Roger Roberts: Could we not be the nation that leads morally in this ruptured world

Yesterday, Roger Roberts was one of many Liberal Democrat peers to take part in the Queen’s Speech debate. He’s sent us his speech on the treatment of refugees, an issue very close to his heart:

 In the wide-ranging speeches, we had one great disappointment, and I am sure the Minister involved will know exactly what I am referring to; there has been no commitment at all to receiving the 20,000 Syrian refugees as promised by David Cameron. It is not there in the Queen’s Speech. Nor is there a commitment to increase the number of unaccompanied child refugees. When you think that in Europe there are still about 88,000 of these children by themselves, we have met no commitment whatever in the Speech that we are discussing this afternoon. It has been a great disappointment in that direction.

We are probably going to get another immigration Bill; we get one every Session. I am not sure what we are going to do in a two-year Session: will we get two or just one and a half? We are going to get new legislation, and every time we do it makes it more difficult for those who are vulnerable and those who wish to escape from total austerity to come here. We can promote many amendments when that new Bill comes. We can ask why asylum seekers are still refused permission to work for the first 12 months of their time in the United Kingdom. Is there any reason whatever? I cannot see any. Why, also, do we have legislation that permits 18 year-olds to be deported? Those who are deported are largely those who have had no access to legal advice. The Government could, quite easily I think, make a commitment that everyone who approaches 18 years of age shall at least have the benefit of top-rate legal advice.

There is one other thing I would like to see in the new immigration Bill. Do you know how much people get every week when they are applying? It is £36.95, and this has not increased at all in the past five or six years. Anything that we can do to uprate that to the present cost of living would be very welcome.

I have come across a poem by Warsan Shire of Somalia that describes the circumstances, and I shall quote part of it:

“You have to understand/that no one puts their children in a boat/unless the water is safer than the land

No one burns their palms/under trains/beneath carriages

No one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck/feeding on newspaper/unless the miles travelled meant something more than journey.

No one crawls under fences.

No one wants to be beaten/pitied

No one chooses refugee camps/or strip searches where your/body is left aching/or prison/because prison is safer/than a city of fire … ”.

The accusation is that they have:

“messed up their country and now they want to mess ours up”.

I could go on but I had better not. In the United Kingdom, there are many victims of the harshest circumstances.

We in the House of Lords can lead the way in defining the character of the United Kingdom. Is it be one of which we are proud, that we are delighted to be part of, or do we have to say, “This is not in my name”? Years ago, I dreamed of a country that could be a model of moral leadership, and so on, in the world. I thought of India when Mahatma Ghandi was there. I thought of the victims of the Holocaust, who had been through so much trauma themselves that they could surely lead, but that was not so. Now, who do we choose? Which is that nation? Now we are four nations: Wales—let us put Wales first—England, Scotland and Ireland. Could we not be the nation that leads morally in this ruptured world? I am proud to be a Welshman—your Lordships might have gathered that over the years—and I want my kids and grandchildren to have even more reason to be proud than I do.

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11 Comments

  • Cadwch ati Roger. Cadwch ati.

  • “Could we not be the nation that leads morally in this ruptured world”
    No we couldn’t for a number of reasons:
    1) Our history as a conquering colonial power
    2) The post war Foreign Policy of the UK, which has been to slavishly follow the Americans
    3) The half hearted way we joined the EU, and thenm voted to leave
    4) The UK’s continuing and persistent tolerating of tax havens in its Overseas Territories (HALF the tax havens in the world are British)
    5) Our long term history of being hostile to new immigrants
    ….probably a lot more besides. I’m sorry but Britain is in no position to mount a lofty moral perch!

  • Ah yes the Chagos legal battle. Another fine example of Saint Tony of Blair’s centrism, engagement with world politics and the nastiness of Crobynism!

  • David Pocock 29th Jun '17 - 9:56am

    Steve Comer – When summing up Britain on the good guy league I don’t see how colonial history can have any impact. If you wish for 21st century Britain to be guilty of crimes 300 years ago I would like to know the logic. Can I then hold Scandinavians as guilty of crimes committed by Vikings for example. I guess I am doubtful about these Arguments too as they have a very revisionist view of history.

    That said I do not think we are a paragon state really and would agree the rest is reasonable criticism. I would say however if not Britain, where in the world is better?

  • Nonconformistradical 29th Jun '17 - 11:09am

    @David Pocock
    “When summing up Britain on the good guy league I don’t see how colonial history can have any impact. If you wish for 21st century Britain to be guilty of crimes 300 years ago I would like to know the logic.”

    Come on – a lot of Britain’s colonial history is much more recent than 300 years ago. British men fought in the Boer War at the end of the 19th-beginning of the 20th century – when the British were busy running concentration camps there.

    The Chagos Islanders were expelled around late 1960s-early 1970s.

    I do sometimes wonder if the problem some British people seem to have over Europe is that Britain hasn’t been able to walk all over Europe for many centuries.

  • Noncomformistliberal.
    I don think Britain’s problem with Europe boils down to empire. I just think we’re an Island that broke away from European centralised power centuries ago so we don’t really have a shared history. Also. a lot of mainland Europe was ruled by dictatorships or various military groups within living memory. Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, most of eastern Europe and even to an extent France. Obviously, Britain has it’s own historical issues, but they are not the same ones. In truth it’s just a bit of a bad fit.

  • David Pocock 29th Jun '17 - 11:52am

    Boer war was over 100 years ago and I do not think any of the people responsible for it are alive. They would be the ones guilty of any crimes done there not 21st century people. Becides I am as responsible for it as I am for iraq. This collective punishment idea is just so illiberal really and does not hold up to scrutiny. I have a Dutch friend who is half German. One half of his German side were resistance fighters, how responsible is he for the third Reich.

    As for Europe I fear I must disagree with you on a historical point, we did walk over Europe for the better part of a thousand years. We were arch enemies of France for a good 600 years on and off. 40 years war, Spanish succession, Austrian succession, Napoleonic wars etc ect. Just because we were not interested in conquest of Europe does not mean we were isolationists. We had a policy of balance of power and would happily spill blood to preserve that power.

  • Anne Williams 29th Jun '17 - 1:27pm

    I would just like to thank Roger for his compassionate plea for refugees. Not many politicians would bother. Diolch o galon

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