§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they will provide housing in the United Kingdom for the families of Gurkha soldiers reassigned here from Hong Kong.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe)
My Lords, married accompanied service for Gurkhas is currently available in Hong Kong, Brunei and Nepal, but not in the United Kingdom. The forthcoming withdrawal from Hong Kong means the majority of Gurkhas will in future serve for most of their careers in the United Kingdom and the Ministry of Defence is therefore conducting a wide-ranging review of Gurkha terms and conditions of service, including the issue of accompanied service in the United Kingdom.
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that rather cautious reply. I asked the Question as someone who has served in the Brigade of Gurkhas. Therefore I suppose I should declare an interest. However, that is an interest which I suspect is shared by your Lordships' House and shared by most people outside the House as well. I am sure the noble Earl will acknowledge the unique contribution made by generations of Gurkhas over 100 years, and the loyal and courageous service they have given this country in two world wars in Malaya, Hong Kong, Borneo and in the Falklands. Does he not think that loyalty is a two-way street? Will he tell the House specifically that when Gurkhas are assigned from Hong Kong to permanent bases in the United Kingdom, their conditions of service will be in every respect as fair and humane as those of British soldiers? In particular, will he say now, in advance of any review—because I do not understand what a review is for in this respect—that they will be able to bring their families with them?
My Lords, I entirely identify myself with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Holme, at the beginning of his supplementary question. I believe we owe the Gurkhas a great debt. The Gurkhas have rendered unique and outstanding service to the British Army and to this country over many years.I believe that accompanied service in the UK is a legitimate aspiration by the Brigade of Gurkhas. I am confident that the review we are conducting will produce a fair and equitable package of recommendations that fully address the Brigade's concerns. However, these issues are complex, and the terms and conditions of service for Gurkhas are complicated and the process will take a little longer. I anticipate that we will be in a position to announce any changes to Parliament shortly after Christmas.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, will my noble friend assure the House that there will be nothing said, 1082 thought or suggested that in any way compromises the nationwide appreciation of the wonderful loyalty and support of the Gurkha regiment?
My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. We value the Gurkhas highly as part of the Army. The brigade's future in the Army is secure.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, will the noble Earl confirm that the Government's avowed concern for family values applies not just to British families but also to Nepalese families?
My Lords, indeed yes. That is why we are devoting a great deal of thought to how we can address the brigade's concerns not just in terms of accompanied service but also in terms of the education of their children, were Gurkha families to be housed here.
§ Viscount Waverley
My Lords, to what extent are the Gurkhas filling in as a result of an over-calculation as regards Options for Change?
My Lords, as I am sure the noble Viscount will know, three Gurkha reinforcement companies comprising some 400 men in total are to be used as a temporary means of correcting undermanning in three British infantry battalions. That, I believe, is a sensible arrangement. It is one that your Lordships found favour with in our debate on the Defence Estimates in 1995. Those Gurkhas have been assigned to the 1st Battalion of the Royal Scots in Colchester, the 1st Battalion of the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment in Canterbury and the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment in Aldershot. I believe that we are lucky to have them.
§ Lord Craig of Radley
My Lords, the last point made was that the Gurkhas are filling in for British soldiers. Does that not mean that the Gurkhas should be treated in the same way as we expect our own British soldiers to be treated? Can the Minister give an undertaking that that will be taken into account when considering the issue of married quarters?
My Lords, I can give an absolute undertaking that that will be taken into account. We are very anxious indeed to ensure that we make the right decisions for the Gurkhas' and their families' future welfare.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, is the noble Earl saying that there needs to be an inquiry as to whether the redeployment should be accompanied or unaccompanied? There are cases where a deployment has to be unaccompanied, for example, where the situation is urgent or where deployment is for only a short period of time. What possible reason can there be for sending back these people without their families? Does the Minister agree that the Gurkhas are rather bad at complaining and therefore there is additional responsibility on Ministers to ensure that their needs are properly looked after?
My Lords, we take these issues very seriously. I am sure that the noble Lord will be aware that until now the majority of Gurkhas' service in the Army has been spent either in Hong Kong or Brunei, and very little of it in the UK. Most of their service will now be in the UK. It is only right that we should readdress the entire terms and conditions of service of the Gurkhas and that we should consider the matter as a package.
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)
My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, I wonder whether we should move to the next Question. We have under six minutes of Question Time left.