Page last updated at 14:39 GMT, Friday, 24 April 2009 15:39 UK

Lumley tears over Gurkha cause

By Iain Watson
Political correspondent, BBC News

Joanna Lumley after hearing the verdict
Joanna Lumley was overcome by emotion by the news

For those of us who can remember her as Purdey in the New Avengers - currently being repeated on BBC4 - we would expect actress Joanna Lumley to be feisty.

And indeed she has fought a long campaign on behalf of Gurkhas who want the right to settle in Britain.

But earlier on Friday we saw her cry.

She had come to the House of Commons with some of the Nepalese ex servicemen - and their solicitors - to react to the news that the government had decided to allow more former Gurkhas, and their families to settle here - but far, far fewer than they had wanted.

Standing beside two wheelchair-bound veterans whose chests were almost clanking with medals, her sorrow turned to anger.

She said the government should hang its head in shame for not allowing every Gurkha who had spent four years in the British army the right to live in the UK on retirement.

That would bring them into line with other foreign troops who had served this country.

A grim faced Dharma Tamang, from the London-based Gurkha Army ex-servicemens' organisation, told me that he believed only 5-10% of Gurkhas who had left the army before 1997 would now be allowed to live here.

Then the small gathering was addressed in tones redolent of the uncompromising nature of Northern Irish politics before the peace process.

Fight continues

David Enright - a lawyer who has represented the Gurkhas in their legal battle - denounced the government and said he would "never, never, never" accept today's decision and the campaign would continue.

The whole event was largely dignified and certainly powerful - but obviously it represented just one side of the story.

A defence minister told me that Gurkhas who retire aged 33 and continue to live in their home country of Nepal are given pensions which are higher than the average doctor's salary.

And he also reminded me that all serving Gurkhas who leave the army after four years can now settle here but said it was unrealistic to expect everyone who had served in the past to be given the right to live in Britain.

He said the papers and the campaigners may have raised false hope.

The campaigners themselves say they have already pressed for greater rights in law and the government would now be judged in the court of public opinion.



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