HC Deb 17 June 2002 vol 387 cc3-5
2. Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

What discussions he had with the Prime Minister of Nepal on his recent visit to the UK on the question of military help to Nepal; and if he will make a statement. [58671]

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram)

Prime Minister Deuba of Nepal called on my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development and myself on 13 May. Mr. Deuba outlined the current situation in Nepal and said that poverty reduction was their overall priority, including health, education, and provision of water. He stated that Nepal needed assistance in three areas: economic development, security and the mobilisation of international support for Nepal. On the security front, it was acknowledged that Nepal needed help in logistics and communications.

The Nepalese Prime Minister was advised that the United Kingdom will be hosting a conference in London this month, with the aim of bringing together the international community to agree a common strategy of support for Nepal. This will address security concerns as well as the political and developmental challenges facing Nepal.

Mr. O'Brien

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Nepal is a good ally of the United Kingdom—for many years, the sons of Nepal have been recruited into the Gurkha regiment and are now recognised as the finest fighters in the world. Nepal re-established its democracy in 1990. Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that during his visit to the UK, Prime Minister Deuba outlined the internal problems that Nepal is having with the Maoist terrorists and requested help in the form of training their forces as well as providing helicopters and other technical equipment? Does my right hon. Friend accept that much more needs to be done if we are to help Nepal defend its villages from terrorists? What more help can we give to ensure that democracy and freedom apply in all the villages in Nepal?

Mr. Ingram

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is right to highlight the good support that we have received from Nepal and our good relationship with that country over many, many years. The Gurkha regiments have served with distinction in every theatre in which they have been involved, from the Falkland Islands to current operations in Bosnia.

My hon. Friend asks what more can be done: in my answer, I set out the range of efforts that we are making. The intergovernmental and international conference later this month will consider additional ways in which we can give assistance to that troubled country in its efforts to take on the insurgents to whom he referred.

Patrick Mercer (Newark)

May I join the Minister in paying tribute to the record of Gurkha soldiers, in particular the Gurkha Rifles, especially in the light of the recent anniversaries of the triumphs in the Falklands? However, when Nepal is in such need of our help, will the Minister tell us why the first Gurkha reinforcement company has been disbanded, why the second one will be disbanded next year and why the third and final Gurkha reinforcement company will be disbanded the year after next?

Mr. Ingram

I have set out all the areas in which we seek to give assistance to Nepal and, in terms of the strength of the British Army, they are kept constantly under review. I am happy to set out at length for the hon. Gentleman the reasons why those changes have taken place.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

In the Minister's discussions with the Prime Minister of Nepal about possible military assistance to help to defeat the Maoist guerrilla campaign that seeks to destroy democracy in Nepal, did the Government again raise the question of the welfare of ex-British Army Gurkhas in Nepal? For example, did the right hon. Gentleman discuss how Britain might help to end the intimidation and extortion to which some of those loyal former servants of the Crown have been subjected by the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen's Association—a Marxist-Leninist organisation which speaks only for a small minority of former British Army soldiers and whose claim against the British Government for discrimination is being advocated by the wife of our Prime Minister?

Mr. Ingram

On the latter point, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the way in which members of this country's legal profession are allocated work. If he is asking for a change in that, he should be raising the matter with a different Minister—if that is his point of view—although I suspect that some of his hon. Friends may be somewhat reluctant to make a change.

In respect of the kernel of the hon. Gentleman's argument, that point diminished a good question. There are serious and important issues that we have to address and, yes, in passing, some of them were touched on by the Prime Minister—in relation to the in-country issues in respect of the Gurkhas who served with us with distinction. In my earlier response, I set out the various ways in which we are taking forward those matters and they may, of course, be raised at the intergovernmental international conference later this month.