Jim Wallace: Statement on refugees falls short of a moral response

Here is Jim Wallace’s response to the Government’s statement in the House of Lords on the drone strikes and the refugee crisis. Here it is in full:

My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Prime Minister’s Statement on these very profound and serious issues. I also endorse what the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition said—we appreciate the fact that there will be an extended period for Back-Bench questions.

Probably nothing is more important than the Government’s primary responsibility of security of the realm and its citizens. The Prime Minister acknowledges that in his Statement. Clearly, we do not have the evidence, nor would it be appropriate to share that evidence publicly, and therefore we must accept the judgment of the Prime Minster in responding to perhaps one of the most serious calls that has been made on him. However, it would be interesting to know whether this is a matter that the Intelligence and Security Committee will be able to look at.

There is also reference in the Statement to the legal basis. Having worked closely as a law officer with the present Attorney-General, I know that his judgment would be made with considerable rigorous legal diligence and bringing to bear his considerable personal and professional integrity. I do not call for the publication of law officers’ advice; that is not something that, as a former officer, I would readily do. However, the noble Baroness will remember that before the House debated chemical weapon use by the Syrian regime and a possible UK government response, and before we debated last year the position on military action in Iraq against ISIL, the Government published on each occasion a statement setting out the Government’s legal position. If it is felt possible to elaborate on what was said in the Statement by a similar note, I think that we would find that very helpful.

The images of migration that we have seen on our screens and in our newspapers over recent days have certainly touched our common humanity. There has been an outpouring of the view that we must welcome refugees, and that is one that we certainly endorse. The Statement says that,

“the whole country has been deeply moved by the heart-breaking images we have seen over the past few days”.

However, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House tell us whether any of those travelling across Europe at the moment will be accommodated in any way by what was set out in the Statement? We have heard of 20,000 refugees—said very loudly; “over five years” is probably said more sotto voce—but these are people in camps in countries bordering Syria. That is not to dismiss what is being done in that regard, and it is welcome in as far as it goes. However, what the people in this country have been crying out about are the scenes on our television screens of people walking across Europe, fleeing terror and destitution. Yet can the Minister point to one sentence in this Statement that indicates that for those people there is some glimmer of hope that the United Kingdom will be a welcome haven?

We have a common problem and it requires a common response. There are problems in the Mediterranean, on Europe’s borders and in coming across Europe and we should be promoting a common European response. The European Union system has its failings. The Dublin system is not by any stretch of the imagination perfect, but by our stand-offish stance we seem to have forfeited any real or moral authority in being able to give the lead in trying to improve or work out a more coherent European approach to this. Will the Government commit themselves to taking a more active role in co-operating with our European partners, as well as in participating in European Union efforts on relocation?

With regard to those who are coming, we welcome the steps have been taken. Many local authorities have indicated a willingness to take refugees. The Leader of the Opposition asked what would be done to bring these local authorities together, and it would be useful to know what consultations had already taken place. What consideration has been given as to whether there should be a dispersal programme or whether it is better to keep communities together for mutual support? I do not pretend that I have the answer to that, but real issues are involved. What has been done to ensure that there are interpretation services, counselling and support services for English as a second language?

We have heard about the international aid budget being used for the first year to support local authorities, but surely in a situation such as this there is something in reserve that we could use. The Statement itself refers to holding “larger sums in reserve”. Has this been taken from the overseas aid budget for future years or has a separate reserve been taken up?

The Statement says that,

“we will ensure that vulnerable children, including orphans, will be a priority”.

Just before we went into recess, there was a report about 600 young Afghans who had arrived in the United Kingdom as unaccompanied children who were deported after their 18th birthdays because their temporary leave to remain had expired. Many had already established strong roots in the communities where they were living. When we hear about the fact that we will give priority to vulnerable children including orphans, can we have some reassurance from the Government that they will not be summarily sent back after their 18th birthdays?

We will not resolve the Syrian refugee crisis unless there is a wider resolution to the Syrian problem. What steps have the Government taken to try to promote broader engagement with countries that might not at first instance appear likely to help, such as Russia and Iran, whose engagement will be necessary if we are to get a long-term lasting diplomatic settlement and tackle some of the root causes?

There is an immediate crisis on our doorstep. There are 2 million refugees in Turkey, 1.4 million in Jordan, and over 1 million in Lebanon. According to the UNHCR, there are 60 million displaced people worldwide, 46 million of whom are assisted and protected by the UNHCR. Developing countries host 86% of the world’s refugees. While we have an immediate problem, there is a much wider global problem. We have to play our part in the funding that we have given to the UNHCR but we should be trying our best to engage more
countries, such as the Gulf states and the United States of America. Are we in a position to give some leadership to look to the future and tackle the global problems that will exist? We will return time and again to this issue, I suspect, because of its global nature.

The Prime Minister said earlier this week that Britain is a moral country. I believe that. I believe from what we have seen from communities and people across the country that we are a moral country, but I rather fear that this Statement falls short of a moral response.

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8 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 9th Sep '15 - 2:05pm

    Jim Wallace: Statement on refugees falls short of a moral response: ” it would be interesting to know whether this is a matter that the Intelligence and Security Committee will be able to look at”.
    DC replied at PMQ on 9/9/2015 that the answer is yes, once the committee has met and elected its chairman, but operational responsibility remains with the PM. This clearly means that DC will not consult the committee in advance, but they can review what happened in arrears. The BBC’s new political editor appears to have a different view of what this means and has a hard act to follow.

    The removal of foreign nationals at age 18+ is a policy which has not changed, but DC was inconsistent on that at PMQ on 9/9/2015. Such acts relating to people who have not yet arrived are, of course, in the future, but also in the future is the review by this government of the Human Rights Acts Act, so maybe DC is uncertain for a reason. We should defend the HRA and seek to enhance it.
    No LIberal Democrat MP was called at PMQ today, but was it because of numbers? The situation in Northern Ireland is, of course, important. Are they offereing to resettle refugees, vulnerable people and orhans? Do they have any housing stock available? Waht are the opinions of the ordinary folk there?

  • Richard Underhill 9th Sep '15 - 6:18pm

    A thread on Northern Ireland would be helpful.

  • To solve the refugees crisis we must stop going to war over oil and gas, our governments at least from 1997 have followed the USA in trying to control the flow of energy through the middle east. Syria is no different the west and some middle east countries have acted together in causing the chaos, The Lib Dem leadership will have known this information and they were also willing to go to bomb Syria. The link below is a good news article on the current situation, and how our MP’s have blood on hands of the little boy who died because of our foreign & energy polices.

    http://www.mintpressnews.com/migrant-crisis-fueled-by-gas-pipelines/209294/

  • The Truth
    Whose blood? The UN resolution 1973 was passed with the aim of protecting anti-government protesters from certain slaughter.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Sep '15 - 2:06am

    A fair response, but I would have been more supportive of the drone strikes. Anyway, this plan for a Syria free of ISIS and Assad is very good and I think LD’s should probably vote in favour of it.

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/sep/09/no-10-plans-limited-syria-strikes-isis-transition-assad

    I am only really worth one vote, but the drone strikes had 66-11% support. I’ve never seen regular folk so happy with the government as I have over the drone strikes.

    Most of all, this means an awful lot to the people living in Iraq and Syria.

  • I remember on a visit to Laos seeing the bomb craters which date from the Vietnam War era when the Americans heavily bombed the place. The people there don’t say what great people the Yanks are.
    In the Middle East where I have lived and worked if one Arab told me all English people are liars then a hundred did.

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