HL Deb 23 June 1913 vol 14 cc631-43

*LORD SYDENHAM rose to ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether soldiers of excellent character whose time expires in India now have unrestricted entry into the States of the Australian Commonwealth and New Zealand, and, if not, whether the Secretary of State would make such representations as would secure a welcome to these most desirable immigrants.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Question of which I have given notice relates to a matter which I think may be regarded as of some Imperial importance. When I was in Bombay I was informed by an Australian friend that the treatment accorded to British soldiers who wished to leave India and to settle in Australia or in New Zealand was frequently unsympathetic, and even that some difficulties as to their right of entry had been found to exist. I therefore made careful inquiry of the Royal Army Temperance Association, which owes so much to the noble and gallant Earl who was Commander-in-Chief in India, and which has done and is doing admirable work among our soldiers in India. The result was to confirm all that my friend had told me, and to show that a considerable improvement of treatment in the case of these soldiers was necessary and also possible. I therefore thought that I should be justified in bringing the matter to the notice of your Lordships' House.

There are in India three classes of soldiers who may and who do at times wish to leave India and to settle in Australia or in New Zealand. The first class consists of men of about forty years of age who retire with a pension. Such men frequently have savings up to £200. They are generally married, and have children of ages varying from five to fifteen years. All such men are entitled to a free passage to any port in the British Empire. The second class is comprised of men who have completed their twelve years of service and would be of an age between thirty-one and thirty-three. They are generally unmarried, and would have savings of from £20 to £30. These men also are entitled to a free passage to any port in the British Empire. Then there is the third class—men who complete their Colour service in India and pass into the Reserve. Their age would be from twenty-five to twenty-eight, and their savings from £5 to £20. In addition they would have a gratuity or deferred pay of £7 or £9, and they would also have their Reserve pay of 6d. a day. Those men, unless they get assisted passages, must pay their passages to any Colony and must obtain permission from the War Office to emigrate, such permission, I am informed, being frequently given. I need hardly say that we do not wish to lose the services of these valuable trained men in the prime of their life. On the other hand, we cannot desire to prevent such men from availing themselves of the greater opportunities which must be presented to them for making their way in life in new countries, more especially if they have family connections in those new countries.

If my information is correct, the pensioned class would be able at any time to enter any of the States of the Australian Commonwealth or of New Zealand without any question being asked, but the two younger classes may, and if my information is correct do, sometimes, experience difficulties. In the first place there is this initial difficulty. Only the Messageries Maritimes will now book soldiers third class. The Norddeutscher Lloyd and the Orient used to do so, but they have discontinued the practice. There are, of course, occasional tramp steamers which will take them. But for these tramp steamers it seems that British soldiers would only be able to get to the Australian Commonwealth and New Zealand by the assistance of a foreign line. The conditions which present themselves to ex-soldiers on landing vary materially in the different States. In some of the Australian States I believe there is now a Protector of Immigrants who receives the soldiers, treats them kindly, and gives them the information they want; but in others nothing seems to be done to help these men on landing or to furnish them with information as to where they would be most likely to obtain work in the trades in which they have gained certificates. It does seem to me that if an association like the Royal Army Temperance Association sends out in advance the names of soldiers of exemplary character who have certificates of education and of a trade, any part of the Empire might be proud to receive such men and help them in every possible way; and, further, that if these men are Colonial born, as sometimes happens, special facilities for their return to their native country might be extended.

As regards the conditions of entry, I confess I do not understand the present situation. When I was in Australia immigration was entirely in the hands of the Federal authorities. I remember well that they dealt with the celebrated case of the six hatters who arrived from England. Nevertheless I am informed that only last year a corporal of the Royal Irish Fusiliers entitled to a free passage to any Colony, was prevented by a local rule from joining his own parents in his own birthplace, which happened to be Sydney, because, being a man of but twelve years' service, he had no pension. He was obliged to proceed to England in a troopship in the hope of being able to work his passage out from England to Australia and thus to reach his home by a back door. Other cases of soldiers who could not get direct to their Australian homes have occurred. Surely, my Lords, within the bounds of our Empire this should not be possible.

Another specific case brought to my notice was that of a private in the Dublin Fusiliers, who, much to his credit, had helped his parents to emigrate to Perth, and had also helped to support them out of his pay. His father wished to get his son with him to help him work his small farm. In this case a long correspondence took place with the State Government and an advanced passage was at length promised to this man, but the promise reached him too late, and he bad to come to England and depend on private charity to get to the home his parents had made in Perth. One would have thought that an immense State like Western Australia, with great undeveloped resources and a wholly inadequate population, would have been eager, if necessary, even to bribe such a man to settle within its borders.

I hope I have said enough to justify my raising this question in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies will, of course, correct me if I have in any way overstated or exaggerated my case. He will also be able to tell us whether, under the provisions of the Imperial Naturalisation Act, which I think lie told us on the 11th of this month was now on the legislative anvil, any hardships which now exist of the kind to which I have referred may be mitigated or abolished. All that I plead for is that soldiers of high character, the very pick of our Army in India, should receive sympathetic treatment if they desire to settle in any British territory, and that the way of those who are Colonial born and want to get back to their homes should be made as smooth as possible. I know well the great kindliness of the Australian people and the strong Imperial sentiment which exists among them and which finds such frequent expression when their statesmen come to the Mother Country, and I arc sure that Australians would regret that there should be any appearance of slight or discouragement to men who in the heat of India have taken part in the defence of the Empire, and who would certainly add to the potential strength of the citizen Army which Australia is now engaged in creating.


My Lords, the general question of employment for time-expired soldiers, of which that dealt with by the noble Lord is only a part, is a very important Imperial problem. I do not want to raise any controversial point in my reply, but I think I can say, without doing anything of the kind, that our Overseas Army is, and I think must for a long time remain, a voluntarily recruited Army. That being the case the question of employment for time-expired soldiers is a vital element of the case. On the whole the character of these men is excellent when they are discharged from the Army. I am pleased to state that in late years it has been easier for them to find work on that account, and I am glad to say also that the moral obligation to do what we can for these men has been brought home, I think, to all of us. The particular case which the noble Lord has raised refers to time-expired soldiers from India who wish to go to Australia or to New Zealand. Some of the incidents that he mentioned are not matters with which I can deal. The question of the steamships, for instance, is one over which we at the Colonial Office have no control; and the particular case of the soldier who desired to go to Western Australia is a new one to me, and one about which I am not able to say anything without making inquiry. The noble Lord asked about the Naturalisation Bill. So far as I can see that Bill will not affect this particular question, which is not a matter of naturalisation at all.

In his Question on the Paper the noble Lord asks whether soldiers of excellent character whose time expires in India now have unrestricted entry into the States of the Australian Commonwealth and New Zealand. In reply, I may say that there is no special restriction of any kind affecting soldiers. Time-expired soldiers, as well as all other men, are, of course, subject to the Immigration Laws passed by the Commonwealth of Australia and administered by the officials of the Commonwealth. Such men may be excluded on medical grounds or for other reasons specified in the Act, but there are no special restrictions which apply to them; and if they are of good character and their health is good they are, so far as I know, readily admitted into the Commonwealth. In the case of Australia it is important to separate the question of restriction by law under the Immigration Acts and the special assistance or encouragement that is given by the various States. At present any assistance that is afforded is given by the States themselves, and not by the Commonwealth. And when the noble Lord asks whether His Majesty's Government will make such representations as will secure a welcome to these time-expired soldiers I must reply to him that, if by the words "secure a welcome" is meant that His Majesty's Government should make representations that some special assistance should be given to these soldiers as compared to other classes of the community, I am afraid that His Majesty's Government could not accept responsibility for taking any such step. Special assistance is the function of the States. His Majesty's Government do not attempt to ensure that any special class in comparison with other classes should be assisted. The Dominions and the States are free to give or to withhold assistance as they wish.

Some misunderstanding has arisen, I think, in regard to this particular question. Erroneous information was circulated in India as to the prospects in Australia of time-expired soldiers. That was in 1909, I think. The Government of India in 1910 asked that inquiries might be made. Communications took place between His Majesty's Government and the High Commissioners, and at the request of the Commonwealth Government reports were presented by the various States as to their practice in regard to this matter. I will briefly state what those reports were, and incidentally I shall deal with the question of the corporal who was refused a passage to New South Wales. In the report from New South Wales, which is dated 1910, it was stated that the Government of that State desired to encourage time-expired soldiers to immigrate if their health and character were satisfactory and the immigration was approved by the War Office. If these men were to be assisted certain conditions were laid down. These conditions were that the age was not to be more than forty, and that the men should be vigorous and entitled to a pension as well as to at least £200 commutation money. Preference would be given to pensioners experienced in rural life and in the management of horses; and assistance would be given to these people in the shape of instruction and advice by experts of the Department of Agriculture. New South Wales was the only State that laid down conditions of that kind. Those conditions did not apply to entry into the Commonwealth; they applied solely to cases in which special assistance was given by the State. I am not sure whether that was fully understood; I do not think it was.

In the particular case of the corporal to which the noble Lord referred the authorities in India appear to have taken the Regulations which were issued as if they were conditions of entry into the Commonwealth, whereas, as I have already stared, the Regulations applied only to cases in which assistance was given by the State. I believe that in this case if a passage had been paid for the corporal, or if lie had paid his own passage, he certainly would have been admitted into the Commonwealth if his health and character were good, as I have no doubt they were. This particular misunderstanding has, I think, been entirely set at rest by a telegram sent to India comparatively recently.

At the beginning of 1912 the Government of India, on the strength of a newspaper statement in which it was said that the conditions on which assistance was given in New South Wales to time-expired soldiers had been modified, inquired how matters stood. The Government of New South Wales replied that while they had no wish to prevent the immigration of time-expired men who came at their own expense, they were not prepared actively to assist the immigration of ex-soldiers from India. The conditions on which active assistance would be given remained the same as in 1910, and those conditions I have already read to your Lordships. That is the state of the case as regard New South Wales. I may remind the House that it is a very different thing to say, "We are ready to receive any and every time-expired soldier who comes to our shores" from saying "We have a number of places vacant for which these men would be suitable, and they would be certain to secure employment as soon as they arrive here."

I will deal very briefly with the other States. The Victorian Government forwarded a report showing that vacancies existed at that time—August, 1910—for experienced farm hands, carpenters, joiners, and some other classes of workers. The Government of South Australia supplied information as to the rates of wages, but stated that at that particular time there was a considerable number of labourers out of work, but that employment could possibly be found for soldiers from India who were strong and willing to work at manual labour on farms. In December, 1911, proposals were made by the Government of South Australia to encourage the immigration of time-expired soldiers. The notice given, however, was so short that for that and other reasons it was not found possible to carry out that scheme. Certain inaccurate statements were also made at that time regarding the character of these British soldiers. These allegations have since been contradicted authoritatively by the Commission for Crown Lands, in language whose warmth I am sure would receive the approval of the noble Lord, on the authority of the Government of India. It is under- stood now that the Government of South Australia are favourable to the immigration of time-expired soldiers, and that a certain number of such soldiers are being induced to immigrate to the State by private agencies. The Government of Tasmania stated in its report that it was undesirable to encourage soldiers to go to Tasmania at that particular time without a reasonable amount of capital. The Government of Western Australia said that they thought soldiers would make excellent immigrants, that there was plenty of work to be done there, and that the labour bureaux would be able to provide these men with work. No information was supplied directly by Queensland, but I understand privately that a good many time-expired soldiers have gone there and are doing very well; and in a country so famous for horse-breeding as Queensland is I should hope that that will continue to be the case. In regard to New Zealand the High Commissioner stated that, there was no opening for mechanics as immigrants at that particular moment, and that the best time for immigrants to arrive was during the period from September to January. I may also add that the Commonwealth have recently taken or are taking steps to obtain a considerable number of instructors from time-expired soldiers in India. I have now given your Lordships practically the whole of the information we have in regard to this question.

If I may sum it up I would do so in this way. We may say that the misunderstandings as to the character of these men have been entirely removed. I think that the particulars which I have given to the House—certainly my study of the question leads me to this view—show that as least as cordial a welcome is given to time-expired soldiers as to any other class of the community. It is clear that the various States are glad to have them when suitable vacancies are open, but that they are naturally somewhat afraid to publish to the world at large that they have endless places for time-expired soldiers when it is possible that if a large number of soldiers went it would not be easy to find them immediate work. And I would venture to add that in the interests of all concerned the States do well not to pledge themselves to find work unless they are absolutely able to do so.


My Lords, I desire to say a word on this question on behalf of the Naval and Military Emigration League, a body which was founded about three years ago with the avowed intention, not of attempting to persuade soldiers to emigrate or to run foul in any way with the War Office as regards the Army Reserve, but simply to assist ex-soldiers of good character who had no prospects for themselves and families in this country. The League has at this moment representatives in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, and also in India, and the cases they deal with are the very cases with which we are concerned to-day. As far as the experience of the League is concerned, our information goes to show that it is more difficult for these men to get out of India than it is for them to get into the Colonies. Our information is that before a time-expired man is allowed to leave for a Colony he must show that he has actually got a billet to go to. Therefore what is required is that the regulations in this respect in India shall be relaxed, and that on a statement from our League that we can find a man employment the man should then be allowed to go.

I should like to read to your Lordships extracts from the Report of the League issued only a few months ago— The representatives of the League in Australia and New Zealand—the British Immigration League and the Australasian Branches of the Overseas Club—are of great assistance to the men sent out to those countries, respecting whom the reports received are, in the main, most satisfactory. Mr. Easton, Secretary of the British Immigration League, writes— It really is a pleasure to help along the men you have sent us. With very few exceptions I have found the naval and military men easy to handle, cheerful, amenable to discipline, and generally willing to become adaptable to whatever work we may be able to obtain for them. The League states that Australia can do with tens of thousands of men of the stamp it has been receiving, and that as long as this holds good it would be nothing short of a scandal if they are to be turned adrift and left for no fault of their own to become unemployable. In the last report of the British Immigration League it is stated— On more than one occasion we have had pleasure in reporting that the ex-Service men I and Reservists make the best immigrants. Men amenable to discipline are more readily adapted to new surroundings. The President of the British Immigration League, Professor T. P. Anderson Stuart, referring to the work of the League which he had the opportunity of inquiring into during a recent visit to London, says— This is an organisation which deserves to be heartily supported by every Australian. Nothing could be better for ex-Service men than to come with their belongings to Australia, and nothing could be better for Australia than to have such men. The larger the number the better. They are not merely good colonists, but they bring with them their knowledge and experience of naval and military matters, and this is of vast importance to us. An important step has been taken by the British Immigration League in establishing in Sydney a Receiving Depôt and Labour Exchange for Immigrants. At the opening ceremony Mr. A. A. Dangar, through whose generous contribution the Dreadnought Training Farm for lads has been established, referring to ex-Service men, said— No better immigrants can come to this country. Their naval and military experience makes them resourceful, and they quickly adapt themselves to new conditions. Then as regards India, we have the words of the Rev. H. C. Martin, of Simla, who is secretary of the Royal Army Temperance Association, and hon. secretary of the branch of the League in India. He states— Of the 6,000 to 8,000 men whose service with the Colours in India expires annually, there are at least 1,000 who are likely to desire to settle in the Dominions and are in every way fitted to do so. No complete report has been received as to the number of men who have emigrated from India direct to the Dominions in the past eighteen months, but during the four months ended December 31st last Mr. Martin states that twenty-one went to Australia, seven to Canada, one to New Zealand, and one to South Africa. Referring to the general question of emigration Mr. Martin says— The year 1912 has certainly seen a distinctly forward movement. Many small concessions have been granted by the Army authorities, such as the widening of the Army Regulations, giving free passages to all Colonial ports instead of to the nearest only, and so on. May I conclude by saying that of the suggestions for improving the conditions governing the emigration of men from India which have been submitted to the council of the League it is hoped that two will receive favourable consideration. First, that the Governments or employers of labour in the Dominions should furnish the secretary of the League in India with particulars as to the openings in their various States or Provinces, and that the assurance of employment given by the League on such information should be regarded by the military authorities in India as sufficient to meet the conditions as to employment set out in the Regulations; and, secondly, that the Dominion Governments should extend to ex-Army immigrants from India all possible facilities in regard to passages, reception on arrival, and conditions of employment and settlement.


My Lords, my noble friend on the Cross Benches has achieved a record success this evening, for he has done what no other member of this House has succeeded in doing for a long time past—he has elicited two speeches from the Front Bench opposite. Those two speeches have added a certain amount to our knowledge of this question, but I do not think that with the best will in the world the noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies has cleared up the whole situation. He did not dispose entirely of two allegations made by the noble Lord who initiated this discussion. The Under-Secretary said that there had been confusion as between the regulations for assistance and the conditions of entry into Australia; but my noble friend on the Cross Benches produced cases in which there had been refusals of admittance which—


May I explain? I have stated that the case of the private who desired to go to Western Australia has not, been brought before me. The case of the corporal was one in which the Army authorities in India refused to give him an assisted passage to New South Wales, although his father and mother lived there and there was work open for him if he had gone. I said that if a passage had been found for this particular man there is no doubt in my mind that he would have been admitted into Australia. There was no reason at all why he should not. But he did not come properly under the category of assisted immigrants.


Does not that mean that the Army authorities in India were misled as to what were the conditions of admission into New South Wales?


It is a little difficult for me to answer that question, because I have not consulted the War Office about it; but if I am asked for a frank reply I should say that that is my impression. But the matter has now been set right and is perfectly understood.


I quite appreciate the position with regard to that particular case. But unquestionably what my noble friend on the Cross Benches also said as regards the attitude of the Orient Steamship Company will have produced an unfavourable impression on your Lordships' House. It is going back to the unfortunate period thirty years ago when undoubtedly soldiers were not regarded as desirable immigrants; and I cannot help taking this opportunity of making one observation, which after a very long experience of the War Office I really think is fair, and that is that the character of the soldier as an immigrant has changed in the most remarkable degree in the course of the last twenty or thirty years.

To a large extent, no doubt, this change of character may be due to better education and the improved conditions which we have seen, but it is also due to the very great change in the medical conditions. Lord Wolseley used to say that a soldier of thirty was in nine cases out of ten practically useless in the field, for he was in hospital a large portion of the time. But those were days when the average sick in the British Army was more than double what the average is now. The health of our soldiers has so enormously improved—largely owing to the great changes made in the Medical Department and in the medical rules by the late Director-General Sir A. Keogh—that at present the ordinary number of sick in hospital is immensely less than the number in those days, and the usefulness of these men in civil life when they leave the Army has also been greatly increased. That is one point. The second, of course, is the point of character. The military authorities now give a character which is of real use and guidance to the civilian employer. In old days the character "fair" or "good" often represented only the minimum of military and not much civil reputation. There is also this point, which I think people hardly realise, that even if a man does his Reserve service he still is probably not more than 30 years of age or very little over.

While I have warm sympathy with the desire of the men who are now pouring into Canada to improve their prospects, my fear is that this will lead to too great a depletion of the Reserve. I know that the War Office have been extremely considerate in this matter and have not hesitated, where a man has a good chance of employment in the Colonies, to give a permit for him to go while he is in the Reserve. I do not know whether the noble Lord is in a position to tell us, but I think we ought to know at some time to what extent that latitude has been used Several Reservists on my own estate have gone to Canada; and one cannot refrain from helping them to better their positions in the Colonies in view of the present conditions of agricultural life here. While every effort should be made to give a man the best chance that can be given him of settling with his family in the Colonies if he desires to do so at the expiration of his Reserve service, I think the War Office ought to consider the advisability of fixing a percentage of those in the Reserve who alone should be allowed to be out of England in case of emergency.


My Lords, I should like to express my thanks to the noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies for his clear and lucid statement. It is clear that the military authorities in India were under the impression that the corporal to whom I referred could not get into New South Wales and return to his home at Sydney owing to the fact that he had no pension. I am glad to think that this short discussion will have removed these misapprehensions, and that in future the way of these deserving ex-soldiers into the Stares under the Southern Cross will be made easier than before.