Beverley Baxter June 15 1952


Beverley Baxter June 15 1952



Beverley Baxter

I DO NOT know whether your ears burned, but recently in the House of Commons we talked about you for five hours without a stop. In strict accuracy I must confess that it was not merely of Canada of which we talked—although Canada took up a good deal of time—but of Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand as well.

In parliament a debate has to be on something—a resolution, a motion, the introduction of a bill or some such device. You cannot just say, “Let’s talk about the Commonwealth” and go on until you leave off. Neville Chamberlain was brought down from the premiership on a government motion “ I hat this House do now adjourn.” Not a word was said in support of, or against, the House packing up and calling it a day, but when Chamberlain saw that he no longer commanded a sufficient majority he went to the King and handed in his seals of office.

In the present affair it was one of our younger Tories who had a bright idea about this Empire emigration business. The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations was to bring in a hill which was intended for no more urgent reason than to continue the Empire Settlement Act 1922 which, as a matter of fact, was previously continued by the Empire Settlement Act 1937. Normally the minister would spend about ten minutes explaining to the House that the bill was merely a continuing device to make it legal, we would all murmur “aye” and get on to the next item on the program.

However, my young Tory colleague Langford-Holt, who sits for the pleasant constituency of Shrewsbury, promptly gathered half a dozen Tories with fire in their bellies and put down an amendment calling on the House to throw out the hill and urge the Government to replace it

with one that would include “imaginative and decisive measures fo set in motion a large scheme of Empire migration on which the economic and political stability of the Commonwealth depends.”

Was this a Tory rebellion? Was this a move to bring Churchill’s Government crashing to the ground? It was neither of these things. It was just a parliamentary device to force a prolonged debate on the rebellious amendment, after which the mutineers would withdraw the said amendment and let the Government have its unsatisfactory hut necessary hill without a division.

Thus was the flood of oratory let loose and, as a son of the Outer Empire, I listened with mixed emotions to the extraordinary ignorance and the extraordinary knowledge displayed by the various speakers. Nor was the debate without surprises.

One socialist was complaining that in Canada the British emigrant was not assisted toward securing proper employment. Then came this startling statement from him: “One of my constituents, a skilled engineer, went to Canada hut the best job he could get was that of a piano tuner.

I don’t know why the House laughs. It is no laughing matter.”

Someone had to clear it up so I intervened to say that in my youth I had been in the piano business, and did the hon. gentleman really wish us to believe that a skilled engineer could leave his bench and become a skilled piano tuner overnight? I wanted to add that if this were true then piano tuning in Canada must be the worst in the world (which it isn’t) but he had regained his feet and was off on another tangent.

One of the most moving contributions came from a Scottish socialist named Ross, who sits for Kilmarnock. “People,” he said in his rich brogue,

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“who take the attitude that mass emigration from this country should be encouraged have their feet firmly implanted in the clouds.” He spoke of how Scotland had suffered from the drain on her manhood. “They went in pursuit of the right to live, a right which was denied to them at home.” With a solemn bitterness he quoted Burns’ famous satirical ode to Lord Glen carry:

They and be d----d! What right hae


To meat or sleep, or light o’ day!

Far less to riches, pow’r, or freedom.

But what your lordship likes to gi’e them?

The English members listened with respect and hoped the debate would not get bogged in a Scottish lament, but Ross had the floor and was net to be put off. He supported another Scot (Macmillan) who had preceded him in a speech which claimed that the Scots had never willingly left their native country but had been forced by hardship and poverty to seek a new life across the seas.

“They were a reluctant export,” cried Ross, turning his stern eye upon our ranks as if we were personally responsible. “There are nearly as many people of Scottish descent outside the country as inside Scotland.”

“There are nearly as many in London,” said an MP in front of him.

“Aye,” thundered Ross, “and that’s why London prospers!”

Warming to his task Ross described the plight of the Highlands due to the drain of war and emigration upon its manhood. His colleague Macmillan declared that it was a poor thing when men were driven to emigrate not from the urge of ambition but from hunger and frustration.

We could sympathize with their point of view, even if it is not always possible to go the full distance with the Celtic temperament. But what a poor thing it would have been for the world and the Scots if they had tried to confine their genius to the limitations of Scotland itself!

To the Great Unknown

The decision to pull up stakes and try one’s luck in another country is seldom taken with calm detachment. There must be a deep emotional urge —whether it comes from the spirit of adventure or the fury of resentment —before people will exchange home and friends and the companionship of familiar things for a life among strangers in a strange land.

I remember as a boy in Toronto going down to the Union Station and watching the emigrant trains pausing for breath before they went panting to the prairies of the last great west. The Canadian Pacific Railway, under the inspired leadership of a group of Scots, had linked the Pacific and the Atlantic with a road of steel. But the CPR possessed vast unpopulated lands and knew that the railway must have passengers to survive.

So they brought emigrants in their thousands from Europe. Why did they come? The answer to that question is as varied as human nature itself. There were town dwellers lured by the ancient call of the open spaces, there were families running away from the threat of war, from racial and religious persecution, from hopelessness and stagnation. There were peasants who were land hungry. Huddled in the trains they were silent and depressed, for that massive railway engine as big as Jove’s chariot was hauling them to

the great unknown ... I wondered if 1 would ever have money enough to see the prairies.

There were British emigrants too and some of them were pretty trying. The Cockney was the worst, which seems odd for he is normally an amusing fellow and either adapts himself to his surroundings or makes the surroundings adapt themselves to him.

Frankly the Cockneys did not think much of Toronto which, to our minds, was only a degree short of downright blasphemy. Everything was done better in London, they said. “Do you mem London, Ontario?” asked an innocent. “London, H’Ontario?” roared the Cockney. “Not b’likely. London’arf-the-bleeding-world!”

Then t here was the remittance man, the black sheep of the family, who was given an allowance and “stmt to the colonies” by his affectionate parents who wanted to get rid of him. It never should have happened but one can understand why there were signs:




The Canadians were wrong but so were the few who came from England and defamed the many.

Today, of course, emigration is better organized now that the Dominions have developed the character and status of strong free nations. Yet this basic fact remains—and it was stated ova 'irvi over again in our debate at Westminster—that the United Kingdom is overpopulated and the Dominions are underpopulated. Great Britain, as the centre of this great family of nations, keeps her masses exposed to the hazards of European war while the empty spaces of the Outer Empire call for men. We know that a portion of the empty spaces are barren or intractable but, as a race, we hold lands that are insufficient ly populated against the teeming overcrowding of the rest of the world.

What is the value of an emigrant? Or shall we conform to the fastidious politeness of the English MBs who said that they preferred the word “migrant.” One of them went further and contended that we should speak of this problem and this plan as “Imperial Integration.”

There is the easy-going definition that a Briton who goes, say to Australia, at once becomes a consumer of British goods. For the sake of argument. let. us accept that definition, but it is not quite as simple as all that. We are losing a producer when wre say good-by to him. Either he has been on the land and therefore helping to feed the population, or he has been producing exports with which w'e pay for our essential imports, or he has been engaged in services which are an integral part of our national life. For him to go overseas and leave his ageing dependents behind makes his migration a very doubtful proposition for us. That is a simple problem to state but by no means simple to solve.

Memo to Doug Abbott

The call of adventure is sweet music to the ears of the young and excites the imagination. But, because of the economic and defense needs of the country, we cannot let. them go while we who remain shoulder the burden of the older people.

Australia’s Prime Minister, R. G. Menzies, has shown a complete understanding of this, but, then he is the greatest Empire crusader of all the politicians. S. G. Holland, of New Zealand, has a more limited problem but brings to it a warm and wise understanding. The South African

situation is bedeviled by old wounds and contemporary difficulties and yet I think that there is a place for British stock in Dr. Malan’s stable.

In Canada the situation is complicated by the fact that Canada is on the dollar. Merely as my opinion, for certainly I had no authority of any kind, 1 told the House of Commons that it would probably be possible to arrange for the Canadians to create a dollar fund which would allow emigrants to have the dollar equivalent of their sterling balances, within rea-

sonable limits. I may be wrong in this but, at. any rate, I urged Her Majesty’s Government, to think it over, which H.M.G. said it would do.

With deep respect I suggest that my old friend Doug Abbott, who rules Canada’s finances, might also have a look at the idea.

* * *

When we have tilled the soil, taken minerals from the ground, built factories, schools, churches, roads and railways—where is the real wealth of

a nation? It is in the character of its people. Empires have fallen and nations shrunk to impotence because the character of the people could not sustain the weight of destiny.

The British have their faults but it is the best bloodstock in the world on which to draw . For those of you across the seas who have the first claims as kinsmen it is worth your thought and your planning. There is wealth and strength in the men and women who crowd this little island of cloudy skies and wordy dispute, if