HC Deb 03 December 1937 vol 329 cc2411-3W
Mr. Lambert

asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he is now in a position to furnish the House with the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Irish Free State immigration into this Country?

Mr. M. MacDonald

Yes, Sir. A Committee composed of representatives of the Home Office, Board of Trade, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour, Scottish Office and Dominions Office was appointed in April to elucidate the facts as to the extent of migration from the Irish Free State to Great Britain.

It was shown that the figures of passenger traffic across the Irish Channel between Irish Free State ports and ports in Great Britain, taking the difference between traffic in one direction and traffic in the other, disclose a considerable increase in traffic into Great Britain. The figures, after allowing for persons known not to be migrating to the United Kingdom, rose from about it, 11,000 in 1934 to 14,000 in 1935 and 24,000 in 1936. The figures for the first four months of 1937 suggest that the increase shown in the 1936 figures is probably continuing this year, although in this connection the possibility of a special influx of visitors in connection with the Coronation must be borne in mind.

These figures do not, however, give a complete picture, since on the one hand they include Irish Free State migrants to and from the Continent of Europe who travel via the United Kingdom, and on the other hand omit persons from the Irish Free State who cross the land frontier into Northern Ireland and proceed to Great Britain from there. As regards the latter point it seems probable that traffic from Northern Ireland ports is mainly directed to Scotland; such information as has been obtained from Scotland suggests that this traffic consists in about equal numbers of persons of Northern Ireland and of Irish Free State (especially County Donegal) origin.

The traffic figures across the Irish Channel show marked seasonal variations. There is a considerable influx to Great Britain in the first and third quarters of the year, counterbalanced by departures in the fourth quarter. This is no doubt due to a considerable number of persons coming for temporary agricultural employment; figures obtained from recent statistics kept in connection with the extension of Unemployment Insurance to agricultural workers suggest that the number in 1936 was approximately 3,000.

It may be noted that Irish Free State figures of net emigration to the United Kingdom and the Continent during the period 1926–1936 show a distribution of men to women in the proportion 31 47.

As regards Unemployment Insurance statistics, the figures of persons coming from insurable employment in the Irish Free State to insurable employment in Great Britain (excluding agriculture, the most recent figures for which are given above) show a similar increase from an average of about 2,000 in the years 1932 to 1934, to 2,900 in 1935 and 6,000 in 1936. Information is not yet available as to the numbers coming from uninsurable employment in the Irish Free State to insurable employment in Great Britain, but steps are being taken to ascertain the number of such persons as from the 1st April, 1937. Satisfactory statistics would not, however, be available for about a year from that date.

As regards Health Insurance, the latest figures available, those of transfers dealt with in 1936, do not show any appreciable increase. The number of transfers to England dealt with in the year was 1,479. (It can be taken that migration occurred about a year before transfer.) Figures for the years 1930 to 1936 show a net excess of transfers to England over transfers to the Irish Free State of about 800 to 900 a year. (These figures are not, however, regarded as affording a complete picture since, in many cases, there is probably a failure to report previous Insurance payments in the other country.)

As regards public assistance, certain informal inquiries have been made by the Departments concerned as to the position in one or two large cities in England and Scotland. In each case the reply has been to the effect that there is no evidence of any marked increase in the number of persons of Irish Free State origin applying for relief; and there is no reason to suppose that the position in other large cities is in any way different.

The general conclusion which is drawn is that there is clear evidence of a recent increase in emigration from the Irish Free State into Great Britain but that the immigrants are being absorbed into employment. The object of the immigrants from the Irish Free State in coming to this country is to obtain work, and there is no evidence that they come here with the specific purpose of obtaining, when unemployed, assistance from public funds on a more generous scale than is obtainable in the Irish Free State. On the contrary, it appears that many of them readily obtain employment as navvies or on heavy labouring work of an unskilled character for which, owing in many cases to the heavy and arduous nature of the work, it is said that it is difficult to find an adequate supply of equally satisfactory applicants already available in this country.

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