PoWs not British enough

In something that is so ludicrously pythonesque it would actually be funny if it weren't disturbingly true, the Neu Arbeit government demonstrate there is no barrel too deep that can't be scraped:

MoD apologises to 'not British enough' PoWs

Press Association
Wednesday July 13, 2005

The Ministry of Defence apologised today to hundreds of civilians held prisoner by the Japanese in the second world war who were deemed 'not British enough' to receive compensation.

The apology came after a scathing report from a Whitehall watchdog, which said those involved should be given the same £10,000 payment received as a "debt of honour" by former internees of Japanese camps who were born in the UK.

But the MoD rejected parliamentary ombudsman Ann Abraham's ruling that it was wrong to insist compensation should go only to those who were either born in the UK or had parents or grandparents born here.

Veterans minister Don Touhig accepted that the way in which the Far East Prisoner of War and Civilian Internee Ex Gratia Payment Scheme was introduced and announced in 2000 caused "distress" to the 1,100 former prisoners who were turned down for payouts because they failed the "birthlink" test.

In a written statement to parliament, he said the MoD was considering expressing its apology "in tangible form" - understood to mean a financial compensation payment.

But he insisted that the birthlink criterion should stay, at least until the government has finished considering a high court ruling made earlier this month, which found the compensation scheme "was unlawful and indirectly discriminated against those of non-British national origin".

In her report on a complaint from former internee Professor Jack Hayward, Ms Abraham ruled that ministers were guilty of maladministration in the way they rushed setting up, announcing and running the scheme.

The offer of compensation was made in November 2000, but it was not until July 2001 that the MoD announced the money was available only to British citizens who passed the "birthlink" test.

Ms Abraham said that this resulted in unequal treatment of those turned down.

But the MoD rejected her argument, insisting that there had been a requirement from the start for beneficiaries of the scheme either to be born or have parents born in the UK, and that the July announcement had in fact made it more generous by extending it to those with grandparents born here.

In her report, published today, Ms Abraham said that those owed a "debt of honour" in recognition of the "inhuman treatment and suffering" they endured were entitled to expect the scheme would be devised, announced and administered properly.

"It is of considerable regret to me that this did not happen," she continued.

"It is also deeply disappointing that the government has not accepted that it should properly remedy the injustice I have found was caused by maladministration."

In his statement responding to Ms Abraham's report, Mr Touhig said: "We accept that the way the scheme was introduced and announced led to distress for Prof Hayward himself and for some other people in a similar position.

"There was no intention to cause such distress but we accept that it is real. The fact that this occurred is profoundly regretted and I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for it.

"I sincerely apologise to these people and will now be examining whether I should express this apology in a tangible form and how most quickly to identify and contact those affected."

But he added: "The parliamentary commissioner made a number of criticisms and recommendations on other aspects of the government's handling of the scheme, notably relating to the birthlink criterion itself, which we do not accept."

The compensation scheme has been suspended since July 7, when the high court ordered the government to reconsider it in a ruling on the case of 81-year-old Diana Elias, who was interned in Hong Kong.

Mrs Elias, now a widow and living in Palmers Green, north London, was born in Hong Kong, and her parents were from India and Iraq.

The family was interned because they were British when the Japanese invaded Hong Kong in 1941, when the colony was part of the British Empire. She remained imprisoned until liberation in 1945.

Her application for compensation was originally rejected because she did not have the required "blood ties" with the UK.

The judge ruled the scheme "was unlawful and indirectly discriminated against those of non-British national origin".

However, he did not order a payment, but left it to the MoD to reconsider the scheme's eligibility criteria - and Mrs Elias's case - in the light of his ruling.

Mr Touhig today said: "This judgment is now being considered and it would not be appropriate to make further comment until the final outcome of the case is known."

Prof Hayward today accused the MoD of being "totally misleading" over the way the rules on eligibility had changed.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "They aroused expectations which they did not fulfil.

"I'm not so much worried about the expectation of financial compensation, which has never been a primary consideration of mine - that would have gone to charity had it been forthcoming.

"What I'm annoyed about - and it is still not resolved - is the question which you put to the minister and he has not replied to effectively, which is that they, in a sense, devalued the notion of what a British subject was when I was in prison."
The story is here.

The duplicitousness of the MoD should come as no surprise, but I hope that this situation was caused by an over-zealous clerk type getting carried away with their own sense of importance, as opposed to intended malice. Mind you, with the Ministry, you can never tell.

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