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Volume 497: debated on Wednesday 5 March 1952

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Motion made, and Question proposed. "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Dennis Vosper.]

1.25 a.m.

Perhaps the Chief Whip will allow the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations to listen, so that he can reply to me. If the Chief Whip wants to go out, he can, without interrupting the debate.

The Under-Secretary of State has very kindly come to answer my short intervention tonight on the subject of migration to the Dominions. Speaking as one who has replied on many such occasions to debates at 7 o'clock in the morning, at 4 o'clock in the morning—on many occasions after midnight—I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will find it as pleasant an experience as I always did, especially as this is the first Adjournment debate I have had the chance of raising.

I am asking the Under-Secretary of State to consider the calling of a conference of representatives of this Government and of Her Majesty's Governments in Canada, Australia and New Zealand to discuss the many problems of Commonwealth migration and development. I suggest those three countries for these reasons. First of all, they are the three countries that have a definite immigration policy, and they are the three countries which do not suffer from racial questions which make any planned migration extremely difficult. Further, I ask that this conference should consider setting up a permanent migration council—an advisory council—to discuss migration with representatives of the four Governments and of all the organisations of employers and workers in the countries.

As I told the Under-Secretary, I want him to be good enough to give us some account of what is being done at present on migration in the Commonwealth. We know people are going from this country and from other countries in Western Europe to those far overseas countries, but the fact is that the figures are ludicrously small. I have only the 1950 figures. The Under-Secretary of State may have later figures than those, but this is the position. There went to Canada in 1950 only 74,000: to Australia, 180,000; to New Zealand, 18,000; and, of course, far less than half went from this island.

New Zealand is rather different from the other two countries because we can see no signs of vast untapped natural resources there, but it is a fact that Canada and Australia have such resources, and they are crying out for people to develop them. Where are the people? The answer is that they are right here in this island—50 million of them. We have often heard it said that we are overcrowded in this island, with 500 people to the habitable square mile, compared with figures like nine and four in respect of Canada and Australia. Those are habitable square miles, not taking account of the vast, barren areas of those two countries.

I am not suggesting that any blame should be attached to us or, for that matter, to those other Governments for not having discussed this matter more in recent years. Perhaps, we all should share the blame, for there has not been serious study of the major questions involved, such as the incentives to emigrate.

We have to recognise that conditions in this country since the war are not in any sense comparable with what they were in the period between the wars when unemployment encouraged people to migrate. We must consider the important question of whether we should aim at reducing our population from 50 million. I think we should.

There is the finance of migration. Who is to pay for it? Are we to pay to export some of our people? It may be that we should, but we must consider that it has been calculated that a skilled worker emigrating from this country represents about £1,000 in education and technical training and that that leaves the burden to be borne by the people left behind.

Again, it is obvious that in extreme cases we cannot afford to lose millions of young men thus leaving millions of surplus women and elderly people here. There is the question of shortage of shipping and of houses—shipping to take them there and houses for them when they arrive. This is an age when we have done remarkable things in building up and deploying vast mechanised armies thousands of miles from base. Ships now rotting could be converted to carry—as has been suggested—caravans of pioneers to some point across the world where a community was needed to develop the hidden resources of copper, coal, or oil.

This Commonwealth migration is not a private British or private Commonwealth matter. There are millions outside the Commonwealth today who believe that, as a group of nations stretching across the earth, we have a lot to offer the world. We can be proud of being citizens of the Commonwealth which has changed its nature so much and which now embraces men of many religions, many lands and many races. But only by making the best use of the land and the people in the Commonwealth can we develop its strength so that we can continue to count for something in the world.

Let us, as a first step, get rid of any idea that to encourage people to emigrate is to encourage them to run away from the difficulties of living on an overcrowded island off the coast of Europe. Let us rather see mass migration as merely a different deployment of the men and resources of the Commonwealth, a deployment which is necessary if the Commonwealth is to count in the counsels of the world.

I want to be brief as I see that there are other hon. Members who wish to speak. This is not a party matter, and I would ask the Under-Secretary to use his influence so that when the Empire Settlement Bill comes up for Second Reading we can have reasonable time for debate, and not to try to get it through "on the nod."

1.34 a.m.

I should like to thank the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) for his unselfishness in agreeing to share his debate so that we can display the fact that interest in this problem does embrace all sides of the House. I want him to know that we have in the House an all-party committee which has studied this question for some time. I hope that hon. Members who feel as strongly about this subject as we do will join our deliberations to see that we can have extra time for the Empire Settlement Bill. I also hope that it can be arranged that we can have a rather wider discussion than we have had tonight.

It has been made abundantly clear by the hon. Member for Lincoln that this problem must be tackled quickly and energetically. Strategically, the case speaks for itself, and the economy of this country and the Empire underlines the argument. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to give a favourable response to the suggestion that a special committee be formed within the Empire to think practically and seriously upon the problems involved.

The case has been made out; the difficulties in the way are bread and butter ones—houses in the countries to which the people go, ships to get them there, and the problem in some instances of trade union resistance. The sooner we set about solving these bread-and-butter problems the sooner this design, which must be brought about, will take shape.

I support the hon. Gentleman's plea to the Under-Secretary to use his great powers of persuasion with the usual channels so that when we do have the Empire Settlement Bill, which has to be renewed before May this year, we shall not be asked to let it go through "on the nod." If we can have at least half a day, more if possible, it will not be time wasted. If hon. Members will play their part by equipping themselves with arguments before that day comes and if we can leave the impression in this Adjournment debate that here is no party problem, it will be a good beginning.

1.37 a.m.

I associate myself with what has been said in thanking my hon. Friend for giving up some of his time and join both hon. Members who have spoken in pressing that the Empire Settlement Bill should be used as an occasion for a full-blooded debate on the whole question of migration to the Commonwealth.

I ask the Under-Secretary, when he is considering migration as a method of strengthening the economic system of the Commonwealth as a whole, not to forget the excess population that exists in certain parts of Western Europe, particularly in Malta—for which we are responsible—Italy, and Germany. We need these people who are living in overcrowded and under-employed situations, because, quite frankly, we cannot strengthen the Commonwealth from British stock alone.

This is made clear by the Report of the Royal Commission on Population, which I am not going to attempt to digest now. But two points come out strongly. First, the four Commonwealth members interested in migration can absorb migrants at the rate of 2 per cent., or 265,000 people, a year. We as a nation can spare only about 65,000 migrants a year and we ourselves need about 146,000 young people of working age to keep our working population at its present strength. So the problem is really international and not one for the British family of nations alone.

In relation to this, I hope that the Under-Secretary will associate himself with the work of the successor organisation to the International Refugee Organisation, which built up one of the largest shipping and movement organisations for the movement of people from Western Europe to new homes abroad.

There is some objection to bringing foreigners to this country, but I think it is an objection we shall have to overcome. What, after all, is an Englishman? We are all of us mongrels; we are a very mixed race. When we breed pigs and poultry we cross various breeds, thus gaining hybrid vigour. A little hybrid vigour would be a very good thing for this country and the Commonwealth as a whole.

1.41 a.m.

I am grateful for this opportunity of saying a few words about this subject, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr de Freitas) on his choice of a subject well worthy of the Adjournment. Sometimes the subjects do not seem worthy of the time of the House.

I will take note of the suggestion that I should make an approach through the usual channels with a view to seeing that a debate on migration can take place on the Empire Settlement Bill on Second Reading. The present Act expires on 31st May, and it is necessary that the Bill should be passed in order to keep existing arrangements in being.

I would remind the House that the Act enables the British Government to co-operate in schemes for immigration with the Commonwealth Governments. The amount that can be spent under it is limited under the present Act to £1,500,000, and is dependent on our economic resources.

I was asked about the possibilities of having a conference between the three Commonwealth countries—Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. I will certainly take note of this suggestion and report it to the Secretary of State. It may be that the hon. Member for Lincoln would care to let me have his argument about the advisability or advantage of such a conference in a little more detail.

My first reaction is to query whether, on a question like this, the advantages of a conference are very obvious. The question of migration to a particular country seems to me, at first sight, a problem between the United Kingdom and that country, and the requirements and problems of migration of Canada seem to be very different from those of Australia. Therefore, it might seem better that the present system of very close consultation between the Commonwealth countries and the U.K. Government should take place bilaterally rather than in conference.

The hon. Member sees the point, and I will be grateful for any observations or arguments on this point. Migration is one of those subjects where the Department is greatly helped by the interest and experience of hon. Gentlemen, and anyone who has comments to make on my reaction, or on any other part of migration, can greatly help by communicating with me. I will pay the greatest attention to what is said.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Ian Winterbottom) mentioned the migration of other peoples of Western Europe to Commonwealth countries. I did not come prepared on that subject, but it was studied at the Council of Europe, and I was on the sub-committee which dealt with it.

My recollections, speaking entirely from memory, is that a lot of work is done in that sphere not only by the International Refugee Organisation, but by the Commonwealth countries coming to agreement with particular countries. I think there is an Australian-Italian agreement, and I think the German Office of Migration has been very active. Since the end of the war this country has had a very fine record with regard to the admission of foreigners.

Besides the scheme with Australia, under the Empire Settlement Act, we have pursued the closest co-operation with Australia, and, as a result, have managed to send no fewer than 149,000 people under the free and assisted passage scheme which came into operation in 1947. Australia is the only country which has taken advantage, since the war, of the facilities under that Act. New Zealand has undertaken itself to operate a scheme under which at its own expense it sends young and single men and women to New Zealand with free and assisted passages.

The average annual intake of migrants under this scheme has been about 2,500. This programme was enlarged in 1951 to a minimum target of 10,000 assisted migrants. All those selected under this scheme are to receive assisted passages, and a proportion of married applicants for whom accommodation can be provided by their sponsors will be taken.

A point that comes to the mind of anyone who considers emigration is this: given the shifting age content of our population, and the shortage of workers in certain industries, could we approve migration which concentrated on taking out of this country one age group, or particular people like those skilled in agriculture or mining which we need so badly? The general policy of the Government is to assist migration in every way we can, and, at the same time, to urge the Commonwealth Governments to take, as far as possible, a cross-section of the population, and not to go for an undue proportion of the skilled able-bodied because that would be unwise.

One qualification occurs to me about the usefulness of a conference. In a sense, the Commonwealth countries are competing against each other for migrants. The hon. Gentleman may say that is one of the reasons for a conference, since competition in this matter is wasteful. But it also has the other aspect—that each country knows the type of migrant it wants; although they are competing for them, they are looking for different persons to emigrate, and except to agree on the general principle that migration is desirable there might not he enough detail for this conference to consider or reach agreement on—not because there is disagreement, but because there is diversity.

Canada has had an energetic recruitment and advertising campaign. They have made arrangements of their own to encourage migration from the United Kingdom of many carefully selected settlers—as many as can be advantageously absorbed. The employment situation in Canada was such in 1951 that a great impetus was given to that. I expect we have all seen the advertisements by which one of the State Governments moved a large number of migrants by air, which was a very progressive and. I think, useful move.

The question of mass migration is, I think, one that it is not possible to tackle as a short-term measure. It must be a long-term endeavour, and at the present moment Her Majesty's Government would feel that it is not possible to tackle this in view of our short-term difficulties. The Migration Council has done a lot of useful work in putting its case before the public, and my noble Friend has an entirely open mind about this. But the difficulties of shipping and of capital investment, which every migrant needs in the receiving country, make it extremely unlikely that in the present financial circumstances, both in this country and in the receiving Commonwealth countries, that the enormous additional expenditure could be contemplated at this time.

There are many arguments why the population of this country might be usefully reduced from the strategic point of view, but there are also the arguments contained in various parts of the Report on Population, and also those which I adumbrated—the age content of the population and the shortage of labour in certain industries—which militate against the usefulness of embarking on a big mass migration scheme at this stage. If it were possible to have a big mass migration scheme of a real cross-section of the population, that might well be worth looking into.

I conclude by saying that I am very grateful for this opportunity of discussing this matter, and that I will certainly bear in mind the points which have been raised.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Six Minutes to Two o'Clock a.m.