Gurkhas: Anniversary — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:10 pm on 10 June 2015.

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Photo of Lord Burnett Lord Burnett Liberal Democrat 8:10, 10 June 2015

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on securing this debate. It is a privilege to speak in it and pay tribute to the Gurkhas and their families who have served this country with such dignity, loyalty, courage and steadfastness for 200 years. I first came across the Gurkhas professionally in 1965. My first draft after completing commando training was to 42 Commando Royal Marines, which was stationed in the Far East. On arrival, and before deployment on operations, my commanding officer sent me to do the jungle warfare course at Kota Tinggi in Malaya. The jungle warfare school was effectively run by the Gurkhas. The commanding officer and many of the directing staff were Gurkhas. The demonstration company was drawn from a Gurkha battalion. The course was excellent and I had many opportunities to see at first hand the expertise of the Gurkhas in warfare and, in particular, in jungle warfare. I also served with the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas for a few weeks in the advanced party of my unit when we took over the Lundu area of Borneo from them. That also gave me a first-hand opportunity to see Gurkha fighting men in action.

Their expertise has been acquired over centuries during which Gurkhas have fought with the greatest bravery, skill and stamina.

I understand that there is now a Gurkha battalion stationed in Brunei. Will the Minister confirm that that Gurkha battalion will be staying there and explain to the House the vital role the Gurkhas still play in training other branches of the Armed Forces in jungle warfare? Jungle warfare is a difficult skill, and it is crucial that the United Kingdom Armed Forces retain it.

During the jungle warfare course, we were given a lecture on the glorious history of the Gurkhas: 25 Victoria Crosses have been awarded to Gurkhas. Lance Corporal Rambahadur Limbu had not yet won his Victoria Cross. I believe he won it in action in Borneo on 21 November 1965 for utmost bravery.

Frome an excellent article by Hew Strachan in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, I learnt that 90,000 Gurkhas served this country in the First World War and that 138,000 Gurkhas served this country in the Second World War. I understand that service in the British Army is popular with Gurkhas. There is a considerable shortage of recruits coming forward within the United Kingdom to join the Army at present. Now is not the time to go into the considerable shortcomings in army recruiting, but will the Minister explain to the House whether the Government are considering recruiting more Gurkha battalions?

The recent earthquakes in Nepal have had tragic consequences for that country. It is fortunate that we were able to deploy Gurkhas to assist and support their own people. The Armed Forces in this country, which include the Gurkhas, have to be flexible. They have to be ready and able to conduct all varieties of operations: from all-out warfare to humanitarian operations. Our Armed Forces are, and always have been, our greatest ambassadors. They are the most effective providers of humanitarian aid. Nevertheless, the commitment to spend 2% of our gross domestic product on defence should stand alone and not be diluted with the budget of any other department of state.

The fighting ability and bravery of the Gurkhas are legendary. They will always hasten to the battle and prevail. They are fearsome in close-quarter combat, they are loyal and they are true. We owe the Gurkhas loyalty in return. I hope that the Minister will be able to convince this House tonight that the Government understand this and will always support and stand by our Gurkha brothers-in-arms, their families and the people of Nepal.