Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Commerce. – in the House of Commons on 14th November 1933.
asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs for a statement as to the present position of negotiations with the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments regarding the British settlers; whether the contractual rights of the British Government have been safeguarded; and whether he is satisfied that the terms of settlement are equitable?
Mr. J. H. THOMAS:
The position is that certain proposals have been agreed upon between the Victoria and Commonwealth Governments and that those proposals are embodied in legislation which is now before the Victorian Parliament, and will, I hope, be passed into law at an early date. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have informed His Majesty s Government in the Commonwealth that they regard the arrangements proposed as in all the circumstances a reasonable adjustment of the matters inquired into by the Royal Commission and that, on the assumption that those arrangements will be promptly carried into effect, they arc prepared, in relation to the migrant settlers involved, to waive the contractual rights which are vested in them under the Migration Agreements against His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia.
Did the Government have it within their power to influence the settlement in any way? Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that a flat rate contribution by the Governments in question to the settlers, irrespective of the amount of capital involved, is satisfactory?
Immediately the Government heard of the distress of these settlers we took steps to press for an inquiry. We pressed for years for an inquiry. Immediately the inquiry concluded and recommendations were made we pressed the Victorian Government for a prompt settlement. It is not for me to argue the merits of the settlement, but it is clearly for me to indicate that throughout we have always had a moral obligation to the settlers and that we have done our best to promote the best settlement possible.
The right hon. Gentleman says that he is satisfied with the settlement. Has he taken any steps to ascertain whether the migrants affected are satisfied? They are British subjects.
I know, but it would be impossible for me to ask every migrant whether he is satisfied. It would be like asking my hon. Friend whether he is satisfied with the Government.
In view of the fact that through the ordinary channels, intimation has been made that this matter can be discussed, and as the details of the settlement are not in the possession of the House, would it not be better to have the question discussed on the Adjournment?
I gathered through the usual channels that there was a desire to discuss this matter to-night, and I understand that that arrangement stands. The Government are quite ready for the discussion to take place.
The right hon. Gentleman had a man on the spot; the British Government had a representative on the Commission. Has that representative of the Government taken steps to find out how this settlement is being received by the migrants themselves? Has he reported?
We are well aware of the strong feeling of the migrants and that numbers of them are dissatisfied. That is obvious. But the question that affects the Government is this: Having regard to all the circumstances and the fact that there are other settlers concerned was this the best settlement that in our judgment could be made? Obviously, we would have liked the settlement to be better, but it is the best settlement that was possible.
asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether, in view of the admission by the Premier of Victoria, on 9th November, that real justice had not been done to the British settlers, the terms offered to them with the concurrence of the Home Government are to be regarded as final?
asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether, in view of the admission by the Premier of Victoria that real justice had not been done to the British migrants settled in that State, under arrangement with the British Government, by the proposals for compensation, lie intends to take any further action in the matter
I understand that, in that part of his speech to which these questions relate, the Premier of Victoria was referring solely to the question of a flat rate of compensation to all settlers as against a rate varying according to, the amount of capital originally possessed by each individual settler. As the House has already been informed, I have reached the conclusion, after the most careful consideration, that the arrangements proposed constitute, in all the circumstances, a reasonable adjustment of a very difficult matter.
In view of the severe condemnation passed by the Royal Commission on the treatment of the British ex-service migrants by the Victorian Government, does the right hon. Gentleman not agree with the migrants who are unanimous in thinking that the terms offered to them are miserably inadequate?
I understand that this question is to be raised later this evening, and I would not like to anticipate my reply.