Friday, 9 April 2010

Poor old Johnny

"At his appearance before the Home Affairs Committee in March, (MP) Mr Jones ordered an inquiry into the veterans' payments, specifically naming the solicitors Howe & Co – part of Lumley's campaign team – as a firm which should face questions.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has set up a free advice centre in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, and "unscrupulous middlemen" were charging fees which were needless, the minister said.

Mr Jones was later forced to issue an "unreserved apology" to Lumley and the inquiry carried out at the behest of the minister by the Legal Services Commission (LSC) has now cleared Howe & Co. In a letter to the firm, the LSC said it had "found no evidence" of malpractice and "we trust that this satisfactory [sic] concludes the matter."

Gordon Brown was also involved in the controversy, offering his own personal apology to Lumley in a telephone call. The Independent has learnt that this was directly linked to a meeting the Prime Minister had held with three members of the Gurkha campaign – Joanna Lumley, Peter Carroll and Martin Howe, from the solicitors' firm – at Downing Street in May 2009.

During the meeting, the Prime Minister requested and obtained a promise from them not to be vocal on the issue, while in return he would ensure that changes they had demanded to the Bill allowing Gurkhas to settle in the UK would pass into law.

The Independent has also seen documents which show that a senior MoD official, Margaret Gilmour, was aware of allegations that the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemens Organisation (Gaeso) had charged for advice on settlement three years ago.

In an email dated 4 September 2007, she wrote to Howe & Co to say that the matter had been raised with Gaeso whose "response was that they had every right to charge for their services and they saw nothing wrong in taking on such cases if people came to them."

However, in a statement yesterday the MoD said that Gaeso had denied charging fees at a public meeting where Ms Gilmour was present. "In 2007 MoD officials asked Gaeso to respond to a number of accusations. However, these accusations were strongly denied by the organisation during a public meeting and the MoD recognises that Gaeso is a legitimate ex-service organisation," the statement said.

A spokesman added that officials had visited Nepal over a number of years "to use trustworthy sources for information on immigration".
I have lived and worked with Gurkha troops and fully recognise all the attributes that have been written and said about them. They are incredibly loyal to their officers who are themselves - in general terms - amongst the best that our Army produces. That said, they do live and serve in what may be considered as directly related to the life style of their Nation. They take little from the customs of any country where they may be living or serving on a short-term basis.

The publicity as to the plight in which the older Guirkha may find themselves is widespread thanks to the actions of Saint Jo. And quite right too - she demonstrates the values inherited from her Gurkha-leading father.

Because of this, I can understand the point the link makes that it could be that the Government (they one we had just past and not any incoming change) is making it difficult for aged Gurkhas to come here and settle. They may already have younger relatives here; I know of a number who have done well both in assimilating our ways of life and in busines. But that is the point - they have changed and are not the full shilling of the people they were. We rightly abhor the policies of zoos that bring animals to this country and then exhibit them in truly inappropriate and miserable conditions. Bringing older Gurkhas here is - IMHO of course - exhibiting exactly the same lack of understanding and compassion.

If the problem is merely that their pension is inappropriate - then by all means solve that. They have earned more than our money. The British Army used to make considerable effort in the recruiting process in Nepal and could show more of that ability in better access to medical and social care. In Nepal. Not here where these old men would have to contest with all the other incomers and indigenous who demand special treatment and attention.

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