Home > Great Britain > PMQs Weds. 29th April 2009.

PMQs Weds. 29th April 2009.

For once, I was in total despair as not for the first time Gordon Brown made a complete ass of himself in defending the government’s proposals concerning the right of Gurkhas to seek residency in the UK.  He made a pathetic attempt to promise a review but it was blah, blah, blah.  In normal circumstances I would support him to some extent but not this time.

This is a moral issue, Gurkhas are soldiers of the Queen and so should be given residency rights.

The key exchanges are below and for once Cameron and Clegg behaved with dignity;

” Mr. Cameron: May I thank the Prime Minister for that answer and that information? I am sure that at this time, the whole country and the whole House of Commons will want to wish the staff of our national health service well in what may be difficult days ahead.

May I turn now to the issue of the Gurkhas? The leader of the Liberal Democrats should be congratulated on proposing the Opposition day debate that we are having later today on the Gurkhas. Everyone in this House, I believe, wants to meet the obligations that we owe the Gurkhas. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need a solution that can be introduced rapidly, but that is consistent with fair and managed immigration? Does the Prime Minister now accept that the proposals that he has put forward are too restrictive, and as a result will neither honour our obligations nor command public support?

The Prime Minister: May I just reply to the last part of the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about the national health service before I come on to that? We have, of course, issued guidance to every health authority—they are all involved in dealing with this, even though cases have been confirmed in only four areas of the country. The advice to nurses and other members of the health service is that the antiviral will be available to them. The Health Secretary will give more details on that this evening. We want to protect the staff of the national health service, and as everybody recognises, they do a great job. We are very proud of them, and we will continue to support them in everything that we do with the funds that are necessary.

Coming on to the subject of the Gurkhas, which has been raised in the motion tabled for debate today, since 1997, we have taken the first action to give justice to the Gurkhas. During that period, the first ever rights of settlement for Gurkhas in Britain have been agreed, and 6,000 of them have applied successfully and have come into the country. Secondly, we have introduced equal pay and pensions for the Gurkhas—something that had not happened before—and, thirdly, we doubled the pensions of people staying in Nepal and increased the pension for Gurkhas, especially those at a senior age. I respect the fact that this is a matter of great concern for everybody in the country, but we have to balance our responsibilities to those who have served our country with the finance that we need to be able to meet those obligations, and therefore not base our offer on money that we cannot afford.

The proposals that we have introduced will increase the number of Gurkhas who can come into this country by 4,000 or, including families, about 10,000 people. We keep the matter under review, and we will review it over the course of the next few months, as the Home Secretary has said. There are 1,300 cases in the pipeline, and we have promised that we will review them by 11 June. So that there is no misunderstanding, let me say that the majority of the 4,000 who are coming into this country are below the rank of officer, and the suggestion that that is not the case is not, from the information that I have, correct. We will continue to review the position over the next period of time, and we will look particularly at the conditions applied to riflemen for their years of service. We will continue to report back to the House on the issue, but I hope that everybody agrees that this is an advance on where we were. Given that there were no rights of settlement for Gurkhas before 1997, within the public spending constraints that we face, we are taking another big step forward.

Mr. Cameron: The problem with the Prime Minister’s proposals is that those representing the Gurkhas believe that only 100 or so will be able to settle under his proposals. May I suggest a more straightforward way, as he said that he is prepared to review it, which would be to introduce a new category in the immigration system for people from overseas who have served in the armed forces, principally the Gurkhas? That would give the right of settlement to pre-1997 Gurkhas in an ordered way. Is that not a fair and managed way to maintain the integrity of the immigration system, while allowing those Gurkhas to settle in the UK, dealing with the 1,300 and more besides, because we owe them a debt of gratitude?

The Prime Minister: First of all, the figures that we have announced are 4,000, not 100. They include the families of Gurkhas—their children and descendants—making 10,000 in total. I do not accept the figure of 100, and I do not think that it bears mention, given the fact that on past experience, the 6,000 who have come in represent a very high number of the people who had the right of entry for service after 1997. I believe that those figures are realistic, and we are talking about several thousand people coming into the country. The total number of Gurkhas is 36,000, and the estimated public expenditure is about £1.4 billion for meeting those costs.

We have to work this in stages by balancing the need for the Gurkhas to receive recognition for everything that they have done with the finances that are available, given that we have other problems with which we have to deal at this time. Those who have given 20 years’ service, those who have been injured or disabled, and those who have won special honours for gallantry will be welcomed into this country, and I hope that the House recognises that while not everyone is satisfied with what we have done, we have made progress. We can work through this in stages, and continue to review what the right policy is for the future.

Mr. Cameron: I have to say that if the figures were robust, there would not be a huge number of Gurkhas gathering outside the House, including elderly and frail people who served our country, who do not believe that the Government are playing fair. Is it not the case that maintaining the Government’s approach will simply mean more delay and more elderly Gurkha veterans dying as they wait for an answer? May I ask the Prime Minister one last time whether he will at least consider the idea of introducing an additional category into the immigration system? There is an immigration Bill passing through Parliament to which it could be added. This would be a responsible and reasonable way of achieving a more generous settlement, which Members right across the House would support.

The Prime Minister: If the right hon. Gentleman is proposing this, presumably he knows the numbers involved, but I do not hear either him or the Liberal party saying the numbers that would be involved in this particular cause that has been put forward. Of course I am prepared to look at it. I will always look at suggestions that are made, so that we can see whether they are applicable, but what I would like the House to consider is that in stages we have made great progress; we must balance the public expenditure requirements of this country with the needs of those who want to come into our country. There are 1,300 cases under review, so I accept that people are waiting for results, but we have promised that these results will come by 11 June. We are determined to honour the service that the Gurkhas give. We have been very proud of what they have done for our country. We have made major changes over the last few years. We are prepared now to make major changes again, and we are prepared to continue to review the situation for the future, but that must be based on proper facts and figures and on the ability to make decisions that we can afford.

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Last December it was my sad duty to attend the funeral in Reading of campaigning Gurkha war veteran Bhim Prasad Gurung, who died in abject poverty while awaiting the outcome of his appeal against the refusal to offer him settlement in the UK. The Prime Minister should be aware that Bhim would have faced deportation under the new guidelines announced on Friday, as he was made redundant after 12 years of brave service and denied his Ministry of Defence pension. Will the Prime Minister be more specific about how quickly he will bring forward his promised 12-month review of the policy, finish the job that the Labour Government started in 2004, and deliver justice for Gurkhas at last?

The Prime Minister: Let me say first that my hon. Friend has been a campaigner on behalf of the Gurkhas, and he has raised the matter with me not only on many occasions, but recently. I can also say that I sympathise with the case of his constituent and the difficulties that he had faced. In the cases where no answers have been given, we have promised that the answers will come by 11 June. On the further reviews that are taking place, the Home Secretary has made it clear that she will continue to review the position. I am very sensitive to the position of the rifleman whom my hon. Friend mentioned. We will look carefully at that over the next few weeks.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I should like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family of the unnamed soldier who tragically lost his life in Afghanistan yesterday. I thank the Prime Minister for the information that he provided to the House on the measures that are being put in place to deal with swine flu. I join in lending the support of all of us to those working in the health system to deal with the crisis.

The Prime Minister’s answers on the Gurkha issue are deeply, deeply evasive. How is it honest or decent to say that Gurkha soldiers who have served 20 years can come and live in this country, when he knows full well that the majority of ordinary Gurkha soldiers serve only 15 years? How is it honest or decent to say that Gurkha soldiers must prove that their illness was caused by their military service, when he knows full well that the frailest Gurkha veterans cannot do that? Can he not see that there is a simple moral principle at stake, and it is this: if someone is prepared to die for this country, surely they deserve to live in this country?

The Prime Minister: It is precisely because we have accepted the importance of treating the Gurkhas well that we made changes in the past few years. We equalised pay and pensions and we doubled the pensions of Gurkhas who are retired in Nepal. It is precisely because we take seriously the questions that the right hon. Gentleman has raised today that we have increased the numbers of those who can come into this country. I have been given the information that half of the 4,000 are below officer class. It is not right to suggest that everybody who can come into the country must be a commissioned officer in the first place.

I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that we are making progress stage by stage on the matter. He has to bear in mind, as he constantly says, that there are public expenditure issues involved. At the moment, £1.4 billion would be a very big sum of money indeed for us to guarantee. We are taking the steps that are necessary, there is more justice for the Gurkhas than there ever was in the years before 1997, and we will continue to do our duty by the Gurkhas who have served this country.

Mr. Clegg: What kind of answer is that? It is the answer of a man who seems to know that he is doing a shameful thing, but does not have the guts to admit it or change it. It is the answer of a Government who have no principles and no courage. I ask the Prime Minister again: surely simple, ordinary British decency means that soldiers who are prepared to die for this country deserve to live in this country.

The Prime Minister: That is why we have taken the actions over the last few years that we have done. Let me just repeat: we led the way in giving Gurkhas right of settlement in this country, we led the way in equalising pay and pensions, and we led the way in doubling the pensions of those who are in Nepal. Now we are making sure that people with medical conditions and awards for their service to this country, as well as those with 20 years of service, can come into this country. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we believe that large numbers of people will take up that invitation for themselves and their families. But I have to put it to him that Governments must always balance the need to take action in stages with the resources that they have available. It may not be a problem that he has to face: it is a problem that we have to face and we will take the right decisions…”

Source: Parliament.

Later this afternoon the government was defeated in a debate on the issue, it was good to see a number of Labour MPs had the gumption to stand with the Gurkhas’ cause.  Gordon Brown is making some really weird decisions of late and the Labour Party is being damaged probably beyond repair; that fourth term is going out of the window!!!

Gurkha Justice Campaign

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