Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House do now adjourn"—[Mr. Joseph Henderson.]
§ 2.38 p.m.
§ Group-Captain Wilcock (Derby)
The question of emigration has recently been the subject of various Questions in the House and, indeed, a very interesting Debate in another place took place quite recently. I raise the matter now because there are certain very important factors which, to my mind, require immediate consideration. It can be argued, and is argued, that every able-bodied man and woman who leaves our shores at the present time weakens the manpower resources of the country and affects the production drive. If the Government subscribe to that view, then I suggest it is the duty of the Government to prevent emigration, but they do not prohibit emigration, and rightly so, in my view. At the same time, we seem to have no clearly defined policy, no lead, and no advice is given or is available from official Government sources to would-be emigrants. Emigration must always be a long-term policy, and, however, expeditiously it is dealt with, it must be many years before what I would consider an adequate number of people from this country can be decently and properly settled and housed in our Dominions and Colonies, with prospects of a settled future.
881 Secondly, to my mind, there need be no fear that our short-term production drive would be at all embarrassed by a bold and courageous policy of emigration. The total number of people who emigrated last year was over 100,000. That is not an inconsiderable number. I believe that births last year were something like 800,000 in the United Kingdom and so, even with a quite large flow of emigrants, we have many more mouths to feed in this country than before. I suggest that it is the duty of the Government to decide whether this country can carry a population which is estimated to be 48 million to 50 million. Probably, if a census were taken today, the United Kingdom would show a population of something like 50 million. It is interesting to remember that at the time of our greatest prosperity our population was about 30 million. The large increase is, of course, due to the lower death rate and to our better health services.
If it is agreed that it would be unwise and perhaps unsafe to carry a population of 50 million, then I suggest that now is the time for this matter to be most seriously considered, however unpopular the idea may be of a considerable number of our people being advised to leave these shores. I think that planning should commence now and not later on when we shall have our troubles with American aid finishing and overseas markets hardening against us, as they are bound to do in a few years' time. That is the time when we do not want an excess of population which may result in unemployment with all its consequent misery. It would be too late then, I suggest, to the Government, to initiate any ambitious scheme of emigration.
I take the view that the emigration of our people to the Dominions is no loss. I would say that it is rather the reverse. It is a sensible and logical step to redistribute the British people in order to ease the strain in these over-populated and now very vulnerable islands and to strengthen the younger countries, where resources in food and raw materials are great, but where they cannot be developed adequately because of the shortage of population. I believe that this is a subject which requires very close consultation with the Dominions, but I see no sign of the interest of His Majesty's Government in it; in fact I had the 882 greatest difficulty in finding out what has been done in the last two years by the Government in this matter.
It is true that large numbers of emigrants have left this country, and I am aware that they have been assisted to a certain extent, but there has been no general direction. People have gone by boat, overland and by air, and they have been stranded in all sorts of places, and when eventually they have arrived at their destinations the conditions have not been satisfactory. Why they have gone is sometimes difficult to understand. Their decision has probably been made on hearsay, or through seeing the pretty pictures in the Dominion offices in this country, because the Dominions have been competing against each other for the manpower of this country. It is very romantic but not very practicable or very sensible.
I turn to the defence aspect of emigration. I remember the time, as many hon. Members must do, when Great Britain was rightly regarded as a fortress, untouchable because of her sea power, but now we know that the air has entirely altered the situation. Survival in the future depends on the strength of our ties with the Dominions and Colonies and with America, and the extent to which we can be supported from and by the air. In the past, a Continental army was regarded as essential to our national safety, but the last war showed us that now we must rely upon ourselves and upon the Dominions and Colonies, and we can only do this if our air communications are sound.
Moreover, during the last war we learned that concentration was weakness and we had to disperse our factories. Some went to Canada. If that was right—and of course it was right—then, surely, it would be the right policy now to disperse. The question of emigration has been raised several times in this House. On 22nd April, the Under-Secretary of State said that the real difficulty in emigration was that of shipping, and as late as 3rd June, the Secretary of State said that the Minister of Transport was doing everything in his power to find ships, but there was a shortage of shipping. Of course there is a shortage of shipping, but I fail to see why we should use ships for emigration. I hope that 883 my right hon. Friend will look upon this from the point of view of moving these people by air. It is by air that we want our emigrants to proceed for many reasons. One is that it is very much quicker, both the Canadians and Australians are finding this.
The Canadians have a scheme already in which they propose, in American Canadian built aircraft, to take our British emigrants to Canada. The Australians are doing the same, and are making inquiries of Australian and Dutch companies to move our British emigrants by air to Australia. There is another point. Irrespective of the time factor, there is the defence value. Air power must rest on its ground bases, and it is vital to the Empire to establish air bases right along these routes to the Dominions. One day they may very well become our lifeline. If we use these air routes sufficiently then we shall have ground bases, with maintenance facilities, and they will become a permanent way, as it were, just as the railway must have a permanent way, right through to South Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. That is a very important factor. It took us many years to establish our air bases during the war in which to bring aircraft and reinforcements to this country and other parts of the Empire and we are in great danger of losing the use of these bases.
I hope to see, as has already been started by the Canadians, a stream of aircraft taking emigrants through Iceland and Newfoundland to Canada, a journey within 24 hours. I cannot see why the Tudor aircraft, which this country has bought and which are now lying idle, cannot be used for that purpose. They are excellent aircraft for not too long distances, and they could be used for that purpose instead of remaining grounded, unused and a loss, while we are using Canadian and American aircraft. It would be very sensible if His Majesty's Government considered that point.
The question of air transport is fundamental to this problem of emigration. Those of us who believe it is wise to emigrate, say, up to 10 per cent. of our population, which means over four million people, want to see it controlled and directed by the Government. We do not want to see the severance of family ties, which is quite unnecessary provided we 884 develop air transport for this purpose. There must be the closest ties between those who emigrate and those who remain. That is the only way in which emigration can be regarded as a satisfactory solution of the redistribution of our population. With the increase in speed of our aircraft, particularly with the increase in speed which will take place during the next few years, there is no need for any emigrant to be further in time from this country than it now takes a person in Scotland to reach Southern England.
I wish now to put forward a few suggestions on how this redistribution of population might take place. I believe it could best take place on the basis of the construction of new towns in the Dominions. Why not have new towns constructed with the same names as towns in this country? Why cannot it be arranged between the Governments of Great Britain and the Dominions for the siting of such new towns in collaboration with the municipal authorities of the home town. Let me give an example in the case of my own constituency of Derby. I suggest, if this scheme is thought worth while, that a new town with the name of Derby should be created in Canada to which those who live in Derbyshire and who wish to emigrate could apply for settlement. The emigration authorities could then organise the movement and select people in accordance with the requirements of the new town. The emigrants could be flown from Derbyshire airfields to the new town of Derby in Canada.
Selection of emigrants is certainly a matter of great importance. At present it is the young who are leaving this country, and they comprise the most valuable of our age groups. That is why it must be agreed with the Dominions for representative families of all age groups to be accepted. These families must be provided with pensions, benefits and other privileges they have earned as workers in this country. There is no reason at all why these benefits should not be continued. In addition, if such a scheme were adopted, I suggest that any business concern in Derbyshire, such as a factory or retail shop, should have an opportunity of a free grant of land in the new town so that local industry could be pursued in both countries. In this way, there would be a two-way traffic 885 between the two towns, which would foster and increase trade. This is merely an idea but it may be worthy of consideration.
There are various other aspects. For instance, shipbuilding towns in this country would obviously need to site their counterparts on the seaboard of Canada or Australia, and people coming from towns in the South of England would be better in milder climates in the Dominions. It is obviously a sine qua non that the Dominions and Colonies should freely give their advice and assistance. Of course, there would be many difficulties, but in my view we are going to have difficulties in any case in a few years time in this country. At present there is a keen desire on the part of Australia and Canada to receive large numbers of immigrants from this country, and there are now half a million British people waiting to leave this country. That being the case, it seems to me that this is a matter for the Government to accept as being of immediate concern. If it is agreed that the redistribution on a voluntary basis of a certain number of our people is wise, then I suggest that the Government should immediately consider calling a conference with Dominion Governments.
§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Mr. A. R. W. Low (Blackpool, North)
I am sure the House is very grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Derby (Group-Captain Wilcock) for having given us the chance to debate this most important subject of the redistribution of the British population throughout the Commonwealth. I was a little concerned at the close of his speech, and on one or two occasions during his speech, when he referred to the possibility of the Government directing people to go to particular places. I hope that the Government will do nothing of the kind. The Lord Privy Seal, in a recent statement on this subject, said categorically that he relied on the voluntary movement of the individuals.
§ Group-Captain Wilcock
I was, of course, referring to general directions, and was not suggesting for one moment that the Government should direct people against their will. It is after people have decided to go that the Government should come in and direct how they should go and so on.
§ Mr. Low
I think there is not as much difference between us as I first thought, but there is still a small difference, because I want people to be able to go to the part of the world they have chosen for themselves. This Government have a great part to play in conjunction with the Dominions to see that the individual has the fullest facts at his disposal. We and the other members of the Commonwealth, in this matter and in other matters should really get together and discuss and conclude a proper Commonwealth plan. If the British race is to be distributed throughout the British Commonwealth as is best for the Commonwealth as a whole, then it is right that a general plan should be agreed between all the self-governing nations of the Commonwealth. I hope the Under-Secretary will tell us something about the discussions which have taken place on this important matter, and what the Government hope to achieve.
Now I come to the general question, and I hope the House will forgive me if my remarks are somewhat sketchy as, like other Members, I did not expect to have time today to address the House at any length. I believe there are strong political, strategic and economic arguments for encouraging emigration from this country to other countries of the Commonwealth, including not only the so-called Dominions but also the Colonies. The political arguments in favour of it do not seem to have anything against them that I have heard; the strategic arguments, some of which were used by the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, are generally in favour of the dispersal of our industrial potential and manpower from this country.
There are some experts who, I believe, would say that if we cannot get everyone out of the country, nobody should be taken out; that if we think this country is indefensible in a future war—if, unhappily, war should recur—no one should be here at all, but that if it is defensible, we should keep as many men and women here as possible. That is obviously a specious argument, and neither of those two extremes is at all right. The hon. and gallant Member for Derby rather over-stated his case when referring to the great disadvantages of concentration from the strategic point of view without referring to the manifold advantages of concentration which are particularly manifest 887 in the industrial field, and which also occur in the purely military field. On balance, in present circumstances, following the great scientific advances which have been made, and particularly the tremendous advance in the power of the explosive weapon, it is obvious that the more we encourage dispersal, the better for our strength.
On the other hand, however, the time factor, which is often forgotten, must play a great part. I realise that quite apart from the practical possibility of doing so, it would not be wise to uproot everything from a country on which the Commonwealth's strength is based until there is something, somewhere else, as strong and as effective which can replace it. Therefore, from the strategic point of view we must proceed carefully and ensure that we do not so weaken ourselves here—if that were ever possible in the practical circumstances—that we turn ourselves and the Commonwealth from a first-class Power, as we still are, into something less.
On the economic side, there are many pundits who say that the population should be reduced by 10, 20 or 50 per cent., because, by so doing, we should be better off. But I know from first-hand discussions that there are many others who say that we could not possibly judge because there are so many imponderable factors. I believe that the population experts can never tell what the population of this country is going to be even if 10 million are taken today and then emigration is stopped.
One thing which the hon. Gentleman did not refer to and which always raises an interesting point is that if the population of this country were cut by 10 per cent., imports could be cut by 25 per cent. I do not say that that is an absolutely cast-iron argument, but it is certainly something considerable in favour of the proposition that the reduction of the population of this country need not necessarily be followed by a reduction in the standard of life here. There is nothing on the economic side of the argument which tells definitely against emigration in reasonably substantial numbers from this country to other countries of the Commonwealth.
At the beginning of these three points I referred to the political argument and 888 perhaps I may be permitted to return to it, for it seems to me that too little stress is given by the Government and by this House as a whole to the importance of the Commonwealth in the world today. So many of our problems must be considered from the Commonwealth point of view, and I am quite certain that nothing can strengthen the Commonwealth feeling like spreading the population throughout it.
Hon. Members will, of course, realise that but for the emigration which took place from this country in the last 100 years we should not be sitting here now in a free and great country. It is only because of the 17 to 20 million people who went from this country to the far corners of our Commonwealth that we have survived two wars and that we now hold in the world such a high moral position. If we are to maintain that position—and I wish to see it not only maintained but increased—in a world which favours great blocs of power, we must see that our Commonwealth bonds, on which so much depends and has depended in the past for the relationships between the peoples of the Commonwealth, are greatly strengthened.
It seems to me that in this matter the Government, having decided that they are not going to direct any person here out of the country, there are four possible courses which might be taken. First, that the natural desire of young men and their families following a war to go and seek opportunities in other parts of the world should be encouraged. The Government can encourage emigration under the Empire Settlement Act or they can do it in other ways. Secondly, they can tolerate it passively. Thirdly, they can discourage it passively. Fourthly they can discourage it actively.
I understand from the statements which have been made that they do not wish to discourage it actively. We may also say from those statements and from the general facts of the situation that the Government have done very little to encourage it actively. They have allowed the Dominions governments, in whose short-term interests perhaps it is most desirable that young and skilled men go from this country to them, to do most of the direct and active encouragement. I want to make quite certain that the hon. Gentleman is at least not discouraging emigration passively and I should like to encourage him 889 to give more active encouragement than the rather passive encouragement which appears to be given today.
Let me ask one or two questions—firstly, about the effect of the Control of Engagement Order. Is it a fact, or is it not, that men and women covered by the order who wish to emigrate cannot do so because of the Minister of Labour? If it is a fact—and I see the hon. Gentleman taking note of this—that they are stopped from emigrating if they are covered by that order, will he please take steps at once with the Minister of Labour to see that the order is so amended, or that the administration of the order is so carried out, that there is no discouragement? That is the first question which, as I see the hon. Gentleman is leaving the Chamber, seems to have gone home.
The second important question is this: owing to our financial difficulties, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has recently reduced the amount of money which emigrants to Canada can take with them when they leave this country. The amount has been reduced from a total of £5,000, which was drawable in four sums of £1,250 a year, to £1,000, which is drawable annually in sums of £250 a year. I have no doubt that the factors for and against this, to my mind, disastrous Decision were fully weighed but, as I indicated in a supplementary question the other day, there seem to be in this matter many things of much more importance than the sheer saving of dollars. If it is important that those who wish to emigrate to Canada should be allowed to do 30 in order to strengthen the Commonwealth then, surely, we can afford the extra half million or one million dollars to see that they are allowed to do so? If we have to save this sum, let us look around somewhere else for a means of saving it which does not do so much damage to the spirit on which the present strength of the Commonwealth is founded.
As the hon. Gentleman will realise, somebody who wished to take this amount of money, by no means a rich man, might well want to take it to settle on a farm in Western Canada or to start up his own business. He may have planned his life in that way and may not be willing now, when he cannot get the sum of money, to go at all or, if he goes, he 890 might like to go to some other part of the Commonwealth. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to see that this matter is reconsidered, and if all the £5,000 cannot be taken, at least £3,000 should be allowed. I have accused the Government of not giving any active help. I should like to know what active help is being given from this country. What actual financial contributions are we making and, in particular, how is the Empire Settlement Act, which was prolonged in 1937, being worked out today?
I would end on this note. I am sure the House will agree that this matter is of the utmost importance and I hope that we shall discuss it at greater length on another occasion. It is a matter about which we on this side feel very strongly. It is one of those ways—and only one—in which the Government can show that from time to time they really do think on Commonwealth lines, and that they so examine problems such as this from a Commonwealth point of view. Solutions to problems like this may seem a little disadvantageous, perhaps to this country. But if the Government will examine such questions from a Commonwealth viewpoint and are prepared to risk a small short-term sacrifice, in the long run it will be to the great advantage of the British Commonwealth.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I should like to add my thanks to the hon. and gallant Member for Derby (Group-Captain Wilcock) for bringing this matter to the attention of the House so that we may devote a little serious talk to a very urgent question. Nobody can deny the enormous advantages, to ourselves and to the Commonwealth as a whole, of the settlement in these great lands—Western Canada, the Rhodesias and Australia and New Zealand, with their opportunities—of men of British stock, accustomed to the British way of life and imbued with British ideas of freedom and liberty. Two aspects which were touched upon briefly require going into far more deeply. The great need in the Dominions is for trained or skilled men in the prime of life. It has been reckoned that it costs the country between £2,000 and £3,000 to produce a skilled, trained man of 22 or 23 years of age. We have to consider how far we can afford men of that calibre and with those qualities, in the very prime of life, 891 leaving us, even for the advantages of settlement overseas.
My second point concerns one of the great problems we have to face—the entire re-casting of our sociological position by the increased expectation of life. We have now, for all practical purposes, a static producing population. We have a very large and growing age group who are far beyond the producing stage. If we are going to lose, even with the many benefits which will accrue, a substantial proportion of our producing population, whilst retaining the whole burden of maintaining the non-producing age group, we shall bring about a very serious dislocation in what is already a serious sociological position. That is why I welcome what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Derby about creating new townships overseas, to which whole families or industries should move, if we are to tackle this question seriously.
There has been talk about control and direction. There are supposed to be some 500,000 of our best and most adventurous spirits anxious to move abroad into the Dominions and there secure a wider and freer opportunity in life. That number will be considerably diminished when it comes to the test of producing passages. I should view with dismay, however, the idea of a very large number of these best and brightest of our men drifting overseas, coming face to face with grave disillusionment and possibly returning disappointed men, the worse, rather than the better, for their experience abroad.
Without using the word direction, which is abhorrent to some people, but not equally abhorrent to me, I feel strongly that there should be some guidance and control of the movements of emigration, however desirable it is itself, if we are to reap benefits from it rather than the reverse. I listened with some anxiety when the hon. and gallant Member spoke of the development of air travel as keeping the emigrant in very close touch with his home country. I think that may be very seriously prejudicial. We want these men and families to go to the Dominions and make their homes there and to feel part and parcel of the Dominions. While retaining a sentimental and affectionate regard for the mother country, they should not regard 892 their life abroad as a mere incident of their lives. It should be of the very essence of their lives. I feel very strongly that young men considering life abroad in the Dominions, should complete their education in the Dominions because, although the curricula and general layout of the education system may be similar to our own, there is a different atmosphere.
I do not wish to be a pessimist, but I regard our economic future in this island with uncertainty. We have maintained our standard of life on two things. One is the receipts from overseas investments, which have substantially gone for all practical purposes, and the other is a large market in the Dominions for our manufactured products, while they were pursuing mainly agricultural operations. Those days have gone. In the Dominions secondary industries have been built up and have become primary industries. To their development most of the activities and energies of those living in the Dominions will go. We must face the position that there will be increasing competition in the Dominions for those manufactured articles the export of which has been such a powerful factor in raising and maintaining our present standard of life.
I belong to an emigrating family. I do not think there is a single Dominion where the bones of my people have not rested for the last two generations. I hope they have done more good under the soil than some of them did above the soil. I feel strongly that this is not just a passing question which we can discuss today and ignore in the months to come. It is one to which the Government and this House must give serious consideration. They must have a policy and there must be guidance and influence and, I think, preparation. Because I regard it as an issue of very nearly first-class importance in the changed conditions of our social and economic life, once again I thank the hon. and gallant Member for Derby for having so pertinently directed our attention to it.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I am sure the House will agree when I say that we have listened to three admirable speeches upon this topic of emigration. I agree, in the main, with most of the observations that fell from each of the three speakers. It seems clear that emigration may be a great 893 loss to the nation if unplanned, but a great gain if well planned. If unplanned, it may lead, not only to a loss here at home, but to chaos in the country to which the unplanned emigration takes place. I venture to think that the hon. Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low) laid rather too much stress upon the war aspect, and I should like to say a little about the other side.
Emigration may be a great opportunity which at present is badly needed for drawing together the various elements in the great British Commonwealth of Nations. It may have a very important effect on the formation of public opinion, on inter-Dominion and Commonwealth opinion, and form a surer, stronger and better basis for common action than we have at present. Indeed, it may help to spread and formulate, in a very constructive way, the British way of life. Never was that more important than it is today, in these post-war conditions when we see various world entities seeking for recognition. When we have suggestions for a United States of Europe, and the question whether we should revert to the old balance of power or the concert of Europe, it is very important that emigration between the various elements of the British Commonwealth of Nations should be, not merely tolerated but encouraged on a planned basis.
For that reason it is important to have an Imperial Conference, or a Commonwealth Conference, at the earliest moment. There are a great many problems affecting all the nine Dominions in the Commonwealth of Nations which could be hammered out in the course of such a conference. It is commonly said and we know that there are intangible bonds which bind the nations of the Commonwealth together. That was found, of course, during the war. But there are also a great many concrete tangible relations from which arise difficult industrial and economic problems. These should be discussed at an early Imperial or Commonwealth Conference. I hope that such a conference will take place at an early date, because there are, clamouring for discussion and decision, urgent problems, prominent amongst them being that of emigration, which needs to be put upon a really planned basis, so that it may lead to constructive and valuable results for the Commonwealth at large.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
During the last six months there have been in another place two Debates, of very high quality indeed, on the subject which we are discussing here today. I mention that only because I wish to express my very deep regret that the Leader of the House has not been able to see his way, and only yesterday refused, to allow a Debate in this House on Commonwealth relations. As a result, it has been left to the initiative of the hon. and gallant Member for Derby (Group-Captain Wilcock) to raise this extremely important subject which, purely by good fortune, has had a certain amount of time available for its discussion instead of the customary half-hour.
The hon. and gallant Member for Derby asked the Government, in the clearest terms for a bold policy. In that I support him absolutely. He made it quite clear that in his opinion the Government have no policy at all at the moment. I am sure the hon. and gallant Member will agree that that was the purport of the whole of his remarks. I fully support everything that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low). There was one remark of the hon. and gallant Member who opened this Debate which struck me as odd. He said—I think I am paraphrasing him correctly—that however unpopular the policy of emigration may be, he still advocated the wider dispersal of our manpower. I do not believe that a bold policy of emigration will be at all unpopular. There has been little attempt made to publish the colossal opportunities offered in the Dominions of Australia and Canada. I do not think there is any question at all of such a policy being unpopular.
Like the hon. Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low) I thought I detected—I hope I was wrong a hint of compulsion in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member who raised this matter originally. If I was wrong, I am glad. But, on the other hand, I have seen many indications recently that there are hon. Members opposite who, just as they like to direct labour in this country, would like to direct part of the population of the United Kingdom to the Dominions and Colonies. I, as a Conservative, reject utterly the basis of compulsion.
895 I am only sorry that I had not an opportunity before this Debate commenced, to see the Minister who is to reply. I apologise also if my speech is somewhat disjointed. I had no idea that I should have an opportunity to make a speech at all. I wish to ask the Government a series of questions. Is it the policy of the Government to encourage or to discourage emigration overseas from these islands? I am really not quite sure which it is. What advice has been tendered to the Government by our civil defence experts since the end of the war? We cannot ignore these matters; we are cluttered up in this island in an age when by the dropping of, shall I say, a dozen atomic bombs, the industrial potential of the whole of the London area could be wiped out. Let us face it. What advice has been tendered by the civil defence experts and what are the Government going to do as a result of that advice? Do they acept that we are extremely vulnerable in this area? Has any consideration been given to the whole problem of the dispersal of our industrial potential? What consideration has been given to it and what decisions have been made about it? From the purely military angle, what advice has been tendered to the Government by the Chiefs of Staff in this matter? I see the Minister shakes his head—
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Gordon-Walker)
I cannot tell the hon. and gallant Member.
§ Major Beamish
The hon. Gentleman cannot tell me. That only goes to show that this matter is being dealt with, as is usual by this Government, in watertight compartments—
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
I did not mean that I was unable to tell the hon. and gallant Member. I meant that I was not entitled to tell him.
§ Major Beamish
No doubt when he replies the Minister will be able to say that certain advice has been tendered, and that in the light of the advice, whatever it is, the Government are considering what they are to do. That is all I can expect him to say.
On the question of housing I asked a Question only a few days ago, on 15th 896 June, of the President of the Board of Trade in connection with the export of prefabricated houses to the Dominions. My reason for asking that Question was because I saw several thousand prefabricated houses reported as likely to be sent to Victoria in Australia, and I wanted to know whether the Government had had any discussions with Dominion Governments about housing. The President of the Board of Trade replied that there had been no official export negotiation between His Majesty's Government and the Overseas Governments. He continued:There are no official statistics of the exports of houses as such."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th June, 1948; Vol. 452, c. 31.]That was disappointing. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that if one is thinking of large-scale emigration one must think Imperially where houses are concerned; one must think not only of the actual houses, but of the materials for building them and of the building force required. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Derby made a most interesting suggestion about new towns. That opens up all sorts of possibilities which I hope the Government are considering. We are always told that large-scale emigration is precluded by the bottleneck in transport—I hate the word "bottleneck" but it has become so common in our language that I use it here. The hon. and gallant Member for Derby surprised me when he went so far as virtually to rule out the sea transport of emigrants. I think that he let his theme run away with him a little too much, in the light of his past Service record, and that he went just a little bit too far.
If this subject really is important and we really wish to encourage emigration, has consideration been given to the possibility of using aircraft carriers? They are very comfortable, and they could be fitted up to transfer tens of thousands of emigrants overseas. I suppose that they run reasonably economically. I should like the Minister to tell us whether such a possibility has been considered and, if not, whether the Government will consider it. I should also like him to say whether the Government are considering any large-scale air transport for emigrants.
On the question of manpower generally, the hon. and gallant Gentleman was correct in saying—I saw it in "The 897 Economist" only a fortnight ago—that we have at last hit the 50 million mark. It is true that we have reached that total by only a very few thousand, but we have reached it. It is most extraordinary that the whole question of manpower has not been given more consideration by the Government. What would be the effect of a reduction of 5 million in our population over the next 10 years, or of 10 million over the next 20 or 25 years? This is an immense problem which will require many months of expert study by economists, industrialists and others. I would like an assurance that consideration is being given to that matter. If it is not, how is it possible for this Socialist Government to plan every stick and stone of the country without any idea of what is to be the manpower available in order to produce these sticks and stones which they say they are planning with such accuracy?
Only last year I believe that something in the nature of 100,000 displaced persons were brought to these islands. I have every sympathy with those people. I have seen them in their camps, and I think that maybe we were right to bring them here and to do all that we can for them. At the same time as 100,000 displaced persons or European Volunteer Workers were brought here, we accepted and resettled something like 80,000 Poles from the Polish Resettlement Corps. I think that we were entirely right to do that in the circumstances. This shows that the Government are doing their best to increase our working population. Not only are we taking ex-Allies but, at this moment, Ministry of Labour officials are in Germany looking for thousands of German girls to come to this island to supplement our labour force.
If the Government go to those lengths, it seems to me that their plan, far from allowing our population to decrease, is to allow it to increase. I should like to know whether it is the policy of the Government to encourage or discourage large-scale emigration. The Dominions want manpower, and I think the Government must face the fact that, if they cannot get British stock, they will go in for foreigners, because they are determined to increase their population. The implication of what I am saying must be obvious to hon. Members of all parties. How much easier it is for us in these 898 islands to absorb foreigners and turn them into Britishers, with our comparatively large population, than it is for New Zealand, with less than 2,000,000 people, to absorb a large number of foreigners.
I asked the Prime Minister two Questions on 22nd April. One was what consideration had been given to the planned dispersal of the industrial potential of the United Kingdom throughout the Commonwealth, on which I asked him whether there was an identity of view between ourselves and the Dominion Governments on this matter, and the other asked the Prime Minister to state the policy of the Government regarding the encouragement and facilitating of large-scale emigration to the Dominions and Colonies. I want to read the Prime Minister's reply, because it was an amazing one. He said:I assume that these two questions are related and that they both refer to the suggestion that a large section of the industry and population of the United Kingdom should be removed to other parts of the CommonwealthThe right hon. Gentleman was quite right in that assumption.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. 2000.]What an amazing thing that, almost three years after the end of the war, no consultations at all have taken place with the Dominion Governments on the question of emigration. It is a staggering thought. Are we really to be told that 16 nations can get together and discuss Marshall Aid, and hundreds of hon. Members opposite can talk of merging our sovereignty with the Portuguese and the Italians, when we cannot even discuss the question of emigration to the Commonwealth and cannot even call a conference to deal with it?
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is talking about emigration. In his question he talked about mass emigration, to which the Prime Minister's reply referred.
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that the Prime Minister's assumption in his reply was correct.
§ Major Beamish
All I am doing is reading my Question to the Prime Minister and telling the House what I wanted to know about large-scale emigration, and the answer was that no consultations had been held. I imagine that, if there were consultations about emigration at all, there was talk about both small-scale and large-scale emigration, because one cannot set a limit before one discusses a problem. The Government made it clear that there was no consultation at all. I want to ask whether, in fact, there is going to be a Dominions Conference in the near future and, if so, when it is to be held and where? I also want to know whether these important matters will be discussed at this Conference?
§ Major Beamish
Yes, and in this House. I said earlier that I was disappointed that we had had no opportunity to discuss Commonwealth relations in this House, while the Government were perfectly prepared to keep the whole House up all night to nationalise the gas industry. I believe that 1947 will go down to history, if for nothing else, as the year in which the Socialist Party discovered the Empire. In spite of that, it is perfectly clear to me that they are still wholly unaware of the value of the Empire, although I admit that they have discovered it. In Australia today, for the first time in its history, there is a Socialist Government who favour immigration, and they are being broadminded and far-seeing on this particular problem. That fact should surely be of assistance to this Government, apart from the fact that the Australian Government have to face in Australia a Conservative Opposition which is thinking, if anything, on even more broadminded and far-seeing lines about the same problem. What size of population have Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in mind?
§ Major Beamish
That is what I have done, and that is what the Government ought to be doing. I have asked them, and I understand from some people, who are not necessarily authorities, that there are many long-term views in the Dominions, all of which should be known to the Government. I have heard it said 900 that the Australians may be budgeting many years hence, perhaps 15 or 20 years hence, for a population of 20 million. Some people say they are budgeting for an even larger population. Others say that New Zealand, with a population of less than two million, looks forward to the day, perhaps 25 or 30 years hence, when there may be more than three million. Canada, I am told by those who study these things, hopes to double its population during the next 25 years. If this information is true—and I believe it is—it only goes to show what an immense problem it is, and what a grave mistake has been made by the Government in not facing the problem until this moment. At any rate, I hope that when the Minister replies, he will make it clear that, as from this moment, the Government will do something. Finally—
§ Major Beamish
I am sorry if the hon. and gallant Gentleman has not enjoyed my speech. There is a lot more that I could tell him. If he wants me to go on I certainly will. [Interruption.] The hon. and gallant Gentleman encourages me to go on. I have just remembered something else I wanted to say. I believe it is wrong, in the case of emigration, whether large-scale or small-scale, to give the impression to intending emigrants that they are going to be nurse-maided from the moment they leave these shores until the moment they arrive, and from then on until they die. I do not believe that the sort of men and women who will be most useful to the Dominions and Colonies want this constant mollycoddling which is so typical of this modern age. I believe there are plenty of young men and women, with their dependants—of course, I have been talking about a cross-section of the population—who are prepared to go out and rough it in the same way as people used to do, and perhaps build their own houses with their own hands, even if they are not allowed to do so here.
If we approach the problem from that angle, and make it clear that they will not be nurse-maided from the cradle to the grave and given every sort of assistance by the Government, such as guaranteed employment and all that sort of thing, the better type of people will go 901 out and will seize their opportunities more willingly. This Government of small-minded men have shown themselves to be quite incapable of thinking big about this immense problem. They have shown themselves to be quite incapable of thinking Imperially, which is what they should be doing. I ask the Minister to give a categorical and bold statement, as he was asked to do by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Derby—who was so critical of the Government, as I have been—that the Government are aware of the problem, that they will face it and that they will face it quickly.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
It is the easiest thing in the world to be controversial about the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish), but I do not think this is the occasion to do so. I think perhaps that some political platform would be a better place. I must point out, however, that he appeared to contradict himself. At the beginning of his speech he accused hon. Members on this side of being in favour of direction of large numbers of people in this country to some unspecified place overseas. Then, at the end, he was chiding the Government for not taking action to get some large-scale emigration. I fail to see how the Government could get large-scale emigration of unwilling people except by directing them. It would be interesting to know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself is in favour of direction of people overseas.
§ Major Beamish
Since I have been asked the question, let me say again, since the hon. Member apparently did not hear me, that I utterly reject direction—those were my words—nor have I in any way said that people are unwilling to go. The whole burden of my argument was that I believe people want to go, but that they are not being given any encouragement by the Government.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I hope that we are agreed on the point, and that the hon. and gallant Member will acquit anyone on this side of wanting to direct people 902 overseas. Where I differ with him is on the size of the problem. I do not think there is such a tremendous problem as has been suggested by some Members in this Debate. There is glamour about emigration. It conjures up a vision of pioneering days when it was thought to be easy to go overseas and earn a fortune in a few years and then return to this country to live a life of ease. These days have gone, and I am inclined, like the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed), to speak with a certain degree of caution about these matters. People think in the immediate post-war years that they want to get away from something they regard as unpleasant. They think it is the easiest thing in the world to go overseas to a Dominion and carve out a career for themselves, but the evidence we have from people who are now returning disillusioned and disappointed from these countries should also be stressed a little. We do not want people to go overseas' and then be disillusioned, because that type of person is no good for any democracy.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I was just coming to that point, but every Member has evidence in his possession of people who have met with housing difficulties, employment difficulties, difficulties in the cost of living and so on who have preferred to come back to this country. My hon. Friend has been asked what the Government intend to do about all this, but it should be pointed out that this is a problem not only for this country, but for the Dominions. We must have discussion and consultation with the Dominions, but ultimately the decision as to how many people they are to take and the type of people they are to take, whether it is the married man, the craftsman or the unskilled worker, and whether they want people for the towns or backwoods, is a matter for the Dominions. These are all problems for the Dominions to face, and we ought to have as much information on these points as possible so that people can make their decisions in the right perspective.
903 I think that this Debate has tended to get a little out of proportion. If it is to serve any useful purpose we have to deal with this matter in its true perspective, and in this connection I ask my hon. Friend to tell us how many people have left our shores since the end of the war, and how many are now committed to go overseas—by that I do not include those who have a vague desire to go overseas. If we could get an answer to that question we should then have some idea of the problem involved. There are many reasons why people want to emigrate. Some want to go because they think they can get a life of ease, and this applies particularly among those who wish to go to South Africa. What is the position today about emigration of British subjects to South Africa? Recent events, I think, have caused a certain amount of disquiet about the future of British emigrants to South Africa, and if we could have information on that point it would be welcomed.
The hon. and gallant Member for Derby (Group-Captain Wilcock), who opened this Debate, spoke of what I would term an idealistic scheme of transferring people from his own county of Derby into some new town called Derby overseas. He gave us instances to show how people from the South Coast could be located in a similar climate overseas. I do not want to be disrespectful to Derbyshire, which is a beautiful county, and it may be that the people who leave there would want a similar place overseas, but, surely, many people leave this country because they want to get away from the particular environment in which they are living. I think that his scheme was a little bit of a fairy tale which cannot possibly come true.
I would say to all those who are considering going overseas that they ought to think again. We need every single able-bodied person in this country to help us through the present crisis, and I think that it is being escapist to leave this country for any of those reasons which have been put forward in certain cases—that people do not like the Government, or the restrictions and regulations that exist here. That has not been brought up in the Debate today, but there are people, we are told, who are leaving because of taxation, and so on. If those people were any good at all they would 904 have stayed here and would have fought out the matter in this country. I make this final appeal: There is just as much sense of adventure in this country and just as many prizes to be won in this country by those who have the determination as in the Dominions, and I hope that we shall get a more commonsense approach to this problem.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) introduced party politics. As one who from these benches made continual demands on the Conservative Party when they were the Government of the day, I think that one of the surprising things about politics today is the record of the Government on Colonial and Empire development. No one expected the Labour Party when they came into power to do something about matters which the Conservative Party had neglected for a large number of years. I quite impartially pay my tribute to them for that. I think that if the hon. and gallant Member will allow me to say so, he is forgetting that the Dominions are self-governing countries. They are free and independent democracies and full members within the British Commonwealth.
§ Mr. Granville
The whole of the hon. and gallant Member's speech was based on the old Conservative conception of telling the Colonies from Westminster what should be the policy of the British Empire. I say that all that has gone. I looked for a long time to see this new conception of a democratic Commonwealth coming from the Conservative Party when it was in power, but so far we have not had it. Therefore, I say that the hon. and gallant Gentleman ought to bear in mind that if his speech were read in the newspapers of Ottawa or Melbourne it might not achieve the purpose which he had in mind.
§ Major Beamish
I should like to point out to the hon. Member that he has completely overlooked the fact that the Dominions want these men. He does not seem to understand that. All I can say is that if he will read the Dominion newspapers himself, he will see their reactions. This Government are so infernally slow over the matter.
§ It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Joseph Henderson.]
§ Mr. Granville
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman has studied this problem from the point of view of the Dominions, but they want certain types of people from this country. They are not so anxious to get artisans, or workers from secondary industries; they want people like farm workers, who will go into the primary industries, and these people are just the ones we want to keep here. When the hon. and gallant Gentleman says, "This is what they want in the Dominions," I would remind him that it has always been a question of balancing emigration and immigration.
We are indebted to the hon. Member for Derby (Group-Captain Wilcock) for raising this matter today. I asked the Lord President of the Council yesterday if we could have a Debate on Commonwealth relations and good fortune has given us the Adjournment Debate this afternoon. I hope, however, that the Government will give us more time to Debate this important subject, because we are, after all, members of the British Commonwealth. A great deal depends upon the initiative shown by the Government. It is a long time since we had before us a full conception of the Statute of Westminster. I believe that if the Foreign Secretary would give us a new democratic conception of that Statute there is no reason why India, Pakistan and South Africa should not remain free democratic members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. I recognise that there is to be a conference this autumn, and that the Government may be in the middle of preliminary discussions. I hope they will take the initiative, as much will depend upon that. I hope that when a new declaration is forthcoming we shall be given the opportunity of discussing it.
I was surprised that the hon. Member for North Blackpool (Mr. A. R. W. Low) suggested that we were in danger of too 906 much decentralisation in the Commonwealth—
§ Mr. Granville
If there is one thing the last war has taught us, and the trend of events is teaching us today, it is that the life of these islands will depend on the decentralising of our industrial war potential and scientific development.
§ Mr. Low
The hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood something I said about concentration. I was referring to the argument put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Derby (Group-Captain Wilcock), that concentration was a bad thing. I said that, on balance, there were great advantages in reducing concentration but that there were arguments on the other side.
§ Mr. Granville
Here, again, a great deal of initiative must come from the Government. On the decentralisation of our industrial war potential and scientific development the future of these islands depends. We ought to have had a Commonwealth Academy of Science in London, and in the Dominions, too. We ought to have maintained contact with those scientific young men who came here from the Dominions during the war.
I have not seen any statement from the Parliamentary Secretary on what is being done about the area plan. That deals with Dominions and Colonies immediately around the Dominions, planning their own economic development as well as their defence problems. That subject was studied at several Imperial Conferences, and the Government ought to do something about it now. There are, of course, many who say that the capital of the British Commonwealth of Nations ought to be in one of the Dominions. If that is the spirit in which an approach is going to be made to great Commonwealth plans we should support it. What is wrong with having the capital in Ottawa, Canberra or somewhere else? If there is to be a democratic interest in the Dominions in this question we have to face up to it and we should tell them that we are at one with the Dominions in that policy.
I have seen it reported that there is some difficulty in getting some of the Dominion Prime Ministers to come here for the Dominion Conference because of 907 some changes which have taken place. Why not have the Conference in South Africa, Canada or further afield? Is there any reason why we should not make history and have the Conference in one of the Dominion capitals? Finally, I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Derby about an air plan. Canadian Airways have shown us the way that it might be done. There are a great many charter companies who would be willing to carry out such a scheme, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is going to give some support to this proposal. What we want in the Commonwealth today is not so much emigration as exchange of population between the member States.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
We are all indebted to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Derby (Group Captain Wilcock) for having raised this important and fascinating subject. We have had a most useful Debate. I do not agree entirely with the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) and I do not understand his references to the Statute of Westminster. I do not think that it introduces any change in this matter at all. I would urge upon the Government to take every possible step to encourage emigration provided it is planned and developed in accordance with the wishes of the Dominions. I hope we can look forward to a future in which there will be the closest possible integration between this country and the British Dominions which owe allegiance to His Majesty, including India and Pakistan.
I hope that as soon as possible we shall revert to the kind of civilisation in which every kind of national frontier and barrier, whether within the Commonwealth of the British Empire or outside it, is diminished to the greatest possible extent. I hope that His Majesty's Government will take the initiative in making possible an easier and freer interchange of population between one part of the Commonwealth and the other. There is, at the present moment, a Bill under consideration in another place, entitled, the British Nationality Bill which it would be out of Order for me to discuss here, but which makes a valuable contribution to the matter.
908 There are other aspects of this matter. For example, we have in this country, thanks to the beneficent contribution of this Government, a comprehensive plan of social insurance. I hope that the benefits of our present system of social insurance can be so interpreted and managed by agreement with the Dominions that nobody who emigrates from these islands will lose the benefit of social insurance by reason of that emigration. I happened to be in Paris a week ago today when the Minister of National Insurance, who is also chairman of the Executive Committee of the Labour Party, was signing a concordat with his opposite number in France to ensure that the people who moved from here to France or vice versa would be able to maintain the benefits of social insurance conferred by the national Governments of those respective countries, a very desirable piece of international legislation welcomed in this country and welcomed in France, and throughout the French Press.
We hope that similar reciprocal arrangements may be made between this country and all the Dominions and Colonies, so that anybody who has any entitlement to benefit under our magnificent scheme of national insurance will be able to retain those benefits if he emigrates. I hope that in addition to our present conception of political nationality operating within the British Commonwealth of Nations, there may soon be something akin to an ideal of economic citizenship whereby there may be a preservation of economic benefit. I believe it would be of the greatest advantage to the British Commonwealth, and the conceptions and traditions which the British Commonwealth of Nations has conferred on humanity, that these benefits should be capable of the greatest possible assimilation and preservation, and applied with the greatest possible flexibility, to emigrants from this country abroad or to immigrants coming here. I believe it is possible to work out in greater detail than has been possible in the past a system whereby people who emigrate from this country can get the same kind of social benefits in the realm of social insurance, unemployment benefit, old age pensions and so forth, in our Dominions as they would if they remained in this country.
909 In common with other hon. Members I think this is something which should receive the earnest attention of the Government and of the Imperial Conference, which I hope will be convened shortly in this country or elsewhere in the Dominions, to discuss this and other problems of great and growing interest to the Commonwealth. I agree with the hon. Member for Eye that it is immaterial whether an Imperial Conference is held in this country or abroad, because it is no longer correct to regard ourselves as the Mother country and the Dominions as daughter Dominions; we are, in fact, sister Dominions of one Commonwealth and that is the concept we should adopt.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Gordon-Walker)
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Derby (Group-Captain Wilcock) for raising this matter because it enables me to answer questions put by him and other hon. Members about our attitude on this general matter of emigration. I should like to say as clearly and firmly as I can that the Government want to encourage and facilitate the flow of emigration from this island to the various parts of the Commonwealth. We do not want to force anyone to go, but we want to facilitate the flow, with only this proviso, that we reserve the right to check too great a flow of certain types of highly skilled workers. The hon. Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low) raised the question of the Control of Engagement Order. The fact is that we reserve our rights under this so that it may be used, if necessary, to stop particular skilled workers from going, but there is no intention of applying it generally. A man coming under the Control of Engagement Order is not debarred from going unless we have decided, which we have not yet done, to invoke it.
I want to make it clear that we have paid great attention to the problem of emigration, particularly to those aspects which are the most pressing. The problems have to be solved in order that we may increase the flow. As was stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees 910 (Mr. Chetwynd), we are not the only party concerned. Certain speakers appeared to assume that it was merely a matter of this Government deciding to move people and that by so doing the problem would be settled. There are two other parties besides this Government—the emigrant, who must be willing to move, and the receiving Government, who must be willing to receive him. We are only one party in three in the whole transaction of emigration inside the Commonwealth.
The hon. and gallant Member for Derby said that no advice was available about migration and conditions. It is not the task of this Government to promulgate such advice. Dominion Governments, in fact, would resent our doing so, for it is their affair and they do it on a good and active scale. It is for the receiving Government to paint a picture of the conditions which the emigrant will find. There are two severe material difficulties in the way of the ordinary flow of migration. One is shipping. [Laughter.] It is of no use for hon. Members to laugh. This is a great and grave problem, as is the problem of housing in the Commonwealth. There is very little, if anything, which we can do about housing. The number of houses, which we can export is minute and could not become an important factor. Shipping we can do something about, and we have made all possible provision from the shipping available. There has never been any criticism from the Commonwealth about our failure to do so.
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees asked how many people had emigrated since the war. The figure is roughly 150,000 in the last two years. He asked also the numbers now wanting to go from this country to the Commonwealth. It is impossible to give an answer. Only the High Commissioners of the various Dominions keep such lists and know the numbers who want to go to their own particular countries.
§ Major Beamish
On a point of accuracy, the Under-Secretary said that 150,000 people had gone overseas in the last two years. Does that figure relate to the Dominions and Colonies—
§ Major Beamish
The figure recently given to me by the President of the Board 911 of Trade was 210,000 to the British Empire.
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
I was talking about self-governing Dominions within the Commonwealth. I had rounded off the actual figure, which may be a little more or a little less.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton)
The hon. Gentleman has said that the Dominion Governments keep lists of applicants. Is there any reason why he should not ask for the figures? Surely the various Governments will not be unwilling to let him know?
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
I do not know, but they have not been asked. A difficult problem of collation and a great deal of work would be involved to get such figures and there might be considerable overlapping. I do not know whether it is worth while to ask for the numbers of people who have put down their names. It is more important to know how many will back up their applications. I do not think it will be worth the labour involved.
There is an assisted passage scheme to Australia and a minor children's emigration scheme. Under that 11,800 people have gone to Australia with assistance partly from this Government and partly from Australia. The numbers will undoubtedly increase rapidly but shipping is still one of the major bottlenecks. There are two big ships, the "Monarch of Bermuda" and the "Cameronia" which we are rebuilding and redesigning as emigrant ships. When they are afloat they will add enormously to the numbers which can be carried around the Commonwealth. I would not like to give any estimate of what the rate of flow might be in two years' time, as there are many unknown factors such as the rate at which ships can be produced, but there will be a very big increase in two years in the number of emigrants who can be carried. We must not give up all space to emigrants, as it is important that business people, Government representatives and ordinary people visiting friends should be able to move about the Commonwealth.
The hon. and gallant Member raised the question of using the air almost as a substitute for sea transport. I think he was unintentionally exaggerating. It seems 912 extremely doubtful that air transport can be anything more than an additional means. It cannot make a very big contribution towards solving the problem.
§ Group-Captain Wilcock
Surely my hon. Friend knows that at least 200,000 people crossed the Atlantic by air, and that the Canadian Government are now arranging for them all to go by air.
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
I was coming to that. It is very expensive and in all existing schemes the emigrant has to pay the cost, which makes it a selective process. One also has to carry a lot of luggage and to take clothes and tools when one emigrates. The Ontario scheme came to an end after eight months. It was fairly successful and some 7,000 were carried successfully. The Canadian Government have a scheme for a service by which the emigrant will pay £72, but I doubt whether it is going to make an enormous difference. I quite agree that the air must be used to supplement sea passages, but I do not want to raise false hopes that it will make a substantial difference. The great bulk must be carried by sea. Negotiations are going on with Australia about an air scheme. But the cost of air transport to Australia is extremely high and may prevent any such scheme being used.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) raised the question of a common policy on social security. That is an excellent idea which the Government strongly support. Last year there was an official expert Commonwealth Conference on this matter at which agreement in principle was arrived at in the whole Commonwealth for equating and bringing into balance the various schemes. The very complicated and detailed work is going ahead. To some extent it is in operation and the Australian Government are already giving short-term benefits, such as sickness benefits to emigrants, but the longer term benefits such as pensions, are much more difficult and are still being considered.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that he will press the Dominions Governments to give reciprocal benefits?
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
It would not be for us to press them, and it would not be necessary, as they need no pressing. 913 The Governments want to have our emigrants and there is no need to press anyone. The Minister of National Insurance gave a specific undertaking in an answer the other day that he was pushing and would continue to push ahead in this matter in the Dominions and other foreign countries.
The question raised by the hon. Member for North Blackpool (Mr. A. R. W. Low) about the amount of capital that could be taken to Canada is very difficult. It is easy to say, "Find it from somewhere else; make the cut somewhere else," but it is very difficult to do it. I should not like to go so far as to say that it is being or will be reconsidered, but I will draw the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the point he and other hon. Members made. However, this question of dollars is very difficult, and cannot just be brushed aside.
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) about the need for a longer Debate. Of course there are Supply Days, and he could bring pressure to bear on his own Front Bench to secure that the party which has been so long interested in this, and, as he said, so much more interested than the Labour Government, could provide the necessary time for a Debate, It would be welcomed on the Government side, for I quite agree that we need a longer time for the proper debating of this matter.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
The Under-Secretary has apparently passed by what I said. Would he indicate what are the prospects of an Imperial Conference to consider these problems?
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
No, I certainly could not. That is not for me. It would be for the Prime Minister in due course to announce the date of the calling of a Commonwealth Conference, if there is to be such an announcement.
I now turn to say something about the problem of mass emigration, which I have left to the end. It is a very difficult problem. I agree with the hon. Member for North Blackpool and the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed), that it has to be approached carefully; we must not rush into this idea of carting masses of people away from these islands; and we must not, as I thought my hon. and gallant Friend the Member 914 for Derby did, base the whole argument on the assumption that Britain is weak and finished; we must be very careful not to approach it in that way.
§ Group-Captain Wilcock
I really must ask my hon. Friend to let me say that said nothing about that. He cannot find anything in what I said to suggest that England is weak.
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
I will not pursue that. I apologise if I misrepresented my hon. and gallant Friend. This is something which just cannot be settled quickly; nor can a policy be made on it quickly. Extremely complex problems are involved, such as strategy and the balance of the population. One cannot quickly answer questions such as, "What would happen if we took away five million of the population?" It would take many months to produce answers to questions such as the relative requirements of the different Commonwealth countries—Canada against Australia, and so on. It would take us a very long time to work out the answers to these questions. Again, it must be remembered that this is not purely a British problem—
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
Let me finish what I was saying. It cannot be a purely British problem; the British Government cannot consider this on their own, sitting here in London. It is a problem which must be settled among the whole Commonwealth, each country of which has complicated problems to work out, including the intake rate, and so on. Before these things could be successfully discussed at all they would need a great deal of study. Meanwhile, we cannot get on with the present problem of emigration, owing to the difficulties of shipping and housing. Therefore, the other greater and more complex problem cannot possibly become a real one for quite a long time to come.
Because the Government do not enthusiastically embrace policies like that, which we have not had time to work out 915 and settle properly, I hope it will not be thought we are not sympathetic. A lot of this idea that we are not concerned with emigration arises from our reluctance to commit ourselves on this very difficult and complicated problem of mass emigration. As long as emigration remains a problem we shall do our utmost to overcome all the difficulties standing in the way of the free flow of people who wish to go to the Dominions, provided the Dominions wish to receive them. It is 916 not in the least true that we are not interested, or that we are not doing everything possible to facilitate and encourage the flow of emigration. I quite agree with the hon. Member for North Blackpool, it is essential that this flow of people from Britain round the Commonwealth should continue in the interests of the Common wealth as a whole.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Half-past Four o'Clock.