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The hon. Member for Halton asked why should we now open the doors to those who served in world war two. My father served throughout that war and he is now 90. The number of 90-year-olds across the world who are likely to wish to migrate to this country need not trouble or detain us for very long. That is a completely ludicrous way of examining the issue.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife says, it was a shabby decision to respond to the court ruling in quite this mean and minimalist way. I agree very much with what the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) said in his interventions. It is perfectly clear to me that the public in this country are of the overwhelming view that we owe a debt of honour to the Gurkhas. When I see on the Order Paper the range of names of hon. Members who have signed the various amendments, it is perfectly clear to me that opinion in this House across the board is also that we owe a debt of honour to the Gurkhas.
The hon. Member for Thurrock was right when he said that sooner or later the Government will end up losing this argument, having to give more ground and be seen to have done so with appalling bad grace, having been dragged kicking and screaming every inch of the way despite having had this opportunity to recognise the obligation and to do something in the spirit in which we owe. People who are prepared to fight and die for the United Kingdom deserve the right to settle and live in this country, and the sooner we recognise the debt of honour and repay it honourably, the sooner we will acknowledge these brave Gurkhas and everything that they have done for this country over 200 years. I commend the motion to the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to todays debate. Unfortunately, while some have been well informed, some have been less well informed. We are deeply grateful to Gurkhas for their service in Iraq and AfghanistanI have met some of themand in previous conflicts. I will not disparage or decry those people who are campaigning for Gurkha rights, including the actress Joanna Lumley, who does so with conviction. I disagree with some of the things that she says, but I do not question her integrity.
As the Minister responsible for veterans, it is my privilege to take responsibility for Gurkha welfare. Two weeks ago I visited Nepal, where I met Gurkhas and the various organisations that support their welfare there. The impression given in the last week that Gurkhas are living in abject poverty and being ignored in Nepal is not the case. It is important that we consider the various types of pension. The service pensioners, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration said, receive a pension that can be accrued after only 15 years service, so people can retire at 33 on a full pension. For privates, that means £173 a month. That is equivalent to the wage of a skilled technician. For an NCO, the payment is £240 a month, and Government Ministers in Nepal earn £234 a month.
Given the inconsistent approach that the Government of Nepal have taken to the recruitment of Gurkhasit was an election promise by the Maoists
not to allow Britain to recruit Gurkhasand following his discussions in Nepal last week, can the Minister update the House on the current position in the light of the ruling?
There are 26,000 Gurkha pensioners in Nepal. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) asked how we know how many there are; we know because we are paying them pensions. Some £54 million is therefore going into the Nepalese economy. The DFID budget is only £56 million. Some have suggested that taking that money out of the Nepalese economy will have no effect, but that is definitely not the case. It is important to recognise that the service pensioners whom I met last week would not claim that they did not have a good standard of living.
I am sad that lawyers representing the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemens Organisation, which is involved in the campaign, failed to turn up for the meeting that I had arranged with them. They later issued a press release condemning me for not meeting them. The House should be careful when it comes to some of the tactics being used in this debate.
I asked some of the service pensioners whether they would want to come here, and most said, No, but our families and children would. For those service pensioners, this Government have a proud record. The increase in their pensions over the past 10 years has been some 500 per cent., and we cannot just ignore the financial contribution that that makes to the economy of Nepal.
The second group of pensioners is the welfare pensioners, who did not accrue the service pensionlike many who serve in the British Armybecause they did not serve for long enough. In this country, they get no pension at all, but in Nepal they are paid the equivalent of £30 a month through the Gurkha Welfare Trust, which the MOD supports through a grant of more than £1 million a year and through administrative support. Then there is the medical care. According to some of the commentators, the Gurkhas want to come here because they lack medical care in Nepal, but that is not the case. Service pensioners and welfare pensioners get free primary health care, and their secondary health care is supported by the trust. Service pensioners, who already get a good income, also get a percentage of the cost of their care paid.
On the subject of the Gurkha Welfare Trust, may I put on the record our thanks to those people? They are doing a first-rate job and since my visit I have given a commitment that I will review MOD support and see what else we can do to help. Those people are truly inspirational, not just because of their help for Gurkhas but because of their charity work in villages and helping the wider community in Nepal.
May I address some of the points that were made in the debate. Quite clearly, the main Opposition party has a problem with this issue. Over the past few days, I have been trying to work out what its policies would be. For example, on Monday The Sun declared that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) is now supporting the Gurkha campaign. Anyone can defy me if, after reading the article, they can say what conclusion he comes to. Today, we have heard a very clear policy. Under the regulations, there would be new criteria that
allowed anyone who had served in Her Majestys armed forces to settle in the UK. That would include personnel from India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Burma, Singapore, Kenya and Rhodesia, to name but a few.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) made a very good point about the Tory track record. When the Tories had the opportunity to reward servicemen and women, they did not. In the draw-down from Hong Kong, only one in seven of the Crown officers and able personnel was allowed in. We are seeing crocodile tears, I think. The Conservatives policy would have an immense cost and would drive a coach and horses through the immigration policy of this country. I am glad that they have clarified that policy.
Let me clear up another point about the 20 years. The idea that only officers who served would qualify is not true. They all started as privates and 55 per cent. of the people who will qualify will not be officers.
The other issue that we need to clarify, which was raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), concerns the position of the Government of Nepal and the court case. The Nepalese official who gave evidence to the court case did so in a private capacity. There was nobody there from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nepalese Government have not given a view about whether they support Gurkha welfare or not.
When I was in Nepal, I raised that point with the Nepalese Government. As the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) saidhe speaks with authority, and I wish that his Front Benchers would listen to him more on the subject of the Gurkhasit is quite clear that the Nepalese Government had a position of opposing Gurkha recruitment. There is some silence on that point now. Have they expressed any opinion on the court case? No, they have not. I met senior members of the Government, including the Prime Minister.
May I address the issues raised by the hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson). I am very concerned about the case that he raises. If he has a Gurkha constituent whose wife is not entitled to NHS help, I want to see that evidence so that we can take up that case and see what can be done to help. The hon. Gentleman also raised a good point. If people are to retire here on a Gurkha service pension, that small amount will not go very far in supporting them. There is a danger that the next position will be that we should offer retrospection on pensions to increase them to the post-1997 level. That would be a huge additional cost to the taxpayer that we must take into account when recognising that point.
There has been a lot of coverage over the past few days of the way in which the Government have treated Gurkhas. May I say that I think that we have done a lot for Gurkhas and their families, and that we are continuing to do that? We should be proud of that, as it is something that no other Government have ever done. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, this is the
first time ever that settlement rights have been given to Gurkhas. Before 1997, only five had been allowed to settle. That shows our commitment. However, I advise people who debate this issue to put any motion to one side and look at the facts. Over the next few days, we need to look at the detailed work that the Gurkha Welfare Trust and other bodies are doing in Nepal to support Gurkhas. We are not talking about people living in abject poverty.
We have had a good debate today. Everyone in the House supports the Gurkhas and appreciates the bravery that they have demonstrated in previous wars and still show today. This Government are committed to the Gurkhas and, as the Minister responsible, I am committed to doing my utmost both for Gurkhas serving now and for those who served before.
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