HL Deb 09 May 1967 vol 282 cc1323-8

3.9 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Beswick.)


My Lords, before assent is given to this stage of the Bill I feel obliged to raise an omission from the earlier discussions. It is a point about which I have given notice to the noble Lord; and, even though the Bill was covered effectively by my noble friend Lord Bessborough on Second Reading, he also omitted this point. I refer particularly to the migration of children from here to the Dominions. As your Lordships will be aware, a considerable number of children are in the custody of the great local authorities. They are very expensive to keep; and I suspect that the degree of cost to the community will not be within the knowledge of many noble Lords. These children are in their care as the result of orphanage, confused parentage, abandonment, and so on; parents are often not known. Regulations lay down that there shall be proper custody of the children and that guardianship should be established for each child.

In the Dominions, as is well known, are the four great approved societies to which the noble Lord referred in moving the Bill. There is the Fair-bridge Society, which has vacancies, and there are other societies which can be of assistance. Because of my long association with this movement—earlier as a member of the Overseas Settlement Board and, more recently, as chairman of the Overseas Migration Council—I have tried to keep myself familiar with these matters. In view of the expense to which I have referred it is rather strange that the local authorities put up every kind of resistance to releasing these children to the societies in the Dominions. I recognise that there has been some advanced thinking as to how, and into whose custody, children should be transferred; but these bodies in the Dominions are so conducted as to have the greatest compassion and sympathy for the children. There can be no question of anxiety whether these children will be properly cared for. Considerable numbers of children are involved and, there is, without doubt, plenty of room in the Dominions for them. There are societies ready to receive them. It is that point that I particularly wanted to raise, and I hope Her Majesty's Government will be more successful in the future than has been the case in the past in somehow fusing these various possibilities.

I am aware that in the Dominions it is thought that the best immigrants are babies, but my suggestion is not so much for the benefit of the Dominions as for the good of the children that are here. I can assure the noble Lord that he will find on investigation that the cost of keeping these children is burdensome and, indeed, difficult because recruitment of staff for their supervision is also difficult. I have read carefully the Second Reading debates in both Houses, and although the Secretary of State in another place dealt at some length with the question of children lie omitted this particular point. Owing to absence from London I regret that I could not attend the discussions here; and therefore I raise it now.

My Lords, may I, at the same time, express disappointment at the small amount of money that is spent for this purpose? Your Lordships will be aware that Parliament voted recently about £1½ million a year—of which only £160,000 a year has been spent—to promote Commonwealth settlement. I am sure that more effort could be made to familiarise the country with the possibilities of life in the Dominions and with the advantages that might well come to those who have a sufficiently adventurous spirit. I have always believed it is the adventurous spirit which, in the main, has motivated migration from this country to the Dominions and built up the great overseas territories of which we are so proud. But so little is spent when so much can be done. It is incongruous that we should spend hundreds of millions of pounds in the development of new towns while there are large areas overseas where migrants could well help to increase the purchases from this country and expand our exports.

In another place, it was stated that by the end of the century, a little over 30 years, we are to expect a population of 75 million—some 20 million greater than at present. Presumably by then each household will have an automobile, and there is going to be great discomfort in moving around; but that is another angle. We have in this country a density of population of 570 to the square mile. What movement will then be like, I do not know. But it is because of that lack of perspective, because of what we spend to develop these things and of what could be spent in building up power abroad that I particularly wanted to draw attention to this matter.

There is another point I would bring to the attention of the noble Lord. I hope he did not overlook the suggestion made in another place, that out of this substantial unspent sum, since the movement of people is the best promise for the lessening of tensions in the world we should initiate various schemes in this country for the movement of undergraduates to the Dominions, and to Canada particularly. Would it not be possible for Her Majesty's Government to arrange that some part of these large funds could be made available to encourage more movement of undergraduates, in the formative years, to the Dominions, and that the schools should propagate the possibilities for the development of the large Dominions overseas? I support the Third Reading of this Bill.


My Lords, I had not meant to speak in this debate, but after hearing the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, I wondered whether my noble friend would consider paying very careful attention to the noble Lord's suggestion about shipping small children abroad when those children are already deprived of their parents, either by accident or by abandonment. A child who has lost his parents is already a very disturbed child. He has suffered a very great loss, and that loss is not good for the child's balance. It is important, as far as that child is concerned, that he should be kept in surroundings which he knows and understands and which are familiar to him. This is necessary for the sake of his mental balance and health. Therefore it is important for these children that great thought is taken before any are shipped abroad into circumstances which are very different. It is this point alone that I wish to bring to the attention of my noble friend.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, emphasised the importance of emigration, and its value to the Commonwealth, and that of course is what this Bill is about. I am pleased to have his support for its purposes. The noble Lord raised two particular points. One concerned the possibility of orphaned children being sent to different parts of the Commonwealth, perhaps to the other side of the world, to start a new life there. This was the kind of thing that was done in the 1930s but as I said on the Second Reading of the Bill opinion nowadays does not favour this, and finance has not been made available, except in those cases where a child is accompanied by one parent. My understanding was that that attitude commanded support in another place, and the support of the majority of noble Lords in this House. I think my noble friend Lord St. Davids has indicated the kind of consideration that lay behind the decision to restrict the emigration of children to those cases where there is one parent.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord if it is to be understood that it is now a requirement that every child shall be accompanied by a parent? I do not think that has been the case up to now.


Yes, my Lords, that is the present policy. But if in a particular case it was thought desirable that an orphan should be enabled to start a new life under one of these schemes in a Commonwealth country where these schemes operate, that would not be ruled out.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, also asked about the possibility of using the monies that will be voted under this Bill for the purpose of sending young men or women from this country to take a graduate course in a university in the Commonwealth. I am sure that many of your Lordships will have much more sympathy with this idea than with his first one. There is a good deal to be said for it, but the provisions in this Bill would not enable this money to be used for that purpose. Certainly there is a reference to the possibility of giving financial assistance for training those young men or women who were assisted to emigrate under this Bill but that was considered to be vocational training. Education in a university is not thought to be covered by the Bill.


My Lords, as the Fairbridge Homes have been mentioned, can my noble friend tell me whether Australia is prepared to accept coloured orphan children?


No, my Lords, I could not say without notice.

On Question, Bill read 3a.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. As we are about to move on to a discussion on the Common Market, and as our courtship of Europe has been one of the factors that has given an impression in some parts of the Commonwealth that we have lost the interest in Commonwealth settlement and in the development of the Commonwealth that we used to have, perhaps I might say that I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to move this Motion to-day. I am sure that we should all wish to take the opportunity to emphasise that whatever we do about going into Europe, it will not prevent us from looking forward to the continuance of the friendly connection between this country and those other lands of the world which we have helped to develop. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Beswick.)


My Lords, I think I ought to support the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, in this matter, in just a few words. Whatever may have been said in another place, and in your Lordships' House, about the sums which have been set aside for this purpose and which are not related closely to the requirements in the past five years, we warmly welcome the Bill. I might also add that I fully appreciate the points made by my noble friend Lord Barnby. I am sorry that it does not seem to be practicable to consider them in the context of this particular Bill. I hope that the Government will look at the points made to see whether these proposals might be satisfied in some other way. Finally, my Lords, however keen we may be to get into the Common Market, the Commonwealth still exists, and this Bill is a fine example of the Commonwealth in action and I hope that it will now pass.

On Question, Bill passed.