Refugees and Migrants from Asia and Africa — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:40 pm on 9th July 2015.

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Photo of Lord Selsdon Lord Selsdon Conservative 3:40 pm, 9th July 2015

My Lords, as so often, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising, in his delicate and charming way, an issue that is perhaps far greater than many of us could understand.

I start on these issues with the advice that I was always given: before trying to determine the future, go back and have a look at the past. That is what I think I intend to do. I went to the Library, for which I have always had great respect—not only when I was on the Information Committee. You get to know the people there who have a particular interest in history, and before you know it they overwhelm you. I was overwhelmed with something like 120 sheets of A3 containing the history of the world, and I asked if I could please have a simpler brief. Now, for the first time in my life, I have an A5 brief in the form of maps.

I begin with the partition of Africa in 1914. In order to determine the future you have to understand the past, and is it wrong sometimes to repeat the past. Your Lordships will know that, in 1914 at the time of the partition of Africa, many countries played an important part, and why should they not yet again be brought together? They were the French, the British, the Germans, the Italians, the Belgians, the Spanish and Portuguese. On this little chart we have a map of everything. One of the main objectives of this colonisation, or development, was food and raw materials. With it came the technology from the United Kingdom that led to the production of cotton and to getting things out of mines, and it was a pretty exciting exercise.

The same was true in India, which we have forgotten. In one of my jobs I was one of the economic advisers doing a study for the Government of India on its future trade. I am afraid that I did not really know my way around India. We looked at manganese, iron ore and all sorts of things, including cotton—which seemed to have gone but now comes up again—and those things that you made sacks out of. Sacks, of course, have gone. India, surprisingly enough, turned itself around in a relatively short time to become a major economy in the world, not simply relying upon simple raw materials. The Indian chart shows the growth of British power in India, and shows exactly when everything happened.

We then take my third chart, showing south-east Asia, which again is a major boom area. The question is what we as a nation that understands these countries can do. In order to understand and plan for the future, as I say, we must determine the past, so it is worth looking at what was produced in those territories in those golden years. I turn therefore to one of my favourite topics: Sudan. An old friend of mine, Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker, unwittingly bullied me into taking him to Sudan, only to find that I got fascinated by it. I had forgotten about the Gezira scheme, which grew the best long staple cotton in the world, which could still be redeveloped because the water and land are still there, as are the children of families who knew how it worked.

I had also forgotten about the vast quantities of grain that could be produced there. We created a project called Storex Sudan. We got the Chinese involved—I was going to say that we got into bed with them—because they had suddenly decided that they wanted to do development projects in Africa. The Chinese agreed that they would build a road to the port, bring in ships and unload them. If you have ever watched Chinese unloading things, it is fascinating: they put everything on their head, walk off the ship and unload quicker than one could do it with derricks and everything else. The thought was that in Sudan all we needed was an off-take agreement for the grain—the dura—and one for the cotton, and the same families would be back again in production. In Africa we have the same scenario in countries where this is the norm. If we as a country could just put on a piece of paper, “I promise to buy and pay the bearer on demand the sum of so much per tonne”, it is amazing how very quickly orders would come about.

My thoughts in this debate are that it is an economic debate. We must of course look at the north coast of Africa. Let us think again. Why is everyone leaving when they have potential for development in their own country? Why are they taking a risk at sea when very few of them can swim? Who are these pirates who kidnap people onshore with offers of whatever it is, and why can they not be arrested? After all, this is effectively almost the theft of human souls. I feel very strongly about this and would like to see the United Kingdom play a lead here. We do not want people leaving their own country; we want them encouraged to stay there. We can cure all the problems of diseases and we can train people well. Assisting in effectively exporting modern-day slavery is something that I do not wish to be associated with.