Previous Section Index Home Page

29 Apr 2009 : Column 861

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
29 Apr 2009 : Column 862
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 cause. 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
29 Apr 2009 : Column 863
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.

29 Apr 2009 : Column 864

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): Given that the Government are a little strapped for cash at the moment, might this be the moment to reconsider our commitment to spend £20 billion on a new generation of nuclear weapons?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, that expenditure is over more than 20 years. As he also knows, we wish to use the fact of our deterrent to bring about non-proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the world and to persuade other countries to be part of a process of nuclear disarmament. At the moment there is an opportunity for the major powers to reduce their nuclear weapons and in return we could get agreements about non-proliferation of nuclear weapons from some of the major powers, while at the same time offering them the right that they should have to civil nuclear power. He may remember that the non-proliferation treaty was based on two principles: first, that countries with nuclear weapons would cut their nuclear weapons, and, secondly, that we would give non-nuclear states access to civil nuclear power. Given the pressures that exist at the moment, that is an even more relevant position than it was 50 years ago.

Q2. [271545] Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): Now that fiscal probity is back in vogue, why do we need a Labour Government?

The Prime Minister: Two and a half million extra jobs in 1997, 1 million extra young people in further education and training, 1 million more adults getting education and literacy, a doubling of the national health service and education—all would be put at risk by a Conservative Administration.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Eight hundred employees of the LDV van-maker in Birmingham, together with thousands more in dealerships and suppliers, face new worries today with the announcement that the company has applied to go into administration in a week or so. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will do everything that they can, proactively as well as reactively, to secure a viable owner for the company, with the backing that it needs to allow LDV to realise its potential, including the production of a new generation of electric vans?

The Prime Minister: Yes, we will. My hon. Friend is right. He has taken up the case of the car and vehicle industry in the midlands over many years. We have had substantial talks with the company, LDV, and we have tried to be of help to it. We have said that a range of Government support is available if it has a business model for moving forward that we can work with and support. Obviously, the responsibility for putting the company on a firmer footing has rested with the owner and potential investors, but we have already set aside money to make it possible for the car industry to receive support from Government.

Q3. [271546] Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): Will the Prime Minister accept responsibility for the months of chaos, uncertainty and confusion which surrounded schools in my constituency when post-16 education funding was removed at short notice?

29 Apr 2009 : Column 865

The Prime Minister: We are the party that is offering the guarantee of education to 18 for every young person; we are the party that is bringing in plans from this autumn that every teenager can have education as of right to 18; and we have announced in the Budget the money that will be made available to do so. It is a bit much for the Conservative party to complain about education funding when the first thing that the Conservatives would do is cut it as a result of their plans.

Q4. [271547] Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s votes on Sir Christopher Kelly’s review of Members’ allowances, one thing that the public have the right to expect is full disclosure of all outside influences, including income, who employs Members, who pays them, for how long and also—

Hon. Members: Unions!

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the hon. Gentleman speak.

Clive Efford: There is also the value of— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order, Mr. Campbell.

Clive Efford: There is also the value and income from blind investment trusts, such as the ones held by millionaires’ row on the Opposition Benches.

The Prime Minister: I think that Members should remember that the whole country is looking at our proceedings, and I think also that the whole country wants us to take the action that is necessary to clean up any problems and any abuses that exist in our system. [ Interruption. ] I must say to all Members who are shouting that they should have some humility, because the public are the taxpayers, and the public pay for the expenses of MPs. We have a duty to put in shape the best measures possible for dealing with that.

In the last week, we have made more progress than we made for many years. First of all, we are dealing with problems of employment of staff. We are dealing also with the problems that arise from outside interests, and I know that there is a lot of sensitivity on the Opposition Benches as we talk about that. Equally, we are dealing with the problems of London Members living in London at the same time as being in Westminster; we are dealing with the problems of grace-and-favour residences; and we are dealing with a review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life of the problem of the additional costs allowance. That should be based on transparency and attendance in the House, and a lower amount of money should be spent on it than is now. That is the way forward, and I hope that Members will all support the Government’s proposals tomorrow.

Q9. [271553] Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The regiment with which I had the honour of serving, the 14th/20th King’s Hussars, now the King’s Royal Hussars, is able to wear the Gurkhas’ cross kukris on their uniform, because of the operations on which we jointly serve. Does the Prime Minister not accept that a huge number of people in this country believe that we must be much less restrictive on allowing Gurkhas, some of whom have sacrificed their
29 Apr 2009 : Column 866
lives for this country, to come and live here? On that point, I fully support my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.

The Prime Minister: Yes, we should be less restrictive. That is why we have put forward the proposals. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that we can move in stages on this matter. This is a proposal that will allow 4,000 more Gurkhas to come into this country and mean that 10,000 people—their families included—will be able to reside in this country. That is the purpose of our proposal. I hope that he will support it.

Q5. [271548] Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): In my area of Teesside, the chemical industries made tremendous progress thanks to the policies pursued by our Labour Government, but recently industry has been going through very tough times and there have been plant closures as well as short-time working practices for employees. What policies, support and hope can my right hon. Friend give to my constituents, so that we can deal with the problems that we face and have a successful chemicals sector in the future?

The Prime Minister: We are taking action instead of the Opposition’s policy of doing nothing. Some 100,000 companies have benefited from our tax deferral, 350,000 workers are on short time and are getting benefit from our tax credits system, and we are ready to do more to help small, medium-sized and large businesses to look at the provision of guarantees and loans for the future. All over the world, I see Governments who are prepared to act and increase public investment to help people through the recession. The only party I know that refuses to do that is the Conservative party of Britain.

Q6. [271549] Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): At the last general election, the Labour party promised that it would have a referendum on the European constitution and that it would not raise the higher rate of income tax. Given that the Prime Minister is now going to break both those promises, why should the British people ever believe a word he says again?

The Prime Minister: On the first question of the European referendum, in the German summit to discuss the constitution-that-was, it was decided that the constitutional concept should be abandoned. That was the issue before us. If I may say so, the shadow Business Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who is not here today, accepted our view that the referendum was not necessary as a result of the changes that have taken place, and he said—this man is a Front Bencher—that the people who put forward the idea of a referendum were crackpot and daft.

As for tax, the Conservatives have to make their own decisions, but I believe that at a time when the nation faces difficulties, it is right that the people who have benefited so much as a result of their increase in income over the past few years should pay a little more as a contribution to helping this country through. That money will help people to get jobs, help young people to get training, help to build a low-carbon economy, and help
29 Apr 2009 : Column 867
to build our public services. I believe that the majority of people in this country will think that that is the right decision to make for the future of Britain.

Q8. [271551] Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): In all the complex issues that the Government have to deal with, all the international discussions that have gone on over the past few months, and all the
29 Apr 2009 : Column 868
important questions that have to be addressed, is there a single question of any significance whatsoever to which the answer is the Conservative party?

The Prime Minister: No, there is no economic problem we face to which the answer is the Conservative Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Speaker: Statement, the Prime Minister— [ Interruption. ] Order.

Next Section Index Home Page