PMQs: Nick tackles Gordon on the Gurkhas

by Stephen Tall on June 25, 2008

At this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg once again took Gordon Brown to task for his Government’s shameful refusal to give justice to those Gurkha soldiers who fought for this country. (You can read more about the Lib Dems’ Gurkha Justice campaign here).

The Prime Minister twice dodged the question of the Government’s refusal to recognise the citizenship claims and pension rights of Gurkhas who retired before 1997. “We have shown how we value the Gurkhas in this country,” claimed Gordon. We have indeed.

Of course, none of this will be reported in the media, who care only for marking the party leaders out of 10 for artistic impression. On that score, Nick is growing more comfortable by the day, easily riding the pathetic heckling from the Tory and Labour benches.

But the last couple of weeks have seen surprisingly weak performances from David Cameron, who has perhaps been more discomfited by David Davis’s resignation than he would care to admit. Tories may claim this is some cunning attempt to keep Gordon Brown in Number 10: they wish. He seems to have been knocked off his stride, and it’s not gone unnoticed. Let’s see if he gets it back before the summer recess.

Anyway you can judge for yourselves below, via YouTube and Hansard:

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I would like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of the two soldiers who tragically lost their lives in Afghanistan yesterday.
Before the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister, I think that some people thought he was a man of principle. Over the past 12 months, time and time again, we have seen him abandon what he knows to be right for what he thinks is expedient. This afternoon, he has the chance to do the right thing when veterans from the Gurkhas march on No. 10 to hand in their medals in protest at the way in which they have been treated by this Government. I have asked him four times to receive those medals, and every time he has refused. Will he now have the grace to receive them today, or will he turn them away yet again?

The Prime Minister: I do thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising the question of the Gurkhas, because it allows me to explain what has actually been done. We respect the fact that Gurkhas have fought for the United Kingdom for two centuries. They have served in conflicts throughout the world. We greatly value their contribution, both past and present, and we know that they are operating in Iraq and continue to serve with great distinction in Afghanistan.
The Government have improved the way in which we are treating the Gurkhas. Serving Gurkhas, and some who are recently retired, for the first time have membership of the armed forces pension scheme. They have a genuinely improved deal, and 2,232 retired Gurkhas who were serving on 1 July 1997 or later have also been offered those arrangements.
There are other things that we are doing, including equality of take-home pay with the British Army, the creation of national insurance records, changing the immigration rules to help retired Gurkhas, married accompanied service after three years in the brigade and the opportunity to transfer to one of the two armed forces pension schemes. All those things we have done. The right hon. Gentleman cannot say that we have been inactive; we are trying to honour our obligations to people who have served the country well.

Mr. Clegg: Once again, we have a long list from the Prime Minister that misses the important issue. On Friday, it is Veterans day, a day when we celebrate the courage of those who risk their lives for our country. The Prime Minister says that he values courage above all else, so why will he not do the thing that would really help some of the most courageous veterans of all? Veterans of the Gurkhas who have to rely on charity and who face deportation because his Government will not grant them British citizenship are protesting outside right now. When will he act to correct that gross injustice and give those brave veterans the recognition and citizenship that they deserve?

The Prime Minister:
I have just told the right hon. Gentleman that the immigration rules were changed in 2004 to include post-1997 retired Gurkhas. The opportunity is now there to transfer to the wider Army after five years; there are increased opportunities for Gurkhas after leaving the Army; there are opportunities to obtain settlement and naturalisation—that is citizenship—while serving in the wider Army; and we have given the pensions that I have just identified. He cannot say that we have done nothing to help the Gurkhas. We have shown how we value the Gurkhas in this country.