Migrants - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:22 pm on 25th November 2021.

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Photo of Lord Desai Lord Desai Non-affiliated 4:22 pm, 25th November 2021

My Lords, here is a puzzle. Around 56 years ago, I came here, not in a boat, and not as a refugee. I had a job and a labour permit to be here. There has been nothing but constant complaints about immigration since—Powell and all that sort of stuff—but at the same time I have seen domestic political and social life transformed by the presence of immigrants. Look at the Cabinet, for heaven’s sake. Which other European country has a Cabinet with such a Chancellor, Home Secretary, Business Secretary and so on? We have a serious prospect—not that I wish it because I love the Prime Minister, as does everybody else—of the next prime ministerial contest being between three or four immigrants, and nobody will bat an eyelid, yet we had a Conservative Member of Parliament complaining about grinning pickaninnies not all that long ago.

Immigration is a success story. Perhaps we have to go on complaining because otherwise we cannot tolerate it, but it is a success story. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said that the better off come here, and thank God for that. How else would we have got the lovely Chancellor we have? We would not have got him had it not been the better-off Ugandan Asians who came here. Seriously, there are positive aspects to what we have done. It is an achievement of British political life that we have a successful, diversified community, which we did not have before.

As many noble Lords have said, it is not over yet. We are still president of COP 26 and, as some noble Lords have said, we made commitments and accepted a solution to the coal question that will sink islands into the sea and create more refugees over the next 10 years. This is not a local British problem; this is a global problem. People from low-lying countries are going to migrate to safer countries, and we have to have a global approach to the solution, not just a European one.

One of the things that we should do as part of our presidency of COP, and generally as “global Britain”, is to start a global solution process to co-operate, not just here but across countries. Obviously, people from poor countries want to come to rich countries. What else would they do? It is rational, economic behaviour; of course they do not want to go to another poor country and the other poor country will not want them. We have to take a positive attitude towards this issue, because we have taken a negative one and it has gone on. Let us take a positive attitude; let us share responsibility with NATO countries—or whichever countries they are—for the immigrants.

For example, the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, cited Albanians and others. One-third of Europe’s population migrated to the United States in the 19th century. The United States is what it is today because one-third migrated. We have to change our minds as to what the positive role of immigration is. The costs are borne by the immigrant and the benefits accrue to the country receiving them. I will just say: take it positively, treat it as a global problem and share the costs.

There is one more thing. If you do not want people to drown in the channel, say that they can be admitted only if they come on a train. It is very simple. At the station—in Victoria, or wherever it is—we would have a proper process by which they could be looked at and their identity examined. That would make it very safe. Avoid the channel and take the Eurotunnel.