– in the House of Lords at 11:58 am on 27th October 2022.
My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege to move this Motion. It is with great pride that, 10 years ago, I had the privilege to lead a debate on the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of Ugandan Asians, and now I lead a debate on the 50th anniversary. Debates such as this mean a great deal, not only to me and my fellow Ugandan Asians but to all those who came to the UK and made it their home. I am grateful to the powers that be for granting government time for such an important and historic debate.
During my preparation for this debate, and reflecting on the past 10 years, I noted with great sadness that some of those who spoke in the last debate are no longer with us. Their contribution to this House, and especially to the Ugandan Asians, will not be forgotten. I pay tribute to all those who are no longer with us for everything that they did to help champion this cause over the years, and for their efforts in making us Ugandan Asians feel so special. In particular, I pay tribute to the late Lord Sheikh by sharing with you the words he used on his experience of leaving Uganda and coming to the United Kingdom:
“Idi Amin took everything from us, except what we had in our minds. Because we were doing very well in Uganda, we came here and we were prepared to work hard. What we did in this country was perhaps what we had learned in Uganda, and that is to use our brains, to use our initiative, and we have done very well”.
I remember the contributions made by so many Members of both Houses, but I first pay tribute to the Father of the House of Commons, the right honourable Sir Peter Bottomley, who welcomed Ugandan Asians into his house, as did his wife, then Member of Parliament for South West Surrey, now my noble friend Lady Bottomley of Nettlestone.
I also pay tribute to the then president of the Young Conservatives, David Hunt, now my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral. Despite the rhetoric of Enoch Powell at the time, which unfortunately stirred up racism within the party, he took the brave decision to stand up for Ugandan Asians and speak out for them at the party conference. It was a momentous occasion. I am glad that my noble friend sits in this House to remind us of his bravery in standing up to prejudice, and I look forward to listening to his contribution on this subject.
The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, is also with us and is going to speak later. He is the former Conservative Member of Parliament for Harrow East and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Prime Minister Edward Heath. Having worked with the noble Lord to support the community, I went on to become the president of his local association, Harrow East—an area that took in the second highest number of Ugandan Asians. They are still thriving there.
One person who was not present at the last debate 10 years ago was my noble friend Lord Gadhia. He was a refugee who came to this country as a toddler, aged two. He is a shining example of the values Ugandan Asians share with Britain. Just last week, he was appointed as a non-executive director at the Court of the Bank of England—one of the most prestigious roles in the UK. Sitting in this House as Lord Gadhia, he is a managing trustee of the British Asian Trust and he works hard to protect the legacy of Ugandan Asians. He is leading the hosting of a high-profile 50th commemorative service in London next week, on Wednesday
I also pay tribute to all who have come together this year to celebrate and tell the story of how 28,000 Ugandan Asian refugees fled Uganda from the brutal dictator Idi Amin and made the UK their home. What an amazing success story Ugandan Asians have had in this country, despite some people trying to paint Britain as a hostile and unfriendly place. The reality that I and many people like me have come to know is very different.
During the time of the expulsion, many countries turned their backs on us, including many neighbouring east African countries. However, it was the then Prime Minister Edward Heath who stood up against the rhetoric of people such as Enoch Powell and demonstrated the compassion that I have come to associate with Britain. Britain welcomed us in our time of need, like the welcome we are giving to the Ukrainians as they battle against the Russians.
The Britain we have now looks very different from the one I entered 50 years ago; we have made great progress on many issues, including the integration of immigrants in society. This has allowed them to thrive and to take hold of the opportunities the country has to offer. This has been reflected across society, including in politics, with the most recent Cabinets being the most diverse in history.
This debate would not be complete without mentioning our new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak—also of east African origin, as his parents came from east Africa. His appointment as the first British Asian Prime Minister is an excellent reflection of the inclusivity of this great country.
This progress would not have been possible if British people had not been willing to open their hearts and homes to groups such as the Ugandan Asians, who were willing to integrate and work towards a cohesive society. The key building blocks lie in the values Ugandan Asians have, including a belief in aspiration, enterprise, the importance of family and, of course, patriotism—four of the values that Britain holds dear. In sharing these values, Ugandan Asians feel part of the community and work hard to contribute to it where they can, whether that be through philanthropy, volunteering or celebrating important events such as the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Ugandan Asians do all they can to pay back the kindness they have received since coming to this country.
They have also made their fair share of contributions in all areas, especially economically, as can be seen through the many corner shops that started in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of those who started with a corner shop have gone on to run large corporate businesses. In the 1970s, there was a common joke, “What is an Indian without a shop?” The answer is a doctor. Now, we might say the answer is the Prime Minister.
This joke largely manifested into the tremendous success of Ugandan Asians in all walks of life. There are examples in this House, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, who was the first Ugandan Asian Minister to sit on the Labour Benches. Younger generations diversified into white-collar jobs, particularly in the City of London, where they have distinguished themselves. Other rising stars include Tushar Morzaria, until recently the group finance director of Barclays Bank and now a non-executive director of Legal & General; and Bina Mehta, the UK chair of KPMG, the largest accountancy firm in the world. There have been many success stories in large corporations, legal, accountancy, medicine and engineering. In sports, the military and the Civil Service, one can easily see the strength and depth that Ugandan Asians have brought to Britain over the past half a century. Do you know what? More will transpire.
Looking to Uganda, the economy fell apart under Idi Amin but it is now a thriving country with which we enjoy a great trading relationship. The change that has occurred since the expulsion is truly remarkable. In 2016, I was appointed the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Uganda, Rwanda and DRC, and bilateral trade with Uganda has since grown from roughly £150 million to more than £5 billion. This growth would not have been possible without President Museveni, who has taken Uganda to new heights. However, while we are talking, we must remember that half a million Ugandans were killed by that brutal dictator Idi Amin. Our thoughts and prayers go to their families today.
Today, the high commissioner from Uganda to the United Kingdom is also a Ugandan Asian, Her Excellency Nimisha Madhvani, who came to the UK as a refugee like me and went back upon President Museveni’s request to call back many Ugandan Asians to their birthplace. The high commissioner has had a successful career in the Diplomatic Service and I am pleased that she is here today by the Bar; she will be instrumental in further strengthening the relationship between the UK and Uganda. Ugandan Asians also play a key role in being a living bridge between the two great countries.
Our relationship with Uganda is a good example of where our focus should be since leaving the EU. We want to be global Britain, which should not just be a slogan but put into action by trading with the great continent of Africa. My noble friend Lady Verma raised an issue at Question Time on COP 27 and how we should help poor countries. I will briefly talk about Africa as a continent—a continent of 30 million square kilometres, larger than China, India, Europe and America put together, with 17% of the world’s population and less than 3% of the global GDP. That population will double in 30 years, so a quarter of the world’s population will be in Africa.
Post Brexit, I do not think our future lies in the South China Sea or Asia; Africa is the continent on which we should focus more to help and support it, and to make sure that our inward investment continues to get people out of poverty. President Museveni recently said:
“Still, today some balk at using the Commonwealth to its full potential because it was born from colonialism. But the past is gone. What remains is our shared inheritance, and it is for all the Commonwealth’s members to rebuild, reshape, and take ownership of our historic club. We should use it trade closer and better, and make it what it should be: the vehicle for our shared futures.”
The sentiments also tie in well with why we celebrate the expulsion. It is not just to remember the tragedy that many faced 50 years ago but, more importantly, to celebrate the welcome we received on arrival in the UK and the contributions made by many since. President Museveni is also very keen that we focus, post Brexit, more on the Commonwealth. As I always say, the Commonwealth is our family.
There are too many individuals to thank them all by name, but I want them to know that their contributions have not gone unnoticed. A few people I do want to thank by name are the chairman of the Uganda Resettlement Board, the late Tom Critchley, and Praful Patel, the only Ugandan Asian to be on that board. I am glad that the late Tom Critchley’s son, Alan, is here to listen to this debate, given the contribution his late father made in helping Ugandan Asians resettle in the UK.
Finally, I thank all those who welcomed us and helped us to develop as a community. A special thanks goes to those volunteers who met us at the airport; to Ted Heath and his Cabinet, who took such a courageous political decision; and to the late Her Majesty the Queen, who has been an inspirational figure and truly represents the best of British.
My Lords, 10 years on, I have even more pleasure in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Popat, on securing this debate. That debate was on
I want to speak about Leicester, where it is estimated that one in five refugees from Uganda permanently settled. Certainly, within a few months, at least 10,000 people arrived, not put off by the now-notorious advertisement placed in Ugandan newspapers. Indeed, some of those who came may have been encouraged by that advertisement rather than put off by it. It should be said, and my noble friend Lord Parekh, who is not in his place today, said it 10 years ago, that the advertisement itself referred to advice then given by the Uganda Resettlement Board to the same effect. It was a few months later that the very valuable Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966, which gave extra money, was introduced. By 1981, however, 44,000 people of Indian origin, following on from the Ugandan refugees, had made Leicester their home. They were, for the most part, welcomed by Leicester people and the city council, who recognised their obvious talents and the values held by these newcomers.
Now, many years later, there can be no argument that Leicester has become a better, more lively, more prosperous, more culturally alive and greater city as a direct result of Amin’s inhuman and cruel actions. I became a councillor in what was then called St Margaret’s ward, part of the Belgrave district, where many refugees from Uganda and east Africa settled. Indeed, my fellow councillor, Gordhan Parmar, himself from east Africa, became very proudly the first Asian Lord Mayor of Leicester. The increasing diversity of Leicester that makes it the city it is today faced serious and nasty opposition from the hard right, but it failed because the newcomers were obviously good citizens from the start, with a huge amount to offer.
Since our last debate, I have been privileged to be the police and crime commissioner for the city, with a major role in respecting and representing the community in its relationship with the police. This has involved working very closely with many who originally arrived from Uganda and the next generation—their descendants. There have been bad times, including the terrible kidnapping and murder of an elderly jeweller in the Belgrave area absolutely frightened the community—as it should—but the community showed huge good sense and solidarity, allied with support for the police. Thankfully, the serious criminals responsible were brought to justice by a mixture of brilliant policing and community help. Overall, it has been a joy for me to work with this new generation, whose parents and grandparents arrived, penniless and destitute, in a strange country and who, by their hard work, huge talents and great values have made Leicester and the UK a better place. In every conceivable way, this is an anniversary that we should celebrate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Popat, for this very important debate on the expulsion of Asians from Uganda 50 years ago. This comes at a time when we are celebrating, this week, the momentous day of Diwali in the lives of all Indians in India and throughout the Indian diaspora across the world. I wish all your Lordships a happy Diwali and a joyous new year.
This is an event I wish to celebrate for another reason. We have, for the first time in Britain, elected a person of Indian origin as Prime Minister; he now occupies the deserved place in Downing Street. Of course, as I explained to John Pienaar on Times Radio, I would have preferred a general election, not just a coronation arranged by the Conservative Party. It is time we considered proper electoral reforms that would update our democracy.
I wish to draw attention to the contribution of the Indian community in Britain. I make no apology for picking up the statistics produced by Alpesh Patel, chairman of City Hindus Network. He had this to say:
“The British Indian diaspora is one of the largest migrant communities in this country, numbering more than 1.5 million. Many British Indians have contributed to their local communities and the national economy by starting businesses in a range of sectors, including hospitality, energy, healthcare, engineering and property.
Data from 2020 shows that 654 businesses owned by British Indians had an annual turnover in excess of £100,000. Together, these companies generated £36.84 billion and contributed more than £1 billion in corporation tax. The top five businesses owned by British Indians have created more than 100,000 jobs in the UK.
As Britain faces skills gaps, Home Office figures show that Indian nationals account for 46 per cent of all skilled worker visas issued this year. Looking back to 2020, data from Oxford University’s Migration Observatory found that almost half (47 per cent) of Indian nationals who migrated to this country filled high-skilled jobs in sectors including science, engineering, technology, healthcare and education.”
I was born in Tanzania, next door to Uganda. I came to the UK in 1956, before we faced the issues affecting the east African Asians from 1971 onwards. Idi Amin forced thousands of Asians to leave Uganda, which brought panic, heartache and fear to the community there, who regarded Uganda as their particular home. In 1972, there were around 80,000 Ugandans of Indian descent in the country and it is estimated that close to 30,000 were accepted for settlement in the United Kingdom.
Here lies an important story that I hope Suella Braverman takes note of. In my early days in your Lordships’ House, I met Lord Carr of Hadley, who had been Home Secretary at that time. He said that it took less than five minutes of Cabinet meeting time to agree to the admission of Uganda Asians to the UK. There is a lesson for all of us to understand about how an important decision can be taken by the Cabinet without referring to all the prejudices that go with it. This was at a time when adverse comments about immigrants were rife in this country.
Many have argued that it is important to articulate a shared sense of national identity in contemporary conditions of flux and change. It is difficult to reconcile this with diversity, openness, and pluralism of belief and practice. What we forget is that those fixed notions of shared identity, even if they could be agreed on, are less necessary now than they were at that time.
Someone who was most effective and a real heavyweight was the then Colonial Secretary, Iain Macleod. He was adamant that we had given a right of British citizenship to Commonwealth citizens, and that we had a duty to honour this pledge. Where are the people of this stature in the Tory party today? Someone should have an open word with Suella Braverman about handling complex matters of asylum and immigration in a purposeful way.
There is another matter that I wish to draw to your Lordships’ attention. We did not deal with the settlement of migrants systematically until we set up the Uganda Resettlement Board. Until then, migrants came and relied for settlement on the contacts they had made in this country and the help they had received from a number of colleagues around.
The time allocated is very limited. In conclusion, I thank the thousands of volunteers who gave so much of their time to help in the process of settlement. I support the mention of the names of Sir Peter Bottomley and the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, for the contribution they made in accommodating new arrivals in this country.
Recent events in Leicester clearly indicate the success—
Could I ask the noble Lord to bring it to a conclusion now, please?
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former president of Makerere University Students Association. Together with the then president of Makerere University Students’ Guild, Olara Otunnu, we opposed President Idi Amin Dada’s decree of
I am grateful to Thomas Brown of the House of Lords Library for his article Ugandan Asians: 50 Years Since Their Expulsion from Uganda. He writes that
“Ugandan President Idi Amin, who had seized power in a military coup the previous year, ordered the expulsion” reportedly following
“a dream in which he had been instructed by God to expel them”, because they had been
“‘sabotaging Uganda’s economy, deliberately retarding economic progress, fostering widespread corruption and treacherously refraining from integrating in the Ugandan way of life’”.
“Estimates of the number of Ugandan Asians subject to Amin’s announcement vary, ranging from 55,000 to up to 80,000. However, sources such as the Economist, in a recent article marking the anniversary, have put the number of people of Asian descent in Uganda subject to Amin’s decision at around 76,000 … The variation in cited population figures appears to stem in part from an exemption announced shortly after Amin’s original announcement for those Ugandan Asians holding Ugandan citizenship, although many of these people were later compelled to leave the country and rendered stateless in the process … Of the estimated total, around half are thought to have held British passports with another 9,000 holding Indian or Pakistani nationality and the remainder either holding or having applied for Ugandan citizenship.”
Any country that renders its citizens stateless by compelling them to leave commits a heinous crime and violates the rule of law, and it breaches international obligations when it expels citizens of other nations from the country of their birth. I am deeply sorry that our opposition and plea to President Idi Amin were not heeded in the end.
Olara Otunnu and I were conscripted to accompany Idi Amin on his trip to Somalia to negotiate a trade and education deal with Siad Barre, the President of that country. Aboard the presidential jet, we reminded Idi Amin that when Uganda became independent on
“39. No … man shall be seized or imprisoned or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land … 40. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”
This is a recent translation from the Latin in Tom Bingham’s The Rule of Law. We continued our plea that the Republic of Uganda must comply with its international obligations in respect of Asian citizens of other nations.
Sadly, President Idi Amin never observed the rule of law. He saw himself as its embodiment and turned Uganda—“the Pearl of Africa”, as described by Winston Churchill—into a predatory state. Neighbourly love and the golden rule,
“in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you”, became, “Do it to others before they do it to you.”
The expulsion of all Asians from Uganda was not only inhuman, brutal and racist; it broke the rule of law and international obligations. I salute all Asians expelled from Uganda. As chair of Christian Aid, I am thankful for the block grant of £100,000 it gave every year to the reception centres in Birmingham and Leicester, and to the resettlement programme, and for the sterling co-ordinating work by Jack Arthey, Dennis Massey, Tony Jones, Alan Brash and Alan Booth.
May the United Kingdom continue to observe the rule of law and international obligations to the stranger in our midst. May we all do to them in many ways what we would have them do to us. I salute this country, which gave me refuge. Let us all take note of this debate.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Popat, on securing this debate, marking as it does a significant and tragic episode in the history of Uganda, an important event in the history of the United Kingdom and an enduring part of the lived experience of thousands of our fellow citizens, as the noble Lord so eloquently demonstrated.
Many of us are old enough to remember the news footage, the feeling of injustice, the sense of a world out of kilter. After Idi Amin made the fateful speech on
I want simply to look over some of the unintended consequences of those years and the then Government’s response. It was the Colonial Office’s intention in the late 1950s that the territories of east Africa should realise independence in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The watershed speech of Mr Harold Macmillan, known as “Winds of Change”, on
Each had a colonial legacy of a population from the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Kenya and Uganda. As we have heard, this population was initially recruited largely to build the rail link from the interior of Uganda to Kenya. Those who stayed and those who followed them, particularly from Gujarat and the Punjab, dominated commercial life and prospered. Indeed, those who then settled in the UK have made a magnificent contribution to the economic, political, sporting and societal well-being of this country.
However, the crisis that erupted in 1972 was to some extent exacerbated by decisions in the previous decade. The first restrictions on Commonwealth citizens were imposed in 1962. The rapid shift to independence in the early 1960s in east Africa allowed white and Indian residents to opt for local passports or to remain citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies, as citizenship was then defined. Most Asians decided on the latter, fuelling further suspicion in newly independent Kenya and Uganda.
Local discrimination needed little encouragement, but fears of British passport holders arriving here en masse—there was film footage of dinner tables where meals had been abandoned by people apparently fleeing to the airport—lead to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 securing parliamentary passage in just three days. Unrestricted entry with such a British passport was now limited to those born in the United Kingdom or with a parent or grandparent born in the UK—the so-called patriality requirement. Instead, special vouchers were issued to heads of households among east African Asians to regulate the flow of migrants to the United Kingdom.
The Act was a controversial step, widely condemned as racist, but regrettably popular at that time. Patriality was then defined as right of abode in the Immigration Act 1971. The retention of such passports allowed Amin to dismiss any responsibility for those he had dispossessed and to demand that the British Government take responsibility instead. It is to the credit of the Heath Government that they acted so swiftly and with compassion and good purpose.
We should look at what was achieved. The Uganda Resettlement Board, under a former Permanent Secretary of the Home Office, set up and administered 16 temporary resettlement centres. By
In our own day, I can plead only that our Government now show the same compassion to those in desperate need of welcome, safety and security, and look to the past as the evidence that they will greatly bless our nation.
My Lords, I join the right reverend Prelate in congratulating my noble friend on this debate. When he left Uganda at the age of 17, my noble friend swiftly became an inspiring role model for many Ugandan Asians. Half a century later, we look with pride upon what Ugandan Asians have achieved and brought to our country. I join my noble friend in saying how marvellous it is that we now have Her Excellency Nimisha Madhvani serving as Ugandan high commissioner here, having been expelled with her family at the age of 13—my goodness, she has come on marvellously since, and it is a great opportunity to pay tribute to her.
Let me explain why this 50th anniversary means so much to me personally. In 1968, the debate on immigration changed profoundly. First, the Home Secretary Jim Callaghan introduced the Commonwealth Immigrants Act in response to the possible immigration of 200,000 Kenyan Asians who held British passports. That Act sadly set a benchmark for harsh attitudes to non-white immigrants. Secondly, Enoch Powell delivered the most appalling speech on
When Idi Amin decided to make Ugandan Asians the scapegoat for his own manifest failures and expelled them from their homes, he irreparably damaged his own nation’s prospects for a generation and more. I was so proud when our Prime Minister Ted Heath took the lead in saying that the UK would be a safe haven, and set up the Uganda Resettlement Board. As Ted wrote in his memoir,
“I was determined … we would … face up to our responsibilities … We did what any civilised nation would do”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has just reminded us, it took less than five minutes for the entire Cabinet, including the future Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, to agree to this courageous, enlightened and honourable policy.
However, not everyone was pleased. Public support for the admission of the Ugandan Asians fell to 6% in one opinion poll in September 1972, and the Monday Club began a reckless and irresponsible Halt Immigration Now! campaign. Matters came to a head at the Conservative Party conference 50 years ago this month. There was on the agenda a motion on immigration tabled by the Hackney South and Shoreditch Conservative Association. It soon became clear that its president, Enoch Powell, intended to move that motion personally and turn it into an attack on the Government for the admission of the Ugandan Asians. Although Powell was in the wilderness so far as the party leadership was concerned, he still had a considerable following, sadly, among the membership.
I had just become leader of the Young Conservatives and persuaded my YC colleagues that I should move an amendment to the Powell motion welcoming the Ugandan Asians. As I said in that vital debate on
I hope noble Lords will therefore understand why this debate is such a vital opportunity for me to pay tribute to Ted Heath and his colleagues for choosing the path of honour at a time of social, political and economic strife—a decision which has resulted, as we have heard from my noble friend and others, in the Ugandan Asian community firmly establishing itself as one of the principal driving forces behind building our successful economy.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Popat, on initiating this debate. He was the first Gujarati to be on the Front Bench for the Conservative Government and was a Minister in BEIS in 2013. He was always courteous and reassured many with his commitment to the statutory national minimum wage. Perhaps he was unduly modest today about his own achievements in his introduction to the debate and in praising everybody else.
It brought back memories when the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark—who is now not in his place—talked about the past immigration Acts. I remember as a student in Durham marching through the streets in 1967 against one of those immigration Acts.
What kind of country were we when the Ugandan Asians arrived? We had 1 million unemployed, two national states of emergencies during the miners’ and dockers’ strikes, extreme violence in Northern Ireland and the suspension of the Northern Ireland Parliament, with William Whitelaw becoming the first Northern Ireland Secretary. The first episodes of “Mastermind”, “Emmerdale Farm” and “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue” were broadcast. Leeds United was the FA Cup winner; Derby County won the league’s first division and Tottenham Hotspur won the first UEFA Cup, on aggregate over Wolverhampton Wanderers. On the pop scene, number 1 hits included “Amazing Grace”, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”, “Without You”, “Vincent” and Donny Osmond’s “Puppy Love”.
In November, two months after most of the Ugandan Asians arrived, the Government, following Anthony Barber’s massive tax and Budget cuts, introduced freezes on pay, prices, dividends and rents to counter inflation, which was around 8.6%. Although the Ugandan Asian community was only a small minority of its population, estimates made at the time indicated that it paid up to 90% of Ugandan tax revenues.
The cruelty of the policy of expulsion can only be imagined. The worst tragedy affected those Ugandan Asian citizens holding Ugandan passports. First, Idi Amin exempted them from expulsion, but later many were expelled anyway; by then, they had been rendered stateless. Blind ideology impoverishes society and the economy of a country. That happened in Uganda. Perhaps Mr Putin should reflect on that in his assault on Ukraine; he should also read the book of the noble Lord, Lord Popat.
What do we learn from these events? First, Britain kept its word and fulfilled its obligations. Secondly, we could act at speed in an emergency. By the end of 1972-73, there were a total of 38,500 Ugandan Asians in Britain; this was achieved in a few short months. I do not think our record on Ukraine has been quite so glowing. Thirdly, there are dangerous parallels between the economic situations of then and now. Fourthly, this country benefits from and is enriched by the skills and hard work of refugees who arrive with nothing and go on to better themselves and improve our society.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who was on the Government Front Bench during the 40th anniversary of the expulsion, called it
“one of this country’s greatest success stories. Their story is a lesson to us today about the successes of integration”.—[
We also know, of course, that Priti Patel’s family were beneficiaries of the resettlement scheme. I have no doubt that the families faced racism and prejudice during their resettlement and had to overcome huge odds to succeed but succeed they did, displaying amazing resilience.
My Lords, it is an absolute pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Popat, on securing this debate. I was delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, because what I am going to say will echo some of the points that he made; I was particularly pleased that he mentioned my friend Gerry Wade because, as the noble Lord knows, he did a great deal of work on the ground as a Young Conservative to ensure that the motion was defeated at the Tory party conference.
As we have heard, in August 1972 the Ugandan President, Idi Amin, announced that he was going to ask Britain to take responsibility for all Asians in Uganda who held British passports. He described the Ugandan Asians as economic bloodsuckers, claimed they were sabotaging the country’s economy and gave them only 90 days to leave. It is estimated that, prior to their expulsion, Ugandan Asians were responsible for 90% of Uganda’s tax revenue, so they were very important to Uganda’s economy. The decision to expel Ugandan Asians was intended to give greater economic control to the indigenous population of the country; instead, it contributed to Uganda’s economic decline during the 1970s. It is good to see that bilateral relations are now reversing that trend.
In 1972, approximately 29,000 Ugandan Asians held British passports but those did not give them automatic entry to Britain. Whitehall at that time—I was around it and working with the Race Relations Board—was concerned about a potential shuttlecock situation arising, whereby Ugandan Asians with British passports could be refused entry to Britain yet could not return to their country of origin. A further 20,000 or so Ugandan Asians who had become Ugandan citizens after independence suddenly found themselves stateless. If these British passport-holders were denied entry here, that would have been internationally embarrassing for the United Kingdom.
Politically, as we have heard, the issue of immigration was then controversial, as it is today, and only four years earlier Enoch Powell had made his infamous “Rivers of blood” speech. Also in 1968, we passed the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, which changed the situation as it affected Kenyan Asians. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, many in the Conservative Government were ambivalent regarding the Ugandan Asian refugees coming to the UK but, thankfully, Ted Heath and those around him honoured the British Government’s commitment to the Ugandan Asians. It is a credit to the Cabinet then and those who worked with him to have ensured that those commitments were honoured.
The setting up of the Uganda Resettlement Board was a very good thing. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, it was the first time that a proper settlement board was set up, but I have to tell the House another interesting anecdote about it. As the conciliation officer with the Race Relations Board, I was working with the then chief conciliation officer, John Lyttle. Inevitably we were having some discussions and, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said, there was advertising in the Ugandan papers saying, “Do not come to areas where there are already very many immigrants”. There were those who wanted to label them as white and black areas. Although we tried to dissuade them from doing so, at least we persuaded them that they should be described as green and red areas, as opposed to black and white. You can see the kind of thinking that was around at the time. However, as we heard, the Ugandan Resettlement Board was successful and some excellent work was done in settling people, so its work has to be commended.
As we know, after enduring trauma and hardship the Ugandan Asian community has been highly successful. I want to mention Leicester, because I know that its inner city was in a very bad state. It was a rundown place and the injection of the Ugandan Asians revived that city, so that today it is very vibrant. While it is a credit to this country that people have settled well, and that the foresight of some of the enlightened members of the Tory Government allowed this to happen, it is also a credit to the Ugandan Asian community for the contribution it has made. I reinforce the point that while anniversaries are important in recognising what has been achieved, some lessons need to be learned. We need to look at how we treat refugees and stateless people today.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Popat, who is a friend, for introducing this debate. I did not speak in any earlier debate; I waited until the 50th anniversary because I knew something good would have happened by then, and it has. Let me say a few things which I do not think anybody else has said. I am not from Uganda; I came as a refugee earlier, but I had a job.
One thing that I noticed in the corner shops that the Patels had started was the extent to which the women were active the active people in the shop. The men would go out and buy goods from the wholesale market. They would do it all in silence, and the women picked up the local lingo. They became experts at knowing who was who and establishing close relations with them. We have to acknowledge the contributions of the Ugandan women, who made their families more a part of the community than people have been aware of.
Secondly, I want to talk about the paradox of imperialism. Most people do not like imperialism, but a fact of it was that all the subjects across the world were regarded as subjects of the Empire. Soon after the East India Company gave up to the British Government and Queen Victoria became Empress, she made a declaration in India. It is a unique document, which said that she would treat all her subjects as equal, regardless of religion or race. This is the first ever human rights document, before human rights documents became popular.
It was that element which, in a sense, meant being part of the British colonial Empire once upon a time—holding a British passport. Obviously, the Government could have disowned that passport, and I am sure there were people at that time who wanted to do that, but the Government acknowledged that it was their obligation to honour that imperial obligation. That is why everybody who was part of the Empire was able to come here as of right, and that is very important.
India had become independent long before I came here, but when I did, I was surprised that I could vote in elections. I was not an alien; I was a member of the Commonwealth. I did not have a British passport then, but I could do it. I joined the Labour Party and I really thought I could become Prime Minister before I became a citizen. Unfortunately, I failed. I think the Ugandans were much smarter, because they got the job.
I said in the debate on the migration Bill that immigration is a success story in this country. It is an outstanding success story, and we must always say that first. I remember holding a tutorial against the speech of Enoch Powell and getting threatened as a consequence by the National Front, which said that it would see to it that I got out of the country. Fortunately, it failed. There was a very different atmosphere at that time in the 1960s.
From the 1970s on, the Government—a Conservative Government, I have to say—confidently achieved the impossible and made immigration a respectable part of our tradition. I also have to say one thing about Prime Minister David Cameron. He saw to it that there were very promising, aspiring people from the immigrant community whom his party could recruit, and look at what has happened. They come here and take away all the jobs.
My Lords, what is more enjoyable than to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai, with his wisdom and wit?
All that is needed for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing, as Edmund Burke said. This is an extraordinary example of so many people going beyond the call of duty to take action. They could have turned away or not followed through. They did not need to have the motion at the Tory party conference, where my noble friend Lord Hunt and his friends in the Federation of Conservative Students and others won the day with an overwhelming majority. These were the incidents and episodes, frankly, which made me a Conservative. They confirmed my view that I wanted to be a Conservative and a Member of Parliament.
My knowledge of these matters goes back earlier. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark for talking about the earlier 10 years and the prelude to what happened with Idi Amin. In 1965, my uncle, Roland Hunt, was the high commissioner in Kampala. He was known to my kinsman, the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, who stayed with him in Kampala. Only last week I saw my cousin Lord Hunt of Chesterton, who has now withdrawn from this place. He reminded me of the episodes in Uganda of violence, the lawless police, the bullying and what was really developing.
My uncle wrote to the local paper, putting a notice in it warning people that President Milton Obote’s army and the police were out of control and that Europeans should be careful going outside Kampala. He was subsequently withdrawn. There was an episode, and I am sorry that Dame Judith Hart did not back him. He was then sent—with great distinction—to Trinidad and Tobago. He was also warning that Idi Amin, far from being an improvement on Obote, was somebody to be feared even more. My uncle was cerebral, cultured and courteous. He had spent many years working in Asia and had a particular respect for the Asian population.
Come 1972 and these appalling events, my husband Peter—not then a Member of Parliament—and I were living in a large, rambling house in Stockwell. My husband’s parents had welcomed a Hungarian refugee; his grandmother had welcomed a White Russian many decades back. On the basis that you cannot do everything but you must do something, Peter called the Home Office. We then went in the car to RAF West Malling, and there we met Razia and Roshan Jetha, who lived with us really happily for two years. Our children learned to love samosas and chapatis and have not changed their tastes since.
What struck us, however, was the philosophy, the acceptance. Where was the anger; where was the rage? They had lost everything. Ironically, they had had a factory that made uniforms for Amin’s army, in Jinja, at Lake Victoria. It was the sense of grace—accept what has happened and start to work. It has been said very often that Ugandan Asians did not want handouts; they have never had handouts. Immediately, Roshan went out and found a job. Quite soon Razia, who could not speak English, found a job working at the mail order business Freemans. We have remained friends throughout our lives. Roshan has sadly died, but we still see Razia. We have the greatest personal respect and affection for their dignity, their diligence, their hard, hard work.
Of course, it was not a calculated decision; it was an impulse, and one that was so worth while. We have seen how this community has gone from strength to strength. There are so many in this place: the noble Lords, Lord Gadhia and Lord Popat, the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, and many others.
In this turbulent world where immigration and migration are such complex issues, there are many lessons to be learned from the values of the Asian community: family, faith, hard work, the way in which the British community accepted this needy and important group of people, and, above all, courageous political leadership. There are many issues which are complex, difficult and daunting, but we must have courageous political leadership if we are going to live in the world we all aspire to.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley of Nettlestone. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Popat, for providing us with an opportunity to reflect on the tremendous contribution to life in the UK made by those Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin in the autumn of 1972. Listening to the noble Lord’s experiences, and those of others in this debate, has been both moving and inspiring.
I wanted to speak in this debate for two reasons. The first was simply to add my voice to the many who have expressed their thanks and admiration for the hard work, determination and entrepreneurial spirit that the noble Lord and so many others demonstrated following their arrival in the UK, bringing such huge benefits to this country. Those of course include the corner shops that stayed open when people needed them, challenging the inflexible nine-to-five shopping culture of the 1970s, and beginning the revolution in opening hours that transformed our high-street shopping. On a personal level, they were a lifeline for me and my husband in Clapham during our first few years of marriage, when we were working out how to juggle busy working lives and get dinner sorted out every night.
Those welcoming shops, run by multigenerational family members, offered more than just a late-night loaf of bread; they gave communities a focal point—even providing a platform for local politics—and became integral to their local neighbourhoods. As the noble Lord has said, it is that integration across the UK that lies at the heart of the British-Ugandan Asian success story. Look at their many successful bigger businesses—which have contributed so much to our economy, bringing jobs, vitality and pride to towns and cities throughout the country—and of course the mighty contribution to our political life, which, 50 years on, is so impressively represented in this House and the other place. That contribution is echoed in academic life, the City and various professions—and indeed is now being shown in the second and third generations of those early arrivals. This debate has touched on all this, and I am delighted that we are able to take this time to celebrate the success that followed what was a seismic and shocking event for all involved.
At this half-century vantage point, the story of the Ugandan Asian expulsion and resettlement can seem the stuff of history: a fit subject for commemorative exhibitions and academic conferences. One might ask what its relevance is to today’s febrile politics. This brings me to my second point. Britain did a good and honourable thing 50 years ago, and we have been repaid many times over. While I am not disregarding the racist tensions and struggles that many individuals faced on arrival, the Ugandan Asian story is proof that, given the right conditions and will, people who are suddenly uprooted can be incorporated into a new society and help it to thrive. There are many refugees who cannot count on that tolerance, compassion and welcome today.
In today’s turbulent world, where upheaval, uncertainty, migration and misery are still happening, where racism and anti-immigrant nativism are seemingly on the rise, this 50th anniversary gives us much to think about. The story of British-Ugandan Asians shows us how much minority communities have to offer, and how vital diversity is to the strength of the UK. The integration and assimilation of Ugandan Asians is proof that multiple identities can coexist and help people to flourish. It is timely to ask ourselves whether our current immigration policies acknowledge this sufficiently. I feel that Britain’s current plan for immigration carries a very different message from that of our actions in 1972. Will the Minister agree, for example, that further relaxing post-Brexit immigration rules—as has been done to allow more senior care workers to enter the UK by adding them to the shortage occupation list—could be a useful route to addressing severe staff shortages in other key but lower-paid roles, such as in social care?
The legacy of British-Ugandan Asians lies not just in their monetary and professional contribution but in the example that they have set in how they have embraced this country. Their enterprise and determination have played a part in Britain becoming a vibrant, multiracial and multicultural society. The need to integrate new communities successfully remains as important today as it was 50 years ago.
My Lords, in 2002 I was privileged to be awarded “Asian of the Year” by the now noble Lord, Lord Blunkett—the then Home Secretary—and, in my acceptance speech, I said that
“in my lifetime we will see an Asian as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom”.
Although it took two decades, we now have Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister. In the early 1980s, when I came over from India as a 19 year-old international student, I was told by my family and friends in India, “If you decide to stay on and work in the UK after your studies, you will never get to the top; you will not be allowed. As a foreigner, there will be a glass ceiling for you”. They were absolutely right then, but over the decades I have seen that glass ceiling being absolutely shattered. I believe that this is now a country of aspiration, where anyone can get anywhere regardless of race, religion and background, and Rishi Sunak is a perfect example of that. Today, we have aspiration, we have achievements and we have inspiration, the latter of which creates aspiration in a virtuous circle.
It is difficult to think that on
We have heard from so many speakers that Ugandan Asians are making their name in every part of society. This includes the noble Lord, Lord Popat, himself—who I thank for leading this excellent debate—my right honourable friend Shailesh Vara MP; Priti Patel, the noble Lords, Lord Gadhia and Lord Verjee; my noble and right reverend friend Lord Sentamu; the late Lord Sheikh; the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera; Tarique Ghaffur, who was in the police; Anuj Chande, my friend who is a senior partner in Grant Thornton; and his cousin Her Excellency the High Commissioner for Uganda, Nimisha Madhvani, who is with us here today. I could go on because there are so many examples. This is tremendous, especially when we think that many of these people went through resettlement plans. Their stories and experiences of fleeing and starting a new life over here are moving. That is thanks to the generosity of the wonderful British people, who to this day welcome refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine. The noble Lord, Lord Popat, started work in a Wimpy bar—and then as an accountant, a successful businessman and a Conservative Party activist—and is now in the House of Lords and a trade envoy. This is phenomenal. In the words of Shailesh Vara, they
“came here frightened, homeless, penniless and with only the clothes on their backs.”—[
As the noble Lord, Lord Popat, said, Uganda’s loss has very much been Britain’s gain.
My friend Dr Nik Kotecha wrote an article, “The World Has Changed So Much, Yet So Little, Since the 1972 Ugandan Refugee Crisis”, in which he spoke about leaving with absolutely nothing and knowing what it is “like to go hungry”, which “no child should ever” be. However, despite his sadness—including that about Ukraine—there is still hope. There are 8 million Ukrainian refugees and 25 million displaced people who continue to receive support; look at the support that we have given here, in the way we gave it to the Ugandan Asians. Sadly, he says,
“this won’t be the last refugee crisis”.
My own family comes from the smallest minority community in the world, the Zoroastrian Parsis. We fled Persia 1,000 years ago and were given refuge in India. We are only one in a thousand, but per capita I would say that our achievements make us one of the most successful minority communities in the world—thanks to the host country, India, for what they allowed us to do. I have seen with my own business, Cobra Beer, that I sold my first case not to an Indian restaurant but to an east African Asian corner shop. I have seen the hard work taking place there, including children working above the shop doing their homework while also helping out. As Rishi Sunak has said—which I have said for many years and which we have heard in this debate—the Asian values of family, hard work and education are embodied better by nobody than the Ugandan Asian community. They have integrated; as my father, the late General Bilimoria, said, “Wherever you live in the world, my son, integrate to the best of your abilities, but never forget your roots”. They are also sterling examples of entrepreneurship.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, talked about immigration. Why can the Government not have a revamped Migration Advisory Committee that independently sets the shortage occupation list sector by sector, allowing the economy the immigration that it needs? The Ugandan Asian community has shown clearly and brilliantly that good immigration has been, and will always be, great for this country
My Lords, I too pay a warm tribute to my noble friend Lord Popat. I am sure that many of our colleagues who looked at the Order Paper earlier in the week and saw that this debate was taking place on a Thursday must have thought that it was of secondary importance, but they could not have been more wrong.
This debate is hugely important—and important for three reasons. First, it reminds us of the decision of the Heath Government in 1972 to admit thousands and thousands of Asians expelled from Uganda after the cruel act of Idi Amin. As my noble friend Lord Hunt reminded us, the decision was taken by the Heath Government in the face of the fiercest opposition and, I am afraid to say, rather ugly prejudice in parts of the Conservative Party at that time, as well as from sections of the press. That decision took great political courage. Mr Heath and the Government took that decision not on the basis of opinion polls or focus groups but because it was morally right—what a change from the way these things sometimes happen today. Lord Goodman wrote to Mr Heath at the time:
“I do not remember an episode of governmental behaviour as being more clear-cut in relation to morality and principle and less self-seeking in terms of popular appeal.”
Mr Heath was often criticised for not being a populist; these days that is rather a compliment.
This debate is important for a second reason. We should always make sure that, when Governments of all parties, as they do, introduce measures and laws to control the numbers entering this country, they should not be presented as anti-immigrant or caricatured as such. This country has been host over centuries to waves of immigration from all over the world and especially in the 20th century. These people have come to our shores and made their homes here; they have built businesses and created thousands of jobs. As we see from the Ministers in today’s Government and politicians across the parties, they have made their mark in our public life as well. They have also been some of the greatest philanthropists. If I may say so, my noble friend Lord Popat is a wonderful example of the contributions that these people make to our society.
The third reason this debate is important is that it allows us to take quiet pride in today’s United Kingdom, a country rich in diversity and talent thanks to the many people with ancestors from overseas who have built their lives here and are now proud British citizens. I have the honour to be a trustee of the Margaret Thatcher Scholarship Trust at Somerville College, Oxford, chaired by the principal, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. I was there last week for a meeting of the trustees but, really, I go there not so much to meet the trustees but to meet the students—the Thatcher scholars. They come from all backgrounds and ethnicities and are ferociously bright and energetic. When you meet those people, who want to make their lives and contributions here and give to this country, although we are going through very difficult times, it does not half give you optimism for the future.
I am delighted to follow the noble Lord and to join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Popat, on instigating this debate and the one 10 years ago and on the quality of his contribution in this House and beyond, as well as thanking him for giving us the opportunity to reflect on the events of 50 years ago.
This week has made me feel very old. Not only do I have two sons older than the Prime Minister, which is quite a thought, but it reminds me of where I was 50 years ago. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, told of his work as a young Conservative—fighting Enoch Powell, if I may use the shorthand. Fifty years ago I was selected as the prospective parliamentary candidate in my home town, Wolverhampton, for Wolverhampton South West, Enoch Powell’s constituency. Thereafter followed a vigorous campaign. The one thing I had to be profoundly grateful for was that there was no social media then, so the abusers had to take the trouble to buy paper, envelopes and stamps and send the abusive mail to you. But it made me profoundly aware of the racism current in the country.
While I was doing that politically, professionally I took on the role of director of the Ugandan Evacuees Co-ordinating Committee for Welfare. It was the group that brought together 75 voluntary organisations to provide support and work in parallel with the Uganda Resettlement Board. I remember going to the West Malling camp referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, where we supplied the liaison officers supporting the individual families. We did a great deal within the communities, and much of that was done not in the black or white but in the red areas. I absolutely agree with those who say that a principled decision was made and that we should pay tribute to the Prime Minister and Cabinet who took that decision, but we have to recognise that the fears of being seen to be soft on immigration were very strong in the policies of the Uganda Resettlement Board.
The wonderful staff in the Library found the report that I co-authored, a year after the final camp was closed, on the work that was done. The Prime Minister had referred to the co-ordinating committee’s work as “a job well done”. We published a report, A Job Well Done?—with a question mark—and it went through the difficulties that those people found. They were not entitled to social security if they went into red areas and resettlement was often in areas where there was no employment and no support from communities. People therefore gravitated to where there were communities but they were not entitled to what the Government gave to people who went to green areas. There was a great deal of frustration and indignation in the report. It only goes to show two things: first, how fantastically the community succeeded, despite those early difficulties. The other is how dangerous and wrong-headed it is for Governments to run scared of racism in their immigration policy.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Popat on securing this important debate. Like him, I was born in Uganda, arriving in this country 50 years ago this year as a toddler. So, today’s proceedings are much more than a debate; this is deeply personal. It is the story of my family, our community and my own identity. Discussing this topic in the same week as the appointment of our first British Asian Prime Minister makes it even more poignant.
One of the legacies of the British Empire was to catalyse migration flows which might not otherwise have occurred naturally. The biggest of these flows was from south Asia to sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This explains how my grandfather took the brave decision to travel 3,000 miles across the Indian Ocean from the state of Gujarat, in north-west India, to Uganda. By 1972, we had become a well settled community, in what Winston Churchill described as “the pearl of Africa”. But then everything changed. Idi Amin supposedly had a dream from God instructing him to expel the Asian community. His actions reflected a simmering tension and envy of the economic dominance of a tiny minority. When Uganda gained independence in 1962, some felt that the British should have taken the Asians with them. Idi Amin exploited and weaponised this sentiment in the crudest and most brutal form.
Amin’s spine-chilling warning that British passport holders who failed to meet the 90-day expulsion deadline would be “sitting on the fire” resulted in growing anxiety and fear about our fate. These events also triggered a contentious debate back in the UK. It was the era of Enoch Powell and the National Front. The Cabinet sent an envoy to meet Amin, hoping to reverse the decision. All sorts of alternatives to bringing Ugandan Asians to Britain were explored; even the Falkland Islands were considered. To his eternal credit, the then Prime Minister, Edward Heath, fulfilled the UK’s moral and legal responsibility, providing safe harbour to almost 30,000 of my compatriots. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral for the role which he and others played in supporting that principled decision.
So, the Government and, importantly, the voluntary sector mobilised to airlift and receive British passport holders expelled from Uganda. The Home Office established the Uganda Resettlement Board. Within three weeks of being formed, this body was ready to receive the first evacuation flight from Kampala, and in a matter of six weeks it had set up 16 reception camps across the UK—and even a mini 17th camp courtesy of Peter and Virginia Bottomley, now my noble friend Lady Bottomley. These camps were mostly in rural areas, in former military bases. When local people heard about the plight of those being expelled, they responded in their droves with clothes, food and supplies. Many had never met people of colour before. What they saw were people in need and they wanted to help. The uniformed voluntary services, notably the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, the British Red Cross and St John Ambulance took a lead in organising the camps, working with the Co-ordinating Committee for the Welfare of Evacuees, made up of 63 voluntary organisations and mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.
In its final report, the Uganda Resettlement Board concluded:
“It is probably no exaggeration to say that never since the war has this country seen voluntary effort extended willingly, and on such a scale, nor can there be many instances of closer harmony between voluntary and statutory services working together.”
This is what motivated the creation of British Ugandan Asians at 50, an initiative supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, to capture the oral histories of the last surviving volunteers and camp residents. It is hoped that these stories will serve as an inspiration to current and future generations to celebrate this country’s great tradition of volunteering and generosity of spirit in welcoming those who have been displaced.
This 50th anniversary is a moment to express our community’s eternal gratitude to all those who supported us in our hour of need. This is what motivated the thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey in 1997 to mark the 25th anniversary, which I was honoured to help organise with late Manubhai Madhvani, widely respected as the elder statesman of the Ugandan Asian community. It will be a moment of immense pride when we have the opportunity to express our thanks again at a national commemoration of the 50th anniversary, graciously hosted by His Majesty the King at Buckingham Palace next week.
This is also a moment to remember that Amin’s eight-year reign of terror was both tribal and racial, resulting in the murder of more than 300,000 Ugandan citizens, as well as the expulsion of Asians. By the time the Uganda Resettlement Board was wound up in 1974, it had spent just over £6 million of public money, having assisted nearly 30,000 evacuees with our arrival and resettlement. Not only was this the right thing to do; it is arguably one of the best-returning investments ever made by a UK Government.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Gadhia on his current appointments and my noble friend Lord Popat for initiating this very important debate today, and all noble Lords for the wonderful speeches we have heard so far. I contribute as the child of an Indian immigrant who settled in the UK in 1938. My grandfather came here, invited to help rebuild the economy on the Empire scheme, but what he taught us was that we have to help each other. As I was growing up and listening to the environment around me of pure racism and far-right attitudes, it was quite difficult to be a child in the city of Leicester.
I mention Leicester because that was where a large number of the Ugandan Asians came. For me, it was a turning point as a 12 year-old, and I am so thrilled to be sitting next to my noble friend Lord Hunt, who, at that time, was a young Conservative and fought hard to change the rhetoric about the immigrant population of Ugandan Asians coming in. I can tell noble Lords that Leicester did not welcome the immigrant population coming in; it was difficult. They were settled in places that were really condemned as slum areas and there was very little help. But the rhetoric turned, when I was a child, from basic racism every single day to intense racism, and it was really quite horrible. I do not know whether many noble Lords remember an advert that Cadbury brought out, “Cadbury take them and they cover them in chocolate”: that was the chant we used to hear regularly as we walked down the roads of Leicester.
So I hope that a lot of lessons were learned, because the Ugandan Asians who came to Leicester made Leicester one of the most diverse and economically growing cities in the country. We have the Golden Mile, which every year hosts the largest celebration of Diwali outside India. The people that came then as children are now among the top businesspeople and professionals in this country, not just in Leicester. It is a clear lesson for us all that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, and I think my noble friend Lady Bottomley may have said it, it only takes people to remain silent for evil to prevail.
Following the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who comes from Wolverhampton, I had the pleasure of standing as a candidate for the Conservative Party in Wolverhampton South West in 2005, which demonstrates how much this country had shifted. I really congratulate my party, the Conservative Party, on the work it has done to ensure, not just in the time of my noble friend Lord Hunt and the Prime Minister of the time, Edward Heath, that this country has given us so many opportunities. It is not bad to generate wealth. I constantly hear this discussion about how rich our new Prime Minister is. We should celebrate the fact that he has made that much wealth from this country, that his family has made wealth. His grandparents live in Leicester; we know them well. His grandmother, of course, is no longer with us, but they were stoic, hard-working people. The principle that was instilled in all of us was to make the country you live and work in your home. We should give credit to those who come and have that.
My grandfather was one of the founders of the Indian Workers’ Association. He worked hard for the interests of working people from the Indian subcontinent. David Cameron made me the first female of south Asian origin to sit on the Benches of this Parliament in 2006. We have a lot to celebrate. My father became a Conservative because of Edward Heath and the work he did to help the Ugandan Asians. This debate is so poignant because the riots in Leicester in recent days demonstrate that if we allow division to happen and that space, that vacuum, to arise, the far right, more than anyone else, will take advantage of it.
My Lords, I warmly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for her inspiring speech, as well as other noble Lords for the extremely inspiring and moving speeches we have heard today.
When John Major was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, as we became friends very rapidly, he very kindly agreed to come and speak at one of my routine ward meetings in Stanmore, my biggest and most important ward in Harrow East when I was its MP. I drove him up in my car; we did not talk because he was so tired from work, so I said, “We’ll start talking when we get there.” The chairman of the ward, who gave the function in his house, was an interesting new man whom we had not really got to know called Mr Dolar Popat. It was a very routine occasion, though more social than others. John Major enjoyed it, they enjoyed it and he made a very good speech.
The following day, I said to John Major, “Thank you for coming; I appreciate it very much indeed. You were a great help. It was nice of Dolar Popat to offer his lovely house for this purpose.” He said, “Yes, and by the way, I hope you won’t mind me saying so, but ward chairmen in Conservative associations up and down the country are routinely not particularly inspiring. This young man did rather a good job, and I think he will probably go far in life.” I said, “That may be prescient, but I don’t know; only time will tell.”
Going back to 1972 and the events that have been discussed today by so many noble Lords, I had started working for Edward Heath in the 1964 election, I then helped him in the 1966 election—he also helped me, as I was standing—and particularly in 1970 when we came in. At 30, Winston Churchill junior, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and I were the three youngest to come into the House. Edward Heath was a very gruff and difficult man in many ways, and was known for not being good at socialising, including in his constituency of Bexley. However, I found his compassion coming out when he said, “Hugh, we are going to have settlement zones in Harrow and Leicester to help the Asians who have been expelled by Idi Amin.”
I remember one of the people at the function when the noble Lord, Lord Popat, was ward chairman saying, “We don’t want Asians coming into this country from anywhere, because there are too many Jews in this constituency already.” That was the beginning of the contact. What the noble Lord has achieved in his career has been remarkable. His book was very inspiring indeed.
Edward Heath would not back down. He said, “We’re going to do this. We’ll take a thousand in Harrow to start with, and in Leicester, and see how that goes. You tell the association that that will happen.” Some of the members were very difficult about it; some said some very nasty things, but most did not. When the Asians came—as they did many years later into Harrow, by coincidence—they immediately made the local borough economy dynamic. Just a small number of Asian businesspeople had that effect on the local area, which was prosperous but slow-moving.
That was such a remarkable achievement that the impression it left remained with me for ever, as did my admiration for Edward Heath—not least because we both loved the European Union and he was the architect of our entry into it. Those two things may be among the greatest things he did. Unfortunately, it all went wrong very quickly after 1974, but we have to remember that none the less.
We must thank the Asian communities for what they have done for this country. They have provided a superb example of what can happen when foreign people come to stay, work and live here and become citizens, with or without British passports. They contribute so much to the good of British society. That attitude must now be reinforced, because there are still some dark forces in dark corners of constituencies up and down the country where that view is not held. We must fight that vigorously and make sure we stand up in future for what is just and right for those communities and the whole of the British public.
My Lords, I join the many congratulations to my noble friend Lord Popat on initiating this debate. He was a distinguished Minister when I joined this House and I have always admired the way in which he has conducted his ministerial and other jobs. I thank him very much.
I remember the beginning of 1972 as a very low point in British relations. The Labour Government had passed the 1968 immigration Act, which was a real stain on our community. In the very early 1970s, racism was almost becoming respectable. We tend to forget that. I join all noble Lords in my congratulations for and fond memories of Edward Heath. Had it not been for his determination and single-mindedness, we would probably not have done as well by the Ugandan Asians. Also, he started to turn things around; after this episode, racism was no longer respectable. That was a great tribute to Heath.
At that time, I was working in the Department of Health and Social Security. Our Minister was one Sir Keith Joseph, who later went mad but at the time was a very compassionate Secretary of State. The instructions that came down from him were to do everything we could to help carry the Prime Minister’s policy into action. I remember one aside in a meeting at which the Secretary of State was present—it was not a very large meeting, and I was very junior—where he remarked, “You know, you’re lucky we’re in government. I hate to think what we might have said if we hadn’t been.” I have always remembered that. I pay tribute to Edward Heath.
The other person who has done a lot for the Conservative Party and the country, who has not really been mentioned today, is David Cameron. When I started working for him as his trade union envoy, he was not only trying to broaden the base in trade unionism but was absolutely determined to get more representation of British society on to the Conservative Benches. I was the chairman of a Conservative association at that time, in a very safe seat. We had a by-election, caused by the retirement of a Member. We went to CCO, where I was working, but the sift committee in the Conservative Party which takes the names to it took up six white names. The noble Lord, Lord Pickles, who was then the chair, said, “I am sorry, but this is against party policy. You’ve got to have an ethnic-minority person—it doesn’t matter if they are a man or a woman—on your shortlist. Otherwise, we won’t approve it.” The determined actions of David Cameron and the way in which he basically gripped the Conservative Party by the throat and got it to modernise—getting more women and a more representative party into Parliament—have been a great contribution to this country. We would probably not have the present Prime Minister were it not for his activities.
I will finish on one more thing. After 1972, racism disappeared in the trade union movement. I noticed, because I have spent my life active in it, that it was suddenly no longer respectable to echo the words of the dockers who had supported Enoch Powell. Suddenly, the thing to do was to embrace all of society. It took some doing—there was some stuttering at the beginning—but overall it was successful, and the trade union movement has also made its contribution to a more equal and pleasant Britain.
My Lords, in the week that a man with east African Asian antecedents became our Prime Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Popat, has provided the House with a timely and admirable Motion, which has enabled us to reflect on the challenges of integration and racism, but also on how far we have come in 50 years.
In 1968, as a sixth-former at school, I put pen to paper to express shock that Kenyan Asians—but not white Kenyans—were having their passports taken away under legislation rushed through Parliament in three days flat. David Steel, who spoke in the debate in this House 10 years ago on the 40th anniversary, courageously opposed that Bill in the House of Commons. At the time it led me to join the Young Liberals, of which I would become national president in due course, and to join the Anti-Apartheid Movement. As we have heard, that shameful Act of Parliament emerged in the context of Enoch Powell’s odious “rivers of blood” speech; the founding in 1967 of the far-right fascist party, the National Front; and then, in 1968, the British Movement.
My own attitudes, like those of a number of speakers in the debate so far, were in part shaped by my personal experience. In my case, I was the son of an immigrant whose mother’s first language was Irish. As a second-year student in Liverpool looking for accommodation, the casual nature of racism came home to me when I saw advertisements in the tobacconist’s shop for rooms for which “no blacks and no Irish” should apply. Elected in 1972 as a third-year student to Liverpool City Council, I argued in favour of accepting Ugandan Asians after Idi Amin gave them just three months in which to leave, with just one suitcase and £50 in their pockets. Amin’s terrifying eight-year reign led to the deaths of at least 300,000 Ugandans.
Then, in 1972, the UK did respond, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, reminded us, with honour and generosity. In 1972-73, a total of 38,500 Ugandan Asians came to Britain with 5,000 British families—such as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, whom we heard from earlier—opening up their own homes, with echoes of Kindertransport and now Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s war. Government help was matched by personal generosity, philanthropy and charitable giving via the Asia Relief Trust, chaired by the then Lord Sainsbury. The recent decision to give refuge in this country to BNO passport holders from Hong Kong, over 130,000 of whom now reside here, is equally admirable.
In 2019, I attended the launch of the wonderful memoir, A British Subject: How to Make It as an Immigrant in the Best Country in the World, by the noble Lord, Lord Popat. He calls it a love letter to his adopted country—and it is. The noble Lord tells us:
“Our success lies in our values. Ugandan Asians have always believed in aspiration, enterprise, and the importance of family—three of the values that Britain holds most dear … we have managed to combine the maintaining of elements of our roots and heritage while ensuring that we are British through and through.”
He cites the late Lord Sacks’s assertion:
“Without shared values and a sense of collective identity, no society can sustain itself for long”.
By turns, the noble Lord’s memoir is deeply moving and inspiring, and his reflections on integration—which he rightly insists is the key question—and on respect for difference, the role of faith and the call to all to serve the common good, get to the heart of the great challenge of how we learn to live together, peaceably, productively and respectfully. I think the book by the noble Lord, Lord Popat, along with The Dignity of Difference and The Home We Build Together by Lord Sacks, should sit in every school. They are a road map for integration and co-existence.
What of Uganda itself, the place Winston Churchill once described as “the pearl of Africa”? At university, my daughter signed up to do some voluntary work in Uganda. She has been back many times since as a pro bono trustee of Evolve, a barrister-led not-for-profit, which she helped found in 2016. It aims to improve access to justice and promote integrity, fairness and efficiency in Uganda’s criminal justice system by working closely with prisoners, the judiciary and organisations to create a sustainable legacy. I have met some of the outstanding Ugandan lawyers who are part of this initiative. Building a just and fair society that upholds the rule of law is the best antidote to the lawlessness and cruel atrocities bequeathed by Idi Amin. Today, Uganda is overcoming development challenges, including the disturbing recurrence of Ebola. As a trade envoy, I know how hard the noble Lord, Lord Popat, works to help Uganda face those challenges, and I join others in thanking him for that and for securing this timely and very worthwhile debate.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Alton. I deliberately call him that. Today I follow everybody else as well and it has been a remarkable debate, with some powerful, moving and wonderful speeches, many peppered with anecdotes—some very amusing, such as that of my noble friend Lady Bottomley.
I sat in Committee Room 14 on Tuesday of this week, where I helped greet our new Prime Minister. I felt a surge of pride such as I have not felt for the last two or three years, a period during which I have been sometimes at the end of my tether, feeling ashamed of my party and ashamed for my country. It was a new dawn on Tuesday, as far as I am concerned.
I began to think of other moments during my 52 years in Parliament when I felt similar pride. I thought of that day when it was decided that we should enter the European Union, and I shall always be sad that that was reversed. I thought of that remarkable Saturday morning when we debated the Falklands, and when the leader of the Opposition, Michael Foot, made it possible for us to send a task force by giving his support in a great speech. Then I thought of those days in 1972 when, like my noble friend Lord Dykes—I am just one day older than he is—I supported the very brave decision of Edward Heath. That has been referred to many times in this debate, and rightly so, because there was a Prime Minister giving true leadership on a difficult issue and doing what was right. By doing right he not only gave great relief to a remarkable group of people but did great good to our country, because the people who have come over here have attained great office in the professions and have continued the tradition of our nation of shopkeepers by keeping shops on corners where there would not be shops any more today. They have done a remarkable service and made a real contribution.
It is right that we should be saying these things, as we said them 10 years ago in the debate that my noble friend Lord Popat introduced then—again, he did it with distinction but also with prescience, because a lot has happened since then. He himself has done so much since then, becoming a Minister of the Crown and a trade envoy. He was just newly in the House of Lords at that time, and we sat close together and became friends. He has made a remarkable contribution.
We must take hope from what has happened this week. A truly remarkable young man—he is almost exactly half my age—has become our Prime Minister. I believe he will show real leadership and display those qualities of intellectual acuity, industry and love of family which have the possibility of making him a great Prime Minister. I hope for all our sakes that he becomes a great Prime Minister. I certainly hope that he is able to give the leadership that this country has lacked for the last three or four years. He is a breath of fresh air. I will not agree with everything he says or does—nobody ever can—but I believe that he has given real hope. This is a moment of pride, similar to that moment when Ted Heath made his decision, supported as he was by a Cabinet with a wonderful Home Secretary, Robert Carr, who encapsulated all the best qualities of public life in this country.
This is a very special day and a very special debate. We are all deeply in debt to my noble friend Lord Popat.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne, was absolutely right: this is an important debate, and it has been absolutely fascinating. It has been historical in nature, but I really felt a thread of current feeling—not only about diversity in our political leadership but about some of the challenges that exist within our policy-making. The nuance of the debate has been wonderful. At the outset, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, as I think I am going to irritate her. She said that this debate made her feel old because of the Prime Minister’s age. This is the first time that the Prime Minister of my country has been younger than me, so it is not just her feeling old now. Now that I have irked her, I will irk everybody else: I was not alive in 1972 when these issues were being debated.
Now that I have successfully alienated the entire Chamber, can I perhaps recover by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Popat, on bringing this debate to us? I also read the Hansard from a decade ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading his book, which he was very kind to send me a copy of, as he has others. I was struck at the start of that book by, to some extent, the trauma of what he had witnessed first hand with his family, the journey of safety and then success. It is a real lesson, so I am grateful to him. I share his passion for the work he does in Africa. I have been fortunate enough over just the last three months to be in Sudan, Rwanda and Uganda, and to be there again briefly in September. His work and the debate we had in Grand Committee and elsewhere, arguing for an Africa strategy and consistency in our relations, I endorse entirely.
As I indicated before, I was not born at the time of the statement in 1972. I also did not have an opportunity of reading the report that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, had written, but I noticed that the final report of the Uganda Resettlement Board was published just a few days after I was born in January 1974. Of the 28,608 of those who had been settled, some came to the UK but many went directly to India. That has not been mentioned in the debate so far, but it was facilitated through the scheme, and I found that interesting.
The Home Secretary Robert Carr made a point in his statement in 1972 that also struck me. He made a point of singling out the other nations which also provided safe refuge and the way that the UK had worked with our friends and allies around the world, including Canada and others. That showed, I think, that the UK was not only leading by example but leading through our relationship with our allies.
I was also struck at the time, and in some of the debate we have heard, by another element of nuance with regards to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act. I was struck by the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I checked the voting record and it was the Liberals who put the Second Reading to the vote, as he mentioned. Ten Liberal MPs voted at the time and the vote attracted 62 others in opposition to the Second Reading. It was not necessarily a time of consensus.
In his contribution to the debate a decade ago, my former noble friend Lord Steel spoke about his experience of watching the exodus at Entebbe airport. He said:
“I sat in the airport, accompanied by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, who at that time was my assistant. We watched the exodus of the Asians: we watched their baggage being looted and dumped on the tarmac; we watched their jewellery and watches being taken off them. I wrote at the time:
‘I have never witnessed such scenes of unbridled abusive power and virtual anarchy’.
It was a terrible episode.”—[
I have been struck today by the comparison between that time, and the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Popat, and others, and the safe refuge that this country has provided.
However, in this debate, we heard from the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Verma, and others that it was not an easy process. Indeed, in reading the letter from the then Lord Sainsbury regarding the experience of the settlement scheme, bemoaning that less than £5 per person was provided for support, and reading the statement in the House of Commons at the time, I was struck that there are perhaps some contemporary parallels in the support that we offer to those who seek refuge.
Robert Carr gave his statement to the House of Commons 50 years and one week ago. In response, Shirley Williams raised the lack of accommodation and the quality of temporary accommodation. Then there was a question from David Steel, who suggested it would be good to have better co-ordination between the Home Office, the Scottish Office and the Department of Health and Social Security, so that they were all engaged to ensure there was proper co-ordination with local authorities. Again, 50 years on, we see some parallels. What struck me was that the question following David Steel’s was from Enoch Powell. It was a jarring question which asked whether the Home Secretary could cite any legal authority that provided support to the Government for their actions. The struggle against racism, prejudice and obstructions was there and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said, it carried through and we still have some elements of it.
I have not yet had an opportunity to welcome the Minister to his place. He is probably far smarter than I am and will not mention his age in this debate—I have taken all the flak for that. I hope he might share with the Home Secretary the Hansard of this debate, not only so that those in the Conservative Party can perhaps take pride in it but for its contemporary nature. If this country is to be a shelter in the storm for individuals and families, perhaps we have an opportunity to look slightly beyond what the scheme in 1972 had—it applied to just those who had been issued with British passports—to those seeking shelter in the UK who do not have British passports but desperately wish to have them. We see the barriers being put up again and again. Of course, not everybody who risks drowning in the channel—I will come to just one policy point in a moment, if the House will forgive me—has bad motives; many have motives equal to those that we have heard about today.
There is another element which made me think that times have changed since that scheme. When I read the contributions and part of the report, it struck me that, if a husband in a family had a British passport, their wife and children could accompany them; if the wife had a British passport and the husband did not, they could not. The wife had to go wherever the husband was settled, but not here. The Home Secretary was asked about that. He offered a sympathetic response but no change to the policy. It struck me that he said that the family must follow “the head of household”. Perhaps there are some areas where society and government policy have rightly changed.
I will close on a point of principle. I do not want to be controversial in this debate, which is about consensus. However, I wish to put on record that on this Bench we oppose the Rwanda scheme, and will continue to raise our concerns in debates about immigration policy. I do not believe that we should have a scheme where those who are coming to this country for good motives are sent to another country, and that approach should be reviewed by the new Prime Minister. A welcome move by him would be to halt the Rwanda scheme.
In my last 15 seconds I will say that we are marking today a golden anniversary that reflects a golden contribution from a community which, through difficulty and resilience, has made our country the better. I thank them for that.
My Lords, this is my first opportunity to welcome the Minister to his position, and I wish him well. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Popat, not only for initiating this debate but for his record in business, as a government Minister and certainly as a trade envoy. I have had a few conversations with him about that, and, like him, I think it is right for him to point out the tremendous economic progress that has been made in Uganda. I too welcome the presence of Her Excellency the high commissioner. However, as I have said before to the noble Lord, Lord Popat, I hope that he and Her Excellency will recognise that a successful and inclusive society is one that respects and protects all minorities and marginal groups within it. I hope my comments will be fully understood in that regard.
The 50th anniversary is a time for both reflection and celebration. There should be reflection on what was experienced by Ugandan Asians who were forcibly expelled from their home and arrived in the UK to an uncertain future. There should also be absolute celebration, as we heard in this debate, both of the communities who welcomed their new neighbours in so many different ways and of the contribution that the Ugandan Asian population has made to those communities and to our national life.
It has been good to hear the memories of Members across the House of that period. I welcomed the recollections of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—for me, he remains a “young Conservative”. As to my own memories, I cannot compete with others, but I was then an active member of the Spelthorne Young Socialists. Sadly, when we as a borough—the Labour group, as well as the Conservative group—tried to ensure that there was a proper housing allocation to welcome the Ugandan Asians, I recall trying to defend my Labour councillors from physical attack during the demonstration that was held outside that town hall, made up of, sadly, hundreds of people in our community. Of course, Spelthorne is now the constituency of Kwasi Kwarteng, which shows how communities and people have obviously changed. We have to reflect on that.
It was a pleasure to hear my noble friend Lord Bach speak of his experience in Leicester, where it was estimated that one in five of those who came to the UK would permanently settle. The Leicester experience shows the complexities of our history; my noble friend referred to that notorious advert that was placed in a newspaper in Kampala.
When we talk about our history, we must also be honest about the darker parts of it: the discrimination which this community was faced with in different parts of the country, and the racist activities of people—we have heard reference to the National Front. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, referred to the trade union movement. In my own union—the dockers were members of the Transport and General Workers’ Union following the meat porters at Smithfield who marched in support of Enoch Powell—there was change in my union movement, but it was a lot slower than the noble Lord mentioned.
That change is testament to those who stood against racism and have shown determination and bravery to defend those who came here to be part of our community. I pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth, who was part of that Windrush generation—people who came to this country post war to help us rebuild our communities and build our national health service. Sadly, that generation later faced a “hostile environment”. We must learn the lessons of that. You cannot turn the clock back; people have memories about that.
We have heard about the immense contribution that the Ugandan Asian community has made to the United Kingdom in particular. Many people were highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and I will not repeat them, but I also reflect on the fact that it is an achievement for a country to have a Prime Minister of south Asian descent. It is important for our society.
I listened intently to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. I am part of that generation in the Labour Party who are determined for our party to remain the party of aspiration and enterprise. We will certainly continue to do that as we face some of the actions of the Government ahead. We must recognise that migrants have enriched our communities. They have built businesses, served our NHS and, as I just mentioned, made a significant contribution to our politics. Britain has some excellent stories to tell of welcoming those people.
More recently, we have had the Hong Kong scheme and the immense generosity of the British public to those fleeing war in Ukraine. I must say that on Ukraine it has been the generosity of the public that we should recognise, while the Government’s handling of visas, for example, has caused delays and real difficulties. A visa scheme that left very young children waiting for months for a visa, despite having a safe British home waiting for them, and families having to travel with young children for hundreds of miles across Europe to get biometrics is not a good example.
It is not enough to tell the tale that we have a proud history of integration and providing a home to those who are forced to leave theirs; it must also be woven into our future. I, too, reflected on the debate 10 years ago, reading in particular the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who quoted somebody that I would not normally, but I will on this occasion: the late Baroness Thatcher. She said:
“a new resilience derived from diversity can only strengthen Britain”.
I completely agree with her. The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, also said:
“we are in a global race and Britain has a secret weapon: the races from around the globe that make up our diverse nation. These people have ingenuity, resilience, determination and links and networks around the world.”—[
These words are even more relevant 10 years on, in our very insecure world. How we treat people domestically is also how we are seen globally. It is very hard to be optimistic about that while the policy of deportations to Rwanda of those seeking asylum, fleeing torture and horrors, still stands.
As well as marking this anniversary and celebrating parts of this history, we must also ask ourselves what lessons we should continue to learn from it and how they can be applied to British life for the next 50 years. My noble friend Lady Donaghy also mentioned elements of the speech made 10 years ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who, in her response, spelled out very concrete actions that the Government were taking for everyone to play a full part in our lives. She said then that
“the things that stop people getting on are the same things that stop people getting on with each other.”—[
That is a lesson for us all, but one particularly for this Government in the weeks ahead.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Popat for securing this important debate, and all noble Lords for their truly inspiring contributions. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, noted, the number of noble Lords contributing today itself demonstrates the importance of this topic. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Collins, for welcoming me to my place. I look forward to debating the wider immigration issues, to which they referred, in the weeks and months to come.
Noble Lords will know that this debate was postponed from around the 50th anniversary of the first Ugandan Asians arriving in the UK, following the death of Her late Majesty the Queen, but I am glad that we have had chance to recognise this, and it feels just as apt during the week of Diwali.
As my noble friend Lord Popat reflected, I pay tribute to the late Lord Sheik, raised in Uganda before coming to the United Kingdom in 1962, who spoke so movingly in 2012 about his own family’s history in Uganda and of friends who came following the expulsion in 1972. He is a much-missed colleague, and all our thoughts are with his friends and family. I also pay tribute to those who came before me in this and the other place who paved the way for future generations, which has led us to having the UK’s first Prime Minister of not only Indian but east African descent.
My noble friend Lord Popat is right to highlight our positive relationship with Uganda, and I welcome the high commissioner to the House today. The UK and Uganda have a close relationship. We want Uganda to become more democratic, prosperous and resilient, with reduced poverty, and to continue to play a positive international and regional role. That is why UK aid supports the most vulnerable in Uganda, by creating jobs and helping to meet urgent health and education needs.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, was right to reference the recent Ugandan successes. As has been raised today, 50 years ago we were in a very different place. In August 1972, 60,000 people of Asian origin were given just 90 days to leave their homes and their businesses in Uganda, after a decree issued by the then President of Uganda, Idi Amin. As has been said, remarkably, the UK Government expressed extreme distress with this course and, as a consequence of the real concern, Edward Heath’s Administration determined to resolve this by taking the steps upon which Your Lordships have commented today.
My noble friends Lord Popat and Lord Hunt both reflected on the inspiring, brilliant and honourable speeches and decisions by Prime Minister Heath and Home Secretary Carr. I was delighted to hear, in his elegant speech, about my noble friend Lord Hunt’s actions as a young Conservative in 1972. That is an inspiration to all Conservatives.
Preparations began in the UK to receive Ugandan Asians who had British passports. By
The United Kingdom acted swiftly and administered 16 temporary resettlement centres, in which approximately 22,000 people were accommodated for varying periods until they were supported to find permanent accommodation. The centres paid particular attention to the teaching of English and the provision of guidance about the British way of life. Just three months after the refugees had begun arriving, 1,000 employers had offered jobs to the newcomers.
As we mark 50 years since the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians, we reflect on their enormous contribution to this country, whether in politics, business or other aspects of society. We have heard many examples today, from the Golden Mile of Leicester to Clapham, but I am also struck by the challenges faced by those who arrived here, who were subject to disgraceful racist abuse and attacks. I admire the bravery and resilience they have shown.
Ten years ago, my noble friend Baroness Warsi spoke about the Government’s approach to integration following the successful arrival of British Ugandan Asians. In the 10 years since, a number of significant events have led to people seeking refuge in the United Kingdom, including from the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine. Indeed, I know that the cottage in Lambeth Palace, spoken of by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, has been used in more recent years to house Syrian refugees.
The UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, is right to refer to that history as a success. Similar to our approach 50 years ago, we are committed to ensuring that anyone arriving through humanitarian routes can take positive steps towards integration as they rebuild their lives in the UK and, in so doing—we hope—emulate the experience of my noble friend Lord Popat and other Ugandan Asians.
Fifty years ago, when Ugandan Asians arrived in the UK, they were given support and advice on housing and employment, as well as access to healthcare, social security and education systems. In the present day, those resettled in the UK via safe and legal routes have access to mainstream benefits and services to enable their integration. We are working across government to ensure that these services meet the needs of refugees. Those arriving under one of the UK’s resettlement schemes have immediate access to the labour market and to benefits. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, is right to reflect on the parallels in relation to providing accommodation. We continue to seek assistance from local authorities across the UK to provide housing for those we resettle here.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, referred to the labour market and asked about the shortage occupation list. We continue to work closely with the Migration Advisory Council on the occupations on that list.
Those arriving for our schemes for Hong Kongers and Ukrainians—for whom the Government opened schemes as expediently as those the late Lord Carr and his colleagues did in 1972, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, referred—have also had access across the labour market. I acknowledge the points of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the delays in providing visas, but I am proud that over 140,000 Ukrainians have arrived here since we opened the schemes just seven months ago, many being taken into the family homes of generous UK residents, just as the family of the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, did 50 years ago.
We recognise that language is key to helping refugees integrate into life in the UK, as well as to breaking down barriers to work and career progression. In 1972, steps were taken to ensure that communications were written in Gujarati and in English. Today, we provide assistance to ensure that mainstream English language provision meets the needs of refugees. Our integration packages have a strong focus on supporting refugees to move more quickly to self-sufficiency.
I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Harrington, who served the Government with great energy in his time as Minister for Refugees. He understands that collaboration with civil society, businesses and local authorities will continue to be the key to achieving our goals on refugee integration. We will ensure our approach is informed by the experiences of refugees.
In closing, I thank my noble friend Lord Popat, once more for securing this most moving and inspiring debate. It is right that we reflect on what happened 50 years ago and, as we do so, it is also right that we celebrate the huge contribution that the British Ugandan Asian community has made, and continues to make, to our society.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this debate. We heard many moving speeches from all of them. Although we were born in Uganda, we were made in Britain. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned a quote from my book: we are proud to be “British through and through”. We are British, not because we live in Britain but because Britain lives in us.