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Immigration (Discharged Gurkhas)

Volume 475: debated on Wednesday 7 May 2008

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the immigration rules in connection with the requirements for indefinite leave to enter and remain in the United Kingdom as a Gurkha discharged from the British Army.

The Gurkhas have a unique place in the history of our country and in the hearts of the British people. For around 200 years they, the bravest of the brave, have served Britain with outstanding courage and loyalty. They continue to play a vital role in today’s Army, both at home and overseas. Indeed, only a few weeks ago Prince Harry paid tribute to their role in Afghanistan. Today, about 3,000 Gurkhas serve in Her Majesty’s armed forces. That represents more than 3 per cent. of the British Army. Our under-strength, overstretched forces would be in a more difficult situation if it were not for the Gurkhas, yet despite their astonishing service, many former Gurkhas are treated disgracefully. To the shame of this country, Gurkhas who left the Army before 1997 are not allowed to stay in the United Kingdom.

My Bill seeks to amend the Immigration Act 1971 to enable Gurkhas to be granted indefinite leave to enter and remain in the UK under the category of “Gurkha discharged from the British Army”. It is a small, simple Bill, but one that would speak volumes. It has support in all parts of the House. To their credit, in 2004 the Government introduced changes that benefit today’s Gurkhas; that is appreciated. Those who retire from the Army can now stay in the UK should they so wish, but the changes do not apply to those who left prior to 1997, because it is claimed that before that date they were based in Hong Kong and therefore were not fully part of the UK forces. That is outrageous nonsense and an insult to men who served in Her Majesty’s—in some cases, His Majesty’s—armed forces, serving the UK’s interests in many parts of the world.

It is argued, somewhat insultingly, that Gurkhas who retired before 1997 could not generally show strong enough links to the UK. The hollowness and callousness of that arbitrary cut-off date was illustrated in the most powerful way when Victoria Cross winner Tul Bahadur Pun was initially denied entry to this country, although he is a man whose loyalty and service to the UK was recognised with the award of the VC for his action in single-handedly storming a Japanese machine-gun post during the second world war, in the face of intense machine-gun fire. That act of bravery was not unique. There are countless other stories of the bravery of Gurkha soldiers who never served in Hong Kong.

Most of our constituents have great affection for the Gurkhas. That is certainly the case in the garrison town of Colchester. I am confident that constituents share my view that the 1997 cut-off date is not morally acceptable. To add insult to injury, retired Gurkhas living in the UK now face deportation, yet soldiers from Commonwealth countries can be granted the right to UK citizenship after only four years’ service.

The moral case for the provisions set out in my Bill, which has all-party support, is best illustrated with the following example. Mr. Madam Gurung served in the British Army for 24 years. He retired in 1993 and applied for the right to live in the UK, but his application was refused by the Home Office. All that he wants to do is to work as a bus driver or security guard here in the UK. He currently lives in one-bedroom accommodation in Tonbridge, where he is awaiting news of his appeal. He is prevented by law from working, and subsists on handouts from concerned friends. Is that how a man who served in the British Army for 24 years should be treated? Many other former Gurkhas are going through the same tortuous process of immigration appeals. They are destitute, in limbo, never sure of their future. Forbidden from working, they are not even second-class citizens in the country that they served so loyally for many years. They are relying on the charity of friends, comrades and neighbours. It is a disgrace that some of our former soldiers have been condemned to such a life.

In any survey or poll, the massively overwhelming majority of citizens want the right to British citizenship extended to the pre-1997 retirees. The retired Gurkha community in this country is hard-working and entrepreneurial. The Government need have no fears about them in any way being a drain on the public purse. The reverse is the case—they would be net contributors. Experience in areas where they have settled clearly shows that their hard work and high standards of citizenship add positively to our economy and our culture. The numbers involved are small given the number of people who annually migrate to the UK. It is estimated that there are about 1,000 retired Gurkhas in the UK awaiting results of appeals. Back in Nepal, it is considered that most elderly retired Gurkhas would wish to remain living there. According to best estimates, the maximum number of retired Gurkhas who may possibly want to come here is under 10,000.

British people are frustrated and angered by the unfairness. They do not understand why the Government will not allow a relatively small number of people, all of whom have served in the British Army for a number of years, to live here. The sentiments and provisions of the Bill transcend party politics. The Gurkhas enjoy wide support across the House and the nation. The situation is becoming more urgent by the day. A few weeks ago, outside Parliament, I and some other Members witnessed 50 retired Gurkhas handing in their long service and good conduct medals in protest at the way in which they are being treated. There was extensive coverage of the event in newspapers and on television. The sight of such loyal, brave and dignified people being pushed to such a desperate act filled me with shame.

The Bill seeks to give voice to what I believe is the will of the British people. Let the Gurkhas stay! I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Bob Russell, Miss Ann Widdecombe, Mr. Don Touhig, Nick Harvey, Patrick Mercer, Mr. Paul Keetch, Mr. Paul Burstow, Mr. David Drew, Andrew Mackinlay, Andrew Rosindell, Mark Pritchard and Mr. Bruce George.

Immigration (Discharged Gurkhas)

Bob Russell accordingly presented a Bill to amend the immigration rules in connection with the requirements for indefinite leave to enter and remain in the United Kingdom as a Gurkha discharged from the British Army: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 October, and to be printed [Bill 107].