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On my hon. Friend's point about a special case for the Gurkhas, yes, we are making a special case, in terms of the UK equivalent: whereas a Gurkha on the GPS is eligible for an immediate pension after only 15 years, his UK equivalent is not. When we talk of equalisation, we need to be very clear about the fact that in most circumstances a Gurkha veteran's pension is at least as good, if not better, over the whole life of the pension, than his British counterpart's. If we transferred the Gurkhas to the equivalent of the 1975 or the 2005 scheme, they would not be significantly better off, as I
explained last week when I met the British Gurkha Welfare Society. The society has put out some misinformation about costs and I asked for clarification.
Our estimates are that it would cost about £1.5 billion over 20 years to equalise pensions, yet only 10 per cent. of Gurkhas would be beneficiaries. The British Gurkha Welfare Society says that we have been scaremongering and that our figures are wrong, but its figures are higher. I pointed out that its briefing notes for Members of Parliament showed that the figure would be £126 million, but failed to indicate that that was per year. Actually, the figure would be considerably higher than the £1.5 billion that we estimate and, as I said, only 10 per cent.-mainly in the officer class-would benefit.
It has been said that we are not talking about retrospection, but we are. We are being asked to change the agreements and conditions under which individuals joined the scheme. We have never operated pension schemes in that way in this country and it could open up other schemes to such an approach.
To return to my hon. Friend's point about settlement, I was concerned about the suggestion that we were changing the pension arrangements to stop people coming to the UK. In the debate, I made the argument from the Dispatch Box that when I visited Nepal earlier this year, it was apparent that most Gurkhas did not want to come to the UK. What they wanted was pensions. I am sorry, but people cannot have it both ways. They cannot argue that they want to settle in this country and then argue that if increased pensions were paid, they would stay in Nepal.
I know that my hon. Friend has had talks with the Nepalese Government, as I have. My concern is that we would be taking about £56 million out of the Nepalese economy if we changed the arrangements in any way. I still think that that would be a consequence of large numbers of Gurkhas settling in this country. It is not consistent to argue that we should introduce changes to stop people coming to the UK, when only a few weeks ago it was argued that we should give them rights of settlement in this country. We are working with welfare organisations to make sure that the settlement process is put in place. I am pleased that that work is being carried out with the Gurkha Welfare Society and others.
If there is a message that should go from the Dispatch Box tonight to Nepal, it is that I want people who decide to come and settle in the UK to make that decision on the basis of the full facts. They should not come here thinking that the existing pension that they have secured will buy a good standard of living here. What appals me is that certain organisations-not the Gurkha Welfare Society, which is a responsible organisation-are taking money and encouraging people to come to this country on the basis of false information. That is very worrying.
In conclusion, the issue has been before the High Court on a number of occasions and has been legally challenged. In the debate a few weeks ago, the previous Home Secretary, the Home Affairs Committee and the
chair of the all-party Gurkha group all made it clear that immigration rights and pensions are two separate issues. We continue to argue that the arrangements that we have put in place for Gurkhas are fair and give a good standard of living to Gurkhas in Nepal. When I was there-