Published: 17:59, 29 April 2009
| Updated: 17:59, 29 April 2009
by Chris Denham
Gurkhas have won their toughest battle yet after the Government lost an historic motion in the House of Commons this afternoon.
In what were unprecedented scenes, an opposition motion put forward by the Liberal Democrats was voted through by 267 to 246 at 4pm.
It calls upon the Government to review last Friday’s decision - which would only allow Gurkhas with 20 years service into the UK from those who retired before 1997.
Massed ranks of former Gurkhas and their supporters outside Parliament in London cheered and wept after they overturned hundreds of years of Parliamentary precedent.
Calls of “resign” echoed out in the House of Commons when the result was read out by the Speaker after several hours of intense debate.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg, Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders, were due to walk from the House of Commons to Parliament square with campaigner Joanna Lumley to address the gathered supporters following the vote.
Both leaders had lent their support to the Bill and told the House of their support for former Gurkha soldiers. This had worried the Government to the extent that Ministers were flown in from various engagements around Europe to fight the Labour corner.
Speaking in the debate, Folkestone and Hythe MP Michael Howard said: “In a bitter irony, the Royal Gurkha regiment returned to Folkestone just five days before the Government made their announcement from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. It was a tour of duty during which they lost the lives of two of their comrades [Krishan Dura and Yubraj Rai]. Those soldiers made the supreme sacrifice for our country and when they died the Prime Minister told the house we would never forget the sacrfice they made. Those words must be accompanied by deeds.
Audio: Hear Hugh Robertson, MP for Faversham and Mid-Kent, react to the news
“They were warmly welcomed back by the town ... we are proud to have Gurkhas as members of our community.”
Sir Menzies Campbell (LD) called the Labour policy “shabby” and added: “At the bottom of this debate is a question of principle.”
Nick Harvey added: “We are repaying our debt to these men with the penny-pinching attitude of an accountant.”
The Government’s case was put by Immmigration Minister Phil Woolas, backed by Kevan Jones, who was scathing of the Conservatives’ view.
It was said that about 55 per cent of those people who qualified under the new rule were not officers.
And Mr Jones told Parliament: “Two weeks’ ago I was in Nepal to meet Gurkhas and what we have to say is that the idea that Gurkhas are living in abject poverty is just not true.
“There are 26,000 Gurkha pensioners, so we are putting £54m into the economy of Nepal. To say that pulling that out would have no impact is clearly wrong.
“The clear policy of the Conservatives would allow anyone who has served in the Army, including India, Kenya, Rhodesia and more, to stay. This would drive a coach and horses through immigration policy.
“But when they had an opportunity [in 1997] to reward their service, they did not. Only one in seven officers and naval personnel from Hong Kong were allowed in.”
MP Derek Twigg also said: “The potential for tens of hundreds of thousands of people coming to the UK is there. This could cause major problems in Nepal and would cause a significant loss of income to the country.”
Ashford MP Damian Green demanded that the Government address the house.
Hugh Robertson, MP for Faversham and Mid-Kent, welcomed the outcome of the vote.
“These are not just any old group of people who have turned up looking here for residency, these are people who have served this country and in very many cases put their lives on the line for us as a country,” he said.
“I think we owe them a debt of honour to look after them properly and I think it was that feeling that led to this pretty considerable government defeat today.”
• The law as it stands would allow any Gurkha who had served more than 20 years to remain in the UK, unless they had a gallantry award or pressing health reasons. This will now have to be looked at again by the Government under law.
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