Nick Herbert "proud" to support Gurkhas in vote

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has said that the Commons vote last week on the right of ex-Gurkha soldiers to live in the UK was an occasion that made him “proud” to be a Member of Parliament.

The MP was speaking on Radio 4's ‘Any Questions' programme on Friday evening (1 May), broadcast from Haslemere Hall in Surrey.

One of the questions put to the panel was: "Joanna Lumley made a successful campaign supporting the Gurkhas.  Does the panel believe that celebrities have more impact in swaying political opinion than politicians?"

In response, Mr Herbert commented: "I don't think they have more impact but I think they can have an incredibly powerful impact.  Bob Geldof is a good example and Jamie Oliver in the campaign that he ran, which I was able to give a little bit of help to, in relation to school dinners; and latterly his campaign to try to encourage people to eat British-grown produce.  These things can have a huge impact.

"I saw it for myself when Government policy was trying to downgrade St Richard's Hospital in Chichester.  A huge march was organised.  It was when Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones said that he would join the march that the national press really became interested.  I have to say that he stopped off half way through the march to have a cigarette, which somewhat alarmed the doctors concerned, but we got the coverage.  He did a fantastic job.

"But it was also for me, as a Member of Parliament, the many e-mails I received from constituents setting out their feelings about the injustice that was being done to the Gurkhas - that's why at the end of the day the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives were able to join forces with Labour rebels and vote down the Government.

"Yes, the celebrity endorsement helped, it was a great thing, but at the end of the day it was Members of Parliament responding to their constituents and doing the right thing.  We're getting a lot of flak at the moment, much of it I think quite rightly, but this was a week where I felt that we had done something that made me proud to be a Member of Parliament."

The High Court recently agreed that Gurkhas should be allowed to settle in the UK, but a recent compromise from the Government would have placed so many restrictions on settlement that some campaigners have suggested that as few as 100 would gain the right to live here.

In one of the letters received by Mr Herbert on the plight of Gurkhas, a constituent wrote: "they did their bit for us; we must do our bit for them".

Gurkhas have been part of the British Army for nearly two centuries, serving in two World Wars, the Gulf and the Falklands.  Last month, 120 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles returned from a six-month tour of Afghanistan, where two of their colleagues were killed last November.  Since their formation in 1815, over 45,000 Gurkhas have given their lives in the service of this country.

Responding to other questions from the audience, Mr Herbert said that Prime Minister Gordon Brown was unlikely to regain the trust of the British people after his mismanagement of the economy and the loss of his political and moral authority.  On the threat of swine flu in Britain, Mr Herbert said that it was right that the Government should be taking proper precautions, although he wished that Global Tuberculosis, which kills a million and a half people every year around the world, received as much attention. 

Mr Herbert said that there had been a number of negative consequences from the war in Iraq, not least the loss of life, and he was critical of the Government whose justification for the war proved to be "completely false".  But he added that a number of positives had sprung from the war with the overthrow of a brutal dictator, the "moving sight" of Iraqis going to the polls, the emergence of a free press, a burgeoning civil society, improved security and a growing economy.

In response to the final question, Mr Herbert said that he was in favour of social networking sites, saying that he uses one himself and that it has been a great way to keep in touch with people.  But he warned that the owners of sites have a responsibility to tackle the "serious problem" of cyber-bullying amongst young people.

Nick Herbert, who is Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was joined on the panel by neuroscientist and Head of the Royal Institution Baroness Susan Greenfield, human rights lawyer and Labour life peer Baroness Helena Kennedy and Liberal Democrat MP and home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne.

'Any Questions' is broadcast live on Friday evenings and repeated at lunchtime on Saturdays.  Panellists are not told in advance what the questions will be.

Ends

 

Notes for Editors

1. To listen to the ‘Any Questions' programme, visit www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qgvj.

Ed Barker