Author Archives: Lord Roger Roberts

Roger Roberts writes: We need to change our culture and welcome people here

It is essential that we keep focused on Syria, because it is possibly the greatest humanitarian tragedy since the Second World War. In a message only this week, a girl, Siham, who was in the Aleppo hospital and was suffering from 70% burns, said, “Please let it be over now. We have to find a way out. We’ve had all we can take”. Seven years of civil war have slaughtered 500,000 of the country’s most vulnerable people and driven nearly 12 million Syrians from their homes, with many thousands more missing.

A few weeks ago at Westminster, we had a coach-load of the wives of some of those who are missing in Syria. They did not know whether their husbands were alive, whether they had been tortured or killed. This very week I had a group of 10 young Syrian refugees here at Westminster. They were glad to be here on an English language course, which of course is essential. We shared many of their problems, from accommodation to the need to learn English so that, if the opportunity comes—and I hope it will be made available in legislation very soon—they will be able to take up a job here in the UK.

Mesopotamia was once the cradle of civilisation, yet now of those cities which were part of our historical legacy all we have is pictures of destruction. That irreplaceable heritage is no longer secure and important historical and cultural landmarks, of which Palmyra is one, are being reduced to rubble. Not only are the buildings being reduced to rubble, but the psychological effects on those who lived there or live there still, especially the children, has yet to be contended with. People will be scarred for the remainder of their lives.

Every child should share the right which we enjoy to have a balanced life with opportunities and with laughter—a life where people say, “I believe in you; I have faith in you; you have got a potential there”. Of course, that does not happen. It is a complete violation of everything in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, whether the outrages come from the ruling regime or opposition forces. A time must surely come when those who are responsible for such outrages will be prosecuted for war crimes.

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Our Immigration System is not fit for purpose!

There was a time when a letter in support of an Asylum claim from an MP or Peer would be pretty certain of a reply from the Home Office. People have received permission to stay in the United Kingdom following such letters. Deportation decisions have been reversed. It is not too much to claim that lives might have been saved.

That is not the case today. I myself am still waiting for six or seven responses.

Tens of thousands of Home Office decisions on an individual’s status have been declared unsound. – the initial decision found to be wrong and reversed on appeal. In 2005, 13,221 decisions were declared unsound. In 2010 , 35,563 decisions and in 2015, 17,581.

When I get the numbers for the intervening years it could be that there have been a quarter of a million wrong decisions by the Home Office in the last ten years!! A QUARTER OF A MILLION!! If these folk hadn’t gone to appeal they could have been wrongly deported!

Imagine trying to plan the next move. No helpful legal advice. Penniless. The heartache. And all because of a decision that was overturned on appeal. Something is seriously wrong.

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Why we need a vote on the deal – and include 16-year-olds

This is the speech Lord Robert’s gave in the Lords yesterday.

We need to confirm Brexit or otherwise, and we do that by voting. We voted in the referendum. People will say that we had one vote—that the people voted and made their voices heard—but it is unusual for people to rely on just one referendum.

In Wales, we had a referendum on Welsh devolution way back in 1979, when 20% of the people of Wales voted for devolution. Some years later, just over 50% voted for it, but people had changed substantially …

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Lloyd George becomes Prime Minister 6th December 1916

“There are certain indispensable qualities essential to the Chief Minister of the Crown in a great war. . . . Such a minister must have courage, composure, and judgment. All this Mr. Asquith possessed in a superlative degree. . . . But a war minister must also have vision, imagination and initiative—he must show untiring assiduity, must exercise constant oversight and supervision of every sphere of war activity, must possess driving force to energize this activity, must be in continuous consultation with experts, official and unofficial, as to the best means of utilising the resources of the country in conjunction with the Allies for the achievement of victory. If to this can be added a flair for conducting a great fight, then you have an ideal War Minister”.

These words of Lloyd George summarise the weaknesses of Asquith as a Prime Minister in times of War and the picture Lloyd George had of himself as the “ideal War Minister” .Already Minister of Munitions he was facing the massive challenge of ensuring that the British Army had the ammunition necessary to fight the Great War.

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Roger Roberts writes: we must do more for the Calais children

The crisis that we are faced with in the UK and Europe is only part of a worldwide migration crisis. We hear from the United Nations that there are 65 million displaced persons in the world, and we know that in Europe alone, as already mentioned, there are 88,000 unaccompanied children. In the years to come, our legacy will not be a good one for our children, because with global warming, economic disasters and conflict, the flow of refugees could well become a torrent. So we have to face years ahead when we will need to tackle problems such as …

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Lord Roger Roberts write…highlighting the plight of child refugees

The Refugee Crisis is especially severe when we look at the fate of those who are young and alone. The United Kingdom is pledged to accommodate those most in need. The Dubs amendment originally called for 3,000 to be allowed into the United Kingdom. This was defeated and I sat on the bench in the Lords as 200 Tories marched through the Not Content lobby. These fathers, mothers and grandparents were trampling on the hopes of thousands of “other” children. Eventually an amendment was approved obliging the government to accept an unspecified number of children. We are told that throughout Europe there are 88,000 unaccompanied asylum seekers.

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Roger Roberts on breaking bones

Last week Roger Roberts spoke in the Lords debate on the Universal Declaration on Human Rights: Article 18. This is his speech:

I remember that when I was a child, we used to say in school, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me”.

The truth of course is that names can hurt and can lead to abusive and destructive actions. We should take great care what we say in our speeches—not only the content but the tone of our voices. I suggest that even Home Secretaries, sometimes, could think about what they are saying and the effect it …

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Lord Roger Roberts writes… Liberal Democrats fight to make sure local government reflects will of people

This year we celebrate the Magna Carta and the struggle for rights and liberties. The democratic rights of the people – our enfranchisement from the Great Reform Act of 1834 to the struggles of today and our belief that the voice of every person in the United Kingdom if registered to vote can carry some influence. This includes all men and women without regard to wealth, status or property rights. All 18 and over are included. In Scotland 16 year olds were able to vote in the recent Referendum and now throughout the United Kingdom there is a campaign to …

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Lord Roger Roberts writes…A step towards abolishing the Azure Card

Azure cardLast November I wrote that we must abolish the Azure Card and secured a debate in the House of Lords to that effect.

For those who may be unaware, The Azure Card is a prepayment card provided destitute asylum seekers who require support because they are temporarily unable to leave the United Kingdom. It is a discriminatory and wholly inadequate system of support which the Red Cross – as well as many other refugee organisations have called to be abolished.

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Lord Roger Roberts writes… We must abolish the Azure card now

Azure_card_thumbRefused asylum seekers are being forced to endure destitution and humiliation at the hands of the Azure card. Together with the Red Cross, I am calling for the government to put an end to this cruel and unusual system.

On the 20th of November the House of Lords will debate the Azure card. I ask my colleagues and other noble members not to remain silent on this issue.

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Lord Roger Roberts writes: Peers must resolve crisis of democracy in Wales

This afternoon, with the full support of all the main parties in the Welsh Assembly, the House of Lords will debate cross-party amendments to the Wales Bill, designed to radically improve voter engagement in Wales. The UK Government will instruct Coalition Peers to vote against them. How can we arrive at such a situation?

There is a crisis of democracy in Wales which the UK Government and The Electoral Commission have stubbornly, and repeatedly, refused to acknowledge.

Despite the sterling efforts of some Electoral Registration Officers (EROs), only 51% of our youngest citizens are registered to vote. And, in 2011, only 35% of 18-24 year olds voted in Welsh Assembly elections. If this status quo persists much longer, than less than half of young people in Wales will have an opportunity to voice their opinions at the ballot box on 7 May 2015.

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Lord Roger Roberts writes: Join #TheAmendment campaign to make Welsh voter registration accessible & engaging

bite the ballotMuch of the current spotlight on Parliament is focussed on the Scottish devolution proposals, which were debated fiercely in the Commons yesterday. This has spearheaded a much needed public discussion about devolution and I welcome these new opportunities. However, as well as being an important issue for Scotland, these debates are equally vital for Wales.

Today’s second Committee Stage debate of the Wales Bill signifies an important step towards easier, engaging and more accessible voter registration in Wales. Today, the Lords will be debate amendments 19 and 20 that have the potential to spark youth engagement with politics in never seen before in Wales. Lord (Paul) Tyler will be I will speaking to these amendments, and Baroness (Jenny) Randerson will reply on behalf of HM Government.

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Lord Roger Roberts writes… Exit checks and the Eurotunnel: A logistical nightmare

EUROTUNNEL calaisThe Coalition Agreement included a commitment to reintroduce exit checks by the end of this Parliament.

But any means of noting or recording who enters and who leaves the UK was removed in 1998 by Labour, who considered the checks, ‘an inefficient use of resources … contributing little to the integrity of the immigration control’. Clearly, today’s debate on immigration has moved on considerably.

Since the early ‘Noughties’, successive attempts have been made to restore some form of border records, principally through the introduction of technology-based checks for anyone departing the UK as part of a new ‘e-Borders’ programme. It …

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Lord Roger Roberts writes…Voter Registration

bite the ballotLast week, I was encouraged to see more political parties coming around to the (long-held Liberal Democrat) view that we need to make voter registration easier, accessible and engaging, and allow young people to register from an early age. Only then can we seek to inspire future generations to take a stake in democracy and truly make ‘politics’ open to all citizens.

To this end, today is the formal first reading of my Voter Registration Bill in the House of Lords. I very much hope that Members from all parties (and none) welcome and support its aims.

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Lord Roger Roberts writes…We must unite against the scaremongering of the far right

Manhattan Central Park - Imagine MosaicThis week the BNP released its party political broadcast in the run-up to May’s local council and European elections. The BNP youth has also made its own poisonous contribution to the debate. The BNP have released a hurriedly edited version following complaints from the BBC that the broadcast did not meet its editorial guidelines, which state that such broadcasts have:

An obligation to observe the law (for example on libel, copyright and incitement to racial hatred and violence) and the BBC Editorial Guidelines on harm and

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Lord Roger Roberts writes …What UKIP peers had to say about the Immigration Bill

House of Lords chamberAmong Liberal Democrats at least, the House of Lords is viewed as an institution deeply in need of reform. That said, the potential of this house to monitor and moderate the work of the House of Commons was absolutely evident during the passage of the Immigration Bill, which is due for its Lords third reading on 6 May.

The Lords were responsible for moderating the Bill in several important ways, such as:

  1. exempting student accommodation from the proposed ‘landlord checks
  2. creating ‘guardians’ for potential victims of child trafficking, and crucially
  3. blocking the Government’s plans to grant the Home Secretary the power to strip a naturalised citizen of their citizenship even if that would leave them stateless.
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Lord Roger Roberts writes: The Immigration Bill – does it help or hinder?

Lords TwitterIt’s not too well known outside the House, but there are three UKIP-affiliated Peers sitting in the Lords. And interestingly, despite being members of a party that shouts the loudest about immigration, not one of them turned up to yesterday’s Immigration Bill second reading debate. Read into that what you will.

But what about the excellent speeches that Liberal Democrats Peers gave? You can read a summary of my speech below (finding the full version, here – and the Parliament TV link at 19:27, here). I also urge you to follow my colleagues’ activities on TheyWorkForYou, via our @LibDemLords account and through our Group’s blog.

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Lord Roger Roberts writes…Focussing attention on the humanitarian cost of the Syrian civil war

This afternoon, the House of Lords will discuss the tragedy of the humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Syria. Lord Roberts secured the debate, and here he sets out his views exclusively for LDV.

The crisis in Syria, which the UN has described as ‘the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of modern times’ is now reaching overwhelming levels. The total number of Syrian refugees is now estimated to be 2.3 million, of whom 0.5% – around 12,000 souls – are spread across the whole continent of Europe. Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest country, is bearing the brunt of this: an estimated 100 Syrians enter Bulgaria daily, many of them illegally. The country simply cannot cope.

The United Nations and its non-governmental organisation and local government partners in the region face many pressures. These organisations are fighting to ensure social stability. In Lebanon, in light of extraordinary population growth, essential resources, space, and labour are all causes of significant social tension. In East Lebanon, a makeshift refugee camp providing shelter for hundreds was burnt down last month, and the Lebanese town of Tripoli saw bloodshed mirroring the Syrian conflict in the latter months of 2013. Alarmingly, car bombs in Beirut are once again headline news. The spread of violence will continue, threatening to destabilise the whole region, unless practical and immediate measures are taken to relieve the pressure on Syria’s generous but inundated neighbours.

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Lord Roberts writes: It is time to open our doors to some of the most vulnerable people in the world

ld4sos-bannerAs 2013 drew to a close, politicians from across the political spectrum came to the same conclusion: that the UK should offer shelter to (at least) a small number of the two million refugees who have fled the war in Syria. Even scaremongerer-in-chief, Nigel Farage MEP, called upon the UK to honour its obligations under international law. Mark Pritchard, Conservative MP, told BBC Radio 4’s The World this Weekend that ‘clearly we can’t take all the refugees, but we should play our part as an open-hearted, compassionate country’. The Labour Party …

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Lord Roger Roberts writes…Liberal Democrats in Government must fix failing asylum system

Yesterday was International Migrants Day. Sadly, celebrations for many were rather subdued.  morning marked the end of a long, hard and emotionally-charged  battle. Isa Muazu, a 45 year old asylum seeker from northern Nigeria, who had been on hunger strike for nearly 90 days, landed in Lagos, Nigeria.

Lawyers and campaigners fighting his cause ran out of avenues through which they could challenge the removal decision in the limited time-frame given. The case has been enormously distressing for many of those who have chosen to engage with it, but it has also raised the profile of many long-standing concerns surrounding immigration detention in …

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Lord Roger Roberts writes…Please try to prevent the imminent death of a seeker of sanctuary

Yesterday I met Mr Isa Muaza who, until last night, was due to be forced on to a plane to Nigeria this evening. Though his removal directions have been moved – and set – for 29 November he remains at death’s door.

Isa is a failed asylum seeker who has been held in detention at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre. The case is one of enforced removal, although very little real force will be necessary in his case. He has been on hunger strike and has lost 40% of his body mass. He is close to death.

Isa was not well when …

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Lord Roger Roberts writes…Our asylum system is crying out for reform

A few months ago I met Stephen, who had just been granted refugee status having waited five years for a decision on his case.

He fled persecution in Uganda for being gay, and since his arrival in the UK, he had not been able to seek work despite holding a master’s degree in psychology.  For five years, he was  dependent on a meagre handout (which is currently £36.62 a week). His distress and frustration were palpable; but sadly, he is but one of many.

Stephen’s case exemplifies the nonsensical nature of Government policy on asylum seekers. At present, taxpayers’ money …

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Lord Roger Roberts writes: Don’t try to win votes by coming down hard on migrants

This year is very special: it is the 20th anniversary of the Maastricht treaty. We have, since 1993, been European citizens, each of us endowed with the rights of free movement, settlement and employment across the Union. Of course, we are anxious about the lifting of barriers for some European Union workers at the beginning of next year. I suggest that we remove all hostility and suspicion and treat them as they are: fellow citizens of the Union. If we treat them otherwise, we are asking for trouble. Facts must take prominence; scaremongering must be stamped out.

But of course we …

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Lord Roger Roberts writes…Don’t cut funding for charities which help homeless migrants

Homelessness among Central and Eastern European migrants in London is a notoriously difficult issue to tackle. Success stories are few and far between. For this reason, I was extremely concerned to learn that two London councils are cutting their funding to one of the most effective charities that deals with this issue. The charity is Barka UK.

I am President of Friends of Barka UK. Today in the Lords I will question the Government about their plans to continue funding reconnection programmes, such as those offered by Barka UK. I have recently founded the ‘Setting the Record Straight’ campaign …

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Lord Roberts writes … Our Electoral System – not fit for purpose

The need to reform the Electoral System was underlined by a number of us on the Liberal Democrat benches in the House of Lords.The possibility of it being included in the Queen’s Speech was always minimal but we dared to hope..

We are still living in an age with a system that goes back 200 years. We are trying to run a modern democracy on a dinosaur of a system. In 1832, the Great Reform Act just doubled the electorate from half a million to 1 million. In 1867, the electorate was increased to 2.5 million. In 1884, agricultural workers were added and the electoral total went up to 5 million.

In 1918, the great leap forward came when women aged over 30 were given the vote and the total electorate became 21 million. This was further increased to 28 million in 1928 when women and men aged 21 and over could vote. In 1960, 18 year-olds were added and today the total electorate is in the region of 45 million.

We are using a system devised for half a million people for an electorate that is now 45 million. The system goes back to the time when there were only two parties, Whigs and Tories, later Liberals and Conservatives. There were straight fights in every constituency apart from those with unopposed returns.

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