§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Mr. LUNN
When we raised the question of the plight of British settlers in Victoria, Australia, during the Debate on the Dominions Office Vote in July we were unaware of any decision regarding the Royal Commission's Report by the Australian Governments, and so the Debate ended without the Secretary of State being able to tell us anything at that time as to what had been done in Australia or what would be the attitude of the British Government. We were all agreed who took part in the Debate, including the Secretary of State, as to the hardships that had been undergone by these settlers and as to the losses that they had sustained.
Let me recount what is the position. When the Empire Settlement Act was passed 11 years ago this scheme of settling people in Victoria was the first, I think, that was established and those who were encouraged to go and were given promises of great opportunities there were people with money. Numbers of families went from this country taking with them large sums of money, in some cases thousands of pounds. Without doubt they had accepted that position under false promises and without any possibility, as it appears, that they would be realised. 878 They were expected to have not less than £1,500 per family. Many of them hoped that they would lay the foundation for the future of their families, and they have not realised that position. They are without work or opportunity, and are in despair.
The British Government took steps to try to secure an inquiry into their case and into their plight and condition. It took years to establish the possibility of an inquiry, but ultimately an inquiry took place. A Royal Commission was appointed and it sat for two years. It had no powers. It could neither offer any remedy nor suggest any redress. But without doubt they came to the conclusion that the complaints of the settlers were justified, and they laid the blame upon the Victorian Government. We knew during the last Debate what had happened with regard to the Commission and what they had recommended, but we were not aware of anything which the Australian Governments were prepared to do. Almost immediately after the House rose for the Recess, we learned what was to be the attitude of the Victorian Government toward these settlers. As this is the first time the House has been made acquainted with them, I will give what I understand to be the proposals for dealing with the conditions and for implementing the report of the Commission regarding more than 300 settlers who are in such an awful position and condition owing to the treatment which they have received. These are, as I understand them, the conditions.
1. Settlers who have left or desire to leave their blocks are to receive cash compensation; single men £200; married men £300 with £50 extra for each dependent son or unmarried daughter. Maximum payment to any one settler, £500. Also full discharge from debts to the Crown, Widows of deceased settlers will represent their late husbands.2. The cases of settlers who desire to remain on their blocks are to be examined by an assessor appointed by the three Governments. The assessor will decide whether it is in the settler's interest to remain on his block.3. Settlers in whose case the assessor decides that it is not in their interest to remain on their blocks, will receive cash compensation as in 1 above.4. Settlers who remain on their blocks will be dealt with by the Closer Settlement Commission and will have their capital liability written down by the amount which they would have received as cash compensa- 879 tion under 1 above, less £100 which will be paid to them in cash. They will also be eligible under the Closer Settlement Act, 1932, for further concessions during the next five years.5. There is to be some provision for the payment of private debts contracted by the settlers.6. In the case of settlers who have already left Australia, payments will be made to cover loss on exchange.I have given broadly an idea of the intention of the Victorian Government as a means of settlement of what they call the dispute between the Australian Governments and these discontented and dissatisfied settlers who went out from this country to Victoria. I think that I am quite safe in saying, after the bundles of correspondence which I have received on this matter, that it does not meet the position, and that they are to-day very discontented and dissatisfied and determined in their view that those conditions do not meet the situation at all. I will quote again from a document which has since come from the British Overseas Settlers' Association of Victoria. I will give their point of view as explained here in one or two paragraphs. They say:An extraordinary offer of compensation was made to us on the basis of £200 for a single man, £300 for a married couple, and £50 additional for each child up to four; no discrimination was made as to the amount of capital lost, length of time on land or on any other grounds; but even ignoring those aspects the amounts offered were so fantastic that the terms were rejected out of hand by the settlers. We have asked that the basis for compensation shall be the return of our capital, with interest, compensation over the period we have been here, and some minor adjustments.We think it as well to reiterate the fact that we were neither paupers, nor unemployed, nor unemployable at the time we were recruited, but were persons of some substance, our average capital being approximately £500 to £1,000. Apart from our capital, up to 10 years of our lives have been wasted, and, in cases, the careers of our Children ruined, and this, as the report of the Royal Commission confirms, not through any fault of our own.I think I have fairly stated the case as regards the attitude of the Victorian Government, and the attitude towards their suggested settlement of the settlers themselves. I have been taking part in migration schemes for 10 years and am a supporter of migration, if it can be arranged satisfactorily and if opportuni- 880 ties can be provided, but I am convinced that in this case it was a scandalous scheme that ought never to have been undertaken, that the promises have never been realised and ought never to have been made, and that the offer now made by the Victorian Government is far from meeting the needs of the case.
I have received a note from the Agent-General of Victoria, in which he says that more than 200 of these people will remain on their blocks, but at the same time that I received that letter I also received a telegram from these settlers in which they say:It is said by the Attorney-General of Victoria that the Bill does inevitably rough justice. It is more rough than just. Inadequate compensation forces settlers remain on uneconomic holdings. Settlers compelled to leave must accept compensation at depreciated currency. Urge you exert pressure force British Government accept share responsibility.I have said on many occasions that we in this country should not be the milch cow for every part of the world nor for every part of the British Empire and that we should not be the parties to find money for everything that is going, but I am quite convinced that in this case, although we may have no legal responsibility, we have a moral responsibility to these people which really ought to be met by the Government at this time of the day. In the interests of the question that we were discussing to-day regarding the possibilities of migration in the future and regarding our relations with the Dominions in the future, we cannot afford to allow this sore to continue, without taking some steps to try and deal with it satisfactorily.
I believe that during the discussion that took place in the State Parliament of Victoria, the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Labour party, suggested that the State Government ought to pay these people in accordance with their demands, which I have read out. If the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs can do anything which will encourage the State Government of Victoria or the Commonwealth Government of Australia, who were associated with them in this scheme, to meet the needs of these people, I hope that he will take whatever steps can be taken in order to see that they meet their justifiable liability to these people. I am convinced that the right 881 hon. Gentleman himself cannot ignore the position of affairs. He knows the facts. He has agreed to what has been said regarding the position of these settlers. We say that it cannot be left just where it is. There must be something more done for these people, otherwise there will be no reason, no possibility and no opportunity for establishing any other schemes of migration to Australia while the position continues as it is to-day. Our position is that we want something more definite than we have been able to get up to now. It has been convenient and suitable for the right hon. Gentleman when he could not answer the position in previous discussions, but he knows the facts to-day. He knows the condition of these people. I do not think that the Government can leave it where it is. They ought to be able in some form to influence the Australian Governments to meet the claims of these people or to do something to help them from this country.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
The particular aspect of this unfortunate matter to which I want to draw attention is that to which the hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) referred in the latter part of his remarks; the moral responsibility which rests upon the Government in this country to remedy the ills which some of these people have undoubtedly suffered. I am not going into the particulars of the various cases, but I have had a considerable amount of correspondence which satisfies me that the flat rate arrangement which has been made by the Government of Victoria cannot, and does not, fairly meet the individual cases. It may be moderately sufficient in certain instances but there are other instances in which it falls far short of what should be the compensation to be awarded. In answering questions in this House the Secretary of State for the Dominions has constantly reiterated that we have no responsibility in the matter, that the responsibility rests with the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments. Legally he is probably correct in saying that no legal responsibility rests upon us, but surely there is a very heavy moral responsibility. When we consider the way in which these migrants were sent out, the way in which the scheme was sponsored and backed by our own Government, and when we are 882 unable to secure the Victorian Government making a settlement which is satisfactory to all the migrants concerned, it is inevitable that these migrants should come back upon us and say "it was owing to your backing the scheme that we went out; we imagined that the British Government was behind the scheme, and would see us through."
This is the particular aspect of the case which concerns the House at the moment. We are satisfied that the Victorian Government have gone a considerable way to try and put right the awful mistakes that have been made, but anyone who has read the report and seen any correspondence which has been sent home from the migrants concerned must be equally satisfied that there is a great deal yet to be done before it can be said that the ills they have suffered have been fairly compensated. I put a question to-day to the Secretary of State as to whether he had observed the admission of the Premier of Victoria, that real justice had not been done to the British migrants; and the reply I received was:I understand that in that part of his speech the Premier of Victoria was referring solely to the question of flat rate compensation.That is exactly the point to which I desire to draw attention, a flat rate compensation cannot do justice to all the migrants, and where injustice remains, if it is impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to succeed in getting the Commonwealth or the Victorian Government to remedy the injustice, I say that a moral responsibility rests on this Government to see that the injustice is remedied.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I rise to support the plea that has been made by the hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton), who have laid stress on the moral responsibility of the British Government. I think it is something more than a moral responsibility. We often have lectures about the sanctity of treaties between nations. There was as solemn a pledge of the nation's honour to these migrants as there ever was in any agreement between one nation and another. Why promises made to our own people should not be as binding as promises made to foreign countries, is 883 something that I cannot understand. I have never had in the whole of my Parliamentary experience so many tales of human misery as I have had in connection with this business. I have a very close connection with human suffering in my own division, but the stories I have had from my own division are nothing compared with the tales I have had from Australia.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is putting it rather mildly when he says that this scheme was sponsored by the British Government. It was a deliberate act of governmental policy in this country. At the time the scheme was propounded it was the great scheme of the Government of the day for dealing with the unemployment problem. We were to place the superfluous men of the home country on the superfluous acres of the Dominions. There was a definite campaign to persuade men to go out. Government legislation was involved and Government money was involved. As has been demonstrated most clearly, there was not only the grossest negligence on the part of the Victorian Government to make this scheme out there a success, but there must have been the most complete negligence on the part of the British Government representatives out there to see that these people were being treated in any way in accordance with the bargain.
I have here a collection of letters from Australia. Monday is the day when the Australian post comes in. Every Monday for about six months I have counted on having from 10 to 30 Australian letters, and here I have what is merely a collection of yesterday's lot. Here is a letter which the House may allow me to read. It is a very plain statement in restrained Language, and describes the writer's position. Some of the other letters I have received describe our Dominions Secretary in such unrestrained language that I would not like to quote them. I know that he has been subject to a lot of that kind of thing in his lifetime at home. I have one letter here which says something about "a dirty dog," but I shall not read it. Let me read a letter that is in more restrained terms:Sir,—As an oversee settler of Murrabit, Victoria, I would add my note of protest to the many others against the unjust and unlawful treatment being meted 884 out to us by the Governments concerned. We are the victims of the cruelest swindle and deception ever inflicted on mankind. Briefly this is my story: I was born and educated at Croydon, Surrey, England, and served in the Navy as a petty officer throughout the War. From 1920 to 1924, when I left England, I had a good and permanent position with a salary of £5 a week, also a share of profits, free medical attention for self and family, and a pension at 65. After a visit to Wembley Exhibition——the right hon. Gentleman the Dominions Secretary had some responsibility for Wembley Exhibition. Indeed at that time there was a talk of elevating the right hon. Gentleman to the peerage, and the title that was suggested was that of Baron Wembley———I became interested in the settlement scheme then being boosted by Australia House, and after repeated interviews and much inducement by Mr. Wyatt, and on the assurance that the scheme had the hacking of the British Government I decided to resign my post. That scheme has proved the finest specimen of confidence trickery ever recorded. In December, 1924, I arrived in Melbourne with my wife and child, £500 in capital of my own and several hundreds belonging to my wife. Then began the disillusionment. With others we were sent to a training farm at Elcho. What a farce! We were taught milking only. The rest meant cheap labour for odd jobs. The methods need were intended for dry forming, and we poor migrants were intended for irrigation plots only. The 12 months' training promised us was actually six weeks and the 10,000 farms we were to select from after training never existed except in the disordered imagination of the Lands Department. After training we were sent with others to Murrabit on the 'take it or leave it' principle and dumped there. No house or fences—simply a barren waste of saffron thistles. The conditions under which we were thereafter forced to exist are too sordid for details, but we were clearly given to understand from the start that if we protested in any shape or form our leases would be cancelled and our families put on the road. This dodge and various others have been played and lost on me. I had the worst block in creation. The 72 acres would not grow sufficient to feed a goat and my cows were always forced to roam the countryside in search of food. Several died of starvation. If I could detail half of the dreadful experiences endured through the years they would fill a book. The many injustices inflicted on us by those in high places to compel us to shut up would stir the world. But they well keep. However after three years of slavery and 16 hours a day and reduced to semi-starvation, I applied for and received a transfer to another holding which had previously been 885 abandoned by two Australians. Imagine my feelings on learning that after three years of hard work and the whole of our joint capital expended in impovements we were transferred, carrying a debt of approximately £500. What a swindle! But the worst followed when we discovered that the accumulated debts of the departed Australians were also transferred to us including water and shire rates. What a proposition! We protested and were told that someone must pay. Woe to me. We protested again and our lease was cancelled. These are only a few of such instances and the years of misery and hardships that followed I dare not dwell upon. Can you wonder that we are bitter and that our very souls cry for revenge? My wife has suffered terribly through this swindle. Privation, hard work and worry necessitated her undergoing four very serious operations within two years and the heart weakness that has followed means she will never be strong again. Can I forget that? A thousand times, no. The hard fight which we fought for seven years and won, culminated in the Royal Commission and our charges and complaints proved to be justified. We are therefore entitled to demand adequate compensation to enable us to start anew, but the Governments concerned have added insult to injury by suggesting a sum hardly sufficient to cover personal debts.I will not continue. There are two other pages in which he goes on to indicate the difficulty of trying to make a start again after having attempted to clear what is up against him, on this allowance. I want the Dominions Secretary to realise his responsibility in this matter. He has been far too easy in his handling of the people out there. There was no reason why all these years of agitation should have been necessary to get an inquiry at all. It should have been easy for any responsible person of capacity to go out there and survey the place in a month or two and to ascertain that something serious was wrong and that it was necessary that something should be done. It was shocking that these men, sent out by this House, should have to carry on a tremendous agitation before anyone here at home would listen to them at all. Now that their agitation has been proved to have been more fully justified, it is up to the Government to see that they are not merely put off with some money compensation that has no relation either to what they have lost or to what they have suffered, but that amounts should be paid to these men that will make it possible for them either to make a start under decent conditions out there or to come home to this country and resume life among their friends.
886 I urge the Dominions Secretary. As I have pointed out in this House before, he has been very energetic about some things. He despatched a Commission away to investigate into the affairs of Newfoundland, where the interests of the bondholders were engaged. He chose a representative and responsible person to go away out there because the finances of Newfoundland were in difficulties. With all the Dominions at some time or other, even with Ireland, he has shown energy, though entirely in a wrong direction. I suggest that in this matter he should develop that strain of obstinacy which is in him. To me, it is invariably used wrongly, but he should use it on this occasion in the interests of these people who were sent out there.
Every Parliament that has sat in this House since 1923, every Member of Parliament and of every Government that has been in power here, has a responsibility in this matter. We cannot just shoulder the blame on to the Victorian people. We definitely sat and discussed it here and came to our conclusions, we gave facilities for advertising and boosting, we allowed these people to be promised, and we encouraged them to go. It was developing the Empire, the far-flung parts of our Empire. Great speeches were made here about it. It is not good enough to make these people the victims of fantastic political schemes, badly carried out. There may be—and this point has been dealt with by both the previous speakers—some time in the future when it will be possible to develop schemes by which people can go from one part of the world to another and take up occupations in different parts. It may be that the time may come when the British Empire will be one great unit and citizenship in it will be transferable easily all over the place. I understand that that is an ideal of the Conservative party and the present National Government. It is not one of my ideals, but if it be an ideal worth pursuing, then this first experiment, if left where it is, is not a good advertisement for any future efforts that may be made in the same direction.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ Sir JOHN BIRCHALL
I am very grateful to be allowed to add a word to the appeal which has been made from all sides to the Government to do some- 887 thing, if they can, in this very difficult matter of the settlers under the Victoria Government. I realise that our Government are not directly responsible, but, as has already been said, they have a moral responsibility. I feel that it is not an exaggeration to say that the good name of the whole question of settlement in Australia is at stake, and that if this matter is not fairly and properly dealt with, future migration will be an exceedingly difficult matter. Good faith, the keeping of promises, is at the very bottom of successful migration and settlement, and if it once becomes the general opinion that a particular Government or a particular country are unreliable, then they may say goodbye to any successful scheme of settlement.
But I have a more personal interest in this matter, because indirectly I was somewhat responsible for encouraging a farmer and his wife and four or five children to accept the offer of the Victoria Government, which was given, I believe, with the support of the British Government, and to go, eight years ago, to Victoria to settle there. They gave up a farm in this country in order to do so. They went to that country with £1,400 which they had saved. They were an extraordinarily good, thrifty, hardworking family. They wrote to me to-day to say that every penny of their money has gone, that their misfortunes were almost wholly due to the fact that the farm on which they were placed was entirely misdescribed, and that the value they were charged was entirely fictitious All these facts have been supported by the Royal Commission that has inquired into the matter. Therefore, it is in no sense a matter of dispute.
They were hopelessly defrauded at the outset and now, after losing all they have got and working hard for eight years, they are offered £300 by way of compensation if they clear out. At 4 per cent., that is £12 a year for a man, his wife and five children to live upon. That is the position of these people whose only fault was—I cannot imagine a family who would make better settlers—that they trusted the word of the Victorian Government, backed as it was by the British Government. I hope that the Dominions Secretary will be able to do something more practicable, not only in the interests 888 of our good name but in the interests of the migration and settlement of the future. Would it not be possible to tell the Victorian Government that if they will give fair compensation we will do something towards that compensation? Although we may have no legal responsibility, we have deep interest in the success of migration in the future, and, if we are going to make a success of it, it is essential that we should keep faith as soon as possible with people who have accepted our word in the past.
§ 10.47 p.m.
The SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
I certainly would not join issue with any speech delivered this evening in condemning in the strongest possible terms the inadequate arrangements made and the failure of the Victorian Government to provide what they had promised to provide in the original arrangements. I also do not join issue with any Member who deprecates in the strongest possible terms the treatment which many of these people have received. It would be equally a mistake, however strongly we may feel on this particular case, either to exaggerate it or to fail to put it in its true perspective. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), if he will allow me to say so, painted a picture in a sort of Maxton tone. He started off by saying that this scheme was launched as a solution of our unemployment problem.
Well, as a contribution. The hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) made a statement, which I will deal with in a moment, that the first condition for these migrants was that they were to have a capital of £1,500. If we accept that statement, what earthly good is it to talk to the House of Commons or the country about a scheme for the solution of the unemployment problem of this country when the minimum with which these unemployed people were to leave the country was £1,500? It is too absurd for words.
I am not concerned with what anybody said at the time. I was not responsible; I am merely stating the facts. Again, who is there who will 889 get up in this House and say that this particular scheme, with a minimum capital subscribed and everyone going out there as a potential capitalist, would ever be put forward as a means of dealing with the unemployment problem in this country?
I do not care; my hon. Friend is always fair, and if he read the Debate and the fact was that they had at the outset to possess a certain minimum capital, he has too much experience of the unemployment problem in this country to assume that that was held out as one of the solutions of it. No; it was dealing with an entirely different aspect. In the first place, let us assume that it was to be a scheme solving or even making a contribution to our unemployment problem dealing with millions. The House may be surprised to know that, in this scheme that is supposed to tackle our unemployment problem, the maximum number involved was 700. Is that not sufficient to indicate the absurdity of talking about this scheme being a contribution to our unemployment problem? Then, when the 700 were examined further, when the Commission of Inquiry is held, 300 odd frankly admit that they have no complaint. The problem, then, is reduced from 700 to 400. I give those figures, not because I am going to argue for a moment that the Victorian Government have done justice, but rather to show the actual facts of the situation so far as numbers were concerned. Let me say also that, whatever might be said about my responsibility, no one in this House can argue for a moment that from the instant when I became responsible and heard of these cases I did not continue to press for an inquiry. I was not only dissatisfied, but I used every influence and power possessed by the Dominions Office to demand immediately an inquiry into the whole situation. I not only pressed for that but, after the inquiry had been held and when there was, in my judgment, a totally unnecessary delay in coming to a decision on the finding of the inquiry, I never hesitated to use all the power and influence of the Office in trying to get a speedy settlement for these people. I am sure that my hon. Friend, if he 890 knew the nature of the correspondence, would be the first to admit that. But I deplore it for another reason. I frankly say this is the kind of thing that must inevitably do more harm to the real spirit of migration than anything else, because we cannot have folks returning and writing letters such as my hon. Friend described without creating a feeling that justice has not been done to them in the Dominions. Whilst I admit that, however, I want to correct the impression indicated by my hon. Friend that the Premier of Victoria was himself dissatisfied with the settlement. The inference is drawn that he would like to have done more. That is the deduction made from that statement.
Let me clear that up at once. It was only an extract from his statement. I now have the opportunity of reading his own words. I say quite frankly that when I read that short summary of the statement it conveyed to me the impression that this was an unfair settlement and a settlement which he would like to see improved upon. That is the obvious deduction from the first paragraph; but the statement in full, which I will read, shows that a very different interpretation must be placed upon it. He said—I am summarising—at least, I am taking the relevant parts of his statement:For these and other reasons, and in the desire to secure a prompt settlement, the conference decided that the only possible basis of compensation was on a flat rate.It was in respect of this decision that the Premier of Victoria stated in the Victoria Parliament on 9th November that the decision was not real justice. His words were:I admit the roughness of the justice done, in fact, I admit that it is not justice at all, but it was the only way out that we found when we met representatives of the other Governments. Time was the essence of the contract. It will take another commission 12 months more to arrive at true justice. We believe that though we have produced something which is unscientific it will nevertheless end a very unhappy phase in the history of Victoria.He had previously indicated that a number of their own Australian settlers were not getting the advantages which they themselves were giving to the British 891 settlers. I want to make it quite clear, so far as the Prime Minister of Victoria was concerned, that when he used that word it was not in the sense that he wanted to do more, because if he had given any indication, or if the Victorian Government or the Australian Commonwealth Government had given any indication, of any sort or kind, that they were prepared to do more, I say without hesitation that I would have pressed for the maximum to be done, which is what I have done all through. But the House must face this situation. First, this was a special scheme——
§ It being Eleven of the clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Lord Erskine.]
The hon. Gentleman implied that not only a special scheme, but a scheme peculiar inasmuch as it required a minimum capital sum, was put forward. The hon. Member mentioned that the minimum capital was £1,500. As a matter of fact it was only £300, which was the minimum capital required. Ultimately it was reduced to £200. It is not true to say that the average capital of all the 700 people was between £500 and £1,000; the average was £437. I am giving the actual figures. So far as their debt to the Crown is concerned, they are being relieved. Anyone who has already proved his capacity for this work and is desirous of continuing, can continue. A number of them have decided to continue. At first sight this flat rate may appear unfair, and I can understand that some hon. Members will say: "Here is a man who lost £1,000; why should his compensation be the same as a man who only lost we will say £500?"—that is a hypothetical figure. At first sight that would appear a sound comment, but investigation shows, what may be brought out in favour of the Victorian Government, that it did not follow that those men who lost the most money were the most efficient. The investigation showed that there were people who lost more money than the others because they were not so efficient as the others. The investigation also showed——
That rather proves my point, because you cannot ask a Government to compensate on the basis of inefficiency as against efficiency.
§ Mr. MAXTON
If a Government promised to train men for a reasonable period and did not do so, how can the men be condemned for inefficiency?
To train a man for a given period is one thing, but to make that man efficient in that given period is another.
I am pointing out that all the blame is not on the one side. So far as the British Government are concerned, what I put to the House is this: Who else should they trust but the Australian Government. When you deal with Dominions and you enter into negotiations with Governments, what right have you to expect that pledges and promises will not be adequately fulfilled? The Government of the day of 1923 entered into a commitment. The responsibility for the provision was taken by the Australian Government of Victoria. In 1926 there was a first intimation of dissatisfaction, and action was taken by myself as I have already indicated, and, in the end, having regard to the Royal Commission's Report, and to the decision of the Government, the problem that faced me was this: Should I help these settlers more by merely continuing to allow them to suffer? Should I serve their best interests by continuing to press the Government for an immediate settlement?
On balance, having regard to all the circumstances, I frankly say that the choice I had to make was whether, considering all the hardships, difficulties and sufferings of these people—with all of which I sympathise—it would not in the end be better to reach a prompt and immediate settlement rather than allow the thing to drag on, because I felt that I was serving their best interests, because I was satisfied that no better settlement could be made, and, above all, because I could not for one moment admit either the legal or the moral responsibility. I admit the moral responsibility of bringing pressure and influence to bear on the 893 Australian Government, of urging them to do all they could; but if for one moment it were assumed that the British Government was to hold itself responsible for migrants who went to Australia with capital, what right should we have to say that the same responsibility did not rest upon us for those who went to Australia, or Canada, or anywhere else, without capital, and who were prepared to fight their own battle? Because I could not take that responsibility, I do not take it now. While I do not think it would be right for the British Government to do anything, though I deplore all the hardships, difficulties and sufferings, I say to the House of Commons that no man could have done more than I have done at least to mitigate the suffering of those to whose claims I have already referred.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman has finished now? He says that he is doing no more for these people.
Oh, no; it means this, that I intimated that for bearing the cost of the settlers' claim, that is to say, the cost that they incurred in presenting their claim, I am taking the responsibility on behalf of the Government. It is true that the claims have not yet been paid, that is to say, there has not been a settlement; but it is equally true to say that I am pressing for an immediate settlement because, unless there is an immediate settlement, the whole question would of necessity have to be reopened again. If I may answer my hon. Friend's question, I shall not have finished until I have done all I can to see that the findings and decisions are given ample effect.
§ 11.9 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do not propose to continue the discussion except to say, first, that the right hon. Gentleman and the House—all of us—cannot escape more responsibility in this case than, I think, in any other case that could be brought up. I myself was taken out to Australia under very similar promises many years ago, and, had it not been for friends in England, I suppose that we should literally have starved. I do not think anybody understands what it is to be stranded in one of the Dominions where there are no arrangements for dealing with people who are stranded as these people are, and where they have to rely upon whatever friends they can make to 894 keep themselves going. Now they are being told, as emigrants used to be told years ago, that the Government has no responsibility. There was this special scheme for special people with some small means of their own and it is proved that numbers of them had, relatively, no training at all; also that many of those who are remaining on the holdings are doing so because they have no option. Whether they will be able to get a living or not, they are unable to move. I do not consider that we can get out of this by saying that it is the business of the Government in Victoria, because the people on this side who put inducements before the migrants were under our protection and did it under our auspices. The right hon. Gentleman says: "Whom could we have trusted more than the Government of Victoria?" in allowing this to be done, but if it is proved, as it has been proved, that that Government by negligence or otherwise allowed these people to be taken out under false pretences, surely we have some responsibility for them. Even all those years ago, when we came home the Government, while they would not pay any money, altered the whole system by which advertising for emigration was carried on, and I think, if he could prove that we had been in the same position as these people, even all those years ago, we should have had some sort of compensation. It was not exactly like this, but we were as much taken in as the people have been taken in. I should not like to charge the right hon. Gentleman with not having sympathy and not having done everything he could. It is the one thing needful that we have not done, and that is to find some money, or failing that, use whatever pressure we can on the Victoria Government.
But I stress the point that I do not think we can get out of our responsibility, and, as we are not getting satisfaction to-night, we shall ask my hon. Friend to find some opportunity. We must, I think, take the judgment of the House on this in some way. I do not know how we can do it at present. It is like the Vote on armaments. We shall have to put down a Vote of Censure. We do not want to do that. What we want is that the House should express its opinion that this Government, failing the Victorian Government, should find the 895 necessary money. The right hon. Gentleman says that what is going to be given is not good enough and that more ought to be done. We all agree about that. The numbers are not material. If it is only one we ought to see to it that justice is done. Neither does it matter very much that it will help to cure unemployment. The fact is that it was done for the benefit of Victoria, for the benefit of ourselves and the people who went out. We thought it a good thing for them. It has turned out a very bad thing. They risked everything on the good faith, which we backed, of the Victorian Government.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not only press the Victorian Government, but that he will give up the idea that in the last resort we are not responsible and we cannot find any money. I think of the people for whom we find money on the Continent and elsewhere. We shall have to find money in regard to Newfoundland—that is certain. I really do not want to make a fight of this, because the right hon. Gentleman said, as did also the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) that we are all agreed. The whole House is agreed, and I should like it brought to the House in some way. Let us decide. The House of Commons, having responsibility, has the right to stand up to its responsibilities and to vote money, and to say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it must be found. I rose really to say that, but I had to say the other things. As I listened to the hon. Gentleman and that letter, I realised that some of my friends who received letters from me when I was in Queensland would find that we matched one another in a lot of similar ways. When we talk about postbags we have to think that behind all those letters there is a great deal of human suffering and that people have been badly swindled.
§ 11.17 p.m.
I should like to make a concrete suggestion to the Secretary of 896 State, who I am convinced sympathises with these unfortunate settlers. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, we are all in this matter, there is no question of any party feeling. Can we not at this late hour put pressure upon the Victorian Government and get them to ask the Chairman of the Royal Commission to fix what compensation should be payable in the case of these 400 people; or, if they are not willing to put the power of arbitration in the hands of any individual, to call upon the Chairman of the Royal Commission to report on what compensation will be fair, and to give it serious consideration.
§ 11.18 p.m.
§ Major PROCTER
As one who has lived in Australia for some time I must say that the original scheme must have been a very rotten one, for generally the climate of Australia corrects the errors of its politicians. The country is so generous that there must have been very grievous errors made with the choosing of the ground for these settlers. I, like many other Members, have received letters of complaint from Australia, not only blaming the Victoria Government but expressing the thought that this Government is responsible. I would ask the Secretary of State for the Dominions if there are any of those 400 people who wish to come back to the Motherland; if so, could not this wealthy Government at least pay the passage-money of those people? I would ask him also that, after the tumult has died and if his representations to the Victoria Government should fail, he should ask his fellow Members in the Cabinet and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a Cabinet grant to these migrants, if not for the good name of Australia, at least for the good name of this country, who trusted the Victoria Government to do the right thing.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-one Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.