Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:18 pm on 27th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat 8:18 pm, 27th June 2017

My Lords, it is a privilege to speak this afternoon and to say how inspiring so many of the speeches have been. I was particularly inspired by three prominent Welsh lawyers, one after another: the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, and the noble Lords, Lord Thomas and Lord Elystan-Morgan. We would have had to pay a massive fee, I think, if we had to see them in any other place. In the wide-ranging speeches, we had one great disappointment, and I am sure the Minister involved will know exactly what I am referring to; there has been no commitment at all to receiving the 20,000 Syrian refugees as promised by David Cameron. It is not there in the Queen’s Speech. Nor is there a commitment to increase the number of unaccompanied child refugees. When you think that in Europe there are still about 88,000 of these children by themselves, we have met no commitment whatever in the Speech that we are discussing this afternoon. It has been a great disappointment in that direction.

We are probably going to get another immigration Bill; we get one every Session. I am not sure what we are going to do in a two-year Session: will we get two or just one and a half? We are going to get new legislation, and every time we do it makes it more difficult for those who are vulnerable and those who wish to escape from total austerity to come here. We can promote many amendments when that new Bill comes. We can ask why asylum seekers are still refused permission to work for the first 12 months of their time in the United Kingdom. Is there any reason whatever? I cannot see any. Why, also, do we have legislation that permits 18 year-olds to be deported? Those who are deported are largely those who have had no access to legal advice. The Government could, quite easily I think, make a commitment that everyone who approaches 18 years of age shall at least have the benefit of top-rate legal advice.

There is one other thing I would like to see in the new immigration Bill. Do you know how much people get every week when they are applying? It is £36.95, and this has not increased at all in the past five or six years. Anything that we can do to uprate that to the present cost of living would be very welcome.

I have come across a poem by Warsan Shire of Somalia that describes the circumstances, and I shall quote part of it:

“You have to understand/that no one puts their children in a boat/unless the water is safer than the land

No one burns their palms/under trains/beneath carriages

No one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck/feeding on newspaper/unless the miles travelled meant something more than journey.

No one crawls under fences.

No one wants to be beaten/pitied

No one chooses refugee camps/or strip searches where your/body is left aching/or prison/because prison is safer/than a city of fire … ”.

The accusation is that they have:

“messed up their country and now they want to mess ours up”.

I could go on but I had better not. In the United Kingdom, there are many victims of the harshest circumstances.

We in the House of Lords can lead the way in defining the character of the United Kingdom. Is it be one of which we are proud, that we are delighted to be part of, or do we have to say, “This is not in my name”? Years ago, I dreamed of a country that could be a model of moral leadership, and so on, in the world. I thought of India when Mahatma Ghandi was there. I thought of the victims of the Holocaust, who had been through so much trauma themselves that they could surely lead, but that was not so. Now, who do we choose? Which is that nation? Now we are four nations: Wales—let us put Wales first—England, Scotland and Ireland. Could we not be the nation that leads morally in this ruptured world? I am proud to be a Welshman—your Lordships might have gathered that over the years—and I want my kids and grandchildren to have even more reason to be proud than I do.