Page last updated at 12:08 GMT, Saturday, 27 March 2010

Joanna Lumley defends her 'silence' over Gurkhas

A Gurkha war veteran alongside Joanna Lumley
Joanna Lumley led a high-profile campaign on behalf of Gurkhas

Joanna Lumley has hit back at a defence minister who accused her of a "deathly silence" over Gurkhas' rights.

The actress, whose campaign forced the government to let more Gurkhas settle in the UK, says the "personal attack" has forced her to break her silence.

Veterans minister Kevan Jones told MPs Gurkhas were being misled and she had a responsibility to explain the new laws.

But she said she was keeping a promise to ministers not to speak publicly while a settlement policy was decided.

'Innuendo and spin'

Ms Lumley responded to Mr Jones's allegations in an open letter signed by herself, Peter Carroll from the Gurkha Justice Campaign and Howe & Co Solicitors.

The letter said: "Last year Gordon Brown took personal charge of the Gurkha issue. He asked us to deal with No 10 and his senior civil servants, out of the glare of publicity, so as to iron out any 'bumps in the road'. We respected his request and kept our promise."

It also said it was the government's responsibility to help Gurkhas who had found it hard to settle in the UK and Mr Brown had to "reaffirm his government's support for the right of Gurkhas to live in Britain".

Earlier this month, Mr Jones announced an inquiry into the activities of some lawyers working with the Nepalese veterans.

The fact that the Gurkhas' legal costs were paid under legal aid is questioned in the media, rather than celebrated as a fine use of public funds to help end decades of injustice
Letter from Joanna Lumley and fellow campaigners

He told the Home Affairs Committee of MPs some veterans had been mistakenly led to think they would be entitled to free housing in Britain.

Others were encouraged to make voluntary donations to veterans' organisations in Nepal which then referred them on to UK solicitors, he said.

Last May, ministers abandoned immigration rules preventing Gurkhas who retired before 1997 settling freely in Britain.

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

Under the new rules, announced by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, all Gurkhas with more than four years service have the right to apply for settlement in the UK with their families.

'Debt of honour'

But the letter from Miss Lumley and her fellow campaigners said they were concerned by the investigation into the campaign's solicitors and by negative media coverage.

It said: "The fact that the Gurkhas' legal costs were paid under legal aid is questioned in the media, rather than celebrated as a fine use of public funds to help end decades of injustice."

It said a "debt of honour" had been repaid but "the government must not undermine the settlement rights won with public approval last year and must respect the right of Gurkhas to choose to live in the UK."

The actress and fellow campaigners are due to hold a press conference in Westminster on Monday.

The Gurkha Justice Campaign was set up by Mr Carroll, a local Liberal Democrat campaigner, in 2004.

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