Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 7:43 pm on 29 April 2009.

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Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury 7:43, 29 April 2009

This Government respect the will of the House of Commons. As the Prime Minister said today, this Government took the first action to provide justice for the Gurkhas and enable them to settle in the United Kingdom. Under this Government, the first ever rights of settlement for Gurkhas in Britain have been granted, and 6,000 of them have applied successfully to settle in this country.

We have also introduced equal pay and pensions for the Gurkhas—something that had not happened previously. We doubled the pensions of people staying in Nepal and increased the overall pension for Gurkhas, especially those at a senior age. The guidance that we introduced last week will increase the number of Gurkhas eligible to come to this country by 4,000 or, including families, about 10,000 people.

However, we recognise the strong feeling in all parts of the House on this subject. As was recognised in the debate this afternoon, this is a complex issue with wide-ranging implications. The cost of implementing the decision of the House of Commons could well run into billions of pounds. The Government also have an obligation to consider the precedent for future decisions on other immigration categories, and wider Government policy. We cannot, therefore, responsibly or fairly rush into the formulation of new policy. We can and do commit to immediate action on individual cases, and we are setting a clear time frame for the next stage of the reform.

In the light of the decision of the House, I am bringing forward the date for the determination of the outstanding applications to the end of May. That will ensure that those who qualify under the guidelines now in force get confirmation of that as soon as possible, and we will report to the House the outcome of this work. In addition, based on that work, and recognising the strong feeling of the House, we will come forward with proposals for the next stage of our reform of the rules, to ensure that the Government continue to deliver a fair outcome for ex-Gurkhas and their families. We will publish this next stage before the summer recess.

I said in the House earlier that we cannot foresee circumstances in which ex-Gurkhas in the UK, who have served this country so well, would ever be removed from the United Kingdom. I can now say, in addition, that anyone whose case is considered under the current guidelines and does not qualify, whether in the UK or in Nepal, will not have that decision implemented pending the publication of the next stage of our reform.

The House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs has indicated its intention to conduct a hearing on this issue next week, and I welcome that. In addition, I will share our review of the applications with the Committee, once it has been completed. We will consider the guidelines published last Friday in the light of the decision of the House today, and we will introduce proposals based on the experience of our consideration of the outstanding applications.


Allowing the Gurkha's their right to settle in Britain should not affect other immigration policies unless the other immigrants have also fought for Britain. That is the only criteria this debate should focus on. The Labour party must set it's priorities according to the will of the electorate who put them in power and not powder speeches with 'maybes and perhapses'. The cost to us will be minimal compared to the cost in lives given by the Gurkha regiments.
Other immigrants to this country should either be genuine refugess or self supporting. Others should be deported immediately. That would more than cover the cost of the of what Labour see as a burden to Britain's econamy and NHS.

Submitted by Lord David Prosser

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for advance sight of his statement. He clearly recognises the importance of what happened earlier. The House of Commons spoke, and spoke clearly—it told the Government that their attitude to the Gurkhas was unfair, ungenerous, and unacceptable. The Opposition parties and brave members of the Labour Party came together to speak and vote on behalf of the Gurkhas and their families. These are people to whom we owe a huge debt of honour, and it reflects well on this House that we have collectively recognised that debt.

It is also good that Ministers recognised so quickly that they needed a new policy, and I can see that the Minister could give us only a holding statement today. The test that we will now apply is whether that policy meets the needs of the Gurkhas and their supporters. Will Ministers be able to look Gurkhas in the eye and say, "We are being fair to you"? [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Jones, says from a sedentary position that they can do that now. I suggest to him that he should remember that several hours ago the House of Commons told him that he could not do that now. Rather than adopt the arrogant approach of saying that they can do that now, he should recognise that he lost the vote, that the House of Commons spoke clearly and that he should stop trying to defy the will of the House.

This afternoon, I offered the Minister for Borders and Immigration, who throughout this has taken a more sensible view than his colleague from the Ministry of Defence, a route to a position where we could look the Gurkhas in the eye fairly and a practical way of bringing it into law quickly. I suggested introducing a new tier in the points-based system specifically for non-UK ex-service personnel, which would overwhelmingly mean giving these new rights to pre-1997 Gurkhas. I also said that the Minister could introduce this idea, or any of his own new ideas, in the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill, which is about to come to this House. If the campaigners for the Gurkhas are right and roughly 8,000 soldiers and their dependants would want to apply, the problem could be solved within a few years, and the permanent right to settle would be enshrined in that law. I once again commend that solution to the Government.

The Minister once again repeated the claim that the cost would be billions of pounds. How does he arrive at a sum of that magnitude? What age profile is he assuming for those who would want to come here? What illness profile is he assuming and, most of all, what numbers is he assuming to arrive at that very large number? Will he recognise that if he adopted our proposal, or something like it, it would lead to proper control of the cost on an annual basis, as well as meeting our obligations to the Gurkhas? If, as he says, he cannot foresee circumstances in which any Gurkha would be removed from the UK, why does he not simply say that no Gurkha will be removed from the UK?

Above all, can the Minister assure us that the next time he comes before the House there will be some real substance in his statement and a real and substantial change of policy? This has been a bad day for the Government, but much more importantly it has been a good day for the Gurkhas. We need to move on, so that not just Ministers but the whole country can look the Gurkhas in the eye and say, "We owe you a debt of honour and we are prepared to repay that debt." Unless and until we can do that, this issue has not been resolved. We, and more importantly the Gurkhas, will need a good deal of reassurance on that point.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's welcome for the statement. First, he asked whether the Government will be able to look the Gurkhas in the eye. In this afternoon's debate and in my statement, we have explained the proud record that we have in providing support for current and ex-Gurkhas, but clearly both sides of the House feel that we need to go further.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman asked about the basis for my figures. The lesson of today is that it is easy to form policy in opposition. It is easy to make pledges in opposition, as the former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Bramall—no Labour supporter he—said in an article in The Independent on Sunday, which I commend to those Opposition Members who may be tempted to crow. The fact is that the commitment to the Gurkhas and their families and dependants would incur public expenditure for the taxpayer, and the responsible behaviour for a Government is to calculate those costs and not rush into decisions.

Thirdly, in response to the hon. Gentleman's reasonable questions, I can assure him that we will cost the policy that he has announced on the hoof today. It appeared to me that that took his leader by surprise. The hon. Gentleman has swapped an immigration cap for an immigration helmet. If he fulfils his pledge to the Commonwealth servicemen that they will have the rights that he wishes the Gurkhas to have, his policy for a cap on immigration would have severe implications for tiers 1 and 2 of the new points-based system. In fact, we calculate that the numbers would wipe out tier 1 altogether. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman trying to square that circle— [ Interruption. ] It is characteristic of him that he chunters rather than answers the question. The Conservatives' policy would involve a cap as well as a separate tier.

The hon. Gentleman asked— [ Interruption. ] Listen to this point, because the Gurkhas deserve our respect. The hon. Gentleman asked whether any Gurkha would be removed. I think that he accepts—he made this point in the debate—that there are certain provisos and a presumption on this point. The policy situation is that removals are looked at case by case. No Government can give a blanket general policy on deportation for fear of setting a precedent that the law could apply elsewhere, with unintended consequences.

I made the position of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary very clear: we cannot envisage circumstances in which people involved in the applications will be deported. In recognition of the debate this afternoon, I give again the commitment that we will not take action against people from the 1,500 who do not meet the current guidelines until we have clarity on the new guidelines. I hope that Chris Huhne, whose debate it was, accepts the genuine intention of the House in that regard. Damian Green asked for "real substance", and I think that that measure will be the test. We are committed to it.

Photo of Christopher Huhne Christopher Huhne Shadow Home Secretary

I am grateful to the Minister for giving me advance sight, albeit fleeting, of his statement, which was obviously done in some haste. I thank him, too, for responding so quickly to the requests of my hon. Friend Mr. Heath, who asked that he come to the House and make a statement as soon as possible in response to the House's clear view this afternoon. That was a victory for democracy and for the will of this House.

Frankly, that vote was an historic moment. It was only the fourth defeat of this Government since 1997. However, I am trying to make a point not about party politics, but about the widespread feeling across this House that the Gurkhas were not being treated as fairly and equitably as they should be given the exceptional service that they have rendered to this country. We had to move beyond looking in detail at the penny-pinching aspects of this decision, and we made a rather larger statement about what we felt to be our moral obligations to the Gurkhas, given that they have served with such distinction and have been prepared to lay their lives on the line for us.

The test of what the Government do will be actions and not words. I welcome the most important aspect of this statement, which came at the beginning when the Minister said clearly that this Government respect the will of the House of Commons. In his response to Damian Green, he slid a little way back into the to-ing and fro-ing of the earlier debate, but I hold him to that early statement, because that is the fundamental point.

I have some detailed questions about the statement, and particularly about the costs. We have now had three estimates of the likely costs—one of £1.5 billion, one from the Prime Minister of £1.4 billion and now one from the Minister, which states that the costs of implementing the decision could well run into billions of pounds. We have an entire absence of detail about what the Home Office, the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence think that the costs are. At no point in today's debate were any of the details spelled out, and I believe that it would be very helpful for the Home Office to put a note in the Library to spell out what it believes the public expenditure implications are and, importantly, what it thinks that the revenue implications should be. The House should remember that if we allow indefinite leave to remain to a large number of extremely hard-working, diligent and skilled men, who are still young, there will be revenues for the Exchequer that can be put off against those items of expenditure.

I understand that much of the detail will need to come later, but I seek reassurance about one aspect of the statement. The Minister says that he cannot foresee circumstances in which ex-Gurkhas in the UK who have served this country so well would ever be removed. I very much welcome that, as I am sure do hon. Members from across the House, because that was the clear implication of what we voted for this afternoon. However, I am concerned about the circumstances under which those people will be in the UK. For example, would they have temporary permission to work? Will they be able to survive in a way that does not push them into—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. I am going to gently interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I have made a ruling that Front-Bench Members should not monopolise the questioning session in statements. The Liberals get three minutes, but we are now into four— [ Interruption. ] I hope that Dr. Harris is not going to defy the Chair or give me a hard time. I just do not want a hard time tonight. Chris Huhne is well into four minutes now. He can have a few more seconds, and then he should let the Minister answer.

Photo of Christopher Huhne Christopher Huhne Shadow Home Secretary

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the latitude that you have given me. It was, of course, a Liberal Democrat debate, and I am therefore—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. I am not considering what happened this afternoon. I am considering the fact that my policy has always been that a Minister comes to the House and gives information. This Minister has done that, and now Back Benchers and not Front Benchers have to questioning him. The best thing that I can do is call the Minister to respond.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Chris Huhne asked a number of questions. I am sorry if the appearance is given that the Government are penny-pinching. It is the responsible act of a Government to look at the potential cost implications for the taxpayer. That would be right in any event, but it is especially right in the current circumstances. The fact is—and the hon. Gentleman accepted as much—that, in advance of new guidelines, we do not know how many applications and settlements there will be. We can only make estimates: we will do that to the best of our ability, but without political interference from Ministers and based on the best available advice.

The hon. Gentleman said that there was a hint of sliding back in my statement. I was not at all intending to slide back from our commitment that the Government recognise that we must implement the will of the House of Commons. I was trying to make the partisan political point that his policy—that is, the one set out by Damian Green—was made up on the back of a fag packet. The policy set out by the hon. Member for Eastleigh, of course, was made up on the back of a matchbox.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh asked about costs. I answered his point before, but I am not aware that I used the £1.5 billion figure. The £1.4 billion figure is our best guesstimate, but I must tell the House that that is an annual figure that will not apply for ever. If, as a result of decisions for Gurkhas, the policy to be adopted by the Government and accepted by the House were to allow settlement rights for Commonwealth soldiers and former soldiers that went beyond those currently available, there would be implications. In our view, we believe that in total they would run into billions of pounds. I do not say that as a scaremongering tactic. We lost the vote, so it would serve no purpose to say that now. I say it only to inform the House.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh then mentioned the revenue implications, but the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend Mr. Jones, has pointed out that the Government anticipate that older members of the Gurkhas will tend to take advantage of the change. That is recognised by the Gurkha campaign, and there is already anecdotal evidence that that is the case.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about deportations. I remind the House that the Government have powers on discretion anyway, consequential to the Immigration Act 1971. I think that all Members of the House—apart from one right hon. Gentleman, who is not listening—will know that we have discretion under the 1971 Act, which of course means that we have more flexibility than is provided under the strict guidelines.

Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I suspect that tomorrow will be a bad day for the House of Commons, but today was a very good day for Parliament. Some 1,350 Gurkhas will now not face deportation. An unacceptable policy put forward on Friday was disowned on Wednesday, and will be reviewed in a matter of weeks. Does the Minister accept that one of the most offensive arguments put forward was the assumption in advice given to Ministers—I have copies of that advice—that those Gurkhas will be on the dole and on the council housing waiting list? In fact, studies that we have done in communities with substantial numbers of Gurkhas show that the Gurkhas are working, are economically active, pay their way, and will make a massive contribution to this country.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the points that he raised. He organised the meeting in the House of Commons during the consultation. May I say, for the record, that as a result of that meeting we revised the figures, based on the evidence that he and others presented? I intend to keep an open mind on the figures, because many people have many different points of view.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

The Minister has made much this evening of the costs of the decision that the House of Commons took today. The costs come to about £1.5 billion, if one takes the average of the various figures that have been bandied about. Will he please put that in the context of the costs of immigration in this country as a whole? Could he please take into account the cost of supporting asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers, the cost of benefits, and the cost of all the other aspects of immigration that we in this country willingly take on board? Why are we so unwilling to take on the relatively minor costs in this case?


A round of applause for the sense of the question and the perspective in which it was put.

Submitted by Lord David Prosser

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

On all things, I think. The right hon. Lady has been consistent, and I respect that, and I understand the question that she asks. The answer is that the Government are implementing the biggest shake-up in immigration policy since, I would argue, the arrival of the Empire Windrush. It has been an important policy, and I think that she supported the main thrust of the issue. However politically convenient her argument is, it does not take away the fact that the costs of expanding the guidelines are real. Indeed, I think that I am right to say that the Ministry of Defence pension is a pay-as-you-go pension. An additional cost to it would have to be met from defence budgets. I know that the right hon. Lady would be the first in this House to stand up and complain if there were cuts elsewhere as a consequence of the arithmetic done to balance the books.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

Nobody doubts the Government's commitment to the Gurkhas, given what the Government have done so far. The problem has been the way in which the issue has been handled. I wrote to the Minister on 4 November last year, setting out a clear and unanimously agreed policy put forward by the Home Affairs Committee. He took six months to reply to that letter, and answered it last Friday. As the debate went on, the policy was changed by the Home Secretary, who e-mailed Members of the House announcing a change in policy regarding the review. That is not the best way to handle a sensitive policy of this kind. However, I welcome the Minister's commitment to working with the Select Committee, and I am extremely grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend Mr. Jones, and the Minister for agreeing to come before the Select Committee next Tuesday. Let us have a commitment to work with Parliament and the Select Committee, so that we can have a just policy for the Gurkhas.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

I am very grateful to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee for saying that I agreed to come before the Committee. I did agree to do so, but I suspect that I would not have had a choice if I had not agreed; I would have been there anyway. As I hope he knows, I respect that; I think that Select Committees do a terrific job.

There are implications for other areas of immigration policy—the House can have a debate, but that is a fact, as former immigration Ministers on both sides of the House have recognised—and there are unintended consequences, which is why we took so long, particularly regarding the issue of Commonwealth soldiers. If hon. Members do not think that there would be legal cases in the courts very quickly as a result of an expansion of policy on the Gurkhas, they should reconsider their position. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, however: we will take the Select Committee very seriously and share our findings with it, as I said in the statement.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Liberal Democrat, North East Fife

The Minister is to be commended for finding a reverse gear quite so quickly. However, does he regret the fact that the Government failed to accept not only the letter but the spirit of the judgment and the action for judicial review last September? Does he now accept that if the Government had accepted the spirit of that judgment, they would have been spared their embarrassment, and the Gurkhas and their dependants would have been spared both uncertainty and anxiety?

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman follows these issues closely, but I have to disagree with his interpretation. Our view is that we have accepted the spirit of the judgment that related to the guidelines. The debate and the dispute have been about the 1997 cut-off. I respect the debate and his point of view which, again, has been consistent, but for the record it is unfair to say that the Government did not accept the spirit of the judgment. [ Interruption. ] No, the judge was very clear that the 1997 cut-off was fair. He said that it was "not...irrational", and he called on us to clarify the guidelines. We have done so, but the House wanted to go further, and I recognised that in the statement.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

I welcome my hon. Friend's statement, particularly the speed with which he has returned to the House after the vote to make some clarifications. I also welcome the fact that the deadlines for the various phases of his approach have been shortened. Does he accept that the core of the problem is the disparity between the Government's estimate of the number of people who would be affected one way or another by the new guidelines and the estimate by people who are campaigning on the Gurkhas' behalf? Will he give us an assurance that the exercise that he is about to conduct will provide a definitive answer?

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

That is an important point, and I can give my right hon. Friend that assurance. I know that the House was frustrated by the debate on the numbers, but I attempted to clarify the position. My understanding is that the figure of 100 that the campaigners used was their estimate of how many of the 1,500 outstanding applications would meet the guidelines. That is a trivial figure in terms of the total numbers, and I have explained that we will not refuse any of the others until the new guidelines have been put in place. I thank my right hon. Friend for his role in that policy development.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

I am enormously pleased that, whatever the Minister's personal views, the Government have decided that their position is unsustainable and that they will look at this matter seriously. In the past, I have had the privilege of serving alongside the Gurkhas, who are a remarkable body of men. We owe them a massive debt of gratitude, not just for their service in previous wars but, I am sure, for their service in future wars in which we may have to call on them. The right thing to do is to take the course of action on which the Minister has embarked, and I urge him, when he meets his civil servants and anybody else who talks to him about the problems, to take on a wholly different attitude and say, "Let right be done."

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point, but may I repeat to the House what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, my colleagues from the Ministry of Defence and I have said? We want to do right by the Gurkhas in a way that does not set a precedent that is damaging to the UK taxpayer or the immigration system. Within that context, I welcome the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Labour, Blackpool South

The debt of honour that we owe to the Gurkhas is one that has been felt particularly strongly in Blackpool because of the historic connections of the town with the far east in the second world war and since. The issues have been brought home forcefully to me and to my hon. Friend Mrs. Humble. Having been dismayed at the initial proposals, I welcome the changes that were announced not just in the debate this afternoon, but in the further statement that my hon. Friend has made. They underline what the Government have done for Gurkhas over the past five years, which was too often forgotten in today's debate.

One point of contention today was the issue of 20 years' service. I heard some of the explanations relating to the lower ranks, but if my hon. Friend were able to give us, perhaps during his appearance before the Select Committee, a full and definitive account of how the roll-over period from 15 years works to benefit lower ranks, that would be greatly appreciated.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

Thank you. I pay tribute to the role of my hon. Friend and his colleague, my hon. Friend Mrs. Humble. I am aware of the importance of the issue in Blackpool—Britain's finest tourist destination. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] The Conservative party's policy seems to be to decry Blackpool. The intent of the policy on the 20 years' service was to recognise the judge's ruling that the guidelines should be clear and should take into account both quality and quantity of service. People have ascribed to us unfairly a motive that did not exist. Under the current guidelines, the 20 years takes in 2,000 Gurkhas who would not have been included, had we not introduced the 20 years criterion. Clearly, we will need to consider the matter in the light of the view of the House and bring forward revised proposals in the review.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

The one thing missing from the statement is what lessons the Government have learned from a policy disaster that could have been averted if they had accepted the spirit of the judgment. In the same Department, on the highly skilled migrant programme, the Government have lost twice in the High Court and are still havering about doing the right thing, even in the case of economically productive migrants. Will the Minister say whether he thinks the Secretary of State has learned that an early change of policy on these matters would be welcomed, not condemned?

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, but I do not accept his point about the highly skilled migrant programme. A legal point was argued; the Government had one point of view, and some lawyers had another. I do not accept, as I said in answer to the previous question, that we have gone against the spirit of the judgment. The problem has been—as a parliamentarian, the hon. Gentleman will no doubt accept this—that the intent of Parliament and the rulings of the court sometimes present difficulties for the Executive. That is the square that any Government must circle, and it is an important point. The court's judgment was that the 1997 cut-off was fair and not irrational, but the guidelines should be clearer. The issue that has been debated today was not, in principle, the judgment of the court, nor should it be. I think the hon. Gentleman would support the idea that the intent of Parliament should carry the day, not necessarily the flexibility that the courts sometimes exercise.

Photo of Laura Moffatt Laura Moffatt Labour, Crawley

I welcome my hon. Friend's statement today. Will he confirm that he cannot offer a blanket guarantee to prevent the removal from the UK of someone who may have served with the Gurkhas, if that removal relates to some offence that may have been committed? It would not be fair or right to allow a rule to apply to one group and not to others.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

That is a very important point. In his contribution this afternoon Damian Green explained the wording of a presumption. The House will understand that in immigration law, as elsewhere, one cannot give blanket guarantees. Were we to do so, all sorts of skulduggery could, and no doubt would, take place. That is my experience.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Does my hon. Friend accept that Members on both sides of the House appreciate the policy complexities of this issue, appreciate that the Government have allowed 6,000 Gurkhas to settle—an unprecedented number—and appreciate Ministers coming promptly before the House to make a statement? None the less, Gurkhas occupy a special place in the hearts of British people, and the entire House hopes that Ministers are able to come to a resolution of the issue that the Gurkhas themselves and their supporters in the British people feel is fair and just.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind comments. I am not sure whether they enhance my career, or perhaps my career is over anyway, but if they were intended to help, I thank her very much indeed. She makes an important point when she reminds the House that 6,000 Gurkhas and ex-Gurkhas have been granted settlement by the Government since 2004. From 1945 to 1997, the number was five.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

The Minister will be aware that I am fortunate enough to have the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst within my constituency, and therefore I am lucky enough to have a number of serving and retired Gurkhas among my constituents. The Minister stressed the costs of the policy that he is contemplating, as though the presence of these heroes in this country were somehow a burden to be borne rather than a thing to be celebrated. Will he now place on the record his view, which is my view, that the presence of the Nepali community in this country is a direct and beneficial contributor to the social, economic and cultural life of our country? We should celebrate what those heroes have done in the past and what they continue to contribute to this country.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I stressed the argument about costs. I did not stress that argument—it makes up one sentence in the statement. However, it is right to say, as any Government would have to say, that the Executive have to look at the consequences for the taxpayer, not just at the moral issues involved. That is the way of the world.

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about his constituency, but I am sorry that he feels that he has to ask that question. That contribution has never been in doubt. The Government's policy is that migration to this country on the whole is beneficial, economically, culturally and in other ways. However, it is a question of balance. I know that he speaks on behalf of his constituents tonight, not on behalf of his Front-Bench team, but he needs to look at the pledge made by the hon. Member for Ashford, because if he does not, we will.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that I will press him again on the need to look at the impact on Nepal. On the one hand Chris Huhne, slightly changing his view, and my hon. Friend Martin Salter, said that there were considerable revenue advantages of Gurkhas settling in this country, which was somewhat criticised by my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz. This is not a zero sum game. If there are considerable advantages for people settling in this country, there will be an impact on Nepal. Will he assure me that, with the Nepalese Government and the Indians, who are obviously privy to this matter, he will look at the arrangement to ensure we consider its whole impact? We may have to talk to the Department for International Development about ways in which we provide support, because it is wrong that another sovereign state is being asked to lose out because of changes here.


In this particular instance I would regret any negative impact upon Nepal, but the Gurkha's fought for Britain not for Nepal so that should be of primary importance.

Submitted by Lord David Prosser

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

My hon. Friend's point about consideration in policy decisions of the country of origin is extremely important and is often left out of the debate about immigration and migration. The DFID budget for Nepal is £56 million, and the amount in pensions for Gurkhas in Nepal is £54 million. This is an extremely important contribution to the Nepalese economy, and one that we should not ignore. Consideration of immigration policy should rightly include this area. Remissions are a good thing and are important to many poor countries, but we can teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime, or give a man a fish and feed him for the day, and it is important that we do the former.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

Having lived in Nepal for three years, and to follow up on the previous point, I seek from the Minister an assurance that there will be no cut in aid to Nepal, because it is one of the poorest countries in the world, and it is not fair that it should suffer in any way.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend Mr. Jones, who is better informed than I, tells me not only that I can give the hon. Gentleman that guarantee, which I respect, but that £170 million has been announced for the next three years for Nepal. We certainly will not turn our back on Nepal because of this issue, and nor would we want to.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

Lance Corporal Guyanendra Rai served in the British Army for 13 years, and, while fighting in the Falklands war, his back was severely damaged by an Argentine shell explosion. Owing to the fact that he served for "only" 13 years, he was not entitled to a pension or to British residency, unlike a Commonwealth soldier, who would be entitled after four years' service. Will the Minister's new proposals, which are to be put before the House, provide a better and a fair deal for a soldier such as Guyanendra Rai?


l think it also time the Government will also change the status of people (Adult, Kids) born of British parents outside UK and are in the Country as "over-stayers". how can they achieve the family life when the home office refuses them Visa to come to UK or refuse to grant them resident permit, but to tell them to...

Submitted by Clara Continue reading

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is very difficult to comment on individual cases, and I add the caveat that I am not aware of the specifics of that case. Under the proposals that we published on Friday, however, his constituent would meet those criteria, and that is certainly the intention of any new proposals, too.

Photo of Susan Kramer Susan Kramer Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

On a point of clarification, under what circumstances will Gurkhas remain in this country if they do not qualify under the current guidelines? He said that they will not be deported, but will they be able to work, receive benefits and use the NHS? What will the terms be, because that worries families to this day?

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

Obviously, again, I must add the caveat that my hon. Friend Laura Moffatt prompted me to add. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it very clear to me what she expects, and I should point out that, as well as the guidelines, there are the Secretary of State's discretionary powers, which she has instructed me to use in this respect.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Defence)

The Minister is correct to say that his Government have done more for the Gurkhas than any other, and in 18 years the Conservative Government did nothing for them, but that makes the way in which this Government have behaved towards the pre-1997 Gurkha soldiers all the more unfortunate. As he has told the House that he does not envisage deporting any Gurkhas who are currently in the country, what is the problem with issuing work permits immediately to those who do not have them?

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the Labour Government's actions, and I assure him that, in the current debate, our intention was to do nothing but help Gurkhas—without setting a precedent that would be damaging elsewhere, as I have said before. I cannot answer his question at this point, because of the categories that may exist in respect of migration cases. Under immigration law, one must look at each case individually, but I assure him that our intent is to meet the point that he makes.

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Minister

I welcome the Minister's statement. In it, he said that he will bring forward the reform of the rules and that "we will publish this next stage before the summer recess." Will he confirm not only that the Government will publish them before the next recess, but that we will be able to debate them before that recess, and that what he brings forward will take into account the will of the House, given that the original motion called for

"revised proposals that extend an equal right of residence to all Gurkhas."?

That is what the House voted for; that is what the House expects.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (also in the Home Office), Home Office, Minister of State (also in the Home Office), HM Treasury

I quite understand that, but I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will appreciate that it is not within my remit to determine what the House debates. Clearly, I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's views to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House. I suspect that, on this issue, however, the House will have a view.