292 Noel-Baker to Calwell

Cablegram 891 LONDON, 19 December 1947, 12.40 p.m.


I was much obliged for your personal message of 10th December. As Mr. Beasley and my Department were carrying on the work I have waited to reply until I could send you an adequate personal answer to the points which you raised.

2. I am afraid that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have been obliged to cause you disappointment in the last few months. You will realise that our shipping programmes have all been upset by the accelerated withdrawal from India and from Palestine involving as it does the movement of enormous numbers of service personnel, civilians and stores. I hope that nevertheless you understand our warm sympathy with the purpose which you and Mr. Beasley have pressed upon me. I hope we shall be able to give increasing assistance as and when the large scale tasks in India and Palestine have been accomplished.

3. Asturias. Although no doubt Mr. Beasley has explained our view of this matter may I recapitulate a little of the history as we see it. My office did not hear of the proposed voyage for this ship until arrangements had been carried very far. I understand that as long ago as October a suggestion had been considered for moving European families from India to Australia by the Manoora.

When a request for a ship was received by our Ministry of Transport from India they had no idea that the movement would not be agreeable to your Government. I am afraid that everybody assumed that the approval of the immigration of individuals concerned by the Australian authorities in India meant that it was all clear at your end.

4. In any case arrangements had gone so far that as you know the people concerned had been assembled at the Indian port and a voyage had been planned for the Asturias. We were unable to hand over the Asturias immediately after the voyage for further work or to adopt the compromise plan that you suggested because her services were essential for the last stages of the evacuation of India.

5. I now fully realise the difficulties which have been caused at your end and I greatly regret them. We are most grateful to you for now agreeing to let the Asturias do this voyage and for overcoming the obstacles which confronted you.

6. My office is making arrangements to ensure that no such misunderstanding shall arise in future and they will let you know through Mr. Beasley what steps are being taken to draw the attention of all the United Kingdom authorities in India to the matter. The steps taken will ensure that you shall have full prior warning before any such movement is planned again.

7. Mr. Beasley has no doubt also explained our difficulties about the Aquitania. Briefly they are these- (a) we have no power to direct the movements of the Aquitania after March next, (b) she is so ill-adapted to the Australian run that the cost per passenger would be 50% above that of the other ships which we are proposing, (c) the Cunard Company are naturally most anxious to use her on the Atlantic run to deal with the acute and urgent problems of the Canadian Government.

If we did succeed in persuading them to use the Aquitania for Australia we should not be able to offer you some of the other ships which I hope you will now have. In other words you would have received fewer immigrants at a much greater cost.

8. The programme which we have now arranged with Mr. Beasley is as follows- (a) In the latter part of next year ships which could carry a total of 11,100 (namely Asturias, Empire Brent, Georgio, Dorsetshire and Somersetshire). In a full year these five will carry 18,000 to 20,000 approximately; and there will be further ships joining them as they become available.

(b) The Ormonde, Ranchi and Chitral, arrangements in regard to which were made a considerable time ago, will together lift 8,250 in a full year. This gives a total of 28,250.

(c) In addition there are the Orontes, Otranto and Dominion Monarch as well as the Strathmore and Strathnaver which are at the moment or will shortly be under reconversion for commercial service to Australia.

9. In addition to these ships there are others already operating on a purely commercial basis. If all goes well programme I have outlined above should mean that during the course of next year a much larger number of immigrants will reach you and that the number will increase from month to month thereafter.

10. I hope therefore you will now feel that we are entering a period when we shall be able to see free and speedy movement for migrants taking place on a substantial scale. As I have already said we are anxious here to facilitate in all ways possible the journeys of the many thousands who are waiting for passages and I trust that the plans outlined above will soon produce substantial results.