Debt we owe Gurkhas must be honoured

Contributed by editor on Apr 30, 2009 - 01:40 AM

Howard's Way.... a weekly column from the Rt. Hon. Michael Howard QC. MP. 

30 April 2009

It was a cruel irony that saw the return to Shorncliffe of the Gurkhas who have served with such heroism and distinction in Afghanistan coincide with the Government’s announcement of its decision to refuse most of those who served in the British Army before 1997 to settle in this country.

The contribution made by the Gurkhas to our national security over a period extending over hundreds of years is legendary. Recently, at Hawkinge, I had the privilege of meeting two of their number who had been awarded the Victoria Cross, our highest award for valour. The debt we owe them must be honoured.

The Government’s policy of making a sharp distinction between those who were discharged before 1st July 1997 and those whose service came to an end after that date was held to be unlawful by the High Court last September. Friday’s announcement from the Home Office was the Government’s response. It has been met with a chorus of disapproval on all sides.

The Government has set down a new list of criteria which appear to be deliberately designed to restrict those who can satisfy them to an absolute minimum.

For example, one of the criteria is that they have served for more than 20 years. Yet rank-and-file soldiers are only permitted to serve for 15 years.

Another is a requirement to have lived in Britain legally for a minimum of three years but this almost never happens during their service.

The Government’s criteria are manifestly unfair. They must be reconsidered.

I hope to have the opportunity to express my disquiet at this injustice in the House of Commons in the next few days.