HC Deb 21 March 1962 vol 656 cc394-404

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

3.40 p.m.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

I apologise for intervening at this stage, but I was in another part of the Commonwealth when the Bill was introduced and I want now to make a short speech in support of it. It seems to me an excellent Bill, particularly contrasted with the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, which the House was considering earlier in the Session. That was a Bill which, far from cementing the Commonwealth, actually harmed it, whereas this Bill at least does something towards cementing it.

In his original observations on Second Reading, the Secretary of State said: … the mere expenditure of money does not by itself constitute a migration policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1962; Vol. 654, c. 1557–58.] I certainly agree with him, but I wonder whether the Government have an emigration policy. If not, they can evolve one now, because in all the business in connection with Rhodesia being about to be transferred to the Home Secretary they will have ample time to concentrate on such matters as emigration, although they may not have had time to concentrate on them before. I hope that they will be able to do so and that they will produce a genuine emigration policy.

In the Second Reading debate the Under-Secretary of State said that emigration was a matter of personal decision. I entirely agree. But it is influenced by many factors. For instance, there is the question whether there are likely to be houses for the emigrants. As the Under-Secretary knows well, there have been difficulties in Australia, and he knows of the need which there may be for the United Kingdom to subsidise houses for emigrants in Australia.

I know that there are difficulties about it and that it cannot be done very easily, but it is something which might be considered; and I wish that further consideration could be given to it, because many emigrants going to Australia now find they have not got the housing accommodation they would like. If it were available I have no doubt it would encourage people to go. The fact that both countries have similar social insurance systems helps enormously, as it does with other countries in the Commonwealth. These are the sort of things which can influence the personal decision of people whether they want to emigrate or not.

I should also like to ask the Under-Secretary this question. He told us, I think I am correct in saying, that 1,380,000 emigrants had gone to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and, maybe, South Africa between 1946 and 1960. What I want to know, since I did not discover it from reading the hon. Gentleman's speech, is what is the net figure. Is that figure net or gross? How many have returned? It seems to me essential that we should know the net number who have emigrated rather than just the gross number.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will not be in the position of the Home Secretary, who was unable to answer a somewhat similar question at the time when we were considering the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill and my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) showed the figures. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be better informed than that.

One of the things we hear a great deal about—and I think that it is very unfortunate that we should hear about it—is the loss of skilled labour from this country. We are told that all the skilled men are leaving the country so that no skilled people will be left here. We are asked, "What are we to do about it?" I think that is a very depressing view to take, and I would suggest something which might be done. I would suggest, as other people have suggested before, that we might do something to encourage the setting up of more universities and increasing the size of some of those already existing, so that as a result there would be more people being trained and we should have more skilled people.

Surely it is very desirable that this country should be, as it were, a dynamo of skill, so that we can send out skilled, trained people to Commonwealth countries and build up there British ideas and the British way of life. We can perfectly well train enough people if we pay more attention to our universities and to developing new universities and, indeed, technical colleges. I hope that the Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State will use their influence to see that we do encourage university and technical college development so as to produce these trained people to make up for those who are now emigrating.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Dr. A. Thompson) talked about 30,000—I think he said-Commonwealth students who are coming to this country and said what a very good thing that was. It is an excellent thing, but I am afraid that as a result of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill there may perhaps be a slight reduction in the number of those desiring to come here as students.

Recently, when I was in Nigeria, I found people saying, "Oh, yes, certainly we want to go to Britain as students, because there we are given education. It is the only place we can go to where we will get education." But they did not say, "We want to go because Britain is the country for which we have a special feeling as the central place in the Commonwealth." They did not take that attitude. They took the attitude, "We want to go because of what is offered to us." It is a pity to think that they come in that spirit rather than in the spirit of wanting to come to the central country of the Commonwealth.

I should like to say a word about Rhodesia. I am sorry that the Home Secretary is not here because, after all, he is responsible now for Rhodesia, and he had, perhaps, better get used to sitting here and taking part in our debates on these subjects so that he may equip himself even better than he is now to deal with these questions which have been now suddenly thrust upon him so unexpectedly. I believe that we should not be considering the question of immigration into Rhodesia; we should be considering instead the question of emigration from Rhodesia, for that we may well have to do before very long.

We know what has happened to people in Kenya, the people who were told to go out to settle in Kenya, who were told that the Government would do everything possible to help them. Circumstances have arisen now in which they want—many of them—to emigrate. All I would say is that I hope those same circumstances will not happen to people who are being sent out to Rhodesia.

Let there be no mistake about this. I think that in Rhodesia there should be majority rule. That majority rule may well be African, black African rule. In fact, it must be African black rule if it is to be majority rule. That being so, I think that it is very unfortunate to send out emigrants to that country knowing that they may have to face that situation in a relatively short time, and, having faced it, may have to consider emigrating.

I was in South Africa two years ago and there I found that there was considerable talk about emigration. So much talk was there that I was informed by one man that at the golf club in a large town he was approached by a Minister in Dr. Verwoerd's Government who actually asked him, "Can you tell me what is the best method of emigrating to Australia? What steps should I take to get there as soon as possible?" That is a curious state of affairs even in South Africa, but I think that that sort of state of affairs may well come about in Rhodesia before very long.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) talked about inter-Dominion migration and I understood the Under-Secretary of State to have said that we did not want to have too much connection with it and that it should be left to the Dominions themselves. For all that there is an excellent case for setting up something already suggested by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), who thought we should have a Commonwealth employment bureau.

I think that we should do more than that. We should have a Commonwealth migration bureau manned by people—not just from this country but from every part of the Commonwealth. It would be a practical demonstration of what the Commonwealth can do, and this is the kind of practical demonstration we want to have today of the kind of life we have within the Commonwealth. I think that it could and should be done.

The Commonwealth today is slowly—not so slowly, either—slipping apart. Many of us regret that this should be so. This Bill does something—not so much, but a small amount—towards cementing the Commonwealth, rather than helping it to slip apart, and I hope that through it, and through the kind of work which it envisages, everything will be done to encourage migration within the Commonwealth. We must stop being frightened that we shall lose all our skilled people, and encourage them to go abroad within the Commonwealth so that this country may continue to be what it has been through so many years the central pivot of Commonwealth life.

If we can do this we may have done something to remedy the harm which has been done in recent years by much Government legislation in the sphere of emigration, and by so much lack of legislation.

3.48 p.m.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

I find myself very much in agreement with much of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) has said, except his general criticisms of the spirit with which the Government are pursuing the Bill. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I very much support the purpose of the Bill. I am pleased to see that we are now continuing with this very important Measure. I am also pleased to see that the Government have decided to continue with the figure of £1½ million per annum. I hope that this means that they will change their policy of recent years of considering a miserable sum of about £150,000 for this very important purpose.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the view which I expressed on Second Reading, that we should have a Commonwealth employment bureau. I was sorry to see that this idea was rejected by my hon. Friend. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I should like to see this Commonwealth conception, and such a bureau based throughout the Commonwealth, so that every Commonwealth citizen could go to its offices in the capital of his own country and get there all the information he wants and be able to see at sight, as it were, the availability of opportunities throughout the whole Commonwealth. I should like to see staff to give advice at all the offices of such a Commonwealth bureau.

When my hon. Friend rejected this idea he used these words: 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 shall set about boosting emigration ourselves." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1962; Vol. 654, c. 1586.] The point which we wish to make is that we should not sit in the House waiting for Commonwealth countries to take the initiative. Occasionally, we should take the initiative ourselves. Here is a practical suggestion that I believe will be welcomed by Commonwealth countries and which would create a far greater transference of people throughout the Commonwealth and achieve the object which we all stand for of bringing about closer ties with Commonwealth countries.

I would ask my hon. Friend to say something about the collection of statistics and particularly about people who travel by air. In Committee my hon. Friend rejected an Amendment moved by the Opposition on this subject on the ground that experiments were being carried out on the basis of samples. When does my hon. Friend expect the first results of this method to be known, and when will he be able to judge whether this is a successful method of obtaining the required information?

I should like to dispute a statement made on Second Reading by my hon. Friend about the difficulty in encouraging too many skilled and trained people to leave this country and to go to parts of the Commonwealth. My hon. Friend, on Second Reading, said: 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".— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1962; Vol. 654, c. 1582.] I dispute this, because I consider that the present distribution of skilled manpower throughout the Commonwealth is far too concentrated in these islands. I do not believe that this is to our economic advantage.

If we provide skilled people to develop the enormous material resources and colossal consumer markets of the Commonwealth countries it will be a gigantic boost to our own economy. It will increase our power of competition and will quicken the whole pace of our economy. This narrow-minded thinking in terms of keeping skilled people to these shores and limiting the numbers going abroad is reflected in the fact that the Government have used so little of the money under these Measures in the past five years.

When we consider that our economy can collapse completely if we fail to develop the countries of Africa and Asia in such a way that they are saved from Communism, it is surely wrong for us to spend £1,000 million a year upon our own education services and less than £200 million on total aid to the Commonwealth, and then begrudge a small number of people going to those countries to assist them in their development.

I ask my hon. Friend to look at this matter and to let us know today that he intends to ask for £1½ million a year not because he wants to avoid the image that would be created by reducing the sum but because his idea is not to continue on the present low level of endeavour in this sphere, but to increase this work tenfold.

3.54 p.m.

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

I should like to answer some of the points raised in the debate. There is, of course, nothing novel in the Bill. It merely seeks to renew provisions which the various Commonwealth and Empire Settlement Acts have made over the years for a further period of five years, and it enables the Secretary of State to co-operate with Commonwealth Governments in a number of schemes of emigration. If any new schemes are put up to us by Commonwealth countries we will consider them carefully and will spend up to the limit of £1½ million which we have provided.

I was asked about emigration not merely from this country to Commonwealth countries but from other Commonwealth countries. Rhodesia was mentioned particularly. Emigration from countries in Africa is outside the scope of the Bill. This particular Measure is limited because it is a renewal of the 1922 Act and successive statutes which were limited to schemes favouring emigration from these islands to Commonwealth countries.

That is not to say that people of British stock living in other parts of the world are under any special disability if they are attracted by the prospect of starting a new life, for example, in Australia. The Australians operate a large number of migration schemes. Australian Government offices overseas, including trade commissioner offices in Nairobi and Salisbury, provide information about these schemes, and it is for the individual in this matter to consider all the relevant factors and make up his own mind.

The question of loss of skilled manpower has been raised. I should like to make it absolutely clear that the Government recognise it is a British interest that countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand should continue to look primarily to us for immigrants. Looking back over the last century I think that we would all agree that the movement of Britons to these countries has not been a matter of fewer people here and more over there, cancelling one another out. It has meant an enormous aggregate increase in the strength of the British race and the extension of its influence in the world. This process must continue, and the Bill indicates that we want it to continue.

If, however, a very large proportion of our young and skilled people go, leaving the older people here, it is bound to have a damaging effect upon our economy. Of course, it is a matter of degree, but the Oversea Migration Board itself made plain that 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 right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) asked me about the balance of migration. From 1953 to 1957 there was a net loss by migration from these islands. It amounted in 1957 to 72,000. Since then there has been a net, though not appreciably large gain. It was 45,000 in 1958, 44,000 in 1959, 82,000 in 1960, and 160,000 in 1961. These are not massive figures when seen against the background of our total population. The point, which the right hon. Gentleman wanted me to clarify, is that at the moment there is a small net gain.

It was suggested that we should have a Commonwealth board or a centralised Commonwealth machinery here in Britain to encourage emigration from this country, but here, of course, the difficulty is that our relationship with the Commonwealth is one with countries which are competing with one another for British emigrants. A British emigrant is not in the market to go anywhere in the world. The decision to migrate is very much a personal matter for the man who, for one reason or another, wishes to uproot himself and take his family to a British country overseas.

Certainly, if Commonwealth Governments were prepared to put up ideas to us along these lines we would seriously entertain them, but I am convinced that they would prefer in present circumstances to deal with this matter on a bilateral basis. It would be quite wrong for us to set up such machinery on our own. It is the business of Commonwealth offices in London to interview, select and advise would-be emigrants and to tell them what facilities they can expect at the other end and what opportunities await them overseas.

I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) about the sampling procedure which we have been following for some months to fill the gap in our information about statistics of outward movements by air. The results should be available in the near future. As I indicated during the Committee stage, if it appears that this sampling yields inadequate information the Government will be prepared to re-examine the whole position with a view to the necessary administrative or legislative action.

We have had a short but interesting and valuable debate, and I do not think that there is need for me to add anything, except, once again, to reaffirm that the Government are as anxious as anyone to ensure a steady flow of good British migrants to Commonwealth countries overseas.

I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, however, and to other hon. Gentlemen, that I fully understand their enthusiasm and share it, but it is necessary to see this matter in perspective. Commonwealth countries, of necessity, are anxious to attract young and highly skilled workers. As a consequence, we lose people in whom a good deal has been invested through education, training and social services, and who are essential to our own economy. On the other hand, it is true that there are economic and political advantages in encouraging British emigration to the Commonwealth. This has long been the case and will continue to be so.

It is not merely the case that emigrants to Commonwealth countries help to maintain and increase demand in their new countries for British goods and services, but they carry with them a certain way of life and outlook on the world which we wish to see preserved and extended. They help to strengthen the traditional links of sentiment and interest which have done so much to hold the Commonwealth together in a divided world. One cannot evaluate these things precisely, but we know that they are important. It is therefore, all a matter of balance. The House may be assured that this Bill gives a firm assurance of the Government's intention that emigration to the Commonwealth shall continue.

4.2 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

In his closing remarks, my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State said that he was not unsympathetic and, indeed, not unco-operative, but a lot of what he said underlined the need for something on a larger scale. Those closing remarks indicated what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). The position is that a number of people leave our shores every year to settle in other parts of the world. Some of them, of necessity, are drawn into the United States or into other countries which are not part of the Commonwealth. I suppose that some of that is inevitable.

I would have thought that there was an obvious need for some organisation of the type suggested which would consider the whole question in relation to the many countries in the Commonwealth which obviously need increased populations. New Zealand, for example, is grossly underpopulated. If, in the years ahead, the New Zealanders are to vindicate their right to the islands they will need a very much larger population. We hope that much of that population will come from these islands. The other case which is so obvious is that of Australia, which in the years since the war has had the policy of settling people from all parts of Europe.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will have noted, however, that the countries of origin of the new Australians of today are very different from those of the new Australians before the war, and that the proportion of people from this country has been getting smaller and smaller. Therefore, there is a considerable case not merely for such an organisation to co-ordinate Commonwealth settlement, but also for assistance of this kind on an enhanced scale. If we are to make sure that as large a proportion as possible of the people who leave this country go to Commonwealth countries, and not elsewhere, increased financial aid of this kind is required.

Mr. Braine

Eighty-two per cent. of all British emigrants go to Commonwealth countries.

Mr. Gower

That has been a general percentage over a considerable period, but I do not think that my hon. Friend can say that it is the percentage over the last two or three years.

Mr. Braine

It was the percentage in 1960, the last year for which we have full statistics.

Mr. Gower

I am gratified to hear that, because I had imagined that the percentage was lower. Nevertheless, even if that is so, I feel that the case made out by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester and others for increasing the scale of this legislation has been made out.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.