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 4:27 pm on 22nd July 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 4:27 pm, 22nd July 2015

My Lords, I am glad to follow the right reverend Prelate in a very brief but powerful and moving speech. I am glad that he referred to the Ugandan Asians. I was a very new, young Member of another place, alongside my now noble friend Lord Tugendhat, in 1970, and when I look back upon that time, I think that it was the best decision of the Heath Government, notwithstanding any others. We behaved as good neighbours and received people into our midst, and we have received manifold benefits as a result of that. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Popat introduced a debate in this House to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the coming of the Ugandan Asians.

Of course, there is no exact parallel. Ugandan Asians, for the most part, had British passports. We were taking in those who had a degree of entitlement, although there were many voices raised at the time to suggest that they did not. However, it is an interesting parallel to draw. I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Tugendhat referred to the late, great Sir Nicholas Winton, who, with his Kindertransport, did so much—unheralded and unknown until recent years—to bring children here from one of the most evil and repressive regimes in history. Many of them settled and, indeed, we have at least one in our own midst, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who has talked movingly of that.

This is a humanitarian issue. We are talking about refugees, people who are fleeing evil regimes, situations of civil war and repression. It is not an unfair analogy to say that the evil of ISIL compares with the evil of Nazi Germany. I am grateful, as are others, to our noble friend Lady Prashar for the way in which she chairs our sub-committee and for the manner in which she introduced this debate.

We all understand the caution on the part of the Government when immigration was an issue that played large in the recent general election and when the policy of an open door excites sometimes very unfair, sometimes downright wrong responses from certain people.

We are not talking of ordinary immigrants here. Of course, precautions have to be taken. It is necessary for fingerprints to be taken, because in the areas from which these poor people flee not only is there strife and civil war but there are those, some of them from our country, who are fomenting trouble and are guilty of terrible things. We have to be careful, but being careful does not mean that you have to slam the door or refuse to open it.

I very much hope that the Government will heed the voices heard in this debate. I hope that they will recognise that this great humanitarian crisis—the greatest, as has been said, since the end of the Second World War—behoves us to behave as good neighbours. None of us is saying that there should be a mandatory scheme. You cannot order people to be kind, as the right reverend Prelate made plain in his remarks, but a voluntary scheme is one of which we should be part, as long as the renegotiation, of which we should be part, produces a workable one. I believe that it can and should; I hope that it will.

The noble Lord, Lord Jay, has reminded us that we are a world power. We have a seat on the United Nations Security Council. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, reminded us, we are a leading member of the European Union, one of the largest nations. If we remain within it, as I devoutly hope that we will, within a decade or so we will probably be the most powerful economic nation within the European Union.

Of course we have national obligations, and it is by recognising national responsibilities in the past that our country has become a great country. In the 19th century, we opened our doors to people. In the 20th century, we opened our doors to people. In the 21st century, we must be prepared to take into our midst not unlimited numbers—that is not possible—but the sort of people for whom Nicholas Winton fought to gain admittance to the United Kingdom.

I sincerely hope that my noble friend who will be replying to this debate, who has an enviable reputation as a Minister of sensitivity, compassion and thought, will be able to give us an encouraging response, because this is a modest report which makes a modest request. It is fitting that the last debate before we break for the summer should be one where we look not inward but outward and seek to recognise the plight of those whose sufferings we cannot even begin properly to imagine and to say to them: “Yes, we will behave as good neighbours”.