Migrants - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:07 pm on 25th November 2021.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 4:07 pm, 25th November 2021

My Lords, it is difficult to follow the noble Baroness because she made so many good points. I have been following the cross-channel movement of people ever since I worked on building the Channel Tunnel 30 or 40 years ago. At that time, all we were doing was trying to keep rabid foxes out. Sadly, the situation has got much worse than that. What happened last night was a horrible example of the dangers of crossing in small boats, but, as other noble Lords have said, it was not the first such incident and it probably will not be the last.

There was a time when people smuggled themselves on passenger trains and freight trains and virtually killed the traffic across the channel at that time. They then moved on to trucks; we have heard about that. There was that terrible incident a couple of years ago when 39 people were discovered asphyxiated in a truck in Essex, having come across and been there for several days. Now, boats are used. However, it is not even comparable with the number of people who have come across the Mediterranean—not just from Libya, but from other places as well—into the European Union. There have been problems between Turkey and Greece, of course, and now between Poland, Ukraine and Belarus.

These people have one thing in common. They are coming to seek a better life from war-torn, demolished famine areas. One cannot blame them. Why do they want to come to the UK? Many noble Lords have talked about that but apart from English becoming a bit of a world language, we also do not require people to carry ID cards, and certainly do not enforce it. I can understand why the French authorities and local police are not very enthusiastic about looking after refugees and probably want shot of them. However, we must find a solution. Having worked with French authorities all those years ago, I am convinced that if the Government and the French Government tried, there could be a very good joint policy and implementation to sort this out in a humanitarian way that does not involve people going across in small boats or smuggling themselves in lorries, but gives those who are justified in seeking asylum what they want. The others would be sent back where they came from.

However, at the moment, we seem to enjoy having a verbal war with the French. It may be fishing one day and agriculture the next. There are now joint statements from the Prime Minister and the President of France that they will work together, which is nice to see but they must deliver, at Calais and the other places along the coast, as well as in this country, and come up with a policy that is fair to everyone.

The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, commented that the only people who can afford to pay the smugglers are the middle classes. He may remember that a couple of years ago, when we had our medical crisis and there was a shortage of doctors, the Government started recruiting doctors and nurses from other countries where they were desperately needed. That is unfair. We should be training our own doctors and nurses and not poaching them from other countries. If some of them are having such a rough time in Syria, for example, that they seek asylum here, so be it, but we should not be poaching them.