Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, the temptation to give my lecture gets ever stronger, but I shall resist it. I still do not regard this as a genuine experiment, but I must move on.
I find the arguments in favour of this trial unconvincing. I shall be very brief because the right reverend Prelate has made most of the points. First, the fact that these children have come from traumatic, stressful and interrupted school systems and experiences—as, indeed, I did in 1936—makes it even more the case that they should get into a normal school environment as quickly as possible.
Secondly, the fact that they know little English—as I did not either when I came—makes an even stronger case for getting them into a school. One learns English not by having a good English master in front of one but by mixing with children. You learn English very, very quickly that way, so, for me, that argument counts for nothing.
As to the argument in a Home Office paper that such children will be liable to bullying and racism—so was I in Nazi Germany—I find it rather sad and pathetic. Children on the whole are very tolerant, flexible, helpful and friendly. Of course there will be some bullying, but it will soon be over. That is not at all a strong argument.
The argument that there will be focused teaching by expert teachers in the accommodation centres does not convince me one iota. What is important is not that the children have good teachers but that they are together with many other kinds of children in the classroom—taught by, it is to be hoped, good teachers. So, again, integration into a normal environment is crucial.
As to the argument that schools are under great pressure, which has not been advanced by the Minister today but is much evident in the documents, the teaching profession—the heads and the teacher unions—if I may say so without disrespect, is far ahead in its thinking of Members of the House of Commons in this debate. It has shown in a number of statements that its members are willing, prepared and eager to accept asylum seeker children. If the children are there for only two weeks or two months and then go on, they will have had a good experience and met many English children, and the English children will have learnt from them.
For all these reasons the case for integration, for normal school life for these children—even if they are small in number and here for a very short time—is the main argument.
Perhaps I may support what I say with a personal recollection. I do not wish to make too great a comparison between the experiences of Nazi refugees and what is happening now, but there are some relevant experiences and I shall talk about one of them. The fact that within weeks—certainly months—I became a very happy boy in English life here owed everything to the fact that I was immediately in an ordinary school environment. It was not that the teaching was particularly brilliant but that I spent my day with children of my own age, being naughty with them, being nice with them, getting to know different attitudes and so on. Some of them were quite tough on me but most of them were nice. It was those early weeks and months that made me feel that this is a wonderful country and made me begin to be a committed person and, finally, a citizen.