HC Deb 12 June 1940 vol 361 cc1251-3
20. Mr. Parker

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he is now in a position to announce the attitude of His Majesty's Government to the offers of the Dominion Governments for the reception and care of child evacuees for the duration of the war?

21. Mr. Robert Gibson

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he is now in a position to make a statement with regard to evacuating children from the United Kingdom to Canada and to Australia?

The Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Shakespeare)

Yes Sir. An inter-departmental committee has been appointed under my Chairmanship to consider the offers which have been received from the Dominions for the reception and care of children from this country for the period of the war. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health are also members of this committee. The committee's terms of reference are to consider offers received from overseas to house and care for children, accompanied or unaccompanied, from the European war zone, who are residing in Great Britain, including children orphaned by the war, and to make recommendations thereon. The committee has already held a number of meetings. We are in close touch with the Dominion Governments, and I should like to take this opportunity of expressing the thanks of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom for this further demonstration of co-operation by the countries of the British Commonwealth in our war effort by offering to receive and care for a number of children for the duration of the war in homes remote from the war zone.

His Majesty's Government are confident that it should be possible to devise a practical scheme, and the most urgent consideration is being given by the committee to the whole question. We have received a number of inquiries from parents in this country, but it will be appreciated that a scheme of this nature raises a large number of intricate problems on which agreement with the Dominion Governments will be necessary. As soon as practical arrangements have been devised and agreed an announcement will be made, giving an address to which applications or inquiries can be sent.

Mr. Thorne

I take it that at the same time the Minister will consider how the children are to be got over in safety?

Mr. Shakespeare

That is the crux of the whole matter.

Mr. Cocks

In view of the fact that the preliminary survey shows that there are 100,000 homes in Canada for receiving children and that there is a plan in Australia for receiving 6o,ooo, will the hon. Gentleman get on with the work as quickly as possible?

Mr. Shakespeare

We are treating this as a problem of the utmost urgency.

Commander Locker-Lampson

Will the children be allowed to go pending the receipt of the report?

Mr. Shakespeare

They will go as far as they can under the present Regulations, but it is a question of getting facilities.

Commander Locker-Lampson

Will the children whose parents can afford to pay be allowed to go?

Mr. Shakespeare

Subject to certain considerations.

Mr. Sorensen

Will consideration be given to the possibility of giving financial assistance to parents in this country with friends or relations in the Dominions who would be willing to accept children? Does the Minister realise that three years ago this proposal was put forward, and is it not a pity that it has not yet been adopted?

Mr. Shakespeare

On the last point, although the proposal was put forward three years ago, it is not yet clear that there is any scheme now in existence in the Dominions. It is our problem to get in touch with the Dominion Governments to devise a practical scheme. On the first point, I agree that the principle of nomination, by which a child in this country can go to a home of a friend or relative in the Dominions, is a principle on which good administration can be founded.

Mr. T. Smith

Will organisations like the council of Fairbridge Farm School be consulted? I am certain that they can give valuable advice.

Mr. Shakespeare

My committee is anxious to consult every organisation that has knowledge of emigration and evacuation questions.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay

Can the hon. Gentleman say how many times the committee has met and whether action has yet been taken?

Mr. Shakespeare

We have met twice. We are meeting this afternoon and we are in daily session; and over and above that, work is proceeding on these problems.