Sometimes our parliamentarians muster an unusual degree of levity when discussing serious issues.
Take a debate in the House of Lords this week. During a discussion on the return of refused asylum seekers to countries like Sudan, Iraq and Zimbabwe, the Security Minister, Admiral Lord West said, almost inexplicably:
“I am in a particularly good mood, because 203 years ago today, at this time, sadly, Lord Nelson was mortally wounded, but we were about to win a great victory. It is a marvellous day for me in that sense, as well.”
The sharp-witted Baroness Williams, a long-time campaigner for the rights of refugees, leapt in:
“My Lords, will the noble Lord West rise to the boldness of his great predecessor, Lord Nelson—to whom he has rightly paid tribute—and suggest that the Government take a bold step: namely, to permit Zimbabwean refugees in this country to work until they return, not least because, in doing so, they will gain some of the professional experience and knowledge that a newly democratic Zimbabwe will desperately need, and to which the United Kingdom Government could contribute in the way that his predecessor contributed to the great battle at Trafalgar?”
Sadly, Lord West was having none of it:
“My Lords, I would not for a moment dream of stepping into those shoes. I have found that whenever I do anything bold, I get rather a slapping, so I have to be a little careful about being overbold.
As the noble Baroness well knows, it is not generally our policy to let people work because it gets people linked and looped into the country and we have to have a proper policy of returning people. That policy really has worked. We have fewer people applying, we have been successful in getting people back, and there are benefits from that.”
There was a further reference to the promise that Gordon Brown made before the summer to look at the situation of Zimbabwean refused asylum seekers:
“As for Zimbabweans, people who have done 12 months where it is not their responsibility are allowed to work. We are looking to see whether there is anything else that we can do for them but, generally, we should not let people work because the aim must be that, if they are not here properly, they should go back to their country of origin.”
We await to see what comes of their “looking to see” what can be done for Zimbabweans, but debates like this keep the pressure on the Government, and make sure that the promise cannot be forgotten.