Empire Settlement Bill.

– in the House of Commons on 8th November 1929.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Sir Annesley Somerville Sir Annesley Somerville , Windsor

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

In moving the Second Reading of a Bill, Private Members are always anxious to appeal to the House on the ground that their Measure is a little one. I am afraid I cannot appeal to the House on that ground, because this Bill deals with the largest subject which can be dealt with in this Empire. If it were not for the fact that this Bill is with some omissions identical with one which received a Second Reading without a division on the 24th February of last year, I should hesitate very considerably before asking the House, at the end of the day, to consider it. The Bill which received a Second Reading last year received very considerable support outside the House, and in the Dominions. Representatives of the 22 chief voluntary agencies, engaged in the work of migration and settlement, met at the Royal Colonial Institute, now the Royal Empire Society, and unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Bill; and there was considerable support in the Press.

3.0 p.m.

The resources overseas are illimitable, and here we have brains and man-power and capital which, in conjunction with the brains and man-power and capital of the Dominions, may do great things in developing the Empire. There are certain things which migration policy is not. It is not a cure for unemployment; it is essentially a policy of Empire development; but there is no question that in the long run the progress of that development must produce a large measure of productive employment. The Empire Settlement Bill does not represent a policy of migrating agricultural workers and domestic servants from this country. At the present time we have but a bare sufficiency of those workers. It is a policy for helping to migrate from our cities and towns young men and women and young families who are fit and willing to under take the adventure. It is not a policy of sending people out of the country, During the Debate last year exception was taken, I think by my hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Snell), to the use of the word "send." The word "send" is used as a convenient term. The right hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) objected to our always wanting to send the poor. The answer is that we do not; we want to send all ranks and classes. I belong to a committee which has for its object to send out to the Dominions for settlement public schoolboys. I have a brother who went out to the Pacific Coast at the age of 16 years. He is now a regular Western farmer, and I go to see him sometimes; and one of his chief phrases is "Get busy." Their philosophy of life may be summed up in the words of the Western songster: I take no thought for my neighbour's birth,Nor how he makes his prayer,I give him a white man's place on earth,If only his game is square. I am bound to say that I have a great deal of sympathy with that philosophy; and when people say that migration is a class movement which is meant to send out the poor or to get rid of unemployment, I feel that they are misrepresenting the case. I remember that some years ago beyond Calgary I visited two farms side by side. On one I found the owner reaping a magnificent field of oats with a fine team of horses. He was a public schoolboy. In the next farm there was a Scotsman; he had been a labourer in Scotland; and he had a fine herd of pedigree cattle. Each of those men had taken a quarter section of 160 acres and developed it himself, and had added to that another quarter section, and each of them had a fine farm of 320 acres, which he had produced with very hard work. I mention those things to show that this is not a class matter, but a matter for the whole nation and for the Dominions.

With regard to the position of migration, it is well known to the House that the Act which this Bill seeks to amend was introduced in 1922 and was the result of the conference of Prime Ministers in London in 1921 which discussed the possibility of co-operation in the matter of settlement and migration. That Measure was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) who has a thorough and extensive knowledge of the Empire, especially the Dominions, and who has just returned from the successful ascent of a very difficult peak named Mount Amery—and we are very glad to see him back in safety. He introduced that Measure in a speech of great power and eloquence and has worked hard to make it a success. If it has not been the success which we all hoped for, that is not the right hon. Gentleman's fault but the fault of circumstances which he could not control. That it has not been altogether a success is shown by the fact that, although it makes provision for a possible expenditure of £ 3,000,000 per year for the encouragement of migration and settlement, which would mean an expenditure of £ 21,000,000 since it was passed, yet less than £ 7,000,000, or under one-third of the possible expenditure, has been voted and spent.

If we compare the number of migrants in pre-War times with those of recent years the result is disappointing. That is one of the chief reasons for the congestion of population and the unemployment which prevail in this island. In the years 1910–1913, 803,613 emigrants left this country. In the years 1925–1928 the number was 386,254—an enormous drop. These figures, however, are modified in these respects. The first figure includes the emigrants from the whole of Ireland and the second excludes those from the Irish Free State. Further, the first figure does not distinguish between visitors and settlers, but, even allowing for these facts, the disparity is enormous. Migration to Canada has been maintained on a fair level and has indeed increased. In 1925 it was 38,600; last year it was 54,709. Migration to Australia has diminished from 35,000 in 1925 to 28,714 last year. In the case of New Zealand there has been a serious drop from 11,730 in 1925 to 4,975 last year. This drop is due largely to economic causes such as the failure of markets, especially butter, and we may hope for an improvement in the future. What are the causes of this comparative failure—I say comparative, because considerable results have been achieved under the 1922 Act. Well, take the causes at home. First there is the cost of the passage which has greatly increased since the War. Before the War the cost of a passage to Canada was £5 15s.; to-day it is £ 16, and it costs a family of man, wife and two children about £160 to go to Canada to settle there. Before the War the cost of a passage to Australia was £18; to-day it is £37, and it would cost the same family £240 to go to Australia.

Then there is the reluctance of parents to allow their children to go, and there is the question of social insurance. The House will remember that the Maclean Committee was appointed to report as to the effect upon migration of our schemes of social insurance. Their report was that as yet the effect was not great, but that it was growing, especially among the young; and since that report was published it has become evident that the effect of social insurance in rendering possible emigrants reluctant to leave this country has been more pronounced. I will say a word later as to the provisions in the present pensions Bill with regard to this matter.

Those are some of the causes operating at home, but, as the Lord Privy Seal told us on Monday, there are at present, and have been for a long time, 50,000 people in this country willing and ready to migrate, and they include a large number of the right type of migrants. Therefore, we must look overseas for the chief difficulties. What are they? In Canada the intending emigrant has to comply with a great many conditions, and an assited passage under the Act of 1992 is granted only to land workers or domestic workers, or to the nominees of people already settled in Canada, and the nominator has to be responsible for the maintenance of the nominee should the latter come to grief. Those provisions greatly check the numbers who go out under assisted passages. In Australia there is a great fear that if too many migrants are admitted the standard of life will be lowered and the number of unemployed increased.

When the late Secretary of State for the Dominions was in Australia, at the end of last year or the beginning of this, he pointed out at Sydney that every migrant to Australia was a potential customer and increased the value of the Australian markets. We see from the news papers that there is a possibility of the £ 34,000,000 scheme being closed down; I believe there is nothing official about it at present, hut there is a report that the new Commonwealth Government have re solved to close it down. That scheme provides that for every £750,000 of loan issued by the Commonwealth Government and expended by the State Governments on development to provide means for the settlement of these migrants we pro vide £150,000; and there is the further condition that 450,000 persons from this country are to be settled in Australia in 10 years. It is quite possible, as was said to me by a friend who has considerable knowledge of the subject, that Australia is thinking the matter over and saying to herself, "We are putting the cart before the horse. We are not making our absorbing power great enough. We should develop more quickly before we encourage migrants." It is quite possible that Australia is taking that view, but we hope the scheme will not be closed down, and that both development and absorption will go on together.

May I say a word about the work of the voluntary societies? They have been doing splendid work for many years. There is, for instance, the Church Army, which last year sent out nearly 900 per sons, the Church of England Council for Empire Settlement, which sent out 1,019, and the Salvation Army, who do splendid work. Lieut.-Colonel Manning, the director of migration at Australia House, once said to me, "The Salvation Army give us 22s. in the pound." Between 1st April and 30th September this year the Salvation Army sent out nearly 1,600 people. Then there is the Society for the Overseas Settlement of British Women. They have been doing fine work, and it is particularly interesting to see the increasing migration of women. It is very necessary that there should be this increase, because it is impossible for a man to be a successful settler unless his wife is contented.

Let me give an example. I was introduced to one of the families settled in Canada, who went out under the 3,000 families' scheme. The husband had been a taxi driver in Beaconsfield, and his wife had been a dressmaker near Gerrards Cross. I was going round with the Government agent, a particularly fine fellow, in an old Ford, which nearly broke down. While the ex-taxi driver put the Ford right I took the opportunity of having a talk with his wife. She told me that when she first came out she often found herself crying without knowing why. The point was that when she came out she had no knowledge of domestic work. She could not bake nor cook, and was almost helpless. The Government agent got a neighbour to teach her these things. She was of the right sort and stuck to it, and made good, and, although we came upon her quite unexpectedly, she provided us with an excellent meal. She baked her own bread and grew her own vegetables. I mention this case to emphasise the necessity of giving elementary training to women in domestic work before they go out.

Speaking of the assisted passages, in 1923 the proportion of women to men was about 10,000 to 18,000, but in 1927 the proportion had risen and was 18,000 women to 20,000 men. Recently, two useful things have been done regarding migration. One was the institution of the £10 passage. That was the work of the late Government, and it has been very successful. It came into operation at the beginning of this year, and the result has been striking. For the first six months of its working, more than 26,000 persons have gone out under the scheme. This scheme, I may remind the House, is the result of an arrangement made between the Secretary of State for the Dominions, and the steamship line, to take to Canada emigrants for £10 each. The Canadian Government have nothing to say to that. Anyone of any trade can take advantage of it. It is not confined to agricultural or domestic workers. The result has been very satisfactory and in the nine months that it has been in operation over 46,000 persons have taken advantage of it. That shows that it is not true to say that the spirit of enterprise is dead in this country. There are plenty of people ready to take advantage of the opportunities that are offered.

Turning to the provisions of the Bill, its central provision is one that would give the Secretary of State power to vary the 50–50 basis of the Act of 1922. That is in Clause 2, and it requires a Financial Resolution. It was because the Bill of last year required a Financial Resolution that it died. It was postponed for the Report of the Industrial Transference Board, and that Report appeared too late to allow the Bill to get into Committee. Clause 2 gives the Secretary of State power to bear the whole or any part of the expense incurred under an agreed scheme or other approved scheme. Clause 1 brings these Islands into the Empire. It provides that a person who has received training at an approved centre may settle in this country and receive assistance under the Bill. That ought to commend itself to a good many of my hon. Friends on the benches opposite.

Clause 2 would also give the Secretary of State power to come to the assistance of the voluntary societies who are doing such good work. It would give him power to deal with the Australian passage, for instance, in the same way in which he has dealt with the Canadian passage, and that, I believe, would have a similar excellent effect. It would also give him power to help the local committees which are set up in various parts of the country to assist migration. There is the York shire Migration Committee; Kent does work in that respect, and there are various other committees. Then there is the training centre at Linzie, near Glasgow, which is doing good work and which might very well be assisted further by the Secretary of State; and there is the Market Harborough training centre for women which is carried on on the 50–50 principle with Australia and which deserves further help. Beyond that, Clause 2 would give the Secretary of State power to help in a large scheme of settlement under his own direction, under the direction of the Government here. I will say a word about that presently. The second useful thing that has happened recently is the provision in the Contributory Pensions Bill which is now before the House of the right of a man who is insured to continue his contributions and take his pension rights with him. I believe that that will have a most excellent effect in encouraging migration to the Dominions. It may be said that there may be objections on the part of the Dominions to a special class being formed with pension rights in the Dominions; but, after all, are there not a great many inhabitants of the Dominions who receive pensions from this country? There are a good many of them, for instance, in Victoria, Vancouver Island, where many British civil servants have settled who enjoy pensions from this country.

One matter in which the Secretary of State would be greatly assisted by Clause 2 is in regard to such a scheme as that of a Chartered Company, but before coming to that I should like to say a word about Clause 3, which deals with the appointment of a board of five persons to be described as the Empire Settlement Board. That proposal was not received with favour by the late Secretary of State for the Dominions, but I have retained it in order that the matter may, if possible, be thoroughly discussed. The object of that Clause, and it has received very great support, is to bring to the aid of this great question the biggest business minds that we can command.

The House is familiar with the constitution of the present Oversea Settlement Committee which meets either once a fortnight or once a month. It consists of eminent persons, men of business, men connected with shipping, and eminent ladies who have done much public work, but all these persons have to attend to their own businesses. They cannot give the attention that ought to be given to this great work—the greatest work of the Empire. It is necessary to have whole-time people of the best brains to deal with it. The late Government did not look with favour upon the provision of that Board, but in July of last year they appointed Lieut.-Colonel Hudson as director of voluntary organisation in this country. Unfortunately, his death occurred, and it was a very severe loss to the Board. Mr. Crutchley, C.B.E., was appointed the representative of the Secretary of State in Australia in connection with migration, and in September Sir William Clark, Comptroller-General, Department of Overseas Trade, gave up his appointment as Member of the Oversea Settlement Committee, and proceeded to Canada to take up the office, of High Commissioner in that Dominion. Finally, in December, Mr. Amery announced that he had appointed Lord Lovat as whole-time Chairman of the Oversea Settlement Committee. In Lord Lovat he found an ideal Chairman, a man who had had experience of men, knew the Dominions, and was full of vigour. Unfortunately, Lord Lovat, who proceeded to make a tour of the Dominions, lost his health, and the result was that he had to resign, and his place has not yet been filled. Even if such a Board as is suggested by the Bill is not appointed, I would strongly suggest to the Under-Secretary that a full-time Chairman of the type of Lord Lovat should be appointed to deal with this great question.

I will say a few words about this scheme of a chartered company. What are the chief obstacles to the success of migration and settlement? There are too many heads engaged in it. We want single management, where possible. Also we want to give the Dominions the inducement of capital coming into the country, the right kind of population, and to increase their markets. Some of us believe that that can only be done on a large scale by means of such a scheme as was put into operation after the Napoleonic war in 1820—the scheme introduced into South Africa which produced prosperous towns and led to great progress in South Africa. Also in the basin of the St. Lawrence the same process was adopted. Why cannot that be done now? There are tracts of land in British Columbia in the Peace River country, and in Western Australia between the Esperance River and the Great Southern Railway—large tracts of most suitable country which could be made useful if thoroughly developed by a chartered company. What has been done in the past can be done again. Such a scheme should be supported by the Government, by municipalities, and by mil- lionaires and people of good will. Municipalities would, no doubt, be ready to come into a scheme of this kind.

There is an organisation in Leeds, largely due to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North East Leeds (Sir J. Birchall), which sent out to West Australia a number of families. Some did not do very well, but those of the right, type have succeeded. My hon. and gallant Friend has received a letter from one of the settlers, who was at one time a police constable in Leeds. He writes of the experiences of some of the families, 13 are mentioned, all city workers, and his comments in regard to them are these: I think most of us are pretty well satisfied with the life. I know I am, and those who have put their backs into the job will have little to regret. I mention that in order to show that there are all over the country, in our large cities and towns, groups of people who would be willing to take advantage of such a scheme as I have mentioned. The idea is that a chartered company should be formed to take over suitable tracts of land, which should be very care fully chosen by responsible experts, and that the development of those tracts should be taken in hand, but not on a large scale at once. It would be futile to send out thousands of people at once; begin with a few hundred. Make roads, lay railroads as feeders to existing main lines, lay out farms and build cottages. You would need all kinds of workers in carrying out that work. While they were working they would become acclimatised to the country, and a settlement would gradually be formed which would be the magnet to attract other settlers from this country.

This is a plan which commends itself to many practical men, such as the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Wardlaw-Milne). There was a letter in the "Times," not long ago, signed by one of the hon. Members for the Scottish Universities (Mr. John Buchan) and other Members of this House, advocating a similar scheme. The hon. Member has gone very thoroughly into the (matter. I recommend the scheme to the consideration of the Under-Secretary. The subject is a large one, and I can scarcely hope that this Bill will receive a Second Reading to-day, but if the Under-Secretary would allow the Bill to go to Committee it could be amended in every possible way, and it might be made into something that would be useful. At any rate, it might be made a means of doing something for a cause that we all have so much at heart, and that is the welfare of our people here and overseas.

Photo of Mr William Brown Mr William Brown , Wolverhampton West

No one will question the sincerity or the goodness of purpose of the hon. Member who has just sat down, but my hon. Friend will forgive me if I say—

Photo of Sir Annesley Somerville Sir Annesley Somerville , Windsor

On a point of Order. May I ask the hon. Member if he is seconding? Is it necessary to have a Seconder?

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

It is not necessary to have a Seconder.

Photo of Mr William Brown Mr William Brown , Wolverhampton West

There is no relation between the terms of this Bill and the purpose which the hon. Member desires to serve. As I read it, its purpose is two fold: first, to enable the Secretary of State to use the powers of an earlier Act of 1922 to bear the cost of training people in this country to settle on the land of this country, and, secondly, to facilitate the migration of people in this country to other parts of the Empire by conferring on the Secretary of State powers which he does not possess at the present time. Those are the two purposes of this Bill, and I begin with the observation that both are unnecessary and both are undesirable. If the object of the hon. Member is to increase the settlement of English people on English land then the way to do that is not to authorise the Secretary of State to spend money for the training of English people to go upon the land, for the plain fact is that it is not the absence of training which makes it difficult for English people to cultivate their own country. What makes it difficult is the whole land tenure system of the country, and as a solution to that problem the proposal in this Bill is about as relevant as applying a corn plaster to a wooden leg. In short, it has no relevancy whatever.

During the last 60 years there have gone out of cultivation in Great Britain some 3,000,000 or 3,250,000 acres of cultivable land, and during the same period the number of people engaged in agricultural pursuits has diminished by 50 per cent.

To put it differently, for every two men engaged upon the land in 1870 the number now engaged is only one. It seems to me to be of the highest possible importance that the decline of agriculture in this country should be arrested. Our present community is thoroughly illbalanced. It is a community in which industry has been developed to an enormous degree, while agriculture has been allowed to go steadily downhill, and, although I speak from the Labour Benches, there is no proposal which would tend to the development of agriculture at the expense of industry to which I would not be prepared to give sympathetic consideration, for I believe that any community which becomes over-industrialised is an unhealthy community from the social point of view. If this particular Bill offered the slightest prospect of contributing, in however small a degree, to the better balancing of agriculture and industry in this country I would go into the Division Lobby in support of it. In point of fact, it will not contribute a single iota to the better balancing of agriculture and industry, because it fails to touch the root of our present over industrialisation, and the present decline of agriculture. The root of that problem is to be found, not in the absence of facilities for the training of men who desire to work on the soil; it is to be found in the nature of the land system to which this Bill is completely irrelevant.

The second purpose of the Bill is to promote the migration of people from this country to other parts of the earth. Whenever any community places public money behind emigration schemes, that fact is a confession that the social system of the country which the men are leaving is failing to serve its primary purpose. It is perfectly open to a private citizen to migrate from this country to another in the belief that thereby he may improve his own prospects in life, but when State money is placed behind emigration schemes it is a confession that the social system of the country is failing to fulfil its primary purpose. The assumption underlying any scheme of migration is the assumption that there is in this country a surplus population which can not be provided for and must therefore be assisted to emigrate. I deny that there is any surplus population in this country. It is true that there is a large unemployment problem, but that is an entirely different thing. The root of the unemployment problem does not lie in the fact that there is a surplus population here, but in the fact that under a capitalist system our people cannot buy back with the wages that they receive the goods that they have produced.

As has been said from this side of the House more than once recently, the problem of unemployment in England is not a problem of over production but of under-consumption. If the hon. Member opposite wants to deal with that problem, the way is not to propose to facilitate the export of thousands of good workers to other countries, but to work, in a Socialist sense, for the abolition of the capitalist system, which produces a nominal surplus of population in this country corresponding to no real surplus at all. To summarise, the two purposes of this Bill are, first, to train people for service on the land, access to which is denied them by the land owning system of this country, and, secondly, to export people from their own country on the assumption that they are part of a surplus population, whereas in fact no surplus population exists in this country. The Bill misconceives the nature of the problem to be dealt with, and its pro posed remedies are irrelevant to that problem. On both of those grounds it will give me the greatest possible pleasure in the world to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Arthur Ponsonby Mr Arthur Ponsonby , Sheffield, Brightside

The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville) was fortunate in getting in on the third Order on a Friday afternoon, but I think he will realise that an hour gives very inadequate time for dealing with such a vast subject. This Bill is another version of the Bill that I think procured a Second Reading in February last year, but there has been a change of Government since then, and perhaps I may be allowed very briefly to give a general opinion on this subject. I should have welcomed the opportunity, had it arisen later, of being able to reply to the hon. Member by giving a full and detailed description of Government policy with regard to migration, but I am not able to do that. I became Chairman of the Over sea Settlement Committee when the Government was formed in May of this year, and the Vice-Chairman soon after wards received promotion, so that a new Vice-Chairman has taken his place. We are engaged now in very carefully examining the activities at the Oversea Settlement Department, in investigating very closely the results of the Over sea Settlement Act, and in coming to some sort of conclusion as to whether and, if so, how Governmental interference with assisted emigration is to be encouraged or otherwise. We have not proceeded sufficiently far yet to come to any definite conclusion. The use of the Oversea Settlement Department, which was set up after the passing of the Act, has been to construct a little tower from which we are able to survey the whole field, with regard to assisted migration, the efforts of voluntary societies, where and how the Government interferes, whether or not hostels and training centres are advisable, and generally to see how best this subject should be dealt with.

I think I heard the hon. Member for Windsor say that this must not be regarded as a Measure for dealing with unemployment. I would go further than that. I deprecate very much this question of migration being dragged into politics at all. It is not a political question; it is a scientific question, and a very complicated question. On the surface, it is easy to say there are vast tracts abroad and a congested population here, and to ask why we do not shift the population to the Dominions and so solve many different problems in one go. The whole thing is very much more complicated than that. There should be no question of sending people, driving people and inducing people to leave this country; there are, at the same time, a number of adventurous spirits, especially among the boys, who are anxious to go out and to try their fortunes in the Dominions, and it is useful to see how best they can be assisted. You have to take into account, first of all, the willingness and the desire of the would-be settler; secondly, the fitness of that would-be settler; thirdly, the method by which he can be transferred from this country to the Dominion of his choice; and, fourthly, and the most important, what are the desires of the Dominion Governments with regard to his reception, and whether they are anxious to have him or not.

That is the underlying point which has to be examined very much more closely before the Government can give any considered policy on this question. That is to say, we must have close consultation with the Dominions as to whether or not they desire assisted emigration, and to what extent they want men, families, young women and boys to go to their countries. They have grave unemployment and economic problems both in Australia and New Zealand, which very naturally may make them hesitate to take advantage of any great influx of new population. In building up their population, they set up certain regulations, and we have to consult them at every step as to what their wishes are. It is because these consultations are proceeding, more especially in regard to the Commonwealth of Australia since the formation of their new Government, that it is impossible for me to make any sort of statement of policy to-day. With regard to Clause 1, I am in complete agreement with what my hon. Friend behind me said. I think that it is a great mistake to introduce into Empire settlement questions this question of British agriculture. The title of this Bill is to "amend the Empire Settlement Act, 1922, and for other purposes connected with settlement and migration within the Empire," and the object of that Act is to provide for further settlement in His Majesty's Oversea Dominions.

He has entirely altered its character in bringing in what I think extraneous, very debatable and controversial matter which in itself very much spoils the effect of his Bill. But let me say, as Chairman of the Empire Settlement Committee, that we are engaged in examining this very intricate problem. I approve of the setting up of this Department because it gives us an opportunity of being able to examine the problem from a point of view which would be impossible otherwise. We are in close touch with the Dominions overseas and can watch migration from every point of view and see in what way matters can be improved, so that it will be possible for us to base a policy which shall be satisfactory in the future. I was very glad to hear the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of this Bill refer favourably to the officials who have gone to Canada and Australia. They have been of great value to us, and just now, when they are making some possible change of policy in the Commonwealth Government. Mr. Crutchley's services there are of very great value. I hope the hon. Gentleman at some future time, perhaps, will afford us an opportunity of making a statement, when we shall be prepared to do so.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. Tinne.]

Debate to be resumed upon Friday next, 15th November.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at Three minutes before Four o'Clock, until Monday next, 11th November.