HC Deb 26 February 1903 vol 118 cc925-6
MR. C. E. SCHWANN (Manchester, N.)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for India whether his attention has been drawn to the Madras Planters' Labour Bill, now before the Madras Legislative Council, providing that in the case of breach of contract a labourer may be imprisoned, and that afterwards the magistrate shall hand him over to the planter with an order to complete his contract; whether he is aware that two Indian members of the Council protested against this provision as being legalised slavery, but that these two members were not appointed upon the Select Committee to which this Bill was referred; whether he will explain by what process the planter will give effect to the magistrate's order for the completion of the contract; and whether he will take immediate steps to stop such legislation.


I am aware of the Bill referred to in the Question, and have perused the remarks upon it of the two Indian members cited by the hon. Member. I think that there is much exaggeration in the language used by them, and I do not admit that the provision referred to. which is found in labour legislation not only elsewhere in India, but in Great Britain itself, and in many other British colonies and dependencies, bears any resemblance to slavery. I understand that if the planter applies for the labourer to be made over to him instead of serving out his sentence, and the magistrate agrees to this being done, the labourer will become again subject to the obligation to perform his contract as he was before, and the contract may be enforced by the means provided in the Bill. I see no reason for taking steps to stop the legislation at this stage. The Bill has been referred to a Select Committee which includes a native of India,; and if it passes the Council it will come before me for consideration in ordinary course.


May I ask the noble Lord whether his attention has been drawn to the case reported in the last Indian mail, of the case of Lalsa, who absconded from a tea-garden in Cachar, and was brought back by guards employed on the estate, was mercilessly beaten by the assistant-manager with a stirrup leather until his head fell on one side, and in a few minutes he was dead.


Order, order: I gather the hon. Member is reading an extract from a newspaper.


No. Sir; I am giving facts which have reached me and which, I think, show what the end will be if this Bill is passed.


If the hon". Member will give me the facts I shall be happy to look into them.