HC Deb 22 January 1937 vol 319 cc536-44

Order for Second Reading read.

1.38 p.m.

Mr. Louis Smith

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

When my supporters and I presented this Bill we were not aware of the Government's intentions with regard to Empire settlement. Since that date, a Financial Resolution has been carried, on Tuesday last, and during the last day or two we have received the Bill which the Government propose to bring before us next week. I was pleased that in the Government's proposals the 50 per cent. grant has been increased to 75 per cent. Most speakers on Tuesday deplored that the Government found it necessary or advisable to reduce the amount of money allotted to this purpose. The two main points of the Bill which I am introducing are, to bring the United Kingdom into the Empire by making it possible for home settlements to act as training grounds for settlements overseas, and secondly, in order to ensure a more efficient and perfect working of the Empire Settlement Act, to set up a Board of three full-time Members for that purpose. A Bill with very similar objects received a Second Reading without Division on two previous occasions. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville) sponsored the Bill on the first occasion, in 1928. In 1933, after a full day's Debate, when many Members, of whom I was one, in all parts of the House were in favour of the Bill, a similar Bill received a Second Reading.

The Empire Settlement Act was passed in 1922 to give effect to the recommendations of the Imperial Conference of the previous year. That Measure was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), who has a thorough and extensive knowledge of this subject. The House will be interested to know that he is a keen supporter of the present Bill. In the Act, the United Kingdom Government undertook to co-operate, on a 50-50 basis with the Dominions, in an expenditure of £3,000,000 per year. Most of the assistance given to migration since that date has been given under that Act. The Government, in the Financial Resolution passed on Tuesday, found it necessary to reduce the amount to £1,500,000, but those who support this Bill were encouraged to hear from the Secretary of State for the Dominions, when he wound up the Debate, that, in the event of further money being required, he gave an undertaking to introduce legislation at the earliest possible moment to provide it. His concluding words were: I assure the Committee that we regard this problem of migration as one of very great importance, and we should do everything to present the legislation to the House at an early moment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th January, 1937; col. 91, Vol. 319.] Those who support the Bill do not agree that the Act of 1922 was in any way a failure. A great deal of useful work has been done since that date, and large numbers of persons have been settled overseas. Since only one-seventh of the amount of money has been spent which was allowed under the Act, my supporters and I consider that the results are satisfactory. There is a large amount of valuable information in the hands of the Secretary of State, and there can be little doubt that if more courage and boldness are put into these efforts during the next few years, now that trade is much better in the Dominions and in this country, much more success will be obtained, on the modified lines which we suggest and in the light of the experience gained during the last few years.

Clause I of the Bill includes land settlement at home, and offers benefits to suitable people who wish to till the soil of this country. Considerable criticism has been levelled at the impossibility of taking a man from city life direct to the Dominions. It will be much more useful if we can train that man on the land in this country. Farmers are not made in a few months. We know that many urban dwellers, such as miners, make very good settlers on the land, and that their sons and daughters may well compare in a few years with the pioneers who built up the great agricultural colonies in Canada, New Zealand and Australia. That result cannot be carried through by a wave of the wand. It needs very careful planning and careful financial judgment. To-day we are suffering in this country from a lower rural population, and the soil is still going down to grass. Fifty years ago we had 5,000,000 more acres of land under arable cultivation than we have to-day, and during that period of 50 years about 500,000 workers have been compelled to find their living in other ways than on the land. Let us make of some parts of our own country a training ground for the potential Empire builders of the future.

There have been difficulties in the past over this 50-50 arrangement with the Dominions. I would submit to the House that there should be the greatest measure of flexibility with regard to this matter, and that it should be possible, not only to allow the 75 per cent. for which, we are pleased to learn, the Government are arranging, in certain directions, but to allow it in the case of land settlement and development generally. Why should we make such a stipulation to-day? The putting of people to work on production in our Dominions assuredly creates potential customers for our manufactured goods at home. We have money lying in the banks at low interest, and there never has been a time when it would appear so desirable to show adventure and courage. The Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Lyons, said only last March: We have reached a stage of recovery when we must not only permit, but invite our kith and kin to come here. Can we not ask ourselves whether there was ever a better chance of success than there is to-day, and hammer out a big scheme? As I said on Tuesday, in these days of international anxiety I believe it is important for us to take action in filling some of the sparsely populated territories of our Empire which to-day are exciting the envy of hard-pressed leaders of countries which have too great a population.

Clause 2 of the Bill refers to the Board whose duty it would be to carry out the provisions of the Bill under the control of the Secretary of State. I have very carefully read the reports of the previous boards, and, as a business man, I hold strongly the opinion that the amount of work involved in this connection demands the services of a full-time board. My belief is that, the smaller the board, the more result is likely to be achieved. If it were possible to leave such heavy responsibilities in the hands of one man, I would say, let us have a committee of one man, but I propose the next best thing, a board of three full-time members. It will, in the opinion of my supporters and myself, be necessary for these members to visit the Dominions from time to time, and it is not possible for all the duties required of such a board to be effectively carried out unless its members are paid and full-time servants of the State. May I point out, in passing, that the board sitting on these matters in 1935 had an entirely different personnel from that of 1936, with the exception of the chairman and vice-chairman, and the chairman was a very hard-worked Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Dominions. I think the House will agree with me that it is very difficult to carry out these great schemes from year to year when the Board has an entirely new personnel even in the short period of 12 months. We need minds having long experience to follow up constantly and from year to year the details of this very complicated and difficult problem.

Why do we suggest that the United Kingdom should be brought into the Empire for the purposes of this Measure? We do so for two reasons. One is that we have an unemployment problem at home. We have a "hard core" of at least 300,000 men to put to work. We also realise fully that in the near future we shall need greatly to increase our export trade in order to keep in regular employment those who are now at work. But we also, and this is an important reason, consider that it would be most desirable to arrange for agricultural training grounds to prepare the right sort of people to go overseas. We are told that there are not the people in the country to-day who are wishful to go abroad, but, so far as I can read or can hear, that is certainly not true. Only a very short time ago I heard in this House the predecessor of our present Dominions Secretary state that at least 50,000 were always ready to make this great adventure. I read a report of a speech a few days ago made by Lord Riverdale at a College of Commerce in London. He used these words: The young people have an Empire to go to, There is fierce competition in other countries, and they are doing everything they can to educate themselves to compete with us in every walk of life, but they have not got an Empire. Many parts of the British Empire are waiting to be developed, and I hope some of you will grasp that opportunity and go out and help to build up the Empire by energy, hard work and pluck. In conclusion, may I say a word about the home land settlement? It is common knowledge that in the case of some settlements the promoters have been disappointed, but I believe that in most cases the impossible has been attempted, and the wrong type of land has been purchased. I am informed that a 30 to 40-acre holding, mostly arable, in the Fen and warp areas has enabled a family to make a living, but that smaller holdings say of 10 or 15 acres, especially on wold land, have proved a failure. It is impossible to expect a man to make a living on poor land, and especially on too small an area.

In these days of international anxiety, and when national defence is again the predominant question of the day, we certainly cannot go wrong in taking action that will increase the production of foodstuffs at home. The Government have recently set up a new Department, to be known as the Food (Defence Plans) Department, and that Department will, without doubt, find on close investigation that the first consideration will be to increase the percentage of home-grown foodstuffs. In this connection the powers given to my proposed new Settlement Board will be of inestimable value. These two amendments to the Government's Act—first, the inclusion of the United Kingdom as part of the Empire; and, secondly, the setting up of a full-time development board who can give their whole time to this problem —are in my opinion essential to the success of Empire settlement, and without them, I fear, we shall not progress much further than, unfortunately, we have during the last year or two. It is increasingly important, in view of the international anxiety which exists, that we should make a wider and a bolder effort to develop these great resources which exist under the British flag, and accordingly I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

1.55 p.m.

Mr. Annesley Somerville

I beg to second the Motion.

My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the fact that this Bill was first introduced by me in 1928 and that it received, after a whole day's discussion, a Second Reading without a Division. This Bill is almost identical, though it contains some improvements, as we consider them to be. It received a Second Reading again without a Division in 1929, and in 1933 we again had a full day's Debate and the Bill received a Second Reading. It is impossible to blind one's eyes to the fact that it contains a Money Resolution, which needs Government support, and I am afraid that support is not likely to be forthcoming in view of the result of the discussion on the Financial Resolution for the Government's Measure, but I suggest, if the House approves the principle of the Bill, that it might be given a Second Reading as a guide to the Government, and then its future would be on the lap of the gods. There is one word in the first Clause that I would particu- larly point out. It gives power to afford assistance to any suitable persons or body of persons to settle in or develop—it is the word "develop"—any part of His Majesty's overseas Dominions or Colonies. That is the main point in dealing with this immense question of migration. It is not a question of unemployment; it is a question of development which would produce employment in a natural way—employment which would give work to workers throughout the Empire for generations to come. I think that is the way to look at this great question.

The Bill provides for the maintenance of the amount of £3,000,000 a year which was authorised by the 1922 Empire Settlement Act. Most unfortunately, as most of us think—in nearly every speech on the Financial Resolution this disappointment was expressed the Government have reduced the maximum amount which may be spent in any one year from £3,000,000 to £1,500,000. The Government will save nothing practically, because in the years since 1922 £3,000,000 was a paper amount. Only £1,250,000 was spent in any one year. If you leave the maximum of £3,000,000, you do not necessarily increase the expenditure. That amount would be provided for in the Estimate and what was not spent would go back into the Exchequer. That is a point that we regret, and even now I hope it may be possible for the Secretary of State to modify his decision, especially as the effect upon the Dominions must be disastrous.

What we consider the chief proposal of the Bill is the setting up of a real Empire Settlement Board. There is an Overseas Settlement Board at the Dominions Office now. It consists of officials. The prevailing tone of the board is officialdom. A certain number of distinguished ladies and gentlemen sit with these officials perhaps once a week or once a fortnight, and discuss matters. That is not the way to deal with this all-important Imperial matter. What is needed is a board of the best brains in the Empire, the very best men all over the Empire, the board sitting here and their opposite numbers in the Dominions, always meeting and travelling over the Empire, seeing the possibilities of development and encouraging the carrying out of schemes. If we had a real board we might look forward to real progress. I ask the House to sanction that principle. It has already been sanc- tioned three times and I suggest that we might again give the Bill a Second Reading without a Division to mark our approval of the principles contained in it, even if the prospects of proceeding further are small.

2.2 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

There is a question which I consider of very great importance that arises upon this Bill, but before dealing with it I should like to draw attention to some confusion that seems to exist—

Notice taken that 4o Members were not present; House counted; and 40 Members not being present

The House was adjourned at Six Minutes after Two o'Clock until Monday, 25th January.