HC Deb 01 March 1962 vol 654 cc1557-87

Order for Second Reading read.

4.12 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

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

I am afraid that we are starting rather late in the afternoon owing to the lengthy proceedings on the business statement. As only limited time has been allotted to this debate, and as there are a number of hon. Members who wish to speak, I will try to keep my remarks as brief as possible.

The purpose of this Bill is to enable us to carry on the policy initiated in the Empire Settlement Act, 1922, and subsequently reaffirmed by the Acts of 1937, 1952 and 1957. It gives Her Majesty's Government, for another five years, financial authority to contribute to schemes designed to encourage emigration from this country to other parts of the Commonwealth. Some of these schemes were launched by the Governments of the receiving countries, while others were initiated by voluntary organisations here in Britain or overseas.

It is our belief, and a belief which, I think, is shared by most hon. Members, that a steady flow of British emigrants to other countries of the Commonwealth is of benefit to all concerned, and is a source of strength and unity to the Commonwealth. This feeling is shared by the Governments of the principal receiving countries, who continue to look to Britain to provide a substantial proportion of their new settlers.

Incidentally, talking about settlers, the other day I met an Australian who had come here for the first time. I asked him how he liked this country, and he said, "I think that it is a wonderful country, but with this weather I cannot imagine how you can attract your settlers".

From time to time it has been suggested that the British Government should spend more money and give more positive encouragement to prospective emigrants. But I think it will be generally accepted that the mere expenditure of money does not by itself constitute a migration policy. Nor is it the business of the Government here to exercise pressure to persuade people to leave Britain and settle overseas.

Under modern conditions, a successful migration policy requires the willing cooperation of the three partners—the receiving country, the sending country, and the settler himself. It is for the receiving country to decide the rate and pattern of immigration which meets its needs, and which its economy can sustain, and it is its business to regulate its intake accordingly. We have, I am afraid, to accept that the conditions of present day life have largely destroyed the spirit of adventure which animated the pioneer settlers of the nineteenth century. An immigrant now expects to be assured in advance of a reasonable prospect of employment, good housing accommodation, and social services for himself and his family. This involves considerable capital expenditure by the country to which he goes.

The major initiative in immigration lies therefore with the receiving country and with the emigrant himself, who has to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of seeking a new life overseas. Our rôle, as the Government of the sending country is an important, but ancillary, one. It is the rôle of assistance and collaboration, and it is important that these considerations should be clearly understood in any discussion of the part we play in Commonwealth migration.

It is against that background that I should like to refer briefly to the progress made over the last five years. It is estimated that between 1957 and 1961 about 750,000 people left our shores to settle permanently, or to work for extended periods, overseas. Over three-quarters of these went to Commonwealth countries. About half of them were wage-earners, and the other half dependants.

This is, I think, an appropriate moment to review very briefly what we are doing to assist this movement of population. First, we contribute a small part of the cost of the assisted passage scheme run by the Australian Government, under which any approved settler can travel to Australia for a fare of£10, or free altogether if he is under the age of 19. About three-quarters of the annual flow from this country to Australia, that is, about 33,000 people, travel under this scheme.

As the House knows, there has been general praise for the efficiency with which the Australian authorities have carried out this scheme. It involves intricate and complicated arrangements for the selection of people in this country, for their transport to Australia, and their resettlement when they arrive there. There will always be—and this is inevitable—a small proportion of migrants who find that they are not, after all, suited to their new surroundings, but the great majority of them settle down smoothly and happily in their new homes.

In addition, the British Government give financial assistance to eight voluntary societies in Britain who arrange for the migration and training of children. We contribute£4 towards an outfit for each child, and 10s. a week towards his maintenance. This maintenance allowance will shortly be increased to£1 a week. Some of the societies are also helping whole families to emigrate. I am sure that the House will on this occasion—we debate this matter only about every five years—join with me in paying tribute to the valuable assistance which these voluntary organisations have given over the years to overseas settlement.

Our contributions to the assisted passage schemes and to the child migration arrangements are, of course, made under the Commonwealth and Empire Settlement Acts, the operation of which the Bill proposes to extend for a further five years. Apart from this, we also contribute towards the administrative expenses of two other voluntary organisations.

One of these is the Big Brother Movement, which has done splendid work in helping youths of 15 to 19 to settle in Australia, and which acts as their guardian until they reach the age of 21. The other organisation is the Women's Migration and Oversea Appointments Society, which provides up-to-date information and objective advice on employment prospects and living conditions in Commonwealth countries. In addition, the Ministry of Labour, through its employment services, carries stocks of publicity material and provides a channel for the distribution of information and application forms issued by the migration authorities of other Commonwealth countries.

As the House knows, we have over the last five years not spent anything approaching the figure of£1½million a year which has been authorised under past Acts and which we are maintaining in this Bill. This has in part been due to the need for economy in Government expenditure, but also to the fact that some Commonwealth countries have preferred to operate their own immigration programmes by themselves without assistance from us.

The introduction of this Bill reaffirms the importance which Her Majesty's Government attach to migration from Britain to other parts of the Commonwealth and is evidence of our desire to assist this movement in a practical way. The steady flow of British migrants undoubtedly makes a significant contribution to the development of the economic resources of the Commonwealth. But what in my view is equally important, it helps continuously to strengthen the ties and refresh the contacts which hold together the members of our Commonwealth family. For these reasons, I am sure that all are agreed that the British Government should continue to co-operate with other Commonwealth Governments in the promotion of migration.

I hope, therefore, that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

4.23 p.m.

Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)

As the Secretary of State has said, this is an important Bill, but modest in its financial implications. Although it is a modest Bill, it raises quite big issues with regard to this country's migration policies. As the Secretary of State said, it is only every four or five years that the House has much opportunity to discuss this, and I hope that I shall be excused if I say something about the background issues against which the Bill must be seen. Whether this Act, which was born in very different circumstances away back in 1922, should be continued depends on the view we take about the Government's migration policies as a whole.

This is the second Bill dealing with population movements to and from this country that has been before the House of Commons in the last few months. First, there was the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, and now there is the Commonwealth Settlement Bill. It is an astonishing fact that both these Bills were put before the House and commended to us by the Government without the Government having any full knowledge of the kind of facts that we ought to have to be able to make our judgment upon them. Fateful decisions were taken, particularly with regard to the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, on the roundest of round figures and the crudest of guesses on the actual numerical flow and, more particularly, of how it was composed in terms of different occupations.

This Bill is supported by the recommendation of the Oversea Migration Board, of which I have the honour to be one of the newer members, and the Board is painfully conscious of the fact that the provisions of the Bill will be carried on for a further five years on quite inadequate information. For seven years the Oversea Migration Board has been advising successive Secretaries of State that this country needs proper migration statistics. The law of this country is still in the steamship age and has not caught up with the fact that substantial numbers of immigrants both ways now travel by aeroplane.

As far back as 1958, the Board put its point of view in what I regard as a masterpiece of Whitehall understatement. It said: We are asked to recognise that any estimates of migration must contain a fairly wide margin of error having regard particularly to the exiguous statistics which are available and to the fact that net migration is a difference between two large gross movements each with a substantial margin of error. How the Government can be expected to make sound judgments about migration on kind of basis, I simply do not begin to understand.

The Oversea Migration Board has, in Report after Report, been saying, in a note of weary desperation, that the laws of this country should be brought up to date in this respect. In the latest Report, which recommends the continuance of this Bill, it stated: We hope that it will not be for much longer that the United Kingdom will remain the only major country of both emigration and immigration which cannot produce complete and adequate statistics of its own two-way migration movements. The fundamental premise on which the Bill is based is the recommendation of the Oversea Migration Board, repeated year after year, that this country should go on encouraging migration to the Commonwealth countries overseas, provided that the composition of those migrating does not change substantially in terms of the different occupations that make it up. That is the basis of this Bill, but no one knows with any certainty whether this recommendation is, in fact, being fulfilled.

No one knows exactly what is the composition of the various occupations of the people who leave this country and go to settle overseas, because so many, particularly people of the highest skills and of the professions, so important for the receiving countries and such a loss to us, travel by air, and people who travel by air are not obliged to fill in the form stating why they are emigrating.

The situation is equally ludicrous in terms of inward movements. There are no figures for people coming into this country or leaving it who go by way of Ireland or the Continent. These short sea route or short air route passengers are simply not recorded. Vast numbers of West Indian immigrants, whom we have been discussing recently, come precisely in this way, and are unrecorded in the migration statistics.

I sometimes think that one of the great myths about this country is that it conducts its public affairs on an empirical basis. It is often said that we are not dogmatic, but take an empirical attitude, and find out the facts and face them. It is simply not true. Too often the people who go out to discover the facts are regarded as a lot of longhaired Fabians or, perhaps, Bow Groupers. We take many of our public decisions with a sublime indifference to statistical research.

It seems unbelievable—I can hardly believe it yet—that the Government could have altered one of the fundamental concepts of our Commonwealth relationship—the principle of free entry—without first obtaining much fuller and more adequate facts than the House has been given. It is only a Conservative Government, with their suspicion of statistics and belief that filling in a form is an un-English activity, that could be so incompetent as to ask the House of Commons to take these great decisions without knowing exactly where they stand.

I should have thought that it would be common ground on both sides of the House that a knowledge of population movements in and out of the country was a basic piece of knowledge for a Government to possess in modern society. I do not accept the difficulties which the airline companies have put up against obtaining this information voluntarily. All that the Oversea Migration Board proposed was the filling in of a form, which it estimated would take exactly ninety seconds to complete. The airline companies have said that this would create chaos and great inconvenience to everybody, but every time we fly from London to Paris we have to fill in such a form. I cannot believe that it would cause very much difficulty. I can only conclude that the Government have not been firm enough about this.

In the Oversea Migration Board the Secretary of State has a valuable group of men and women. I exclude the Parliamentarians on tooth sides from my compliments, but the Board comprises a group of distinguished and busy men and women. I find it difficult to believe that they will go on giving the right hon. Gentleman advice if they are forced to operate in the kind of statistical twilight in which they have had to work for so long a time. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will be able to give us an undertaking that the Government will introduce legislation to provide the minimum statistics necessary to enable us to make proper judgments about these matters.

I hope that the Government will also consider extending the Board's terms of reference. It has found itself in great difficulty in trying to give advice to the Secretary of State on outward migration without being able to take into account the substantial inward-moving population. It would be valuable to the Secretary of State to have all-round advice of the general pattern of migration movements, both ways.

As a member of the Board I should like to pay tribute to its staff, and especially to the various secretaries that it has had. They have given remarkable service. There is a great romantic literature about migration movements from Britain to the Commonwealth, but there are precious few facts about them. It has fallen to the successive secretaries of the Board to provide the main body of knowledge on the subject, and they have done so without ever being allowed to go out to the receiving countries in order to study the problems in the field—so mean-minded are we.

Now that the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill has passed from the House, the Government ought to consider strengthening the Board's terms of reference so as to enable it to operate with independence and authority in giving advice on this vital field of public policy.

This raises the question of the Board's chairmanship. It has been the practice for one of the Under-Secretaries of State for Commonwealth Relations to be chairman. Our present chairman has been an excellent one, and the point that I am raising now is in no way concerned with him; it is a point of principle. In fact, my only objection to the present charman is that he has completely upset all my prejudices about the Prime Minister's relatives in the Government. But he has the rather invidious job of wearing two hats. He is the chairman of a Board which gives advice to the Secretary of State, but he is also one of the Secretary of State's own deputies. No man can successfully give advice to himself. I should have thought that there was a case for altering the arrangements and for having an independent chairman.

The Bill, which the Board has recommended, deals only with the movement of migrants to a small part of the Commonwealth—containing about 31 million people out of a population of 600 million. It deals mainly with the movement from this country to what we might now call "the old Commonwealth". Some hon. Members, especially on this side of the House, are, naturally, preoccupied with the potentialities and problems of the new Commonwealth, and are sometimes inclined to forget just what a remarkable world phenomenon is the old Commonwealth. It consists of countries which are very widely scattered, geographically, but which have been populated over two centuries mainly by people from this country and, to a large extent, from my own part of the United Kingdom.

Perhaps I will be excused if I take this opportunity of reminding the Government and the House that the West Indies is not the only country which has an emigration problem. Scotland still loses 25,000 people a year, and still contributes more than her fair share towards the outward migration of people from Britain. Some migration from Scotland in the past—as in the case of other parts of the United Kingdom—was unassisted and unplanned, and very often very unpleasant. Today, there are many more Scots in the Commonwealth than in Scotland. I sometimes think that somebody ought to enunciate a kind of "McGregor's Law", which would prove that the Scottishness of a Scotsman varies in inverse proportion to his distance from Scotland.

The trouble about Scotland is that it loses more than its fair share of Scots without receiving in return by any means its fair share of immigrants from the Commonwealth. All the Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians with Scots grandmothers may have the most romantic desire to see the little village where their forebears were born, but they end up by preferring to stay in London during their period of emigration to this country. I cannot understand why, but that is the fact.

The outstanding feature about Commonwealth emigration is that it does not depend upon the amount of money spent by the British Government. It is a movement whose motives go deeper than financial help or Government encouragement. But the Government have had the duty of deciding whether they should go on encouraging migration, or should discourage it. It is true that the financial outlays are very small, but the capital investment involved in maintaining emigration to the Commonwealth is very considerable, because the sort of young people who, with their wives and families, go abroad, take with them their skills and all the capital investment which has been put into their education. We must face that fact.

However, I agree with the Secretary of State that it is worth while continuing to make the sacrifices involved in ensuring that people of the kind required by the Commonwealth continue to go off and settle there. It is true that, since the war, a substantial part of immigration into Australia, New Zealand and Canada—and especially Australia and Canada—has come from continental Europe. We should not regret this, indeed, in some of the problems that the Secretary of State will shortly face in his Common Market discussions he may be glad that there is a substantial body of continental Europeans in Commonwealth countries, because they may be able to assist in creating a favourable public opinion on the mainland of Europe. The relatives of those European settlers may well be in favour of concessions being made on behalf of the Commonwealth in any association we may have with the Common Market.

But it is still very important to maintain the flow of British migrants to the countries of the Commonwealth. We have to bear in mind, as some of the Reports of the Oversea Migration Board have made clear in a fascinating way, that although, in Canada, only 20 per cent. of the immigrants come from the United Kingdom the proportion of teachers, doctors and engineers and professional people who may be expected to have a very considerable influence on the life of their new country is very much higher than 20 per cent.

We also have to face the fact, as the Oversea Migration Board has said in its recommendation this year, that if we are to go on encouraging people with skills to go to Commonwealth countries we have to back that up with a massive educational effort in this country. We are ourselves desperately short of many of these skills. If we are to go on giving this help we need a much bigger expenditure on higher education in all its forms in this country than the Government have so far felt able to engage in. I hope that the Government will take due note of that part of the recommendation of the Board.

I come to details of the Bill. The sum of money given for assisted Australian passages is, of course, purely a token sum. Other Commonwealth countries have said that they do not want financial help in this way, but I am sure that the spending of this modest sum is justified if it will allow Australians to feel that they have a stake in this project and that we are all concerned in cooperating with them.

I should like to hear from the Government whether the provisions of the Bill would allow money to be expended in a wider variety of ways. I am thinking particularly of the proposals put forward from time to time about giving some housing help to emigrants going from this country. The Dutch and the Italians have done this. It would be worth exploring whether it is practicable for this country to do it.

I wish to pay tribute to the work of the voluntary societies, particularly in their work with children. When a child is left in this country with no family, for one reason or another, there is much to be said for giving that child a start in a new country where he can have help. I understand that the record of these societies is very good in that matter.

It is necessary in bringing in a Bill for a further five years to look at the bodies which receive this money and to make sure that they are adapting their policies to the changing nature of the Commonwealth. The Secretary of State mentioned the Women's Migration and Overseas Appointments Society, which receives a substantial share of the grants which go to voluntary bodies. Only a month or two ago that society was called the Society for the Overseas Settlement of British Women, a rather magnificently Victorian title. It says much for the society that it has not only changed its title, but also brought its operations much more into line with the needs of the contemporary Commonwealth. The last time I met the secretary of the society was on the airport in Enugu, in Eastern Nigeria, where she was helping in making teaching appointments from this country to Nigeria. This is the kind of think which should be commended.

There are changes constantly taking place in regard to the countries which have been traditionally receiving countries for the migration involved in this Bill. One of the five receiving countries was the Union of South Africa, but South Africa is no longer a member of the Commonwealth. I should like to hear from the Government what has happened about the official co-operation that Her Majesty's Government have offered to Commonwealth Governments to attract emigrants. I think of the kind of services the Ministry of Labour and other Government Departments give. Now that South Africa is no longer a member of the Commonwealth, those facilities should no longer be offered here.

Another receiving country is the Federation of Central Africa. There are no schemes of assistance for migration there at the moment, but I hope that no expenditure will be undertaken under the Bill in respect of Central Africa until the political future of that country is properly settled. At present, the Government are in some difficulties arising from having attracted settlers to Kenya in the past in perfectly good faith. In the present political situation they are facing a problem of very great embarrassment. We should not encourage further European emigration to Central Africa until we know that there is to be a stable political future for that area.

This brings me to another point. It seems that during the lifetime of the Bill it might well be that the full£1½million authorised might need to be used. I put this proposal to the Government for consideration. They might consider using some of the money under the Act to make it possible for some of the European settlers in areas of Africa for which we are responsible to migrate to other countries of the Commonwealth. The Act might be used to help to ease a very difficult problem in regard to European settlement in various African territories.

Above all, I emphasise that the Bill should be seen against the whole background of the problem of the migration policies of this country. The original Empire Settlement Act was based on the old concept of Imperial emigration by exporting the unemployed working class from this country, where there was normally a substantial pool of unemployed, to fill the empty spaces of the Dominions. That concept has now completely and utterly changed. Blessedly, there is no pool of unemployment here, nor are the receiving countries mainly interested in getting immigrants to fill their open spaces. The present picture is an infinitely more complex one, and one on which we need much more precise information.

Today, there is a two-way traffic of emigration between this country and the old Commonwealth. It is not only a case of emigration from here to Australia, New Zealand and Canada, but at least half as many migrants come here for varying periods from the other countries of the Commonwealth. There is equally a two-way traffic between Britain and the new Commonwealth. We are expected to send out to the newer members of the Commonwealth doctors, teachers and other specialists to help them in their acute problems of development and, at the same time, many of their people come here to fill jobs in our hospitals and public services and to do many other essential tasks in our country.

The new countries of the Commonwealth, the emerging countries, need teachers, doctors and engineers even more urgently than countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand who are seeking them so much from us. If Canada, Australia and New Zealand want these groups of settlers from this country, we are entitled to encourage them, but there is the other side of the obligation. It is that the older Commonwealth countries should share in the task of providing technical assistance to the new emerging countries of the Commonwealth. At present, Canada, Australia and New Zealand do a certain amount of this, but it is not nearly enough. Technical assistance to the new emergent countries of the Commonwealth ought to be a joint Commonwealth responsibility.

We on this side of the House accept the Bill, but it is justified only if the Government accept the need for obtaining more accurate information about the two-way flow of migration in this country and if they also accept the need for seeking support from the older members of the Commonwealth for a joint effort to give help to the newer members of the Commonwealth in providing the scarce skills which they so desperately need.

4.50 p.m.

Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)

I will detain the House for only a few minutes, but there are one or two points that I wanted to make about the Bill. First, I should like wholehearedly to endorse the remarks my right hon. Friend made about the child migration societies, and particularly the Big Brother movement, which is the only context in which I like to see the term "big brother" used. I have had experience of working with migrants. I have served in the Army with boys who had grown up to men after going out under the Big Brother movement, and under the Fairbridge movement, and I have the greatest respect for the type of person which has gone out under these assisted schemes.

The tragedy today is that, owing to certain views on the bringing up of children in local authority homes, and the dislike of children's officers of getting rid or losing control of any of the children under their care—though, I am sure, with the very best motives—these two organisations, and particularly the Fair-bridge organisation, are now finding the greatest difficulty in getting enough children to go out to Australia and other countries of the Commonwealth. I hope that something can be done to encourage a little more relaxation of the strict rules of the children's officers in the counties, in order to give youngsters the wonderful opportunities that are now open to them, either through the Fair-bridge Society or the Big Brother movement.

The second point is that everybody wants economy in general and expenditure in particular, and I claim to be no exception, but I wonder whether we are right, in a Bill like this, in having a maximum figure of£1½million and then spending only about£160,000. It makes the Bill look rather silly when we spend only a fraction of the money which Parliament has approved as a suitable amount to be used for Commonwealth settlement. I wonder whether we might be able to do a little bit more, positively to encourage settlers.

When one sees the magnificent schemes that the Dutch Government are operating to help to settle Dutch migrants in Australia, and the way in which they are financially assisting them, I think it is rather extraordinary that a foreign—albeit a very friendly—country should be making greater efforts to move its people into one of our Dominions than we are making ourselves.

These two comments I have made on the Bill in no way lessen my regard for the work that has been done, and has been made possible by the contributions, under this piece of legislation, and consequently I wholeheartedly support it.

4.54 p.m.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

I should like to support what my hon. Friends have said in praise of the voluntary societies, and the need to do something more imaginative in the way of assisting migration from this country to the Commonwealth.

One of the disadvantages of the present system is that the decision by a man as to the Commonwealth country to which he is to migrate often depends on whether or not the country is advertising in the particular newspaper which he reads. It is a tragedy that, with this great Commonwealth theme, we cannot do something on a more collective basis to put before people in this country the opportunities which exist throughout the Commonwealth.

Surely at a time when the Commonwealth is going in for a period of dynamic economic expansion, both in many parts of the newly developing Commonwealth and in the older countries of the Commonwealth, where there is vast economic expansion, it is a little surprising to discover that our expenditure for assisting migrants to the Commonwealth has steadily declined year by year for the last five years, and that we are spending only about one-tenth of the money which has been provided for this purpose.

I should like the Minister, when replying to the debate, to tell us that the Government's decision to extend the operation of the Bill on the basis of£1½million per annum is related to the fact that they have decided to use more money in the five years that are ahead.

I should also like to ask my right hon. Friend to consider the possibility of creating in London a centre, perhaps a Commonwealth Employment Bureau or Commonwealth Migration Bureau, where, in one place, anybody interested in seeing what services and skills are required in Commonwealth countries can discover the opportunities for their particular trades and professions, and obtain information about the social and climatic conditions of the country concerned. This centre could, in turn, be responsible for promoting throughout the country an interest in the schools and employment exchanges in the services that could there be provided.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the fact that the Minister of Labour has certain material provided for it by the various High Commissioners' offices, but this is a somewhat negative approach to the problem. It would be much better if an organisation were there to obtain and prepare such material, and see that it was made available throughout the country.

There is a tendency, when considering the subject of migration, to think in terms that, because we have a great shortage in this country of people with various skills, we therefore do not want them to go abroad. I have always considered that to be a very short-sighted policy, because the more we encourage those people with particular skills to go to me Commonwealth, so we shall promote an increase in the industrial and trading activities in those countries. Obviously, that would be to the long-term benefit of our own country.

I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the possibility of providing funds under the Bill to help countries like India, Nigeria and Ghana to prepare information about their future demands for skilled labour. Probably, a lot of careful research could be carried out which would enable the Commonwealth as a whole to know the requirements and needs of skilled labour in the many emerging nations of the Commonwealth. It is on these lines that I should like to ask my right hon. Friend to think of applying die£1½million per annum we are voting in the Bill.

I welcome the decision to extend the Act for another five years, and I hope that the amount of money made available will be used far more enthusiastically and dramatically than during the last five years.

4.58 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)

I think that all of us in the House are very conscious of the vast opportunities that exist in the Commonwealth and for those of our people who go there—the millions of acres of rich land, only the very beginnings of the tremendous industrial expansion which will take place and the infinite resources of water and power and minerals, which are only partially exploited at the present time.

I take it that the object of migration to the Commonwealth and the object of this Bill is to develop these resources and to seize these opportunities. When one remembers that what, only 200 years ago, was a little group of quite unimportant colonies in North America has now become the leading nation of the free world, one realises the great potentialities of Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries in 1962.

The only thing needed to convert that potentiality into reality is people—men and women—who are the very best exports that we can possibly send, from the point of view of the receiving countries. I should have thought that we could have done rather more than we do, since we have such large numbers in a small area, as compared with their small numbers in large areas, and that, while we should be able to spare a few more people they equally would be able and ready to take any number we could send.

Yet emigration today is at its lowest post-war level. No one advocates mass migration, which would be economically disastrous for us and indigestible to the receiving countries. Everybody recognises that this is an individual choice and that the Government cannot send people; the individual has to take a personal decision to go All the Government can do is to help and to encourage those who have already taken that decision. The question is, are we doing enough to help and to encourage them?

I think that this Bill is, in a way, a sham. We are paying lip-service to a migration policy but we are spectators rather than active protagonists of it. The Financial Memorandum to the Bill explains that by the renewal of the Act we shall empower the Government to contribute£1½million a year to promote migration, yet, as other hon. Members have stressed, on average over the last five years we have actually spent only precisely one-ninth of that sum, and each year since 1957 we have been spending less and less.

Of the average expenditure of£169,000 a year—if my mathematics are correct—£150,000 goes on the assisted passage scheme to Australia, and I agree with the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) that that is merely a token of good will to the Australian Government. It is quite right that we should give this token. I support it. But it does not of itself add a single migrant to the total. These people would go in any case, paid for by the Australian Government, and we are merely helping the Australian Government. Only£19,000 a year, therefore, out of a total of£1½million is being used to assist individual migration.

Yet many people need help very much indeed. People have to wait sometimes for years in Government hostels in Australia because of the housing shortage there. In Australia there are very few houses to let, and houses to buy are very expensive compared with prices in Britain. I support what the hon. Member for Dundee, East said: we could greatly help some of our British migrants to Australia if we made housing loans in the way in which the Dutch and Italian Governments help their nationals in our Commonwealth. We have never thought of doing such a thing. The Dutch and Italian loans are matched£ or£ by the Australian banks and in course of time are repayable. They therefore become over a period a revolving credit.

I quite understand why we do not want to do this. I take it that the reasons are mainly political. It is thought—maybe rightly—that while we have a housing shortage in this country the British taxpayer might resent having to subsidise housing for migrants in Australia. I can understand the point. The Australian Government are in equal difficulties because, if they give special assistance to the housing of immigrants in Australia, they will have to obtain the money from native Australians, which is a little unfair on them.

But we missed a great opportunity when we passed the Building Societies Act two years ago. Leading building societies in this country were quite ready to extend their operations by making a small contribution from their funds towards Commonwealth housing. In effect, under that Act the Government would not allow them to do so. Great efforts were made by many of us at the time, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black), who is very knowledgeable on this matter, to persuade the Treasury to consent, but my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary—I do not like having to say this—was adamantly unhelpful on that occasion, and the opportunity was missed.

The great need of these Commonwealth countries is for more trained, skilled, professional and technical manpower. We know that that is true of the United Kingdom, too, and of the receiving countries in the Commonwealth, but it is even more true of the less-developed countries of the Commonwealth. That is one of the main points which was emphasised in the Seventh Report of the Oversea Migration Board, of which I am a member.

We all know that the need for capital in the world is very great but we sometimes forget that the need for the men to put that capital to work is just as great. It is an important contribution which we, although no longer so rich in money as we were, could still make in manpower to our developing Commonwealth.

During Questions this afternoon I urged my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education that he should make a sustained and imaginative drive, in cooperation with the Secretary for Technical Co-operation, to try to meet this increasing demand. The Government are doing a great deal but we cannot be satisfied with what is being done.

It may be said that these things are easy to ask for but difficult to supply; but there is one thing to which the hon. Member for Dundee, East drew attention which it would be quite easy to supply—the statistics of the volume and pattern of overseas migration which the Oversea Migration Board lacks and which it therefore has not available to help it make a sensible diagnosis and to give sensible advice to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We are precluded by the attitude of the air lines from collecting the necessary figures efficiently or completely. We have the co-operation of the shipping companies, who help us by asking passengers to fill in appropriate forms, but the air lines will not help us and so the information is not obtained. I believe that no less than 46 per cent. of all United Kingdom immigration to Canada today is by air, yet we have no statistics of it and no records except such as those we can get from the Canadian Government. It is not very efficient.

Attempts have been made to persuade the air lines to supply us with these figures. I am advised that it would be quite a simple form, with ten questions, taking about 1½minutes to complete. I do not think that would be such an onerous burden upon travellers. The Oversea Migration Board, as has been said, includes some high-level people like Sir Roy Harrod and Sir Colin Anderson, who are being asked to give a certain amount of their time to this problem, and it is almost derogatory to them to tell them that they cannot have the figures for which they have asked in seven consecutive Reports. As long ago as 1957 Lord Alport, then Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, acknowledged in the House that we very much needed this information. That was five years ago. He said that he had no doubt that the Government would find means of getting the information without introducing any unnecessary inconvenience to travellers or any unnecessary red tape; and yet five years later my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation told me in an Answer to a Parliamentary Question only this week that he had no powers to get this information for us.

In my view, the Government should take the powers. I do not know why they are not taking them in the Bill. As they do not want to do so, I hope that they will introduce another Bill. It will take up more Government time, when the provision could quite easily have been slipped into this Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, as this has been pressed from both sides of the House, will give us the benefit of his advice on this point when he comes to reply.

This may be a small matter but it seems to me that our failure to obtain the information on which to base migration policy is symptomatic of the Government's indifference to the policy which they pretend to support. I do not think that they are really trying. Their attitude seems to be one of benevolent neutrality on the whole issue. It should be much more positive. I am sincere when I say that we should try to work for the development and cohesion of the Commonwealth. We can do so in a much more positive way through the medium of this Bill. Although I support the Bill, I urge the Government to make much greater use of it in future than they have done in the past five years.

5.10 p.m.

Dr. Alan Thompson (Dunfermline Burghs)

I want to add a few words in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson). I want to concentrate on one aspect, namely, graduates and students involved in this migration. The whole academic interchange between the Commonwealth and ourselves is a two-way process, as it should be. For instance, the number of Commonwealth and foreign students attending courses in this country has risen from about 10,000 in 1950 to about 47,000 in 1960. It is a proud boast of this country—I certainly feel very proud about it—that the proportion of overseas students to our population is the highest of any country in the world. Students not only benefit from our courses: they become very important strategically. When they return home they become doctors, civil servants, cabinet ministers, etc.

Therefore, this is one of the most vital aspects of British policy, not only in the sphere of education, but in the spreading of British influence and ideas and democracy throughout the world. Of the total of 47,000 overseas students, about 30,000 were from the Commonwealth. This is a great achievement. We should go on increasing the number, but it is already something of which we can be proud.

The reverse process of sending students abroad is equally important. When I was a full-time university teacher, students would come and say to me, "We want to go on. We have taken our degree in Scotland. The 'done' thing is to go to Oxford or Cambridge", I tried to dissuade them, not because I have anything except the highest regard for Oxford and Cambridge, but because I thought that, having gone through their undergraduate training and become professionally qualified, they should widen their horizons. Unless they had very special reasons for going to Oxford and Cambridge, unless the departments to which they wanted to go were extraordinarily good, my advice was that they should be more imaginative and cross the ocean to Canada or other Commonwealth countries. What little influence I had was directed to this end.

The establishment of these academic links is very important It has been overlooked to a certain extent. We have exchanges at the level of professors and the higher grades of university teaching. However, emigration of students is at a lower academic level. This aspect should be examined with a view to the exchange being increased.

I strongly support the views of the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) on technical education. I hope that there will be the most vigorous pursuance of the British Government's commitment, which they accepted at the New Delhi Conference. I gather that we are to have a White Paper on that soon. I hope that it will be very specific. At the New Delhi Conference the British Government accepted a commitment to pursue wholeheartedly the expansion of technical education within the Commonwealth.

May I develop further the question of the two-way process of academic interchange. There is much to be said for the establishment at our universities and other places of regional centres of learning. This is where a department takes under its wing a whole region. Studies of history, language, economics, etc., are conducted in relation to that region. The establishment of these regional centres will help us in the aim of expansion of Commonwealth education for which we are striving under the Bill. The University of Edinburgh is at the moment considering setting up a centre of African studies, which could be an admirable training ground for people who will go out to African territories and use their professional skills there.

We must accept the changed needs and the changed objective of emigration. One hundred years ago we sent our best people out to farm, to settle, to build up the basic agricultural and economic wealth of overseas countries, not only of the Commonwealth, but also of the United States of America. Nobody can take a car journey from the east coast of America across to California without being impressed by the courage and resourcefulness of our ancestors who crossed those rivers, climbed those mountains and settled that great country many years ago. The same applies to many of our territories.

The days of settling are almost over in some of our overseas territories, but not in all of them. We have passed from the entrepreneureal stage to the supply of professional skills and enterprise, which is just as valuable. We must accept that some of our previous colonial territories do not want any more white settlers. I know that that term has become an abusive one, but I mean it in its strict economic sense. Instead, they want people with professional skills, especially with technical skills. We may applaud or deplore this tendency, but it is there.

I appeal to the Secretary of State to think very much in terms of the emigration of academic, professional and technical skill, which can bring together the great pattern, the great mosaic, of Commonwealth education.

5.16 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Bernard Braine)

We have had a short but very useful debate. Some interesting suggestions have been made and searching questions have been asked. I will do my best to answer them. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) referred to the terms of reference of the Oversea Migration Board. As the House will recall the Board was set up in 1953 to consider and advise the Secretary of State upon specific proposals for schemes of emigration from the United Kingdom to other Commonwealth countries and upon any matter relating thereto which might be referred to it by him. A number of schemes were already in existence when the Board was set up. These ware the assisted passage scheme and the schemes of child migration to Australia. No other proposals have subsequently been put to the British Government for participation in joint schemes of emigration under the terms of the Acts. Other principal countries operate their own schemes of passage assistance, but have preferred to do so from then-own resources.

While the Board, in consequence of this, has not examined any new schemes, it has made a continuously constructive and helpful contribution to our thinking on the problems of migration. Indeed, I should like to take this opportunity to pay a warm tribute to the Board, which is presided over by my noble Friend and which is able to draw upon the wisdom, experience and enthusiasm of my hon. Friends the Members for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) and Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken) and the hon. Member for Dundee, East. I join, too, with the hon. Member for Dundee, East in expressing thanks to the Board's officials. They and the members of the Board have done and are doing a most useful job.

The hon. Member suggested that the Board's terms of reference should be amended to include the subject of immigration. This goes far wide of the Bill, but I will certainly look into the matter with my colleagues. We are conscious of the mutual relevance of immigration and emigration, but the problems which arise in connection with immigration into this country are very different from those concerning emigration to the Commonwealth. I undertake, however, that we shall look at the hon. Gentleman's suggestion when we take a fresh look at the Board's terms of reference. May I say how much I appreciated the graceful reference to my colleague, the Board's chairman.

I will deal straight away with one small point raised by the hon. Member for Dundee, East. The Republic of South Africa no longer comes within the scope of the Commonwealth Settlement Acts.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

The arrangements with the Republic of South Africa, as with the Commonwealth countries, are administrative arrangements that do not come within the terms of the Empire or Commonwealth settlement Measures. I asked whether the Government would cease those administrative arrangements.

Mr. Braine

South Africa is now a foreign country, and will be treated like any other foreign country. If any information is required which the Ministry of Labour, for example, is able to give to other foreign countries, I have no doubt that it will be given, to South Africa. But South Africa is clearly outside the scope of this Bill, since she is no longer a Commonwealth country.

The hon. Gentleman and also my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton spoke of the inadequacy of migration statistics. In the past it was true that we were able to form a fairly comprehensive picture of migration from our own statistics and those of Commonwealth countries, but these has been a significant shift in recent years from sea travel to air travel. As the last Report of the Board made plain, it is believed that about a quarter of the British migrants in 1960 travelled by air.

Moreover, it is clear from our statistics of movements by the long sea routes that the great majority of breadwinners who migrate from the United Kingdom are skilled people in categories that we can ill spare at home. We know how many of those people go by sea, but I agree that since no detailed information is available, at this end at any rate, about passengers on the air routes there is a certain gap in information about those going by air.

My right hon. Friend is anxious that that gap should be closed, but to do so will require legislation. As has been already pointed out, there has been some resistance by hon. Members to the idea that a system similar to that operating on the long sea routes should be extended to the long air routes. We have no wish to impose unnecessary regulations upon the travelling public. Accordingly, we decided to see whether adequate migration statistics might be obtained by other means.

I am able to tell the House that sampling is being tried experimentally, and some of the results should be available in the near future. Sampling, by its very nature, is somewhat limited in the results it can achieve, but it might provide useful information in a broad sense about the occupational categories of those going oversea by air. I suggest that we should first look at the results of this sampling—which, as I say, should be available fairly soon—and see what can be achieved. If sampling does not provide the answer, the Government will re-examine the problem.

I would join with my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) in praising the work of the voluntary societies. It is, of course, a matter of concern to us that we might lose an undue proportion of our skilled manpower. That raises the whole question of how far the Government should go out of their way to encourage migration from this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton said that the Government had adopted an attitude of benevolent neutrality, but I do not think that that is fair.

Clearly, it is a British interest that countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand should continue to look to this country primarily for their immigrants. Looking back over the last century, we can see that the movement of Britons to those countries has not been a matter of there being fewer here and more there, cancelling each other out, but an enormous aggregate increase in the strength of the Commonwealth as a whole, in the strength of the British race and the extension of its influence in the world. That movement must surely continue.

Nevertheless, the pattern of the world's needs is changing all the time, and no good is done to the cause of Commonwealth migration by ignoring that fact. If we are to survive as a nation, let alone provide our Commonwealth partners with the resources they need for their own development, our economy here must be strong. If too large a proportion of our young people and of our skilled and professional folk leave our shores, our ability to maintain a high rate of economic growth and to continue as the heartland of the Commonwealth system is diminished.

The Oversea Migration Board has drawn attention to the problem. In past Reports, it has recommended that Britain …should continue to encourage migration to other parts of the Commonwealth, provided that there is no radical change in the composition of those migrating according to age, sex and occupation or in the economic position of the country. In its latest Report, however, the Board states that this policy is still basically right, but that the proviso about the economy of this country calls for comment.

It says: There is concern at the effect of the present shortages of certain categories of skilled and professional manpower on the development of our economy, even when allowance is made for gains by immigration. The Board accordingly recommended that the attention of Government bodies concerned with the future planning of higher education and industrial training in this country should be drawn to the needs of the Commonwealth as a whole, and of developing countries in particular, with a view to increasing our ability to meet the need overseas and at home.

I am glad to say that this is being considered now by the Ministries of Education and Labour, by the Office of the Minister for Science, by the Department for Technical Co-operation, and by the Robbins Committee on Higher Education. Nevertheless, the manpower position will have to be watched, particularly as regards the few professional and skilled categories that are of vital importance to our own economic growth. It is quite clear that the loss of a few highly-skilled scientists and technicians in those categories could have a disproportionately adverse effect on our economy.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Dr. A. Thompson) reminded us, however, that we should keep this matter in perspective, because our losses of highly-trained manpower are, to some extent, offset by immigration. In 1960, for example, 2,188 teachers migrated from this country by the long sea routes, but 2,068 came into Britain, and in respect of teachers, doctors and trained nurses—the occupations in which the movement was greatest both ways—the net losses were much lower in that year than in 1959, although among professional engineers and scientists they were a little higher.

In one respect our losses of skilled manpower may be more apparent than real. That arises from the accepted classification of a migrant as a person going abroad for one year or more. Many of our professional and skilled people are going out under contract for periods of two or more years and, in the main, they go to the developing countries where their skill and know-how make a valuable contribution to progress in various fields. We must encourage that, but those people are not lost to us; they will come back.

I was asked why the Government did not suggest further schemes under the Acts. I thought that my right hon. Friend made it plain that the primary intiatives in securing new settlers must lie with the receiving countries, who alone can determine the rate and the type of emigrant that they can sustain. For our part, we are always willing to collaborate in any practical way with Commonwealth Governments but, as I have explained, our economy depends on an expanding labour force here, and, whilst we are happy to contribute to Commonwealth development through a steady and representative flow of citizens from this country, our manpower situation would prevent our proposing any special schemes ourselves to accelerate that movement.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East asked whether the resources under the Bill could be used to facilitate the migration of British settlers from one part of Africa to another. The answer is "No—that would need other legislation."

My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon asked why my right hon. Friend had authority to spend up to£1½million on schemes for the promotion of emigration when, in fact, we spent only a tiny proportion of that amount. Since the war we have spent, on average, less than£½million a year. It may be asked: why then retain the figure of£1½million? We feel that in so unpredictable a field as migration we should maintain some flexibility in regard to expenditure; for example, in 1950,£910,000 was spent. We think, too, that the figure of£1½million gives an assurance to Commonwealth Governments of our continuing interest in migration and provides us with the means of accommodating any new schemes which they may wish to introduce. Commonwealth Governments are aware that we are always ready to discuss new schemes with them.

It was suggested—and my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton supported this idea—that we should assist our own migrants in Australia by helping them with housing. I am advised that expenditure on housing schemes would not come within the scope of the Commonwealth Settlement Acts. In any event, we do not consider that the Dutch and Italian schemes for assisting their migrants to Australia and in respect of housing provide a precedent for a British housing scheme. Their schemes spring from the necessity to encourage migration in order to relieve the shortage of land and of jobs at home. The comparatively small number of migrants involved allows the money to be made available from Government sources, when matched by contributions by the Australians, to be of real practical help.

Frankly, however, a substantial sum of money would be necessary to provide housing finance for British migrants. If a scheme comparable to those operated by the Dutch and Italian Governments were introduced and the cost shared with the Australian Government—and assuming that an average house would cost about£3,000 and that about one in six of the migrants who went out were assisted by this means—the total cost would run, at the current rate of flow, to about£4 million a year.

The Government have examined the possibility of British building societies participating in migrant housing schemes. But these societies face certain difficulties. We must remember that they have evolved on a mutual basis by taking investments from small investors to whom they have an obligation to repay. Public confidence in building societies depends on the proper supervision of their activities, of the loans to borrowers and the necessary mortgage repayments. The societies are precluded from making loans overseas because this would involve them in risks which they would not otherwise have regarding their business with persons in this country.

We must also bear two other points in mind. Further investment overseas of this order would be bound to aggravate Britain's balance of payments position. If financial help for housing migrants were provided from Government sources, it would have to be at the expense of other projects overseas, and I particularly have in mind Government aid to the poorer developing countries. This is obviously a matter of priorities, and I think that there will be general agreement that of the amount we can afford to spend abroad, priority should be given to schemes which are essential to Commonwealth countries at an earlier and more crucial stage of their development.

Anyway, emigration is a highly personal matter. There is a limit to what Governments can do. My brother and his family emigrated to Australia some years ago when he had already passed the age of 40. For him and his wife this was an intensely personal decision taken over long months, if not years, of weighing up the balance of advantage. I recall long discussions that I had with him. He was not influenced by Government policy—or the lack of it—or by the exhortations of politicians, or even by a desire to open up the empty spaces of the Commonwealth. What weighed with him was whether, taking everything into account—job prospects, housing, schooling for his children—he and his family would secure a better and a more promising life in Australia than if they stayed here. Up to the moment of decision he was in doubt, and circumstances arose soon after his departure which, if they had occurred earlier, might have caused him to change his mind.

Housing is only one of the factors which must be taken into account by emigrants when making up their minds whether or not they should leave this country. The provision of new housing in Australia is, it would be fair to say, on as generous a basis as it is here, having regard to the relative size of our populations. I do not think that one could envisage asking the taxpayers of this country to provide resources for housing in some other part of the world when new housing here is considered—and rightly so—to be a high social priority.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) raised the interesting question of machinery for encouraging migration. It has never been suggested to us by any of the Commonwealth countries seeking British migrants that they want us to set up some special co-ordinating machinery or that we should set about boosting emigration ourselves. Our relationship here is one which is concerned with countries that, in this context, are competing with one another for British migrants, and it follows that they would prefer to deal with us on a bilateral basis.

This also needs to be said: it would be wrong for us to set up machinery to take over a task which is properly that of the High Commissioners' offices here—the task of interviewing and selecting would-be immigrants, and of advising them of the facilities they can expect and the opportunities that await them overseas. Having said all this, I think it should be realised that we have not done so badly for the Commonwealth in this matter. From 1946 to 1960, 1,381,000 British people emigrated to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Rhodesia alone. That represents about one-third of the total number of migrants absorbed by those countries from all sources.

Since the war the British taxpayer has contributed more than£7½million to assist migrants to the Commonwealth. The indirect cost incurred in terms of investment—for the education and training of these migrants—is even vaster. My right hon. Friend said in his speech that it is our firm belief that migration strengthens the ties of interest and sentiment which still happily bind our family of nations together. That is so. Equally, I have no doubt that within our free society emigration will continue to fluctuate in volume and change in character. That is only to be expected, because for the individual to uproot himself from one country and start afresh in another is an entirely personal matter and one that will be influenced by a great variety of circumstances over which Governments may have little control. Even so this Bill is a practical expression of the Government's desire that emigration to the Commonwealth shall continue and that worth while schemes to encourage this shall be supported. If I judge it correctly, that has been the sense of the speeches made during this debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).