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Gurkhas (Citizenship and Pensions)

Volume 480: debated on Monday 6 October 2008

The Petition of the Havant Ex-Servicemen’s Club, the Havant Royal British Legion and others of like disposition.

Declares that the treatment of Gurkhas is an ongoing disgrace: Gurkhas who retired from the British Army after 1997 can automatically stay in the UK, but those who retired earlier must apply for citizenship, and many have been refused and face deportation. Pension rights for years served by Gurkhas before 1997 count at only around a quarter of the level of years served after that time.

Further declares their support for the fifty Nepalese soldiers who handed back their Long Service and Good Conduct medals in March 2008, in protest at the difference in treatment of Gurkhas with other British soldiers, such as those from the Commonwealth.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Defence to ensure that all ex-Ghurkha soldiers and their families British citizenship on leaving the service.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. David Willetts, Official Report, 8 July 2008; Vol. 478, c. 24P .] [P000228]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Defence, received 19 August 2008:

The Government fully recognises the courage and commitment that the Gurkhas have given to this country over many decades and greatly values the contribution of the Gurkhas both past and present.

Gurkha service in the British Army is enabled through an agreement made between the Governments of the UK, Nepal and India in 1947, the Tripartite Agreement. The Tripartite Agreement permits the recruitment in Nepal of Nepalese citizens into the British Army’s Brigade of Gurkhas, something that ultimately depends upon the goodwill of the Government of Nepal.

Gurkhas who served on or after 1 July 1997 are entitled to be granted settlement in the UK and then to apply for citizenship. Extending this entitlement to those who served before 1 July 1997 as a reward for military service would not be in line with Home Office immigration rules. The current arrangements recognise that since July 1997, the close residential or physical ties to the UK required to comply with immigration rules have developed for the Gurkha soldier, and his family, in a way that was not normally possible for previous generations of Gurkhas.

Under Her Majesty’s Forces Immigration Rule, introduced in October 2004, Gurkhas have a pathway to settlement in the UK and citizenship, should they choose to follow it. A successful application for settlement in the UK requires a former Gurkha to have completed at least four years’ service as a Gurkha with the British Army and to have been discharged after 1 July 1997. Once settled in the UK, Gurkhas can apply for British citizenship using their military service to count towards the qualifying period of five years.

Those who were discharged before the 1 July 1997 immigration qualifying date can still apply for Indefinite Leave to Enter or Remain in the UK under immigration discretionary arrangements, and can subsequently apply for citizenship.

Careful consideration has been given by the UK Border Agency to the circumstances in which it would be appropriate to exercise discretion where cases fall outside the provisions of the new immigration rules. This is done on a case by case basis.

The Tripartite Agreement also established a link between the British Brigade of Gurkhas and Indian Army terms and conditions of service (TACOS). Although until last year Gurkhas served under different TACOS from the rest of the British Army, it has been the policy of successive UK governments to ensure that Gurkha terms and conditions of service are fair and meet the aspirations of successive generations of Gurkha soldiers and their families. The 2007 review of Gurkha TACOS recommended that, with some exceptions to satisfy the Government of Nepal and to maintain the Brigade's operational effectiveness, Gurkhas should be offered British terms and conditions of Service, including pensions. As a result, serving Gurkhas and retired Gurkhas who served in the Army on or after 1 July 1997, had the option to access to benefits under the Armed Forces Pension Scheme. All their service counted, though service before 1 July 1997 was given an actuarial value.

Those Gurkha veterans discharged prior to 1 July 1997 fell outside the scope of the TACOS review. It has been the policy of successive governments not to implement improvements to pensions and similar benefits retrospectively - a policy that has been applied across the public sector in the United Kingdom, not just to Gurkha veterans. To do so now would not only be counter to this policy but would also be at a cost running into many hundreds of millions of pounds to the country because of the potential claims of other groups in public sector schemes. Those veterans who retired before 1 July 1997 will continue to receive benefits under the Gurkha Pension Scheme. Most Gurkha veterans are in receipt of a Service Pension under the provisions of the Gurkha Pension Scheme, a Scheme that was designed for retirement in Nepal and offers different benefits to those serving under British terms and conditions of service. By providing immediate payment of pension after 15 years service from an early age of average 35, it was well suited to the conditions prevailing for earlier generations of Gurkhas.

The decision to apply the date of 1 July 1997 to the pension and immigration rule changes for Gurkhas is a rational one. Between 1971 and 1997 only one battalion of Gurkha infantry was stationed in the UK, at Church Crookham. During that time many Gurkha soldiers who served for 15 years before leaving the Brigade would spend only one full two-year unaccompanied tour in the UK during their career. Between the formation of the Brigade of Gurkhas in 1948 and the withdrawal from Singapore in the late 1960s, Gurkhas were stationed almost exclusively in the Far East and before 1948 Gurkhas served as part of the Indian Army. Because of this, most Gurkhas discharged before July 1997 would not have developed any strong residential ties with the UK. At the time the Tripartite Agreement was made, it was with the understanding that once they had completed their service they would return to Nepal.

The rate of pension under the Gurkha Pension Scheme provides a good income in Nepal, broadly equivalent to a very good salary. The value of the pension has been maintained over the years, for all pensioners; including the doubling of the pension in 2000 to take account of benefits in kind provided by the Government of India to its service pensioners. Last year, in addition to the annual inflationary uplift, pensioners who were of the rank of corporal or below received an increase to their pension of on average a further 19 per cent. They also received a further 5.7 per cent. increase for inflation this year.

Although some retired Gurkhas have challenged the pension arrangements in relation to the 2007 review, an independent Judicial Review in June 2008 ruled that the Ministry of Defence’s position was fair and reasonable.