HL Deb 24 April 1967 vol 282 cc397-404

4.46 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, since the Empire Settlement Act 1922 the Secretary of State has been empowered to cooperate financially with other Commonwealth Governments, and with public and private organisations, on agreed migration schemes. The British contribution to those schemes has been limited to half the total cost, with a ceiling of annual expenditure which was fixed by and has remained since the 1937 Act at £1.5 million. The provision in the Acts which enables this financial contribution lapses on May 31 this year. The purpose of this Bill is to extend that provision for a further period of five years.

The scale of British financial aid to migration has varied considerably over the past 45 years, and a study of the reasons for this variation would need to take into account all the economic and social strains and stresses to which our people have been subjected as the result of world war and economic depression. But for whatever reason individuals and families have left Britain over this period to settle in Commonwealth countries overseas, I think we shall all agree that they have not only added to the development of the countries to which they have gone but, by strengthening the ties which join us to those new and growing communities, enriched us too.

I hope, therefore, it is not necessary for me in this House to justify at length any legislation which has encouraged Commonwealth migration. Though to-day we sometimes talk of the brain drain, and it is possible to argue that other economic facts have to be taken into account if we try to strike an exact balance of advantages, I still believe that all of us here would wish well to those who, for their own good individual reasons, decide to start a new life among others largely of British stock and who speak the English language in other parts of the world.

In the period 1946 to 1965, 1,802,000 people have migrated from the United Kingdom to Canada, Australia and New Zealand—about one-third of all the immigrants to those countries. Over a more recent period, from 1962 to 1965, of the 860,000 people who have emigrated from Britain nearly two-thirds have made their way to Australia, Canada and New Zealand. In the case of New Zealand almost half of their entire entry of migrants in 1965–66 came from this country. Movement of people on this scale cannot but have a profound and beneficial affect upon present and future relationship between us and our Commonwealth partners.

I may be asked how much of this permitted annual sum we have been spending. The answer is approximately £160,000 in recent years. All but about £10,000 of this is the amount spent to meet our contribution towards the cost of the Assisted Passage Scheme to Australia. This scheme, which noble Lords will know, provides subsidised passages for selected British migrants to Australia who pay £10 towards their fare. From 1962 to 1965 some 214,000 migrants have taken advantage of this scheme. The cost of the scheme amounts to about £8 million and our contribution of £150,000 can almost be regarded as a token payment. Nevertheless, is is highly regarded by the Australian Government. It is an indication of our real interest, and it also has the practical advantage of enabling us to discuss with the Australian Government the nature of the selection made. The Australian Government have been most ready to meet our wishes that the selection should include a cross-section of our population and should not be restricted to those with highly-skilled and especially valuable or scarce qualifications.

Approximately another £10,000 a year is used to support the four voluntary societies in this country which make arrangements for the migration of children to Australia, and for their care and training after arrival. At one time this child migration related mainly to unaccompanied children, but nowadays no child goes alone and each is accompanied by one parent. Of the four societies with which the Government have made arrangements under the Act, the Fair-bridge Society accounts for some 80 or 90 per cent. of the children assisted in this way. No great imagination is needed to appreciate how valuable a scheme this can be in certain cases. The children go to one of the Fairbridge Homes in Australia, where a parent can visit them as frequently and as regularly as they wish. There is also usually a joint British Government and Australian State Government contribution to an outfit allowance and to a weekly maintenance allowance. The other three societies—Dr. Barnardo's Homes, the Church of England Council for Commonwealth Settlement and the Catholic Immigration Committee of Australia—have similar schemes.

Noble Lords may wonder why the permitted ceiling remains at £1.5 million if only about one-tenth of this sum has in recent years been spent. The answer is that we do not wish to appear to be restricting the scope of the Australian scheme, and we should like to be in a position to respond if any other Commonwealth Government decided to ask us for similar co-operation. All of what I have said so far relates to Clause 1 of the Bill. Clause 2 gives the Title of the Bill, and merely tidies up a situation which should have been dealt with in the 1937 Act. My Lords this is a short, simple but symbolic Bill. I believe this House will support not only what it does but what it stands for, and I invite your Lordships to give it a Second Reading and a speedy passage through remaining stages.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Beswick.)

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his clear description of the purposes of this Bill, which we on this side of your Lordships' House certainly welcome and endorse. The scheme, as the noble Lord has said, was designed to help Commonwealth countries increase their populations with immigrants from this country, and it is fair to say, as I think the noble Lord has also said, that since 1922 it has certainly served its purpose well. Our Commonwealth friends still prefer to accept immigrants from this country, where we have a common bond of language and reasonably high standards of education to offer. I understand that Australia has been the country principally to benefit from this scheme.

As we have heard, the Bill authorises the expenditure annually of up to £1,500,000 to assist with passages, training and so on—though not with the provision of accommodation and housing. And the receiving countries, especially Australia, have also contributed vast sums to assist the immigrants. Our contribution, as the noble Lord has said, is only a very small percentage, a token. It will be seen from what the noble Lord has said, and from the Explanatory Memorandum, that over the last five years only about £160,000 has been spent. I appreciate the reasons for this—indeed, they were put forward by my right honourable friend Mr. Duncan Sandys when a similar Bill was being considered in another place in 1962.

He said that the retention of a figure greatly in excess of the amount used was then—and I emphasise the word "then"—important to indicate to Commonwealth countries that we are prepared to assist with these schemes, and so that, if new applications are made, we shall be able to consider them. But in view of the continuing low demands since that date—demands remaining approximately level every year—this very large provision of £1,500,000 seems to me to be somewhat absurd. There is, after all, a tremendous gap between £160,000 and £1,500,000, and I think that perhaps we should now take a more realistic view about the allocation of these funds. After all, my right honourable friend's remarks, which I have just quoted, and which the noble Lord quoted to-day in almost the same terms, were made five years ago.

In another place this year, during the Second Reading of the Bill there, the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs said they were taking powers to continue the provision of…£1½ million, clearly with a view to consideration of other schemes and requests which may he made to us from time to time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 5/4/67, col. 175.] But during the past five years we have had considerable experience of how the scheme operates, and, as will he seen from the Explanatory Memorandum, there has been a variation of only something of the order of £5,000 each year.

One of the difficulties in administering this fund is, I gather, the lack of relevant statistics about migration. Apparently the shipping lines furnish such information, but the airlines do not. Could the noble Lord inform us whether there is any likelihood of further, more accurate, statistics being made available? It may be that not enough use is being made of the facilities offered under this Bill, and that the long-overdue provision of this information may be able to assist in a more realistic assessment of the actual monies likely to be required. In view of the country's current economic position, I hope your Lordships will agree that it is necessary to ensure that the allocation of such funds should bear a close relation to approximate requirements.

In saying this, however, I do not wish to detract from the welcome given to the Bill. I am all for spending more money in this way if worthwhile projects come forward. But will they? What is the likelihood of sizable projects being forthcoming this year, for example? I should like to ask the noble Lord that question, and to know what he feels about this. It is certainly interesting, and indeed significant, to note that, of the 860,000 migrants who left these shores to settle overseas in the years 1962 to 1965, nearly two-thirds, as the noble Lord said—over 550,000—found new homes in the old Commonwealth. They obviously greatly strengthen the ties between our respective countries, and in my view indicate very clearly that the Commonwealth spirit still exists and that our association of nations continues to mean something in the world to-day. We hear so often nowadays that the Commonwealth no longer has the influence that it had, largely because of certain divisive issues within the family, so to speak. It is therefore very gratifying to observe that voluntary migration from this country is still largely in the direction of Commonwealth countries. It is clear from this that even if Governments, legal or illegal, have their disputes, the people themselves, and particularly those who migrate, recognise the great value of the Commonwealth as a whole in the world to-day.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, may I first thank the noble Earl, Lord Bess-borough, for his welcome to the Bill. I must confess that I do not quite understand this anxiety about the fact that in recent years we have not spent all the money which Parliament authorised. I could understand it if it were the other way round, if the danger was that we were spending more than we were authorised to spend.


My Lords, I agree that that would be worse.


The noble Earl's position is that he is keeping the options open; he wants to criticise us no matter which way we go. I do not think that I can add much to what I have already said. We have kept the same figure in the Bill, but only for a limited period of five years. If we had chosen to reduce the amount, this might have been construed as an indication that our interest was lessening. As I said in my opening remarks, we wanted to be able to assure the Australian Government, should they make further demands on us by increasing the numbers of people that they wish to assist in this way, that we should be in a position to help. And similarly, should other Commonwealth countries seek assistance for the same kind of scheme, again we wanted to be able to react positively and not have to come back to Parliament for further authorisation.

I hope that the noble Earl will now feel that it will be possible to accept the figure in the Bill. It has nothing to do with statistics. It is not that there is any lack of over-all statistics in this field. The trouble—and this, I think, the noble Earl had in mind—was the reference in the Report of the Overseas Migration Board which calls attention to the fact, not that total statistics are unknown, but that the analysis of the categories of people choosing to migrate was less than satisfactory. I would point out that, as the result of the recommendation made by that Board. A good deal more was done to get the overall total broken down into categories, and the sampling technique was employed so far as air traffic is concerned.


My Lords, do I understand that the airlines will now supply the information?


My Lords, as I have said, it was not a question of airlines supplying the information as is supplied by the shipping lines. There is not a count of every passenger, but there is a sampling technique, and the figures which were published last year were gathered as a result of this sampling technique. As the noble Earl will realise, there are many people who think the modern techniques in this field are most effective. However, the Report of the Board said that we would study the results obtained in this way, and if it were necessary to have a more sophisticated method of collecting statistics then suitable action should be taken. An interdepartmental committee is now studying the results of the first figures assembled by the sampling tech- nique, and what they recommend will be considered in due course by the Government. With that explanation I hope that the noble Earl will be responsive to the invitation to support this Bill. I know that he approves of the objectives.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.