Motion to Agree

Part of UK Opt-in to the Proposed Council Decision on the Relocation of Migrants within the EU (EUC Report) – in the House of Lords at 4:05 pm on 22nd July 2015.

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Photo of Lord Tugendhat Lord Tugendhat Chair, EU External Affairs Sub-Committee 4:05 pm, 22nd July 2015

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on the remarkable report that she and her committee produced in a very short time. I also congratulate her on a formidable speech.

The points she made and the moderation with which she expressed her views were quite moving and very convincing. I am not going to speak for very long because the noble Baroness has set out the case with such eloquence and covered all the issues at stake so fully that there is very little I can add. I only say this: I agree with her about European solidarity and the failure of the EU to respond satisfactorily to this crisis. However, above all we are dealing with a humanitarian crisis that touches all our consciences, as she said. It is as a humanitarian crisis and a matter of conscience that the Government should approach this.

We have heard a great deal recently in the media, but also from members of the Government, comparing what is happening in Syria and Iraq and ISIS with the Nazis of the 1930s. I am always rather dubious about historical analogies and, almost always, situations differ from one epoch to another. However, we can all agree that ISIS is evil—evil in its intent and evil in its actions. If we are to make comparisons with the 1930s, we ought perhaps also to think about what happened to the victims of persecution then: of course, most countries closed their doors to them. Most countries would not take the people who were suffering in Germany and Austria at that time. Indeed, one of the countries that particularly closed its doors was the United States.

However, the United Kingdom had a relatively good record in this respect, as my own family has reason to know. We recently mourned the death of Nicholas Winton, who organised the Kindertransport to this country. There is a striking contrast between the actions and attitudes then—not just of Sir Nicholas Winton but of those who received the children, the institutions in Britain that provided jobs to people who were fleeing and those whose hearts went out to those who were suffering—and the very cold-hearted behaviour that the Government are exhibiting at the moment. It is on that basis that I hope this matter will be considered, in addition to all the other powerful points made by the noble Baroness.

It is unworthy of the traditions of this country that we should not participate in this scheme. It is an EU scheme and we are members of the EU. We have duties to our fellow members and those should all be observed. Quite apart from anything at all to do with the EU, this is a humanitarian issue that should touch the conscience of the nation. If we are to be true to our traditions, we should be co-operating and trying to do something for those who are seeking asylum and fleeing from persecution, who it is quite impossible to send back to countries in a state of chaos, upheaval and violence. I hope that the Government will be able to put that at the centre of their consideration.