§ Baroness Thornton
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What plans they have to review Gurkha married accompanied service arrangements. [HL3157]
§ Lord Bach:
The Government are acutely aware of the need to ensure that we have fair and appropriate terms and conditions of service for Gurkha personnel. The current arrangements stem from the 1947 Tripartite Agreement (TPA) between the Governments of UK, Nepal and India. One of the aims of this agreement was to safeguard the cultural, religious and ethnic heritage of Gurkha soldiers in accordance with the wishes of the Nepalese Government. It also linked British Gurkha terms and conditions of service to arrangements in the Indian Army.
The Government recognise, of course, that not all the principles that underpinned the TPA in 1974 apply today. It is for this reason that successive governments have regarded the TPA as having a degree of flexibility. This has enabled significant enhancements to be made to Gurkha conditions of service, particularly to Gurkha pay and pension arrangements. Indeed, Gurkha in-service remuneration is now in line with that of British personnel and Gurkha pensions, which were reviewed and at least doubled in April 2000, now compare favourably to professional salaries in Nepal, where all Gurkhas are discharged. Importantly, Gurkhas continue to be paid an immediate pension after only fifteen years' service, whereas the vast majority of British personnel receive a preserved pension payable at the age of 60.
The Government are satisfied, therefore, that these key elements of Gurkha terms and conditions of service are tailored to the needs of Gurkhas in 2003 and in particular that the difference between the pension schemes is both necessary and proportionate.158WA
Gurkha accompanied service provisions, however, have not been reviewed since the brigade's withdrawal from Hong Kong in 1997. It was decided at that time that married accompanied service should be introduced in the UK, but that, in accordance with the TPA, it should continue to be capped at 25 per cent of brigade strength. In practice, this means that family married quarters are provided for all Gurkhas holding the rank of Colour Sergeant or above. Below that rank, Gurkhas are entitled to one accompanied tour of around three years.
The Government are well aware of the problems these restrictions cause, although there are important contemporary factors that influence our current practice. These relate to the impact that any change in policy could have on the deployability and effectiveness of the brigade as well the need to maintain links between Gurkhas and their home country. These links were of importance to the Nepalese Government when they agreed to the transfer of Gurkha units into the British Army in 1947 and remain so to this day. Our bilateral relations with Nepal are higly valued and we take our obligations to the Nepalese Government very seriously.
It is important, therefore, that we strike the right balance between the aspirations and needs of our Gurkha soldiers and the effectiveness and employability of the brigade as a whole. With this in mind we have asked officials in consultation with the Brigade of Gurkhas, to undertake a thorough review of Gurkha married accompanied service arrangements. In so doing we will, of course, consult the Nepalese Government. We will also consider the implications for the garrison estate in Brunei, given that at any one time nearly a quarter of the brigade is stationed there, and address the education and welfare implications of any increase in the number of Gurkha families based in the UK.
We hope to be in a position to announce my findings to the House by the end of the year.