HL Deb 27 April 1950 vol 166 cc1215-26

4.15 p.m.

LORD FAIRFAX OF CAMERON rose to call attention to the progress of migration within the British Commonwealth and Empire; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the first debate we have had on the subject of migration within the British Commonwealth and Empire for over eighteen months, and I feel it may be of some value to review the progress that has already been made to assist migrants who leave this country and go overseas within the British Commonwealth, and to examine some of the obstacles to migration which must now have become apparent after five or six years' experience of migration since the war. It may also help us to carry a stage further the formulation of measures to overcome those obstacles. I believe that by so doing we may fortify the strong bonds that bind the members of the Empire together. Furthermore, I feel that a debate such as this has value in showing that we in the United Kingdom take an active interest in the problems that confront members of the Commonwealth far overseas, who sometimes believe, I think, that we pass over some of their difficulties.

I propose to confine my remarks this afternoon largely to the migration needs of Australia, but by so doing I should not like to give the impression that I feel the needs of other Dominions are less important. This is a matter which affects the whole of the British Commonwealth. I wish to talk about Australia because I visited that country last year, and one of the reasons why I went there was to study the migration problem; and I understand that other noble Lords intend in the course of the debate to cover the needs of the other Dominions and countries of the Commonwealth. I should like to say a few words about what I found in Australia, because I feel they may be pertinent to this debate. First, I was struck most forcibly by the loyalty and affection of the Australians for both this country and the people living here. It was really inspiring. As your Lordships may know, when Australians refer to this country they speak of it as "home." The Australians give a tremendous welcome to anyone visiting Australia from the United Kingdom. The people of the United States are well known for the hospitality they show to strangers, and the Australians have nothing to learn from them. They take a great interest in United Kingdom affairs, an interest that might be almost disconcerting to some people in this country if they but knew about it. Before the war it was thought that Australia, like a number of other countries, was apt to be somewhat insular in her outlook. Other noble Lords who have been there since the war will know that that attitude has completely changed. There has been the most radical change in Australian outlook since 1939. Now Australia takes a tremendous interest in international affairs, and I believe she is determined to play an ever increasing part in them. I am sure she will be heard with respect by all countries.

The second point that greatly impressed me about Australia was a certain feeling of remoteness from us. At times they even go so far as to think that we are a little indifferent to what goes on in their part of the world. Australia is a long way away, and probably this feeling may in part be caused by that great distance, but I think it is also caused by the extraordinary lack of visitors from this country. That is deeply felt. One of the first things that was said to me in Australia was, "We are very glad to see you, but why do not more of you come out here?" That was last August. I was also told that since 1945 only one British Cabinet Minister and one Under-Secretary had visited Australia. I was able to tell them that that Cabinet Minister was the Leader of your Lordships' House. We can afford to take a much greater interest in Australian affairs and I am certain it will not be resented. On the contrary, it will be well received in Australia. We have some of our best friends in the world in that country. With regard to migration, the Australian attitude has also greatly changed. I think it was felt before the war that Australia did not always welcome migrants. Now the contrary is entirely true. New settlers, preferably British settlers, are recognised as Australia's basic need. She must have them because without more people Australia cannot develop her resources and industries. It is now the over-riding national issue and it is discussed with tremendous interest and seriousness by all, from the highest to the lowest, in Australia.

I would leave that point and turn to the more general subject of migration, with particular reference to the role of the United Kingdom. I am certain that the population needs of the Dominions are of vital concern to the United Kingdom. They concern us intimately and we must participate in them as much as we can, first, because we are the chief supplier of British immigrants; secondly, because we are the moral leader of the Commonwealth and our active participation and leadership is essential to any great Commonwealth plan; and finally—though perhaps one may say that this is a selfish reason—because the United Kingdom depends on the strength of the Commonwealth and Empire, and unless Commonwealth countries can increase their strength and populations we ourselves are going to be weak. That is an important thing for us always to bear in mind—although that may sound rather a parochial remark. It would be very wrong of us to stand aloof from or take a passive attitude to the struggle these countries are putting up to get more people. I think it is the task of His Majesty's Government to give every assistance they can to help the movement of migrants, in particular with regard to shipping facilities, obtaining prefabricated houses, either from this country or from countries on the Continent such as the Scandinavian countries, and equipment for manufacturing building materials, such as brick kilns and so on. With regard to road transport—of which, incidentally, Australia is particularly short—I am sure we could do more than we do at the moment in helping to supply their needs. Again, we could help in giving the fullest possible consultation facilities, and by developing information services for would-be migrants. I do not think we should leave it entirely to the High Commissioners' officers, because it is a big task, and I am sure they would welcome assistance from us.

In preparing my speech for this debate, I tried to find any recent Government publications that may exist on the subject of migration. The most recent I have been able to find, other than speeches in the OFFICIAL REPORT, was published in 1944. I want to ask His Majesty's Government (I have given notice of this question) whether they will not consider publishing a new statement upon migration within the British Commonwealth and Empire; whether they will in that statement pay special regard to providing some account of the facilities that exist at the moment for assisting migrants; and what plans they have to assist migrants in the future and to develop existing migration schemes. I am sure that such a document would provide valuable information and would also be a source of encouragement to all those interested in this subject.

I want now to turn to one or two of the reasons why I believe, and I am sure many of your Lordships believe, that migration is an important and pressing matter for us to bear in mind. In the last debate on this subject in your Lordships' House, it was said that migration must be an integral part of Commonwealth policy; and the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmair, speaking in that debate, said that he put it even higher than that. I do not think any of us can deny that the population needs of the Dominions are an essential part of our economic and military struggle for security and strength. I should like to give an instance to illustrate that point. Again I will take Australia. Five or six years ago Australia was linked to the West by a series of military bases in Cairo, Egypt, India and Singapore. There is now practically nothing at all in the way of military posts between the Suez Canal and Port Darwin—that is a distance of many thousands of miles. The fact is that Australia is isolated in the Pacific and unconnected with this line of military communications. Even worse than that as we all know, Burma is in chaos, Malaya is terrorised, and an unfriendly Chinese horde is terrorising the whole of the Far East.

In the last war it did not take the Japanese long to get down to Port Moresby—which is the nearest piece of land to north Australia. It could happen again. Australia must have the population and the industry to defend and supply herself in a time of emergency. At the moment she has a population the size of greater London—that in a country which is bigger than the United States and has a coastline twice as long as that of the United States. I believe that if Australia were to fall in a future war, the whole of the Pacific and Indian oceans might be denied to us. In my view, it is our responsibility to ensure that that cannot happen.

I should like to go now to the other extreme of the picture and deal with the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has a population which has been increasing steadily at the rate of about 330,000 people a year for the last hundred years and has now reached the figure of about 50,000,000 people. Those 50,000,000 people are all contained in one country which, if you exclude Scotland, is no bigger than the largest privately-owned cattle station in Queensland. That certainly makes one wonder. The fact is that in this small country 80 per cent. of the industrial production potential of the British Commonwealth is now centred. I cannot believe that such over-centralisation is right, because not only does it make us vulnerable to attack, but it makes every single country in the Commonwealth vulnerable to attack. If we fall, there certainly is no hope for them.

Turning to another aspect of this important question of migration, I am sure many of your Lordships will agree that the value of Commonwealth and Empire trade as a means of getting us out of our present economic troubles and bringing us back to national solvency is of no small importance. But the volume of Empire trade must be limited by the size of the markets and the production capacities of the countries within the Commonwealth. We can raise the volume of trade in the Commonwealth to a certain level, but it must ultimately be governed by the size of the populations in the Commonwealth countries with whom we are trading. We cannot increase the volume of Empire trade higher still unless we have more people in the Dominions, so as to increase the size of the Dominion markets and increase their production potential. This was brought home to me in Australia, where everywhere I went it was said that they were no longer content, as in the olden days, merely to sell raw materials to the United Kingdom and buy back the finished products from us. They are now determined to develop their own industries, and unless we co-operate they will go to some other great country and ask for help in developing them. I believe it is important that United Kingdom manufacturers should realise this. I also feel that it presents a great opportunity for industrialists in this country to expand in the Commonwealth. When we talk about migration, I do not think we should do so merely in terms of people, but in terms of industry also.

I should like to touch on one other point. The Dominion countries, and particularly Australia, are determined to increase their population by immigration—they must do so. If they cannot get the people from this country, they will get them from Europe. I would point out that in 1950 the immigration target for Australia is 200,000 persons, of which it is hoped to get 70,000 from this country and the remaining 130,000 from Europe. That means, even this year, that the number of Europeans going to Australia will be nearly double the number of Britons. I need not emphasise to your Lordships the danger that would occur within the Commonwealth if Commonwealth countries were one day to have the greater part of their population comprised of non-British stock.

I wish now to deal for a moment with one or two of the difficulties and obstacles that stand in the way of migration. In the last debate on this subject in your Lordships' House, it was said that the rate of migration must be governed by the absorptive capacity of reception countries. That is certainly true, and we should all agree with it. But I feel that there are two kinds of restrictions governing the absorptive capacity of those countries. First of all, there are the natural obstacles such as climate, disease, racial habits and over-population. I do not believe that those obstacles can be easily overcome. But the second kind of restrictions are the artificial obstacles, which can be overcome, such as shortage of accommodation, shortage of shipping and lack of employment capacity. In the cases of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, there are no obstacles of the first kind, but there are obstacles of the second kind. It is with those that I wish to deal, and it is those which at the present moment are restricting the flow of migrants and preventing a greater number going out.

With regard to Australia, housing is the greatest obstacle to settlement. In this connection it is significant that all the migrants who have returned from Australia—or the greater proportion of them—are those who went out to Australia unaided; that is, not in the sponsored scheme, but paying their own way and trusting to find accommodation when they arrived. Most of the people who came back were from that group; there have been very few returned migrants in the nominated class. That clearly points to the fact that the people who went out to Australia without assured accommodation before they left this country found the housing difficulties greater than they expected, and were unable to find homes. I believe that out there the building rate is just about keeping pace and gaining a little upon the arrears. The arrears from the war years include something like 350,000 houses. The great bottleneck to house production in Australia is the shortage of materials and such things as bricks, tiles and fittings. Incidentally, I believe that in New South Wales last year they were short of 80,000 baths—though it is true that people have the seas to bathe in! There was also a shortage of people to make the bricks and tiles, and I believe that that is where the great bottleneck occurs.

In order to be able to accommodate properly many new migrants, it is necessary for Australia to supplement her own house production and to bring in from outside prefabricated houses. That is what the Australian State and Federal Governments are concentrating upon at the present time. I believe that that is where we can help, first by providing the brick kilns and so on to make the materials for the housing, and secondly by helping with prefabricated houses. Here I should ask His Majesty's Government a question of which I have given them notice. It is: What assistance are they giving the Australian housing mission, which is in this country at the present time?

I should like to deal for a moment with the other great obstacle to migration, that of shipping, which is sometimes put forward as being the chief restriction on a greater flow of migrants. I understand that at the present moment the shipping available to Australian migrants is just about equal to the number that are going out there, but the picture will be entirely different in a few months' time, because the Australian Government intend to bring out 70,000 Britons this year. There will be a shortfall of some 1,000 berths in the shipping available to carry those people. The Australian Government have eleven migrant ships, and their total carrying capacity in one journey is about 11,000 people. That means that during a year of about three trips they can carry about 35,000 migrants. The commercial lines which are running to Australia, and which have a carrying capacity of a little more than that—about 15,000 in one trip—provide, I believe, only a few hundred berths a year for migrants going under the assisted passages scheme. So, taking all the berths which will be available in the commercial lines and migrant ships—about 40,000–it looks as if there will be a large margin to make up if the whole 70,000 are to be taken out to Australia this year.

The United Kingdom Government can help here by providing ships, and it is extremely important that they should do so. I believe they can help in this way, because in February of this year there were just over 14,000 unemployed in the shipyards of this country. That has risen from about 8,000, the figure given at the time when we had our last debate on this subject. Could not those men be employed upon converting ships for carrying migrants? Secondly, I should like to ask His Majesty's Government whether the "Aquitania," instead of being broken up, could not have been converted to carry migrants. I should have thought that that would have teen a worth-while use for such a ship, and a worthy end to her days.

Housing and shipping are the two great bottlenecks to new settlement in the Dominions, but I believe those bottlenecks can be overcome by resolute action and the will to do it. I now come to a point of which I have given His Majesty's Government notice, and upon which should like to make a suggestion. I believe that Commonwealth migration can be successfully handled only with the co-operation of all the countries concerned in the Commonwealth, and by using the combined resources of all those countries. I should like to ask His Majesty's Government whether they would be prepared to approach the Australian, Canadian and, a little later perhaps, the New Zealand Governments to obtain their reactions to the possible appointment by each Government of representatives on a Commonwealth Migration Board. This Board, in the first place, would be a consultative and advisory body, having the object of maintaining close consultation on all migration matters between the Governments concerned—that is, the United Kingdom Government and the reception countries. Secondly, they could co-ordinate shipping and housing resources; and thirdly, they would exchange information which would be useful for migrants. I believe that such a Board would have a valuable effect in co-ordinating the efforts of the various Dominions who want migrants, and would obviate a certain amount of rivalry which must inevitably exist for the available services, such as shipping and so on.

Now I come to my last point, the question of industrial migration. It is essential in my view, that industry should play its part in migration: first, because it is only British public industry which can build up the undeveloped territories of the Dominions and, secondly, because I believe that there can be no large-scale migration unless British industry lends a hand in taking some of the people out. I believe that people can be taken out and settled far more happily and easily if houses are built for them, if arrangements are made for them, and if they go as part of an economic unit—we will say as the staff of employees of a single company. The houses can be built for the whole lot and properly organised with the resources of the company. I believe further that many people who at the moment only play with the idea of going out to Dominions, and who feel that the difficulties are too great for them, would make up their minds to go if they were offered a job in a company which was either moving out or expanding to one of the Dominions. Such a company might be able to offer them a job there and, incidentally, would help to take them out.

I tried a few months ago to work out some sort of plan by which a company could move out to the Dominion, with all its plant, and so on, and its staff—or, rather, a complete complement of its staff and all their dependants. I talked about it in Australia—perhaps a little too much, because I did not enjoy much peace afterwards: people are very keen on something of that kind, and they were interested to know about it. Such a scheme would, I believe, be worth considering. Suppose that a company concerned in the brick-making and building industry decide to move out to Australia, with staff, dependants, and so forth. The first stage would be for a sort of pioneer group of some of the people working in the company to go out first, taking prefabricated houses and machinery to a prepared site where there was factory accommodation, or at any rate a big building in which the machinery could be put. They would then install that machinery and begin to make the bricks to build the houses; and as the houses were built the rest of the employees and their dependants could go out. Such a scheme could apply equally to a company in any other kind of industry, but they would have to use prefabricated houses, instead of brick-built houses, because the brick-building potential of Australia would not be sufficient to cover them all.

A scheme of this sort, I believe, was tried about eighteen months ago, when a textile firm went out from Yorkshire to Victoria, taking all their people and their looms. One Christmas they were all working at the looms in Yorkshire, and the next Christmas they were working at the same looms in Victoria. I believe that eventually some sort of system like that must be devised and perfected, so that the whole of this migration movement can be expanded and made the really great movement and assistance to the strength of the British Commonwealth which it can be. I beg to move for Papers.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I feel very thankful that I am the first noble Lord taking part in this debate to have the chance to tell the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax, how grateful we are to him for giving us the opportunity of discussing this important Commonwealth problem, and how much we enjoyed listening to his well-informed and well-delivered speech. I think it was particularly valuable as a fair statement on the Australian attitude and policy in relation to migration; and it enabled us to see very clearly what, in fact, Australian needs and requirements are. I am sure the noble Lord will forgive me if I tell him that he was misinformed about one small matter which was alluded to by someone when the noble Lord was in Australia. He said, I think, that he was told that only one Cabinet Minister and only one Under-Secretary had visited Australia since 1945. I was there myself in March, 1949. At that time I was a Minister of Cabinet rank; and I know that another of my noble friends, who was also a Minister of Cabinet rank, visited Australia a short while previously. I correct what is obviously a minor point only because I should not like the impression to get around that the late Government were less convinced than other Governments that consultation at ministerial level between the Commonwealth countries is a most important aspect of Commonwealth policy. The late Government was far from remiss in this matter; and although I cannot say this definitely without an opportunity of verifying my facts, I should not be surprised to find that more Ministers have visited Australia since the war than in any corresponding period before the war. I should like, before I proceed, to congratulate my noble friend Lord Holden on his first opportunity to reply to a debate in your Lordships' House. I know what an ordeal that responsibility is. I know also that we are all looking forward most keenly and with the utmost pleasure to what he may have to tell us.

The noble Lord, Lord Fairfax, dealt with one of the senior partners in the Commonwealth, and I have no doubt that other noble Lords will follow in his steps. For my part, I shall confine myself to some of the junior partners in the Commonwealth—some of the Dependencies of the United Kingdom who have problems very similar to and no less urgent than those of the self-governing countries. I can assure the House, from my personal knowledge of some territories which suffer the cruel hardships of over-population and of other territories which need immigrant labour to develop their resources, that the leading official and unofficial personalities in the Colonies concerned are keenly aware of the problems which we are discussing this afternoon, and are doing their level best to arrange for a flow of population in the required direction, outward or inward. I found at the Colonial Office the utmost willingness on all occasions to give advice or to intervene with other Government Departments whenever they were approached on matters of this kind by Colonial Governments who asked them to do so. I think the authorities at home and in the Colonies deserve credit for their fine example of friendly co-operation in this field, and for the real determination with which they are trying to overcome the great difficulties which this problem presents.

I should like to say something about under-population in the Colonies. The Borneo territories—Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo—appear to be the only wide open spaces that one can find in British South-East Asia. With a population of not more than ten persons per square mile, they are still practically empty. The local inhabitants are far too few, backward and uneducated to take full advantage of the considerable resources of these territories in minerals and timber, and of a fertile soil which will bear a variety of subsistence and cash crops, once the jungle is cleared away. I remember flying over the Klias Peninsula, just north of Jesselton, with the Governor of North Borneo, who pointed out below us an area large enough to grow sufficient rice to feed the whole population of the Colony, leaving over a substantial surplus for export.


My Lords, in view of the Royal Commission which has been arranged for five o'clock, I think it would be your wish to adjourn now during pleasure.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.