HC Deb 23 July 1912 vol 41 cc971-2

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies why British subjects are allowed to enter into indentures of labour which practically amount to slavery and are deported to countries like the Putumayo district of Peru, where they are treated in the manner referred to in the Casement Report; and whether, in view of that Report, he will take steps to prevent the recruiting of British labour for Peru and all places outside the British Empire?


I am not aware that British subjects are ever allowed to enter into agreements which practically amount to slavery or that they are deported. In practically all the British West Indian Colonies there are laws to regulate the engagement and emigration of labourers. A list of the laws then in force will be found in Cd. 3827, and since the date of that Paper other laws have been passed where circumstances have required. The laws differ in accordance with varying local conditions, but, speaking generally, the principle is that the Government should have power to prevent the recruiting of labour for any foreign country, and that recruiting for countries for which it is permitted should be subject to safeguards, such as the execution of the contract before a magistrate. In addition to securing a law in 1907, giving the Governor in Executive Committee power to prohibit recruiting for any foreign place, the Government of Barbados has issued warnings against accepting employment in South America, which, I understand, have been effectual. Similar action in respect of any foreign territory can be and is taken in any other British West Indian Colony in which there is reason for it.


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if indentured labourers working in our Colonies under Regulations sanctioned and approved by the present Government are placed under special laws never explained to them, in a language they do not understand, imposing criminal liability for the most trivial breaches of contract in place of civil liability, liable to imprisonment with hard labour, in some cases to three months, for negligence, carelessness, and even for an impertinent word or gesture to the manager or his overseers?


The hon. Member will find full information as to the terms upon which indentured labourers are employed in those Colonies which recruit such labour in the Report of the Committee on Emigration (Cd. 5192), which was laid before Parliament in 1910. In the course of that Report the subject of the penal provisions of the labour laws was fully considered and explained, and the recommendations of the Committee are receiving attention.


Does the right hon. Gentleman think that a proper way to treat labourers who have not got the Parliamentary vote?