Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean and Europe

Part of Opposition Day — [6th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 4:11 pm on 9th September 2015.

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Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester 4:11 pm, 9th September 2015

I am not sure whether there was a question in there, Madam Deputy Speaker, although there may be one for the Government to offer on. The important thing I was going to say is that we should not get obsessed with a particular figure. We have heard moving speeches this afternoon from Members echoing what I believe to be the core point of the motion, which we all share: the requirement on the nation and on all of us to respond with compassion to an international disaster.

Several Members, most movingly my hon. Friend Nicola Blackwood, in an echo of what the hon. Member for Moray said, have told us that they are from immigrant families. I was working on aid projects in Africa almost 30 years ago, helping displaced people from neighbouring countries around there, and I was in Hong Kong when its Government, on behalf of the British Government, were trying to deal with the Vietnamese boat people. It is incredibly easy for people to be critical of situations involving refugees if they are not dealing with it themselves and do not have the responsibility at the time. We should recognise that, as many Members have said. This nation does have a strong record, and we should be pulling together and doing our best to help people in the ways that we can.

On that note, I thought the most discordant speech heard in this Chamber for a long while—it was almost a disgraceful speech—was that by Tim Farron. He seems to have entirely forgotten that his party, when in coalition government with my party, was responsible for bringing together this considerable increase in our commitment to international development, which has led to our being able to provide huge sums in funding and help hundreds of thousands of people, if not more than 1 million, in the refugee camps just outside Syria. It was extraordinary that all he could bring himself to say was that this Government “react with dogs” and barbed wire, in a reference to Calais. He made no reference to what is being achieved for the refugees from Syria. Unfortunately, a number of Members have descended into making party political points, especially Andy Slaughter, who sounded the most extraordinary, tribal note, referring to a “rush to arms”, which is not even the subject of this debate. Instead of doing that, we should be focusing today on what we all share and what we can achieve together.

On that note, I wish to make a practical suggestion that I believe would make a real difference to this nation’s handling of the refugee crisis. I touched on it earlier in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The most practical thing we can do is encourage the leading charities and non-governmental organisations, perhaps in that meeting on Friday with the Government, to come together to create a new Syrian refugee fund, perhaps administered by Save the Children in particular, although others should be involved. Such a fund would allow so many of our generous constituents around the whole country to contribute, and it should be matched pound for pound by the Government. That would enable a significant fund to be available to help the refugees when they come to this country. It could be disbursed through local government authorities or it could be done directly, but all these are issues that should be resolved. We have done this before. We did it successfully in response to the typhoon in the Philippines about 18 months ago, when many people in our constituencies contributed. St Peter’s school in my constituency raised funds and gave a lot of time towards doing so. Such an approach helps the people of Britain to realise that the Government share their sympathy and compassion, and will match what they give pound for pound. That is a practical suggestion that would help us.

Some hon. Members have intimated that we should do almost everything that Germany is doing. It seems to me extraordinary that we should feel obliged to get into some form of bidding war with Germany, of all nations. We should surely recognise that Germany is dealing not only with today’s humanitarian crisis—[Interruption.] The SNP would do well to listen—but with her own modern history. We should respect and admire that but not see German commitments as a competitive challenge.

We should recognise that each country can contribute differently. For example, the role of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean in saving more than 6,000 people who might otherwise have drowned is not something that many countries in the European Union could emulate, and certainly not Germany. We should recognise that we can all make our own separate and different contribution to the crisis. We should pull together; make sure that we get on with implementing what has already been announced by the Prime Minister, and not try to split hairs about numbers of refugees; encourage the charities to create the fund in which the Government will match what individuals donate; locally capture significant offers of help through the asylum and refugee offices in our own counties; and make it happen.