Martin Salter - working hard for Reading West

Gurkhas Hit Back at Salter’s Critics

Local Gurkha campaigners have weighed in behind Reading West MP Martin Salter following attempts by Reading Conservatives to make party political capital out of last week’s climbdown by the Government on Gurkha settlement rights and the subsequent vote in the House of Commons.

Mr Salter, who set up and chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gurkha Rights with Ann Widdecombe (Con) and Bob Russell (LibDem), negotiated a Government pledge not to deport any former Gurkha soldiers from Britain who failed to meet their new criteria and for the much-criticised settlement guidelines to be re-written by the summer. This climbdown was achieved two hours before the non-binding vote on the Liberal Democrat motion, and was welcomed by politicians of all parties and the Gurkhas themselves. Mr Salter addressed the Gurkha rally outside Parliament on Wednesday on details of the climbdown and received a warm reception.

Speaking to the Gurkhas outside Parliament on the afternoon of Wednesday 29th April, Martin Salter said:-

“Last Friday when that disgraceful announcement was made, many Gurkhas in Britain knew they couldn’t qualify and faced an uncertain future. Now, as a result of our campaigning, no one need fear the threat of deportation. And we also know that a policy announced on Friday has been disowned by Wednesday and will be re-written in a matter of weeks.”

He added:-

“There is still a long way to go and I have no doubt that there will be further court cases and a vigorous debate when we return to this issue in July. But for now we can move forward with more confidence than we had last Friday.”

At the subsequent vote on the motion, the Government was defeated by 21 votes due to a massive abstention by Labour MPs (around 60) and 27 who voted against. Without the huge Labour abstentions, including Martin Salter, the Government would have defeated the Liberal Democrat motion.

Reacting to Conservative criticisms, Martin Salter said:-

“Given that this was a non-binding vote, an important job was done by myself and other Labour backbenchers in tabling amendments and putting pressure on the Government to climb down ahead of the vote. We achieved that - we won a commitment re-think the policy and we saw off the appalling prospect of Gurkhas being deported from Britain because they could not conform to the flawed Government criteria announced last week. I have rarely seen a Government select reverse gear so rapidly and everyone who played their part in the campaign deserves credit not criticism. In fact, it was that doughty Conservative politician Ann Widdecombe who congratulated me after the vote on my work and all our cross-party group has achieved for the Gurkhas. I’m afraid Alok Sharma’s criticisms are somewhat wide of the mark, particularly as the figures show it was “the abstentions wot won it” and in any case it’s the policy changes that count at the end of the day.”

Local Gurkhas have rejected the Conservative’s criticism. Laxmi Prasad Sharma said:-

“I personally do not think you will find a single Gurkha to criticise Martin Salter’s efforts on our behalf. He was instrumental in yesterday’s climb down by the Government and we can think of no finer person to chair the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gurkha rights which has done so much for Gurkhas.”

Madan Kumar Gurung (retired Queen’s Gurkha Officer) said:-

“I am grateful to Martin Salter for what he has done for Gurkhas. My colleagues and I are very happy with Martin as chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gurkha rights.”

Tim Heaver, Reading based Gurkha solicitor, said:-

“Martin has put a huge amount of work in to creating support from within the Parliamentary Labour Party for Gurkhas, both as MP for Reading West and as Chairman of the All Party Gurkha rights Group. Without his hard work and devotion to Gurkha Rights, it is difficult to see that we could have won yesterday’s vote. The vote was after all not just won by the Labour MPs who joined the Lib Dems and Conservatives, but also by those who refused to back the Government’s position and thereby denied the Government a majority.”

He added:-

“Martin also carved a concession from the Government yesterday to ensure that all of Reading’s Gurkha community will stay in the UK permanently. This has been very gratefully received and is just about the only legally binding ‘victory’ from yesterday. I do not know any Gurkha who would ask for an apology from Martin Salter - quite the opposite.”