like to know what that convention stated. Article 129 provided that persons who committed "grave breaches" should be brought to account. Article 130 defined grave breaches as
wilful killing, torture and inhumane treatment, including biological experiments, wilfully causing grave suffering and serious injury to body or health.
Moreover, Parliament and the nation were not ignorant of what had happened to our service men and civilians who had had the misfortune to fall into Japanese hands. On 28 January 1944 the House had listened in silent horror —as one of our great national newspapers said at the time —to a statement by the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Anthony Eden. Speaking in a low voice, as the newspaper described it—one can imagine the atmosphere in the House because we were still at war with Germany and with Japan—he said:
I fear I have grave news to give to the House."—[Official Report, 28 January 1944; Vol. 396, c. 1029.]
He then gave details of the appalling ill treatment of thousands of British and Commonwealth prisoners.
I had the good fortune, one might say, of serving on the personal staff of Admiral Lord Mountbatten, supreme allied commander in south-east Asia. I went straight there after the general election in 1945 and I saw for myself the condition of some of the pitiful survivors of Japanese cruelty then coming out of prison camps. It was a moving experience, although by that time we all knew what to expect as the war came to an end.
I will set out the stark facts. In 1946 Parliament was told in Command Paper 6832 that of the total number of British prisoners of war who fell into enemy hands in Europe and in the middle east, 5·5 per cent. died in capitivity. That was not an excessively large figure because it must have included many who, when captured, were already grieviously wounded. Of those who fell into German hands, 5·5 per cent. died in capitivity, but the proportion who died at the hands of the Japanese in a shorter period was four to five times greater.
Mr. Eden said in his statement that the Japanese
had violated not only the principles of International Law but all canons of decent and civilised conduct.
Let the Japanese Government reflect that in time to come the record of their military authorities in this war will not be forgotten."—[Official Report, 28 January 1944; Vol. 396, c. 1032–3.]
I wish to remind hon. Members, many of whom were not even born at that time, that that record should never be forgotten. Down the ages, civilised nations—but not the war-time Japanese—have waged war under rules governing the treatment of prisoners, the sick and the wounded. One of our greatest commanders, Field Marshal Slim, who led the 14th army down through Burma to Rangoon driving the Japanese before him, recorded much later what his troops found in the final stages. The prisoner-of-war camps that they uncovered were
little more than barbed wire enclosures in which wild beasts might have been herded together.
He described the Japanese gaolers
almost without exception as being callously indifferent to suffering, or at the worst, bestially sadistic. The food was of a quality and a quantity barely enough to keep men alive, let alone fit them for the hard labour that most were driven to perform. It was horrifying to see them moving slowly about these sordid camps, all emaciated, many walking skeletons, numbers covered with suppurating sores and most naked apart from the ragged shorts they had worn for years or loin cloths of sacking. The most heart moving of all were those who lay on wretched pallets, their strength ebbing faster than relief could be brought to them.
Such deliberate cruelty and utter indifference to suffering had been characteristic of the Japanese from the start of hostilities. As so many hon. Members were children or not even born at that time, it is necessary to spell that out. I cite the case of my friend Bill Holtham, who lives not very far away from me in Essex. He was wounded in the last stages of the fighting in Singapore and was taken into the Alexander hospital which, as the Japanese advanced, was soon in no man's land. As the Japanese closed in, they stormed the hospital, killing the doctors and hospital staff and savagely bayoneting the sick in their beds. Holtham was one of the very few eye witnesses of their barbarity. He managed to escape—but not for long. He was re-captured and sent to labour on the infamous Siam-Burma railway, where our men were to die like flies.
I cite the case of the 1,080 British prisoners shipped out on the Singapore Maru for slave labour in Japanese-occupied territory; 23 desperately ill men were taken off before the ship sailed, 63 died on the voyage and their bodies were thrown overboard, 280 sick men were left aboard the vessel at the port of arrival, six weeks later, 127 of them were dead.
Try, if you can, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to imagine the sadistic games that the Japanese guards played in the camps—for example, binding a man with barbed wire, forcing water down his throat through a hosepipe and then jumping on him in sheer delight, or tying men to trees in full sight of their comrades, without food or water in the burning heat by day and the bitter cold by night, screaming in agony at first and then, as their lives drained away on the second or third day, falling silent.
Can you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, imagine any greater depravity than what happened at a camp for British slave labourers at Saigon docks? On three Saturday evenings in succession, leading Japanese dignitaries in the area and their womenfolk were invited to a drinks party in the camp compound. Tables were set out, food was laid, and the saki flowed. Guards then dragged out a prisoner chosen at random. There was no warning—the guards seized a prisoner, dragged him out, bound him to a pole in the middle of the compound and slowly beat him to death in front of the invited guests, who applauded ever more loudly in their intoxication.
Spare a thought, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for those who came home later, but whose suffering continues to this day. I shall not name any names, but in every case that I cite an affidavit has been made. There is the case of a young prisoner who was beaten repeatedly by Japanese rifle butts and then thrust into a small bamboo cage in the full sight of his fellow prisoners and kept there for several days without food or water. When the war ended and he came home an absolute wreck, did his release end his suffering? Not at all—he was to spend the next seven years in and out of Roehampton hospital, Guy's hospital, and the hospital for tropical diseases.
Let us reflect on the agonies of another survivor who is still alive today. In his years of captivity he suffered in succession chronic enteritis, dengue fever, bacillary dysentery, amoebic dysentery, tropical ulcers, pellagra, Weil's disease, pulmonary tuberculosis, beri-beri and rheumatic fever. On capture he weighed 11 stone, but on release he weighed four and a half stone. Despite his condition, he was repeatedly beaten by his gaolers. Since his return home, broken in health, he has lost the sight of one eye.
Let me tell hon. Members exactly what that man has experienced since his return home. He had rheumatic fever in an RAF hospital in December 1945. In 1952 he had an appendectomy. In 1973 he had a toe removed. In 1978 he had a prostatectomy, three operations in 20 hours, intensive care for five days and a transfusion of 26 pints of blood. In 1981 he had a massive detachment of the retina of his left eye. At that time he had glaucoma in his right eye. In 1982 he had a second detachment. I have the names of the distinguished surgeons who attended him. In June 1983 he had a third detachment, and in September of that year he had a fourth detachment.
In December 1984 he had a large cyst removed from his left testicle. That was at Luton and Dunstable hospital. In June 1985, he had an orchidectomy on the left side. In April 1986, his left eye was removed by an eye surgeon. In February 1988, he had a total replacement of his right knee. In 1990 he had a coronary artery bypass grafting.
We now come to the present year. In January, resulting from all that had gone before, he had an incisional hernia —his sternum had failed—and last month he had a freezing and destruction of haemorrhoidal tissue. I should like to know how, in heaven's name, that poor devil still lives—a life-long victim of Japanese cruelty.
Try to grasp if you can, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the fact that many of the survivors of that cruelty have had nightmares ever since. Men have told me how they wake up sweating and fearful, usually followed by bouts of depression. In such cases—I know of one—that has led to severe heart conditions. Thus the price of being a wartime guest of the Japanese is still being paid by many of our men 45 years later.
Yet that is only a tiny fraction of what has been suffered by men still living. Some of them will be known to hon.
Members on both sides who have connections with ex-service men's organisations. They will know perfectly well what I am talking about. All these cases were set out in affidavits that were signed and witnessed and checked at the Ministry of Defence. If there is any sense of honour in today's Japanese, they should make generous recompense without further delay—as the second richest nation on earth, they can well afford it.
They will have to face the issue anyway, whether they like it or not. For in 1988, I told the House that the Canadian defenders of Hong Kong had lodged a claim for compensation with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, based on resolution 1503 of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. That was done under the inspired leadership of a remarkable Canadian, Clifford Chatterton. He had not been a prisoner of the Japanese, but he had been severely wounded in the war. The Canadian claim had the full support of a number of leading international organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross the International Committee of Jurists, the World Veterans Federation, the International Commission of Health Professionals and Amnesty International. The Minister who replied was totally unaware that the Canadians had raised the matter in that way. The Canadian case was founded on details of the medical sequelae of what had happened to the victims of Japanese barbarism, and it called for compensation for gross violation of human rights.
Since then, I am glad to say that there have been impressive developments. The Japanese Labour Camp Survivors Association of Great Britain is well known to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark), who sits for a constituency that I once represented. That association, led superbly by Bill Holtham, whose experience I have already described, has submitted its own detailed case to the United Nations commission. Similar representations have been made by veterans' organisations in Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the Netherlands. The Dutch are deeply involved, because there were many Dutch people in south-east Asia.
I do not know what the response will be. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights gave Japan six months in which to provide an answer and that period is nearly over. My information is that there is a stirring of conscience in Japan especially among the younger people. Yesterday's Daily Telegraph, commenting that
the Japanese, the world's greatest face savers are learning to say sorry".
stated that the Japanese Prime Minister had apologised during an official visit by the Canadian Prime Minister. According to another newspaper account, Prime Minister Kaifu told Prime Minister Mulroney that Japan is trying to build on the lessons of the war. He said:
we have shown our contrition. We feel very rigorously contrite about the unbearable sufferings and hardships that were brought upon the peoples of the Asian Pacific by the acts of the Japanese state.
At a news conference a little later, Prime Minister Kaifu said:
I expressed this feeling very candidly to Prime Minister Mulroney. By saying that I expressed my apologies for the unbearable sufferings and the pains that were caused by the Japanese state against the Canadian people who experienced such sufferings in the Asian Pacific at the hands of the Japanese state.
Yet so far the Japanese Government have refused to offer compensation to second world war prisoners of war on the
ground that the peace treaties signed in 1951–52 terminated Japan's obligations. That was what I was told by the Minister who answered my Adjournment debate in 1988—that the matter was concluded by the peace treaty signed in 1951 within a few short years of the ghastly happenings that I have described.
If we are talking solely about apologies, what about apologies to the other five nations whose men suffered grievously? The pleas of veterans of six nations were received by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. What about an apology to British, American and Australian veterans? Incidentally, a higher proportion of American and Australian prisoners than British in the far east died at the hands of their captors. What about an apology to New Zealand and Dutch veterans? And while we are about it, what about an apology to the civilians of all six nations who had the misfortune to fall into Japanese hands?
I remind my hon. Friend the Minister who is to reply to this debate that what the Japanese did was in defiance of all the normal usages and conventions of war. They disgraced themselves before the world. I do not want to hammer them now—I want them to respond and to show that they are civilised. I expect the Governments of the six nations whose ex-service men have appealed to seek such a response from the Japanese. There are subtle ways of showing our intense displeasure to the Japanese Government, but this should be done.
As I understand it, the Japanese Prime Minister is to attend an economic summit meeting in London next month. May we therefore expect a similar apology here? I should state right away that apologies are not enough when we consider the agonies endured by the survivors, and by the widows and the children of those who did not return. Apologies—the Japanese Prime Minister must be joking, and if so, it is a joke in the worst possible taste from him or from any Government. Or perhaps he is sincere —if so, we shall see. Many of the victims are still alive today. Their families and friends cry out for justice.
It must be said, however, that in regard to today's Japanese, we are dealing not with a brutal military dictatorship responsible for the monstrous crimes against humanity that I have described, but with a people who have embraced parliamentary democracy, whose inventiveness and industrial efficiency have made them rich and respected. We must be fair about this. The opportunity is there for them to make a generous recompense and to demonstrate that today's Japan is a truly civilised and responsible member of the world community.
When my hon. Friend the Minister replies, I hope that he will not, like his predecessor, say that the matter was closed by the signing of the 1951 treaty. It was not closed then, and it is not closed now. This is a grave issue about which not only the victims are still understandably bitter, but many people in our country and in five others. There cannot be one hon. Member of this House who has not encountered in his constituency someone who went through that bitter experience or met a widow of someone who did not return.
I have been listening intently to my right hon. Friend and I congratulate him on securing this Adjournment debate and on the way in which he has presented his case. I am one of those to whom he referred who was born after these atrocities occurred.
I do not for one moment suggest that the boot could ever have been on the other foot, but were it on the other foot I have no doubt that hon. Members of this House would have responded generously in the way in which my right hon. Friend is suggesting that the Japanese Government should respond. I have constituents who have been caused to write to me to speak of the suffering that my right hon. Friend described so graphically to us tonight. They experienced that suffering. They express great support for his efforts.
The Japanese Government gave substantial support to the effort in the Gulf earlier this year. Substantial sums of money were paid. Does my right hon. Friend agree that some similar response is desirable and appropriate, bearing in mind that this year we were dealing with the horrors of the tyrant, Saddam Hussein, and we now have to put right the need for recompense for the horrors of what happened in the early 1940s?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his generous reference to what I have said. I agree wholeheartedly with him. It is true that the Japanese, like other nations, made a contribution to the efforts of the coalition—which, incidentally, included some Arab nations—to deal with Saddam Hussein. That is not the subject of this debate, but it is a great tragedy that in the brilliant military operation against the world's fourth largest army—an army equipped with sophisticated weapons by nations which should have thought twice about it—hostilities were called off when just a few short days more would have allowed Saddam Hussein to be dealt with. One of the most tragic events is what happened then to the Kurds in northern Iraq. I understand that that subject may be raised later this evening, and I am glad that that is so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) put his finger on it. As more and more people become aware of the details of what our men went through, they will become more and more angry. My hon. Friend the Minister should bear in mind that many people in Britain and in the other five countries are deeply concerned. I give a warning—that if the Japanese choose to ignore the action taken by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, public opinion around the world will react.
My next point may sound like a diversion, but it is not. I ask the Minister to recall the extraordinary happenings in eastern Europe in the past two years. People power exerted itself successfully against cruel tyranny. A distinguished British observer, who happened to be in Berlin when the wall came tumbling down, and in Budapest and Prague at the crucial time in those cities, said of the peaceful revolutions which took place:
no Bastilles were stormed, no guillotines were erected and lamp-posts were used only for lighting the streets.
We still do not fully comprehend the extraordinary developments that took place as communism tumbled in eastern Europe. I know some of the countries well, yet I never thought that the end of communist tyranny in eastern Europe would come so soon.
My right hon. Friend has already acknowledged my interest in the far east prisoners of war from south-east Essex, where we both live. My right hon. Friend is coming to the end of his speech. Is he aware that time is not on the side of the people to whom he refers? Many of the men whom we both know were strapping young chaps of 20 in 1941. They are now 70. While it is a miracle that they have survived at all, they are entering the twilight of their lives and if action is not taken speedily it will be too late for them to benefit from anything that my right hon. Friend is attempting to achieve. For all the men who were 20, there were others who were 25, 26 or 27, who had wives in Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Holland or America. Many of those women were widowed and never married again. Many of them brought up their children or led their lonely lives without any assistance from anyone. They were five or six years older and are now in their mid 70s. Time is important for them, too. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is urgent that any action that is taken should be taken immediately?
I entirely agree. That is what I have been saying for years. I said it soon after the end of the second world war. I was out there and saw some of the suffering as our men came out of Japanese prison camps. It is not to me but to Governments that my hon. Friend's question should be put. That is the purpose of raising the matter on the Adjournment today.
I am perfectly well aware of the advancing years. If I was a youngster when I joined the Army at the beginning of the second world war, I am not exactly a youngster now. None of us knows how much time we have. The reason why I listed the injuries and sufferings of a small number of the people who were prisoners of the Japanese was that I wanted to make people realise, not only in the House but in the nation as a whole, that the men who survived all that are walking miracles. When one knows someone as I do, and has listened to that person's private griefs and sorrows and witnessed his sufferings, it brings tears to one's eyes.
Not I but Governments must be impressed—and that means the Governments in Britain and in Canada. I should like to know what Canadian veterans intend to ask Prime Minister Mulroney. What response did he make to the Japanese Prime Minister? I understand that they are already asking that question. The same will happen in the Netherlands, the United States, and certainly in Australia and New Zealand. It is not to me that the questions should be addressed. I do not have to be convinced—all my political life I have fought against injustice wherever I have found it, and I have found it sometimes in Britain. The purpose of an Adjournment debate is to bring to the attention of Parliament wrongs that have been done and not put right by the authorities. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and I know where his heart lies on this matter.
My hon. Friend interrupted me—I do not mind because it was a perfectly valid point—when I was saying that we have witnessed in Europe in the past two years people power being exercised against the authorities. If there is not a response by Governments—and first of all by the Japanese—that anger will be reflected by public opinion in the countries concerned. This is a democracy and people cannot be prevented from learning the truth. There is anger in the constituencies on this subject and I hope that, as a result of this debate, many more people will start asking why we have had to wait all these years for something to be done.
I hope, therefore, that when the Japanese Prime Minister comes to London for the economic summit, he will apologise to us, too. If an apology can be made to Canada, it can be made to the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands. That will be the beginning, however, not the end—we want not just words of contrition, but generosity of spirit and practical compensation. If the Japanese, now the second richest nation on earth, could make a contribution while others did their fighting for them in the Gulf, they can find the money to make decent reparation to men who have suffered long years of ill health and deprivation as a result of the treatment that they received from the Imperial Japanese army.
I trust that the Minister appreciates that this grave matter will not go away and that there are many people in the House and vast numbers outside who will weigh his every word.
I support and endorse much of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) said. I wish at the outset to express a personal, family interest. The Burma Campaign was my campaign in which my father, brothers and cousins were deeply involved. I never quite forgave the British Government for not acknowledging VJ day in the way in which they acknowledged VE day. Our army was the forgotten army—the 14th Army—and one of my cousins had the misfortune to be imprisoned by the Japanese.
People may say that it happened a long time ago. To me, in my lifetime, it was not all that long ago. The Cambridgeshire regiment suffered particular misfortune, and there were not too many survivors. Unlike my right hon. Friend, I do not feel any real vindictiveness over what happened to my family, although, in a way, the survivors never really survived, even if they survived physically. The damage was very deep, lifelong and permanent.
Neither I nor my father nor my brothers had any feeling of hatred against the Japanese people. Even so, the rules of war—there is a thin veneer separating barbarism from the notion of civilisation—were cruelly broken and people and their relatives were deeply injured. An outrage was committed.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point asked for an apology. I was in Canada in recent weeks when an apology was given to the Canadian people. I do not think that such an apology is necessarily right. I should have thought that my Japanese friends, recognising the enormity of what was inflicted, would respond generously to the few survivors of that agony and would, in doing so, not only want to wipe the slate clean on an unhappy past but would wish to represent to a new generation the thought that things have changed, that there is a new Japan and that there is a new relationship between our people.
In his inspiring and excellent speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) referred to the captivity experienced by many civilians in the far east. In October 1988 I had the privilege of attending a reunion of 350 people in my constituency. The gathering was held there because a remarkable lady named Mrs. Renee Cumberbatch, who herself suffered incarceration, organised the event. I met people who had come from various parts of the world and whose spirit and resilience were magnificent.
Mrs. Cumberbatch was 22 when she was sent with her five-month old baby daughter to a camp by the Japanese. She had been forcibly separated from her husband. In the camp—she wrote these details later in a report—sanitation was poor, daily meals comprised a bowl of Japanese-style porridge, thin stew, black bread and gruel and she emerged after less than a year weighing about six stones, despite being nearly 6ft tall.
One could cite many examples of that type of suffering. I am anxious to put on record the fact that, in addition to the appalling suffering experienced by our military prisoners of war, there were, in terms of the British—and many others from other nations—about 8,000 people caught up in those appalling events. We should remember them in supporting what my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point has asked for tonight.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) for raising this topic. I was a schoolboy aged 11 when war broke out. My mother was chairwoman of the Prisoners of War Relatives' Association. As the House knows, a substantial part of the Cambridgeshire regiment went straight to Singapore and was immediately captured, having hardly any opportunity to fight.
Throughout my childhood years during the war our family house was full of parcels destined for that area. Only a relatively small number of parcels got through, but my recollection as a teenager is of the walking very tall, emaciated, rather yellow British men of the Cambridgeshire regiment who came to thank my mother. Although she was only part of the team, her name was on the parcels, being the chairwoman of the organisation. They came to thank her because, although only a relatively small proportion of parcels got through, they had saved a considerable number of lives.
We cannot go on living in the past. We must look to the future. That is why I hope that, with the enormous prosperity that Japan enjoys—because of the hard work, assiduity and skills of the Japanese people—that country will respond with magnanimity to the representations that have been made in the House. Then we can get away from the past and start looking to the future. The Japanese have great wealth and large numbers of them have great generosity of spirit. If we can get rid of this problem of the past once and for all, a great service will have been achieved for the civilised community.
I hope that the Minister will echo that sentiment when he replies to the debate. I hope that we can get rid of that aspect of the past by a generous response from the Japanese. In view of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point said, hopefully we can put it all behind us and look to the future by co-operating in making the world a better and more prosperous place.
I, too, pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) for having raised this subject on the Adjournment and for the passion and sincerity of his speech.
He and I jointly launched a book a few years ago on the experiences of a south-east Essex man as a Japanese prisoner of war. My right hon. Friend is also aware of the other books on the subject that have been written. I have just finished reading a book by John Cosworth entitled "Line of Lost Lives" which details clearly the privations suffered by the Cambridgeshire regiment, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James). Many members of the Cambridgeshire regiment were captured at that time and suffered terribly at the hands of the Japanese.
Three years ago, a constituent of mine published a book called "Tamajo" which my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point and I launched. Its author, Mr. Ernest Warwick, suffered badly at the hands of the Japanese and came out of a Japanese camp, as my right hon. Friend has described, broken in health. But the remarkable thing about such men is that they were not broken in spirit and managed to survive because their spirit was not broken. They received as much help as possible from the medical services of this country when they returned.
As a boy of 10 or 11 years old, I remember having my first post-war holiday on the Lincolnshire coast when my father returned from the war and seeing those gaunt, skeletal men trying to feed themselves back up. They spent no more than a half an hour in the garden before they were fatigued and would return to the house to try to sleep and to get more food.
My constituent and many others like him, who returned to this country in the late 1940s and had fine medical treatment, are often denied the compassion that they deserve when they go before medical boards and are declared 5 per cent. disabled. They are severely disabled from the privation that they suffered in Japan.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister ensure that substantial compensation will be made by the Japanese? We, too, need to be more compassionate in medical and social security terms to those who have suffered, and not just dismiss their complaints as the aches or pains of old age. They are far more serious than that—they are the aches and pains of suffering, anguish and of seeing their friends die. I hope that, as well as expecting the Japanese to make compensation, we shall show more compassion than we have in the past to our fellow country men and women who suffered incarceration by the Japanese for a number of years.
I am among the last to rise because further speeches are superfluous and I am not sure whether anything could improve on the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). However, it struck me as he spoke that there has been little pressure in this country for the cause that he so well espoused. At first sight, that is surprising. I then recalled my uncle, who is the sole survivor of a squadron. He is alive and well—more or less—and in his 70s. He has written and contributed to two books and there is an account of his war years in the Imperial War museum. I have never heard him ask me, as a Member of Parliament, "Please will you do something?"
As the sole survivor of a squadron, my uncle can recount crossing the sea by a boat on which hundreds of people were packed, knowing that by the time it arrived, very few would be alive. He, too, was beaten and had his nails pulled out and he escaped more than once. Moreover, he has had all the diseases. At the end of the war, he left Japan with a man who went mad. People who have been through such experiences do not complain or besiege Members of Parliament morning, noon and night, asking for help. The aspect that I remember most about my uncle is that, despite all the terrible traumas that he has endured, he does not complain. Those who died all around him cannot complain.
There is a new mood of reconciliation between countries throughout the world. We hear today that the Bulgarians have admitted the deliberate killing of Mr. Markov in the Strand. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point is responsible for great work with the Soviets, trying to get them to admit to the most awful crimes perpetrated in modern history. Last week, I was in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and I know that Germany is remorseful about the atrocities of the second world war and the holocaust. Perhaps the time has come for the Japanese to show similar remorse. It is not too late and they should not be misled by the fact that the clamour has not been enormous in this country because of people like my uncle, who have not been inclined, out of concern for their lost friends and because so many people are not here to raise that clamour.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, who will no doubt meet Mr. Kaifu when he comes shortly, will pass on the excellent speech made by my right hon. Friend and the depth of feeling that exists in the House and in the country among those of us who know of or are closely related to those who suffered so grievously at the hands of a nation. I hope that Japan will wish to purge its wrongdoing by making further recompense as is now requested by the House.
I, too, add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) for raising this issue again and for keeping it before the House. He was absolutely right to say that the issue will not go away. Clearly, I was not in the war—I was not even born when it finished—but my father was. He was in Burma but, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said, although he suffered he never complained. He does not talk about the war and asks for nothing. Such people should be given compensation by the Government and the nation.
The issue will not go away because my generation, too, will keep the issue alive. Will my hon. Friend the Minister ensure that when the Japanese Prime Minister comes to this country he will raise with him the issue of unit. 731, which committed hideous, outrageous and evil experiments on prisoners of war? Members of that unit knew what they were doing and their actions were deliberate and evil. Moreover, the perpetrators are alive and living in Tokyo, and the Japanese Government know who they are. Some of them have been honoured for work in various fields. I find that deeply offensive.
The House in its wisdom has decided to proceed with war crimes trials. I disagree with that decision; but in order to be consistent, if we are prepared to deal with men whose actions 50 years ago were so appalling that we believe it right to act on their consequences now, it is no good saying at the same time that actions that took place in Japan or Asia 50 years ago should be forgotten. If the House is to be consistent and respected, we must treat war crimes in the same way whether they were perpetrated by Lithuanians living here or by Japanese living in Tokyo. The principle is the same.
If we are to believe, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) told the House, that there is a new Japan, let us look for a genuine act of contrition and repentance by the Japanese Government and people. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point said, a sincere apology is not enough. We want generous financial compensation—and from Japan even generous is not enough in my opinion. We must judge whether there is a new Japan by its actions and attitude. If the Japanese Prime Minister still cannot offer an apology or compensation, we must draw the conclusion that there is no new Japan—that for some extraordinary reason the Japanese are denying their crimes still and are not prepared to face up to the horrors of what they did. That in itself would be a shame and a sham.
Towards the end of his speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) said that the purpose of an Adjournment debate was to raise matters of this kind. I wholeheartedly agree. It is one of the strengths of our democratic procedures that these Adjournment debates should exist. I am sure that they do not exist in every other democratic country, but in our system they mean that issues of the sort that my right hon. Friend has brought before us, in a speech which inspired eight colleagues to speak in his support, are debated in the House.
Before I comment further on my right hon. Friend's speech, I want to mention what my other hon. Friends had to say. Many of their comments were based on family experiences in one way or another. I was born in 1943. All of us of my age know from relatives and friends and other contacts of the suffering that so many people endured in the Japanese camps. I was impressed by the family experience recounted by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) in a speech that was quiet and gentle, and without bitterness.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) mentioned civilians, a group who should not be forgotten in these tragic stories. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) spoke of his childhood experiences and of the Cambridgeshire regiment. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) made a point about disability boards and the compassion that should be shown in these cases. I offer him this guarantee: I shall report his comments to my ministerial colleagues in the Department of Social Security.
We were all moved by the contribution of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who spoke of his uncle. He pointed out the remarkable fact that people who have suffered such great traumas have survived and found their lives made more easy by showing a quiet courage without complaint. I sense that they derive some comfort from not complaining because it is easier for them to live their lives if they do not remember too much about the dreadful suffering that they saw and endured.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos) referred to constituency interests, and there were two interventions by my hon. Friends the Members for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and for Rochford.
We were all shaken by the facts about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point reminded us. People who are as young as I am have read of these stories, and anyone in his late forties, like me, will have had an upbringing of roughly the same experiences. Quite apart from the graphic detail provided by my right hon. Friend, I was not properly aware before of the fact that for so many of these wretched and unhappy people the horrors that they suffered continue even today.
My right hon. Friend is assiduous in many cases about which he feels strongly, and he has been assiduous in this one for a number of years. I fear, however, that it will be no easier for me than it was for my predecessors to give him a more encouraging reply, but I can at least deal with the matter rather more fully than if we had had a mere half-hour in which to deal with it. I can touch on some of the recent developments of importance that have arisen since this matter was debated in 1988.
If my comments appear inadequate, I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept that that does not mean that the Government are unaware of or insensitive to the feelings of those whose suffering has given rise to this debate. I would not dissent from what my right hon. Friend said about the dreadful experiences of those who had the misfortune to be taken prisoner by the Japanese. We have said many times—I make no apology for repeating it tonight—that we must never forget the appalling conditions under which they were incarcerated or the fact that it was their sacrifice and service which allowed us the privilege of discussing their plight in a free Parliament.
The courage and selflessness shown and the awful hardship suffered by these men and women are indelibly marked on all our memories. My right hon. Friend has first-hand experience of the relevant period of the war, but for his generation and mine alike, the events that he has described tonight are a powerful reminder both of the heights of bravery and of the depths of cruelty of which man is capable. That is why I have profound sympathy with the distress and anger that many survivors of that terrible period continue to feel.
Letters from those who lived through that time or from their relatives are regularly received by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. They convey in graphic terms the physical and mental suffering which many people continue to endure. The fact that Japan, which inflicted such suffering, is now a successful and prosperous country must add to the bitterness of those people. I completely understand and respect their strong conviction that the additional compensation for which my right hon. Friend has eloquently argued should now be made available.
I shall set out again the settlement reached in 1951 in the peace treaty with Japan. I do not suggest that it is a tidy bureaucratic solution to the problem and brooks no opposition, but simply set out the historical facts of the matter. As my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members know, the peace treaty signed in San Francisco on 8 September 1951 contained a specific provision for compensation for former prisoners of war. We had insisted on that provision, which had not been included in the original treaty, because we thought it important that the treaty should recognise the cruel and barbaric treatment to which allied service men in the far east had been subjected.
The negotiations leading to the treaty were heavily influenced by the moving debate in the House in May 1951, with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point is familiar. That debate helped to develop the Government's policy and negotiating position as the treaty was drawn up. No one could dispute that the issue of compensation was crucial and it was the only aspect of the treaty on which a debate was held prior to its signing. The 1951 treaty ended the state of war between the United Kingdom and Japan.
I shall briefly outline the provisions that are relevant to the debate. I know that I am repeating some of the words of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury when he replied to the 1988 debate on this subject. Article 14 of the treaty recognised
that Japanese should pay reparations to the Allied Powers for the damage and suffering caused by it during the war".
The treaty gave the allied powers the right to seize and dispose of Japanese property within their jurisdiction. Article 14(b) concluded:
Except as otherwise provided in the present Treaty, the Allied Powers waive all reparations claims of the Allied Powers, other claims of the Allied Powers and their nationals arising out of any actions taken by Japan and its nationals in the course of the prosecution of the War".
Article 16 is central to the matter, because it provided specifically for the compensation of prisoners. It states:
As an expression of its desire to indemnify those members of the armed forces of the Allied Powers who suffered undue hardships while Prisoners of War of Japan, Japan will transfer its assets and those of its nationals in countries which were neutral during the war, or which were at war with any of the Allied Powers or, at its option, the equivalent of such assets, to the International Committee of the Red Cross which shall liquidate such assets and distribute the resultant fund to appropriate national agencies for the benefit of former Prisoners of War and their families on such basis as it may determine to be equitable.
From the disposal of Japanese property within its jurisdiction, the United Kingdom received just over £3 million. The United Kingdom's share of the £4·5 million that the Japanese Government placed at the disposal of the International Red Cross in accordance with article 16 of the treaty was just over £1·6 million.
It was agreed in a minute between the Japanese and the allied powers that the payment of the £4·5 million would be recognised as a full discharge by the Japanese Government of their obligations under article 16 of the peace treaty. As is well known, and as my right hon. Friend has said, the sum of £76 paid to service men or to their dependants was unbelievably small. No British Government have ever denied that. In the debate on the peace treaty before its ratification, a Government spokesman said that he would have preferred to be able to offer greater compensation. I am sure that all members of the Government and the Opposition at that time shared that wish. As my right hon. Friend knows, the treaty was signed by a Labour Government and ratified by their Conservative successors.
I sympathise with my right hon. Friend's contention that the settlement was unsatisfactory but, as my predecessors have said, the provisions of the treaty remove any possibility of the British Government claiming further compensation or reparations from the Japanese Government. That is our best understanding of our legal obligations, although I hear with respect my right hon. Friend's different views.
We are not alone in that understanding. We have been in touch with our missions in the countries that my right hon. Friend mentioned to ascertain the position of their Governments. Other allied powers share our view that the question of compensation was settled by the 1951 peace treaty. However inadequate the terms may appear now or appeared at the time, it was accepted that the Japanese had fully discharged their obligations.
I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend, and I am not surprised at anything that he has said so far, because he is basing his reply on legal considerations. In 1951, Japan's economy had been affected by the war and by Japan's defeat. The pitiful compensation was paid out of assets that we had seized when, without declaring war, Japan attacked the United States, the British, French and Dutch in the far east.
Forty years on, we are not talking about a defeated nation but one which is the second richest in the world. Down Whitehall, every third or fourth car is Japanese. Japan is doing very well out of the free world. I am arguing not on purely legal grounds but on moral grounds. If the Japanese have any honour, they will recognise that, since 1951, thousands of ex-service men have endured 40 years of suffering. I am talking not about the dead, although they are not forgotten, but about men who, since the signing of that peace treaty, have lived in agony arid are sleepless at night. God knows how many of them continue to live.
We are talking about 40 years on. The Japanese put up their hands and say, "We signed the peace treaty all those years ago and that is the end of it", and my hon. Friend says that that is the legal position and that is what we must accept. That is not good enough.
I have been describing the 1951 peace treaty. I shall say something later about the change in Japanese circumstances since the war. I reiterate that I was describing the 1951 peace treaty, but my right hon. Friend will be aware that that does not mean that the Government will impede or obstruct in any way the private attempts of any group to obtain further compensation. The Government could not directly associate themselves with such attempts, but we have every sympathy with their aim.
I should not give my right hon. Friend any reason to believe that the chances of success of claims for further compensation are likely to be good, but I shall touch upon a recent development to the claim lodged with the United Nations Commission for Human Rights by the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors Association. It was lodged under a procedure known as resolution 1503, on which my right hon. Friend made comment.
I shall go into a little detail about the procedure. It is a confidential system that is designed to establish, on the basis of personal petition, whether there has occurred a consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights by states rather than to adjudicate on individual complaints. There is no obligation on the Japanese Government to pay compensation to complainants under the procedure.
It gives me little comfort to refer to what must be regarded as cold legal technicalities. Indeed, my right hon. Friend intervened to make that very point. I can say, however, that I hope very much that the Japanese Government will respond to the petitions as sympathetically as possible.
I referred earlier to the bitterness that many must feel to see the country that was guilty of such cruelty and oppression two generations ago now so successful and prosperous and a member of the world community. The world has changed. That makes it even harder for the wounds inflicted at the time, for which, perhaps, no compensation can ever be entirely adequate.
It is important to understand the way in which Japan has changed, which my right hon. Friend has generously acknowledged, and why it has changed. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will allow me one more quotation from article 14 of the 1951 treaty. The contents of the article are not always remembered now. The passage states that:
it is also recognised that the resources of Japan are not presently sufficient, if it is to maintain a viable economy, to make complete reparation for all such damage and suffering and at the same time meet its other obligations.
That was stated in 1951 because the negotiators of the treaty were acutely conscious of the terribly dangerous precedent that had been set after the first world war by the onerous burdens of the treaty of Versailles.
Of course, the negotiators had conflicting obligations. They had as far as possible to ensure an equitable settlement of manifest wartime injustice; they had to ensure also that the circumstances that led to the war were prevented from recurring. There may have been no very happy medium between the two responsibilities, but I do not think that we can easily ignore the imperative that lay behind the words that I have just quoted.
Japan is prosperous and successful and plays a constructive and responsible role in the affairs of the world, because the negotiators of the peace treaty were far-sighted enough to recognise the awful dangers of squeezing Japan as Germany had been squeezed after the first world war. In the 1930s and 1940s, Japan was a terrifying and brutal force in the region. As my right hon. Friend has rightly conceded, Japan is now democratic and peaceful. Its military strength once laid nations waste, but its economic strength now definitely contributes to their welfare and prosperity.
Sometimes, Japan is criticised for not making more contribution in terms of personnel and resources, as well as money, to the protection of the world order in which she herself has grown and prospered. That has been touched upon, for example, in terms of the recent crisis in the Gulf. However much it is right to encourage Japan to play a role in such affairs commensurate with its economic strength, we must recognise that the pacifism and self-restraint that holds it back from doing everything that we like to see was born of a determination among the Japanese never to allow themselves again to be seduced down the path of totalitarian oppression and aggression overseas. We welcome that commitment to peace and justice and must remember that it owes its strength to the spirit of magnanimity and conciliation that infused the treaty of peace that was signed 40 years ago.
My right hon. Friend said that there is a growing recognition in Japan of some of the harrowing truths which he has described. I believe that a growing sense of contrition is being expressed in Japan for the atrocities which were committed. Most Japanese today were born after the end of the second world war. Many others were too young at the end of the war to have played any substantial part in it. It is right that the new generations should know enough of the evils of the past to ensure that they are never repeated. It is equally right that we should never forget our debt to the generation which, as my right hon. Friend recalled, defended our freedom in that war.
It is a matter of the deepest regret to me that I am prevented from giving a more positive response to the questions that my right hon. Friend raised. I have tried to explain the Government's views of the underlying principles that bear on the issues. These are not questions that can be debated in terms of political expediency. I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept that my response, however discouraging it must seem, is meant to convey a spirit of great respect for the memory of the men and women whose almost unimaginable suffering we have been discussing.
I think that we were waiting to hear from my hon. Friend, even to the very end of his reply, that he would do his best to ensure that one of our Ministers will raise the debate and the tenor of it with Mr. Kaifu and his team when they come to London in the near future. I agree that there may be some legal justification for Japan saying, "That was the agreement, that is what we were bound to and we can or will go no further." However, is not true remorse something that prompts one to do something that is over and above that which the law requires to be done? It would be most heartening to us—
I shall be very brief and very much to the point.
We are to have a visit from the Prime Minister of Japan. I do not expect my hon. Friend the Minister to go into any detail on what the Japanese Prime Minister should be told, but common sense and common justice demand that the intense feeling that exists in this country, especially among those who know what happened, should not be disregarded, and that what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said a moment ago will be taken to heart. The Japanese Prime Minister should be told in a discreet but determined way that there is a debt to be paid.
I do not care a damn about the legalities of the matter: I am concerned about the way in which, in 1951 when the Korean war was upon us and various other pressures were coming into play, a treaty was signed whereby our Government took upon themselves the responsibility for waiving claims against Japan in future—
Order. I understand that this is a serious matter, and I do not question the right hon. Gentleman's depth of feeling, but other hon. Members are waiting to address the House.