HC Deb 22 April 1948 vol 449 cc2146-56

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn.".—[Mr. Simmons.]

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)

I desire to call the attention of the House in the brief time that remains, to the problems connected with emigration from this country to the Dominions. I would draw attention at the outset to the widespread desire there is in certain Dominions, to which I will refer, to increase their population. Only recently there has come into my possession sonic interesting information from Australia showing that the steps taken to increase the population have been successful during the last period. The gain in the population, despite all disturbances caused by war, in the Commonwealth in 1947 was over 11,000, but if it is examined from the point of view of the interchange of populations within the units of the British Commonwealth, it is not quite so satisfactory. Arrivals in Australia of people of British stock totalled about 23,000, whereas 17,000 left. There was a net gain of British stock of only 5,700, the remainder being Poles, Baits, and so on.

The present position with regard to immigration into Australia is that they have a target figure of some 70,000 a year, 30,000 representing British people under free and assisted schemes, and a further 20,000 they hope will travel under what I might colloquially call their own steam. The remainder will be displaced persons and other Europeans due from the United States. We come to this point. No one who has been in contact with any Australian will fail to realise how eager Australians are to see that any increase in population should be drawn from people of British stock and, if possible, from these islands. When I was in Australia I had as a companion the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food. Wherever we went we found there was a widespread desire in the Commonwealth for a large and substantial increase in population. In conversations with Australians we had various figures given to us. In fact there was an alarming, or rather a widespread, discrepancy in the estimates of the number of immigrants which certain Australians thought their Commonwealth could safely and comfortably absorb in the next few years. But on the whole the people with whom we spoke were satisfied that there was space and good living for a very large number of people indeed. The 70,000 a year which is the present objective of the Australian Government is about the maximum Australia can absorb from her own resources. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us in the near future what arrangements are being made to see whether that number can be increased as part of an Empire scheme.

I now turn to Canada and draw the attention of the House to the speech made in the Canadian Senate by Mr. Arthur Roebuck on 3rd February when he moved a carefully thought-out resolution dealing with immigration, the type of immigrant, the availability of such immigrants, and facilities for his absorption in Canada and employment. The Canadian target is not so precisely defined as the Australian but it can be estimated at 50,000 or 60,000 a year. I do not doubt that other Dominions, South Africa, New Zealand, and Rhodesia have their own ambitions for securing an increase in population drawn from these islands.

While there is this widespread desire in the Dominions overseas to attract people from these islands, we come to the interesting report in the "News-Chronicle" of 19th May of a Gallup poll taken on this question: If you were free to do so, would you like to go and settle in another country? The detailed replies of the British people were: "Yes," 42 per cent. "No," 53 per cent. "Do not know," 5 per cent.

It was suggested in this House—I think it was in the Debate on Monday—that this eagerness to get out of this country had some connection with the policy of His Majesty's Government, but I am trying very hard not to be controversial tonight and the hon. Member who is replying would not wish me to go further. So I am not going to say that that is the prime cause. I believe indeed that the desire to emigrate from this country is one of the interesting phenomena connected with settlement after the war. There is this desire for movement, which may be instinctive—or it may be based on some appreciation of the future of this country.

The hon. Member for Buckrose (Mr. Wadsworth) in an article in the "Commonwealth and Empire Review" suggested that this country had too great a concentration of workers dependent for their income on industry in contrast to agriculture. I believe that opinion is widely held, and I would ask the hon. Member who is to reply, what steps the Government are taking now to examine this problem. Will they address themselves to the question of how many people we can support in this island at, various standards of living? How many can we support at the standard of living we used to enjoy on the outbreak of war, and how many at the standard we have now?

The population of this country at the time of its greatest prosperity in Igor was 41,000,000: it has since risen to over 48,000,000, and people who have examined this quite dispassionately from the scientific point of view without committing themselves to any figure at all, would say that a reduction in the numbers in this country would have no dangerous results whatsoever provided it was a fair sample of the population as a whole and not too selective as to age-groups. On the other hand, the removal of such a population voluntarily and of their own free will to the Dominions overseas would have beneficial results on those Dominions. Therefore, it is with some considerable regret that I heard the Prime Minister, answer the second of two questions put by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) today. The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked the Prime Minister: if he will state the policy of the Government regarding the encouragement and facilitating of large-scale emigration to the Dominions and Colonies: and whether there is an identity of views between His Majesty's Government, Dominions Governments and the Colonial administrations concerning the desirability of greatly increased emigration from the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister replied: No consultations have been held between the Governments of Commonwealth countries on this subject, and I am not in a position to make any statement on the matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 22nd April, 1948; Vol. 449, c. 2,000.] I should have thought that in the light of the planning that is taking place, we would have had a more satisfactory statement. Surely one of the first things to plan is the number of people for whom one proposes to provide a good and proper life? However, I can only hope that that reply was a result perhaps of an incomplete liaison between the Prime Minister's private office and the Commonwealth office, or of some other reason better known to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that we may expect a more satisfactory answer from the hon. Gentleman tonight, and I would encourage him by asking a few questions.

What is the attitude of the Government to this question of emigration overseas? I have endeavoured to find out what it is and—I do not use the words offensively or unpleasantly—it can be accurately described as benevolent indifference. They are quite willing to allow people to go. They do nothing to stop or to help them. They let this question drift along in its own sweet way. What amount of consultation exists? Surely when people of British stock are transferring from one Dominion of the Crown to another there should be some consultation? If there is consultation, on what level is it? Is there any machinery to assist the emigrant who desires to move from this country to the country of his choice? How far does the Ministry of Labour, and the Ministry of Health come into the affair, and is there a point where they hand over and come into close touch with the corresponding departments of the Dominions overseas? If emigration is to be of real service to us I suggest that the proper arrangements should be made with full interchangeability of the social services, the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, and the interchangeability of trade union tickets. On these matters T would surely hope that at least some consultation is taking place.

I realise that the numbers travelling at the present time are very limited. The President of the Board of Trade spoke in Monday's Debate of the shipping shortage. I believe at the moment that is holding this question very much in check coupled with the housing difficulties which exist overseas, but as soon as the shipping problem, and the housing problem in the Dominions begin to ease, I believe that' those pent-up natural forces desiring, on the one hand, to move for reasons which appear to each individual right and proper, and, on the other hand, the attractions which Dominions eager to increase their population offer, will cause an enormous movement of population. For that we must be prepared both in our attitude of mind and machinery of government, and I can only hope very strongly here that these are matters on which the governments of all Dominions are freely and frankly interchanging their views.

In this very difficult post-war world, difficult not only for ourselves but also for the Dominions, it is not a matter for consultation which should be left on Government level alone. I think this is one of the most suitable things that Members of Parliament, as they meet in Parliamentary congresses from time to time, should discuss frankly and in a friendly manner. I have tried to be objective; I have not, I hope, put too many questions to the hon. Gentleman, but I am satisfied that, sooner or later, this country or the Dominions will expect something more satisfactory and forthcoming than the rather disappointing answer which we received from the Prime Minister at Question Time this afternoon.

10.59 p.m.

Squadron-Leader Kinghorn (Great Yarmouth)

I should like to express my sympathy with the hon. Gentleman who has raised this matter, and to assure him, and the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench, that he has the full support of people of all parties in this House. Many of us have been talking on similar lines in this House, and it is my own view, and the view of others, that the answer of the Prime Minister today was most disappointing. We are convinced that in the difficulties of this present peace-time, just as in the difficulties at the height of the war, we have to act as one nation. Since the war the leadership we used to maintain, and the working together of forces, seem to have fallen into the background. If there is one task of this Parliament it is to try to pull those strings together, so that we can work together as one nation, and examine our common resources; and where we can produce greater wealth with greater ease in one part of the Commonwealth we should carry on with that task with the least delay.

We hear stories of the last month being the finest on record for exports of motor cars, and the newspapers have stories about "bursting into the American markets." But if we do burst into those markets with a few extra percentages, the Americans are not going to allow us to remain there. They will act with tariffs and that sort of thing if we have undue success. Most of us know that we shall not have that success; we cannot beat the Americans at their own game. If we are to be successful it will be in our own markets. If we examine the map of Africa and see what the Germans did in the short time they were there, and compare the mileage of railway lines they constructed with the mileage in Rhodesia just across the border, we can see that there is a colossal difference. The Germans seemed to know what they were after. If we ever build that line across Bechuanaland we shall owe a lot to what the Germans did.

The hon. Member referred to an overseas broadcast last week. I would go with him in urging the Government to embark at once on some plan of emigration for the Colonial Empire. But do not let us go with a plan similar to that worked out after the last war, which was attacked this afternoon because people came back after a short time, having been told they were not wanted. We have grown up since then. We can plan the thing properly. Do not let us send just the artisans. Let us send them with their wives and families, their fathers and mothers; let us unify our social services with those in the Empire. In that way we shall get a collection of planned communities. A great deal of the food we now have to import would then not have to leave those shores.

It has been suggested that there should be a great Council of Empire—perhaps in London, perhaps elsewhere. That idea has been turned down. I would suggest that my hon. Friend goes back to the Government and tries to persuade them to set up an Economic Council, which should embark on a plan not only for our own country, but for the Empire, plan its resources, the people who are going to work for them, and the people who are going to consume them. I hope we are going to get some reply from the Under-Secretary which will hold out more hope for the development of the Commonwealth than we received from the Prime Minister this afternoon.

11.4 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Gordon-Walker)

I am obliged to the hon. Member for raising these questions, which are of great importance to us. He asked what the attitude of the Government was, and then proceeded to describe our attitude as being one of benevolent indifference. It is certainly true that we do nothing to stop people going to other parts of the Commonwealth, but I hope to show that it is not true that we do nothing to help them.

The hon. Gentleman approached the problem from the angle of the targets of the particular countries in the Commonwealth, of the numbers of the migrants they would like to see, the spaces they have to populate, and so on. Unfortunately, we have not really yet gone as far as that. The real difficulty is that of shipping. These targets are quite imaginary until the world's shipping position is a great deal better than it is. It is shipping that is holding up the whole problem. As to the help we can give, and have given, to the passage of people from this country to other Commonwealth countries, having regard to the difficult shipping position, we have done a great deal there. If any Commonwealth country were asked, I think it would agree. Of course, one always wants more, but I think that the Commonwealth countries would agree that we have done a good deal there.

I think that in some circles, though not here tonight, a false picture has been painted about the vast number of people longing to leave this country and to go overseas. There has been talk of 500,000 queueing up and being delayed, and talk of a Gallup Poll, which I have not heard of before. It is interesting to note that since the end of the war the average outflow has been about the same as the average of the outflow in the interwar years. The figures go up and down a good deal, but the average remains stable. I think is easier to say "Yes" to a Gallup Poll about what one would like to do than in fact to uproot oneself and go overseas. There are some things about which I do not think a Gallup Poll gives accurate answers, and I rather guess that this is one of them.

It is quite true, of course, that more people are wanting to go overseas to the Dominions today than can be carried. That is the essential problem. I think the hon. Gentleman is quite right when he suggests that this comes after a world war. There was very much the same position after the first world war. Indeed, considerably more people went out in, say, 1920, which was a typical postwar year, than have gone out in a year after this last world war. Had the shipping position been equal, I think we should have had a more equal outflow.

The hon. Gentleman asked a very pertinent question about what is done to aid this general movement of population around the Commonwealth. I think I should make it clear that that matter is not wholly in our control, and not nearly so much in our control as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn) implied. There are two factors out of our control, and which should be out of our control. One is the will of individuals to go. Any scheme of mass migration—the moving of whole towns, and so forth—would involve extreme, totalitarian powers over individuals and whole families. Secondly, there is the question of the receiving Governments. We cannot force people on them. There is no question of sending people away. We can assist only where there are people willing to go and Governments willing to receive them. If the Australian Government, for instance, want Poles, that is a matter for them, and not at all a matter for His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.

Where the two factors are in agreement —and that is so today in the situation of individuals wanting to go and Governments wanting to have them—we do everything we can to assist the outflow. It is mostly a question of providing shipping. In the case of Australia, the situation also includes the agreement we have arrived at with the Government of Australia for sharing the cost of passage; and, indeed, this Government bear the whole cost of the passage of ex-Service men and women. With other Dominion Governments we have not those arrangements. These are bilateral arrangements, and we discuss them with each Government in each particular case, and make somewhat different plans. Of course, we fit ourselves into those plans. The only limitation that we have in mind over the facilities we can offer for travel is that we do not want too many skilled workers in certain categories to go out. With that one exception we are willing and eager to facilitate emigration, and we do our utmost to make shipping available. However, there is not enough shipping, and that was the reason for the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister today.

These big questions of mass migration, of great concerted policies, and so forth, are wholly premature. It would be a waste of time to discuss them or to think about them when we just cannot get out the people who now want to go—the ordinary, regular outflow. I am sure it would be wholly premature to embark upon this Utopian planning, which cannot become a real possibility for a great many years to come.

Squadron-Leader Kinghorn

But why not make a plan?

Mr. Gordon-Walker

There is no demand for working out this plan. This plan cannot be worked out just by our Government here; it would have to be worked out by all the Dominion Governments. They all know they cannot get the people waiting to go to them, and they have no interest in working out this plan in detail. There has been no governmental approach to His Majesty's Government here from any of the Dominion Governments.

The inter-availability of social services is one of the matters which has been discussed between the Governments of the Commonwealth, and, although the details will be extremely difficult to work out, the principle has been accepted all round now that social services should be made available between countries within the Commonwealth. I wholly agree with many of the points raised by the hon. Member, but with one in particular, namely, that this is not only a question of Governments and for Governments. For instance, the inter-changeability of trade union tickets is something into which Governments should not put their fingers, but should be settled by trades unions. The suggestion that when Members of Parliament of the various Commonwealth Parliaments meet they should discuss this subject among others, is admirable.

It seemed to me that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth went a little wide of the main subject of the Debate, and I do not think he will want me to follow him in detail, in these last few minutes, into the possibility of making the Commonwealth one country, and so on. So far as he talked about emigration, which is the real subject of the Debate, I hope he will find that what I have said is reasonable and satisfactory. We ourselves are not satisfied; we shall not be satisfied until we have the shipping that will carry all these people overseas. I beg the House not to think it is due to any indifference on the part of the Government; it is due only to the loss of ships which the Germans sank during the war; nothing else is holding up the proper flow of emigrants to the Commonwealth.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)

In the two minutes left I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) for having drawn attention to this question. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that this emigration policy, in common with other matters, is not being treated as a matter of urgency. I would stress that the safety, not only of this little island of ours, but of the whole Empire, depends upon spreading both our population and our industry. We have great potentialities in mineral wealth, in coal, iron, and so on, and, in my opinion, to create safety for this country we should get our war potential out in the middle of this vast space where we can have hydro-electric power, where the resources have not yet been tapped. I hope the Government will treat this matter as one of extreme urgency and deal with it accordingly.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Fourteen Minutes past Eleven o'Clock.