HC Deb 11 December 1963 vol 686 cc368-70
2. Sir J. Smyth

asked the Minister of Defence if he will consider a revision of the 1948 agreement with Nepal to provide for a larger number of Gurkhas to be enlisted by the United Kingdom for the Gurkha Brigade.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)

As I stated on 20th November in reply to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), it has been decided to make no reduction in the strength of the Gurkhas for the time being.

Sir J. Smyth

Does my right hon. Friend realise that, although our agreement with Nepal of 1948 allowed Britain eight battalions of Gurkhas and India 12 battalions, India, I am informed, has at present no fewer than 42 battalions of Gurkhas? I do not blame India for that, but, in view of the drop in British recruiting announced by the Secretary of State for War last Monday, will my right hon. Friend consider recruiting more of these very fine soldiers from Nepal who are extremely eager to serve with the British Army?

Mr. Thorneycroft

Like my right hon. and gallant Friend, I value highly the services of the Gurkhas, but I see no reason to increase their recruitment, which in any case is a long-term remedy, whereas deferment of planned run-down brings immediate benefit.

Mr. Healey

I support very strongly the request made by the right hon. and gallant Member. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Gurkha troops have proved themselves exceptionally suitable for the rôle which British Forces have to perform in the Far East, notably in Malaysia and Hong Kong, and that there is at present a serious shortage of British troops in these areas? Will the Minister, therefore, reconsider the Government's proposal ultimately to cut Gurkha recruiting?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I do not accept that there is a shortage of British troops in those areas, and I emphasise that the rôle of the Gurkhas is world-wide.

Sir G. Nabarro

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, whereas the recruitment and training of Gurkhas is a long-term policy, there are long-term difficulties in South-East Asia and the area is not likely to be pacified at an early date? Will he, therefore, read my speech last Monday wherein I asked for consideration of an increase in the Gurkha strength in the British Army from 14,600 to 20,000 Gurkhas?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I shall read my hon. Friend's speech with the same attention that I address to all his speeches. I emphasise again that it would be a great mistake for any of us to talk about the Gurkhas as being associated with one area only. They have a world-wide rôle.

Mr. Shinwell

Does the right hon. Gentleman know that many of us have pressed that no reduction should be made in the Gurkha strength of the British Army? Would he make it clear that the suggestion made the other day during the debate on the Order continuing the Army Act that the strength should be increased to 20,000 is hopelessly impracticable?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I do not know about it being impracticable. The Gurkhas are doing a very fine job. There is a good rô1e for them in the numbers which I have planned. I am not prepared to go further than that at present.

Sir J. Smyth

Will my right hon. Friend realise that the present position whereby the cuts announced on 14th March are not rescinded but are not at present being implemented is not very satisfactory to the people at the other end, such as recruiting officers and the men who have to make up their minds whether or not to join the Gurkhas, and particularly to the British officers who have to decide whether or not to make a career in the Gurkhas? Will he consider making a rather firmer and longer-term statement on the whole policy of the recruitment of Gurkhas and British officers for Gurkha regiments?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I fully appreciate the force of my right hon. and gallant Friend's point about having some stability and certainty in these matters, and I will bear it in mind.