Orders of the Day — Empire Settlement Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 25th January 1937.

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Photo of Mr James de Rothschild Mr James de Rothschild , Isle of Ely

I do not wish to follow the example of the hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) in opposing the Bill. I propose to give it my support, and I hope that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit with me on these benches will do the same thing. One thing I wish to say at once. I deplore, in common with many other Members of this House, the fact that there should be a reduction of £1,500,000 a year in the amount of the Government assistance to emigration from this country. I know that a recommendation to this effect was contained in the interim report of the Overseas Settlement Board, but I am reminded that the committee of the Board which sat at that time was headed by the right hon. Gentleman the present Under-Secretary, that the committee included several other representatives of the Ministry, and, further, that it was through the initiative of the Dominions Office—such at least is the impression left by the report—that this curtailment was recommended. I submit, therefore, that the Government must bear the entire responsibility not only for carrying out but for initiating this policy.

What explanation is offered on behalf of the Government? We heard what the Minister said to-day. On Tuesday last he made what I considered to be a most damaging statement when he said that not to make the reduction would be misleading and would create unjustifiable hopes. We are legislating for a period of 15 years on the expectation that the Government will be prepared to spend £1,500,000 a year for this purpose. The right hon. Gentleman based his hopes for the future on the figures for 1927. That has, so far, proved to be the peak year of migration. In that year 123,000 emigrants left these shores, but I should like to point out that only 61,000 of these were assisted by the Government. The Government in that year expended £1,280,000 and, calculating on that basis, the £1,500,000 which the Government, under this Bill, propose to provide annually, cannot assist more than 72,000 emigrants. The right hon. Gentleman may, of course, hope for more unassisted migration, but even when economic conditions begin to favour migration, I suggest to him that it is unlikely that spontaneous emigration will take place immediately. There is another factor which will influence unassisted migration in the next few years, and that is the dreary and sorrowful experience of so many emigrants from this country during the economic crisis which followed the peak years of emigration. Let us not forget the number who returned to these shores broken and disheartened whether from Australia or from Canada. That is bound to have a strong deterrent effect on future emigration. In view of these considerations, the proposed expenditure will probably not produce the same results as the expenditure in 1927, even should the economic conditions become more favourable.

Yet if spontaneous migration is to revive at all, there must be an improvement in economic conditions. That fact has been pointed out by the Minister himself this afternoon. But what are the Government doing at present to revive inter-Imperial and international trade and bring it back to the figures of 1927? We have had a long and melancholy disquisition from the right hon. Gentleman on the future of our commercial and industrial relations with the Dominions. What he has said to-day is in effect what he said on Tuesday, namely, that we must "wait upon conditions in the Dominions." Yet in the report of the Inter-Departmental Committee, 1934, of which he was Chairman, and in his own speeches, it is made clear that the key to future emigration lies in markets. The Committee said that the Government could give the greatest stimulus to emigration by creating markets for Dominion produce in this country and elsewhere. Beyond uttering a pious wish, as the Minister did to-day, the Government have done nothing except to cut down imports from the Dominions and to inflict tariffs, quotas and restrictions as it has done in every branch of international and inter-Imperial trade. Ottawa, so far, has not proved the blessing which the Government expected it to be, and it is not surprising that the President of the Board of Trade should have to go to Canada now to try to put matters right.

I would like to say a few words about the policy of the Opposition. It is a perfectly nugatory policy and reveals a complete misunderstanding of the motives of those who recommend migration. The hon. Member for Rothwell made a speech to-day which is slightly different from his speech of last Tuesday. He says that his main opposition to the Bill is because of his objection to certain kinds of migration such as child migration. What did he say last Tuesday? He said that he would rather see these people stay at home, and he suggested that the advocates of migration were only concerned with getting rid of them. It is rather surprising that an advocate of the Socialist theory should accuse a capitalist Government and a capitalist society of trying to reduce the supply of competitive labour. But the most damaging speech made from the Labour benches— damaging to the party itself and not to the Bill—was that of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). He delivered one of those vehement and ebullient utterances which often mark the short periods he occasionally spends in this House. On this occasion he asked hon. Members to show him why emigration should be regarded as self-evidently desirable. He said: Everybody has started off in this Debate with the premise that emigration of itself is desirable, that it is a good thing that we should export some of our best manhood from Great Britain to the Dominions. Why should it be regarded as a good thing?"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th January, 1937; col. 74, Vol. 319.] I submit that the hon. Member's question was answered in 1931, when there was a Labour Government sitting on the benches opposite and when the hon. Member for Rothwell was at the Dominions Office under Lord Passfield. The answer was given by Mr. G. D. H. Cole, whom no one in this House or anywhere else I am sure, would suspect of being other than a true Socialist. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Anyhow if he is not regarded as such to-day, it is probably because he realised as many other people did, how incapable the Labour Government proved itself to be in 1929 to 1931. But he was then the apostle of the Labour party and the Labour Government, and he was a member of the Economic Advisory Council which inquired into the emigration problem and reported in July, 1931, though the report was not published until 1932. The Committee concluded: It is of great importance that a steady flow of British migrants to the Dominions should be maintained. Mr. Cole did not dissent from that conclusion. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale apparently would not agree with Mr. Cole on that—