Thursday, May 21, 2009

GURKHAS WIN RIGHT TO SETTLE IN UK

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announces Gurkhas settlement rights

All Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 with at least four years' service will be allowed to settle in the UK, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said.

Ms Smith told MPs she was "proud to offer this country's welcome to all who have served in the brigade of Gurkhas".

It comes after a high-profile campaign by Joanna Lumley and other supporters of Gurkha rights - and an embarrassing Commons defeat for the Government.

Some 36,000 Gurkhas who left before 1997 had been denied UK residency.

Actress Joanna Lumley, who has campaigned on behalf of the Gurkhas, said: "This is the welcome we have always longed to give."

She called Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who she had met earlier, a "brave man who has made today a brave decision on behalf of the bravest of the brave".

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said the U-turn by the government was a "great victory for a well-run campaign, that has publicly embarrassed ministers".

Ms Smith's statement was greeted by cheers from MPs.

She told the Commons: "I'm delighted that we have now been able to agree - across Government, across the House and with the Gurkhas' representatives - new settlement rights that all those who have served us so well, so highly deserve."

Ms Smith added that the Gurkhas had served the UK "with great courage, sacrifice and distinction and they continue to make a vital and valued contribution to our operations around the world".

The prime minister suffered a shock Commons defeat on the issue, forcing ministers to reconsider existing rules on how many Gurkhas can settle in the UK.

It was followed by an extraordinary piece of Westminster theatre when Ms Lumley came face-to-face with minister Phil Woolas in BBC studios and quickly won public assurances over future policy at an impromptu joint press conference.

At Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Mr Brown told the House of Commons that he had a "great deal of sympathy and support" for the Gurkhas.

He added: "I believe it is possible for us to honour our commitments to the Gurkhas and to do so in a way that protects the public finances."

BBC NEWS REPORT.

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