HC Deb 17 February 1927 vol 202 cc1205-20

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £142,000, 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, 1927, 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.


This Supplementary Estimate is complementary and is only under one heading of expediture under the Empire Settlement Act. The whole of this money relates to passages. There is no money in this Supplementary Estimate for any land settlement scheme or anything of that kind. The reason for the Supplementary Estimate is that the numbers applying for assisted passages during the current financial year has been steadily rising. It is a remarkable fact that the figures for assisted migration in 1925 were 39,000, and that they rose in 1926 to 66,000. The allocation between the three Dominions concerned with this particular Vote, namely, Australia, New Zealand and Canada of migrants received in 1926 —that is, up to the 31st December last—was, Australia 32,700 against 22,000 the year before, Canada, 21,000 as against 8,700, and New Zealand 11,700 as against 8,100. The whole of this money is being asked for to pay our share of the contributions for the assisted passages scheme. We used always to pay 50 per cent., that is to say, one-half of these schemes in the case of Australia and Canada, but until recently we have paid less than 50 per cent. in the case of New Zealand, Some small amount of this £142,000 is required in order that we can pay the full 50 per cent. to New Zealand that we paid in the case of the other two Dominions. This is now operating and allowed under the Act.

The average third-class fares for the ordinary passenger are £37 to Australia, £18 15s. to Canada, and New Zealand, £37 3s. 4d. That is the ordinary normal average third-class fare, but in the case of these assisted migrants, the shipping companies give a rebate of £4 per head irrespective of the Dominion. Therefore, in the case of migrants to Australia, New Zealand and Canada, the shipping companies allow £4 per head off the, charges which they make for the passages. Then, the British Government and the respective Dominion Governments pay on the fifty-fifty basis, that is, half, of the assisted passages according to the various categories agreed upon with the Dominions. That has been running for some time. Whereas formerly most of these passage moneys were loaned to the settler or migrant, and were repaid, nowadays one of the principal ways in which we are assisting migrants, quite apart from the family scheme and the settlement scheme, which are outside this Vote, is by giving them so much of the, cost as a free grant on the passage to the particular Dominion. It will be seen from the Appropriation-in-Aid that we are receiving money back from the early days, when most of the passage money was advanced by way of loan. In every case, the Dominion Governments collect the amounts due on the loan—we do not do that—roughly according to the passages paid. The fact that the Appropriation-in-Aid has already exceeded the expectation of the Oversea Settlement Depart ment, when they budgeted as to how much of the money advanced away back to 1921, would be repaid, and is expected at the end of the year to be exceeded by £8,000, is a very good sign that the vast bulk of those people who have gone out under the assisted passage schemes, at any rate, are doing well and are able to repay the advances made on account of their passages.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say how much is outstanding under the head of "Payment of Assisted Passages"?


I am afraid I cannot, offhand. It would mean a good deal of research. If the hon. Gentleman will put down a question I will have the figures compiled. They go back to the beginning of the Empire Settlement Act, in 1922, and would have to be computed each year and set against what we have already received. But the amount is coming in now, and this is the first year when an appreciably large sum —as is here set out—has been received. I do not think there is anything I need add on the particulars. As I say, the bulk of the assisted passages is now being made by way of free grants. The experience of the Oversea Settlement Department—my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. Lunn), who knows a great deal more about it than I do, since the division of the Colonial and Dominions Offices, will bear me out when I say—is that it is more satisfactory on the whole that those assisted passages should, in the main, be by way of grant rather than of advances. It is a different matter when you come to land settlement schemes with a large grant-in-aid. But these small sums certainly make the whole difference to those who are anxious to settle in the Dominions. This is one of those useful ways in which assistance can be given under the Act. I think I have given all the explanations I can think of; I have given the figures for the increased rate of migration, which is the sole reason for the Supplementary Estimate.


Will the right hon. Gen tleman say whether, when these migrants whom you assist to go to the Dominions arrive there, situations are found for them?


As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are a whole host of schemes. Some of them are under what is called the nomination system; that is to say, an individual in Australia nominates somebody in this country to go out and undertakes that the man shall not be unemployed. The nominator gives an undertaking, or else the Australian Government will not allow the migrant out. In Canada there are various definite schemes; they say, "We want so many men for a particular work," and state the scheme for which they want them. There is a whole series of dovetailed schemes, dovetailed between the Dominion Governments and the British Government, which are shared in, 50–50 per cent. I should not be in order in going into any one of those schemes to-night, because there is no money here for them. This is merely passage money for the cost of transferring migrants in the ships from this country to the Dominions overseas.


Most of the Supplementary Estimates which we have considered up to now Lave been blamed on the coal lock-out, but I do not think that that lock-out enters so much into this one. This is doe to a new and, I hope, a better understanding between this country and the Dominions, and to the fact that the Imperial Conference has taken place, which has perhaps changed our ideas as to how we can assist the people who wish to go to various Dominions to take advantage of the Empire Settlement Act. This Supplementary Estimate, as the right hon. Gentleman stated, only relates to new passage arrangements. The numbers have gone up considerably and the facilities have also been considerably improved. The face that the assistance is now given as a grant and not as a loan, which means considerably more money to the taxpayer here and in the Dominions, is, I think, the reason largely for this increased Supplementary Estimate. This is more or less of an experiment. The question put by the hon. Member for South Poplar (Mr. March) is an important one, and deals with a matter whit+ may arise in serious form in the future in regard to unemployment. We are, by this Vote, approving of cheap or free passages for people from this country who desire to go to the Dominions. It may be argued that that is not the best way and that we are in a measure shovelling our people away. I have heard that argument raised, but I do not think that is the idea. Many thousands of people want to go out, and it is necessary to find the best means of assisting them and of settling them overseas.

When we are considering a Vote like this, however, which deals with cheap or free passages, we ought to have regard to what is to be the reception, the welfare and the well-being of those who land overseas. I am very much interested in the schemes which have been made—we cannot discuss them to-night—between Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and I should support any extension of those schemes in the direction of the families going out. If, however, the idea of cheap passages is going to mean that single men will be encouraged to go overseas, that they are going to flood the towns and cities of Canada and Australia, and bring back to us the knowledge that there is an unemployed army in those cities and towns—then we may have to revise our position with regard to the assistance that we will give. We must take care that that position does not arise. I suppose there is ever the difficulty of unemployment in Australia and in Canada, as well as in this country, and we may yet have to meet that. In our consideration of these schemes we should start with a better understanding and a clearer idea that work will be guaranteed for those who go out. I have helped to bring about this change—


Hear, hear.


It is in the nature of an experiment. We are endeavouring to come to an agreement with the Dominions on these matters, and if we can assist in that way, then I am in favour of the idea. At the same time, I issue this warning, that there is a danger that, by furthering this particular matter, we may carry people in increased numbers overseas, and yet, while satisfying some people who want to see the numbers continually rising, create a difficulty in the Dominions to which we must have regard. As one who keeps a watchful eye on that matter, I hope that difficulty will not be caused, and that, having given free passages, we shall endeavour further to cement the bonds between this country and the Dominions, so that there will not be over there an army of unemployed, but that employment will be guaranteed to those whom we have supported in their passage to various parts of the British Commonwealth.


We shall all agree with the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Lunn) that it is eminently desirable, where practicable, that every man who goes overseas shall be guaranteed employment. Undoubtedly, the nominative system is one which gives the greatest guarantee for that. The right hon. Gentleman who has charge of the Estimate expressed gratification at the fact that the numbers have increased, but it is a very slight increase. I am—as I think many hon. Members are—rather disappointed at the operations of the Empire Settlement Act, when you realise that, before the War, over 250,000 people were leaving these shores and finding employment in different parts of the Dominions. They help to develop the Dominions and, as a result, give employment here; because every man who goes overseas and gets employment is a potential customer for the manufactured products of the workshops of this country. I do not; speak altogether without some knowledge on this matter. Some years ago, I was responsible for sending something like 35,000 people out to my own State of Western Australia in a period of three years and, I think, I could count on the fingers of both hands the number of people who complained. At that time, this system of passages was not at all a new one. People went out at much cheaper rates than at present. It was then possible to send an adult overseas at a cost to the State of £12, with a proportionate reduction for members of his family. In the case of girls, we paid practically the whole of the passage with the exception of £2. The cost is now very high, and the average fare to Australia is £37. I hope in the near future that some endeavour will be made to reduce the cost of the passages. With properly equipped ships it should be possible to reduce the cost, and it would be a very big contribution if the migrant could have half of that sum, say £18, when he landed. That would enable him to stand by until he could get work, and would be very much more satisfactory.

8.0 p.m.

The very nature of this Estimate precludes us from reviewing at any length the question of migration. As the last speaker said, we have had quite recently, as a result of the Overseas Conference, any number of speeches about Empire development and migration, but very little business is being done. When you realise that only 64,000 people left these shores last year to go to the Dominions overseas, you cannot regard the matter as at all satisfactory. I hope, as a result of the development that has taken place, there will be an improvement. I had an opportunity of visiting Canada quite recently, and the optimism there was certainly much more prevalent than I have seen it in the past. They have had two splendid seasons, which may be coupled with the development that is taking place in the mining districts and in the pulping industry, which has resulted in Canada now being the greatest producer of newspaper print. All that means of necessity the provision of more employment. It is necessary that, in addition to the assistance given for the passages, we must give some contribution to the schemes that are set up. It is impossible for any of the States, especially for the smaller States, to contribute something like £75,000 a year in order to settle 100 people. We hope Empire settlement will result in a better distribution of people in this Empire so that those who are unable to get ahead in this country may be able to go to a land where better chances are opened up to them.


I want particularly to direct attention to the character of the passages between this country and Canada, but, before doing so, I may be permitted to say a few words following what has been said by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. In my view, one of the greatest difficulties with regard to this question is that throughout the world you have an increasing tendency to drift towards the towns, and that is very much due to a defect in cur educational ideas. I want to suggest to those who are responsible that, in considering successful immigration schemes, they should have particular regard to that aspect of the question. There is one further point to which I would like to call attention. I believe it is a tremendous mistake to send anyone overseas without training. I am assured by men who have had recent opportunities to observe the conditions, that it is those immigrants who have been trained ac places like Catterick before being sent overseas who are by far the most efficient, by far the most satisfied, and who, generally speaking, give the best results, both to themselves and the communities in which they are settled. I think that reinforces the argument that successful migration must be based upon training and education preceding the journey overseas.

The particular point which I have reason to bring to the attention of the Under-Secretary is with regard to the conditions on the vessels which transport the emigrants between this country and Canada. In the Report issued by the Earl of Clarendon quite recently—I do not know the exact date—reference is made to the accommodation on the vessel in which his lordship travelled. He says, on page 43, that the third class accommodation is partly in the stern and partly in the bows of the ship. The foreigners were in the bows and the British third class immigrants and third class tourists in the stern. He says: We talked with a number of British settlers and foreign immigrants. All with whom we spoke told us that they intended to work on the land in Canada. That, I take it, can be accepted as the considered opinion of the Earl of Clarendon, having regard to what he observed; but I regret to say that—I think it was about three wecks ago—I read a long article in a respoasible weekly journal, "The New Statesman," in which a description was given of the conditions under which immigrants had travelled with the writer, and which bears no relation whatever to the statement which I have just read by the Earl of Clarendon. I know nothing about the conditions; I have never had an opportunity of seeing what the steerage conditions are on these boats, but the point I am endeavouring to submit is that for a statement of this sort to be made in a responsible weekly journal of the character of "The New Statesman" without early official contradiction is a matter of very serious moment, not only with regard to the particular incident, but in relation to the general policy of the Government. The title of the article is "Third to Canada, please!" and I will read certain passages from it. My own Section 'E' was two flights down; and my particular berth 'E.16' was immediately under those clattering brass-bound stairs. The berth was a foursome, its walls were nothing but flimsy bolted shutters, and the noise of the whole section was as clearly audible as if there had been no walls at all. There was a lavatory basin, but never during the voyage was the water laid on. The basin emptied below into a tin, used frequently for quite unintended purposes and but casually emptied. Floating in from the berths all around came the smell of human vomit. Nightly one sank as in a sea of stench, to lie drowned there until the rising-bell clanged along the alleys; then one rose to the surface again, with stuck lids and heavy head. Then there is a part to which I attach particular importance in view of what Lord Clarendon says about the separation of British and foreign passengers: There was no segregation on our ship. We slept in the same berth with 'dagoes' and 'bohunks'— —on inquiry I found that "bohunk" was the equivalent of a particularly rough type of tramp on land— fed together, used the same toilets. Indeed, for all us men there was one large toilet and two baths, and nowhere have I seen anything fouler than some of the misuses to which our toilet was put. I hope I have drawn attention to quite sufficient of that article to make the Under-Secretary feel that it is a matter for inquiry. I do not know whether these things can be clone officially, but I am quite certain that that statement should be rebutted if it can be rebutted. There is one further point from the. Earl of Clarendon's Report to which I want to call attention. On page 42, he refers to the work of the Salvation Army, and says: The Salvation Army deals with larger numbers of migrants from the United Kingdom than any other philanthropic society operating in the Dominions. Its work is chiefly connected with single women, boys and children; the number of single women brought into Canada by the Salvation Army in 1925 was 541, the number of boys 306, and the number of children 149. Anyone would imagine, in reading the Report, which is signed by the Earl of Clarendon, that there was nothing more to be said, but, to my amazement, yesterday I saw a message transmitted by Reuter's which was not believable. I went to our good friends, the Empire Parliamentary Association, and I said: "I am told that the Canadian Government have made a very remarkable pronouncement in relation to immigration and the Salvation Army. Can you get it?" They said: "We have not heard of it." After a good deal of inquiry and search, the reference was found, and in substance it amounted to this. The Canadian Government deliberately charge the Salvation Army with having taken large sums of money in grants to assist migrants to go from this country to Canada, and they put the total in 20 years at 376,000 dollars. They say that the boys who have been taken out to Canada recently by the Salvation Army have not been aware that the Government were making it possible for boys to go to Canada at a cheap rate, and that the Salvation Army has been reaping the benefit of the financial assistance which the Canadian Government have been giving in furtherance of this policy.

It goes on to say that the attention of the Salvation Army was called to this matter and that the Salvation Army changed their methods but maintained their policy, and that they called upon boys who were going out to Canada to sign an undertaking that they would agree to stoppages from their wages until the estimated amount of transporting them to Canada had been recovered by the Salvation Army. What is still more amazing is that, in this Report the Salvation Army attempted to justify their action, and I think the words of who justification are perhaps the most remarkable part of the whole thing. "The Salvation Army are understood to justify their action on the ground that persons who have enjoyed its ministrations must make repayment for them." I hope it may be possible to contradict these statements. I should be extraordinarily glad if it. were possible for the Under-Secretary to say that Reuter's has been badly misinformed, but, having regard to the circumstantial nature of the Canadian Government's pronouncement and to the public reply endeavouring to justify the attitude of the Salvation Army, I have little faith that that is possible. I hope sincrerely, now that an opportunity has occurred to place these facts before the Committee, that the Minister will be extremely careful that the whole of the work we are endeavouring to do for the well-being, not only of our own citizens, but of the Dominions, is not nullified by the policy of a voluntary agency, which is in no sense essential to the welfare of the immigrants. I hope I have not been misinformed, and I earnestly appeal to the Under-Secretary to see that the earliest possible information is given to the House on this matter.


May I just make one correction in regard to the last matter which was dealt with by my hon. Friend (Mr. W. Baker)? This matter with regard to the Canadian Government and the Salvation Army is still under consideration by the Oversea Settlement Committee. The Salvation Army is an important organisation in this country and in various parts of the British Empire and the world, and it is important that their case should be. heard here as well as the other side. As the matter is still under consideration, and a definite answer cannot be given now, I would suggest to my hon. Friend that the subject be allowed to remain where it is for the moment, and if it should come out as has been suggested, the whole thing might be debated in this House at a time when fuller discussion is possible.


I agree entirely with the policy of the assisted passage. Indeed, I should agree with any policy which is able to distribute the population better throughout the Empire. An hon. Member has called attention to one grave danger, and that is the filling up of the cities on the far side of Canada. I want to call attention to one other danger in the matter of distribution of population, and that Ts that, as things are now, a very great push is being made by the emigration agencies to take from this country principally the most highly trained of our farm servants and farm workers. Of course we must have people to go on the land on the other side, but at the same time I hope that the Government are going to watch this problem very closely. The matter is causing a great deal of anxiety in some of our rural districts, where labour is by no means too plentiful. I hope that the Government will watch carefully, so that in any-attempt to redistribute the Anglo-Saxon populuation of the Empire more rainy, so far as the Dominions are concerned, we do not at the same time worsen the distribution of that poulation in this country by sending out an undue proportion of the one type which we can least afford to spare. I hope the Government will be able to take some steps which will ensure that a due proportion of town dwellers, as well as country people, are sent forward.


I would not have said anything, but for the remarks of my hon. Friend with regard to the condition under which people who travel third class go to the Dominions. This is a very important matter for the Under-Secretary to take cognisance of. A five-weeks voyage to Australia under good conditions might be bad enough, but under bad conditions it can be little worse than being in Hades. But I think it is only fair for those of us who have seen the other side to say that it is not always so, because, if there are disreputable steamship companies, there are also some reputable ones. I happen to have had an opportunity of inspecting thoroughly at least three steamships with third-class passengers, and I feel that if there are passengers to be carried, and the British and Dominion Governments are to help to carry them, the accommodation should be looked after, and we should not send any of our people to any of the Dominions under such conditions as have bee a described by the hon. Member who spoke on that matter. We have had the opportunity of seeing everything on some of the boats, and if there are other kinds, the Government should refuse to let our people go on those boats.

In the last Report of the Parliamentary Association, there is a rather important speech by one of the Members of the New Zealand Parliament with regard to nominations. Rightly or wrongly, he makes the charge that certain people are nominating emigrants of whom they know nothing, whom they never see, even when they land, and that they are nominating them and assuming no responsibility for them when they arrive, and do so merely in order to get them into the country. I am not saying that that statement is true, but, if true, it is certainly worth considering. A properly nominated person is a person who has to be taken charge of, and as this statement was made in the New Zealand Parliament, it certainly is worth investigating. It is people of this kind who are making things difficult. A person who nominates a young single man to go out to the backwoods in the way that has been suggested is nothing less than a criminal. I suggest that the Under-Secretary might investigate these things. In no circumstances should any of our people be allowed to go abroad in any ships on which the conditions are such as were stated by an hon. Member earlier.

Major GLYN

I wish to deal with the same point as the last speaker. There is in Canada to-day a traffic going on among the agents of steamship companies, because they can get tickets arranged for these assisted passages if they can get a nomination paper signed. I have had the opportunity of seeing many of the people who arrive, and some of them were more than upset to find that their nomination papers were indeed a fraud. The paper was of benefit only to the agent who, having had it filled in, applied for the passage and, I suppose, got his commission on it. The companies operating steamers of this sort across the Atlantic are naturally held responsible by the Government of Canada and the Home Government. It is necessary that we should see that the nomination system does not fall into disrepute through the action of these agents. When the House votes money for these assisted passages, it is essential to see that these gentlemen are put in their proper place and that the practice ceases. Mention has been made of the overcrowding in certain cities. I would like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Under-Secretary on his elevation to the Privy Council, and I would ask him whether he could not consider that assisted passages should be, not only to the port on the eastern coast of Canada, but should carry certain emigrants to places right in the prairie provinces. There are large numbers of men who are entirely unaware of distances. They think, apparently, that from St. John's to Calgary is about the same distance as from London to Edinburgh. If they have not sufficient funds they find themselves stranded, and then they drift into the large towns, and that is one of the causes of unemployment.

My hon. Friend has mentioned the training centres established by the Ministry of Labour. They have been admirable. I would like to call them testing centres, for you cannot train a man in this country for work in the Dominions. You can test a man's mentality, as to whether or not he will be of any good on the land. If the experiment of free passages is to be continued, it might, at any rate, be continued for men who have been to these testing stations. We might couple that with nomination, and a man could go straight on to a farm, where he would have the greatest chance that any human being can have. On the other hand, if he falls a victim to the sort of agent that has been mentioned, the whole system is brought into disrepute.


Those of us who were permitted to visit Australia during the last few months are very much encouraged by the Supplementary Estimate which has come up for consideration to-night. We were a little concerned at the meagre numbers that were going out as migrants to the Dominions, and particularly to Australia, seeing that the group settlements seem for the present to have been suspended and there does not seem to have been a great number of requisitions coming forward for settlement in that particular Continent. I desired particularly to intervene in order to say that there is another side to the question of the accommodation provided for the third-class passengers. I have had experience of three ships, on three oceans carrying migrants to Australia, and I had the opportunity, together with others, of inspecting these quarters, and I did not see anything comparing with the statements made by an hon. Gentleman. As one who has spent years in the shipbuilding industry and who knows something about accommodation on ships, I think I can say we were gratified at the very good accommodation made for the third-class passengers in the ships in which we travelled. I should like to make this statement, because it is rather serious that it should go out to the country that the accommodation is inadequate. I think whilst conditions may obtain in one or two directions, such as we have heard of, that, generally speaking, the responsible steamship companies are providing the very best accommodation that can be provided for the money.


Like most of the Debates which we have had on this question the Debate of to-night has been a very useful one and the hon. Members who have, spoken have been quite right in raising these points at the earliest possible opportunity with a view to having them investigated by the Oversea Settlement Committee. Part of the duty of that Committee is to investigate complaints brought up from time to time and I only hope that the hon. Member who quoted instances in regard to travelling accommodation has informed the Oversea Settlement Department or the Dominions Office or some responsible authority of the name of the ship, the date of sailing and other details so that the circumstances may be properly investigated. I know something of this from my personal experience. On two occasions during the War I went by long sea route to Alexandria and I had the misfortune to strike a gale in the Bay of Biscay on each occasion. On one occasion I had to be adjutant of the ship and visited all parts of it frequently. The ship was crowded with troops, everybody was sick, we were packed like sardines, there was not much' light because the submarines were about, and the conditions were "hell." That is the word for it. I think the hon. Member may be assured that the Board of Trade and the people who supervise the work of migration do their utmost to prevent these conditions arising, but there are instances always, where rough seas prevail and where sea travelling is beastly, and sea travelling under crowded conditions is generally beastly, as I know too well. If the various points made by hon. Members are brought to the notice of the Oversea Settlement Committee I am sure they will be gone into very carefully. As to what another hon. Member has said about the Salvation Army that is being examined. I am sure the Committee will now agree that on the whole, the fact that there is a Supplementary Estimate this year in regard to assisted passages is not a cause for complaint against anybody, but rather a matter for gratification from the point of view of the interests of the Empire as a whole.

Question put, and agreed to.

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