§ 9. Mr. LECKIE
asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he has considered the joint memorial sent to him from the Ex-Service Association of Australia (Victorian Branch) and the British Overseas Settlers' Association of Marrabit, Victoria, setting out the grievances of 311 British settlers who went to Victoria under the terms of the 1922–23 Victorian Government land settlement scheme; and what he proposes to do to help the sufferers?
The SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
I have received a copy of the joint memorial referred to, but the Royal Commission appointed to report upon the settlement scheme has not completed its inquiries, and I am not in a position to anticipate its recommendations.
§ Mr. ANNESLEY SOMERVILLE
If the right hon. Gentleman cannot relieve the Australian Government of any of their responsibilities in this matter, does he not remember that the Home Government encouraged these men to sign their contracts and has therefore a distinct responsibility in this matter?
I have frequently pointed out that no one sympathises with the difficulties of migrants in this unfortunate position more than the present Government, but immediately we depart from the principle that we are not responsible we land ourselves into difficulties and obligations which no Government could assume. While doing all that we can to help to relieve the hardships and the difficulties arising, I want to make it perfectly clear that we cannot undertake a responsibility which belongs to the Dominions themselves.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that Members of this House are continually receiving letters from the migrants, and that if the statements made in those letters are true, His Majesty's Government ought to take action in the interests of the migrants?
It is quite true, and probably no Member of this House receives more communications than myself. I have gone to the extent, not only of making inquiries but of putting into operation all manner of institutions to give relief. I shall continue to do that, but, if my right hon. Friend or anyone else merely puts down the proposition that this Government must be held responsible for all migrants, then he will be undertaking a responsibility which I am afraid he will not fulfil in the end.
§ Mr. MABANE
Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the Royal Commission in Victoria began its inquiries?
I do not know the particular date, but in all these matters you have to take into consideration the political factors. There have been elections taking place in a number of these States as well as in Australia itself, and it is not for any Government to anticipate local decisions.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
May I ask in order to allay misgivings here, whether it is not a fact that His Majesty's Government were a party to the migration of those migrants to Australia, and is my right hon. Friend aware that the feeling throughout this country is that His Majesty's Government, in view of that fact, ought to take some definite action upon it?
If hon. Members will keep in mind that the annual migration from this country during a period of 20 years has averaged 200,000 and that for the first time there are more returning to this country than leaving it, they will have some measure of the problem. It is true that we have given facilities, and that we have helped in the cost of transportation, but at that point our responsibility ceases. I again repeat that if any Member of the House is prepared to undertake a liability such as is involved in saying that because these numbers of people leave these shores we are responsible, it is a responsibility which I certainly will not undertake.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
Is it not plain to the right hon. Gentleman that the number of people who are now returning from Australia, a protected country, to these shores, a free country—[interruption.]