Kindertransport Commemoration - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:08 pm on 26th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat 6:08 pm, 26th November 2018

My Lords, I too appreciate the opportunity to join the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and others in this debate. At the moment, we are particularly busy with Syrian refugees, youngsters and so on, and with the kids of the Yemen and so many others in the world, yet there is one place that really stirs my heart, and that is Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. It is the memorial to the 6 million Jewish people who were slaughtered in Hitler’s Germany. Of that number, 1.5 million were children. When you go into that memorial, you hear the voices of kids, you see the lights representing every child there. Their names are not John, Philip, David or Roger. They are the names of children who were still children even though they had different names.

Everywhere people ask me, “Who do you support?” I support anybody who works with children. It is children we need. Whatever the child’s nationality, it is not his fault. It is not his fault that he might be Welsh; he is just born. We have an opportunity and an obligation to help any child anywhere, of any religion or nationality. We should look to them and say, “We are your guardians, your brothers, your sisters, your uncles and aunts”.

When I was a lad—I was, once—I remember going to the Palace Cinema in Conwy in 1945. It was a good cinema, although it is closed now. There we saw the newsreels showing the release of the folk who had been detained in the camps. I will never forget those human scarecrows who could hardly move and the others who had long given up any hope of moving. I said, “This must not happen again”. That is why I became a Methodist minister and I think it is why I took part in politics: to try to build a world where every child could have an opportunity and we could treat them with great respect and regard.

However, it has happened again. Various numbers have been mentioned, such as 39 million people without homes in the world, and there are scores of thousands who are starving or casualties of war. It must not happen again. We tighten immigration controls but the people and the need are all still there. We can close the borders but the children in need are still there. When we tighten immigration controls, we are doing something that continues that desperate need. Children have been mentioned on Lesbos and among the 4 million people in camps in Turkey. We have an opportunity to change that. You do not change by building walls; you change by changing people’s hearts. We do not change by saying, “We’re going to pull up the drawbridge”; instead, we change people’s hearts and lives and the approach towards them.

My great day of despair in this House was when we were discussing the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to bring in 3,000 children from Syria. I will never forget seeing the troops going into the No Lobby. That hurt me very much and it did not help anyone. Now we have maybe between 200 and 400 of those children in this country instead of 3,000. We could have accommodated them—of course we could. I come originally from Llanrwst in the Conwy Valley, and I remember the day in 1940 when the buses came bringing evacuees from some of the English cities. People might think, “You can’t remember that! You were only a little nipper!”, but I will never forget the kids coming off those buses and being accepted with love by people in those communities. With that situation in mind, I wept at the sight of Peers walking through the No Lobby. We chose to build a wall.

We are going to face even greater problems in the future, such as Yemen or Bangladesh. Then there is global warming, which could have a terrible impact on the prosperous maize fields of Africa and destroy so much. It could leave many people looking for sustenance and hope, and they will be trying to find welcome in various places. Are we preparing for them? Do we have any strategy, or will we just say, “Come on, let’s build another wall”? We could do that, but that is simply saying, “Look after yourselves. We’re not going to stretch out to greet you”.

I suggest that if we want a memorial to the Kindertransport of 80 years ago, the best one would be a new attitude and for us to show renewed care. That is a memorial that would change people and it is what I would like to see us, as a Parliament and as a people, embracing. I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate.