HC Deb 21 January 1930 vol 234 cc1-3

asked the President of the Board of Trade what progress the present Government has made up to the present in safeguarding British labour conditions against unfair foreign competition and goods made from sweated labour by means of international negotiations?


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether the Government propose to prohibit the importation of any foreign goods which are produced by sweated labour?

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. William Graham)

As has already been indicated, the policy of the Government is to approach this matter by way of international discussion, and they will continue to take every opportunity to promote international agreement on labour standards. The International Labour Office have already concluded an inquiry into working conditions in the coal mining industry, and a technical conference of the chief coal-producing countries of Europe has recently been held at Geneva to explore the possibilities of reaching international agreement in regard to hours, wages or other conditions of work in coal mining. A committee has also been set up by the International Labour Office to conduct an inquiry into conditions in the textile industry. His Majesty's Government has taken an active part in the coal inquiries, and is giving every assistance to the textile inquiry. Exceptional steps for expediting the former were taken on the special representation of His Majesty's Government at the last meeting of the Assembly of the League.


Is there any likelihood, as a result of these steps, that British workers will be protected against foreign sweated labour within the next 12 months?


No one can possibly put a time limit, especially where international discussions are taking place, but I am very hopeful that within that time results of some kind will be obtained.


Has there been any de finition of what is known as sweated labour in this country or anywhere else?


That is a very difficult point. I agree that the definitions are far from precise, but what is usually involved is the offer of goods here at a price less than the fair cost of production.


In the event of no decision being arrived at with the other nations, is the competition between foreign sweated labour and honest labour in this country to continue indefinitely?


It does not follow that it will continue indefinitely. I have given information in this long reply indicating all the steps which are being taken. In our view, it can only be solved on an international basis, and we are taking every step to that end.


Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate some period of time at the end of which he will take some action?


No; no human being can indicate any period of time, when he has to negotiate with several Governments.


Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Government already possess all the necessary powers to put an immediate stop to this unfair foreign competition, and that in this country there is a strong and rapidly growing—[Interruption].