HC Deb 25 July 1912 vol 41 cc1337-8

asked the Under-Secretary of State for India if he is aware that indentured labourers recruited in India are not informed of the penal code to which they will be subject in order to get the maximum amount of work out of them when once deported from India; and if he will say whether he proposes to take any steps to prevent labourers being recruited under such conditions in future?


If the hon. Member will refer to the Report of the Committee on Emigration from India presented to Parliament in 1910, he will see that emigrants are brought to a magistrate's office, where the emigration agreement is read to them, and, if they assent, is executed. They then proceed from their district to the depot at Calcutta or Madras, where the conditions of service are again explained to them, and they are at liberty to withdraw if they wish. The system of indenture imposes obligations and confers rights both on employer and labourer. The penalties which either employer or labourer incurs for violation of the terms are set out in the agreement which the emigrant signs. The committee were impressed by the independent evidence as to the care and consideration with which employers generally treat their Indian labourers, but made a series of recommendations which are receiving careful consideration. The hon. Member unconsciously suggests a false analogy when he speaks of indentured emigrants as being "deported" from India.


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if his attention has been called to the fact that British subjects under the indentured labour system sanctioned and approved of by the Government are bound for long periods, scarcely ever less than five years, during which they cannot voluntarily withdraw and escape the hardships, however intolerable, of their service; and if he proposes to take steps to ameliorate these conditions of labour?

The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Harcourt)

The period of contract of an Indian emigrant who emigrates under the safeguards of the indenture system is five years. I have no reason to believe that such emigrants are subject to hardships, and in this connection I would invite the hon. Member's attention to the conclusion reached by the recent Committee, in Section 402 of their Report, that the Ordinances and the machinery for enforcing them give little ground for adverse criticism. The Protector of Immigrants has ample power to cancel indentures, and would not hesitate to use it if the circumstances required.


asked if indentured labour of British subjects under the rules and regulations sanctioned and approved of by the present Government has been and is now being organised for the purpose of supplying labour in places notoriously unhealthy and where free labour refuses to go; and if steps will be taken to prevent such enlistment in future?


I am not aware that indentured labour is being used as suggested by the hon. Member. If he will supply me with information as to any cases I shall be glad to inquire into them.