§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. J. E. B. Hill.]
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
There are two principal aims in child migration which I wish to bring before the House this evening. The first, which is common to all migration projects, is to increase the British population in the empty spaces of the Commonwealth, where there are unrivalled resources of fine farmland and mineral and industrial wealth which remain still relatively undeveloped.
The second aim, certainly not less important, is to rescue the children of broken homes and a bad environment in the United Kingdom and to open for them what I might call the door of opportunity to a happy and hopeful future in our great overseas Commonwealth. Instead of a cheerless back-street existence, often unloved and unwanted, these children, if they go to Australia, are given the fresh air, sunshine and beauty of the countryside; a new start in a new country and the prospect of a full and useful life.
950 To hon. Members who have studied the four successive Reports of the Oversea Migration Board in the last four years, and to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State who is himself the Chairman of that Board, the background to the subject of child migration is well known. Before the war there were Canadian schemes which lapsed mainly owing to dollar difficulties—I hope only temporarily—but today we are concerned only with Australia and with the various voluntary societies which are concerned with child migration to that country.
There are, in fact, about a dozen organisations doing extremely valuable work in this field. Most of them are financed perhaps by private endowments, certainly by private subscriptions, supplemented by contributions from the Australian Government and by an allowance of 10s. per week per child which is made by Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.
There are today many unfilled vacancies in the excellent homes run by the voluntary societies. Some of us here, and indeed the Overseas Migration Board of which my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin) is also a member, have from time to time urged the Government—and the Under-Secretary, as Chairman of the Board, has himself urged as Under-Secretary of State —to increase the child allowance from 10s. a week to a £1 a week. Finance, however, is not really the limiting factor in this matter. There is not a lack of money, but, surprisingly enough, a lack of children. The reason why more children are not going to Australia under these schemes arises from the Children Act of 1948 which established a nationwide system of public care by local authorities for children in need of it.
I do not at all criticise that Act. I believe it was perfectly right that there should be public responsibility for deprived children, but I think that the local authorities have interpreted their duties under that Act somewhat rigidly and without much imagination. They have seldom considered migration as a possible solution for these children. They have ignored the immense opportunities which exist and which life in Australia presents for some of these children, and they have disregarded altogether the successful careers which the vast majority 951 of these children have been able to build up for themselves in later life in Australia.
The attitude of the local authorities is, in fact, the key to this whole problem. That is why I am raising the matter this evening and why I am particularly delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has just taken her place in the Chamber, because I think that she may be able to influence the local authorities in the way which some of my hon. Friends and I would like. I am convinced that the advantages to the child of these emigration schemes are not sufficiently appreciated by the children's officers in this country, who are far too reluctant, in my opinion, to relinquish their own responsibilities in suitable cases. That reluctance is no doubt reinforced by the report of the fact finding mission which went out to Australia in 1956.
It was, as I think hon. Members who have studied the subject will agree, a thoroughly prejudiced report which has done immense harm and put a quite unjustifiable brake upon child migration in the last two or three years. The report acknowledges the fact that emigrant children have done well in after life, but goes on to make this quite extraordinary statement:While this is most satisfactory, we did not think it necessary or desirable to examine this aspect … we did not regard the measure of success in after-life as having a direct bearing upon our consideration of the subject.Imagine it! A fact-finding inquiry into child migration regards the future of the child and how it does in life after being at these schools in Australia as an irrelevant consideration; whereas in fact, of course, it is the whole point.
Migration in suitable cases gives these children a fresh start in life, a better chance, better prospects and a better future. The end product is immensely important and entirely relevant. These deprived children from bad homes, instead of drifting back, as they otherwise might very easily do, to their earlier and unsatisfactory environment, enter may be the Church or the professions. The boys become farmers or doctors or lawyers or soldiers or businessmen. Any field of activity is open to them. The girls, perhaps, become teachers or nurses or farmers' wives.
952 Fairbridge, which is one of the best of these voluntary societies—and I shall refer to it because it is the one which I happen to know most about—has had only two failures in the last ten years out of its 500 or 600 children who have been sent out to Australia in that time; about one-third of 1 per cent. But the fact-finding mission did not think it worth while or relevant even to inquire into the type of man or woman that Fairbridge turns out.
The then Minister of Immigration in Australia, Mr. Townley, said in 1956 that these Fairbridge childrenhave established themselves as fine citizens.The present Governor-General, Field Marshal Slim, who has also visited the Fairbridge school, says:The children there have been given a love they might otherwise never have known".He adds that bringing love to these children is perhaps an even more important consideration, an even greater achievement, than making them into useful citizens. After seeing them, Lord Swinton, a former Secretary of State, reported on the obvious happiness of the children and remarked that when they left school there was no difficulty whatever in placing them in employment. He said:There are twenty applications for every boy".That shows what a high reputation these schools have in Australia—that there are twenty applications for every boy as he leaves school. My noble Friend the present Secretary of State has also visited Fairbridge and has paid tribute to the good impression he received and how well and happy all the children looked.
I should like to give the House some sort of picture of what these Fairbridge Schools are like. The one in Western Australia is a property of about 3,000 acres. It has a 2,000-acre farm and a model village with a chapel and twenty cottage homes, apart from the school buildings, where the children and staff actually live.
There is another school of the same kind in New South Wales, and a smaller home in Tasmania. Fairbridge has recently initiated an imaginative and useful new experiment called the "Family Plan", through which widowed or deserted mothers, or maybe fathers, can go out to Australia as well as their children. The mother is found accommodation and 953 employment through Fairbridge as near as possible to the school so that she can visit her children regularly and probably have them with her for part of the school holidays. If, after a time, she marries again in Australia, or does well in her employment and can make a real home for them, the family can be reunited.
The family plan is good in that it meets one of the aims of child migration. It meets the Australian need for more people of British stock, and that is extremely important. But it does not meet the other and, I think, equally vital aim of providing hopeful futures for deprived children from bad homes in this country. It does not do so because the family plan children are not really deprived children. They are not that type of child. The tragedy to me is that the deprived child, the one who most needs the facilities and opportunities which these voluntary societies can give, is not now receiving them—because of local authority ignorance, and, in some cases, even prejudice. The local authorities simply will not release the children in their care. They say, as though it were axiomatic, that even a bad home is better than an institution. That is what they all say when I take this matter up with them. It is always the same phrase, and people tend to accept that kind of phrase without thinking about it, as though it were automatically true. I am not at all sure that it is true, and I will give the House an example of what I have in mind.
A Fairbridge girl, now grown-up, returned recently from Australia and went to see her mother in London for the first time for fifteen years. The director of the Fairbridge Society in London was rather reluctant for the girl to see her mother because he knew the background. However, the child thought she had a duty to do so and she went. She found that her mother was a prostitute. She was horrified and said to the Director of the Society, who told me this story, "Thank God for Fairbridge which gave me a better life, because had I stayed here in this environment this is probably the kind of person I would have become myself." I think it very likely that this would have been so.
Now another side of the picture on this point about institutions: there was a case of a girl who had been at Fair- 954 bridge and was getting married. Not unnaturally her fiancé wanted to have the wedding at his home, but she objected. She told him that she wanted to go home for her wedding. "But," he said, "You have not got a home." She said, "Of course I have—Fairbridge." That does not sound like an institutional atmosphere to me. If a girl looks upon it as home, that sounds pretty good to me.
I agree that small groups are usually better than large ones, and many of the voluntary societies today are thinking in terms of smaller establishments, of groups of 10 or 12 children in a house, attending the local Australian school and working up to a university education if they have the necessary scholastic ability. I believe there is great scope for expansion on these non-institutional lines.
The societies, by and large, will find the money and the facilities if the local authorities will allow the children to go. I do not say that this applies to every society, but I know that Fairbridge is ready and anxious to extend the schemes on a far wider scale than at present, if only the children—the raw material—were available. A few weeks ago I went down to the Fairbridge reception centre in Kent where the children stay for a month before going to Australia in order to get acclimatised to the kind of atmosphere they will find. It is a country house, very near the constituency of my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State, near Knockholt, set in 30 acres of lovely parkland.
As I walked into that house I could hear the children laughing and shouting as they were playing together. They were happy and thrilled to be setting off on their great adventure. The matron is a warm-hearted, human person, sympathetic and understanding, whom the children obviously love. They all had new clothes and shoes, of which they were proud. I talked to them all and they were in a great state of excitement. They were to set off two days later by boat, escorted by a young Australian school master and his charming wife who had been on an au pair teaching arrangement over here. They were returning to Australia and were to look after the children on the voyage out. I cannot express adequately the impression the happy atmosphere of that place made 955 upon me. There was only one disappointing feature. There were only five children in a house which could have held 25. That is the pity of the whole thing. There are vacancies there, and there are vacancies in Australia, but not enough children from the United Kingdom to fill them.
This is not at all a large problem numerically. I am not talking about a mass migration of deprived children. My hon. Friend can correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that there are about 60,000 deprived children in local authority care in this country. But I am not talking of tens of thousands, I am talking of a few hundred who would be suitable for migration and who would benefit from it. Fairbridge has introduced its family plan simply and solely because not enough deprived children were available to fill the vacancies in Australia. There are now 60 vacancies at Fair-bridge, 60 wasted places. This is not a large number, but even 60 children given the chance of a new life in this way are important. Even one child would be important simply because it is a child and because its future may depend upon the start in life which it is given. It would be desirable to extend the activity in Australia, and I hope later in Canada again, of these societies. At the moment, however, I am not pleading for an extension but merely to fill the existing vacant places.
Hon. Members will recall a case, which was reported in The Times and in many other newspapers last summer, of a broken home of nine children which had at that time cost the London County Council £20,000 for that one family alone. The fact-finding mission records that upwards of 1,500 migrant children in Australia cost the United Kingdom £40,000 a year. They do not mention that, to keep those children in local authority care in this country would be much more expensive and might amount to as much as £250,000 a year. If they were getting a better chance of life by staying in local authority care in this country I should not be quibbling tonight about the cost, but I do not believe they are. I think that at enormous cost to the taxpayer these children are getting not such a good present nor such a good future as they could get if they went to Australia.
956 That is the point of my challenge to the local authorities—and of my plea to the local authorities. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that the picture I have tried to present to the House is a challenge to the local authorities. Are they going to retain every one of the 60,000 children in their care? Cannot they spare even a few hundred and give them the opportunity which societies like Fair-bridge can offer? I wonder whether we in this House should be content to leave scores of empty places in Australia and yet retain 60,000 children in local authority care in Great Britain?
I ask my hon. Friend and the Government to give official support to the plea that I am making, and to confirm, as I think he can, the good work that these societies are doing and to the good life and the good future which the children would have in Australia. I hope the Government will give not money—in most cases the voluntary societies can find the money—but encouragement and a lead. Will my hon. Friend give his official blessing and backing? That is what I should like to hear from him.
Will the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department write to the local authorities, if she finds that this case strikes a chord in her heart, not a mandatory directive but at least a strong appeal, urging them to release just a few of their 60,000 children to go to Australia, which is expanding in every year and every decade and which has an increasing need for people of British stock to help populate its vast spaces? These children are wanted and needed there, and they will be warmly welcomed and given a great chance in life.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) not only upon raising this important subject on the Adjournment but upon the excellent way in which he has presented the main issue. All that remains for me to do is to underline some of the more important points.
I, too, would refer chiefly to the Fair-bridge Society, although as hon. Members know there are many other excellent societies involved in this work of child migration. The Fairbridge Society maintains schools in Western Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania and British 957 Columbia. The central feature of this debate is that, although 200 or 300 children can be accepted in these schools, there are at this moment vacancies for 60 or more in Australia.
Generally Adjournment debates are concerned with pressing the Government for more money. Today it is not money we are after. We are trying to underline the fact that wonderful facilities are open to children from this country in Australia and that we are not taking advantage of these opportunities. In the old days it was fairly easy. The societies were approached by the parents, relations or friends of children in poor circumstances, and they arranged for the children to go out and be trained in Australia. How ever, as my hon. Friend has indicated, since the Children Act, 1948, the responsibility for such children has been placed on the local authorities, and the local authorities do not seem to have done very much to help in the sphere of child migration.
I suggest that there are four main reasons for this, if I may so term it, lack of sympathy. The first is one already referred to, that local authorities would much rather send children to a home than to any form of institution. That is an excellent principle, but I dispute that these farm schools can be termed institutions. My hon. Friend has given the House a picture of how these schools are operated in Australia. It is very difficult to suggest that a youngster placed in a home in the care of a local authority in one of the big industrial cities of this country would be better off than a youngster with the wonderful climate, wonderful opportunities and the home care that he would get in the Fairbridge schools in Australia.
Another difficulty sometimes suggested is that concerning the next of kin. If one parent is left, he must give his consent; it is only right and proper that that should be done. But there are cases when the next of kin may be some very remote relative, such as a cousin several times removed, and such a person may not have any knowledge of the Commonwealth and may automatically react against migration.
One does not disparage in any way the excellent work done by the children's departments of local authorities and the 958 children's officers, but one could perhaps suggest two other contributory reasons for the unpopularity of child migration, first the lack of knowledge of the Commonwealth, and secondly, in some cases a leaning towards empire-building or perhaps it would be fairer to say that those concerned who have children for whom they are responsible do not like to move them somewhere abroad when they have not 100 per cent. knowledge and confidence in those concerned with child migration.
For example, the London County Council has, I believe, 8,000 children in its care. They cost the L.C.C. or the ratepayers of London some £10 per week each. It is wrong to say that all the children at present in the care of the L.C.C. are better off living in this great city than they would be starting a new life in Australia. The average age of the youngsters who go out to Australia is about ten, though they can be taken from the age of four up to fourteen. In the Fairbridge schools they receive not only farm training, but technical training. That should be emphasised, because it is not often appreciated and some do not want to be farmers. If they are clever enough and can pass the necessary examinations—and they are helped in every way—they can attend, and indeed they have attended, universities in Australia and have ended up with a degree and have become extremely useful citizens, making a good contribution to the future of Australia and the Commonwealth.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department do all they can to show local authorities that not only Fairbridge but associated organisations, which exist to help child migration to the Commonwealth, can render great service to at least a number of the children now in their care. I hope that my hon. Friends will do everything they can to impress upon the local authorities that they should at least examine the scheme and take advantage of it where possible.
It is not the main issue, but there is also the question of funds involved tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton said that the Government now gave a grant of 10s. per child per week. 959 The Oversea Migration Board suggested that that sum might be doubled, which would involve some £11,000 a year. Eighteen months to two years ago the House debated the Commonwealth Settlement Fund and voted £1½ million for helping migration. I imagine that it is from that Vote that this sum would come. In that debate the point was made that in the past we had voted a fund for migration, but that on no occasion in recent years had the Fund been fully used. In other words, there was still money in the kitty.
Once this scheme of child migration is fully appreciated, it could be implemented to an increasing extent and we should find that it was a very excellent thing, not only for our children, but for Australia and the rest of the Commonwealth. Finance is not the immediate object and I hope that the publicity given to this debate will make local authorities more adventurous, that it will encourage them to examine this scheme and that it will make the parents and the education authorities better informed as to the whole aspect of child migration and the great future that can be secured far our children in Australia.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Sir Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
I endorse all that has been said by my two hon. Friends and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) for introducing this subject. It was never contemplated, unfortunately, that the Adjournment would come on so early in the evening, or many more hon. Members would have been present to support what has been said. It is of fundamental interest to this country and to the Commonwealth as a whole.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton referred to the great continent of Australia where the problem of child migration has been barely scratched. The Australians are very anxious to fill the open spaces. They know full well that if we and they do not fill the open spaces the day will come when the overspill from the Asiatic countries will arrive. We should then have the same sort of trouble that we have recently had in Africa. Because of that the Australian authorities are anxious that Australia's population should be increased, especially with Britishers.
960 I shall not plead for the limited number of children which the various excellent societies want and cannot get. I want to go much further than that. As a nation we should use all our efforts to see that some of these unwanted children are enabled to go to overseas territories. The figure of 60,000 has been mentioned, but in 1957 more than 62,000 children were boarded out and in the care of local authorities. That is a tragic number when the Fairbridge and other societies, making very little claim, if any, on the British Treasury, are unable to fill their homes in Australia.
The first thing required is an alteration of the Children Act, 1948. That is one of the stumbling blocks for local authorities.
§ Sir A. Baldwin
I apologise. I call attention to the Children Act, 1948, and one can form one's opinion as to whether it should be amended.
Section 17 says:The Secretary of State shall not give his consent under this section unless he is satisfied that emigration would benefit the child, and that suitable arrangements have been or will be made for the child's reception and welfare in the country to which he is going …which is good, but the Section goes on to say:… the parents or guardian of the child have been consulted …If the parents or guardian of a child are not responsible for the child sufficiently to see that the child has a chance in life, they should not be allowed to put a damper on the child's migration. That provision should be changed.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I hope that the hon. Member will not pursue this matter. It is clearly out of order to suggest legislation.
§ Sir A. Baldwin
One important recommendation of the Hurst Committee was that judges and magistrates should be allowed to waive the rights of parents who had made no attempt to discharge their parental responsibilities. However, little notice has been taken of that recommendation. Local authorities should have more power to permit children to be adopted by overseas countries.
961 We have voted about £1½million for child migration, but we have spent only very little. We should have voted a very much larger sum and ensured that it was properly used. Future generations in the Commonwealth would be only too delighted. I hope that the Government will be much more realistic about this matter. The fact-finding mission did a great deal of harm with its report. It disclaimed any responsibility for investigating what 'happened to children in later life, saying that such an investigation was not within its terms of reference.
If there was one thing that that fact-finding committee should have found out it was what had happened to the children who had gone to Australia. If it had done so, I am sure that it would have discovered that to the extent of about 90 per cent. the children sent out there had made good and were going to universities, and so on. If that is what happens to children who go out there from our institutes and homes we should not try to stop them going. The committee to which I have referred did a lot of harm by not making sufficient inquiries. We are thin on the ground in this country and in many parts of the Commonwealth. The sooner we fill up those gaps the better it will be.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
Although I have spoken in many debates upon migration generally, I have so far had no specific interest in child migration. Nevertheless, I am sorry that I missed hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher). I fully intended to be here, and am sorry that I was rather late.
First, I want to make one or two general points. I agree with the last point made by the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin). I should think that our decisions in the matter of child migration should stand or fall largely by what has happened to those children who have migrated in the past. We want to know what their careers have been. We want to know whether they have made good, in the material sense, and whether they have led happy lives. That is essential if we are to devise wise policies in this matter.
There are two general points of some importance in this connection. We send youngsters overseas at a very early age. One of the arguments against encouraging the migration of adult citizens is that we 962 have already invested a great amount of capital in them. That argument is not decisive, but we have to take it into account. When a man emigrates, at the age of 25 or 30 he is taking with him a great deal of the effort that we have put into training and educating him, and bringing him up. No such argument arises in the case of the migration of young people. We have not invested anything like so much in them, when they are in their early teens.
On the other hand, there is one great difficulty which we have always to keep in mind, namely, that whereas the adult emigrant is making up his own mind, and is fully capable of doing so, in the case of a child migrant we are making up his mind for him, and acting as his foster parents. In that case we must be extremely careful. Some of the arguments raised in the speech of the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) had a bearing on this matter, but I will not attempt to go into their merits.
Whichever authority is concerned in the question whether or not to send children overseas, it should be very careful that it is exercising its choice with responsibility and wisdom. I do not say that it is more difficult to decide that a child should go to Australia at the age of 10 than it is to decide that he should remain here. Whichever choice is made, it is affecting his whole life, and it may be right or wrong. I think we would all agree that we have to be very careful. That is one reason why the hon. Member for Leominster was making an important point when he stressed the importance of finding out about the careers of young people who have already emigrated. That is the one thing that can shed light on the kind of decision that ought to be made by whichever body is making it.
These seem to me to be two ways in which child migration differs in its general aspect from the migration of grown-ups. I should think that, in general, where it seems right for the individual child, migration is to be encouraged. This is particularly so where, at the other end, it is possible to find the child fitting into an organisation which will take care of it and see that it is guided through the difficulties of having to go to a new country in years of adolescence and is given a start on some sort of progressive career when it has got beyond the years of 963 adolescence, or, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, is helped by a university course.
We must try to make sure that that situation continues to exist and works well. In that situation I should have thought that, generally speaking, where it seems to be for the good of the individual child migration should be encouraged, just as we have encouraged the movement of adults in great numbers to different parts of the Commonwealth. I am very happy that the hon. Member for Surbiton has initiated this debate this evening.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. C. J. M. Alport)
Like those other hon. Gentlemen who have taken part in this debate, I also am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) for having selected this subject for discussion in the House tonight. I am glad that our other debates ended early, because it gives us more time to deal with this important subject than otherwise would have been the case.
Let me start by touching upon one point raised by more than one of those hon. Members who have spoken, and that is the question of finance. It would not be correct to interpret the Commonwealth Settlement Act as voting a specific sum of money—£1½ million—for migration. That particular piece of legislation set., as available for migration, a sum of up to £1½million, provided that the Government were satisfied that that money was required in order to achieve the general policies to which we have set our hands. As a matter of fact, migration in its broad sense was going last year and is still going remarkably well. Indeed, before any additional money can be made available, each claim has to be justified on its merits.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) referred to the recommendation for increased maintenance allowances for children. That was considered by my noble Friend the Secretary of State, and his decision was set out in the Third Report of the Oversea Migration Board. He said that in that case he did not think then, from the information that was available to him, that the project to double the maintenance 964 allowance was justified, and that he did not feel he would be justified, in any case, in selecting a particular society, as was the proposal, for that purpose. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton said, this is not, as far as child migration is concerned, a question of finance. He drew a somewhat imaginative picture of the broad-minded and generous Chairman of the Oversea Migration Board asking a narrow and mean-minded Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations for additional finance for this purpose. That is apocryphal. The truth of the matter is that, if there was a good case, and if it were needed, I am quite sure that the question of additional finance would be very carefully considered, but, as he said, this is not a question of a lack of money but a question of a lack of children.
The existing child migration schemes are supported both by the Commonwealth and State Governments in Australia and by the United Kingdom Government because we believe that they operate to the benefit of both countries. We are anxious to ensure that people of British stock play a full part in the development of our great sister country in the Commonwealth. We recognise the advantage from the Australian point of view of ensuring that as many prospective citizens as possible come to the country during childhood so that they may grow up as Australians, regarding that country as their homeland and being familiar with its manner of life and point of view. If at the same time the migration of these youngsters from the United Kingdom can help to solve some of the personal tragedies and deprivations, so much the better.
I do not regard, and I do not think the House would regard, child migration primarily as a solution to a social problem or problems in the United Kingdom. Sometimes it is not fully realised that the social changes which have taken place over the last twenty years or so in this country, and which have ensured a better and fuller life for so many of our children than was experienced by children in the past, have in some ways changed the pattern of need regarding child migration.
This debate gives me a welcomed opportunity to pay tribute to the voluntary organisations, to their workers and to their supporters who over many years 965 have assisted in providing a steady stream of child migrants from this country to Australia and, in earlier years, to Canada. They now have the satisfaction of knowing that a large proportion of the boys and girls who made the long journey under their auspices have become useful and successful citizens of what may be called their foster-mother land.
I agree that when evaluating the benefits of the child migration movement generally it is proper to take into account the success achieved by children in later life. The fact, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton regarding the Fairbridge Farm Schools, that over a period of ten years or so and out of 500 or 600 children there have been only two failures is a proud record and a justification of the faith which that organisation and its supporters have put in this work.
There have been a number of critical comments about the fact-finding committee which a few years ago went to investigate the general position regarding child migration in Australia, primarily in order that the Oversea Migration Board might have full information on which to advise the. Secretary of State. That committee did not feel that the "end product", so to speak, was necessarily a consideration to bear in mind in providing that advice. Whether they were right or wrong is a matter of judgment.
At the same time, it is absolutely true that organisations, like the Fairbridge Society, the Big Brother Movement, the Migration Councils of the Church of England, the Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, the Salvation Army, Dr. Barnardo's Homes and the Northcote Fund, have a multitude of individual success stories to their credit which more than justify the devoted work which they have done over the past 40 or 50 years.
There is sometimes, not in this debate but elsewhere on other occasions, a temptation when discussing migration to speak of it in very general and broad terms. I know that most of those who take an active part in this work realise that migration is not a question of statistics, that it represents nearly and completely a whole series of individual human problems which must be dealt with with immense sympathy and care.
966 My hon. Friend referred to the Children Act, 1948. I do not think—at least, I should be surprised—that anyone would disagree with the principle upon which that Act was based. It places upon local authorities here a duty, wherever it appears to them consistent with the welfare of the child, to secure that his or her care is taken over by a parent, guardian, relative or friend. As I understand it, the object is to bring the child back into the environment of the family, its own natural family so to speak, as soon as possible, in order that it might take up the ties of family life. The Act also lays on the local authority a general duty to exercise its powers with regard to the child so as to further its best interests and to afford it an opportunity for the proper development of character and ability.
The House would generally agree that in many cases, although not necessarily all, and particularly in those where the chances of rebuilding a family environment are remote or non-existent, emigration can provide the best possible solution for the future of a child. Where an authority decides that the emigration of a child should take place it must first obtain the consent of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who must satisfy himself where appropriate that the parents have been consulted and that the child, where old enough, consents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin) thought that the consent of the parents was perhaps unnecessary in certain circumstances, but the House as a whole will be anxious to ensure that in the very delicate ties that bind parents, even unsatisfactory parents, to their children we should not give up the opportunity to maintain those ties until we are perfectly certain that it could be of good to neither child nor parent. I am sure that if the child is old enough its wishes in the circumstances should be properly considered, as is provided for at present.
Therefore, I say to the House that there are proper safeguards—I think it is right that there should be—for the legitimate rights of the family unit, so to speak, and of the child, when making vital decisions to send a child many thousands of miles away to start a new life. The Oversea Migration Board drew attention in its 967 First Report to the fact that local authorities in the United Kingdom were in many cases unaware of the advantages of child migration. It is obviously right that where a local authority arranges for a child in its care to emigrate, it should be satisfied that the decision is in the best interests of the child and that the conditions which the boy or girl in question will meet with when it arrives at its destination are satisfactory.
It was partly with the object of reassuring local authorities that the fact-finding mission to which reference has been made in this debate went to Australia and reported in August, 1956. It is perfectly true that certain aspects of that Report were critical of some of the features of the system which was then in operation, but I think it would be fair to say that the Report was not intended to be antagonistic to child migration in principle, nor, indeed, critical generally of the admirable work being carried out both here and in Australia by the various voluntary bodies to which reference has been made.
It suggested certain improvements, and these have been carried out. As a result, local authorities can be assured that where they decide that it is in the best interests of a child to emigrate the conditions under which he or she shall do so will give him or her a fine opportunity of making the most of the new life which the child will lead when it reaches Australia. In 1957 my noble Friend the Secretary of State completed a series of new agreements with the various voluntary organisations under the Commonwealth Settlement Act, which embodies the recommendations, or those which were acceptable, of the fact-finding report. As a result, local authorities should consider very carefully whether for a particular child in a particular case the project of going overseas and starting a new life would provide a future for that child which would provide the best answer to the individual problem which the child represents.
This new pattern of child emigration which is now developing has one important aspect. This aspect certainly fits in very closely with our ideas of child welfare here. It is represented by the development of the Fairbridge Family Scheme to which my hon. Friend the 968 Member for Surbiton made reference, which was introduced with the approval of the Australian and United Kingdom Governments in May, 1957. As my hon. Friend explained, this provides for the emigration of children with one parent—a widow or widower, a deserted wife or husband who is the mother or father—and normally arrangements are made for the child to go ahead of the parent and for the parent subsequently to follow to Australia. This scheme has been working on an experimental basis and is due for review at the end of the second year, which will be in May next.
The extension of what one might call family emigration to other voluntary societies is a possibility. If, as I hope, the Fairbridge experiment can be shown to be successful, I believe that in some respects the future of child emigration may increasingly take this form. This does not mean that there is no scope for the continuation of the emigration of individual children from this country to Australia. It merely means that where there are strong arguments for trying to keep some part of the family unit together those arguments should be respected so that as far as possible the principle which is at the basis of the Act of 1948 is maintained in emigration.
However, concerning the arrangements for the care of these children who go on their own to Australia, it has become increasingly the practice of societies there to find some means of fitting those children into the environment of family life as opposed to keeping them in what is called, rather crudely, an institution. Even where it is necessary for them to remain on a farm or at a school, it is the practice to ensure that as far as possible the children go to an Australian family during the school holidays and later, if it can be arranged, that they should be boarded out with a neighbouring family so that they can enjoy not only the advantages of instruction and training, but also a family environment in which to grow up.
No one supposes that such arrangements are easy to achieve, but I am sure that that principle of trying to maintain the family environment in their new home in Australia, even for those children who can no longer remain in contact with their own family or any part of it in the United Kingdom, is right and proper.
969 Generally speaking, therefore, I would say with great sincerity that I believe that child migration today is on sound and proper lines and that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton said, the only thing that is wrong is that insufficient children are coming forward to fill the existing vacancies. Out of a total of nearly 2,000 places for the United Kingdom at the end of November last year, over one-half were unfilled and only 62 children were awaiting transport to Australia. Whereas in 1950 388 children emigrated, in 1958 the total was only 80. As my hon. Friend has said, this is not a question of money. It is a question of the opportunities being available; and where it is appropriate, there are strong 970 arguments that good use should be made of those opportunities.
I hope that this debate will help to call attention to these opportunities and also to reassure those who are responsible for the care of eligible children so that they may consider seriously the chances of a better life which emigration may hold open to them and that perhaps they may be more willing than is at present the case to take advantage of the existing schemes for child migration, both for the benefit of the children and their families and for the benefit of Australia and the United Kingdom.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes past Nine o'clock.