HL Deb 20 November 1958 vol 212 cc747-66

4.22 p.m.

THE EARL OF ALBEMARLE rose to draw attention to the Third Report of the Migration Board; and to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have instituted research to discover how soon this country is likely to reach the optimum population to match resources of water, farm land and housing. The noble Earl said: My Lords, the House has had an excursion into the realms of art, and now I fear that it is my duty to bring it down to the level ground, down to earth. My Question has been on and off the Order Paper since mid-July, and it is therefore sad that Lord Pakenham's timely Motion should have so closely preceded this rather similar discussion.

The statistics are surely humdrum, but vital to ourselves and the Commonwealth. I should like to thank the noble Earl the Leader of the House, because I understand that it was he who initiated this Oversea Migration Board and kept it in being. In their Third Report the Board claim a result that is only partially successful, owing to the difficulty in reconciling statistics from different countries using diverse bases for information; but we ought certainly to acknowledge gratefully (and I have already done so) the perseverance shown by the noble Earl and by the Board in continuing to gather the figures for this purpose. The fact is that last year's figures were the first set that enables us to gain even a tolerable picture of the position—by which I mean the balance of the "ins" and "outs" on the migration front.

The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, spoke yesterday about a heavy loss, on balance, through migration out of the country. I think that if he saw the information contained in this Report he would see why I want slightly to correct his statement. Our balance of loss by emigration is infinitesimal compared to the size of the population. The figure of 27,000—which is only a guess, as I shall show—represents only .01 of 1 per cent. of the population. The figure that matters is the approximate yearly increase by births, which is round about 800,000. The balance of loss to countries other than the Commonwealth runs to about the same total; that is, of the order of 300,000. But these were figures which I culled from the Government Information Centre publication of 1957, relating to the year 1955.

Chapter 1 of the Board's Report contains this unsatisfying sentence at the middle of paragraph 3: Our immigration statistics in particular are understated. There is also a heavy flow of labour from the Irish Republic, and there is evidence to suggest that this runs at a rate of about 60,000 per annum. This is a gross figure, and we do not know the extent of the return flow. The figures presented are only for migrants between ports in this country and the five chief receiving Dominions—passengers by the long sea routes; that is, those longer than within Europe or the Mediterranean. Figures of the migration by short sea routes have not so far been obtained. Moreover, a considerable airlift to Canada has taken place in past years but is not here recorded, so that such statistics are (I quote) "seriously incomplete" and therefore misleading.

In their Report the Board themselves state that figures are by themselves no longer a valid basis for examining trends and formulating migration policy. For adequate statistics there is thus some way to go. Your Lordships will note that the opening sentence of paragraph 2 says: … the United Kingdom is almost alone among the major countries of the world in not keeping statistics of migration by air … I am sure there are enough civil servants, so they cannot have been set the task early enough. If your Lordships turn to the last page of the Report, you will see figures showing the estimated rise in United Kingdom population between 1956 and 1996, a period of forty years. The figures are 51 million at the earlier date and 55 million in 1996. The estimated rises in population are given us by the Government Actuary, in consultation with the Registrars-General. But I am concerned with the burden shouldered by the working population now, and again after eight years' time—I am not so concerned with forty years' time. On that last page the population is analysed by age groups, at five-year intervals. We find that, of our English and Welsh people 37½ million have to support 6½ million of the aged and the juvenile; that is, the able-bodied will be required to carry about one-sixth of their number. The 37½ million include the age group between 15 and 69.

I come to my first request of the Government. I submit that we do not know what the position is—whether our basic and essential resources match the present size of our population, which is increasing by roughly 800,000 a year, or will be likely to match this slowly increasing population in this overcrowded island, with unemployment likely, with the free trade area against us, with deficits in nationalised industries, coming deficits in the Insurance Fund and so on. We know the weight of taxation on our shoulders. With existing or coming commitments, is it likely to be less for our children? The presumed balance in loss of Population is small, but with most of our new entrants their earning power, education or financial standing do not match those of the people we have lost, especially to Canada. In other words, economically it is a disadvantageous exchange.

That really is the point of my reading this Report and the result of my attempts to find out all the relevant facts. That is what I come down to as the fact: that it is not an economic exchange and therefore, one might say, is not good for the country. Moreover, the housing accommodation of our lost emigrants will mostly have been at least of the class of council houses. That is not the case with the incomers, where those are of the general labour class. If the latter have not a certain job to go to here, infallibly, unless they have savings, they will have to receive national assistance and crowd into houses wherever they can.

It might be interesting to see what the Ministry of Pensions supply in the way of figures showing the new entrants to the Insurance Fund in 1956 from overseas. From colonial territories there were 42,745; from the Commonwealth, 28,756; from foreign countries, 46,178 and, as I have said, from the Irish Republic, 60,000. When I originally put down a Motion on the Order Paper I was not going to mention the words "coloured" or "discrimination"; I was merely treating the thing as entry and outgoing. Page 9 of the Report deals with our losses to Canada. In regard to the cross-section of migrants into Canada, we find that Canada emerges as the country with the largest intake (unfortunately, to-day's papers say that unemployment is going to be at a figure of 300,000), but it is also the Dominion taking the largest portion of the younger age groups and the smallest proportion of the older age groups.

The Report further says: The broad conclusion which has emerged from our study of the statistics for 1956 is that, with the upward trend of emigration, there has been an increased loss of skilled and professional workers, in terms of absolute numbers. Then on page 10, paragraph 20 (which deals with emigration in 1957) says: The dominating figure of United Kingdom emigration in 1957 has been the exceptionally heavy flow to Canada. That country has seen a considerbale competition for conveying her migrant traffic. A development was the introduction of a special airlift which took about 18,000 migrants from the United Kingdom in 1956. During the first half of 1957 Canada took 72,000 immigrants. Of these, 60 per cent., or 43,000, are said to have travelled by air; and at a guess, 110,000 might be the total for the whole of 1957 from this country. At the middle of page 16 the Report says that there is little doubt that on balance we lost in 1956 more skilled and professional workers than we gained, and that we gained more unskilled workers than we lost. These unskilled entrants cannot afford to become tenants of our style of council houses. Although various resolutions have been passed in this country that clearance of slum property should be accelerated and modernisation enforced, much still remains to be done. "Prefab" colonies and caravan camps are an expression of the fact that the sort of accommodation which can be afforded is in short supply.

If it will not be denied that the housing needs of our population are not yet fully met, common sense surely says that the numbers of our present population should not be exceeded until housing accommodation is fully available, plus the forward provision of houses for the average yearly increment of house seekers. But if, as we are told, "immigrants without restriction" is the somewhat surprising official view, then certain town-neighbourhoods seem bound to suffer from congestion and discomforts. But if the Government are not yet seized of the importance of ascertaining the answers to my questions, I feel convinced that they must at any rate add to our available resources, which are at present, I suggest, insufficient. I ask for a temporary cessation of immigration, except upon conditions, until unemployment figures lessen, or, shall we say, for eighteen months. I do that because of the burdens being borne by our population and our various welfare funds. I want, therefore, if the Government would agree, to let an examination be started at once of resources, tabulated by immediate research.

My Lords, I am sorry to have been so long over this subject. I have done my best to compress it. I would submit that in a scientific age we must adopt a less happy-go-lucky attitude towards the implications of free entry for all comers. Turning to the phrase: Our traditional custom to grant asylum", I should have thought that the presence here of Poles and Hungarians attests the validity of our boast. But in the early 17th century, when we received Protestants and Huguenots from France owing to King Louis XIV, our land was empty save for 5 million or so, When confronted by Napoleon we were 8 million. In the year of the Great Exhibition we numbered 18 million; and to-day in England and Wales we are 43¾ million. Those numbers have to be catered for and the first need is adequate water. Other things like land, housing and so on, follow.

Eighteen months ago a spokesman of Her Majesty's Government here rather decried an article in The Times by Professor Balchin giving details of the water consumption and needs for a certain list of cities, but in early September of this year the President of the Institute of Civil Engineers contributed a further warning in The Times as to the coming shortage of water. I take it that such professional testimony will not this time fail to evoke a response from Her Majesty's Government. At any rate, the article provides a point of support to one part of the Question on the Paper to-day asking whether Her Majesty's Government have instituted inquiries as to our basic resources.

As I have said, we are without sufficient knowledge as to how many months or years are estimated to lie ahead before demand equates supply. That is why I hope Her Majesty's Government will find out how near that day may be. I have mentioned water and I would now ask your Lordships to consider what is the real nub of the matter. Over the next eight years we shall have one million more mouths to feed and people for whom to find work, and each year 40,000 acres of food-producing "carpet" will be rolled up and replaced by concrete. I have the figures from the little Blue Book on grassland. In the twenty years from 1937 to 1957 there was a loss of 800,000 acres. There were 31,800,000 acres of grass and crops in the earliest year, 1937; and in 1957 there were only 31 million. It is all in print.


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Earl, but could he give us a rather closer description of the little Blue Book to which he has referred?


My Lords, I am quoting from the Report of the Committee on the utilisation of grassland, which was issued last week, concerning the whole matter of grassland; and from that I got what I wanted and what I have always suspected—that we have been losing 40,000 acres a year. There it is, in black and white.


My Lords, the noble Lord is giving figures for the past but he has no right to prophesy for the future.


Oh, no—how right you are! Remembering our experiences of food shortage in two wars and the existence of 500 submarines in envious hands, we shall not wish to do without these 800,000 acres. Nor shall we want to do without the crops that could be obtained if there were enough water for irrigation. The facts of the distribution of water are these: all the country to the south and east of a line taken from the Severn to the Humber is apt to suffer a deficiency in five years out of ten in relation to the amount of water that it should have and could use; and on the coastal lands in the south and east the deficiency applies in nine years out of ten.

That means that we must try to get a redistribution of water so that farmers shall not be denied the water they need to make good our loss of acreage, so that they may prevent their plants from drying out when the drought comes—because that wonderful series of experiments at Rothamsted showed that a plant cannot reach maturity in the same bloom if, at irregular times, it has been denied water. There must be continuous growth. Modern machinery has now been put into the hands of our farmers, and if only we can get a sufficiency and proper distribution of water we can grow vastly heavier crops.

But, despite the object lesson in spectacular land reclamation achieved by our neighbours and still proceeding without respite owing to the steady forward-looking of the Dutch nation, we do nothing in the way of following their example. I heard the other day that fate has ordained that the Dutch population should increase in ten years from 91 million to 12 million people. They are thick on the ground, and I submit that that applies to the Midlands and South of our country. The Dutch are in the process of actually increasing their land surfaces by one-ninth. Last year I visited the third of those huge polders which are now freed of salt water. A few years back I visited the first. The Dutch started this enormous £200 million project immediately after the First World War was over, and completed the draining of the salt water from the Zuyder Zee in 1932. That is pertinent, because we also are overcrowded and we do nothing about it.

In the Land Use Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, they have a perfect set of tinted ordnance maps of saltings all round our coasts, and there is hardly an instance of a landowner being able to put up enough money to go in for such a scheme in part-shares with the Government. We are so denuded by taxation that landowners cannot do it. Why cannot a beginning be made by our Government to do what the Dutch have done—making use of these saltings? When those are put behind embankments the Dutch lease the land out for farming to capable tenants at very good rents. We must sometimes do something with the initiative of Government and not leave it all to private enterprise.


Hear hear!


That is all I am going to inflict upon your Lordships now. I trust that what I have said is helpful. I am sure that the figures to which I have referred are correct, and I think it is a most interesting Report. Once we get further on the road to obtaining more helpful figures we shall be able to assess more closely where we have got in that problem which I have tried to put before your Lordships.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful, as I am sure all your Lordships are, to the noble Earl, Lord Albemarle, for having raised this most important subject, which I think we could well have discussed before now. It has some bearing on what we were talking about yesterday, as the noble Earl said. I approach the matter from a slightly different angle. I understand that the noble Earl, Lord Albemarle, is primarily interested in this subject from the point of view of whether our resources in this country are able to support our present population, and that is, of course, a most important aspect of the matter. I approach it rather from the angle of whether we are, in fact, persuading or assisting enough of our own people to emigrate in order to build up a sister Commonwealth. The two matters are, of course, closely interrelated.

I believe that the noble Earl rather deplored the fact that we were replacing skilled labour, as he put it, by not-so-skilled labour coming into this country, thereby reducing our capacity and ability of production, without having the resources to maintain, let alone increase, our present population. I feel that we could in fact allow, or persuade, more of our own nationals to emigrate without having to worry too much about any fall in production in this country, and that is the inference I gain from reading this Report. It is stated in the Conclusions, in paragraph 33 (3): … we can find no evidence to suggest that there was anything in the net migration movement in 1956 that need give cause for concern. That is to say, this Board are not at all worried that we are losing more people than we are gaining. I should like to suggest that we might even increase the gap.

We are, in fact, losing on net migration only .01 per cent. of the population, which is infinitesimal out of a population of 50 million. I feel, in view of the very real problem we shall have in this country if our population is going to increase by 1½ million over the next eight years, and by 4 million in the next generation (that is what the figures show; it is an intelligent actuarial guess and that is what we are ready to believe), that if that sort of increase is to come about, surely we can well afford to allow many more people—perhaps it is not a question of allowing but of persuading—to emigrate to these parts of the Commonwealth which have such a great need for them.

I decry the criticisms that were made in the last year in certain organs of the Press because there happened to be a rather unusual flow of emigrants to Canada. I believe that this is an admirable thing; and we learn from this Report that Canada cannot get as many people of British stock as she requires. I should rather like the noble Earl who is going to reply to refer to the Conclusions, paragraph 33 (1), where it says that the Commonwealth countries require between 150,000 and 200,000 people each year and that was not met in 1956. It is then suggested that this requirement may be more nearly met in 1957. Perhaps the noble Earl has some figures on the present position. I imagine that the requirements of the Commonwealth countries since 1956 have gone up very considerably, and I should be grateful if he would tell us what are the up-to-date figures.

At the same time it is noticeable that the immigrants are falling in number, or it was suggested that they would fall in number in 1957 over the actual figures given for 1956. If here again the noble Earl could say what figures he has to confirm that suggestion, I should be grateful. Finally, when he replies, could he tell us what is the Government policy, not only in regard to the questions which the noble Earl, Lord Albemarle, raised but also in regard to helping and assisting and positively encouraging emigration to our own Commonwealth.

4.55 pm.


My Lords, the natural trepidation which one feels in addressing your Lordships' House for the first time is in no way diminished—in fact it is greatly increased—by the quality of the maiden speeches to which your Lordships 'have already listened. Like my noble friends Lord Stonham and Lord Shackleton, I can claim that this is the second time I have risen in this Chamber to make a maiden speech, and for precisely the same reason as theirs—namely, that thirteen years ago your Lordships' House was meeting in Her Majesty's Robing Room, and Members of another place were meeting here.

Your Lordships may, I fear, soon be feeling that you are suffering from a surfeit of maiden speeches. It may be a small consolation to contrast the present influx to your Lordships' House with what was taking place in this Chamber thirteen years ago, when there were no fewer than 344 maiden speeches to be delivered—an awesome experience both at the transmitting and at the receiving ends. One has been warned, too, of the very high quality of speeches which your Lordships expect. It is something, perhaps, between an after-dinner speech at the Athenæum (if they ever have them, and I do not suppose they do) and the B.B.C.'s Reith Lectures. I fear that I shall fall lamentably short on both these examples, save in one respect: that for technical reasons the Reith Lectures each last half an hour, and my speech will be shorter than that.

The matter before your Lordships, which has been so charmingly and courteously presented by the noble Earl, Lord Albemarle, presents a slight difficulty, because a maiden speech must be non-controversial, and I find myself agreeing heartily with some of his conclusions, though not always with his method of arriving at them. If, therefore, I differ from him at all I hope he will feel that it is a difference of degree rather than of substance.

His proposition (for I believe it is not a Motion) on the subject which he has raised for discussion really involves two separate disciplines for consideration. First, it is an exercise in demography, which is the study of population, and secondly it is an exercise in human ecology, which is the study of the relationship of human beings to their environment. Both these subjects are beginning to be sciences and sufficiently respectable to have Chairs at British universities: for there is a Professor of Demography at the London School of Economics, and a Professor of Human Ecology at Cambridge. So we are beginning to get some scientific facts about these very difficult problems.

First, I would refer to the demographic aspects of the question. In considering population movements we notice the great numbers of immigrants arriving in Britain, particularly those whose skins happen to be darker than ours—your Lordships debated them yesterday. I must say that I think it is a pity that we refer to any people as "coloured", because, after all, we are all coloured; it is a matter of degree. I believe that it would be much better if we could drop that term altogether from our vocabulary and speak only of the country of origin of the people concerned.

Although we notice the African and West Indian corners to our country, the majority of the incoming people are not from the tropics but from Europe, and particularly from the Republic of Eire. We do not see our own folk who are going overseas, so it certainly came to me as a surprise—and I think it comes to most of us as a surprise—to find, on studying this Report of the Oversea Migration Board, that in the years between 1952 and 1956 we have lost by migration substantially more people than we have gained.

The noble Earl, Lord Albemarle, said that he had some doubts about the validity of these statistics. The table which impressed me most was where the Migration Board confessed their own difficulties and turned to the Registrar-General to get an overall picture. I have found in my own dealings with the Registrar-General's office that he is usually extremely accurate; and it was his figures, his overall conclusions, which I know always take into account the kind of errors which can so easily arise in population studies, which showed that over five years we have had a net loss of population of 189,000—that is to say, by migration only. During the same period, 1952 to 1956, something far more important has been happening to our population: the total population of England and Wales has increased by 512,000. That means of course, that, after allowing for loss by migration, we have produced an additional 701,000 children over and above what would be needed to make good the loss by migration and the loss by death.

The result (I confess that I do not follow the noble Earl's method of arriving at a situation of population pressure, though I do not question the validity of the statistics), is that, although there has been a loss by migration, the gain from the excess of births over deaths has been so striking and so substantial that there has been this great total growth of population of which I have spoken—512,000 in a period of five years. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, was speaking of future occurrences and estimates. This is something which has already taken place.

Before attempting to relate this population to available resources I would crave your Lordships' indulgence while I approach a point beyond which I must be careful not to venture. I am a member of a new town development corporation, and as soon as I became a Member of your Lordships' House I received from the general manager of the corporation a transcript of the statement made by the noble Viscount, the late Lord Addison, in this House on March 31, 1951, when he was Lord President of the Council. That statement which he made defined the duties and position of Members of your Lordships' House who serve part-time or whole-time on the Boards of nationalised industries or Government corporations.

He laid it down—very rightly and very properly, as one thought—that members of Boards must not give information about the work of their Boards or answer criticisms, since these were clearly the duties of Ministers responsible to Parliament. So, quite rightly, I can never speak to your Lordships about the day-to-day work of the development corporation on which I serve.

Nevertheless, Lord Addison went on to say: I should make it clear that what I have said applies only to debates relating to public Boards. Experience acquired as a member of a public Board will often be relevant to general debates in which the same considerations do not arise, and the contributions of Board members who are Peers will be all the more relevant because of that experience. If I may, my Lords, I should like, in this general debate, to make use of what seems to me this very sensible escape clause.

In the new town to which I have referred a remarkable population phenomenon is taking place—the fact has, of course, been made public in the Registrar-General's published returns. It is that the birth rate in that town is double the national average. Instead of being about 16 births per 1,000 of population it is 32 births per 1,000 of population, and this is the highest birth rate of any district in Britain. Even allowing for the youth of the population in this town, it is substantially above the national average. Of course, this has not been due to any direct action by the new town corporation: it is the voluntary decision of the people of the town themselves. I base this statement on the fact that there is available in this town an excellent family planning clinic to which they can all go if they wish. Yet they prefer to have more children, and to go on having children. I think the answer is this: that, given the right environment, English people prefer to have larger families. I do not regard this as a cause for alarm in terms of natural resources; I think it is rather a cause for rejoicing. One remembers the somewhat gloomy predictions of the Royal Commission on Population. Here we are demonstrating that these predictions are not irrevocable. One hopes that in the future immigrants from this town may go forth to the Commonwealth and elsewhere to contribute something worthwhile to these other communities overseas.

Now, one word about water supplies. Common sense would suggest that the raw material of which we are not short in these islands is rainwater—although, of course, it is not always in the right place: it may be up in the Welsh mountains when we need it in the Eastern Counties. But the Annual Report of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for 1957 made a full review of the water situation in the country. It showed that we were wasting from three to ten gallons per head; that the effect of all new housing was to increase water consumption simply because more people had baths available; and that, as industry increased, so indeed did the consumption of water go up. Nevertheless, on balance, the conclusion of the Ministry's expert advisers was, and I think still is, that the overall water situation of the country is capable of meeting national needs for any situation which may arise in the foreseeable future. Of course, that is always provided that the capital expenditure necessary to meet what is required is authorised.

The remaining question which is raised in the noble Earl's proposition is that of farmland and housing. It is very easy, I think, to be over-pessimistic here, particularly when we see new housing eating into a piece of agricultural land which we know well. I have always been greatly impressed with Sir Patrick Abercrombie's little book on town and country planning in the Home University Library, in which he pointed out (and one must make it clear that this is hypothesis, and only for the purposes of illustration) that if the whole of the population of England were housed, at twelve houses to the acre—which, of course, is a far lower density than would be practised nowadays—in a circle around Charing Cross, the total area required would be a circle having a radius of 25 miles, and the whole of the rest of the country would be available for agriculture.

If we see in the future, as I hope we shall, all our people rehoused at reasonable densities, the total decrease in agricultural land will be of the order of 1 to 2 per cent., not making any allowance for domestic food production. So long as we are a tightly packed industrial community we shall have to continue to import up to half our food. This is a strategic disadvantage, but I do not see anything socially, economically or morally wrong with it. It is something which we have to accept and get on with it. My conclusion is that our country is what we make it. Within very wide limits, we can make our own optimum by our own enterprise, resources and wisdom. We have still a long way to go before we begin to touch the natural limits of human achievement.

Two last points. It was indicated in the Report of the Oversea Migration Board—indeed the Report stresses time and again—that these statistics are inadequate. I am well aware of the inadequacy of the statistics I have been using this afternoon. That is a problem of sufficient research. Every year we spend millions of pounds on maintaining an excellent Medical Research Council. I think that the time is not far off when we ought to spend a similar sum on a Social Research Council, not as a co-ordinating body, because in this field there have been a number of unsuccessful attempts at co-ordination, but as a body which could initiate research and long-term social thinking.

On making inquiries I find that your Lordships' House is almost unique among Second Chambers in that Members are here for life, as they axe in no other substantial Second Chamber save the Senate of Canada. The great justification for this almost unique arrangement seems to me to be your Lordships' capacity to take the long view, to think in terms of the welfare of our country not in five-year spans, dominated necessarily by elections, but in generations. In this long-term thinking we are slowly replacing guesswork and speculation by reasonable certainties based on scientific knowledge. Effective legislation and administration depends not only in knowing current views, but also in understanding future probabilities. We can obtain this information only by more research into the facts of human behaviour and our relations to our own natural and man-made environment.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me to offer my sincere congratulations, and I am sure those on all sides of the House, to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, on a maiden speech of outstanding quality. The noble Lord brings to this House a wide range of knowledge and experience in health and medicine and, as we have heard to-day, he is a specialist in knowledge of the problem of our new towns through his connection with Harlow, and with the new sciences of demography and human ecology. I am sure that the contributions of the noble Lord in the debates in your Lordships' House will be of the greatest value, and we hope to hear from him often in the same vein as we heard from him this afternoon.

Turning to the noble Earl's question, I cannot help feeling that the debate has ranged rather widely from the terms of the Question as put down on the Order Paper, and perhaps it would not be improper for me to draw your Lordships' attention to those terms. As I listened to the noble Earl, Lord Albernarle, I felt grateful to him for the deep study he had made of the figures in this Report, but I was somewhat surprised to hear the conclusion at which he arrived. He placed more emphasis on the curtailment of immigration, which he hoped would be temporary—though judging by the arguments he used I should not think so—than on the development of our resources.

When they presented their Third Report to my noble friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in December last year, the Oversea Migration Board used the available statistics, but recognised that they left much to be desired. We are giving careful attention to the possibility of other statistics being made available in future. The Report analysed the effects of migration on population, which is the question before us to-day, and came to the conclusion that emigration and immigration roughly balanced each other, the losses by emigration being almost balanced by the increases from immigration. During the two years 1955 and 1956 they found that the net loss in our manpower resources through migration was in the region of 30,000 which is only .01 per cent. of our population of some 51 million. These figures are set out in paragraph 31 of the Report.

Our resources in water, farmland and housing are of importance for the well-being of our people, and when the Royal Commission on population submitted their Report in 1949, they included availability of land and the supply of houses amongst the many factors which influenced the growth or decline of population: but what our optimum population might be is still a debateable question. Her Majesty's Government have no evidence to suggest that the pressure of the population on the available resources of these Islands has now reached a dangerous degree. The noble Earl made a good deal of the fact that, as he said, we do not know what the position is. I hope that I have answered that by saying that the Government are aware of the shortcomings of the statistics and hope that we may be able to get better ones; but I think it is an exaggeration to use these shortcomings to the extent of saying that we do not know what the position is. We certainly know the broad balance between immigration and emigration.

The noble Earl said that there was a disadvantageous exchange: we lose skilled men and receive unskilled immigrants. I think that that point was cancelled out by my noble friend, Lord Hastings, who thought that we were not losing enough skilled men, his point being that more skilled people should be emigrating to the Commonwealth. The noble Earl wants a temporary cessation of immigration. I am sure that your Lordships do not want to go deeply into that subject to-day, because it was fully debated yesterday. The noble Earl also raised the question of housing and there is no doubt but that the balance between the need for housing families and the number of houses is still not satisfactory. The building of some 3 million houses since the war—2 million houses have been built since 1951—is bringing it much nearer to a satisfactory state of affairs, and I think we are steadily approaching the time when our resources will be adequate. The continued high rate of building under the present Government is helping towards this end.

On the question of water supplies, I can assure the noble Earl that water resources are ample to match the increased development of land and housing. There are no insurmountable engineering difficulties in developing these resources to the necessary extent, so long as the requisite capital expenditure is forthcoming. The basic resources are there. The noble Earl was good enough to give me a page from the Blue Book to which he referred, which I see is the Report recently issued by Sir Sydney Caine's Committee on the utilisation of grassland. I am not sure from the notes on this page which the noble Earl has given me that the arithmetic may not be in some dispute. My advice is that, upon the whole, we may lose some 30,000 acres a year of agricultural land and not the much greater figure mentioned by the noble Earl, which I think arose from some confusion in adding up the difference between crops and fallow and grass on the annual statistics on June 4 returns, which are not, I think, quite apposite to that question.

The noble Earl then spoke of reclamation in the marshes. It is the policy of the Government, and will continue to be, that we concentrate our resources on existing farmland; and we do not believe that there is a call at the present moment for any large scale or dramatic land reclamation from the sea or elsewhere. This kind of reclamation is extremely costly. The noble Earl quoted the Dutch reclamations, which I think cost something of the order of £400 an acre; and some of the reclamation schemes in the Eastern counties can cost as much as £200 an acre. I am sure that we must proceed quietly here and the work must be done when it can be proved to be economic. Land owners in that part of the world have always been active in doing reclamation work where it has been economic and have thereby earned the gratitude of the country. And I think it is worth pointing out that the present Government, with the new farm improvements scheme, are at last, and for the first time, making available a capital grant of one-third of the cost of such schemes in approved cases.

I turn now for a moment to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Hastings. He asked me two specific questions, the first of which was about the up-to-date figures and the present trends of emigration to Canada. I am afraid I have not the information as to what the present trends are in so far as they differ from those in the Report under review, but my noble friend will know that the fourth Report (this is the third Report) is likely to be published quite shortly and I have no doubt that he will find the answer in that Report. Then he asked me whether the Government had a policy of emigration to the Commonwealth. By that I think he meant whether we were prepared to assist emigration to the Commonwealth in any particular way. That is a question which I could not answer without notice, and I am sure that my noble friend the Leader of the House, the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, would wish to answer such a question. However, I would remind the noble Lord that some of the Dominions actively assist and encourage immigrants into their countries—Canada is a case in point—not necessarily financially, but by advice.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, will forgive me if I do not follow him in his interesting remarks on demography, because, if I may say so, we are not discussing the Registrar General's Report to-day, and that point I think would fall to be dealt with more appropriately at such a time. I was most interested to hear the noble Lord's expert knowledge and expert comments on the situation in Harlow with regard to the birth rate, but I may say it is not only at Harlow: I myself have a very large family and I do not live at Harlow.

I should like to follow the noble Lord on what he said about water supplies, because I think he was quite correct. Consumption is going up, but there is no indication that we need be short of supplies. The only limitation is the financial one.


My Lords, I was contemplating putting a question on that matter. The figures of the rise in the use of water, not only by individuals and houses but by factories, are startling. Can the noble Earl give any figures as to the sort of margin there is—not what it is at the moment but what it is likely to be in the near future?


I am afraid that without notice I cannot give figures to cover that point. But the general point, I am advised, is that provided the financial resources can be made available, there is no problem in this country, with a very high rainfall, of providing enough water for all purposes. It is largely a question of finance. If the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, would care to put down a Question, no doubt figures of the best estimates could be given.

I do not think there is anything further I need say in reply to this Question which has been so ably put by the noble Earl, Lord Albemarle. We are all grateful to him for having raised it as he has. I would simply sum up by saying that we do not believe that the evidence that this Report produces suggests that the pressure of population on the available resources of these Islands has now reached a dangerous degree.