Page last updated at 15:44 GMT, Monday, 29 March 2010 16:44 UK

Lumley rejects criticism from minister over Gurkha help

Joanna Lumley: "We have not stopped working solidly for the Gurkhas"

Actress Joanna Lumley has said she has "never stopped working" to help support the rights of Gurkhas after criticism from a government minister.

Her campaign forced ministers to let more Gurkhas settle in the UK but veterans minister Kevan Jones said she had not done enough to help them since.

Ms Lumley said claims she had "lured" Gurkhas to the UK with "promises of paradise" were completely untrue.

No 10 said Gordon Brown had told Ms Lumley he was sorry over the issue.

Shortly before the former Absolutely Fabulous actress began a press conference in Westminster Mr Jones also apologised for claiming Ms Lumley was guilty of a "deathly silence" over Gurkhas' rights.

He said: "I am sorry if any offence was caused - this was not intended.

"My sole concern, and that of this government, is to stop unscrupulous middle-men ripping off vulnerable ex-Gurkhas who are entitled to settle in the UK when our free service exists to help them without charge."

'Just cause'

Appearing before the Commons home affairs committee earlier this month, Mr Jones said Ms Lumley and fellow campaigners had not done enough to explain the new rules - permitting any Gurkhas with more than four years' service to apply for settlement in the UK with their families - to them.

Ms Lumley said she had never met Mr Jones and urged Prime Minister Gordon Brown to restate his commitment to the policy agreed last year following a lengthy campaign backed by MPs from all parties.

My sole concern, and that of this government, is to stop unscrupulous middle-men ripping off vulnerable ex-Gurkhas
Veterans minister Kevan Jones

Describing the campaign as a "just cause", she said her team had not neglected Gurkhas who had moved to the UK since then, amid reports that many were now living in poverty.

"We have not stopped working solidly for the Gurkhas, as we promised the prime minister we would, although we have been doing it in the quiet," she told a press conference.

She said she would look into newspaper reports claiming that Gurkhas looking to move to the UK had been exploited by middle men.

However, she rejected claims that Gurkhas had paid for her to visit Nepal or that a law firm processing visa applications had behaved disreputably as "absolutely untrue" - adding that she believed the "system was working well".

It is understood that Mr Brown tried to contact Ms Lumley before the press conference but the actress said she had not spoken to him. She said she still believed Mr Brown backed the Gurkha campaign "to the hilt" and would have been as "shocked" about the recent reports as she was.

'Glare of publicity'

A No 10 spokesman said Mr Brown had spoken with Ms Lumley on the phone after the press conference: "Joanna Lumley, as you know, has had particular concerns about some of the media coverage of the campaign. The prime minister said he was sorry this had happened."

Minister Kevan Jones said some veterans had been mistakenly led to think they would be entitled to free housing in Britain, while others were encouraged to make voluntary donations to veterans' organisations in Nepal which then referred them on to UK solicitors.

Kevan Jones: "Any comments were unintentioned"

The actress responded 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.

Ms Lumley said she had come to the press conference "almost with a sense of regret, that we've had to come to this... clearing our names in public".

She said articles had appeared "which must have put doubt into the hearts of all the people who supported the Gurkha justice campaign".

She urged the prime minister "to affirm that the policy is one that he still completely supports" and that the Ministry of Defence was behind "everything they said they would be behind".

Shadow immigration minister Damian Green said: "Ministers have been wrong all along on the Gurkha issue, showing a mixture of bad judgement and mean spiritedness. They should concentrate on solving the administrative problems that remain, instead of attacking the campaigners."

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