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New Tory peer Lord Popat uses his maiden speech to thank Britain for giving him refuge from Idi Amin's Uganda in the 1970s

By Jonathan Isaby

There has recently been an influx of new Conservative peers into the House of Lords, and yesterday Baroness Stowell wrote here about her initial experiences on the red benches.

It has been remiss of me not to note their maiden speeches as they have delivered them, but my attention has been drawn to one especially heartfelt maiden, delivered by the newly ennobled Lord Popat at the end of last month in the wake of the Budget:

Picture 2 "I was born in Uganda and came here at the age of 17 under very difficult circumstances. In January 1971, I accompanied my father to drop my sister at Entebbe Airport, from where she was flying to study in the UK. At the stroke of midnight, the army of Idi Amin, the then dictator of Uganda, took control of the airport and ordered all flights to be cancelled.

"Our family knew that our time in Uganda was limited, and in May of that year I moved to Britain, working in a Wimpy bar. The following year, Idi Amin expelled 30,000 Ugandan Asians, ordering them to leave within 90 days. They left behind a prosperous past and walked towards an uncertain future. I would like to thank the Conservative Government then led by the late Sir Edward Heath, who, along with a number of voluntary organisations, helped my fellow Ugandan Asians in our hour of need. We have never forgotten this lifeline that we were given, and I am proud to say today, 39 years on, these very same people are some of the most hard-working and patriotic in the country.

"The powerful emotions that I feel today are simply explained. This country can boast that here, in Britain, people in genuine need of refuge can find a safe home, live in peace and rebuild their lives. If that was not enough, we were given the same rights as those who were born here, including the right to vote, which is a gift that we particularly cherish, yet that right is superseded by the privilege of joining your Lordships' House. From what I have witnessed in your Lordships' House, and what I have learnt during the last 40 years, Britain's tolerance, decency, fairness and justice are its finest qualities. It is testimony to the tolerance and generosity of this country that the Hindu community is explicit in being proud to be British and proud to be Hindu, seeing no contradiction between the two. On the contrary, it is a mutual reinforcement

"I decided to take the title of Lord Popat, of Harrow, because for 30 years I have been a member and am now president of Harrow East Conservative Association. My parents lived in Harrow and I see this as a tribute to them, to whom I owe everything. My only regret is that they are no longer here to share this with me.

"Over the past 40 years, the Ugandan Asians who came here as refugees have played a very successful role in Britain's economy and are now a central part of Britain's economic fabric. After training as an accountant, I myself have run my own business-and this brings me to the topic of today's debate. The past decade of government reminds me of President Reagan's pointed insight into the Government's view of the economy:

'If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidise it'.

"It is about time we broke this cycle. Our difficulties are bank borrowing, a complicated tax system, endless employments regulations and a planning system recently described by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, as glacial. Small businesses are responsible for six out of 10 jobs in the UK. They are the engines of economic growth, and last week's Budget saw a series of welcome announcements, including the commitment of no new regulations on firms with fewer than 10 staff for three years, and the simplifications of the tax code. This will help to create new jobs, growth and prosperity, and I look forward to doing all I can to assist the Government in furthering this agenda."


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