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29 Apr 2009 : Column 924

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.

3.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to today’s 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 Afghanistan—I have met some of them—and 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.

Mr. Lancaster: Given the inconsistent approach that the Government of Nepal have taken to the recruitment of Gurkhas—it was an election promise by the Maoists
29 Apr 2009 : Column 925
not to allow Britain to recruit Gurkhas—and following his discussions in Nepal last week, can the Minister update the House on the current position in the light of the ruling?

Mr. Jones: I will come to that point in a moment.

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-Servicemen’s 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 pension—like many who serve in the British Army—because 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
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allowed anyone who had served in Her Majesty’s 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.

Mr. Howard: On that point, will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jones: I am sorry, but I cannot—I have only three minutes left.

When I was in Nepal, I raised that point with the Nepalese Government. As the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) said—he speaks with authority, and I wish that his Front Benchers would listen to him more on the subject of the Gurkhas—it 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
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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.

Question put (Standing Order No.31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.

The House divided: Ayes 267, Noes 246.
Division No. 104]
[4.00 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane
Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Alexander, Danny
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Baron, Mr. John
Barrett, John
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Bottomley, Peter
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brake, Tom
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Breed, Mr. Colin
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Browning, Angela
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Burt, Alistair
Burt, Lorely
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cameron, rh Mr. David
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clark, Greg
Clegg, rh Mr. Nick
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Cohen, Harry
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dodds, Mr. Nigel
Donaldson, rh Mr. Jeffrey M.
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dorries, Nadine
Duddridge, James
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Farrelly, Paul
Farron, Tim
Featherstone, Lynne
Field, Mr. Mark
Fisher, Mark
Foster, Mr. Don
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
George, Andrew
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert

Gove, Michael
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harvey, Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heath, Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hermon, Lady
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hoey, Kate
Hogg, rh Mr. Douglas
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Hopkins, Kelvin
Horwood, Martin
Howard, rh Mr. Michael
Howarth, David
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Howell, John
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hunter, Mark
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jackson, Glenda
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Key, Robert
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Kramer, Susan
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Laws, Mr. David
Leech, Mr. John
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Mackinlay, Andrew
Maclean, rh David
Main, Anne
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert
Mason, John
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McCrea, Dr. William
McDonnell, Dr. Alasdair
McDonnell, John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moore, Mr. Michael
Morgan, Julie
Mulholland, Greg
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, Mr. James
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Pound, Stephen
Price, Adam
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Reed, Mr. Andy
Rennie, Willie
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Angus
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Robinson, rh Mr. Peter
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, Mr. David
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Alan
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Sir Robert
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, David
Taylor, Mr. Ian
Taylor, Matthew
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Tredinnick, David

Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Vaz, rh Keith
Viggers, Sir Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Wilson, Sammy
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wishart, Pete
Wood, Mike
Wright, Jeremy
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Alan Reid and
Dan Rogerson

Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Baird, Vera
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, rh Mr. Gordon
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Bryant, Chris
Burnham, rh Andy
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byrne, rh Mr. Liam
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, rh Yvette
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, rh Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gilroy, Linda
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hanson, rh Mr. David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, rh John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Hill, rh Keith
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hope, Phil
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, rh Dr. Kim
Hughes, rh Beverley
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Knight, rh Jim
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, rh Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mactaggart, Fiona
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Marris, Rob
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, rh Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moran, Margaret
Morden, Jessica
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, rh Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Olner, Mr. Bill
Owen, Albert
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, rh James
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Roy, Lindsay
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Watson, Mr. Tom
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Wills, rh Mr. Michael
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Noes:

Claire Ward and
Mr. Dave Watts
Question accordingly agreed to.
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