Thursday, April 30, 2009

Finally Some Parliamentary Decency

Despite Brown’s Government’s efforts, yesterday Parliament filled me with pride and hope when MPs voted against disgraceful proposals to deny certain Gurkha soldiers the right to live in the UK, in the first opposition debate a Government has lost since Callaghan in 1978.

Gurkhas are troops from certain areas of India and Nepal with a proud history from 1815 continuing up to the present day or of distinguishing themselves in the British and Indian armies, showing bravery and strength well beyond what would be expected from a regular soldier, and winning 26 Victoria Crosses along the way.

Wikipedia mentions qualities like courage, loyalty, self sufficiency, physical strength, resilience, orderliness, the ability to work hard for long periods of time, fighting tenacity and military strategy, all of which they are displaying today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What thanks do they get for defending a country that is not their own? They are paid a fraction of what the British troops they fight alongside receive, their pensions are less (5-10% of what a British solder would be entitled), and despite spending a good part of their life in Sandwich where their base is, those who served before 1997 (36,000 or so, of which not all would necessarily even take up the offer) are being refused the right to settle in the UK.

I have a vested interest in this story – having visited Nepal four times, I have met many from the various tripes – Nepalis, Sherpas and others, and they are amongst the most friendly, hospitable and hard-working peoples in the world, and I have come away each time with new friends and warmth from the way in which I was hosted. When I think of those we allow in to our country from all over the world – Russia, the Middle East etc.. to not allow these fine decent people who have risked their life to defend us the right to settle here is a scandal.

Recently we have experienced questionable parliamentary expenses and second homes, explained away by saying that the rules let them get away with it, historic and unprecedented levels of debt from which our country will take decades to recover from, and something I have been personally involved in – the Government sell-out of the British isle of St. Helena. I am so glad that Parliament has finally been responsible for something positive.

Like with assisting the British citizens of St Helena, it was the Lib Debs who led the way, proposing a motion to give all Gurkhas equal rights of residence here. The Tories and 27 rebel Labour MPs backed it, leading to a victory of 267 to 246. Note that the Labour rebels secured the victory, and among Labour MPs supporting the motion were home affairs committee chairman Keith Vaz, ministerial aide Stephen Pound and former cabinet minister Andrew Smith. Indeed Mr Pound said he had resigned as a parliamentary private secretary to vote against the government.

Disgracefully in my opinion, Labour MP Martin Salter, chairman of the Parliamentary group on Gurkhas' rights, abstained. Surely his position is now untenable?

Shame on Brown

In PM questions earlier in the day, Gordon Brown said "We have got to balance our responsibilities to those who have served our country with the finance that we need to be able to meet these obligations - and not base our offer on money we cannot afford." Shame!!!! His entire government and financial approach is something that we *the people* cannot afford!

Last year the High Court ruled that the government stance in refusing to allow Gurkhas serving before 1997 in to the country was illegal. The response? The government changed the law and set the bar so high that only a few hundred veterans could ever qualify. Indeed hours before the vote, Jacqui Smith was offering sweeteners to rebels to try to win them over. These were not enough.

After the vote, Clegg and Cameron met with Joanna Lumley, who has led the campaigning on behalf of the Gurkhas, said “This is an immense victory on a series of fronts: for the rights of Gurkhas who have been waiting so long for justice, a victory for Parliament, a victory for decency." Mr Cameron said it was "embarrassing" for the prime minister because his efforts to strike a "shoddy deal" with Labour rebels had failed.

Nick Clegg: "This was a cross-party effort and a great, great day for everyone who believes in fairness and decency in this country."

I myself call on the Government and Home Office to now quickly implement the new laws, and not drag heels or try to obstruct the will of your people.

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