HC Deb 10 March 1920 vol 126 cc1278-80
72. Mr. SPOOR

asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonics whether he has received a memorial from the inhabitants of the Island of Trinidad drawing attention to the Habitual Idlers Ordinance now in operation there; whether he is aware of the opinion held that the Ordinance undermines that liberty to which the people of the Colony as British subjects have been accustomed and consider themselves entitled; that throughout the British Empire no other such Ordinance obtains, except perhaps in Jamaica and the Malay Straits; that the Ordinance will have the effect of leaving labourers at the mercy of the employers and will effectively stifle the universal demand for higher wages; that it proceeds upon the principle that labour is a matter of compulsion and not of contract, and that pressure may be legitimately brought to bear upon working men in order to get them to conform to the desires of employers; that the whole burden of expenditure incidental to the working of the Ordinance will fall upon the taxpayers of the Colony, a large majority of whom are opposed to the enactment and will derive no benefit there-under; that the shifting of the onus of proof from the prosecutor to the defendant aggravates the drastic character of the Ordinance; that the right conferred upon the magistrate to relax the rules of evidence is dangerous and that there exists no right of appeal against the decision of a magistrate; and whether he will give the memorial his careful consideration?

Lieut.-Colonel AMERY

I have received the memorial to which the hon. Member refers. The Ordinance was passed to attain an important object, namely, to reduce the prevalence of praedial larceny, which had reached such a pitch as to become a deterrent to the cultivation of ground provisions and other foodstuffs by peasant proprietors. The Ordinance, which applies only to a male person who is found by a Magistrate to be an habitual idler, received the most careful consideration from the Secretary of State at the time, resulting in the enactment of an amending Ordinance to remedy certain points on which the original Law appeared to be defective. The Secretary of State, satisfied himself that it was most unlikely that the Ordinance could have any adverse effect upon wages, but he thought that its operation should be watched, and directed that an annual report upon its working should be supplied for the purpose.

73. Mr. SPOOR

asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has received a petition from a number of signalmen formerly in the employment of the Trinidad Government Railway; whether he is aware that in December, 1917, the petitioners made application to the general manager of the railway for an increase of pay and received no reply; that application was made again in June. 1918, and a reply was received from the assistant manager to the effect that no increase could be granted that year, but the matter would be borne in mind for the 1919 Estimates; that a further application was made in February, 1919, and that, no reply being forthcoming, the petitioners sought an interview with the general manager in March, 1919; that an interview was arranged, but, when petitioners presented themselves, they were turned away with contumely; that subsequently, whilst at work, officials came to deprive them of their uniforms, and only after a strong protest were they allowed to keep their uniforms until they could get their own civilian clothing; that the petitioners were discharged, although they were certified as being efficient servants; and whether he will have close inquiry made into the treatment of these men, whose only offence appears to have been the presentation of an application for higher wages to meet the increased cost of living?

Lieut.-Colonel AMERY

I have received the petition to which the hon. Member refers and also a report from the Governor, from which it is clear that the general manager offered to see a deputation, and that these men were discharged for refusing to return to duty when ordered to do so. There is no reason to think that the men were treated with contumely when they presented themselves for interview with the general manager. My present information does not enable me to say whether the statement that the petitioners received no-reply to their application of December, 1917, is correct, but I will inquire.