HL Deb 07 February 1957 vol 201 cc637-52

5.35 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a short Bill, but I hope that it is a good and a useful one. Its purpose is to give the Government statutory authority to make any arrangements which may seem to be expedient or wise to encourage emigration from the United Kingdom to the different Commonwealth countries. I do not think this is an occasion when it is appropriate to debate the whole range of problems connected with emigration from the United Kingdom, but I am anxious that there should he no doubt whatever about Government policy: it is to encourage a regular flow of United Kingdom citizens to make their lives in. and to identify their lives with those in, other Commonwealth countries.

There are social and economic reasons why the export of emigrants from the United Kingdom to the Commonwealth leads to the strength of the whole Commonwealth association. Naturally, in any emigration policy there must be a balance of age groups. There has been a balance in the past, and in spite of recent developments that balance still remains; on the whole, a cross-section of the British people are leaving this country every year. It is true that the young and the energetic go first—that is only natural—but very soon, when they make good, they send for their families and their relations; and, as I have said, the result is that a cross-section of United Kingdom citizens are going away to other Commonwealth countries every year.

At what sort of emigration should we aim? In deciding this question we have had valuable assistance from the Overseas Migration Board Report. I should like to pay tribute to the work which those who served on that Board put into the Report. They have assessed the needs of Commonwealth countries who are importing immigrants from this country, at the rate of about 200,000 a year, and that is the number which they consider the Commonwealth countries are capable of absorbing. They have taken into account the compensating intake of immigrants into the United Kingdom from Europe and other sources, and they have come to the conclusion that it should be our aim to bridge the gap between the average emigration figure for the eight years before 1956—which was about 124,000 a year—and the 200,000 which they estimate the Commonwealth countries would wish to absorb.

There are indications that we are making steady progress. About a year ago an increase began to show itself in applications for emigration to Commonwealth countries, and since then the momentum has increased. There have been some rather alarmist reports lately which have suggested that we are losing too large a proportion of our young and skilled men There are no statistics which would support that concern, and, to some extent, the stories have been exaggerated. What is happening, so far as we can estimate it, is this. It looks as though at present the rate of emigration is approaching the figure of 175,000 to 200,000 a year, which is the figure named by the Overseas Migration Board as being desirable.

So far as finance under this Bill is concerned, all the other countries of the Commonwealth except Australia prefer to keep a complete control over their immigration policies. So that, so far as the spending of money under the Acts preceding this Bill is concernd, up to date it has really been spent under two heads, and both of them in respect of Australia. The first has been help towards what is known as the Assisted Passage Scheme and the second has been help towards those voluntary associations who send children out to Australia. In the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill your Lordships will see the amount of money which has been spent under these two headings between 1952 and 1956. The Overseas Migration Board recommended two things in the main: first, that we should encourage migration (and that, as I have said, is the Government's policy), and, secondly, that we should continue to finance these two schemes—namely, the Assisted Passage Scheme and the various children's schemes. That also we intend to do.

There are two other features of the Bill which I might bring to your Lordships' attention. You will see that the ceiling of expenditure has been put at £1,500,000 a year, and it will be possible to spend that amount of money each year. This ceiling is set because it may be that we shall want to adjust our practices, and it will leave a certain amount of elbow room to do so. Secondly, the period for which this Bill is to run is limited to 1962. We thought that that was wise. Things in this modern world change so quickly, and needs change so quickly, that Parliament might want to adjust its policy, and we thought that Parliament should not be tied by Statute for too long.

I hope your Lordships will feel that this Bill, so far as the principle is concerned, is an earnest of the fact that we do encourage emigration from the United Kingdom to the Commonwealth. We think it is a good thing. We have provided the expenditure which is practicable, and at the present moment emigration figures seem to be running at about the level which the Overseas Migration Board indicated could well be stood by this country. We have, however, left sufficient flexibility to adjust our policy should further needs arise. I do not think I need to say more in commending the Bill to your Lordships, and I beg to move that it be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Home.)

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, it seems that little need be said on the Bill from this side of the House, except that, with one or two qualifications, to which I will refer later, we agree with the policy that Her Majesty's Government in this country should encourage emigration. We agree that the scheme should be limited in time, and limited to a ceiling of money. We notice that the actual expenditure has never approached anywhere near the limit of money set, but the practice followed by the Government is one that can commend itself to all of us.

As to the two qualifications to which I referred, I should like to make one thing quite clear. On the quality and the type of migrant, whilst it is clearly to the advantage of the receiving country that they should be selected and that they should be young and fit, from the point of view of this country we must recognise that Commonwealth migration means a draining away of the best elements in this country. If migration takes away the young, the fit and the skilled, naturally that will alter the balance in this country between the young producers and the elderly and the infirm. There would come a time when the balance would be so seriously upset that a depleted labour force would be maintaining an unduly high proportion of elderly and infirm. We know that our population is, in any case, an ageing one, and we think that the Government should ensure that their migration schemes do not upset the balance here—in other words, that the receiving countries should agree to a balanced intake of migrants. They should take family groups, the dependants as well as the wage-earners; they should take elderly dependants and not only young children. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that those considerations are understood and accepted by the receiving countries.

The second qualification is in respect of those self-governing countries in which there is a multi-racial problem. Much could be said about the advantages that have accrued to countries, in Africa and elsewhere, through the settlement of Europeans with their skill, capital and so on in the past, or even in the present. But what is important is how migration would appear to the bulk of the inhabitants of those countries. Let us face the fact that in Central Africa, and in other countries with racial problems, any steps by the Government of the United Kingdom to assist the migration to those countries of people of European stock would cause suspicion and fear. For that reason, I would say that the Government should not assist migration to countries where the policy has not the acceptance of a democratically elected majority of that country. Figures were given in another place concerning Southern Rhodesia, and they showed that the numbers of people assisted to emigrate from this country were really negligible—they were numbered in dozens, rather than hundreds. I hope that the Government will assure us that there is no intention of stimulating artifically the movement of Europeans to Central Africa. With those qualifications, I would say that this Bill has our support.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, fortunately this is not a subject of Party politics; it is not a partisan matter. The Secretary of State found no necessity to deal with aspects and details of migration but in the clear recommendation which he made to the House, he categorically asserted that it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government that on this matter they adopt a positive, and not merely a passive, attitude. I emphasise that because there has been in the past considerable concern about the attitude of the Government towards migration. It is further natural that the Secretary of State should not have felt it necessary to go into detail, because, in recommending this Bill to another place, the Parliamentary Secretary made a full and effective statement. Seeing that he is new to the office, he must be congratulated on the manner in which he indicated a grasp of the subject. But this is a moment in world affairs when there is necessity to recognise that the development of the Commonwealth—and that implies the white Dominions—should receive emphasis. We see changes as a result of the nuclear structure without the ordinary layman being able to find what interpretation to put upon its related effects.

Further, the Government have virtually now committed the country, as, it is understood, to a European Free Trade Area, subject to certain reservations. Presumably, the enthusiasts will contend that that will involve a free movement of populations within the area. That seems to suggest an appreciable possibility of inflow to this country. There are many who feel that that would be an advantage to this country. Through the generations, the inflow from other parts of Europe has proved to be to our advantage. The noble Earl who has just spoken emphasised the importance of balancing the outflow, also concern at our losing too many trained men. I am inclined to dismiss that because, through the last 150 years during which the white Dominions were built up, those who left this country proved themselves the best. So, had we not had that migration, we should not have had the Commonwealth to-day. Those who are timid and. faint-hearted about what we can spare are surely wrong.

I recommend that incentives to additional child allowances might be timely. The Committee on Population have reported on the proportion of people that might suitably be parted with from this country. That figure is much lower than that of the Migration Board, the body to which the Secretary of State referred as the official body which advises him in this matter Issue can be taken with their figures of a maximum of 200,000 a year. There are many who feel that that figure might well be exceeded, and perhaps be 240,000. There are many who think the conclusions of the Migration Board are too conservative; that they are not imaginative enough; that they should go much further.

On that point, I will quote from the speech made by a member of the Board, Mr. Aitken, in another place, on the Second Reading of this Bill [OFFICIAL REPORT (Commons), Vol. 563 (No. 38), col. 5981: … they will only be accepted as the very beginning of a much more dynamic and constructive attitude toward; migration. I had the honour, before the war, of serving on a board of a similar character which existed then. Looking back, and reading the reports to which we, as members, subscribed, I can hardly believe now that we could have been so conservative and so insufficiently far-seeing. So it may well be that the existing Board may follow the mistake of its predecessor.

There is a massive body of public opinion that is taking a great interest in migration. It is in step with the changing times. I would cite the Migration Council, whose composition is of energetic Members of both Houses of Parliament, of leading industrialists, of public personalities in many walks of life, and of writers of all kinds. They are in constant contact with the Migration Commissioners of the Dominion Offices in London, and their mission is to alert public opinion. I should like here to say that they have experienced receptiveness and consideration by the Secretary of State. They feel that, through the contacts they are permitted to have with the Commonwealth Relations Office, they are the better able to fulfil their mission. They also support the work with which the office is charged.

The Secretary of State referred to the amounts spent. This has annually fallen far short of the amounts Parliament has voted. It is felt that larger amounts could be effectively expended. Surely the difference between an average of under £200,000 and the £1,500,000 which is voted represents a small amount relative to the development of the Commonwealth which should be taking place. The concluding words of the Secretary of State, happily, said that there would be flexibility should need arise. We hope that it will commend itself to him that larger amounts be spent.

Here I am going to quote again from Mr. Aitken's speech (Col. 600). He said: The first Minister for Commonwealth Relations with enough fire in his belly' and stoutness of heart to tackle the Treasury on this issue will do a great job for Britain. The present Secretary of State fulfils those requirements and, should he, in his wise judgment, feel it necessary, I am sure that he would have no hesitation in pressing the Treasury. The British origin content of the inflow into the Dominions at present is too low. Canada is down to about 30 per cent., and without quoting more figures, there is a strong concern about that. Only recently Ministers in Australia have said that they would willingly have 100 per cent. of British origin migrants. Let us hope that a more imaginative programme here will come nearer to fulfilling their hopes.

Among speeches made in another place I would mention those of Mr. Aitken, Mr. Fisher and Mr. Nicholson, who made various suggestions which will doubtless have been brought to the attention of the Secretary of State by his advisers. There was also an impressive contribution by Mr. Shinwell, Minister of Defence in a former Administration. He used his varied experience of Government office to assist observations on his first visit to Australia and New Zealand. He came back impressed with the need for more being done. I will not venture to trouble the House by quoting again from that debate—


I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but it is the practice here not to quote from speeches made in another place unless they are made by a Minister. I should not like to spoil what he is saying, but he has done that twice.


I readily accept the correction. Sometimes those who, like myself, have been in another place, are inclined to overlook this when speaking here. I was, I think, referring to Mr. Shinwell, who is a Minister.


No, he is not a Minister; he is on the wrong side.


An ex-Minister.


That is not good enough.


I am permitted to refer to his enthusiasm for this cause. At any rate, suggestions were made in another place to the provision of additional media through which finance for Commonwealth development should be furnished. The existing bodies and their character were discussed in your Lordships' House last week and it would be superfluous to refer to them now. But the real, pivotal point about migration is the capacity of the receiving countries to finance expansion of population.

One suggestion which seems to have merit is that the building societies in this country should be encouraged, by tax concessions—of course, that would be a matter for the Treasury—to take part in the provision of houses supplementary to what are available, say, in Australia. In Canada the position is different. But in both Dominions, and in New Zealand, too, it would not be a loss to this country if British capital were encouraged to invest in real estate. The investment would be repayable over a period of time by the migrants who would occupy those houses. That would constitute what, above all, is wanted now—rivulets making a stream of remittances back to this country, particularly from the dollar area. Concern about the adequacy of the existing machinery was recognised by the Secretary of State, who has indicated that currently he is in process of consulting the Dominions to see whether something additional can be set up. Admittedly, there has recently been a stepping-up in the rate of applications for migration to Dominions. But surely that is no ground for complacency.

My Lords, I urge again, with all the force I can command, that there is no let-up in the policy of encouraging this outflow at the utmost rate at which it can be achieved. Above all, I urge this on the grounds of commercial self-interest. An increasing population in the Dominions means increased buying power by our most important overseas purchasers. A high British content in the population of the Dominions is the greatest safeguard for our future trade. In the past there has been opposition to migration on varied grounds. I do not omit selfishness on the part of those who, wanting workers, say that it is wrong to permit anybody to go out of the country. There is nonsense by those who would pour ridicule by insinuating thoughts of mass movement of millions of people. It is with the conviction that, as the Secretary of State has assured us, the Government mean to adopt a more active attitude, that I have great pleasure in supporting this Bill.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, I support this Bill, and naturally am most anxious, like everybody else, to welcome it. In so doing, however, I should like to make one or two remarks, with a brevity suitable to the hour of the evening. It is obviously to our advantage to continue to assist in the expansion of these Commonwealth and Empire territories. It is not a one-way traffic in benefit; it is a two-way traffic, and the benefit is mutual. Btu it is also true that superficially, looking at the figures on the out- side of the Bill, they seem to be very small in relation to what we imagine to be the needs. The noble Earl who moved this Second Reading explained why they appear to be rather small. In any case, the human contribution is what matters; the financial contribution is only supplementary and incidental to that.

I certainly hope that in the future the administration of these funds will be directed with perhaps more drive and enthusiasm titan has been shown in recent years, and they should obviously be implemented with vision and with a suitable collaboration with representatives of the recipient countries who, after all, are the chosen arbiters of what these countries need. They ask us to help them only to get what they want, and it is surely not for us to try to dictate to them what they should want or what we think we should supply them with. The noble Earl, Lord Lucan, referred to what is generally mentioned in this connection—the desire to have a suitable cross-section of the people sent to these territories. I very much doubt whether this is a suitable subject for any rigid planning. As I view the question, one must leave all that to natural forces. The countries want key men and they generally want younger men and skilled men; but if they are satisfactorily supplied, then inevitably older people, their relatives, will go with them. If they do not there is nothing we can reasonably do to insist that a certain number of them should be taken.

One realises that these countries want to industrialise themselves and may ask largely for technicians, engineers and people with professional qualifications. On the other hand, many of these countries need farmers. But there is a curious split feeling over this matter. Practically every country in the world, not excluding relatively undeveloped countries, suffers from two complementary things; first, there is jealousy about land and land ownership and about the taking of land by immigrants; and secondly, and coupled with that, there is a world-wide tendency for people to leave the country and go into the towns. I emphasise again, however, that those are problems which are not ours but are for the recipient territories; and it is not for us to interfere in them. It is not what we want to send but what they want to receive which matters.

The other point mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, was whether we can spare these people. If I may say so with respect, I believe that here again there is rather a confusion of thought. It would be lamentable to put any obstacle in the way of anyone who wants to go abroad in this manner, and presumably nobody proposes to do so. In any case, that would be to turn the United Kingdom into a kind of close human reserve; and, apart from that, it would be a gross infringement of individual liberty. The question is, are we to encourage them? We need not seek an answer to that. Presumably the reply is emphatically, "Yes." And encouragement should stop only at the limit of the absorptive capacity of the recipient country. Again, the recipient country is fully entitled to take a selective attitude towards the immigrants it wants. But if the figures of the Overseas Migration Board are taken—say 200,000 persons a year—surely such a human investment is well within our means and likely to bring the most valuable returns to us.

It may be that we can ill afford to lose some of the highly-skilled men or some of the spirit of competent enterprise which goes with them; but surely the way to level up that difficulty would be to deal with the appalling lack of any incentive to be enterprising which is throttling the capacity of the best citizens of all ages and of all classes in this country. Penal taxation and vexatious restrictions naturally drive enterprising men to seek their fortunes abroad, and what will be our loss will be the recipient countries' gain. The real question then is, not "Can we spare them?" but "Can we afford to drive them away in this fashion?" That again is another question.

The noble Earl, Lord Lucan, referred to a matter on which I should like slightly to join issue with him: the necessity to pay respect to what he considers the adverse opinion about European immigration in countries where there is a multi-racial community. It seems to me that that attitude argues a terrible lack of faith in ourselves, our country and all that we have stood for up to date in these countries, all that has made these countries the land of promise which they are to-day. It is surely a bad idea that one should bow to ignorance and prejudice instead of trying to eliminate the conditions which give rise to ignorance and prejudice; and the best way to eliminate those conditions is to send to these countries men trained in our best traditions who are able to teach the people and to bring them on to see where their true advantages lie. I believe that one needs to tincture a sentimental attitude towards the citizens of backward countries with a little economic realism. Surely if we want our standards of value to prevail we must provide the men and women as well as the capital to ensure progress on those lines. If we are unable or unwilling to provide these things no doubt they will get them elsewhere, and it may be that they will get them from sources which we should deplore.

I should very much question, too, the idea that opinion, say in Africa, is averse to such immigration. There is a small group of educated élite who naturally want, and have ambitions to get, complete power in these territories for themselves. I am not for a moment condemning that, but merely stating it as a fact. But they do not necessarily represent even the majority of the educated classes. The people who are in favour of such immigration are not generally so vocal; it is only the adverse criticisms that we hear. In any case, who is to be the judge of what African opinion is? I have yet to know any African country where anyone who was really conversant with it would be so rash as to say with any definiteness what was the African opinion of that country. I need not go into that in any detail, abut the bulk of the people are not generally sufficiently informed on such questions as this to have any valued judgment whatever. They will listen, perhaps, to the most plausible orator that they happen to hear, or just will not understand any questions asked of them about it. But I am sure there is a large number of Africans who realise that the quickest way to the self-government they want is to welcome the help and assistance, in every direction, of Europeans who come to that country. I appreciate that that is a relatively minor matter in relation to this Bill, which chiefly applies to countries where there is not a multiracial question. I have great pleasure in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill.

6.19 p.m.


My Lords, I will detain your Lordships for only one moment. I have the privilege of serving on the Migration Council, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, and I should like to support him in the view he has expressed in asking that perhaps some rather more positive direction can be given by Her Majesty's Government. As I understand it, the position is that there is a maximum of something like £1,500,000 a year, of which an average of £150,000 is spent, and it seems to me that the extra money which we are, apparently, allowed could be spent to some advantage. But I am not going to follow your Lordships who have spoken on the technical details involved. I will confine myself to putting what I make no apology for calling "the idealist view" of migration.

When, on August 15, 1947, quite suddenly, two new nations joined the family of Empire and Commonwealth in equal partnership, something very fundamental and profound happened overnight. A community of some 70 million Anglo-Saxons was transformed into a partnership of 475 million, of whom 400 million were Asians. And, of course, the process goes on. I do not suppose any of us were not stirred by the significance and meaning of that great transformation, not only for the rest of the Commonwealth but also for a watching world outside, in terms of racial relationship and the general progress of the world. At the same time, I feel that it would be wrong if we did not take every measure we could to strengthen the bonds between the Anglo-Saxon founder members of the Commonwealth, because if anything should happen to destroy Anglo-Saxon unity within the Commonwealth, one could say that the Commonwealth as a whole would most certainly disintegrate. It is because see in these measures the prospect of holding the Anglo-Saxon element within the Commonwealth together that I believe them to be for the benefit of the Commonwealth as a whole.

I would say just one word on migration to the Commonwealth from countries in Europe outside this country. Take the case of Canada. I stand open to correction, but I understand that migration to Canada is at the moment running at the ratio of about two Europeans to one Englishman. As time goes on, by the turn of the century, that might result in very significant figures in Canada, perhaps threatening to alter the complexion of that great Dominion. At the same time, I suggest that what really matters is not who goes in—it does not matter whether he is a German or a Pole or a Czech—but what happens to him when he gets there, and what he becomes. If he is prepared to become a loyal citizen of the Commonwealth, to offer loyalty to the Crown, I can see no reason why we should put any limitation on migration from sources other than this country, provided that alongside that migration there is all the time an injection of the necessary blood from this country to keep the balance. I think it was Field-Marshal Smuts who said of the Commonwealth that it sought neither standardisation nor denationalisation, but only the richer, fuller and more individual life of the component nations. It is in the belief that a stream of migrants from this country contributes to that richer and fuller life of the Commonwealth that I would always support this measure.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, I should not like this Bill to go forward without telling my noble friend what a tremendous encouragement it will be, and has been, to the voluntary associations who assist the migration of children. There are, as my noble friend possibly is aware, difficulties now in arranging for the migration of children. I will not go into the matter now—the moment would not be appropriate. But it is most heartening to realise that the Commonwealth Relations Office recognises the value of these children as reinforcements to the population of the Commonwealth, arriving, as they do, at an age at which they can be completely assimilated into the life of those countries. There is one point which may arise in future upon which I do not expect, and cannot possibly expect, an answer from my noble friend to-night. But the conditions relating to the migration of children are changing, and in view of this if there should come a time when The present rules governing the awards of these grants do not absolutely apply, I am sure that he will, as he said in his speech, keep a flexibility of mind in dealing with and, no doubt, overcoming any difficulties which might arise. My Lords, I warmly support the Second Reading of this Bill.

6.27 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, was able to support the Bill on behalf of the Opposition, and it is encouraging that all of your Lordships who have spoken have agreed that the principle of United Kingdom citizens emigrating to Commonwealth countries is a good one, and one that should be sustained and encouraged. The words of the late Field Marshal Smuts, which Lord Birdwood quoted, are very appropriate. We believe that the inclusion of a larger percentage of British people from the United Kingdom in the Commonwealth countries does bring to the whole association a richer and fuller life. Lord Lucan said that migration must not take away only the young and the tit. We are keeping a very careful watch on that point. There is, as yet, no evidence at all that the family element which has prevailed in emigration so far is being upset. Indeed we keep in very close touch with the Commonwealth Governments on this matter, with a view to ensuring that a cross-section of the population of the country migrate from this country, and they co-operate with us in seeing that that is achieved. So far as emigration to multi-racial countries is concerned, we have not done much except to assist a few children to go. I do not know whether the Governments concerned will, in the future, have any scheme to put forward, but if they have we shall, of course, give it most careful consideration. Up to now, as I say, we have not done very much except to assist a few children.

Lord Barnby asked that the Government should not be complacent in this matter—I think he urged the Government to use a little more imagination. If the measure of imagination is spending large sums of money, I can be as imaginative as anyone else. But there are certain practical considerations which have to be taken into account. We in this country have had for some years since the war a condition of full employment. In every Commonwealth country there has been a measure of inflation, so they have had to put a limit on the numbers of people they can take in. In our own financial circumstances, following the war, we must check our expenditure to that which is necessary and which gives us the results. And it is the results that matter—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, and other noble Lords will agree with that. On the emigration figures, it seems to me that last year the momentum increased, and the figures are rising fast. It seems to be a natural move; and if this is a natural move, and people are leaving this country because they think they will find good prospects in the Commonwealth countries—well, good luck to them! If we can attain without subsidy all the figures indicated by the Overseas Migration Board, all the better for everybody; but as I have said, we have deliberately left a margin in the Bill. We have put the ceiling at £1,500,000, so that, should the need arise, we can exercise the necessary flexibility.

I am glad that my noble friend Lord Stratheden and Campbell said a word about the emigration of children and the work done by the voluntary associations. Last year, I had a chance of seeing for myself something of these children in the places set aside for their education. Although, no doubt, there can be improvements—after all, there can be improvements in many of the schools which look after children here—I was immensely impressed by the free and healthy life these children were enjoying and, what is more, by the percentage of successes in after-life which the children who come from these schools have had in Australian society. If any variations are needed in our practice here, and in the rules governing the emigration of children, I hope that when my noble friend has made up his mind what improvements might be made, he will consult the Commonwealth Relations Office; and if we can give any help, we certainly will do so. I do not think I need say anything more, except to repeat that we believe that within the framework of this Bill we can encourage a migration policy which will be useful both to this country and to the Commonwealth.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.