HL Deb 26 March 1962 vol 238 cc836-46

6.24 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a modest but important measure, the fifth in a series which had its origin in the Empire Settlement Act of 1922 and which, through the succeeding Acts of 1937, 1952 and 1957, has continued to give expression to the policy of encouraging and facilitating Commonwealth settlement. The purpose of the present Bill is to carry on this policy for a further five years by enabling Her Majesty's Government to contribute to emigration schemes, in partnership with other Commonwealth Governments or private organisations. It has long been the faith of successive British Governments that a steady flow of Britons to other parts of the Commonwealth not only benefits the individual settlers themselves but strengthens the ties of sentiment which bind our family of nations together. It is also clear that the Governments of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Rhodesia value the addition to their growing populations of British emigrants, with their diversity of arts and skills, and that they will continue to seek a substantial proportion of their new settlers from Britain.

The British Government have from time to time been urged to do more to stimulate the flow, either by increased expenditure or by public statements designed to give a lead to prospective emigrants. But those who support that view tend to forget that under modern conditions the scale of emigration from this country depends on other factors. First, the receiving country must assess its absorptive capacity and frame its immigration policy accordingly. Secondly, it is for the emigrant himself to decide whether, on balance, the advantage lies in making a fresh start in a new land. The decision, when he takes it, must be, and can only be, his alone; there can be no question of compulsion by Governments. The rôle of the sending Government, always assuming an attitude of encouragement towards emigration of its citizens, is the important but largely ancillary one of collaboration and assistance in schemes of administrative arrangements—of "oiling the wheels" of machinery operating by mutual consent. In this situation, the expenditure of large sums of money by the sending Government would not significantly affect the volume of emigration; nor would it be right for that Government to exert pressure on its citizens in order to persuade them to settle overseas.

It is with these thoughts in mind that I should like to take a look at the events of the last five years in the field of emigration. The Oversea Migration Board have estimated that from 1957 to 1961 about 750,000 Britons went overseas to settle or to work for periods of a year or more—and here I might observe, in passing, that an emigrant is one who leaves this country for a period of not less than one year. Of these 750,000, some two-thirds went to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Rhodesia, and, until the end of 1960, to South Africa, while another 100,000 made their way to other Commonwealth countries. The average annual rate of emigration of 155,000 over this period is somewhat inflated by an exceptionally heavy outflow in the first year of the five-year period, 1957, when the figures were 230,000. Since then, movements have varied between 140,000 and 120.000 a year. The statistics that are available of movements by the long sea routes indicate that rather less than half were wage-earners, the balance being made up of dependants.

Emigration of this order makes an impact on our manpower resources. The main Commonwealth receiving countries naturally seek young and vigorous settlers who will contribute towards the development of their new country. Commonwealth immigration policies are therefore primarily designed to attract skilled and professional workers under 45 years of age—although their policies do not normally exclude people over that age who are part of a family unit. The emphasis is, however, increasingly on skills, rather than on numbers. These are, of course, the very people whom we in Britain also need to meet our obligation to provide technical assistance, particularly to developing countries of the Commonwealth. There is thus growing competition for these skills, and in some trades and professions in Britain there are continuing shortages which are giving cause for concern, because they affect particularly sensitive sectors of our economy. To some extent, immigration to this country relieves this situation, but there are certain skilled occupations—for instance, in the building and engineering industry—where losses by emigration,. however small the numbers, are keenly felt.

I think there will be general agreement that in problems of this kind it is in the best interests of the Commonwealth as a whole, to avoid any undue strain on the economies of the sending and receiving countries, and we shall as necessary consult with them on this matter. I am aware of criticisms of the attitude I have outlined, on the grounds that unless we in this country are prepared to provide sufficient numbers of skilled men to go to the Commonwealth then we are not fulfilling our obligations as founder of the Commonwealth. I must confess that I do not consider such criticism as valid. The figures I have already given show the scale of emigration in the past, and I have no reason to suppose that it will not continue in much the same way in the future. But we must remember that if this country is to play its proper rôle in fostering the Commonwealth, the economy of this country must remain strong, and too great a wastage of those with vital skills can lead only to a weakening of the economy with all its attendant evils. I cannot believe that anyone who has the true interests of the Commonwealth at heart would wish this to happen.

I think the House would wish me to say something on the matter of emigration statistics—or perhaps some of your Lordships might say that I should put it better if I referred to it as "lack of statistics". Here I must confess to finding myself in a situation of some embarrassment. In my capacity as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations I am chairman of the Oversea Migration Board, and in that capacity I am naturally very much aware of the Board's views on the need for obtaining, with the minimum of delay, accurate statistics of those emigrating from this country. At the same time, as a member of the Government I am in accord with its views on the same subject. While having great sympathy with the views put forward by the Board, I would venture to suggest that our lack of information as to the numbers of people leaving this country is not as serious as is sometimes suggested. We do get adequate statistics from the main receiving countries of those who leave our shores for a period of not less than one year. I admit that this information of necessity takes longer to be assimilated than it would do if we were to compile statistics ourselves.

Now I turn to what we do. The major contribution which Britain has made to the cause of emigration, and the one which in present-day conditions involves some considerable sacrifice on our part, lies in the emigrants them- selves. The investment in their education and training cannot be assessed with any accuracy. It must, however, particularly where the immigrant has undergone skilled training, represent a very substantial sum. This is all to the benefit of the receiving country. In addition to this, we also assist emigration in other ways.

Under the terms of the Commonwealth and Empire Settlement Act—which, incidentally, is in future to be known as the Commonwealth Settlement Act—we are partners in two types of scheme: the Assisted Passage Scheme and schemes of child migration, both of which affect Australia. The United Kingdom/Australia Assisted Passage Agreement between the Australian Government and ourselves provides that any approved settler can travel to Australia at a cost to himself of £10 if he is nineteen years of age or over, or free if he is under that age. Passages are mostly provided by sea, but a limited number are available by air, at the same cost to the migrant. This represents a very considerable saving on one of the major expenses of emigrating. The full fare-paying passenger would have to spend on average between £120 and £180, depending on the season, for the journey by tourist class sea route, while an economy class air fare costs nearly £250.

Between 1946 and 1961 some 364,000 people benefited under the scheme, and the current annual rate is about 33,000. The Australian Government are to be warmly congratulated on their very successful operation of the scheme, which involves complex administrative arrangements for selecting migrants here in this country, moving them to Australia and ensuring that they settle in and obtain employment with the minimum of difficulty and disturbance. For those assisted migrants who have not been sponsored by a family guaranteeing accommodation, temporary housing in Government hostels is available at very reasonable rates. The Commonwealth Employment Service also makes its facilities available to put migrants in touch with prospective employers. Moreover, the Commonwealth Government guarantees, under the terms of the Assisted Passage Agreement, that normal social service benefits will be available to migrants.

The great majority of new settlers travelling under the scheme have no difficulty in making a success of their new life. It is not to be expected, of course, that every single migrant will find the change entirely to his liking, but very few fail to take in their stride the problems which arise in a major move of this kind. The Australian Government bear the major share of the expenses of the scheme, to which our contribution is £150,000 a year. It is also a source of satisfaction to us that the migrants who travel under the scheme have represented a fair cross-section of our population. We know that the Australians wish to renew the Agreement for a further period, subject to the passage of this Bill, and the matter is under discussion between the two Governments.

We also have agreements with eight voluntary societies in this country who arrange for the migration, training and after-care of children in their homes in Australia. We help out with the operating costs by contributing £4 towards an outfit for each child and 10s. a week (this is shortly to be increased to £1) towards his maintenance until he becomes sixteen. I should like to pay a warm tribute to the splendid work these societies have performed over the years. It is, of course, a reflection of increased prosperity in this country, and of the national system of child care established by the Children Act, 1948, that fewer children now come into the care of the voluntary societies, and consequently there are fewer available for emigration. Some of the societies have extended their activities and are now helping whole families to emigrate.

In addition to the foregoing schemes, which operate under the Acts, we also contribute, outside the Acts, to the administrative expenses of two other voluntary organisations, namely the Big Brother Movement and the Women's Migration and Oversea Appointments Society. Before I leave the subject of Government assistance, I should mention that the Ministry of Labour, through its Employment Service network, provides, on request, interviewing and other facilities to help Commonwealth Migration Offices in their selection of prospective emigrants. The Service also carries stocks of publicity material and application forms issued by Commonwealth authorities.

As your Lordships will be aware, annual expenditure during the last five years has not been anything like the £1½ million authorised under the Acts. The principal reasons for this have been the vital need to exercise strict economy in Government expenditure and the fact that some Commonwealth countries have preferred to operate their immigration programmes separately. But I wish to assure your Lordships that it remains the firm policy of Her Majesty's Government to assist emigration from this country to the Commonwealth in any practical way, believing, as we do, that by this means a significant contribution is made both to the development of the Commonwealth and to the strengthening of the ties which hold it together. In the Bill, we propose that the annual upper limit on expenditure should remain at the figure I have already given, of £1½ million. Although this is, as I have indicated, a figure very much higher than the scale of our existing commitments we should like to be in a position to ask Parliament for up to that amount should the need arise and if our financial situation permitted. In order to preserve the right degree of flexibility in planning, we suggest that this legislation should operate, as in previous Acts, for five years, when the position should again be reviewed.

Before concluding, I should like to acknowledge the invaluable help that my right honourable friend and I have received from the members and officials of the Oversea Migration Board, over which I have the honour to preside. The other Member of your Lordships' House who is a member of the Board is the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and I should like to say how very sorry he is that he cannot take part in this debate on Second Reading owing to a previous very important commitment in Scotland. I for one am very sorry that he has not been able to take part, knowing that he would have talked to us with great knowledge and authority and that this debate would have gained considerably from a contribution from him. Since its inception in 1953, the Board has given much thoughtful study to a number of migration problems, and the wide knowledge and experience of its members is reflected in the seven reports so far published. Emigration has played a vital part in the development of the Commonwealth and will undoubtedly continue to do so. The Bill which is before your Lordships reaffirms the significance which Her Majesty's Government attach to the subject, and I beg to move that it be read a second time.

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

6.46 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Duke for the very full report he gave us on the Commonwealth migration situation, and much that he told us was full of interest. The thing that strikes one is the remarkably consistent level of migration from this country to some of the Commonwealth countries, with the exception of the year 1957 when there was a large increase. The great preponderance of what he said concerned interest in Australia and help from Australia in this problem—in fact, almost everything the noble Duke told us was about Australia—and therefore he left it to us to guess what happened regarding the remaining effort towards Commonwealth settlement. It would be interesting to know how the experiences in other countries compared. Canada, we know, has had economic troubles and the climate there rather militates against anything like a regular flow of migrants.

We are also told that the great bulk of the annual expenditure on migration is devoted to the Australian sector—I think on the number of 150,000 a year on an average out of about 160,000—and the assisted passage scheme is of course extremely helpful. But I wonder whether the noble Duke could tell us how much of the money, apart from the passages and other such expenditure, is kept in reserve, so to speak, to assist settlement and establishment of emigrants in their new country. One has often heard of emigrants running into trouble where there is, as there is in almost all parts of the world, a shortage of housing. Is anything done from these funds to assist emigrants in setting themselves up in houses of their own or in making other arrangements for these migrants when the temporary housing under the Government arrangements in the host country comes to an end? We are glad to know that the Australians extend social service benefits to our emigrants, but I wonder whether any of the money that this Bill is going to authorise is designed to assure the emigrant's future after he arrives in his new country.

Finally (I am not sure whether, on this point, I caught the words of the noble Duke very clearly) I should like to say a word on the question of whether dependants, particularly elderly dependants, were accepted in these Commonwealth countries. There have been complaints that the host countries very naturally welcome young, able-bodied, skilled men and workers, and perhaps their immediate families. But what about the elderly and the possibly rather infirm relations? Are they allowed to go, too?—because it must make a big difference to a family's decision whether or not to take the big step of migration to know whether they can or cannot take their elderly relations with them. So one hopes that there is a two-way traffic; that we in this country will admit the elderly relations of the wage-earners and the skilled workers and that the other Commonwealth countries will act reciprocally. Perhaps reciprocally "is the wrong word, because the countries from whom immigrants come to us are not those which receive migrants from here. Nevertheless, the principle to my mind should be the same: that if migration is a good thing, we must allow family groups to come here, whether it suits us or not. I hope Her Majesty's Government have that thought in mind and that other Commonwealth countries take the same view and co-operate. Subject to those few paints, I would say, on behalf of my noble friends, that I welcome this Bill.

6.49 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, very warmly for the kind way in which he has received the Second Reading of this Bill. May I answer the two points he raised? On housing, no part of the Assisted Passage Scheme money, the majority of which is provided by Australia, with a proportion by ourselves, is used towards housing; it is all used for the Assisted Passage Scheme. The noble Earl will be aware that the question of whether we should provide money for housing has been raised on a number of occasions in this House during the past year. I will not go over the whole background of this problem. I would content myself with saying that there are very real difficulties in such a course.

First of all, it is perhaps hardly right that as a Government we should provide money for people who are leaving this country when at the present moment there is no direct Government help for people getting houses in this country. It is true that until the middle of last year there was some help in regard to old houses, but not new ones; now that has been suspended. That is one of the very real difficulties. There are also very real difficulties in any system by which the building societies might help in this field. If the noble Earl would like me to pursue the matter in greater detail, I will gladly talk to him at some time; but I give him an assurance that this matter has been gone into and it is not considered a practical possibility.

With regard to the question of the family, I would point out that when we are talking of immigration under the Assisted Passage Scheme, with this very Substantial assistance given to immigrants by the Australian Government they must be allowed to select the immigrants they wish. But, as I said when introducing the Second Reading, although the Australian Government prefer young, skilled labour, under 45, they are prepared under the scheme to accept immigrants over that age in order to complete the family unit. Of course, in the case of those emigrating to Australia or any other country unassisted, it is quite a different matter; I am speaking only of the Assisted Passage Scheme.

The noble Earl said that the people emigrating to this country come from different countries than those to which people emigrate from this country. That is true, but I should like to go on the record the deep gratitude we feel to the people of the Commonwealth countries who come here and play a very important part in the economy, particularly in the professions. One example springs to mind; there is a very large number of dentists in practice here from Australia and New Zealand. I should not like your Lordships' House to think we consider it a one-way traffic; that we are pouring these people out and getting nothing in return. The economy of this country benefits particularly in the professions, from people of the Commonwealth countries coming here to practise their particular skills. I think that has covered the two points the noble Earl raised, and I would now ask that the Bill he given a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.

House adjourned at seven minutes before seven o'clock.