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147 Minutes of Meeting of Prime Ministers

PMM(44) 13th Meeting (extracts) LONDON, 12 May 1944, 11 a.m.



1. POST-WAR EMPLOYMENT PLANS MR. ATTLEE invited Mr. Bevin to make a statement regarding the United Kingdom Government's post-war employment plans.

MR. BEVIN said that he would deal first with the arrangements which the United Kingdom Government proposed to put into operation during the war against Japan after the defeat of Germany. The change of emphasis in our war effort, which the Japanese war would call for, presented certain difficulties. Against Germany we were compelled to put a large army into the field. The prosecution of the war against Japan would on the other hand call for a preponderance of naval and air forces. The United Kingdom Government had decided not to make use of the term 'demobilisation' during the continuance of the war against Japan.

It was instead proceeding on the basis that a reallocation of manpower between the forces and industry would take place. It was important that this idea should be fostered, to avoid possible discontent amongst members of the forces who would be employed in the Far East. With this object in view the United Kingdom Government had therefore carried a Bill through Parliament giving all men and women in the Armed Forces a right to reinstatement in their civilian employment, even though the employer might have found it necessary to engage a substitute during the transition period. General demobilisation would not take place until Japan had been defeated.

Some re-orientation of industry would be effected when Germany had been defeated, but until the precise nature of the military requirements for the conduct of the war against Japan were known it was difficult to forecast the extent to which this could be achieved. Military requirements would, of course, override all other considerations.

During the interim period, the National Service Act would remain in force.

[matter omitted]

MR. CURTIN said that he had listened with interest to Mr. Bevin's account. Australia could not, however, look forward to making similar plans for some considerable time. Her whole efforts were still directed to the prosecution of the war in the Pacific. As the United Kingdom authorities were aware, the Commonwealth Government had been engaged for some time in study of the manpower problem which had arisen on account of the conflicting demands of the Australian forces for replenishment, the United States forces for supply and maintenance and the United Kingdom for agricultural products. The Commonwealth Government had been forced to contemplate a reallocation of its manpower, not on account of any transition period, but because of the dictates of the war situation with which his country was faced. His Government found it extremely difficult to take decisions in the absence of firm estimates of the demands they were likely to be called upon to fulfil, and of the fighting forces which they would be expected to maintain in the field. These questions had been raised in the telegram which he had addressed to Mr. Churchill in October last [1], to which a reply was still awaited. Since then the position had been further complicated by the receipt of additional request, eg., for the manning by Australia of additional R.N. ships. The situation was an unhappy one, and he greatly hoped that it would be possible to let him have, at an early date, an indication of the contribution in fighting forces which his country was expected to maintain, and of the supply and maintenance facilities which it would be expected to provide for other forces. The continued supply of agricultural products to the United Kingdom was dependent upon the nature of the answers given to these questions.

Mr. Curtin went on to comment that the proposals outlined by Mr.

Bevin conveyed to him the impression that the United Kingdom authorities contemplated a lengthy transition period and a small military, as opposed to naval and air, contribution to the prosecution of the war against Japan. The suggestion that men who had served for long periods should be replaced in the United Kingdom forces by fresh recruits, would, in his opinion, involve further delay in the impact against the Japanese enemy. Even the soldier seasoned in European warfare required at least six months' training and acclimatisation for jungle fighting.

MR. ATTLEE explained that until the requirements for the continuation of the war against Japan and for the garrisoning of occupied countries were definitely known, it was impossible to determine the level at which the armed forces would have to be maintained. The United Kingdom Government anticipated, however, that taking the armed forces as a whole, considerable re- allocation between them and industry might be possible. As Mr.

Bevin had pointed out, military requirements would override all other considerations, and the primary objective in our minds was to make the maximum contribution we could to the defeat of Japan.

MR. BEVIN added that it must be obvious that it would be physically impracticable to ship an army of three million men to the Far East. It would be wasteful to retain them all in the services. The plans he had outlined for the transition period were primarily designed to make use of the surplus which would be available.

MR. CURTIN said that he did not wish to be interpreted as in any way objecting to the proposals for re-allocation between the forces and industry, but he hoped that the necessity for retraining under suitable conditions would not be overlooked and that the detailed examination of his country's manpower problems would be prosecuted with expedition. He realised that an operation on the scale-of 'Overlord' [2] could not be undertaken simultaneously with operations on a similar scale elsewhere. An early conclusion to the war depended upon success in 'Overlord' and he would not suggest that the scale of effort devoted to it should in any way be weakened.

FIELD-MARSHAL SMUTS said that he thought that the plans which Mr.

Bevin had outlined were a tremendous improvement upon what had been done in 1918 and 1919. The military effort of South Africa in the war in the Pacific would be negligible, but part of the S.A.A.F. might perhaps participate. He thought that any forecast regarding the length of the war against Japan must at the moment be entirely speculative. He felt that provided the maritime strategy was successful the end might not be long delayed.

Enormous areas, which it would take months or years to fight through on land, could be by-passed by naval power and it might be possible to bring the Japanese fleet to action at quite an early date. A crushing defeat of the Japanese fleet would make it impossible for Japan to continue the struggle.

2. MIGRATION MR. ATTLEE invited Lord Cranborne to make a statement regarding migration.

LORD CRANBORNE said that Mr. Bevin's statement about the United Kingdom Government's demobilisation plans had covered the whole field of transference of the people of the United Kingdom back from war to peace. Mr. Bevin had also touched on one particular aspect of special interest to the Dominions-namely, the settlement in the Dominions of demobilised members of the United Kingdom Forces. Lord Cranborne said he wished to speak about the problems of migration rather more generally. After the vast issues with which the meeting had been dealing during the week, this subject might appear a somewhat limited topic. But he believed that it was important that discussion of it should take place and that some progress should, if possible, be made during the present series of meetings. It appeared to him that we were faced with a new situation and new possibilities in this sphere. The prospects of migration from this country to the Dominions had gradually deteriorated in the last fifty years. It was the fashion now to say that the impulse to migrate was generally of romantic origin and sprang from a spirit of adventure. That may have been true in a few cases, but he believed that as a general proposition it was untrue. The main motives which had led men to migrate were poor conditions at home, the pinch of extreme poverty in the days when there was no machinery for its alleviation, and the wide difference between the opportunities that offered at home and in the newer countries of the world. But gradually this incentive had become less so far as this country was concerned. Standards of wages had been raised, social services improved, the risks of life reduced. As a result, the great majority of people in this country, who were conservative by nature, if not in politics, tended more and more to prefer to stay at home and not run the risks of starting entirely afresh. It had looked as if the great period of inter-Commonwealth migration was over. But it so happened that in the last four years a new state of circumstances had arisen favourable to the stimulation of migration. As a result of the war, a large number of people had been uprooted from their homes, the continuity of their lives had been broken and their minds were receptive to the possibilities of establishing themselves elsewhere. Considerable numbers of young people, in the course of their training or on their way to or from the various theatres of war, had passed through one or other of the Dominions and liked what they saw there very much. The minds of these young people were turning to the possibility of making their lives in these pleasant places. He had had evidence of this from many sources. In a recent letter to him, Lord Moyne had stressed the widespread interest of the troops in the Middle East in the possibilities of migration to the Dominions and there was an urgent demand for information on this subject. But this was a temporary phase as a result of the unsettling effects of war. As soon as these people had returned to this country, settled down and taken up jobs-and there would be plenty of opportunities for employment-they would lose the desire to move. The opportunity of establishing them overseas, if lost, might not recur. He did not know whether the Dominions wanted migrants from the United Kingdom. The matter was one entirely for them, but, if they did, he would suggest they should strike now while the iron was hot.

The two years after the cessation of hostilities would be the psychological moment. After that the possibilities of obtaining migrants would not be so good. The United Kingdom authorities were at present deluged with enquiries, both in Parliament and outside, about the Government policy towards migration, and had been unable to give any information. Over a year ago, he had sent a despatch to Dominion Governments giving the main headings of the problem and seeking their views. [3] So far, no definite indication of the Dominion Governments' views had been received. He did not complain about this, as the Dominion Governments were faced with the same demobilisation problems as the United Kingdom. Moreover, they were no doubt uncertain about the post-war economic situation and the prospects of employment in their own countries. But he felt that it was urgently necessary to look, if not at the long-term arrangements, at least at the immediate problem arising on demobilisation and decide where we stood. Clearly, the question required considerable preliminary study. Migration imposed a double obligation, on the country which sent the migrant and on the country which received the migrant. There must be some assurance, before the individual set out, that he would find suitable employment when he arrived. Any serious failure to do so would prejudice the flow of future migrants and cause distress and friction on both sides.

This raised the question what type of men and women were required;

did the Dominions want industrial or agricultural types or both? Another problem of considerable importance was the bearing of migration on social security arrangements. The important point was to avoid a gap without security while the individual transferred from one scheme to another. The United Kingdom authorities were already looking into this matter for their part, but it was essentially one for joint expert examination. He understood that Mr. Bevin, who had long experience of this type of problem, thought it not insoluble. He did not wish to suggest that the Prime Ministers should tackle such questions in detail at the present series of meetings, but he would like, if possible, to make some progress on the subject. He would suggest, with all diffidence, that the Prime Ministers might agree that further discussions should take place on the official level as soon as they could conveniently be arranged, with the object of formulating practicable arrangements, on the understanding that these arrangements were for the consideration of Governments and that no Government was thereby committed. As he had said, this question was one even more for Dominion Governments than for the United Kingdom. If these young people did not leave this country the United Kingdom authorities would not be broken-hearted. The birth-rate in the United Kingdom was falling and it was arguable that we could not afford to lose good young men and women in any large numbers. But if they wanted to go and the Dominions were ready to take them, he felt that it would surely be wrong to discourage them. Moreover, the interchange of British blood between one part of the Commonwealth and another must tend to strengthen the whole and to multiply the links that bound it together. it was in that spirit that he raised the subject and he would be very glad to hear the views of the Prime Ministers, particularly on the question what answer could be given to enquiries from the public in the United Kingdom in the near future.

MR. BEVIN said that in the past unemployment had made present in everyone's mind the necessity of finding a solution by creating employment or seeking it elsewhere. That had been an incentive to migration. But, if plans for full employment in the United Kingdom in the postwar period were successful, that incentive would vanish. A new factor which, in his opinion, had arisen was defence, a subject so very present in our minds at present. The character of war had changed and new weapons and training methods called for greater facilities than could be provided in the United Kingdom and he had been revolving in his mind the possibility of training British forces overseas in areas where there were not the same limitations of space. He felt that such a plan would assuredly stimulate migration, bind closer the links between the United Kingdom and the Dominions and do much to promote the common understanding and knowledge of one another's problems. Upon completion of a training period or period of service in a Dominion, a young soldier might be allowed to settle there permanently, whilst remaining on the United Kingdom reserve or joining a Dominion reserve. Under such a scheme the British Commonwealth would be assured of a trained reserve of men in each of the countries which comprised it. Opportunity should also offer simultaneously for the development of industrial potential for defence purposes in the different parts of the Commonwealth, and provide an impetus to inter-Commonwealth trade. As regards social security contributions and benefits, he would suggest that the simplest possible solution should be sought. From his experience in the past, he thought that the most practicable arrangement would be for the United Kingdom to continue to bear a man on the United Kingdom scheme, to which he had contributed, for an agreed number of months, whereafter he could be transferred to the Dominion scheme. It should not be a serious deterrent that the benefits were not the same in each country.

[matter omitted]

MR. CURTIN said that he found himself in agreement with almost all that Lord Cranborne had said and that, for their part, his Government would welcome the opportunity to take as migrants demobilised personnel from the United Kingdom forces. He would table a full statement of his Government's views. (This appears as Appendix II, and includes separate notes on Child Migration and Maltese Migration.) As regards the ideas Mr. Bevin had thrown out, he agreed that defence was a primary consideration in everyone's mind and thought that, generally, his Government's reaction would be that suitable migrants of British stock would be a valuable accretion to his country's strength. He agreed with the suggestion that the whole question should be further examined on an official level.

[matter omitted]



1. Government-Assisted British Migration to Australia The questions raised by the United Kingdom Government in Dominions Office despatch D No. 24 of the 2nd April, 1943, covering the Report of the United Kingdom Inter-Departmental Committee on Oversea Settlement on Demobilisation and in Dominions Office cablegram D No. [578] [4] of the [18]th April, 1944, have been considered by Australia and the following statement [5] of the Government's policy on this subject is furnished:-

(a) The Commonwealth Government will welcome the opportunity to accept British ex-Service men and women, wherever demobilised, and their dependants for settlement in Australia, provided they are medically fit and otherwise approved by the Australian authorities to be suitable for life in Australia.

(b) The Commonwealth Government also agrees with the proposal that in respect of British Service men and women who are demobilised in Australia with the intention of remaining here, they should retain the right to be repatriated (at the expense of the United Kingdom Government) to the United Kingdom within a period of two years after demobilisation, or, alternatively, their dependants in the United Kingdom may be provided with passages to Australia on the same basis as that applicable to parallel classes of individuals.

In such circumstances, the right to free repatriation to the United Kingdom would be forfeited.

[matter omitted]

(e) The Commonwealth Government will be prepared to share with the United Kingdom Government on a fifty-fifty basis the provision of assisted or reduced passages to suitable applicants not eligible to participate in the ex-Service free passage scheme. In this regard, it is considered that the measure of Government assistance should be such that no approved applicant should be required to pay more than 10 sterling with proportionately reduced rates for juveniles and children. For example, children under 12 to be carried free, and juveniles over 12 and under 18 not more than 5 sterling. Further concessions might also be made in favour of married couples with children. (The Commonwealth Government is of the opinion, however, that before there can be any appreciable flow of assisted migration 'the present tourist or third-class rates must be considerably reduced.)

[matter omitted]

(g) The Commonwealth Government concurs in the view that the increase in secondary industries in Australia will offer greater scope for the absorption of industrial workers from the United Kingdom than has been offered in the past, and that land settlement schemes should be regarded as of secondary importance so far as British migration to Australia in the future is concerned.

[matter omitted]

(j) The Commonwealth Government will provide free rail transport from port of disembarkation to place of employment or destination in respect of all British migrants who receive free or assisted passages and, where necessary, accommodation for a limited period.

(k) It will be appreciated that the extent to which migration to Australia can be promoted will be largely controlled by Australia's absorptive capacity, having regard to the housing situation as well as the economic conditions, and the rehabilitation of our own people engaged in war and war industries.

(l) The Commonwealth Government is examining the question of reciprocity as regards social services, but attention may be drawn to the recent legislation which provides for unemployment and sickness benefits after one year's residence. Child endowment is also subject to the same residence test.

(m) The foregoing conclusions have been arrived at without prejudice to further consideration which may be necessary in the light of subsequent developments.

[matter omitted]

1 Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. VI, Document 293.

2 Code name for the Allied liberation of north-west Europe.

3 Dispatch D24 (dated 2 April 1943). On file AA:A989, 43- 44:/554/2/1, i.

4 Document 110. The reference in square brackets was incorrectly cited as D558 of 19 April.

5 The statement was based on a submission made to Full Cabinet by Senator J. S. Collings, as agendum 538A, dated 1 May. In addition to Govt-assisted British migration to Australia, settlement in the East Kimberleys. At Curtin's request, Cabinet considered and affirmed Collings's recommendations on 10 May, stressing item K on British migration and adding the words 'and the rehabilitation of our own people engaged in war and war industries'. In AA:A2700, vol. 7.

[AA:A6712, 1944, TOP SECRET]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History