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Jacqui Smith: I know that the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), gave the Government of Nepal the opportunity to make any case that they wanted to make in Tuesday’s discussion. They have not expressed concern about the change of policy, but it will
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remain this Government’s position to provide development aid where appropriate, including to Nepal. That is an important part of our international responsibilities. Also, there will continue to be a growing element of remittances back to Nepal, which may well benefit that country.

Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): May I join others in warmly welcoming the Home Secretary’s statement, and pay tribute to everyone inside and outside the House who has been involved in the campaign? Will she assure the House that this announcement will not in any way affect the future of Gurkha regiments in the British Army?

Jacqui Smith: The Gurkhas play a very important part in the British Army and I am confident that they will continue to play that important role.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): This is indeed an excellent statement, but I remind my right hon. Friend that an enormous amount of distress was caused by the seeming ambivalence of the Government to a fighting force, the Gurkhas, which has given more, on more occasions, to the British armed forces than many whom we call friends. The statement is welcome, but will she reassure the House that the process that the Gurkhas and their families will enter into will not only be speedy, but ensure that they are treated with respect and dignity?

Jacqui Smith: I assure my hon. Friend that there has never been any such ambivalence from this Government or from the people of this country about the contribution that the Gurkhas have made to supporting this country’s interests. The Government have a responsibility to find the right way to do the right thing, and that is what we have worked to achieve, alongside Gurkha representatives and across the Government. That is what I believe we have achieved today, and yes, I can give her a commitment that we have in place the resources to process the number of applications that Gurkha representatives believe will come forward. With the assistance that I hope the Gurkha representatives will provide—through the resettlement board that they have proposed, for example—I believe that those people will be able to arrive here, become integrated and play a full part in the life of this country. I am sure that that will be the case.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Of all the conflicts the Gurkhas had to fight, it is perhaps ironic that their longest battle was their fight to live in the country that they were willing to die for. Nevertheless, will the Home Secretary accept the gratitude of the many constituents of Montgomeryshire who have fully supported Joanna Lumley, the campaigners and the Gurkhas’ right to achieve that goal? The Home Secretary has listened, and she has acted. In so doing, she has shown her Department and Parliament at their best.

Jacqui Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. I, too, give credit to Joanna Lumley. I know that the Minister for Borders and Immigration was able to meet her again yesterday to talk through our proposals. She has played a very important role, and I am pleased that Ministers across the Government have been willing to listen to her and to other campaigners.

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Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): As secretary of the all-party group on Gurkhas, may I, on behalf of the 1,000 Gurkhas living in Swindon, thank the cross-departmental team that came up with this solution? Tomorrow, by sheer chance, I have a meeting with some of those Gurkhas. They will be asking me when the practical information will be published so that they and the Gurkhas who are not in this country can get on with their visa applications. Will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that that information will be published quickly?

Jacqui Smith: This is most significant for those Gurkhas who are in Nepal. They will form the vast majority of those who will benefit from the announcement. The Ministry of Defence will ensure, through its contacts and its knowledge of where those Gurkhas are, that that information is disseminated to them as quickly as possible.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I welcome the Government’s change of position over the past few weeks—and, indeed, that of the Conservative party over a rather longer time. What lessons do the Home Secretary and her Department feel they have learned from what has happened in recent weeks? Would she be willing to apply any lessons that she can think of to another situation in which the spirit of a court judgment needs to be complied with? A similar situation has arisen twice in respect of the highly skilled migrant programme, which is closely analogous with the Gurkhas’ situation in terms of compliance with the spirit of that for which the court has asked.

Jacqui Smith: I have learned the lesson that, even when we comply with court rulings, that does not always satisfy campaigns. I have learned that we therefore need to be able to work across Government to ensure that we do the right thing. I think I have probably also learned the lesson that it is easier for those in opposition than it is for those in government to deliver change.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I was delighted to have been the Minister to announce the new terms and conditions for the Gurkhas, particularly the pensions, which are now the same as for the rest of the British Army. However, although a Gurkha’s pension provides a reasonably good income in Nepal, that would not be the case for a Gurkha living in this country. Obviously, many of the Gurkhas and their families who come to this country will work, but some will be unable to do so or will have reached retirement age. Will my right hon. Friend tell me whether those who are not working will be able to get the same benefits as the rest of the UK population in order to ensure that they have a decent income?

Jacqui Smith: Yes, I can give my hon. Friend the commitment that those Gurkhas who are coming to this country will be coming here to settle and they will therefore have the same entitlement to benefits as anybody in this country, including an entitlement to pension credit, in order to ensure that they have a reasonable level of income if they have retired. He is right to say that, notwithstanding the significant 50 per cent. increase in the Gurkha pension scheme over the past few years for those who were discharged from the Gurkhas pre-1997,
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there might still be some who will need to claim benefits when they arrive in this country, and that will be part of their entitlement.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, I welcome the surrender of the Government in the face of the Gurkha-Lumley onslaught, as do many others inside and outside the House. The Government have eventually done the right thing, and they must be congratulated on it, but I wonder whether the Home Secretary regrets not doing this earlier.

Jacqui Smith: No, I am proud of the Government’s record of supporting the Gurkhas and providing settlement post-2004. Working across Government, across the House and with Gurkha representatives, we have done the right thing today, and that is the basis on which I have made this announcement.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): May I also welcome the statement? I do not take it lightly when I rebel against the Government line and, speaking as one of the 27 rebels, I want to thank the ministerial team for doing all that they could to keep their promise to come back to the House.

I want to raise a practical point. If we are talking about 10,000 to 15,000 Gurkhas rightly being able to settle in this country, will my right hon. Friend ensure that other services are put in place, as well as arranging visas and getting people over here? Will she ensure that housing and all the other local authority services that those people will require will be in place? We do not need to spend time in our surgeries over the next three or four years picking up casework because those services have not been put in place. I am sure that she will be working on those details as much as she has done on the visa application scheme, and if she does, this will be a proud day for the Government. I congratulate her on doing this.

Jacqui Smith: The issue of integration into the community was discussed by the Home Affairs Committee in the seminar on Tuesday. It is obviously an issue that the Government, and MPs in their constituencies, take seriously. That is why I welcome the commitment of the Gurkha representatives, and the proposal that they made on Tuesday to lead work with the resettlement board. That work could look at integration, including support and advice for Gurkhas coming to the UK and support for learning English. That will make an important contribution, alongside the commitment that the Government are making on expenditure, whether on benefits, health or education, to provide the Gurkhas with their entitlement, once they have received settlement in this country.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that, as officers of the all-party group on veterans and members of the all-party group on Gurkhas, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and I have consistently supported the Gurkha campaign, including in the vote in the House. An enormous number of people in Blackpool have also supported the campaign, not least because of the historic ties that the town has with the Gurkhas, through the Burma Star Association
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and the British Legion, for example. My right hon. Friend has brought great credit to the Government this afternoon by the clear and simple way in which she has spelled out the new policies. Does she agree that we have a right to be proud of the commitment made by this Government, who were also the first Government to rectify the issue of compensation for far east prisoners of war?

Jacqui Smith: I hope and believe that that is what my ministerial colleagues and I have achieved today. We have been able to do this because of the commitment of Ministers across the Government, Members across the House and Gurkha representatives to engage in a practical way to enable us to overcome some of the difficult issues that had prevented us from making this decision more quickly. I am grateful to all those people, including my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and his Blackpool colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood, for supporting us and helping us with the information that has enabled us to do this today.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): In my right hon. Friend’s statement, she said that she was making resources available within the UK Border Agency to process the applications. Will she assure me that that will be done by bringing in new resources, and not by relocating resources within the UKBA, which would have the undesirable consequence of delaying still further the cases of many of my constituents who are waiting for their applications to be regularised so that they can settle down to a decent life in this country?

Jacqui Smith: I can give my hon. Friend a commitment that we are already speeding up the basis on which we process applications. We are working hard to get through those legacy cases, some of which might be those to which my hon. Friend has referred. The applications for settlement will—rightly, and in line with others—be accompanied by a fee, which will help us to ensure that we have the resources in place to deal with them. It is because I have confidence in the ability of the UK Border Agency to process these applications and others quickly and effectively that I am able to make the commitment that I have made today.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I thank both the Home Secretary and the Minister for Borders and Immigration for being so prompt in responding to my request to re-examine the 20-year service requirement; reassurance was given only four weeks ago, and we have today heard the announcement that it is going down to four years.
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Will my right hon. Friend talk to the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills to ensure that young Gurkhas living in families here who are doing well at school will not be subject to overseas fees when they go on to university?

Jacqui Smith: Of course, if people have settlement in this country, they are entitled to all the things that come with it. If there are issues that relate not so much to people as Gurkhas but to people as overseas students with respect to universities, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will bear them in mind in line with overall policy on access to higher education.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement as it has been welcomed throughout the House. I am sure that it will also be welcomed by the Nepalese former Gurkha community in my constituency, particularly in Burnt Oak. May I press the Home Secretary further on the pension? She is right to say that it is a separate issue, but it is also fair to say that people will not be able to live in the UK on a Nepalese Gurkha pension. While it is all well and good to say that people can live on benefits, that is not the same as living on a pension as of right. I caution my right hon. Friend that this issue is not going to go away; some of us will continue to campaign on it.

Jacqui Smith: That was certainly not the view of the Home Affairs Committee, which felt that it was possible to separate out the issue of settlement from that of pensions. We have very much lived up to our responsibility as a Government first to those Gurkhas discharged after 1997, who have been granted entitlement to move on to the wider armed forces pension scheme and, secondly, to those discharged pre-1997, who have received—thanks to this Government’s investment—a much enhanced entitlement under the Gurkha pension scheme. It was the distinction between pre and post-1997 that was upheld in the court ruling, and we believe that the same distinction is being upheld in the policy that we are announcing.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I congratulate this Government, who have done more than any other Government in history for the Gurkhas. I wish that the pre-1997 Gurkhas had been given their rights earlier, but today is a day for rejoicing. I congratulate the Government once again on listening, and thank them very much.

Jacqui Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman, who I know has campaigned hard on this issue. As I said, I believe that this is a credit to the House. As a Government we have listened to the will of the House and delivered the right result today.

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Whitsun Adjournment

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— (Ian Lucas.)

12.53 pm

Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): May I take the opportunity presented by this traditional recess Adjournment to say a few words about an important subject for south-east London—the reconfiguration of the hospital and health care arrangements in that part of the world. Speaking as the MP for Orpington, I am especially concerned about the impact on my constituency, as well as on the constituency of Bromley. As the Minister will be aware, the Secretary of State for Health has made some momentous decisions in recent weeks and days, which will have a major impact on the provision of health care services in the area.

What were those decisions? First, the Secretary of State accepted the findings of the review by the independent reconfiguration panel of the proposals for changes in the location and delivery of health care services under the “A picture of health” programme. The major changes will apply to the area’s three big hospitals: the Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust, the Queen Elizabeth hospital, Greenwich, and Queen Mary’s hospital, Sidcup.

Secondly, as well as looking at the provision of health services, the review looked at the whole business of the trusts and their arrangements. Of the three already quite sizeable trusts, one new trust has been created: the South London Healthcare NHS Trust. That came into being on 1 April, with a new chairman, a new chief executive and further appointments to follow. I say in passing that, for me, that represents the end of a long campaign to get committed management into the health service in south-east London. We previously had managers based there for no longer than six months at a time. With that sort of episodic approach to management—to put it politely—none of the big issues was ever going to be properly tackled. Now we have a management who are committed to the future—for a long time, I hope—and should be able to see through some of the necessary changes.

The third aspect, which I would like the Minister to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health or other Health Ministers, has not yet happened, but will begin to happen over the next six months. I refer to the financial restructuring of the new trust, which must accompany its creation and the reconfiguration of services in the area. That is mainly a matter for the London NHS, but none the less, since the money is huge, I am sure that Ministers will play a role—and I certainly hope they do.

The financial situation that the new trust has inherited is indeed dire. The total deficit is likely to exceed £200 million in the not too distant future. That is a huge deficit for any NHS hospital trust to have. In addition, the trust continues to have an operating deficit year by year. It amounts to a financial position that I would suggest is almost unprecedented in the history of NHS trusts. How it came about is something that I have sought to explain in previous speeches. I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on 28 October 2008—from Hansard column 210—so I shall not go over it again; it is now history. The truth is that nobody—not
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the Government, not NHS London, not the PCT, not the hospitals—emerges with any credit from the circumstances.

The Government have a financial obligation to provide a proper financial basis for the new trust in order to get it off to a good start. My understanding is that the management are now working on a financial plan and that it should be delivered over the summer for final consideration in the autumn. I hope that the Government will monitor the position carefully and keep it to plan. The management will obviously have to accept tough targets; they cannot simply be given the money without making serious attempts to meet considered targets. It is to those targets that I now wish briefly to turn.

The Government have a sort of bird’s eye view of the local circumstances, but I want to present, if I may say so, a worm’s eye view. It goes from the bottom up, which is equally important to the top-down view that will influence the Government: both are necessary in order to produce a balanced viewpoint. With the aid of the worm’s eye local perspective—that of local users and local patients—I would like to make three or four points.

First, let me deal with staffing. With the financial mess that we have seen, the staff of these hospitals have gone through a very difficult period. It is to their great credit that they have turned in such an excellent performance, particularly when some have simply not known what is going to happen to their local hospital or even their job. I pay tribute to them for what they have put up with during this period; that needs to be said. The difficulty for an outer-London hospital is that its consultants, doctors and nurses do not get inner-London weighting, so the hospitals are always at a disadvantage in competing with inner-London hospitals for staff. Understaffing has been a real concern and, in some areas—I do not want to name them—it is potentially dangerous. One of the objectives of the merger, and of the creation of this huge trust, is to provide a proper career structure with more pay bands to overcome the disadvantage of having no inner-London weighting and to attract good staff. I certainly hope that that happens.

It is also important that the staff are better consulted than they have been in the past about the proposed reconfiguration of services. The report by the reconfiguration panel says that the future of Orpington hospital should

That is important, because the hospital is well loved in the area. It is part of the Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust, along with the Princess Royal University hospital. The staff have not known what will happen, and they must now be given some indication of future planning. That has not happened in the past, but it should happen in the future.

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