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Armed Forces: Gurkha Pensions

Volume 692: debated on Monday 14 May 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will review the decision to exclude some 22,000 Gurkha veterans who left service before 1997 from the new pension arrangements available to Gurkha veterans who retired after July 1997.

My Lords, it is not planned to review the position of service pensioners who retired before 1 July 1997. They expected to retire in Nepal and are paid a pension that provides a very good standard of living in that country. The decision to give the serving brigade and recently retired Gurkhas the opportunity to transfer to the Armed Forces pension scheme was made in the expectation that they would in future be living in the UK because of the 2004 immigration rule change.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that everyone who has any connection with the Brigade of Gurkhas is deeply grateful for the recent improvements to the Gurkha terms and conditions of service? However, how does she justify the fact that a large number of Gurkha soldiers who served throughout the Second World War and in subsequent campaigns with such valour and distinction can only rely on welfare support to ease their poverty in retirement? Surely that is wrong. At the very least, if nothing else can be done, will the Government now make a substantial contribution to the resources available to the Gurkha Welfare Trust?

My Lords, I acknowledge the noble Lord’s experience with the Gurkhas and thank him for his remarks on their new terms and conditions. The new terms reflect our respect for the Brigade of Gurkhas for their loyalty and unique fighting skills over 200 years.

The noble Lord asked about retired Gurkhas who will not receive the terms and conditions he referred to. They break into two camps. The first are Gurkha pension retirees, who receive what is believed to be a very good standard-of-living income in Nepal, where until recently most Gurkhas retired to. They were able to retire after 15 years of service, which means that a Gurkha could be on that pension from age 33 and be able to work.

The second group, as the noble Lord, Lord Eden, said, rely on the pension from the Gurkha Welfare Trust. I am pleased to tell him that the Government put £1 million grant-in-aid a year into that trust and continue to work closely with it.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that Gurkhas who are demobilised in Nepal and have a job offer back here are fast-tracked back to this country? That is what I was told some years ago.

My Lords, Gurkhas who retire to Nepal can have entitlement to ask for re-entry to this country, and increasingly they do just that.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Gurkha Welfare Trust has the daunting task of raising £254,000 every month from charitable sources to provide veterans with welfare support? The veterans your Lordships are speaking about are now in their late 70s and 80s and unable to earn a living. The Minister mentioned that the Government provide £1 million to the trust. That is the case, but will she make it clear that that money is for administrative purposes only and not for welfare pensions? Why have these elderly veterans been left out of the Government’s calculations?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that the Gurkha Welfare Trust takes in charitable donations. The £1 million allows all those donations to be used towards the welfare trust pensions. Pensioners who did not serve the requisite number of years when they were serving as Gurkhas can be entitled to such a pension from age 60. That is a basic pension by Nepalese standards, there is no doubt about that, but the trust is also able to make free healthcare available to those pensioners.

My Lords, even if the Government accept that the £1 million a year only covers administrative expenses, how much does it actually work out at for each beneficiary?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Eden, mentioned the figure of 22,000 Gurkhas, which we are well aware of. How many of them receive the Gurkha pension? As the noble Baroness has said, the new arrangements will put tremendous extra work on to the Gurkha Welfare Trust. Surely the Government can do better than £1 million a year.

My Lords, we have 26,300 Gurkha pensioners in the Gurkha pension scheme, which can be activated after 15 years’ service and so is a pension for life, often from age 33. I asked my officials for comparators to find out what that pension actually meant in terms of the Nepalese standard of living. For instance, an engineer would earn £147 a month and a warrant officer would retire early in his life on £171 a month. I would be very happy to write to the noble Lord.

I was very pleased, when looking into the history of the Gurkhas for this Question, to see that Field Marshal Sir William Slim said of them:

“I first met the 6th Gurkha Rifles in 1915 in Gallipoli. There I was so struck by their bearing in one of the most desperate battles in history that I resolved … to try to serve with them”.

And of course he did.