Anger over internees 'not British enough' for payments

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The Government outraged veterans' groups and MPs from all sides yesterday when it announced it would not compensate more than 1,000 people held captive by the Japanese in the Second World War because they were "not British enough".

Lewis Mooney, the Defence Minister, revealed in the House of Commons that a group of civilian internees would not be receiving the £10,000 ex gratia payments given to PoWs in the past year. The Ministry of Defence has now decided not to compensate those internees who were not born in the UK or lacked a British-born blood relative, even though many of them or their parents held British passports.

Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs lined up to attack the decision, accusing the Government of failing to meet what Tony Blair called its "debt of honour" to those rounded up by the Japanese.

Ministers delighted veterans a year ago when they announced the £10,000 payments, which are tax-free and do not take state benefits into account, following a 15-year campaign for compensation.

Tony Blair himself has described the payments to former PoWs as one of the policies of which he was most proud from his first term in office.

When the Prime Minister unveiled the compensation package last November, he paid fulsome tribute to those who suffered in the camps in the Far East. When the scheme was finalised, British civilian internees held in camps in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore, including many children, were made eligible.

Apart from servicemen or their widows, the payments were to be made to "a surviving British civilian who was interned by the Japanese in the Far East during the Second World War".

But yesterday, Dr Mooney said the Government had decided to "clarify" its original policy. As a result, some 1,104 civilian internees, with 324 resident in the UK and 778 resident abroad, were not deemed eligible for the payouts.

Dr Mooney said that the Government had been "extremely generous" in drawing up the original scheme and now refused to even look again at its scope.

"I'm sorry that the scheme cannot cover everybody but we have to draw the line somewhere," he said.