We should never forget that where there is a public will, there should always be a political way. The Gurkhas and their supporters have run a magnificent campaign which has been very successful in rallying support from the public, parliament and press. Underlying their campaign has been a strong undercurrent of moral virtue which is difficult for anyone to ignore, and an unwavering will to see this through. They have been relentless in their quest for justice and all those involved should be applauded.
The High Court ruling in September 2008 armed the Gurkha campaign with the best possible weapon. As a country which upholds the law and democracy, Parliament and the Government were left with no alternative than to review the settlement rights of Gurkhas.
The Gurkhas have dedicated their lives to this country; they have supported us in the most difficult of times and rejoiced with us at the victories we have achieved. We have a moral obligation to listen to their wishes and allow them to settle in the United Kingdom if they wish to.
In light of the High Court ruling, the Home Affairs Select Committee held a one off evidence session to hear from the Gurkhas. In that session we heard compelling testimonies from two ex-Gurkha soldiers and from long-standing Gurkha campaigners. As a result, I immediately wrote on behalf of the Committee to the Home Secretary, setting out a clear and unanimously agreed policy put forward by the Home Affairs Committee That letter was sent on 4 November 2008 and included the following.
1. The Committee believed that the UK owed an historic debt of gratitude to the Gurkhas for their brave, loyal and distinguished service in the defence of this country.
2. The Committee agreed that the current Government policy of distinguishing between those Gurkhas who retired prior to 1 July 1997 – the date on which the base of the Brigade of Gurkhas transferred from Hong Kong to the UK – and those who retired after, has in effect created two classes of Gurkhas. It has also caused considerable personal suffering and hardship.
3. The Committee further concludes that this treatment of the Gurkhas is particularly unfair given the discrepancy with settlement rights afforded to other Commonwealth citizens who serve in our Armed Forces.
4. The Committee therefore urges you to take urgent action, in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence to extend the settlement rights to all former Gurkhas.
I did not receive a reply to this letter until 6 months later on 24 April 2009, the day which the new guidelines on settlement for Gurkhas were announced. This issue should have been much higher on the Home Office priority list given the public and parliamentary concern.
As the debate went on in the Chamber last Wednesday, the policy was changed. The Home Secretary e-mailed Members of Parliament announcing a change in policy regarding the review. That is not the best way to handle a sensitive policy of this kind.
I do not take the decision to vote against the Government lightly; however I felt that the whole issue was mishandled. Whatever in-fighting occurred between the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence caused chaos which resulted in the Government being defeated.
Parliament has spoken and the Government must listen, there is a chance for Ministers to restore the trust of the public and do what is right. There is an opportunity for the Government to set the record straight, to outline exactly how they plan to action the call of Parliament and the public. The Home Affairs Committee heard from the Minister for Immigration, Phil Woolas MP, Minster for Defence, Kevan Jones MP and Gurkha campaigner Joanna Lumley today. The Home Affairs Committee has agreed, at the request of the Immigration Minister, to work with all parties to oversee the policy process and to ensure that proposals are agreeable. I am determined that this course of action will be the within a very short timeframe to guarantee that this issue is resolved certifiably.
This was not a vote against Gordon Brown, this was a vote in favour of a particular change of policy that provides justice for the Gurkhas.
This Government has done an extraordinary amount for the Gurkhas and Labour MPs have been part of the driving force for the Gurkha campaign. We welcome the commitment from Ministers to work with Parliament and the Select Committee, so that we can have a just policy for the Gurkhas. It’s expected of us, let’s not disappoint.