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10.29 am

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford): 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

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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

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:

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.

Mr. Pike: 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.

Mr. Lloyd: 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

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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:

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

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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.

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