Government defeated on Gurkha settlement: now demand justice

Joanna Lumley (pictured below with the much-decorated Gurkha veteran and holder of the Victoria Cross, Tul Bahadur Pun VC) describes on the Gurkha Justice Campaign website the campaign for a decent deal for former Gurkhas who want to settle permanently in Britain with their families:

Gurkhas are fighting for Justice. They want the same terms and conditions as their UK and Commonwealth counterparts.

Britain has had no greater friends than the Gurkhas. They have served all across the world in the defence of our country for nearly 200 years. Over 45,000 died in the two World Wars as part of the British Army. They are still fighting in the British Army today.

You may have seen in the media that the Gurkhas have been fighting in Parliament and the Courts. Step by step, things are getting better – but there is a long way to go.

The Government decision of 25th April 2009 on Gurkha settlement rights is yet another huge betrayal of the Gurkhas who have served our country.

Only a tiny fraction of the Gurkhas who retired before 1997 will win settlement rights under the new policy. A Gurkha will have to have served 20 years or more or won one of a handful of medals: the big majority of Gurkhas served for 15 years under standard army policy.

You can read the full details of the Government’s decision online.

The campaign for full Gurkha Justice will now be taken back into Parliament and the courts. The Government needs to know they will have a huge campaign against them who will commit to righting this wrong.

Please sign up to the campaign below. We will keep in touch with you about how you can help: there is now much that needs to be done.

Join me in the campaign: together, we can finally right this wrong.

Joanna Lumley

The extent of the good faith of the government’s decision can be judged by one of the absurdly demanding criteria for permission for ex-Gurkhas to settle in the UK:

You completed 20 or more years’ service in the Brigade

— and as Joanna Lumley points out, apart from officers, Gurkhas aren’t allowed to serve for longer than 15 years.

Joanna Lumley with Gurkha veteranThis decision, effectively excluding from settlement in Britain huge numbers of men who have served our country bravely for many years, as well as their families, doesn’t only shame our government, with its phobia about immigration and its cowardice in the face of the most reactionary tabloids:  it shames us all, if the decision is allowed to stand.

You can sign up in support of this hugely worth-while campaign at

(which has attracted nearly 200,000 signatures at the time of writing — pm on 29 April 2009).  Please also e-mail or write to your MP — if you don’t know it, you can probably get his or her e-mail address from the MP’s website by Googling his/her name, or you can do the whole thing through the excellent free facility at the “Write to Them” website:

The government was challenged on this issue this afternoon on a LibDem-sponsored motion.  At the last moment, —

Two concessions on the right of former Gurkhas to settle in the UK have been made by the government in an effort to avert a potential Commons defeat.Ministers have promised to start a review of rules by the summer – and said veterans would not be deported.
[BBC report, 29 April]

Unbelievably, these two token gestures — the first of which is brazenly meant to buy time, and the second apparently to incite Gurkhas who don’t qualify under the draconian rules to stay on in Britain anyway, presumably risking imprisonment if they do — are believed to have satisfied some Labour MPs who had been contemplating voting against the government.  Nevertheless, —

The government has lost a Commons vote on its policy of restricting the right of former Gurkhas to settle in the UK. MPs voted by 267 to 246 in favour of a Lib Dem motion that the government should extend an equal right of residence to all Gurkhas.  Earlier Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said the current policy, announced by the government last week, was “shameful”.
Gordon Brown said earlier he wanted justice for the Gurkhas but any policy change had to be affordable.

The government has been deservedly humiliated by this result and will now presumably have to return to the drawing-board.  This makes even more urgent (and potentially productive) maximum pressure on Ministers and MPs for all Gurkha veterans and their families to be allowed to settle permanently in Britain on their retirement — the least we can do for them to repay a debt of honour.  The prime minister’s reported insistence that “any policy change had to be affordable” is beneath contempt.


4 Responses

  1. Richard T says:

    Is this not simply the result of giving the Home Office indulgence on such matters.  If I believed in conspiracy theories, it might cross my mind that this was a set up for Jacqui Smith but the approach to the Ghurkas and particularly the ‘concession’ about 20 years’ service smacks of Civil Service cleverness and the quite awful treatment of them is all of a piece with Home Office thinking anyway.

    I hold a strong belief that the upper Civil Servants in the Home Office have a systematic strategy to undermine liberty and to entrench what I will call in charity tradtional British empire attitudes to the lesser breeds.  Much the same as the MoD you might think.  The trouble is that successive Labour Home Secretaries have either been too reactionary to counter this or too stupid; one (the first) might just have been playing politics but, as I seem him as Squealer from Animal Farm, he fits the first mould pretty well.  Not one can stand comparison with Conservative equivalents such as Willie Whitelaw or Douglas Hurd; I suppose they measure down to Michael Howard but he’s not much of a yardstick.

    What beats comprehension is how this got past the Cabinet – if it ever went there.  Has no-one in the Government the moral courage to say ‘This is wrong.  A Labour government should not be party to this.’?  As someone who would not wish a Tory win in the next election, I feel quite despondent.  I suppose the only thing to cling to is that I am not sure that the Tories won’t implode if their vacuousness gets exposed.       

    Brian writes: Richard, thanks for this. I feel very much the same as you. I have never understood why the home office is, and has seemingly always been, such a dreadful department. Some of its senior civil servants over the years have been personally civilised, sensible and liberal-minded, yet as a whole the department almost invariably seems to be on the wrong side. I can’t believe that its top management has been, or is, deliberately and consciously reactionary and illiberal. But it certainly often looks that way.

    On the Gurkhas, the media have reported that there has been a great battle between the MoD (wanting to do the right thing by these old soldiers), the home office (worried about a new wave of immigrants and the possible wrath of The Sun and the Daily Mail, which in fact I understand have been pro-Gurkha — any stick, I suppose), and the treasury (as always opposed to anything that costs money). There has been some suggestion that John Hutton didn’t fight the Gurkha corner strongly enough. Whatever happened in Cabinet (where it must have come up, if there was such strong disagreement among senior ministers), and quite apart from the morality and rights and wrongs of the argument, it passes belief that the government could have walked so blithely into such a huge elephant-trap. I am shocked by what that says about the calibre of the political advisers — and indeed the senior civil servants too — in No. 10 and the other departments concerned. At the very lowest it was insane to take on Joanna Lumley! But on top of that, there was the unbelievable folly of the prime minister’s expedition to YouTube to declare a manifestly cretinous policy on MPs’ expenses, in a clip which no-one with an ounce of sense would have allowed to be uploaded for the public edification. It’s impossible to watch it without collapsing into mirth — and baffled contempt. [Update: now please see new blog post here.]

    Like you I don’t want to see the Tories in office next year (or ever). I hate to think about the damage likely to be inflicted on the country by a government which is fiercely anti-EU, committed to cutting public expenditure at the height of a huge deflationary economic and financial crisis, longing to cut taxes on its hyper-rich chums at the expense of the less well-off and the downright poor, and with no real feel for the needs of the social services or the merits of the public service as compared with the private sector. Yet how can one defend the record of New Labour after three indefensible wars (I include Kosovo) and the continuing savage attack on our basic civil liberties? The minimum wage and the money spent on health and education seem almost trivial by comparison. All one can say is that whoever is in power in the middle of next year is going to have an unenviable task clearing up the mess left behind by the bankers and the other apostles of unregulated free market capitalism; and it’s just possible that during a few years in opposition the Labour Party might discover more leadership potential in the next generation than one can recognise at the moment. It’s a grim prospect.

  2. Richard T says:

    Brian, although as you say, the senior heads in the Home Office may have been liberally minded they have a funny way of showing it.  I have this fantasy that every Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, since the 1950s when ID cards were scrapped, has a file containing draft legislation to pull back all civil liberties.   The majority of Home Secretaries has never encouraged them to bring this dusty relic into the light but since  Michael Howard everything they have dreamed of in the file has been taken up and forced through Parliament.  It is only (heaven help us) the House of Lords, and the incompetence of government in losing information and in managing IT projects, that have saved us.  The indictment of the Labour government on liberty is clear so, for example, they certainly seem to have taken on board all the police fantasies about holding terrorists in custody for as long as they can get away with and have in my view damaged the genuine need to protect the country by crying wolf and what seems to me very close to deliberate alarmism to get their way.  My concern throughout has been the slippery slope from protection against terrorism through the idiotic war on drugs and gangsterism to the ability to hold suspects for 42 days before charging them becoming standard.

    Brian writes: Well, I can’t argue with any of that. I hope that when the history of the last 12 years comes to be written, someone will come up with an explanation for New Labour’s abandonment of concern for protecting our fundamental freedoms and civil liberties. It’s understandable, although not forgiveable, that Tony Blair apparently had no grasp of the subject: he seems in retrospect to have had no deeply rooted principles at all. But Gordon Brown has a far better understanding of Labour Party traditions and principles and an intellectual grasp of what they involve, as well as an admittedly patchy moral sensibility; and there are surely other Labour Party leaders who could and should have spoken out against what has been going on. Unfortunately the exile of David Davis to the Tory back benches (I assume that he jumped to avoid being pushed) bodes ill for any improvement by a government under Cameron.

  3. Malcolm McBain says:

    I believe the campaign by the actress, widely believed to amount to justice for the Gurkhas, will in fact lead to the ending of Gurkha recruitment for the British army. The Gurkhas are probably the finest light (repeat light) infantry the world has ever seen.  But they depend on good leadership. This means (British) officers who are of top quality, who understand their soldiers and have learned to speak to them in Gurkhali. When British Gurkha officers go to Nepal, they are feted like heroes by former soldiers and their families. The Gurkha returning to his native village after service in the Brigade is a rich man. Thousands apply for the privilege of serving the British. Recruiting officers are able to select according to rigid specifications so that a regiment will be composed of men of exactly the right height in order to perform the drill that they perform so spectacularly well. The deal is that the government of Nepal permits Britain to recruit the pick of the eager applicants because they remit hard currency to a very poor country. The Nepalese may not be content to lose good men to residence in the UK even though the remittances may be enhanced by the various benefits available to immigrants and their dependants. The Gurkhas are by no means simple country lads. They will have noted with genuine amazement the compensation awarded by the MOD to a pregnant major in the British army, amid a cornucopia of incredibly (to them) generous allowances. They themselves are not (or were not when I last had any knowledge of them) technically competent. Machinery or electronics does not figure in their education or background. So their utility to the British army in an increasingly complex technical world is tending to diminish. If in retirement they become an additional burden to British society they will not seem like such a good idea.        

    Brian writes: Oh, dear. Nothing is ever as simple and straightforward as it seems, if you know the facts….

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