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PMQs: Those who risk their lives for Britain have the right to live in Britain, says Clegg

April 29, 2009 6:02 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg fights against Government's shameful abandonment of Gurkhas

At Prime Minister's Questions this week Nick Clegg outshone his political opponents and exposed the moral vacancy of the Prime Minister and his Labour Government.

Nick accused the Prime Minister of giving evasive answers on the issue of the Gurkhas because he knows that what he and his government are doing is wrong. Nick expressed his disgust at the Government, claiming it has no "principles and no courage".

He rebuked the Prime Minister for basing a Gurkha's eligibility for residence in the UK upon a series of tests that are next to impossible to pass. He referred specifically to the Government's demand that Gurkhas must have served for at least twenty years to retain residency status, when the majority of Gurkha soldiers serve for a maximum of fifteen years.

See the full exchange below

Nick Clegg: I should like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family of the unnamed soldier who tragically lost his life in Afghanistan yesterday. I thank the Prime

Minister for the information that he provided to the House on the measures that are being put in place to deal with swine flu. I join in lending the support of all of us to those working in the health system to deal with the crisis.

The Prime Minister's answers on the Gurkha issue are deeply, deeply evasive. How is it honest or decent to say that Gurkha soldiers who have served 20 years can come and live in this country, when he knows full well that the majority of ordinary Gurkha soldiers serve only 15 years? How is it honest or decent to say that Gurkha soldiers must prove that their illness was caused by their military service, when he knows full well that the frailest Gurkha veterans cannot do that? Can he not see that there is a simple moral principle at stake, and it is this: if someone is prepared to die for this country, surely they deserve to live in this country?

The Prime Minister: It is precisely because we have accepted the importance of treating the Gurkhas well that we made changes in the past few years. We equalised pay and pensions and we doubled the pensions of Gurkhas who are retired in Nepal. It is precisely because we take seriously the questions that the right hon. Gentleman has raised today that we have increased the numbers of those who can come into this country. I have been given the information that half of the 4,000 are below officer class. It is not right to suggest that everybody who can come into the country must be a commissioned officer in the first place.

I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that we are making progress stage by stage on the matter. He has to bear in mind, as he constantly says, that there are public expenditure issues involved. At the moment, £1.4 billion would be a very big sum of money indeed for us to guarantee. We are taking the steps that are necessary, there is more justice for the Gurkhas than there ever was in the years before 1997, and we will continue to do our duty by the Gurkhas who have served this country.

Nick Clegg: What kind of answer is that? It is the answer of a man who seems to know that he is doing a shameful thing, but does not have the guts to admit it or change it. It is the answer of a Government who have no principles and no courage. I ask the Prime Minister again: surely simple, ordinary British decency means that soldiers who are prepared to die for this country deserve to live in this country.

The Prime Minister: That is why we have taken the actions over the last few years that we have done. Let me just repeat: we led the way in giving Gurkhas right of settlement in this country, we led the way in equalising pay and pensions, and we led the way in doubling the pensions of those who are in Nepal. Now we are making sure that people with medical conditions and awards for their service to this country, as well as those with 20 years of service, can come into this country. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we believe that large numbers of people will take up that invitation for themselves and their families. But I have to put it to him that Governments must always balance the need to take action in stages with the resources that they have available. It may not be a problem that he has to face: it is a problem that we have to face and we will take the right decisions.