HC Deb 23 February 1953 vol 511 cc1873-82

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

10.31 p.m.

Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

There can be no doubt that the fuller development of the resources of the British Commonwealth would bring untold benefits to the whole world. Many of these resources have already been recognised and developed.

In India and Pakistan, we have all the world's jute, in Canada four-fifths of the world's nickel, in the sterling area of the Commonwealth three-quarters of the world's tea, half its wool, half its chrome, cocoa, one-third of hard hemps, quarter of the coal and copper, and one-fifth of the wheat, bauxite, woodpulp and lead. All of these are now being produced, but, in addition to that, there are so many other resources of which we have not got full information and into which a fuller and proper investigation should be made. We already know of copper in Northern Rhodesia, the extra zinc and lead in Australia and Nigeria, extra bauxite for aluminium in the Gold Coast and Malaya, iron ore deposits in Canada, oil prospecting in Trinidad and North Borneo, and we all know of the timber resources of Canada.

Lengthy as this list is, so far it is only scratching the surface of Commonwealth resources, but these materials and many others are very important in these days of extended civilisation, if one could use that term. At a time when these resources are so badly wanted, the question must arise in all our minds why the development of these primary products does not proceed more rapidly, and we know that there are several factors which stand in the way when answering this question.

The first is the cost. If we are to develop them, these products must be developed at an economic price, and not at prices which are above the world price. The second point we have to consider is politics. The Dominions today are independent countries, and the Colonial Territories themselves almost every day are becoming more and more independent. We cannot tell them, as we did in the past, that they have got to develop. They must accept it as a natural economic domestic policy as well, because we shall need their co-operation. It is not now just a matter of arranging royalties. We must have local support for such matters as public services, schools and roads, which today run alongside such development. Of course, the other part that has to be considered is that there must be no threat of nationalisation as soon as the projects show that they are likely to pay.

The third point is the question of markets, the fixing of long-term markets, and the fourth that of capital. We all received with great joy the announcement by the Chancellor a few weeks ago that we are considering spending a good deal of money in getting some of these developments on the way.

Those are four factors which we must keep in mind when we consider opening up greater developments, each of which could occupy many hours of thoughtful investigation. But the fifth factor—the one to which I wish to refer tonight—is the question of manpower, the human factor and the outstanding factor as far as the Dominions are concerned.

There have been many arguments about which came first, the chicken or the egg. But on this subject there is no argument at all; if we want these projects brought to fruition for the use of the world, we must first have the manpower in the right place.

I emphasise emigration to the Dominions because in the self-governing Dominions the labour force is far from adequate and the normal increase in population does not keep pace with the development potentialities. In the Colonies we know that the labour exists, but that the people need education and training. In other Eastern parts of the Commonwealth they have more manpower than they want; indeed, they are thinking of asking parts of their populations to leave their countries.

The difficulty is tied up with the immigration laws of the Dominions, which show preference for white immigrants, and these laws, as they affect part of the Empire countries, form one of the domestic irritations that we have to face inside the Dominions. But there can be no doubt that the development of the British Commonwealth will be of great benefit to the whole world, and it is no mere British self-interest when we say that we want these resources made quickly available during this period of conflict between Russian Communism, on the one hand, and Western democracy on the other.

As far as the Empire countries are concerned, it will result in a higher standard of life, and I believe it will make a great contribution if we can get these resources in hand quickly and can let the dictators of the Left see that we have the strength and the power to resist their trends for world dictatorship.

As far as the Dominions are concerned, we can only approach this problem by at once recognising that we have to face a more worth-while scale of transference of population from the older civilisations and older industrial areas of Europe and this country, where we have not the same primary potentialities, to the new areas, where they have all the potentialities but are short of manpower.

On the one side, we have Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Rhodesias which have vast resources and low white populations, whereas on the other we have the Commonwealth countries without these resources and with abundant manpower. We have to face the fact that we can only consider the transference of populations within the framework of the existing immigration policies of the various countries. It is a fact that the self-governing Dominions prefer the white immigrant. They will take some of the others in a lesser proportion, but their need is for people from the white countries rather from any of the others.

I think we should be wasting our time if we tried to persuade the Dominions—and it would be wrong to try to the detriment of quick action—to alter this policy which is ingrained in their local reactions and is an integral part of their local laws. That means that if we are to move populations within the framework of these immigration laws, the immigrants can only come either from Europe or this country. This country is still the head of this great Commonwealth, and we should have a special interest in seeing to it that there is a steady flow of people from this country who understand the Commonwealth and its traditions and whose roots are in the beginnings of the Commonwealth which we all want to keep intact as far as we can.

We must remember also that today we have it from the Immigration Minister of Australia that it is much more expensive to have immigrants from this country than from some European countries. Taking Australia as an example, it is six times more expensive to have immigrants from this country than it is to have trained artisans from Germany, and more than four times more expensive to have immigrants from this country than to have trained farmers from Holland. If we recognise that, we must see that the economic pull to the Dominions to take their immigrants from Europe is very strong.

We must face that by starting in this country a more energetic emigration policy. We must bring some inspiration into it. We must put over some really worth-while sales propaganda, and the policy must have worth-while support from whatever Government is in office here. The bare minimum of immigration within the Commonwealth should never fall below 250,000 a year. I am not saying that that is a satisfactory figure. It should be more, but it should never be less. At least 150,000 of those 250,000 should go out from this country and, whatever the eventual total attained, the immigration should be in that proportion. We should see that 150,000 of the 250,000 people going out to our great British Dominions are people from this country who are part of the Commonwealth, who understand it and have a feeling for the traditions that went to build it.

I believe that of necessity the Government must play the biggest part in bringing this about. I appeal to the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations to get on as speedily as possible with putting the Empire Settlement Scheme in good trim. We should have on the board of that scheme people who are virile, who feel keenly on the problem and who will not just meet regularly and receive reports and pass innocuous resolutions on them, but will get together and frame a policy and try to work out an answer to the problem.

We should see whether the Dominions will accept the various social service schemes of this country and whether we can export prefabricated houses to house our people when they go overseas. We should see whether we can bring vision and inspiration into the arrangement of transport as we did in wartime. All these things can flow from the board of the Empire Settlement Scheme if we get the right people on it and they are assured of the support of the Government in being allowed to spend appropriate sums of money to bring the scheme into action.

We have little time to do all this. Unless in the next 15 years we secure a proportion of 150,000 emigrants out of a total of 250,000 yearly, we shall find that a balance of thought and of citizenship will grow up in the Dominions which will not be British in the sense that we know it today. If that happens it will not be a case of the British Commonwealth falling apart, but, if we do not do these things, of the British Empire simply fading away.

I ask the Under-Secretary to make every effort to ensure that we show good sense, inspiration and virility in seeing that the British emigrant is accepted in countries which have a long British tradition. If we do that now, I believe that in that peaceful way, which is a normal way, we shall be able to keep within the Commonwealth countries the sort of cooperation which we must have if we are to get these resources and, having got them, to keep them for the peaceful uses which we in this country have always had as the background of our civilisation.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. Ian Winterbottom (Nottingham, Central)

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) on keeping the eyes of the Under-Secretary of State on the subject of this debate. In certain quarters it is a somewhat uncomfortable subject, and the tendency has been to put it in a pigeon-hole and forget it. The hon. Member can draw upon his experience at last year's Commonwealth Conference at Ottawa, at which he made a contribution to the debate on migration. I should like, in general, to support what he has said, and the figures he has given for over-all migration from this country and Europe to the Commonwealth.

He has said all that is necessary about British migration. I think it must be preponderant, if possible; but we must not forget the contribution which Europeans can make, for it is important. They have certain gifts which we may not possess. They may stand a hot climate better than we do. The Maltese and Italians have made a considerable contribution to the development of Queensland. I am disappointed that the Government will not associate themselves with the work of the Inter-Governmental Committee for European Migration. We have withdrawn the pean Migration. We have withdrawn our support of the I.R.O., although it is doing very fine work, mainly financed by American capital. I feel that we ought to be associated with that organisation.

I should like to support the hon. Member's request that an Overseas Settlement Board, or Empire Settlement Board, shall be set up as soon as possible. There is work for it to do now. Migration from this country to the Commonwealth, particularly to Australia, has not been negligible since the war. Large numbers have gone there, and Australia has strained her resources to the utmost to receive them. As a result there have been, in certain cases, problems for the migrants and for the Australian Government. I feel that such a body, which could study problems on the ground, and at home, would have a valuable part to play in ironing out the difficulties of a major migration scheme.

10.48 p.m.

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

I should like to add a few words in support of what has been said. I wish we could impress on the Government the importance of this subject. It seems to me that we have been asking far too long for an Empire Settlement Board to be set up. I hope that when the Under-Secretary replies he will be able to tell us that he is on the way to setting up a board. We are not facing up to the position in this country. The world was not made for us to maintain so many empty spaces as part of the British Commonwealth. If we do not fill up some of these empty spaces, which will stand a white population, then they will be filled up by someone else. I think that others are entitled to go to those places if we do not make the best of our opportunity.

I look upon the matter from the point of view of defence. In two world wars we have exhausted a great deal of strength in keeping open a life-line. We ought to do away with the need to do that by spreading our population across the world, particularly in Central Africa and Australia. There we have two great countries which have not been scratched so far as development is concerned, and which are clamouring for development. If we do not develop them we cannot maintain that we can hold them against the Asiatic over-spill which is taking place at present.

This country is living in a fool's paradise in imagining that it is maintaining the Welfare State by itself. In fact, we are keeping up the Welfare State because we are exploiting the mineral wealth of our Empire. I want to see not only our population but our industries go out into those spaces and develop the mineral wealth that exists there. It is not fair that we should take from Central Africa so much of its wealth when we have a vast number of people who could form the labour force in Africa. We should like to see not only some of our people but some of our industries going out to help in developing our Commonwealth.

I hope the Government will have talks with our great Commonwealth nations to find out what they want from us, so that we can fit in their requirements, and I hope that when the Empire Settlement Board is set up it will be composed, as my hon. Friend said, of really live members who will not just meet once or twice a year and issue a report but will take active steps.

10.51 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. John Foster)

The subject of emigration is always one on which the Members of the House in the different parties show a very welcome degree of unanimity. I am very glad that my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Ian Winterbottom) have not brought up the case for emigration on the ground that large transfers of population will be necessary in order to reduce the total population of these islands so that there will be less overcrowding. They have put it entirely on the right ground, I think, that the spaces in the independent Commonwealth countries are, compared with other parts of this world, under-developed and under-populated, and that it is very desirable that, so to speak, a blood transfusion should take place from this country to those independent countries.

Having said that, of course one has to bear in mind the limitations which must necessarily be put upon the rate at which this is done. That is one of those debatable matters—exactly where the line is; but we have seen in the last few months the difficulties which Australia has encountered when migration out-steps the capital development which must accompany this rate of migration. That sort of problem is one which can eminently well be put before the Migration Board, when it is set up, for it to discuss in all its aspects.

I am very glad to be able to say the Government have definitely decided to set up a migration board—I am not giving it its official title; it may turn out to have a different title when officially set up—but to set up a board dealing with migration which will have wide terms of reference, and which will, I am sure, be composed of virile, imaginative members. The stage we have reached is that we are deciding on the terms of reference, and letters are going out to persons we think would be suitable to sit on this board to see if they would accept this task. I very much hope they will. As my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) said, it is a subject which is very inspiring and of which the problems are very difficult, and concerning which the Government, I feel would be very much assisted by a board which has the leisure and expert knowledge to study those problems.

Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)

Could the hon. and learned Gentleman tell us whether the members of the board will be citizens of this country only or also citizens of other countries?

Mr. Foster

No, we think they should be confined to citizens of the United Kingdom in order to advise the Government of the United Kingdom on the problems of migration.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

What type of person is being asked to sit on this board? Will they be drawn from all sections of the community?

Mr. Foster

Yes. If I guess rightly the right hon. Gentleman's unspoken thought in his question, I think he will be satisfied that we shall draw them from all sections and classes of the community, having regard, for example, to a particular subject with which the board is intended to deal. We also think that this board should have the fullest assistance from Her Majesty's Government in the way of access to figures and statistics and also advice or representation as to fact from officials of the Departments concerned. The Ministry of Labour will, I think, supply one of the secretaries and the Commonwealth Relations Office the other. We think that would be a good division, because the Minister of Labour has a special responsibility in acting so to speak as an agency for Commonwealth countries.

Mr. W. Nally (Bilston)

It is a very important statement that the Under-Secretary is making. Are we now to understand that there is to be a board set up with full Government backing, composed of experts subject to Government approval, on all matters relating to migration, whose terms of reference will be the organisation and encouragement of migration, and that board will be entitled to enter into informal negotiations with Commonwealth Governments on this subject? This is one of the most important announcements we have had in this House for weeks.

Mr. Foster

I do not think what the hon. Member said is correct as an implication which could be drawn from my statement. It has not been said what the exact terms of reference would be. In my own personal opinion I do not think such a board could act in more than an advisory capacity. It would not be possible to empower a board to enter into negotiations with the Commonwealth countries.

Mr. Nally

Informal negotiations.

Mr. Foster

No, not even informal. Again expressing my own private opinion, I think the board should have access to anything it desires. It is an advisory board and it is common sense that if it wants some information, an official should come forward and give it. We must assume that the board will be composed of people of common sense and also that the Government will act in common sense the other way. I do not anticipate the board asking for information the Government do not wish to give.

I agree with the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally) that this is an important statement. I think it is an important step forward, reviving the Migration Board which existed before 1939, and which I think, from its report, did do an important piece of work in advising the Government of the day. It is due to the representations of hon. Members of the House on both sides that the subject was examined, and the Government came to the conclusion that this method should be adopted and that it was worth while re-establishing the board. I hope it will be set up fairly soon with wide terms of reference, but not terms of reference which would entitle it to enter into negotiations, either formally or informally.

In regard to the statement about Mr. Holt, the Commonwealth countries are meeting the demand of many of the Governments of Europe for outlets for their population, and we should respect them for that. I agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central that this should be so. At the same time we agree that there should be a large proportion of British migration and, in the years since the war, there have been 700,000 migrations altogether of which about half—about 350,000—were from British ports. As the hon. Member for Peterborough said, the British migration costs are six times as high as the European costs, because in the case of European workers the larger proportion is paid by the European country. This is understandable because their particular problem about migration is over-population, and it does not mean that in British migration there has been an obstacle because of cost. The extra cost has been taken up by the Australian Government.

Adjourned accordingly at Eleven o'Clock.