HC Deb 24 June 1937 vol 325 cc1353-5
16. Mr. Lunn

asked the Minister of Labour wheher it is with the approval of the Ministry that unemployed men are being sent to Jersey for potato picking; whether he is aware that men returning home state that the wages are very low, hours of labour long, living conditions insanitary, and that they are herded together like cattle on the boats going out, and on their return, not being eligible to have their cards stamped, are regarded as not being entitled to unemployment benefits or allowances and have to go for relief to the relieving officer; and will he make a statement on the matter?

Mr. E. Brown

Arrangements for giving workers in Great Britain the opportunity of employment in potato lifting and also in tomato picking in Jersey have been made by my Department annually since 1932. There have been a few allegations of the kind referred to in the question, but they have no substantial foundation in fact. The arrangements broke new ground and naturally there has been a certain number of cases of failure or dissatisfaction. But on the whole I can safely say that they have been appreciated both by the employers and by the workers, and that workers of suitable qualifications have been able to earn reasonably good wages under reasonably good conditions. The conditions applicable to the work are contained in a leaflet which is issued to the men when the opportunities for the employment are brought to their notice, and a booklet which sets out the arrangements in detail is issued to every person engaged before he proceeds to Jersey. The wages vary according to the nature of the work, and I am sending the hon. Member leaflets and forms of contract containing particulars of the rates of wages, hours of work and other relevant information. Any complaint is promptly investigated by Officers of the Department who are sent to Jersey to facilitate the smooth working of the arrangements. The men are conveyed to Jersey by ordinary passenger boat from Southampton or Weymouth. The employment is not insurable, but does not render a person ineligible for unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance on his return to England.

Mr. Lunn

If I hand to the Minister a Jersey newspaper containing not only the complaints mentioned in my question, but many more complaints of the treatment of these men, together with a letter from a constituent of my own, sent by a minister of religion, will he go further into this matter to see whether the statement he has made is correct, or whether there is anything in my constituent's complaint?

Mr. Brown

I shall be most happy to consider it, as I always am. Our officers are over there, and they can make an investigation into the complaints.

Mr. Maxton

Apart from the detailed figures which the Minister is going to send to the hon. Member, can he mention, for the benefit of the House, what is a typical average weekly wage for a male adult?

Mr. Brown

I think I had better send the hon. Member a copy of the leaflets, because he will find that there are several grades.

Mr. Maxton

Like the potatoes.