7.57 pm – 09 June 2014 – Column 207 – Hansard Publications
Lord James of Blackheath (Con): My Lords, I have indicated previously the impact that forced migration has had upon my family. We had in the Queen’s Speech a Bill for dealing with the abuse of children and the intention to bring forward better controls over trafficking. Those are closely connected. This country has a terrible record in its handling of the migration of its own subjects. It has combined the most appalling suffering of children with the most appalling lack of management of the migration process to get the worst of every world. There should be no smugness around these two initiatives going forward. It is a very small penance to pay for a very big crime.
It started in 1682. The first migration in this country happened when one of the early colonies in North America was raided by the Indians, who took all 84 of its children and would not give them back. No one knows what happened to them. The colony sent a communication back to England by the first available boat saying, “Look, we have no children and therefore no future. Send us some children”. The Mayor of London was asked to deal with it and he did. He sent his beadles out on to the streets of London and took the first 84 vagrant kids he could find. He sent them down to a boat at Rotherhithe and sent them to America. He told the captain that he could pay for the trip by taking the kids out and bringing it back with a load of tobacco on board and that would pay for it, and it did. Unfortunately, it created the precedent of making it seem that trafficking these children was profitable, which it was.
We have a terrible record of having introduced waves of migration in the same way in latter years. The great shock is when you get to 1880 and find that Dr Thomas Barnardo himself—a man of irreproachable reputation, one would think—formed a council for the identification of the migration needs of the whole British Empire and took from each country an indication of how many children it would like. He then went out to find the children to fill the quotas that were requested. This was effectively a disaster because a lot of these children were taken without any recognition or contact with the homes from which they came—they might have had some small misdemeanours in their community—and were swept up. They were the poor of the churches of the country. This was very heavily supported by the Protestant Church of the day, right the way through, and it was not until 21 years later in 1901 that this House debated the subject for the first time and said that it was a probably not a very good thing. But by that time tens of thousands had been sent to Africa because of concerns about the encroachment of the German population in Africa, and many had gone out to Australia.
It is appalling that in the old government building in Sydney today there is an index where you can access the details of every criminal who was ever sent to Australia and what happened to him, but there is no such index for the children who were sent because nobody knows who they were. They are lost without trace. Eventually around 1938 the Catholics decided that this was something they wanted to get in with as well so they started sending migrant children from their own communities to Australia. Then the war came and it was too unsafe to send ships to sea with children on and nothing happened again until 1947, when the Australians set a target: they urgently wanted 4,000 children and 30,000 adults. They did so by first buying two Italian aircraft carriers and converting them into liners, the “Fairsky” and the “Fairsea”, and sending out 2,000 migrants on each of those ships every month. It took six weeks to get there and six weeks to get back.
I regret to say that I was recruited to that exercise as the religious liaison officer for the Australian civil service. My task was to find clergymen who would go with these people. I had to have one clergyman for every 30 kids on board. It was the most appalling thing ever. These children were bussed in—God knows where they had got them from; I was never given any details on where they came from—and they were terrified. They were screaming. They had lost control of every bodily function and they were just a screaming mess. The clergymen and I had to rip the fingers of these kids off the gangplank to get them up on to the ship. It was a very gruesome task indeed. The clergy got paid a good fee for going out there and doing it and they got a free sail trip back again afterwards.
It was an official policy. This is why I am saying that we have a big penance to pay and we need to recognise that in putting it right now we are not doing something that we should be proud of. We should be seriously ashamed of what went on before and I hope that in what we do in this Bill we will reflect a great many of the concerns that we did not honour at the time.
I have explained previously how my uncle and aunt were sent out to Canada by the Church of England. As a small peace offering to the Church of England, I should say what happened to those two. The girl married the grandson of the lady she had been bought for $50 to look after, who had had a stroke. Today her grandchildren operate and run the biggest and most profitable logging operation in the whole of Canada. The boy ended up owning a 35,000-acre farm in British Columbia. When he died 12 years ago, he had double-digit millions in the bank. He left it all to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, with the stipulation that they could only have it $1 million at a time for every Protestant priest that they could kill and lynch for him. That order was overturned in court and the Jehovahs were allowed to keep the $12 million and the priests all survived.
There is a lot to be concerned about in this. We have a lot to put right and I hope that your Lordships will have some very far-reaching thoughts about what we can do about somewhere along the line trying to restore the record of where all these people were, who they were and where they went. It would be a small penance to pay.