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the question of equalising Gurkha pensions should not and need not be conflated with the debate about settlement.
On the basis of the measures I have set out today, I am proud now to be able to offer this countrys welcome to all who have served in the Brigade of Gurkhas and who wish to apply to settle here. I am sure that all who come here will make the most of the opportunities of living and working in the UK.
I am delighted that we have now been able to agreeacross Government, across the House and with the Gurkhas representativesnew settlement rights, which all those who have served us so well so highly deserve. I commend the statement to the House.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): This has been a great victory for a well run campaign, which publicly embarrassed Ministers and reminded us all of the role that the Gurkhas have played in helping to defend this country over the centuries. It is also a timely reminder of what the House can achieve when it stands up to the Executive and expresses its will about what should happen. We do not do that often enough.
First and foremost, this case was about basic decency. Many people from around the world have come to live in this country in the past decade. There was never a justification for denying that right to a group of people who have long lived in the nations affections, and who have risked, and often given, their lives for its protection.
We have always been clear that those who risk their lives for this country should have the right to come and live in our country. It is just a shame that the Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming through the courts, at great cost to the taxpayer, then through the crowds of Gurkhas outside this place, before they finally accepted the inevitable. [Interruption.] The statement is also a tribute to the determined and effective campaign by Joanna Lumley to persuade Ministers to change their minds.
Does the Home Secretary now finally accept that it was a massive mistake not to listen when we told her to accept the court ruling and not fight it? [Interruption.] Can she provide the House with more detail about costs? A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister was putting forward almost doomsday financial forecasts about the cost to the British taxpayer of allowing the Gurkhas to settle here. [Interruption.]
Chris Grayling: A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister presented almost doomsday financial forecasts about the cost to the British taxpayer of allowing the Gurkhas to settle here. Will the Home Secretary now confirm that those figures were wrong? What is her current forecast? What impact will todays announcement have on former members of the armed forces who come from other Commonwealth countries or, indeed, non-Commonwealth countries? What rights does she intend to offer them in future?
Let me give a clear commitment today to the Gurkhas and all those who have taken part in the campaign: you have won a great victory over this Government, but you have nothing to fear from a change of Government. If there is a Conservative Government after the next election, we will honour the agreement and ensure that the Gurkhas who want to come here are treated as honoured veterans of our armed forces, not as an unwelcome addition to the pressures on our immigration system.
Jacqui Smith: Well, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there has been an effective campaign on the issue. I also agree that it is right for the Government to respect the will of the House, and that is what we are doing in bringing forward todays policy proposals.
I find it slightly more difficult to agree with the hon. Gentleman on his more party political points, not least because the policy that we are announcing today builds on our record as the first Government to provide settlement rights for the Gurkhassomething that was patently not done under the previous Conservative Government.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the court ruling. Let me make it clear to him that we did fulfiland are fulfilling in todays policythe court ruling from last year, which upheld the distinction between those Gurkhas who were discharged pre-1997 and those discharged post-1997. The policy that we are announcing today is in line with that court ruling, as has been everything we have done since.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about costs. We have been assisted on that by the work of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, alongside officials from across government and Gurkha representatives, on what they believe the actual numbers likely to want to apply will be. We accept the Committees suggestion that the costs are more likely to be nearer £300 million to £400 million a year.
As for the hon. Gentlemans point about Commonwealth soldiers, as happened in the debate he appears to be suggesting a radical change with respect to their entitlement to come to this country, which would have significant costs across government. It is for the hon. Gentleman to say how he would implement that and how those costs would be dealt with. Although the scheme for Gurkhas is exceptional, I am confident that their settlement rights now correlate with those of Commonwealth soldiers. On that basis, I think that we are today bringing forward a fair policy.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab):
In a month that has been appalling for the House of Commons and made many of us feel almost ashamed to be here, I want to say unequivocally that I am proud to be a Member of the House of Commons today. This has been a rare good day for Parliament. I invite the Home Secretary to pay tribute to the work of the all-party group on Gurkha rights, and in particular the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) and the long-time Gurkha campaigner, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). Today is an example of Members of Parliament from across the House working with a brilliant and inspirational campaign out there in the country that touched the very core of the British sense of fair play and doing the right thing by people
who are prepared to risk their lives for our country. I thank the Home Secretary and the Government for belatedly seeing the light.
Jacqui Smith: I am certainly willing to pay tribute both to my hon. Friend, who has worked hard to raise the issue of Gurkha settlement both with me and the Government, and in the House, and to the all-party group on Gurkha rights for its work, and in particular the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) and the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), as he said. The detailed work carried out by those representatives and by the Home Affairs Committee on reaching a common view on the likely numbers involved in settlementand, therefore, the likely costshas also been important in enabling us to move to todays policy announcement. I thank my hon. Friend and members of the Committee for facilitating that work.
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I am grateful to the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement, which I welcome enormously. The Prime Minister and the Minister have finally listened to the will of the House and the will of the British public, which is devoutly to be wished for. The campaign has run for many years. Six years ago, the Gurkhas attended our conference in Harrogate. We have had two wars since the campaign began. It is only through the perseverance of that campaign and the continued pressing of the Government by hon. Members and those outside this place that the Gurkhas finally have justice.
Does the Home Secretary not realise that dither and delay on that scale only emphasises the gracelessness of the whole process and of the Governments decision? Given the simplicity of the principle involvedthat the people who fight and die for this country should have the right to live in this countrysurely she should reflect on whether the Governments moral arteries have been somewhat furred in the Governments failure to grapple with the issue. Why did it take so long to recognise the public backing for that fundamental principle and the important claim that the Gurkhas have on the hearts of the British people?
Jacqui Smith: I am slightly disappointed that the hon. Gentleman continues to conflate the situation of those Gurkhas who have been discharged post-1997, when it was this Government who provided for the settlement of those Gurkhas in 2004. We have been pleased to welcome 6,000 Gurkhas, plus their families, as part of that policy change since then. The principle is different, as the court recognised, for the exceptional scheme that we are now putting in place for those discharged pre-1997. The luxury of opposition is to be able to talk about the simplicity of principle. The responsibility of government is to take decisions that do the right thing in terms of our responsibilities to the country, the taxpayer and our immigration policy. That is what I believe we have done today.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friends statement for two reasons. First, it recognises the unique debt of honour that this country owes the Gurkhas. Secondly, it recognises the unique status that that confers on them. Well done.
Jacqui Smith: I agree with my right hon. Friend. Throughout the arguments about how we put the policy into operation, I hope and I believe that there has never been any doubt from the Government or any hon. Member about our commitment and gratitude to the Gurkhas for the role that they have played in serving this country. Their unique place has enabled us to bring forward the exceptional scheme that we are announcing today.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): I say unreservedly that this is a fantastic day for hon. Members in all parts of the Chamber who have campaigned on this issue. I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee in particular, whose calm presence throughout has been welcomed in all parts of the House. One lesson for the Government may be that they have taken what was a good record on the Gurkhasa record on which they should have been congratulatedand managed to throw it in the gutter in the course of their prevarication. We have had the invidious sight of the Minister for Borders and Immigration chasing around after Joanna Lumleywell, he can be forgiven for that; it was when he caught up with her that the damage was done; in future, perhaps he should chase after someone only if he has a good chat-up line.
As for the Government, let me congratulate them on finally doing the right thing. This is a great day for the House. In the midst of all the sleaze inquiries and everything else, this is one moment when MPs here can hold their heads up and say, This is what we shouldve been doing every day of the week.
Jacqui Smith: The right hon. Gentleman is being slightly churlish about my ministerial colleagues, who have worked hard to get us to todays position. The Governments record on supporting the Gurkhas stands in contrast to that of the previous Government, as I have outlined. I am proud of what we have done, and I think that we are building on that record today.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I thank the Home Secretary for an excellent statement. I pay tribute to her, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Borders and Immigration for what they have done, especially over the past few days. The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) is absolutely right: this is a good day for Parliament, because Opposition parties were also part of the process, in informing the Government of what was happening. The seminar on Tuesday, at which people could sit down privately and work things out, was possible only because the Minister for Borders and Immigration invited us.
I have one final recommendation. I do not know what the Home Secretarys travel plans are, but may I suggest that she go to Kathmandu, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter)I do not know whether Joanna Lumley will be therewhen those visas are issued to see the joy on the faces of those to whom she has given justice today and thank Joanna Lumley for the wonderful work that she has done?
I certainly believe that, as my right hon. Friend has said, the work facilitated by the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday, with the input of officials across Government, Gurkha representatives and members of the Committee, has been very important in providing us with the basis for the proposals, on which it has been
possible to move forward today, confident that we can fulfil our duty to the Gurkhas in line with our responsibility to taxpayers and our broader immigration policy. I thank him for his leadership in bringing that forward.
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): This is, indeed, a very good day for the House and for the Brigade of Gurkhas. I recall working with the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green on this issue five or six years ago, when I spoke for my party on defence and he had the same responsibilities for the Conservative party. The Home Secretary will realise that Gurkhas have continued to fight and to die for this country during that period. Will she consider whether the dependants and families of those who served and were killed or died from old age, including a Victoria cross recipient just, I think, two weeks ago, should also be entitled to this welcome change? This is a very good day, not least because it is my birthday; it is good day for the Gurkhas, and the Home Secretary could make it even better by reconsidering those cases.
Jacqui Smith: Happy birthday to the hon. Gentleman; I am always keen to please. He makes an important point about the dependants and widows of Gurkhas. I hope that he will look carefully at the guidance that we are proposing, which makes it clear that the ability to settle should be open, within the policy, to those who were widowed when their Gurkha husbands were killed in active service. It also includes the discretion to take into consideration exceptional circumstances in respect of other widows and dependants.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): The Home Secretary has made a very welcome statement, but she has also said explicitly that this case is unique and exceptional. May I press her on the legal certainties of that uniqueness and exceptionality, given that many people in my constituency and elsewhere have relatives in other parts of the Commonwealth who may feel that they are not being treated equally?
Jacqui Smith: Certainly, since 1980, when the rules changed, people from the Commonwealth who served with the British Army have been entitled to settlement in a way that those who served with the Gurkhas were not entitled at that time. Today, we are effectively giving the pre-1997 Gurkhas an entitlement that they did not have, which is roughly equivalent to one that Commonwealth soldiers have had, after four years active service, to apply for settlement in the UK within two years. We believe that there is legal justification for the exceptional basis of the scheme that we are introducing, and that view was shared by the Home Affairs Committee in its seminar on Tuesday.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): I warmly applaud the Governments decision, which is good news indeed. Most of my constituents will be very happy about it, except for the members of the British National party who have put out a leaflet saying that all Gurkhas should go home, which is utterly disgraceful.
Will the Home Secretary clarify one point from her statement? She said that this policy applies to all former Gurkhas who retired before 1997. May I assume that she is referring to post-1947 Gurkhasin other words, those who served with the British Army and not the Indian army?
Jacqui Smith: Yes, I confirm that we are talking about Gurkhas from post-1948, when the Brigade of Gurkhas became part of the British Army, rather than pre-1948 when it was, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, part of the Indian army.
Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): I very much welcome todays statement; the Government have without doubt made the right decision. However, is my right hon. Friend concerned, as I am, about all the other regiments, not least my grandfathers regiment, the Bengal Engineers, and those who fought in Malaysia, Singapore and Kenya, which never had a Joanna Lumley campaigning for them? The Government have made the right decision today, but, inevitably, there will be inconsistencies for others who have also given blood for king, queen and country over the years.
Jacqui Smith: I believe it is right that we have had the policy, which I have just outlined, for Commonwealth soldiers who served with the British army. For a long time that has meant that those who served for four years and applied within two years of the end of their service were able to get settlement in the UK, but that was not the situation for pre-1997 Gurkhas.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): It is indeed a good day for the House and for Gurkhas. The 120 Gurkhas who serve in the Mandalay company based at Derring Lines in Brecon will also be very pleased about this announcement, although their position was already safeguarded. Will the Secretary of State take on board the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) about extending the policy to the dependants of Gurkhas who have died but who would have qualified if they were still alive?
Jacqui Smith: I hope that I answered that when I responded to the hon. Member for Herefords question, when I made it clear that the policy applies to widows whose husbands were killed in active service.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): As others have said, this policy will be welcomed right across the country and by those who served with Gurkha regiments. Have there been any discussions with the authorities in Nepal in recent weeks about the impact on the future of that nation of losing so many good people who might have been its lifeblood? I am sure that this policy will have some economic impact on that nation.
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