HL Deb 19 November 1918 vol 32 cc238-51

LORD BURNHAM rose to ask His Majesty's Government what steps are being taken to provide adequate machinery to deal with emigration and immigration, as the Emigration Bill has failed to pass into law.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should not have put this Question upon the Paper at somewhat short notice were it not of urgent public importance in view of the Prorogation of Parliament, and the probability that the new House of Commons will take some time blowing off steam before it settles down to the business of the day. I would point out that you cannot consider the problem of resettling the men and women of His Majesty's Forces and of the civil works in this country without also providing, as far as you can, for their settlement in the lands beyond the seas. The failure of the House of Commons to pass the Emigration Bill at its Third Reading and to send it up for the consideration of this House was not only a misfortune in the circumstances of the time, but was almost a scandal. At the present time you have the fact that the Royal Commission upon the Development of the Resources of the Empire and a Committee appointed under the chairmanship of Lord Tennyson two years ago for the settlement of the men of the Services on land at home and overseas, reported strongly in favour, as essential to the right administration of the Empire, of the setting up of a strong Central Authority for dealing with emigration in all its branches. That work is now distributed between the different Departments of State. Yet nothing has been done, and nothing is likely to be done for some time to come.

The record of Parliament in dealing with emigration of late years has not been creditable. Between 1834 and I believe 1878 there was every year voted in the House of Commons a sum for the emigration of destitute persons to various parts of the Empire beyond the seas, and that ensured either a debate in the House of Commons, or at least the opportunity of debate. In recent years—since 1889—there has been no consideration of the question, and not even a Parliamentary Committee appointed to consider it in all its recent phases. The consequence is that now, at the end of the war, we have still that part of the machinery of state which deals with emigration abroad lying rusty, and being one of the most ineffective instruments I think in the whole of our organisation. As your Lordships know, the functions of the State in respect of emigration are divided between half a dozen Departments. The Local Government Board looks after the emigration of the children under the Poor Law; the Home Office looks to their treatment when they come from industrial schools, and the question in its general aspects is, of course, under the care of the Colonial Office.

At this moment the question is becoming really grave in view of the desire of so many soldiers and sailors to go abroad. The Emigrants' Information Office was established some thirty years ago. I have been a member of the Management Committee of that Office since 1894, and I am the last to say a word in disparagement of that Committee. It is under the official supervision of the Colonial Office. It has distributed information throughout the country by means of handbooks, circulars, and posters as to the prospect for emigrants in various parts of the British Empire, the cost of passages, the rates of wages, and matters of that kind, but it does not undertake to do more than give general information, and it is not linked up in any way with the organisations of the Dominions and of the various States and Provinces of the overseas Empire. Nobody can dispute that the question is urgent now. It was said long ago that the best emigration agent was the successful emigrant. I am told by Australians and Canadians with whom I have come in contact that they are constantly being questioned by our soldiers at home and abroad as to what the prospects are of success and livelihood in the parts of the world from which our Colonials come.

The Dominions themselves, it is quite true, are carrying on propaganda of their own. The Dominion of Canada has a special office devoted solely to the work of colonisation and land settlement. But there is no link whatever between any of these offices and that part of the departmental machinery of our own country which is supposed to deal with emigration. That in itself is bad enough. Each Dominion naturally tries to spread its own fame and to make the prospects of life out there as attractive as possible. There is nothing to check that, and there is no body charged with the duty at this moment of telling those who are to be demobilised from the Army or Navy, or discharged from the war works, anything of what they are likely to meet with if they emigrate overseas.

Then, of course, there is the danger of their being attracted to lands outside the British Empire and beyond the folds of the Flag. It is not only a question of our patriotic anxiety that all the manhood and womanhood that we can spare from this country should at least be settled and thrive under the Flag. The point is that it is notorious that shipping brokers and agents are in the habit of holding out all sorts of inducements in other countries to which these men and women may be attracted. It may be answered that this question is not urgent because there is no probability of sufficient shipping being available for any important amount of emigration in the next eighteen months. That may be so in regard to our shipping, but I do not conceive that the neutral ships will be hampered in the same way, and, if that is so, great numbers of men, if they are not helped by our own Government with information and all such assistance as they are entitled to have, may be induced to go over to the United States or to other parts of America, when we should like to get them in our own Dominions.

Therefore it is a very serious thing that nothing is being done to set up any body which shall have the general control of the problems of emigration. The Board of Trade knows perfectly well that it has not sufficient power at this moment over the brokers and agents who make it their business for fees to induce people to emigrate abroad. The Bill that was to have reached here contained provisions, which I believe in the end were settled by agreement with shipowners, for combatting those evils. But nothing has yet been done, and yet you have been told, on the strong recommendation of two such bodies as the Royal Commission and the Tennyson Committee, that such a concentration of power is urgently necessary.

There is not only the question of emigration, there is also the question of immigration. I know that some noble Lords are of opinion that there will be such prosperity in Germany after the war that there will be the keenest competition with our own industry—even keener than there was before. I am bound to say that nothing that I have heard or learnt leads me to that conclusion. On the contrary, I think there is likely to develop very great emigration from the Central Empires, which will go to any part of the world where it will be received. I do not know that the United States will refuse immigration of that sort. But I do know that under the existing conditions of the labour market and the grave difficulty of resettling the millions of our own people in the normal course of industrial life it will certainly be a strange thing if we allow that stream to come in unchecked. I am well aware that under the Defence of the Realm Act any regulations may be made for the purpose, but the disposition is to trust as little to the decrees of these Departments of State as possible, and to rely, as I think one ought to do, upon sound principles and canons of ordinary legislation. After the war and practically from this moment you have not only to deal with the pent-up stream of emigra- tion which has been held in check now and even absolutely arrested for nearly five years, you have also to deal with the manifest wish of large numbers of officers and men to seek their future in the new world. Nobody who knows anything of the prospects in our Dominions would say that the man of enterprise and physical strength who can go there with the intention of making a livelihood for himself and his family is wrong to do so. Yet you have not even collected and coordinated schemes that have been already put into operation or are in process of being put into operation in the various States and provinces. The Tennyson Committee heard evidence of the Agents-General and learnt what it was proposed to do for soldiers returning from the war. As far as I know the Government has not issued any statement to those who are soon to be disbanded as to what will be done for them by the Governments of the Dominions overseas.

In these circumstances I think your Lordships will agree that, though it is impossible for us to be prepared perhaps in all respects for the peace that has so suddenly come, still it is the duty of the Government, even so far as it can do by executive action, in the absence of the powers that were to have been conferred upon it by the Emigration Bill, to do everything to see that there shall not be, after the return of the Army, the earlier scandals of emigration which caused so much misery and excited so much odium. Unless something is done the men and women who have served the country are likely to be a prey to unscrupulous agents, and the whole of the skill that they have acquired will be to a large extent wasted. I submit this is a question which brooks of no delay, and I shall be glad to know what the Government has done or is prepared to do in this grave matter.

VISCOUNT MIDLETON had the following Question on the Paper—

To ask whether His Majesty's Government will take steps to prohibit the landing in this country of aliens, except under special passports, until the readjustment of labour conditions, and the re-establishment of supplies enables a different policy to be considered.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I am sure it would save the time of the House if I were to deal with my Question now. The noble Lord has put great stress upon emigration, and I want to know what steps the Government are going to take to prevent this country being flooded by immigrants. Let your Lordships think of the state of the Continent—not merely of the Central Empires but Russia as well—the fact that not merely is there a condition of anarchy, not merely have supplies been wasted in the most appalling manner now for over two years, but that all the usual chains of society have been broken. In these conditions surely it is absolutely certain that as soon as the ports are opened you will have hundreds of thousands of persons trying to migrate to this country, which, with the high wages ruling and the comparative absence of scarcity, will be an Eldorado to all these adventurers. We have to look forward in the next few months to the return to this country of something like three millions of our own fellow-countrymen, and we shall have all the time, as honoured and prized guests, a large number of Canadians and Australians, who have not yet been taken home, and a large number of Americans. Surely in the present state of our supplies and with the present demand on all our resources, and with the tremendous changes in the labour world which are taking place and must take place under demobilisation, it would be absolute folly to allow any immigrants from abroad except under the closest possibly scrutiny and rules. By this I mean, of course, that if the Foreign Office finds sufficient material for granting a passport under certain conditions, well and good. But under the old restrictions, by which a man was obliged in some cases to prove that he had sustenance for a few weeks, say £50—I do not think that so high a limit was fixed here although it obtained in other countries—the money was passed from hand to hand, and the same sum, whether it was a £5-note or a £50-note, did duty for twenty men. All those restrictions would be useless; and I would ask—having regard to the fact that we require all the resources of this country for many months for our own people and for those to whom we have a duty to exercise in regard to hospitality—whether His Majesty's Government can give us some assurance that the ports will not be thrown open in any circumstances to immigrants until the conditions have changed.


My Lords, the matter of immigration, which was embodied in the Question of my noble friend Lord Burnham and to which he alluded in his speech, and which is the substance of the Question of the noble Viscount who has just spoken, will be answered by my noble friend Lord Cave, in whose charge that particular branch of the subject rests.

I will endeavour—briefly, I am afraid, and somewhat inadequately—to answer the Question that is put to me by my noble friend in regard to what steps have been taken to provide adequate machinery to deal with emigration. If my remarks are somewhat brief and inadequate I hope my noble friend will forgive me, and will realise that it is not from any lack of appreciation of the great importance of the subject, but due rather to the fact that the subject was brought before me only very recently, and I have had during that brief period only what opportunity presented itself to me to obtain the information from the Colonial Office, for which on this occasion I have the honour to answer in this House.

As my noble friend said, the control that His Majesty's Government has exercised in the past in regard to the whole problem of emigration has been extremely slight. The committee, of which my noble friend has been for many years past a most energetic member—the Committee of the Emigrants' Information Office which has been in existence froth 1886—was charged, under the superivsion of the Colonial Office, with the duty merely, as the noble Lord informed your Lordships, of furnishing advice to those who were considering emigration. But that Committee—whose services undoubtedly have been in the past, with the very restricted powers that rested in their hands, of great value—was a purely advisory body and possessed no executive powers. Its functions consisted merely of issuing information chiefly by means of pamphlets and posters, and in answering inquiries that might be addressed to it. The Dominions Royal Commission dealt very fully in their Report with the question of emigration, and they called particular attention in that Report to the very unsatisfactory arrangements connected with the sale of steerage passages to emigrants.

As mentioned by my noble friend, the present system by which the passage broker sells the ticket to an emigrant and is remunerated by a commission from the transportation companies, is one that has undoubtedly led to not inconsiderable abuse. The result has been that an unsuitable emigrant is considered as profitable to a shipping agent as a suitable emigrant; and the agent has no interest in the emigrant's future except in regard to the amount of commission that he is able to secure by means of the sale of the passage. Therefore the agent in the past has undoubtedly been rather more tempted to advise an emigrant to go to the country where the passage has shown a higher rate of profit to the agent than to the country which would have been more suitable for the emigrant's future career.

At an early period of the war attention was called to the fact that it would be necessary at the conclusion of hostilities to consider the question of the opportunities for emigration overseas for ex-Service officers and men. The Governments of the various self-governing Dominions have considered various schemes, and I am given to understand that especially Canada and Australia have submitted schemes of land settlement for men overseas. In 1917 a committee was appointed by the present Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Long, under the chairmanship of Lord Tennyson, to consider measure for settling within the Empire ex-Service men who desired to emigrate after the war. The Report of that committee summarises the openings which are available, and submits proposals for setting up a central authority to deal with the whole question of emigration, particularly in regard to the emigration of ex-Service men. That committee has pointed out that such questions as the advisability of encouraging emigration, or of giving financial support to any class of emigrants, could be decided only in the light of the conditions which would be found to prevail in this country at the conclusion of hostilities.

After considering these two Reports—the Report of the Dominions Royal Commission and the Report of Lord Tennyson's Committee—a Bill was introduced in the other House, the object of which was to establish a new authority on the lines recommended by those two Reports; to lay it down that the duty to supervise and to control passage brokers and their agents would hereafter be undertaken; also to collect the information for the benefit of intending emigrants and to help such persons with advice and assistance. As your Lordships are aware—and I agree with my noble friend that it is to be greatly regretted—that Bill has not passed into law; but I am authorised to state on behalf of His Majesty's Government that it is hoped that, whatever Government is in power after the coming Election, they will at an early date introduce a Bill to deal with the question of emigration.

His Majesty's Government have fully recognised that the question of emigration is one of great urgency and importance, and that the matter cannot really be left in abeyance pending the passage of the necessary legislation. Steps, therefore, have been taken to set up a small Committee, which at present is engaged in preparing a preliminary statement for the information of ex-service officers, and of those men who may wish to emigrate, on their return to this country, to any part of the Empire, Steps are also being taken to prepare the necessary machinery, in order that control over emigration may be exercised the moment the legislation has been passed into law. Steps will be taken to consider, at the earliest possible date, the various problems which are arising in consequence of the declaration of the Armistice, and which will become urgent upon the conclusion of peace, especially such questions as the emigration of women, and the nature of the assistance, if any, which is to be granted to emigration.

At the present moment I am afraid that that is all I can say in reply to my noble friend. He will realise, with me, the difficulties under which the Government is suffering, owing to the fact that the Bill which was discussed in another place has not had an opportunity of being passed into law. I entirely agree with my noble friend that the time has arrived, especialy as the result of this long war, when something of a much more scientific and practical character should be established, to give facilities and advice to those who desire to seek a career in other parts of our empire. I have, in view of this debate, had a cursory look over the report in Hansard of the debate in another place, and I am struck by the speeches of those hon, members who opposed this measure, because it appeared from those speeches that they seemed to detect in this Bill some idea of undue restriction as regards the liberty of the subject—some sug- gestion that a form of compulsion, or undue temptation, was going to be proposed to our fellow-countrymen to leave these shores and go to other parts of the world.

I am sure of this, that whatever measure is proposed hereafter, and still more whatever measure ultimately finds its way on the Statute Book by way of regularising this question, which requires regularising, it will not be in the form of any undue temptation to those who would otherwise settle in this country, and still less in the form of compulsion on them to go elsewhere. Probably the opposition which was exhibited in another place was due, in no small measure, to the fact that members looked with hesitation on any proposal which would have for its object the leaving from these shores of any large numbers of our fellow countrymen. That would be a perfectly legitimate and reasonable idea, that might pass through the minds of those who were opposing this measure. In giving facilities for men to go out to our self-governing Dominions it certainly will not in any way suggest that every possible facility will not be given by other legislation to those of our fellow countrymen who have fought this war for us to settle, if they so desire, under easier terms in their own country. At the same time I am sure your Lordships will all agree that every facility should be offered to those who seek to live elsewhere within the Empire—that every opportunity should be given to them, and that some central authority should at an early date be established from which, when they seek to go to our self-governing Dominions, they may go and get full but accurate information of the country to which they desire to go; and, without any undue restriction, I am sure it will be to the advantage of prospective emigrants if a certain control is placed in the future on some of those perhaps well-meaning associations and societies, which offer inducements to go abroad to our Dominions in a somewhat exaggerated manner.

What our emigrants want is accurate information of the country they are going to, what are their prospects when they get there, and what opportunity they will have of carving out a successful and contented career for themselves in those countries; and every present method, by which exaggerated ideas are put before them of a career which they could not enjoy if they went there, should I think come under Government control. It is in that sense that the Government have now established a small Committee, which will prepare the ground in these various directions and will enable a future Government, I hope at the earliest date, to introduce a Bill based upon those lines which will give the facilities that the noble Lord has expressed as bein so important.


My Lords, I feel that I owe your Lordships an apology for the fact that, so soon after I have had the honour of being introduced in this House, I should be troubling you with two speeches in one day. It is no fault of mine, but it is due to the accident, if it be an accident, that I am sitting on this Bench, and also to the accident that two Questions in which I am specially interested have been raised on the same day.

To the second Question asked by Lord Burnham, and by the noble Viscount opposite, I can give a perfectly plain and short answer. During the war we have full power to prevent the landing of foreigners on these shores—power given by the Act of 1914 and by the Aliens Restriction Order. That power has been exercised to the full, so that no one can land to-day without the permission of the Aliens Officer, which is not readily given; but, of course, at the end of the war that provision will lapse unless it is continued. That fact was considered some months ago by a special Committee, which has reported on the matter. That Committee came to the conclusion that unless steps are taken there will arise at the end of the war a very serious position indeed; that the almost certain landing of very many foreigners, many of them without means and many with other disadvantages, might create a very serious position in this country. They also concluded that the Aliens Act of 1905, the only one which would then be in operation, was wholly insufficient—


Hear, hear.


—to deal with that state of things, and they have made a recommendation, which I have no doubt will be adopted and carried into effect by the Government. It is this—that we should take advantage of the experience gained during the war and that we should ask Parliament to continue in peace time and to extend the provisions of the Aliens Act of 1914, under which we are working to-day. A Bill has actually been drawn for the purpose and is ready for introduction as soon as Parliament meets again. If it retains its present form it will give full power to prevent or restrict the landing of foreigners on these shores. That power will be exercisable by Order in Council, and, of course, it may be the will of Parliament that the Order in Council shall contain certain savings.

In particular, I think it very probable that the old protection given in this country to political refugees will be maintained, but, subject to these exceptions, the Bill would give full power to prevent or restrict the landing of Aliens on these shores. It would also deal with other matters, such as the registration of aliens and the power to deport them—a power very freely exercised in time of war, but which, of course, does not exist in time of peace. All these matters will be dealt with by the Bill. It would also, if it follows its present form, enable the Government of the day by Order in Council to impose special restrictions on the landing here of those who are to-day our enemies, to insert special provisions as to ex-enemies of this country. I need not and I ought not to describe the proposals further, but I am sure the House will see that we have fully considered the matter, are prepared with our proposals and hope to introduce them in good time, so that, if Parliament approves them, they will become law before peace is actually signed and ratified.


My Lords, I am sure the general tenour of the noble and learned Viscount's speech will have been heard with great satisfaction by the House, but at the same time I confess I do not quite understand why this matter has been deferred so long. It is clear, of course, that the war will be technically at an end and peace will have been declared while still a very large proportion of His Majesty's Forces have not returned home. One of the main objects and purposes, as I take it, of maintaining these special restrictions is that there should be no possible interference with labour and that there should be no taking of situations by foreigners which men returning from the Forces might wish to occupy. I take it that that is one of the prime reasons for proceeding with this measure. I confess I do not quite understand why His Majesty's Government have not proceeded with it during the life of the present Parliament. It may, as we hope, make no practical difference. I think we may assume that when the next Parliament meets it will be of a character which will willingly proceed with a measure of this kind, but there is an element of uncertainty even about that, and it would, I think, have been more generally satisfactory if a quite simple measure—which it must be—had been brought in by His Majesty's Government even during the present week and passed into law, as I suppose it would be, with practically no opposition in either House.


May I ask the noble and learned Viscount one question, whether this Act of 1914 to which he referred terminates on the cessation of war?


Yes, it does.


My Lords, the only thing that occurs to me is that there may be a very awkward hiatus between the time when the Defence of the Realm Act comes to an end and the Bill which the noble and learned Viscount has fore-shadowed comes into force. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and politics are so uncertain. For instance, may not peace have been declared, and, thereupon, through the very circumstance of peace having been declared, may not the Defence of the Realm Act have come to an end before this new Bill is passed into law? Under our present Constitution, however unanimously Bills may have been acclaimed, they do not pass into law as a matter of course. In the next House of Commons there is likely to be a very important minority that may not be in full accord with the Bill outlined by the noble and learned Viscount. Therefore, I should like if I may to ask if he will answer this question—If the Bill which he foreshadows is not passed into law by the time peace is declared, will the Defence of the Realm Act be continued so that there may be no breach? Otherwise, talk about keeping back the Atlantic with a mop, it will be a mere trifle to keeping back the hundreds of thousands of desirable or undesirable aliens who will flock to our shores!

For every kind of reason, as the noble Viscount Lord Midleton pointed out, however difficult our lot in this country is and is likely to be for some period, this country will be a heaven compared to parts of the Continent, and, human nature being what it is, these aliens are certain to come, they must come, unless you prevent them. I see a gap in the barrier. Howeverstringent, however searching, however far-reaching the new Bill may be it might not become law until Dora—as we are accustomed to call the Defence of the Realm Act—has expired. So long as Dora exists I am content, but I should like an assurance from the noble and learned Viscount that there will not be a gap in our defence, a breaking of the bulwark of these islands, but that the bulwark in one shape or another shall be maintained.


My Lords, with the permission of your Lordships' House I should like to answer the question put to me. The Act under which we exclude aliens to-day is not the Defence of the Realm Act but the Aliens Restriction Act of 1914. That continues law so long as the state of war exists or, even when there is no state of war, in a condition of great emergency. There is to-day a Bill in Parliament which I think has passed in another place, the effect of which is that a state of war will continue till the Treaty of Peace has been signed and ratified. I am confident that before that moment arrives there will be ample opportunity of passing the Bill to which I have referred. I think if it should happen otherwise, one might still hold that the emergency was such that we could continue the Act by Order in Council, but I do not believe that that point will arise, for I am satisfied that we shall be able to introduce and pass our Bill in good time before the actual ratification of the Treaty of Peace.