HL Deb 24 May 1944 vol 131 cc931-41

LORD BARNBY had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether they are yet able to indicate any plans with regard to migration within the Empire:

  1. (a) For conference at official level on means for capitalizing in the United Kingdom and transfer to destination of intending migrant accumulated contributions to social welfare schemes.
  2. (b) For supplementary additions, as migration grants, to war gratuities for men who have in this war served in the Forces.
  3. (c) For reception and training centres in the United Kingdom for juveniles likely to become candidates for migration.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is to be assumed, indeed it would seem to be obvious, that the whole question of Empire migration, in its varied aspects, will have recently been the subject of discussion at the Premiers' Conference. It was because of the expected inability of the Government to make any announcement when this question was first put down, that it seemed reasonable that it should be postponed. It is a curious coincidence, and one not intended by me, that the day on which it is restored to the Order Paper happens to be Empire Day, and the fact that it comes to be discussed in Parliament on Empire Day gives it an importance which I had not foreseen. It is natural that it should be the subject of interest in a wider sphere than would otherwise have been the case, and it will doubtless be referred to in the Press throughout the Dominions.

I want to make it clear that when I put this question down I was prompted so to frame it that it would deal with matters of migration of concern to His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom only, as far as their initiation is concerned. I am grateful for past answers by the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, who has been in this House, as elsewhere, so very sympathetic towards this matter and so anxious that it should be kept prominently under consideration, and I felt that it was appropriate to frame my question in the way to which I have referred. I will repeat, however, that it has been endowed with a wider significance through the coincidence of its coming forward in this House on Empire Day. I therefore ask the indulgence of the House to refer to one or two aspects of the question of migration which it had not been my intention earlier to raise.

Empire migration can properly be based on considerations of defence in the Dominions, and particularly in Australia and New Zealand. So far as our own situation is concerned, it is impossible, however, to dissociate this matter from general postwar plans. While I pay a tribute to the gracious way in which the noble Viscount has referred to this matter before, emphasis has always previously been laid on the fact that the prime movement must come from the Dominions, and in that way effective action by us is hampered. That is why I have worded my inquiry in the way that I have. I am sure that there must have been preparation for the Conference of Empire Prime Ministers which would permit of full consideration of all aspects of this subject. I can hardly expect, nor would it be reasonable on the part of this House to expect, a comprehensive statement at this moment, covering all points affecting migration; the best for which we can hope is some indication from the noble Viscount that at some future date, when the matters arising out of the Conference have been considered, he will welcome a general discussion in this House.

It is because the interest in the country in matters affecting migration in all its aspects is so deep that I am pressing for some statement at this stage—not, I hope the noble Viscount will think, with undue haste. With regard to Australia and New Zealand, I hope the noble Viscount may be able to give us an assurance that the position there is now somewhat different. The official attitude of those two Dominions towards immigration was based on a fallacy; it was thought that immigration meant less jobs, but now it is realized that more consumers mean more employment. If he can give us some assurance on that point that would be an encouragement to many in this country who have been unhappy to think that the development of migration in British Dominions should be delayed by views based upon a fundamental fallacy.

I revert to the point that I cannot hope for a general statement now, but I do not want to embarrass the Government. I would only repeat my hope that in the answer that the noble Viscount will give, whatever it may be, he will see fit to give some indication of a date when he would welcome a general discussion on the matter of migration, in the course of which information can be given to the House about the result of the present discussions. I think it is a fortunate coincidence that this question should be raised on Empire Day. I see here the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, who exercises much influence and has made repeated appeals on this question, and I hope he may see his way to say something on this matter.


My Lords, it would appear to be peculiarly appropriate that this question of Empire migration should be railed in your Lordships' House on Empire Day. But there is an atmosphere of unreality about this debate, seeing that the Benches opposite are empty, and bearing in mind that if there is one feature in connexion with cur outlook on the British Commonwealth and Empire which is more impressive than any other it is that members of all political Parties are to-day united not merely in demonstrating their respect, and indeed their affection, for the fellow subjects of His Majesty in oversea British countries, but also in demonstrating a real and vital interest in the promotion of the industrial and social welfare of their kinsmen overseas. It is quite obvious that under present conditions—with, by the way, many other engagements for those who want to celebrate Empire Day in other parts of the Metropolis—a full-dress debate cannot be regarded as taking place to-day.

No one can be more keenly enthusiastic about reasonable and continuous migration of suitable people to our over-sea Dominions than I am. We have to recognize that this is primarily a matter, so far as the Dominions are concerned, for themselves to decide as self-governing communities, and it has already been made clear, at least from the Antipodes, that in the case both of Australia and New Zealand—and both those countries, incidentally, badly need a very considerable augmentation of their present population—they are anxious first to provide employment for their own nationals who are to-day fighting for freedom in various parts of the world, before even they look to the Mother Country to make up their population deficiencies. That, I am sure, we should regard as nothing but reasonable. In that connexion I should like to emphasize the point that Lord Barnby put, that population is vital to both these Dominions, and to some extent to the other Dominions, if they are going in the future adequately to provide a sense of security against aggression. They must make up their population. They are already indicating that they will be prepared to look to other countries friendly to ourselves, and likely to be loyal and patriotic to the British Commonwealth, for a large number of the new recruits who will be needed to make good their present population deficiency. We should all deprecate the future defence of any part of the British Empire depending preponderantly upon people of other than the British race. At any rate I should deprecate it very much indeed. Certainly let the Dominions welcome wholeheartedly to their shores Scandinavians, Dutchmen and others who make excellent settlers, and who are very friendly disposed to ourselves. But do not let us leave it preponderantly to them—as may happen if we are not careful about our migration policy—to be responsible for the defence of any important part of the British Empire.

I only want to add a word in regard to the three specific questions which my noble friend has put down on the Paper. The first relates to a matter which I found to be one of vital interest in New Zealand during the period when I was Governor-General there, and that is the question to what extent those who have paid contributions, or who have had contributions credited to them, in respect of social welfare in this country—to what extent they can have credited to them in the country of their adoption those payments, capital payments in a sense, to which contribution has been made on their behalf in the Mother Country. This is a matter that vitally affects the incentive to our own people to go overseas for their livelihood. I suggest to His Majesty's Government that whatever may stand to the credit of these people on leaving this country should be credited to them under any social security plan in operation in the countries of their adoption. This applies very particularly to the Dominion of New Zealand, which has, whether we agree altogether with its progressive policy or not, pointed the way for the whole English-speaking world in the matter of an extensive scheme of social security.

The second question refers to migration grants. I am not quite sure what my noble friend means by migration grants. What has long been a difficulty has been the payment of passage money, ever since, some years ago now, passage assistance money ceased to be given by the country receiving migrants. This applies particularly to New Zealand. These assistance grants are not available to-day, and I can imagine no greater benefit for intending migrants than the provision of the cost of their passage to the country of their adoption.

With regard to the third question, there is one thing I look upon as even more important than reception and training centres in the United Kingdom, and that is reception and welfare organization in the countries overseas to which the migrants go. Quite a considerable number of our people find themselves in a strange though friendly country, with no one to look to for guidance as to the customs of the country, or the best way of settling on the land, or obtaining remunerative employment in some other way. There is a good deal to be done, and it can best be done by those who have gone out from this Old Country themselves and made a good livelihood overseas. Something could be done to organize a better system of welfare and assistance to migrants on their arrival in overseas countries. As to training, there is one sphere of training I should particularly like to emphasize, and that is manual training. I do not care to what class the man or woman belongs, if he or she seeks a livelihood overseas for goodness' sake let them be trained to use their hands as well as their minds. During the prolonged period of economic depression that existed in New Zealand and Australia from about 1932 to 1935 nothing was more pathetic than to see a considerable number of men who had received a university education in this country, some of them wearing patent leather button boots, trying unsuccessfully to wield a spade or pick on relief work owing to their inability to make a living at their ordinary vocation.

Another thing I would say is this. Comment has been made, certainly in the countries at the Antipodes, regarding people going out from this country, occupying fairly comfortable social positions here, who have expected, for some reason or other, other people to do what they call their menial tasks for them. I hope that no one will go to New Zealand at any rate who cannot clean his own boots. After all, many of us are learning to do that to-day during the present scarcity of labour, and it is a very wholesome and salutary occupation. I heard only the other day that an eminent Field-Marshal, whose name I shall not mention, every day not only cleans his own boots but the boots of everyone under his roof. It is a very good thing to be able to do that. I only instance that as the sort of task to which anyone who seeks his livelihood overseas should be prepared to put his hand, and will feel none the worse for doing it. I most earnestly wish that members of the Labour Party were here to show their sympathy with Empire migration. I know that they have sympathy, and I should like to feel that the subject is of interest not to one section only but to all sections of this House at the present crisis in the history of the British Commonwealth.


My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships for more than a very brief while. I only wish to speak to the general idea of Lord Barnby's Motion asking whether the Government are yet able to indicate any plans with regard to migration within the Empire. I sincerely hope if it cannot be done to-day we shall have a fairly general indication of what plans are in being, or are likely to be made, in the near future because it seems to me the time is getting on. The time when a large number of our fellow subjects will want to settle their plans for the future, and possibly to emigrate, will be immediately after demobilization. I quite agree with my noble friend Lord Bledisloe that, of course, the Dominions must have a choice of time. They must have time to settle their own returning soldiers and sailors, but I hope that the Dominions will take into consideration the fact that our own people will be in the very best state immediately after demobilization, when they have not yet settled down and are making up their minds as to what their future lives are going to he. That is the time to get them to think of the possibilities of emigration to the Dominions. For that reason I hope there will not be too much of a time-lag between the Dominions making up their minds and settling their own people, and migration from this country on a good and sound plan.

I just want to mention one other point. One has seen in the papers with regard to Australia the enormous increase in facilities for travel necessitated by putting a large portion of that country into a state of defence. One cannot help thinking that this great increase in the building of roads and aerodromes, and no doubt the digging of wells, the provision of much larger water supplies, and the expansion of the railway system, will aid enormously in the development of the country if only immigrants can be found suitable to help in such development. No doubt this point has occurred to His Majesty's Government and to the Dominion Government. There was great isolation in these vast spaces in Australia which I saw for myself just before the war, and in view of these developments this isolation will not be so great. Probably the same can be said of parts of Canada as yell. That isolation will not in future be so great, and it may prove a far more attractive proposition to men going from this country and seeking new lives for themselves and their families overseas if that is so.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, in the speech with which he introduced his Motion, said he hoped he had not shown undue haste in raising this question after the meeting of the Dominion Prime Ministers. I can assure him he has certainly not shown too much haste. Indeed, my view is his view, that this is a subject which cannot be discussed too fully in your Lordships' House. My only regret is that there is not a larger House to hear this discussion and perhaps take part in it. The noble Lord is one of those who believes in striking when the iron is hot, and naturally he has taken the earliest opportunity, after the meeting of Prime Ministers, which fortunately coincides with Empire Day, to raise this question of inter-Imperial migration which, as your Lordships already know, is extremely near to his heart.

He has asked me—I cannot remember now whether publicly or privately, but I remember he did ask me, whether this subject was likely to be raised at the Prime Ministers' meetings. I told him at that time that I was pretty certain that it would be raised, and, in fact, it was; and it led to very full and encouraging discussion. The object of these discussions, so far as His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are concerned, was not so much to enable us to expose our own views, because after all, as your Lordships know, our policy on migration has been fully and frankly stated many times both in your Lordships' House and elsewhere. We have made it abundantly clear that, notwithstanding the fact that our own population in these islands is tending, perhaps, rather to decrease than to increase, yet, on broad Imperial grounds, we do feel that we, should encourage and assist, as far as is practicable, inter-Imperial migration if that is desired by the Dominion Governments themselves; and, of course, on the assumption—the very necessary assumption—that those Governments of the other Empire countries are prepared to make their own contribution to schemes of assisted migration.

What was important at the recent meetings—at least, so I thought myself—to us from whom the main proportion of the migrants have to be drawn, was to know what were the views of the other Empire countries themselves. That was what we were anxious to find out; and in this respect, in my view, the talks which have just concluded were extremely valuable. It is idle to say—and I do not think anyone would pretend to say—it is not a problem which presents very real difficulties to the Dominions. After all, at the end of this war, they will be faced with the problem of demobilization of their own troops, in very large numbers in comparison with their total population. We know by our own experience at the end of the last war how difficult a problem that is. In addition, it is, of course, impossible for any Dominion Government to know at the present juncture exactly what will be the economic position of their country in the years immediately following the war.

These are considerations which must naturally and very properly have been in the minds of the Governments of all countries of the Dominions as well as other countries. They must compel these Governments to proceed with a certain measure of wise precaution. At the same time, there was abundant evidence that all the Dominions—and I would instance, in particular, Australia and New Zealand, about which Lord Barnby spoke—would like to take British migrants, so far as it was in any way possible. That to my mind was a particularly encouraging feature of the meetings. It was not to be expected in the nature of things that it would be possible on this occasion to reach final decisions. What was essential, as the end of the war draws nearer, is that we should hear their views and that they should hear ours, and that an interchange of information and opinions which took place should facilitate further advance. That was the important thing.

I quite agree with Lord Hampton, who spoke just now, that this is a matter of urgency as the end of the war comes nearer, for that may well be the vital moment when people will wish to migrate, if they wish to migrate at all. I can say this afternoon that it was definitely agreed at our meetings, that the Dominion Governments should give early consideration to the position directly after the return of their Prime Ministers; after which, I understand, they will communicate with us as to the further steps that should be taken. The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, mentioned in his Motion certain individual aspects of the migration problem. He referred to the transfer of social security benefits which might have accrued to an intending migrant from one country to another. He also referred to the question of juvenile migration. I understood him to say that those aspects only affected His Majesty's Government.


May I make an explanation to the noble Viscount? Lord Bledisloe in his remarks did not seem to be aware of my real intention as it is set forth, necessarily in very limited words, in my question. It has been thought in many circles that the Government might take steps to institute training centres into which orphans—juveniles and others—might be directed with a view to giving them training of a specialized character that would particularly fit them for ultimate migration if that should be desired. That is really entirely a matter for His Majesty's Government.


It is so to a certain extent, but even His Majesty's Government must have some sort of idea of the prospect that there would be for these orphans to go to the Dominions, when the time came for them to do so. Any migration problem must obviously affect the country from whom the migrant comes, as well as the country to which the migrant goes.


Or territory under Colonial administration.


Yes, or territory under Colonial administration. At any rate, Lord Barnby will be glad to know that both these aspects, to which, as he knows, a great deal of thought has already been given here, were raised and discussed; and I can assure him that these and other points which appear in his Motion will be fully taken into account in any further joint exploration of the position which we hope and believe will now take place. I will see that his third point is properly stated.


That includes No. 2 —supplementary additions?


That is one of the three that I have not mentioned already. The House will not expect me to say any more to-day. We all of us want to make progress on this question. We all want to see definite schemes for mulated, and we all recognize the urgency of the matter. But on this particular question decisions upon general policy are not, as the House knows, for His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom alone. They do affect yet more closely those countries to which migrants go. But the Governments of those countries have promised that there shall be consideration of this subject and that the consideration will be pressed on as rapidly as possible. That, I think, is an extremely satisfactory feature of the talks.

In conclusion may I say how grateful I am to noble Lords personally for the interest which they continually show in this most important question? I think the debate this afternoon, though it has been a short one, has been a helpful debate, and noble Lords can rest assured that the points which have been raised in the speeches made to-day will be taken into full account. I may add that I will let Lord Barnby know, at a later date, when I think there is anything further to be told him on this particular question.