Page last updated at 20:06 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 21:06 UK

No 10 denies Lumley 'Gurkha snub'

Joanna Lumley: "I don't know who else I go to now"

No 10 has denied it snubbed requests from Joanna Lumley for a meeting with the prime minister over the right of Gurkhas to settle in the UK.

The actress and campaigner said she wrote three letters to Mr Brown over the issue but none was acknowledged.

But No 10 said all the letters were acknowledged and Ms Lumley had met the home secretary.

Ms Lumley, who still wants to meet the PM, said a member of the Royal Family had written to her backing her stance.

Letters of support

Ms Lumley wants all Gurkhas to be given equal right to settle in the UK, no matter when they served in the British army.

Some 36,000 Gurkhas - a brigade of Nepalese soldiers who serve in the British Army - have been denied UK residency because they left before 1997.

The government is reviewing its rules for admitting Gurkhas after it lost a Commons vote on the issue last week, in what was a major blow to Gordon Brown's leadership.

No 10 said suggestions that it ignored three letters from Ms Lumley over the issue were incorrect.

I have had a lot of detailed letters from people around the country saying whatever it costs, we want them all here as a debt of honour
Joanna Lumley

Mr Brown had been aware of the letters, a spokesman said, adding: "We responded by arranging a meeting with the home secretary".

No 10 said it would consider a further request from Ms Lumley to meet with the prime minister to discuss the matter privately.

Appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee, Ms Lumley accused the government of "scare tactics" over the likely cost to the taxpayer of letting all Gurkhas settle in the UK.

"I have had a lot of detailed letters from people around the country saying whatever it costs, however much we owe them in pensions, however many NHS beds they take up, we want them all here as a debt of honour," Ms Lumley said.

The BBC's Royal Correspondent Peter Hunt said Ms Lumley had confirmed she had received a letter from a member of the Royal Family backing her campaign but that it had not come from either the Duke of Edinburgh or the Prince of Wales.

On the defensive

Ministers have again defended their policy on the Gurkhas, amid claims that they are overstating the likely cost of allowing all the ex-soldiers to live in the UK.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas told MPs that decisions on who was allowed to settle in the UK must be guided by the law, not merely "political populism".

Mr Woolas, who has warned that an open-door approach could cost billions of pounds, said he could not give a blanket guarantee to all Gurkhas wanting to come to the UK for both legal and economic reasons.

"One cannot set immigration policy for groups," he told MPs. "One can only do it on a case-by-case basis."

But Labour MP Martin Salter said the cost of allowing all Gurkhas into the UK could be close to £425m but that ministers were consistently quoting a figure of £1.5bn, right at the top end of estimates.

Ministers recently introduced rules allowing more of these older soldiers to settle in the UK based on long service, medals received, and injuries suffered in battle.

The Home Office said the change would allow about 4,300 in, but the Gurkha Justice Campaign said it would be just 100.

The head of the UK Border Agency told MPs that she expected about 4,000 to be admitted under current regulations.

Rebel MPs have warned the issue will not "go away" until the government changes its policy.

Labour was defeated on a Lib Dem motion calling for former Gurkhas who served before 1997 to be given the same rights to settle in the UK as those who served after that date.

In response, ministers have agreed all outstanding applications for residence by Gurkhas would be dealt with by the end of May and a review of the regulations would follow.



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