HC Deb 17 February 1997 vol 290 cc367-9W
Sir John Stanley

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to announce the result of his Department's review of Gurkha terms and conditions of service; and if he will make a statement. [16554]

Mr. Soames

Terms and conditions of service for Gurkhas serving in the British Army are set out in the 1947 tripartite agreement-TPA-between the Governments of Nepal, India and the United Kingdom to enable Gurkha troops to be recruited and employed in the Indian and British Armies on a broadly comparable basis. The last major review of Gurkha terms and conditions of service took place in 1955. Since then, the British Army Gurkhas have been increasingly widely deployed and dispersed. Conditions of service have necessarily been adjusted to take account of local factors, although basic pay and the level of accompanied service have not departed from the guidelines set out in the TPA. Over time, such adjustments have led to significant anomalies. For example, Gurkhas are currently paid markedly different rates, depending on the country in which they serve, their marital status and whether they are accompanied, with a consequent threat to the morale of those on significantly lower incomes.

Taking advantage of the drawdown in Hong Kong and the relocation of most of the brigade to the UK, the MOD has undertaken a major review to restore fairness and equity across the brigade. As a result, revised terms and conditions of service will be introduced from July 1997. The main elements are set out:

Basic pay will continue to be set in accordance with the Indian army pay code in line with the requirements of the TPA, but a universal addition to basic pay will be introduced in place of the current anomalous system of allowances. This will standardise Gurkha pay across different geographical areas, and bring Gurkha take-home pay broadly into line with that received by British soldiers. So far as Gurkhas stationed in the United Kingdom are concerned, no soldier will suffer a reduction and many will gain. In Brunei and Nepal, the great majority of soldiers-those who are married unaccompanied ranks-will benefit from the changes. Gurkha married accompanied personnel in Brunei and Nepal will, however, experience a reduction in their take-home pay, which is currently significantly higher than that of other members of the brigade.

Married accompanied service is to be made available in the United Kingdom. In keeping with the tripartite agreement, which specifies that up to 25 per cent. of Gurkha officers and soldiers will be provided with family accommodation, sergeants and below will be granted one three-year accompanied tour and the more senior ranks will be permanently accompanied. This reflects the basis upon which married accompanied service is available in Brunei and Nepal and was provided to those serving in Hong Kong. Some 450 married quarters will be made available at locations in the United Kingdom where about 2,000 members of the brigade of Gurkhas will be stationed. We expect that under these arrangements some 900 Gurkha dependants, wives and children, will come to the United Kingdom.

Gurkha parents will have the option of sending their children to school in the UK or of taking advantage of a new Gurkha education allowance to enable them to enjoy the benefits of continuity of education within the Nepali system. We expect that most will choose the latter course, relying on Nepali boarding schools and looking to relatives to provide care and support for the children in their absence. There will be an entitlement of one free flight a year to enable children to be united with their parents in the UK during the long Nepali school holiday.

The present entitlement of Gurkha soldiers to long leave every three years will remain. This recognises the continuing importance we attach to keeping the Gurkha soldier in touch with his home culture and roots. But the entitlement will be reduced from six to five months to take account of improved internal communications in Nepal.

We also intend to transfer resettlement training from Nepal to the United Kingdom. This will provide Gurkhas with a much wider choice of training, while ensuring they continue to undertake a reorientation course in Nepal before discharge from the British Army. We intend to retain the Queens Gurkha officer commission for the majority of officers in Gurkha units, but we shall also take the opportunity to introduce a new Gurkha short service commission for a limited number of suitably qualified Gurkha officers to allow them to gain wider employment within the wider British Army.

I am confident that this package represents a significant improvement over current arrangements while continuing to respect the tripartite agreement. It also recognises and gives continued substance to the Gurkhas' position as an integral and valued component of the British Army. I am sure that it will be well received by the brigade.