This morning we shall talk about an historic problem that is still with us—that of compensation for British soldiers and civilians who suffered in the far east during the second world war.
The subject has been discussed in the House previously. We should remember the great efforts of Sir Bernard Braine, now Lord Braine. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) in his seat because he made a deeply moving and effective speech on this subject last year.
Fifty-five years ago this weekend, Japan plunged the Pacific into a terrible war. Fifty thousand British men and women, soldiers and civilians, were taken into a dark captivity, in which many perished under the brutal treatment meted out to them by the Japanese authorities.
Those who survived have horror stories to tell which they will take to their graves; I shall not dwell on those today. Instead I want to salute the spirit of courage that kept those men and women—some of them in the Gallery today—alive. We are proud of them because they are British, but they spoke for all humanity as they refused to succumb to their torturers and jailors. They suffered not only because conditions in the prison camps were poor, but because the Japanese military-industrial complex made British prisoners and internees work as slave labourers for the giant zaibatsu, as they are called—conglomerates such as Mitsubishi, Nissan and Nippon Mines, which are household names today, but which in the war worked round the clock using slave labour to turn out tanks and Zero planes and the sinews of war for Japan.
The courage of those people during years of filth and brutality shows that it is under the worst of conditions that the human spirit, to quote Byron,
appeals from tyranny to God.
Today perhaps about 10,000 of those men and women are still with us, but in the final stretch of their lives, which were wickedly usurped at the moment of their youth. Still, after more than half a century, no one has offered them adequate reparation for what they went through. The art of saying sorry and making good is an essential part of human existence. It applies to individuals, companies and Governments.
The German Government have sought to say sorry for the evil carried out in their name during the war. About DM80 billion has been paid to victims of Nazi brutality. German companies have accepted their responsibilities for the use of slave labour.
Yesterday, I had a meeting with the Swiss ambassador, who revealed to me that the Swiss Government accept their responsibility on the issue of Nazi gold and the money placed with Swiss banks by Jewish victims of the holocaust.
Even the United States has accepted that it did wrong by the Nisei—the Japanese-Americans who were roughly interned in the USA after 1941. President Reagan authorised the payment of about £14,000 to each surviving Nisei internee.
Japan, alas, has done none of those things. It still, in my view, refuses to make or show sufficient repentance or adequate reparation for the crimes carried out by its soldiers, officials and businesses in the war.
I emphasise that today's political and business leaders in Japan carry no responsibility for what their predecessors did half a century ago. I visited Japan many times before entering the House. There are great similarities between our two island countries, offshore of a great continental mass, and a strong bond of friendship has grown between Britain and Japan, which must be nourished. I admire Japan's modern business skills. The goods the Japanese make have enriched the world, and they have exported not weapons of destruction but wonderful artefacts that help us to communicate with and learn from each other.
Just as the present German authorities are in no way responsible for the Nazi killings during the war and have wholly dissociated themselves from those killings and paid compensation, for what it is worth, surely the same applies to Japan? In no way were the present Government involved with the criminals who ran Japan in the war, so it is all the more ironic that no apology has been forthcoming from the Japanese Government.
My hon. Friend is quite right. In Japan there is a new quest for understanding and debate among the younger generation of historians, politicians and researchers, who are examining what went on in those years; I am sure that Japan is slowly coming to terms with the events of the 1940s.
There remains what I might call a pebble in the shoe of full and warm relations between Britain and Japan—the refusal of Japan publicly to offer adequate repentance or to make adequate reparation for the crimes committed against our citizens in the emperor's name. There have been debates in the House before on this issue, and the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and Sir Kit MacMahon have made efforts to move things forward; but each time those efforts have foundered on an unwillingness to move beyond the confining boundaries of diplomatic treaties and international obligations.
Behind what I might call this realpolitik is the fear—justified or not—of the politics of money and trade. Japan is a most valued inward investor in this country and an important free trade partner of the United Kingdom. But the right of our citizens to fair treatment comes before the profits to be made on this or that deal.
We are asking that Japan finally come clean, unequivocally apologise and accept its obligations to pay reparations to individuals. Whether they are paid by the Japanese Government or by Japanese companies such as Nissan or Mitsubishi is neither here nor there—that is for them to decide. It is no accident that the Americans refer to "Japan Inc"—because of the seamless web of bureaucrats, business men and politicians who collectively represent Japan.
In financial terms compensation could be set at the same level as that received by the American Nisei. Such payments to the 10,000 survivors here in Britain would not even be noticed on the balance sheet of these giant Japanese multinationals.
It is not the money, however, but the act of saying sorry that remains the most important element—sorry individually, sorry clearly, sorry in the same way as Willy Brandt sank to his knees in the Warsaw ghetto 25 years ago to apologise for German crimes. The Japanese must say sorry publicly, clearly and honestly.
The Japanese will quote the 1951 San Francisco treaty of peace between our two countries which excludes further reparations. Pacta sunt servanda: treaties must be observed. That is one of the watchwords of diplomats and international lawyers. But there is nothing in the treaty to prevent Japan or the relevant Japanese companies from accepting their responsibilities today. International law is opening its doors to claims by individuals against Governments, so I hope that the Minister in his reply will make it clear that if Japan refuses to listen to today's appeal from the House, our embassy and officials in Tokyo will support by all possible means the legal actions being undertaken by claimants in the Japanese courts.
I wonder whether the Foreign Office fully understands the extent to which international law has been transformed in recent years. In 1951 it was a basic tenet that only states, not individuals, had rights in international law. Today it is accepted that one particular class of individuals—those who have been victims of crimes against humanity—have rights against the states whose official apparatus perpetrated the crimes. The other important advance has been to declare that states can never obliterate their own crimes against humanity.
Crimes against humanity such as the Japanese committed against British soldiers and civilians in the 1940s are so heinous that they engage the world's conscience sufficiently to attract what is called universal jurisdiction. I believe that, if they decided to do so, the United Kingdom Government could apply to the International Court of Justice in The Hague for a declaration that Japan has a continuing obligation at international law to compensate victims of its crimes against humanity; and this duty is not affected by the 1951 treaty.
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the fact that the Dutch suffered a similar fate in the Dutch East Indies? A Dutch uncle of mine died as a civilian in the camps and some of my aunts and cousins were badly treated. The Netherlands therefore shares our concern, so I hope that our Government will work closely with the Dutch Government on the hon. Gentleman's proposals.
That is a most important and relevant point. Other member countries of the Commonwealth such as Canada and Australia face similar problems too. I ask the Minister to make it clear on behalf of the Government that he is willing to examine the legal remedies which I believe are open to the United Kingdom Government. I have sought and obtained counsel's opinion on this matter—that of Mr. Geoffrey Robertson QC, one of our most distinguished lawyers with a high international reputation in this field—to the effect that legal avenues are indeed open to the Government, who no longer have to accept the 1951 treaty as the last word.
I do not however believe that this matter should require the intervention of lawyers. The Japanese Government have already accepted their responsibility in one regard. With the help of private business, a fund has been set up to make financial reparations to the so-called "comfort women", those sad Asian women who were forced to be prostitutes for the Japanese forces of occupation. The whole House will find it distasteful if British women, in the forces or civilians, as well as British soldiers are considered by the Japanese Government to be less worthy of fair treatment than women shipped from Korea, Formosa or the Philippines and forced to be prostitutes for the pleasure of Japanese soldiers occupying Asia.
In the end this is about honour. Taking away a person's honour makes him or her less of a man or woman. Fifty years ago the Japanese sought to take away the honour of British men and women—but they failed. Instead, Japanese firms and soldiers lost honour themselves because of the way in which they treated their prisoners. The House may not realise that the Japanese army, which fought its previous major 20th century war against Russia in 1905, was held up around the world as a paragon of decency for the way in which it treated its prisoners. So the tradition in Japan is not of brutality. Something happened in the 1930s and 1940s, and the Japanese army lost all honour because of its brutality first in China in the 1930s and then elsewhere in Asia after 1941.
Today we welcome a strong, prosperous and democratic Japan which must play its full part as one of the world's leading democracies. But until Japan removes the stain of dishonour from its past by making restitution, morally and financially, to the British men and women it so mistreated, it will find it hard to have its self-defence forces accepted as comrades in arms in the work of securing freedom and democracy around the world—or to be seen as a candidate for a permanent seat the UN Security Council.
Of course the passage of time washes away most things, but as long as these men and women remain with us, and for as long after that as their memory does not perish, the dishonour that Japan brought on itself by its behaviour during the war will not fade away. Now is the time to make good. There is a good Japanese word, gimu, meaning obligation or duty. Today I—and I hope the whole House—call on the Japanese, particularly Japanese firms, to honour or fulfil their gimu towards the British survivors of their crimes against humanity.
The Japanese also have a saying that the nail which sticks out gets hammered down. Not this nail; not in this House of Commons; not as long as the survivors of those prison camps are with us. This issue will not go away until Japan accepts its full responsibilities and makes full amends for what was done in the emperor's name 50 years ago.
The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) has done well to raise the matter. My remarks will be brief.
The recovery of Japan is one of the most striking achievements of any nation since the war—not just the rebuilding of towns and cities and the amazing economic performance to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but the creation for the first time of a durable democracy. Politicians as a class are no more popular in Japan than in Britain, but those who know modern Japan, which includes all Members present in the House this morning, cannot doubt that Japan now has a foundation of democracy.
As Japan has grown on that foundation, so has modern Britain's friendship with modern Japan. Like many others, I have been struck by the way in which contacts, co-operation and friendship have grown, company by company on the commercial side, profession by profession—all the professions—and individual by individual. There remains, however, a hindrance—a bar—from the past.
For the people who lived through it, the past is terrible beyond telling. It is not a remote past for them; it is still vivid in their lives, as our postbags and surgeries tell. It is vivid, too, in the lives of all those to whom they tell their story.
It should be emphasised, as the right hon. Gentleman is probably aware, how many of the victims of those years have just begun to tell their stories. In a constituency such as mine, where so many were interned with the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, only in the past year or two, thanks partly to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, has the story begun to emerge. A new generation in this country has become aware of how bad it was and therefore supports the bid for recognition from Japan of what happened.
That is true and is borne out by my own experience.
On the legal side, I was always advised, and I tested the advice, that it is not possible for Her Majesty's Government to demand as a legal right from the Japanese Government more than the 1951 peace treaty provided, because the British Government of the day accepted that compensation. I agree with the hon. Member for Rotherham that this should not be a matter for lawyers, although I am aware of the case that representatives of the prisoners of war have lodged in Japan.
Whatever the legal buttress of the 1951 treaty, that cannot be regarded as enough to close the chapter. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Minister of State do not regard it as enough. Both have been active in seeking more. There has been progress—more, perhaps, than the hon. Gentleman acknowledged.
I welcome what the then Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Murayama, wrote to our Prime Minister before VJ day. On VJ day itself, Mr Murayama made a statement expressing his feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for the damage and suffering caused to the people of many countries, including the former prisoners. That was agreed beforehand by the Japanese Cabinet. In addition, Mr. Murayama set in train various schemes for contacts to help families of former prisoners.
I share the view of the hon. Member for Rotherham that that has not been enough. It needs to be followed by more substantial action. Various efforts have been made by individuals and by the Government in recent years. and I had a part in them in my time. As a result, I know of the sensitivities and difficulties on the other side. I have some understanding of why it has been so difficult for the Japanese Government, individuals and institutions to take the steps that the hon. Gentleman recommended.
I believe that there might be a role for one or more of our service charities—for example, the Royal British Legion—to act as an intermediary or channel for funds made available by Japanese organisations. I have not expressed that thought before in public, but I believe that it deserves to be further examined.
I know the sensitivities and the difficulties of finding a way, but as a strong friend and supporter of modern Japan, I believe that the search—it is now an urgent search—for a way to bring about more substantial action must continue.
I am very pleased that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), a former Foreign Secretary, has added his support to the campaign about which my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) spoke in opening the debate.
It is important to remember that there is no anti-Japanese sentiment on the part of those of us who continue to campaign. There is no anti-Japanese lobby. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman: Japanese politics has been in the limelight to a far greater degree than the British Parliament, but, like other hon. Members, I appreciate that the Japan of today and of the past 50 years is very different from the Japan of the 1920s and 1930s. The last war was not the start, but the continuation, of Japanese aggression against China and other countries and peoples in that part of the world. Terrible crimes were committed before the second world war. That was the Japan of yesterday.
I therefore find it, as I said in an intervention, all the more difficult to understand why—leaving aside compensation—the present Japanese Government should hesitate to express the fullest dissociation and apology that are required. After all, the German Government have repeatedly made it clear that they dissociate themselves from the criminals who ruled Germany for 12 years.
One of the many reasons why I am speaking in the debate is the fact that one of my constituents, Stephen Long, was a 19-year-old soldier who was taken prisoner, like so many others, in Singapore. He says that he still suffers from nightmares because of the way in which he, like so many other prisoners of war, was treated. It is important to recognise that the Japanese treatment of our and other allied prisoners defied all the conventions of the time. They treated British and allied prisoners of war like slaves or semi-slaves.
It is not widely appreciated that the Isle of Wight Burma Star Association has two Victoria Crosses to its name, and the last VC that was awarded in the second world war. The dispatches nominating the soldier for the VC went down in the plane with Wingate in the jungle, and the VC was only awarded some years after the war had ended.
The hon. Gentleman's point about the lack of bitterness on the part of soldiers who served in that dreadful war was well exemplified when the Burma Star Association in the Isle of Wight put on an exhibition of all the paraphernalia of Japanese torture, among other things. The angst of the former prisoners of war increases as they grow older. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd) said, if action is not taken urgently, the problem will die.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point, which applies also to my constituent, who was only 19 years old at the time. He was involved in the construction of the railway that prisoners described—with every justification—as the "railway of death". I could recite endless accounts of what occurred, but I shall only quote briefly from what Mr. Long told me and the local press. The article states:
One form of torture Mr. Long can recall most vividly was something known as 'water treatment', an ordeal he was forced to undergo on a number of occasions.
It involved him being squeezed into a box 10 foot tall but no more than 15 inches square made out of bamboo poles. For eight hours he could not move and any hope of going to the toilet was forgotten as it was just not possible.
When he was dragged out of the box"—
Mr. Long was no exception among the prisoners—
the Japanese soldiers forced a hosepipe into his mouth and pumped water into him before laying him on the floor where they proceeded to jump up and down on his stomach.
Is it any wonder that Mr. Long suffers nightmares? Is it any wonder that my constituent, like others who suffered the same brutal treatment, requires a full and unambiguous apology from the Japanese Government as well as compensation? As to that compensation, Mr. Long says:
It's not the money that's important—even if they paid me £14 million I still wouldn't be able to forgive them".
I believe that the time has come for the British Government to put adequate pressure on the Japanese Government. No doubt in his speech the Minister will express his sympathy to those who suffered at the hands of the Japanese—I expect nothing less of a Minister of the Crown—and he will probably describe the various efforts made by the British Government on behalf of ex-prisoners. However, I believe that more is required, and that is the essence of today's debate.
I do not challenge the fact that the British Government and the Prime Minister have made representations to the Japanese Government, but I think that more pressure should be applied. The Government must try to persuade the Japanese authorities that, apart from anything else, it is in their interests to do what we ask. We are not engaged in an anti-Japanese campaign or lobby, but we are concerned about the way in which our fellow citizens were treated. As the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) said, there are not many of them left. Before they die, they should receive an apology from the Japanese—that is more important than the money for which they are asking.
I pay tribute to the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors Association of Great Britain, which is conducting a fine lobby in the best traditions of British democracy. I am sure that the association is pleased that we are having this debate today. Let us send a message from both sides of the House—I do not think that any divide is likely—that the British Parliament is concerned about the issue. The fact that the events occurred more than 50 years ago is neither here nor there: our fellow citizens were treated in an awful manner for which there is no justification.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend has initiated the debate, supported by the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witney. Our duty now is to ensure that we do all that we can to persuade the Japanese Government to act as they are honour bound to do. If the debate serves that purpose, it will have been very useful.
I echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). Some 51 years ago, I went to Singapore and Malaya with the British Army. I think that I may be the only serving Member of Parliament to do so—although I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) served in the Royal Navy in the far east at that time.
We were stationed in Selerang barracks near Changi. We had fewer than 1,000 troops in our regiment, but there were the traditional soldiers' grumbles about crowded conditions and so on. We then discovered that the Japanese had impounded not 1,000, but 15,000, allied prisoners of war in those same barracks. They lived, starved, suffered and died there. The horrors of Changi were all too plain to see. It bore no relation to Colditz and other German prisoner of war camps, which had roughly conformed with the Geneva convention on war prisoners. Japan never signed that convention.
Following the surrender, I befriended a young Army officer a little older than myself who had been captured at the fall of Singapore. He weighed six stone—at the time of his capture only a few years before he had weighed 12½ stone. He told me that Yamashita, the Japanese commander in chief, had addressed the captive officers. He said that, as they had allowed themselves to be captured, they must be bad officers—otherwise they would have committed suicide. He said that therefore they would be treated no better than Japanese fighting troops: water and rice each day, their heads shaved, and beatings if they misbehaved. However, conditions were far worse than Yamashita anticipated, as we discovered at the war crimes tribunals held soon after the war.
Within a year of his release, my young officer friend died as a result of the diseases, the malnutrition and the merciless beatings that he received at the hands of his captives. The Cambridgeshire regiment from my area suffered especially in that campaign. The 18th division was rushed to Malaya as a reinforcement force. Although ill-prepared, the men valiantly faced Yamashita's jungle-trained, more experienced troops but they were soon overwhelmed. Many died in action or in prisoner of war camps, and others died after their release as a result of the inhumane treatment that they had received. A dwindling band survive today, some of whom are my constituents in Cambridgeshire.
I have visited Japan on many subsequent occasions and I admire its remarkable economic recovery and the ingenuity and work ethic of the Japanese. I welcome their investment in Britain, bringing jobs and expertise to our country, and I respect their return to democracy after the dreadful wartime regime. However, I know that within the hearts of the modern Japanese lies shame about past events. They now have an opportunity to expunge the record and, in oriental terms, to save face.
I call upon the great Japanese companies to demonstrate their humanity as well as their business acumen. Let them compensate freely and generously the sadly declining band of service men and women who did their duty and who suffered so terribly in one of the most ghastly and barbaric campaigns of the last war.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who opened the debate, on providing an opportunity for honourable Members to discuss a very important issue.
The hon. Member for South-West Cambridgeshire (Sir A. Grant) referred to the suffering of prisoners of war. Because of the nature of their internment, that suffering did not end upon their release—in many cases, it has continued to affect their lives and those of their families. That is why we must debate their plight today.
I have pursued this issue on behalf of the Burnley and District Far Eastern Prisoners of War Association for nearly 10 years. I have written countless letters on the subject and raised the matter in numerous ways. However, the association believes that it has not received the response to which it is entitled both from this country and from Japan. The Japanese Government must try to make amends for what occurred all those years ago. No one can put right what happened, but at least we should try to ensure that recompense is made.
On 17 June 1993, I wrote to the Japanese ambassador to this country about the compensation paid. Of course the equivalent sums of £76.50 and £48.50 were worth a lot more in 1951–52 than today, but even then they were derisory amounts. We must remember that, when the San Francisco negotiations took place, Japan was in a very different situation from its position today as one of the world's wealthiest nations.
I put it to the ambassador:
Would it not be seen as a gesture of goodwill if your nation, which is now one of the wealthiest in the world were to offer these former prisoners a further sum of compensation as an ex gratia payment?
The final paragraph of his reply to me said:
Although I would not contest the merits of your suggestion of a goodwill gesture, I do not believe that additional compensation is a feasible way after such a long interval. The world belongs to the next generation and it is our belief that Japan's efforts in promoting further cooperation between our two countries in various fields will far better serve the interests of the peoples of our two nations.
We all want to see Japan play a major part in the world of today and the 21st century, but that does not mean that it should not attempt to try to put right what happened all those years ago and give some compensation.
The Far Eastern Prisoners of War Association wrote to me on 4 December 1995, and I shall quote a couple of the points that it made to me.
Whilst we were encouraged to have this apology we did not accept it as an unequivocal, full blooded apology. We feel it was half-hearted and superficial. Moreover, it was not backed up by promise of reparations and we feel it has done little to allay the strong feelings in this country, both of the people of the United Kingdom generally and of Ex Prisoners of war in particular.
The association emphasised:
Perhaps you need to have been a prisoner of war under the Japanese to know this.
That is the point. The association then made the point:
We therefore go back to our plea that the British Government acknowledge the unfair 'settlement'… received and make amends for the failures in the Peace Treaty by allowing token payments to be made".
The association believes that Japan should respond, but if the Government are not prepared to make Japan do something, it believes that our Government should at least make some recompense.
In fairness, I have to say that the Prime Minister has written to me several times on this issue, which he takes very seriously. Indeed, the Minister who will reply to the debate kindly met representatives from Burnley to discuss these issues in his office on one occasion. In his letter of 10 January 1996, the Prime Minister wrote:
I am sorry that Mr. Stanworth's Association do not feel happy with the responses they have received to date about the Japanese apology and compensation … As regards an apology, Prime Minister Murayama wrote to me before VJ Day expressing his profound remorse and apology for Japan's actions which inflicted such deep scars on so many people, including the prisoners of war. Mr. Murayama publicly repeated this apology in his statement on 15 August; this statement was agreed beforehand by the Japanese Cabinet, and was therefore made on behalf of the Japanese Government.
The Prime Minister might accept it, but it is very difficult to judge whether it is a full-hearted response. At the end of the day, the people who really have to judge whether it is satisfactory are not hon. Members, but those who suffered and paid a price to fight for Britain's peace, democracy and freedom during the second world war.
Last year was significant in that we commemorated VE day and VJ day. I hoped then that the Government would be able to secure some response from Japan to try to make amends and resolve the problem. It is not just a question of finance. The people with whom I deal are not talking of huge sums. They just want some response, some token, some whole-hearted apology to say, "We were wrong. We apologise. We hope that you can now enjoy the last days of your life in peace and comfort with your families." That is what we want to see.
I hope that the Government will respond in the way that we would like. I hope that former prisoners of war will get the response that they believe is acceptable, and ultimately from the British Government and Japan.
Because this problem is very easy to resolve but seems unlikely ever to be resolved, it is terribly important that the House of Commons gives the right message.
First, although we are well aware that the views of people who suffered in the camps—and, indeed, those in Japan whose families were exterminated, for example in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by mass bombing—will probably never be able to change effectively, it is desperately important that the people of Japan and the authorities are aware that those who support this campaign do so in no feeling of hostility whatever to Japan and its people. When we consider Japan with other countries in south-east Asia and the world, it is clear that Japan has a commitment to democracy and integrity and to family values of which most other nations would be very proud. It is desperately important that we make it clear to Japan and its people that we have huge admiration for the standards that they have advanced.
The second simple point that we must make is that, on the basis of our interpretation of international law—whatever that might be—it seems that Japan and its people have absolutely no obligation to make the concession that we seek. There may indeed be a moral issue, but so far as legal issues are concerned it seems to most of us that the 1951 treaty resolved that problem.
I am well aware of the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of international law and Scottish law and of the way in which he campaigns for his constituents, but the 1951 treaty is clear and precise on the issue of general compensation and a general statement. It is important that we accept that and admit it.
The third point that we should make abundantly clear to the Japanese is that Britain is not always convinced about hypocrisy of words. We heard, for example, from the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who introduced this debate, about the massive concessions, words and sympathy issued by the German Government, but we should also be aware that the situation there was rather different. Germany was exterminating millions of Jews and gipsies in its pursuit of European integration without democracy.
Hypocritical words do not in any way resolve problems. Because I have respect for Japan and its people, making some concession and gesture would be the appropriate way to resolve the problem. So long as it is unresolved, the firm relations and friendship between our two countries will not be confirmed. I hope, therefore, that the House, on the basis of friendship and respect for Japan, not on the basis of claiming legal entitlements, will simply say that we hope that the Japanese authorities will be able to do what is appropriate for those who suffered so appallingly during the war.
I shall be brief. I have not spoken about this subject in public before, but I do so in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), whom I congratulate on choosing this subject for debate.
My uncle died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. He was a young man, the only son of a farmer, who did not have to go to war. He could have stayed, because sons of farmers were exempt at that time. He was flown from West Kirby into Singapore after Singapore had already fallen to the Japanese. He survived in a Japanese prisoner of war camp until about three months before the end of the war. I cannot imagine what happened to him during that time. He was a very fit young man; he had been captain of his local football team in a small town in mid Wales. I do not think that he had ever been out of the area, so to go from there into the area in which he was captured must have been a terrible experience.
I understand from people who were with him that my uncle was very brave and stood up to the Japanese. Clearly, he stood up for quite a long time to survive until about three months before the end of the war. Both his parents died within two years of his death. I believe that they died from grief. Nothing could compensate them or the family for that death.
Those who survived were the victims of awful physical and psychological torture. We cannot bear to think about such horrors and when we hear about them, as we have in the debate, we want to cast them out of our minds. As victims of torture, those people still suffer many years later. Some of them have never recovered.
I met some Japanese people not long ago when I visited my uncle's grave in Jakarta in Indonesia. Every time I meet Japanese people I tell them how I feel and that I have some difficulty putting what happened to my uncle out of my mind. I am obviously not anti-Japanese because as an internationalist I could not possibly be anti any nation.
For those who survived the very least that we can expect is some kind of recognition of their suffering and some compensation. I agree with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham and by other hon. Members.
As hon. Members have said, this is a short debate, so I shall be brief. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), not simply because of his kind remarks about a speech that I made in the House some time ago, but because he has brought the subject back to the House at a timely moment.
In the speech that I made last year, I said that the impetus of the 50th anniversary of the end of the second world war had one good effect: that the Japanese had apologised. Although I accept that that was not wide ranging enough to satisfy those whom we represent, in their terms it was a marked departure from anything that they might have contemplated.
The Japanese had been brought to that pass in two ways. First, they apologised because the approach of the 50th anniversary had put an international spotlight on the way in which Japan had behaved in the last war. Secondly, they apologised because the Prime Minister had made it his business to make it clear to the Japanese Government that, although the long-standing position of the British Government—that there was no legal way in which the Japanese could be pursued—would continue, there was a continuing moral obligation. The Prime Minister's interest, even by way of moral representations, was a departure from anything that had been done by any Government of either political complexion since the war, and it had a marked effect.
The difficulty is that, when the 50th anniversary had passed, the issue went off the boil. The hon. Member for Rotherham has performed a valuable service by bringing it back to the House. I hope that the issue will once again be highlighted. At the weekend, someone said to me that people in Japan do not listen to our debates. However, I was heartened and surprised to hear after I made my speech last year, in a Chamber that was not as well attended as it is today, that it had received a great deal of publicity in Japan. There is not the slightest doubt that the Japanese public will be aware that the debate is taking place. I hope that the shortness of the speeches will help them to see that the case that we are presenting is in no sense a condemnation of the Japanese of today.
The language may be slightly different from that which the hon. Member for Rotherham used, but it can be said that today's Japanese have no guilt. However, they have a responsibility, because a country can never shake off its responsibility for actions carried out in its name by its people's predecessors. Responsibility remains, but guilt is an entirely different matter.
What would we like to see emerge from the debate? It has already been said that the former soldiers and civilians—it is important to emphasise that civilians suffered too—are not primarily concerned with compensation. Any lawyer knows that compensation is worked out on the basis of the sum that would put the parties in the position they were in before the event if that event had not happened. One has only to state the classic principle of compensation to realise that no possible sum could ever compensate the people we are discussing. Compensation has its role, but to a limited extent.
The National Association of Ex-Prisoners of War, to which I pay tribute, recently asked me to become its unremunerated parliamentary representative. From my conversations, I have noted the continuing anger at the indignity inflicted on those ex-prisoners of war. If the Japanese Government could bring themselves, even now, to make an unequivocal statement of sincere regret for the indignity that was forced on those people, it would go a long way. How can that be taken forward? There are two actions that the Minister might feel able to take.
Until fairly recently, I had taken the view that the Government were entirely right to say that the 1951 treaty made legal redress a closed book. But—it is an important but—the hon. Member for Rotherham graphically reminded us that, in a sense, international law is about never saying never. Increasingly, it is becoming an instrument for delivering what the international civilised community of nations wants. I say without levity that I do not always approve of the way in which international law applies in some sovereign countries, but that is a different point.
It might have been tenable five or 10 years ago, or even two years ago, to say that international law has made this issue a closed book, but that is no longer true. It is bizarre, but the Minister's briefing from officials will probably say, "This matter is basically at an end as far as legal redress is concerned." If, in the light of the debate, the Minister felt able to go to the Foreign Office and say positively that he wants a root and branch reconsideration of whether the present state of international law is such that the aspects of morality that we are debating might even now be brought within some legal process, that would be a marked step forward.
In terms of practical politics, if the Japanese Government realised that there was, after all, a forum before which even now they might be called to account, it might begin to concentrate their minds. However, there is no such international forum. I hope that the Minister will ask for that study to begin.
The hon. Member for Rotherham and other hon. Members have been fair in drawing attention to the Prime Minister's efforts to make to the Japanese Government a case that was more than a mere formal expression of opinion. In the light of the debate, I hope that the Minister will say that the Government will again go to the Japanese and say that this matter will not go away, that it is not a matter for a 25th or a 50th anniversary but a continuing irritant, an inhibition to the proper establishment of relations between our two countries.
Some people may say that such matters are all in the past and that we have completely re-established our relationship with Japan. They may say that this is just a debate between a few Members which takes place once a year or from time to time. But the world is getting smaller, and if Japan wants finally to be taken into the full community of civilised nations it will not be enough for it simply to export goods to us and be friendly towards us.
It is certainly not a question of asking the Japanese people or their representatives to say that they are guilty because of what happened in the past. One of the ties that binds civilised people is the admission that sometimes responsibility continues long after guilt has expired. Until the end of time, Japan will bear a responsibility for acts that were carried out in its name, and it now has to set about discharging that responsibility.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) on securing this debate and on the very measured tone with which he introduced it. The same tone has been adopted by all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, which demonstrates the House at its best. There is a tremendous unity of purpose on this subject—to which, despite the many years that have passed, the House repeatedly returns. Among the people whom we represent are the victims of the atrocities that undoubtedly took place during the war in the far east.
I think that every hon. Member comes across those who still continue to suffer because of their experiences during that time. I have a close personal friend who is the child of a Japanese prisoner of war. She told me that, when she reached important events in life—such as her 19th birthday, for example—her father would tell her, "At 19, I was in a prisoner of war camp in China." When she was a little older, he would say, "That is the age at which I was beginning to make my way out of that hell." That woman's father, whom I know reasonably well, is almost untouched by bitterness, which is astonishing, given the undoubtedly severe treatment that he and others received.
We have seen a similar lack of bitterness in the House today, and those who have spoken have not tried to do so in any crude or jingoistic manner. I do not think that any of them thought of making an attack on Japan or on the Japanese people. I welcome that. Japan is a modern country and, although we may differ slightly on interpretation, Britain's relationship with it is very strong.
Like many hon. Members in the Chamber today, I have visited Japan and found the Japanese people of this generation to be polite and easy to deal with in many ways. Japan would like to increase its international influence, and we should welcome its emergence and role in the world as a force not only for economic and political progress but for the protection of human rights. We share those goals.
We must realise, however, the tremendous debt that we—certainly my generation—owe to the British citizens who suffered in those years. Time cannot expunge their memories, even if it can heal their physical wounds. We should realise the strength of feeling among those who were the direct victims and sufferers, and be sympathetic to calls for compensation for the survivors of the camps.
Since 1951, the common view of all UK Governments has been that the treaty of Japan, which formally ended the war, settled the compensation terms. Article 14(a) of the treated specifically recognised that
Japan should pay reparations to the Allied Powers for the damage and suffering caused by it during the war".
However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) said, those reparations were worth some £76 10s, with an extra £3 for those who were forced to work on the Burma railway; in current money, that is about £1,000. I think that most of us would agree that £250 a year is scant compensation for those who suffered perhaps for four years in those prison camps.
As hon. Members have said in the debate, it is not simply a matter of compensation levels. It is important to remember that the same treaty also stated:
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".
That point has been made by hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), in previous debates. Behind the wording of the treaty is a realisation that complete reparation would have caused massive damage to the attempt to re-establish Japan as a democratic nation in the post-war world, as the setting of such compensation levels would have been punitive.
Today, however, Japan is the among the world's economic super-powers, and the world is aware of Japan's economic might.
Is it not also true that no one, not even the Japanese, was able to forecast how the Japanese economy would grow? Japan has enjoyed tremendous economic success, which could not possibly have been foreseen in 1951.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Even at the dawn of the 1950s, after the devastation of its economy during the war, Japan still faced huge reconstruction problems. That point is certainly valid. The treaty was drawn up and signed in a very different era, in which people could not foresee Japan's current position.
The 1951 compensation agreement must be recognised—I shall deal in a moment with the point about its legality and the legal options—and Japanese and British Governments, of different political persuasions, have agreed that Japan has, at least legally, discharged its obligations under the treaty. However, if we believe that the provision of compensation is part of a genuine process not only of expunging a financial debt—the hon. Member for Teignbridge is absolutely right to say that no debt can ever be adequately recompensed financially—but of accepting collective national responsibility, even if that does not entail the guilt of modern Japan's citizens, the levels were unsatisfactory. I hope that the British Government will continue to press the Japanese Government to accept that there is a moral obligation, even if the legal obligation technically has been expunged.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham mentioned possible recourse to the International Court of Justice. I hope that the Minister will respond specifically to that point. There are some long-running cases in the Japanese courts, sponsored by the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors Association, which are expected to end in 1997. Those proceedings would be assisted if an application were made to the International Court of Justice, and if that court ruled that there was a case for individuals to apply for compensation under Japanese law. That would provide at least a moral shot in the arm. I hope that the Minister will tell us what advice he has been given on that proposal, which would perhaps advance the legal options. The House should be able to consider the proposal.
What about the role and responsibilities of modern Japan? All hon. Members welcomed the action that has been taken, such as the sincere apologies offered by former Prime Minister Murayama. However, the rest of the world has always been cautious about asking the Japanese to face openly the issue of its guilt for its war crimes. Many hon. Members have expressed strong feelings on the issue, but there have been various constraints, including those of Japanese society and of our economic and diplomatic relations with Japan.
It is important to recognise that Japan is not a monolith and that Japanese society does not have a single view on the issue. It would be helpful for the House to be aware that the Government Workers Union—the largest trade union in Japan—last year gave its support to the court proceedings of the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors Association. The union argued that it was necessary for Japan to recognise, as a nation, its responsibility to the former prisoners of war and urged the Government to accept the consequences.
I should like to quote briefly the remarks of Hiroshi Abe, who was sentenced to death at the end of the war for war crimes. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he was released after 11 years under the Anglo-Japanese treaty of 1957. Last year, he spoke about his guilt, saying:
The construction of the railway"—
he was a supervisor—
was in itself a war crime. For my part in it, I am a war criminal.
He went on to say:
Japan, as a nation, has not properly considered the issues surrounding its role in the war. Japanese people do not know and do not care what happened. Before the Japanese people can think about apologising to other countries, they will have to acknowledge to themselves their responsibility.
It is not true that nobody in Japan is arguing the case that we have heard in the House this morning. It is important that we do not accept the illusion that there is a Japanese monolith that will not consider what happened during the war or Japan's role. Recognising the existence of those views in modern Japan, it is incumbent on us to continue at Government level and all other levels to ensure that the voice of those who suffered in the prison camps—the voice that the House represents—is heard in
Japan, enabling Japan to come to terms with its responsibilities and guilt from that era. As I said earlier, we recognise that the Japanese Government have met their legal obligations in full, but we hope that they will follow the logic of Mr. Murayama's apology, made some time ago, by accepting the moral case for a solution that is more acceptable to those men and women still alive who were held prisoner.
Today's debate has been serious and measured, addressing constructively the issues of compensation for prisoners and Britain's relations with modern Japan. It is worth placing on record the fact that the House has behaved responsibly this morning. However, I believe that many share my view that such serious crimes can never be forgotten or expunged. While I believe that there comes a time when it is pointless to continue to punish individuals, nations are not in the same position. A nation has an accusation of guilt permanently against it until it chooses to expunge that accusation by proper recognition of the level of depravity, suffering and crime against humanity that took place. Until those issues are recognised, the criticism of Japan as a nation remains.
I do not say that in a mood of hostility towards the Japanese people. The generation of young Japanese growing up is no more responsible for the crimes that took place during the last war than the generation of young Britons able to claim to be victims of those crimes. Individuals do not retain that guilt, but nations do. Because we are nearing the time when many of the surviving victims will no longer be with us, the time is coming when the opportunity for recognition will shortly cease to exist. The House is doing the country a service by raising the issue. The survivors who continue to raise the issue with Members of Parliament also do the nation a service by making sure that their cause is not forgotten.
I commend the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) for raising this subject today, and all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed. We have been reminded that this Saturday will be the 55th anniversary of the outbreak of the war in the Pacific. It is right that at such a moment we should remember the terrible suffering that the war brought to millions in Asia, and in particular the sacrifices made by our countrymen and women so that we could now enjoy the benefits of peace and prosperity. This morning, moving tributes have been paid by hon. Members on both sides of the House to the heroism of those who fought and who endured captivity in the far east. I gladly add my voice to the tributes to that courage and achievement.
I believe that we shall all long remember the extraordinary emotions aroused last year by the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of VJ day: the proud veterans who marched down The Mall past Her Majesty the Queen; the moment when His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh left the stand to join them; the intense sadness of those who bore in their hearts memories of friends who did not survive; and the sense shared by many of us that those who considered themselves a forgotten army had at last been paid the tribute that was their due. We who have enjoyed the peace could not help being moved by the courage and stoicism of that wartime generation.
Today our focus is on one particular group; a group who probably suffered more brutal and cruel treatment than any other allied service men—the prisoners of war of the Japanese. I shall not repeat the accounts of the horrors to which many were subjected. Hon. Members have today reminded us with some graphic and appalling details of what was done to those prisoners. Nothing can excuse it. It is hard to believe that men could have been treated in so callous a fashion or that they could have endured it.
We must remember too that the prisoners were not all service men or women. Whole families of civilians, including women and children, were interned in prison camps in all the areas occupied by the Japanese. They, too, deserve to be remembered and honoured; they have memories of suffering which are difficult for us to imagine.
About a quarter of the service men taken prisoner in the far east did not survive. That in itself is a tragic indictment of the conditions of their captivity. Those who survived were often marked for life by their experiences. We have all seen the photographs of the sick and starving men who were found and liberated in the camps. They returned from their appalling ordeals to a Britain that had its mind on other things—on all the problems of post-war Europe. There was no counselling available for them, nor was there psychological support. They had to fend for themselves. In some ways that may have been another hard blow.
It is difficult today to re-create in our minds the conditions and emotions of that time. The allied war tribunals sentenced many of the most brutal camp guards to be executed, out of revulsion at the atrocities perpetrated on the prisoners. However, when it came to working out a peace treaty and settling the issues of claims and compensation, the allied Governments found that Japan had been shattered economically. Japan was stripped of its empire, and its overseas population was repatriated. The economic miracle was still a dream for the future.
In the discussions about a peace treaty, Britain insisted on some recognition of the sufferings of those detained by the Japanese. As a result, under the San Francisco peace treaty in 1951, the proceeds of Japan's overseas assets were taken in settlement of the claims. In Britain's case, those sums were distributed to the former prisoners and civilian internees in recognition of the unique hardships that they had endured. No other British prisoners of war received such payments.
We are all, of course, totally in support of what is being said. My hon. Friend will be aware that the MOD is currently undertaking a fundamental review of former British prisoners of the Germans and the Italians. Can he confirm that the Foreign Office will do all that it can to ensure that, as far as possible, all prisoners of war are treated on all fours?
It would not be right for me to address that point, because it is a matter for Defence Ministers. It is true that prisoners of war in the far east received different treatment from those in Europe and that reparations have not been made to prisoners of war in Europe, but perhaps that is due to the unique suffering endured by prisoners of war in the far east.
It is tempting, with all the benefits of hindsight, to criticise those who made the arrangements that led to the San Francisco treaty. The payments were indeed small in comparison with the magnitude of the sacrifices made by those who received them, but at the time allied Governments were concerned not to repeat the mistakes made after the first world war in Europe by making excessive financial demands on a broken country.
Whatever the historical rights and wrongs, the 1951 peace treaty continues to define the legal position on compensation today, and successive British Governments have accepted that the question of compensation is legally closed. The same is true of all the other allied Governments who signed the peace treaty, including the United States, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. None of us is in a position formally to re-open the issue with the Japanese Government.
Although I would not dream of dealing with new arguments about international developments here and now without notice, I should say that our legal advice has been consistent. I will, however, write to the hon. Member for Rotherham—my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) mentioned them, too—setting out the Government's views on the relevance of the developments to which he referred. If there are developments that ought to be taken into account, let us study them.
In addition, although the Government cannot become involved in legal cases brought by individuals or organisations, our embassy in Tokyo has willingly helped ex-prisoners of war in Tokyo by offering advice and arranging meetings. We have also drawn to the attention of the Japanese Government the strong sympathy, emotions and support felt by many people here for the former prisoners, and, indeed, shall be sending a copy of this debate to them.
We have drawn the issue to the attention of the Japanese Government repeatedly and at the highest level. In particular, as has been referred to in the debate, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has taken a personal interest in the matter and raised it with successive Japanese Prime Ministers. His visit to Japan in September 1993 marked a new stage in the discussions that had been taking place. A new Government had just come into power in Japan, and they were more willing than their predecessors to face up to the issues.
The Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Hosokawa, for the first time gave a full and detailed apology for the treatment of British prisoners. He expressed his
deep remorse and apologies for the fact that Japanese past actions had inflicted deep wounds on many people including former prisoners of war".
He and the Prime Minister agreed to consider possible non-governmental measures that might help to resolve the issue.
The British Government, with much help from sympathetic individuals, developed a proposal for a non-governmental foundation that might be privately financed and contribute to the welfare and the meeting of other needs of former prisoners. A great deal of work was put into that, not least by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd). We hoped that there would be some practical benefits for those concerned, but in the end, however, the project had to be given up when it became clear that there was no realistic prospect that private funding would become available.
The Government nevertheless continued intensive discussions with the Japanese Government in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of VJ day, which produced two positive developments. First, the new Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Murayama, made an official statement on VJ day, cleared with all members of his Cabinet, in which he expressed his "heartfelt apology" and "feelings of deep remorse" for the damage and suffering caused to the people of many countries, including former British prisoners of war.
Secondly, the United Kingdom was included in a £650 million programme—the peace, freedom and exchange initiative, launched by Mr. Murayama. The initiative's specific aims are to face up to the facts of history and to promote reconciliation. It will last for 10 years and in the United Kingdom we are funding a major historical project designed to examine both the dark and the good side of our past relationship and an extensive programme of exchanges. Under the initiative, there have already been a number of visits of reconciliation to Japan by former prisoners and their families. There is also a specific programme aimed at the grandchildren of former prisoners.
I am well aware that many former prisoners of war simply do not feel that the Japanese moves are sufficient; they do not feel that the Japanese have yet demonstrated clearly enough the sincerity of their apologies, and continue to seek compensation. The Government respect those feelings. We have the greatest sympathy with those who suffered such terrible treatment at Japanese hands during the war, so we have not closed the book on the problem. On the contrary, Ministers have on numerous occasions pointed out to their Japanese counterparts that emotions in this country continue to run deep.
I, myself, raised the matter in April when I visited Japan, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary did so when he visited in September. In responding to us, Japanese Ministers expressed their own sympathy and understanding for the former prisoners, but have not at this stage gone further than the measures that I have already mentioned.
Although I do not expect the Minister for one moment to speak on behalf of the Prime Minister or in any way depart from his brief—I am not criticising him in any way—will he promise that today's debate will be brought to the Prime Minister's attention so that he understands the strong feelings on this issue on both sides of the House? There is no division whatever between hon. Members and it would be useful if the Prime Minister were made aware of Parliament's very strong feelings.
I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has asked for a copy of the debate. Putting aside any partisan feelings, the House must recognise the personal interest that my right hon. Friend has shown in the matter.
I mentioned that the Japanese Ministers to whom we have spoken have said that they will not yet go further than the measures that I have already mentioned, but we intend to continue our discussions with them. As right hon. and hon. Members have said, there are extremely friendly relations between Japanese and British Ministers and, indeed, between Britain and Japan and their people. Ties go back to the 19th century and, even today, the 1902 Anglo-Japanese alliance and other historic links with Britain are remembered with affection in Japan. As has been said in the debate, Japan today is a very different country from that of the war-time period.
Does the Minister accept that Japanese companies that were involved in the war have a role to play, since in Japan, unlike Europe, prisoners of war and internees were directly used as forced or slave labour? Today's Japanese companies could play some role in helping to solve the problem.
I would willingly encourage any new initiative to encourage Japanese companies to help in that way.
Japan has changed. Its remarkable economic success has thrust it on to the world stage. It is the largest bilateral aid donor, the second largest contributor to the United Nations, a Group of Seven partner of the United Kingdom, and a country with which we have shared many interests and perspectives. We have benefited and continue to benefit from the very highly successful inward investment that we receive from Japan, which produces many tens of thousands of jobs in the United Kingdom. Our modern relationship is different from what it was. The matter is not just one of economics. It depends on the values that, over the years, we have come to share.
I do not believe that there is any serious risk that Japan will revert to the path of its wartime militarists. Its post-war development has carried it on to a new, more productive route. I believe that Japan is trying to put the issue behind it. Japanese children are trying to live up to their past. They no longer avoid the issues of Japanese war-time behaviour in Asia and harsh treatments of prisoners of war. We must remember that the terrible crimes in relation to comfort women, which was mentioned earlier, has only recently been acknowledged and admitted.
The issues are sensitive and difficult and it has taken time for new attitudes to emerge. It is never easy to overcome the bitterness and shame of war, especially among those directly involved. But it is fair to say that the British Government have provided greater political support to our former prisoners than any of the other allied Governments have to theirs. As I have explained, we have been constrained by the legal position under the San Francisco treaty, but we have had a series of discussions with the Japanese Government at all levels, in an effort to establish what might be done to help the former prisoners and give them satisfaction. We have not done that out of vindictiveness or a desire to punish the Japanese for past crimes. On the contrary, we have acted out of a profound sense of sympathy for the former prisoners who endured such abominable treatment and out of a belief that it is only through confronting the facts of history that we can learn from them.
We have not achieved all that the former prisoners would like to see, but I believe that, thanks to our efforts and the efforts of many others in Britain and Japan, progress has been made and greater understanding achieved as a result. Our efforts will continue.