HC Deb 22 June 1938 vol 337 cc1056-60
35. Mr. David Adams

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether or not juveniles employed in Kenya come under the penal sanctions of the labour code?

Mr. M. MacDonald

As the law stands at present, juveniles employed on contract in Kenya are subject to the penal sanctions prescribed by the Employment of Servants Ordinance. As I indicated in my reply to a question by the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) on 20th June, the Governor is appointing a committee to review the question of child labour in Kenya, including the application of penal sanctions for the enforcement of contracts entered into by juveniles.

Mr. Adams

When is the Minister likely to have the report on the subject?

Mr. MacDonald

I think it will be some little time. I am not yet certain of the actual personnel of the committee of inquiry that has been appointed, but I can assure the hon. Member that the inquiry will be pursued as rapidly as possible.

36. Mr. Adams

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what was the nature of the experience referred to amongst the objects and reasons for the Bill lowering the age of child labour in Kenya which convinced the Kenya Government that it must regulate the employment of juveniles and lower the age to 10 years?

Mr. MacDonald

It is not the case that the age limit at which children can be employed in Kenya has been lowered. The position is that, except for the minimum ages prescribed for certain forms of employment in the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Ordinance, 1933 there has not hitherto been any overriding minimum, which has now for the first time been prescribed in the Employment of Servants Ordinance. As regards the remainder of the question, I am informed by the Governor that the statement in the Objects and Reasons, that experience has shown the necessity for further provision to regulate the employment of juveniles, did not relate to any particular experience, but that this was a general statement implying that, in Kenya as elsewhere, control of the employment of juveniles had been found to be advisable.

39. Lieut.-Colonel Sir William Allen

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether the conditions imposed by various ordinances on the recruitment of children of 10 years in Kenya permit of these children being removed from their parents and employed at a long distance from their homes?

Mr. MacDonald

There is no specific restriction in the law on this point. But no juvenile may be recruited without the consent of his parent or guardian and the certificate of the district officer: and these restrictions are designed, among other things, to safeguard the interests of juveniles in the respect which my hon. and gallant Friend has in mind.

Mr. Herbert Morrison

Does the right hon. Gentleman think it is right and reasonable that children of these tender years should be removed from their parents to go to work in distant parts?

Mr. MacDonald

As I have said, the Governor is appointing a committee of inquiry to go into this very question. Pending the report of the committee, I could not add anything to answers I have given to previous questions.

40. Mr. Riley

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is now in possession of any reports to the inquiry which he was having made regarding the conditions of employment of children from 10 years upwards in our African Colonies; and will be have copies or summaries of all such reports placed in the Library?

Mr. MacDonald

It will, I expect, be some little time before I receive these reports, especially in the case of Kenya, where, as the hon. Member is aware, the Governor is appointing a committee to review this matter. As regards the last part of the qeustion, I will consider the hon. Member's suggestion when I have received the reports.

Mr. Edmund Harvey

Will the report be laid before this House in any form, or issued as a White Paper?

Mr. MacDonald

I cannot promise that, but I will give the matter consideration when I have received the report.

Mr. Benn

Will the report include an account of the penal sanctions to which these children are subject?

Mr. MacDonald

The committee is inquiring into the question of penal sanctions as well as the question of age limit.

Mr. Benn

That was not quite what I asked. I asked if the report would include a record of the sanctions to which they are at present subject.

Mr. MacDonald

I think that is implied in what I have said.

Mr. Ridley

Could the right hon. Gentleman not express an opinion now, without waiting for the report of the inquiry?

Mr. MacDonald

There would not be much purpose in an inquiry into the facts if I were to prejudice the whole inquiry by making a categorical statement now.

41. Mr. Riley

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether, where children of 10 years of age and upwards are employed under contract in Kenya, the district officer must in all cases certify such contracts; whether before such contracts are entered into the medical officer of the district must examine the child and certify its physical and mental fitness; and whether the employers of such children are under legal obligation to keep a register of such children where they are employed on the surface of mines or on plantations?

Mr. MacDonald

The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. As regards the second part of the question, it is prescribed that no person shall employ a juvenile in any class of labour for which, in the opinion of a Government medical officer, he is physically unsuitable. As regards the third part of the question, it is prescribed, in the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Ordinance, 1933, that the employer shall keep a register of all young persons employed in any industrial undertaking (which includes a mine) the minimum ages for which in Kenya vary from 12 to 16 years according to the nature of the employment. There is no corresponding provision in regard to the employment of children on plantations, except where the employment is of an industrial character.

Mr. Riley

Are the children examined by medical officers of health, who certify their fitness, physical and mental, before they are allowed to be employed?

Mr. MacDonald

The provision of the ordinance is as I have stated. Exactly how it is administered I cannot say; but I am at present in communication with the Governor, and will let the hon. Member have the information as soon as I can.

Mr. Shinwell

Can the right hon. Gentleman justify the exploitation of children at this age?

Mr. MacDonald

Hon. Members are very persistent in trying to get an answer out of me, but I have refused to prejudice the inquiry now being conducted, and I think that is a perfectly proper attitude to take up.

Mr. Leach

Who appoints the medical officers who are quite willing to issue

Total Casualties (Civilian and Police Forces) 1935–37.
1935. 1936. 1937
Killed. Injured. Killed. Injured. Killed. Injured.
Jamaica* 1 14 7
St. Vincent 6 37
St. Kitts 3 9
Trinidad 14 59
Barbados 14 47
Bahamas 1 2
* Casualties in the Jamaica disturbances of 1938 total 10 killed and 123 injured; of those injured about 64 were only slightly injured.
certificates for the employment of children at 10 years of age?

Mr. MacDonald

They are appointed in the normal way for the appointment of medical officers in the Colonies. I should have to have notice of the question before giving an exact answer.

Mr. Leach

Had you not better sack them all?

Mr. David Adams

What is the nature of the employment for children at 10 years of age?

Mr. MacDonald

It is really employment in the plantations. I understand that the principal kind of employment is picking foreign bodies off the tea trees. It is all employment of a light kind.

Dr. Edith Summerskill

What is the maximum number of hours that children of 12 can spend underground in the mines?

Mr. MacDonald

I think I am right in saying that the employment of children of 12 underground is entirely prohibited. But perhaps the hon. Member will put the question down.

Mr. R. J. Taylor

What is the age on the surface?