Constituency matters… a weekly column by the Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe, Damian Collins 25 August 2021.
Gurkha hunger strike
On Thursday last week I visited the Gurkha hunger strike close to the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, that was being conducted by retired servicemen Dhan Gurung and Gyanraj Rai, and Pushpa Rana Ghale, a Gurkha widow who had travelled from Nepal. This was the thirteenth day of their strike, and I was honoured to pay my respects to them during their brave and peaceful protest. I expressed my sincere hope that a solution could be found that would enable them to bring their action to a swift conclusion.
There have been concerns expressed for many years now about the level of compensation for service, particularly in the form of pensions, to retired Gurkhas who had seen active service before 1997. From that year the Gurkhas were stationed in Hong Kong and Brunei and there was no particular expectation that they would move to the UK when they retired. As a consequence, the Gurkha pension for service before 1997 is based on a percentage of the British army pension, whereas those in the regiment today receive exactly the same terms as their comrades serving elsewhere in our armed forces.
In 2013 I was part of a parliamentary review panel which examined this issue, along with other individual historic cases of unfair treatment. The result of this was the resolution of some of these cases, a pledge to keep the pension rates for retired Gurkhas under constant review, and additional funds to help veterans in need of support, given by the government to be distributed by the Gurkha Welfare Trust.
In December last year the Ministry of Defence conducted a further consultation on Gurkha pensions, and we are still waiting for their response to that review. The government of Nepal has also written to our government requesting a formal Ministerial level discussion on these issues. The demand of the hunger strikers in Whitehall was that an announcement should be made confirming that these talks would commence now. I promised them that I would support their call and seek a response from the government. I was pleased to hear confirmation later that afternoon from my colleague the Defence Minister Leo Docherty, also MP for Aldershot, that this was to be the case, and the hunger strike ended that day.
I have also written to the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, asking whether a timetable has been agreed for their talks with the Nepalese government and when the Ministry of Defence intends to publish the results of its most recent consultation on the Gurkha pension scheme.
Over the past week I have been approached by a number of constituents asking about support for relatives and other people at risk from the Taliban to leave Afghanistan.
Please continue to get in touch on this important issue and I will do all that I can to help.
For advice about vulnerable Afghan citizens needing assistance to reach the UK you can also call a special Home Office number to seek guidance which is 02475389980.