Roger Roberts: Don’t build walls, build bridges

While all the drama was happening in the Commons yesterday, the Lords was debating the Queen’s Speech.

One of the measures in that is an immigration bill that makes any liberal reach for a sick bag. Roger Roberts very eloquently described why freedom of movement is a good thing – what would Londoners have done for their tea without the Welsh farmers who moved their to set up dairies?

My Lords, listening to the Queen’s Speech, what drew my attention was the reform of the immigration regulations and that these would include restriction of freedom of movement. I agree that we need reform of the Home Office Immigration Rules, because they are totally unfit for purpose. For instance, this year we saw Windrush remembered, and only last week heard that a lass born in Glasgow 30 years ago now faces deportation. The whole thing is agony for so many people. They are here and yet the Home Office seems to treat them very unjustly. I therefore suggest that we make a fair adjustment of the regulations so that nobody will feel that they are being used in an unfair way.

We face immigration problems that will increase as the years progress. We see that climate change in Africa could well turn many people from their homeland to look for somewhere else to survive. Warfare in places such as Syria and Afghanistan will also lead many people to leave their homeland to look for somewhere they can have a fair and peaceful existence. We, as the United Kingdom, could be the leaders in this reform of immigration thinking. So often we are the people who react, not the people who lead. We could be the people who lead on these immigration transformations. That means we would need to take the initiative; we would have to forget building walls and start building bridges. That is the only way we can become a whole human family.

I sometimes wonder how we disregard all the benefits of freedom of movement. People came here from other parts of the world, bringing new medication, new engineering and new academia. So many new things came from places other than the United Kingdom. Now we are thinking of restricting that. It will make us a country that does not meet its obligations, denies people their rights and denies itself the benefits of immigration—the benefits of new people coming here.

Last Sunday morning, I was in London—we had a special sitting on Saturday that had kept a Welshman here. On the Sunday morning, I went to the Castle Street Welsh Baptist Chapel. It was one of many Welsh churches built here over the past century as people came from Wales and worked in the shops, as schoolteachers and as dairy people.

I am told that there were 3,000 Welsh dairies in London in the 1920s and 1930s. What would have happened if the farmers and milkmen of Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshir and the Conwy Valley had decided to stay at home? I hate to think what people in London would have done for their cup of tea. We came: we brought ourselves and our abilities here to London. Imagine if the vineyard owners of France had been denied the right to come to the UK. I am a teetotaller, but I am sure others would have felt the strain of that situation.

We can lead, but we must do that in a fair way. Schoolteachers who came to London—Miss Jones, Miss Roberts, Miss Edwards and Miss Hughes—were great teachers, but if they had stayed in Wales, what would have happened to education in England? I am told that in some places, half the teachers came from Wales. We were glad you had us, but we must keep encouraging freedom of movement, not denying the future or what we have inherited from the past.

We can do it. Where there is no vision, the people perish. We must have the vision to keep freedom of movement so that the benefits of other places can be ours and our contribution, such as the parliamentary system, can be theirs. Canada had a general election yesterday. I like the result—not everybody will, but I do. It is the same format as ours. One thing they beat us on is that they have desks to bang in the chamber of their Parliament. We exported that, we exchange ideas, we are people who are free to move—and that is a benefit to us all.

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