Gurkhas

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

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.

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