HC Deb 17 February 1926 vol 191 cc2031-4

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926, for the Expenses connected with Oversea Settlement, including certain Grants in Aid, and Expenses arising out of the Empire Settlement Act, 1922, and the Free Passage Scheme for Ex-Service Men and Women.


I wanted to ask just one question from the Minister in charge, but he is not here. I thought the Colonial Secretary would be in charge. I should have thought that as the Whips are keenly anxious to get work done that the Minister would be present. The point I wished to ask was in connection with these voluntary societies who are going to take part in this work of emigrating men abroad, and I should have thought that the Minister in charge would have been present, but it is obviously no use for me to put the question in his absence. Would I be in order in asking the Financial Secretary to withdraw this Supplementary Estimate? I will move to report Progress and ask leave to sit again, on the ground that the Minister is absent.


I hope that the hon. Member will not press this. I was going to ask him to give a moment's indulgence to my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary who is, however, now here.


I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman and congratulate him even on his somewhat late appearance. As regards the voluntary societies, I should like some information as to the character and composition of these societies which are administering these grants which we are being asked to pass. I think it is important, and on this subject may I ask a question? I do not know whether it will be quite in order, but I do hope the right hon. Gentleman can give me some information. I am having a fair number of constituents of mine who are out of work and anxious, as everybody is, to get something in view in order to get things going, and some of them have a chance of going to Australia, but they cannot go because you are now insisting on them taking their families, or, in the event of their not taking their families, that you should have a guarantee that the families will be kept while they are settling down and earning a living until they begin to send money back. The difficulty is that in some cases people who emigrate are not anxious to take the whole family, because there might be boys mentally deficient or the wife might have some deficiency which debars her from going abroad.

The consequence is that the man himself has no method of guaranteeing to keep his wife and family. Although parish councils could do it, in Scotland it is illegal for parish councils to guarantee to keep a man's wife for any time, and the consequence is we have men who are very willing and anxious to go abroad but the Department at tint present time is not keen—I do not say they are debarred altogether—on allowing men to go abroad under such circumstances. I am not at all keen myself in seeing the separation of wife and husband, but I would like to ask the Colonial Secretary if in this country a broader policy and one that is more tolerant to people in circumstances like that cannot be adopted. If he can satisfy himself as to the character and behavious of the man in the past and can get satisfactory assurances on this point, then he might try and extend his clemency in exceptional cases and allow the man to go. The last point I want to put is with regard to the voluntary societies. I have had one or two inquiries in connection with difficulties which have arisen, and I would like the Colonial Secretary to give us an account or rough outline of the voluntary societies and the character of their work.


I should imagine that the right hon. Gentleman will not expect to get this Vote to-day. I certainly assume from the fact of his absence at the time when the Estimate came on that he did not expect to get it to-day, and he is probably not primed with information on this matter in the way we usually have been accustomed to have it from him. I do not think the Prime Minister expected to get this particular Vote to-day, certainly not before 8.15. During the right hon. Gentleman's absence from the Committee there has been considerable progress made with these Estimates, and I think he will readily agree that if there were only some eight or nine of the most efficient Members left in the House we would always get on much more speedily.

This question of oversew settlement and this particular Vote, raising, as it does, the very vexed question of spending public money through the agency of voluntary organisations mainly of a religious nature, is one which some of us here do not think ought to be allowed to go through without very adequate and very full explanations from the Minister who is responsible, and particularly we want to have some information of the meaning of the footnote on page 35 of the Estimates. It seems to be a most unusual procedure in connection with puhlie funds. The footnote says: The expenditure out of these Grants in Aid will not be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and the unexpended balances, if any, of the issues made out of the Grants will not be liable to surrender by the payees at the close of the financial year. That indicates that this Vote is on a very different basis from practically all other Government expenditure. There is no footnote here that explains fay who three voluntary societies are, or whether those societies mentioned here, namely, the Salvation Army, the Church of England Council of Overseas Settlement, and the Empire Community Settlement Committee, are the only voluntary organisations which are receiving money, or whether there are others, which I certainly have come across, such as the Rorran Catholic voluntary organisation, which, I gather, is very active and efficient, particularly with reference to the emigration of people to Canada. I would also like to know if there is any voluntary society that takes care of those individuals who are either not associated with any particular religious sect or have objection to being taken out to a colony under the auspices of a particular religious organisation.

Then there is a further point to which I would like the Colonial Secretary to give his attention, namely, whether he has made any comparison as to the efficiency and the popularity of the work when it is done by these voluntary agencies as compared with the same kind of work done directly under State, auspices. I gather that in Australian emigration a very large proportion of the work which is done in other cases of emigration by voluntary organisations, is done by actual Government agencies both on this side and on the arrival of the emigrants at the destination. There are British Government agencies on this side and on the other side Australian Government agencies doing the same class of work that is done in the case of Canadian emigration by societies like the Salvation Army, the Church of England Council and the Empire Community Settlement Committee. It seems to me that with the various powers that the Governments have at their disposal, the work could be done much more efficiently, much more economically, and in a way that would be much more pleasing to the individual emigrants by definite and direct Government agencies acting through men specially appointed for the work rather than through voluntary organisations which must, one or another, be offensive to different sections of the community. I would also like very much to have from the Colonial Secretary some idea as to where the anticipated savings come from on the main Estimate. There is here an item of anticipated savings on other sub-heads of £3,490, leaving the total Vote that he is asking for at the present time—


Would the hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene one moment. I have no intention of taking this Vote, of course, beyond what the Prime Minister said this afternoon. It will not be taken any further to-night, but on a subsequent occasion. I quite realise the importance of the point brought forward, and it would be impossible for me—


I think in the circumstances it would be more convenient that the right hon. Gentleman did move to report Progress.


I beg to move "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.

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