Orders of the Day — Empire Settlement Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st April 1952.

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Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton 12:00 am, 21st April 1952

I think the Minister of Labour deflated a great deal of hot air which is so often talked upon this subject. One so often finds when emigration is mentioned a passionate desire to depopulate these islands, a desire based upon that curious idea which I think the right hon. Gentleman expressed extremely well, that all emigrants are consumers and all immigrants are producers.

We talk about over-population. What in the world does over-population mean? Humanity lives in groups. As against the neighbouring field, the local village is over-populated, and so it is in the world. Here we have a population of some 50 odd million, and this country provides better and more comfortable conditions in which to live for that 50 odd million than is provided almost anywhere else in the world. Why, therefore, should we talk of there being over-population in this country?

It used often to be said that emigration was the cure for unemployment. That is an old fallacy, but this time it is in reverse. Everybody who emigrates leaves vacant a job for somebody else to fill, but in the context of unemployment everybody forgets the emigrant's function as a consumer and his function as somebody who creates a job for other people. I think that was brought home very forcibly during the fuel crisis. There were not enough people in the mines with the result that there was not enough coal, and therefore the whole industry of the country came to a standstill for a time.

Remembering that, I think we ought to realise that we do not solve unemployment by reducing our population. In fact, each person who is here is creating jobs for other people. Again, emigration is suggested as a solution for the housing problem. The one thing which is absolutely certain is that everybody who emigrates from this country emigrates from a country with more houses to a country with less houses, because this country has more houses per head of the population than any other country in the world with, I think, the doubtful exception of Sweden, which is not generally discussed in connection with emigration schemes.

Again, there is the suggestion that we need a vast emigration policy for strategic reasons. This seems to me to be one of the quaintest reasons of all to be advanced, because what happens if we go to war? The very first thing we do is to put every bit of transport we have into action to bring more people here. More men and women are always wanted in this country in the event of war. The assumption that in war-time most of our people are not even worth their keep seems, in a sense, the maddest point of view. I do not think it works out that way. Indeed, all experience shows that in war-time there is a more tremendous need for the services of everybody even than in peacetime. Therefore, the idea that for strategic reasons one should reduce populations seems to me to be certainly contrary to any experience.

Over and above all this, one has also to consider the problem of an ageing population. I congratulate the Minister upon one of the most satisfactory aspects of the scheme covered by this Bill—that it has not been exclusively concerned with the export of the most desirably aged groups. It has been concerned with a cross-section of the population, though that has not been a perfect cross-section and it never will be.

Any large-scale emigration would always tend to leave more old people behind and take more young people away if only because it is the younger people who are less set in their ways and who have the inclination to emigrate. Therefore, any emigration standing by itself must aggravate the problem created by an ageing population.

There is also the question which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Labour did not deal with at any length—the dislocation of an industrial economic organisation which has been designed for an existing population if one suddenly reduces that population, a dislocation the ramifications of which are difficult to anticipate precisely but which one can well imagine. Again one has to consider this matter not merely from the point of view of Britain, which is the giving end, but from the point of view of the Dominion, which is the receiving end.

The bland assumption is always made that here are vast areas waiting to be occupied and developed and that here, if only people could go out, are a great many new acres which will come into production. That is a form of thinking which, if I may put it that way, we learned a little better of as a result of the groundnuts scheme. The idea is that one looks at a map and one sees a large bit of red and one says, "That is splendid, look how big this is, quite as big as Britain and therefore it can grow as much as Britain does. It can produce as much as Britain does if only we can get the people there." But that does not work out in practice.

There may be 100 or 1,000 acres available for a man in Central Australia, but that 100 or 1,000 acres very often do not provide him with as good a living as half an acre would do in England. One has to consider not merely housing and industrial equipment available for him to work the land, but the actual growing capacity of the land itself. In many of these areas that growing capacity has been greatly exaggerated. We are all developed by our environment. We are most suited in the environment where we have been developed, and to assume that any man will be not merely as useful but more useful in a new environment, with new techniques, new companions, new ways and habits, seems to me to be an assumption which is difficult to support. None the less I support this Bill, and I believe that in spite of all these elements, an emigration policy is highly important for this country, but I believe that it must be combined with an immigration policy into this country.

Today we are faced with the problem of the expelees in Germany, and I believe that this is the gravest of all the problems which face Europe today. There are some 6 million to 7 million people who are genuinely surplus population, people who are in an area where they are not provided with the opportunity of making a living for themselves, people with a desperate desire to return to their homes, that desperate desire being one which can only be achieved in war. Where we have 6 million or 7 million virile, capable people with a vested interest in the prospect of war, that is a danger in any community, and I believe that the peace of Europe depends very largely on our providing a solution for those 6 million or 7 million expelees at present in Germany.

The various nations—Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada—are areas with populations relatively small compared with ours. Any number of people who emigrate to them represent a far higher proportion of the population in their new homes than they do in England. That is what we have got to consider. I think that we should release restrictions upon people coming into this country and that we should provide more homes for these people who desperately need homes.

I believe that a successful community requires some circulation of population. Constantly in our history we have received into our population foreign emigrants, and every time we have profited from their arrival. There are the Huguenots, the Flemish weavers and the Normans. I believe we are already profiting from the arrival of the Balts whom we received after the last war. I believe this sort of policy should be continued, and I think also that it is an aspect of full employment.

I do not know whether hon. Members opposite still believe in full employment; they seem at times to be a little doubtful about it, but if we believe in full employment then we necessarily believe that every man shall have a choice of job, and if every man has a choice of job the result will be that there will always be some jobs which not enough people choose. That has already been our experience. We shall not solve that problem merely by raising the wages of the most unpleasant jobs. As one's system becomes more successful there will be a greater tendency for people to adopt the attitude that there are jobs which they will not take at any price.

The problem can only be solved by bringing into the community people from areas less fortunate than these islands—people who will be pleased to come and form part of our community—on condition that they enter into certain undermanned industries for a certain number of years. We have had that experience already. The trade unions will have gradually to bring their members to accept that fact, and the fact that a full employment policy will only be operated upon the basis of an immigration at one end and an emigration at the other. We shall have done much for the peace of the world; we shall have done much for many desperately unhappy frustrated lives; we shall have done much for human happiness, and I think we shall have done much for our own community as well, if we can help to solve the problem of the expelees, which is both a threat and a blight to Europe.

Here we have an opportunity. The International Governmental Committee has been formed. It has taken over I.R.O. If I may have the attention of the Minister for a moment I should like to ask him this question: What subscription are we going to make to the International Governmental Committee, whose purpose it is to deal with these expelees? Can the Minister give an answer? The Committee's budget at present is £10 million. The Americans have provided half of that. What are we going to do about it? Here is the problem of the disposal of these homeless people, which is a vital problem for us. Are we only going to get a sneer from the Minister? This is a question of vital importance. What are we going to do about this?

I am ready to give way at any moment if the Minister will reply. Are we not to get any sort of reply to this question? Does the Minister regard this problem as a trifling one? Does he regard it as irrelevant to the purposes of this Bill? Is it not vital to the purposes of this Bill? Or does the Patronage Secretary's imposition of silence apply to his Ministers as well as to his back benchers?

I think this is quite a new experience. I have never before in this House found a Minister in charge of a Bill solemnly refusing to give any kind of answer during a final speech. It is not a question of his waiting for his speech. It is something quite new and something which does not seem to me to be wholly respectful to this House. Are we really not going to get an answer? Will not the Minister ask the Chief Whip to give him permission to open his mouth? This artificially silenced party opposite—