HC Deb 08 March 1939 vol 344 cc2131-3
49. Viscountess Astor

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies the number of hours per day which children of 12 years of age may work under the Kenya Native Ordinance, and the rate of pay per day; and whether there is any restriction on the distance from their homes which these children may be taken to work in labour lines?

Mr. M. MacDonald

There is no legislation in Kenya prescribing the hours of work, either for adults or juveniles, except in shops. The wages paid to children vary according to the form of employment. On tea estates the pay is from 5s. to 7s. a month for the prescribed number of completed tasks. Any work done in excess of these tasks entitles the worker to extra pay bringing the total pay earned in some cases to from 9s. to 15s. a month. In addition, of course, quarters, rations, medical attendance and in many cases educational facilities are also provided. On the sisal estates wages range from 4s. to 7s. a month. There is no legal restriction on the distance from their homes to which juveniles may be taken to work, but it will be recalled that the consent of his parent or guardian and of the District Officer is a necessary preliminary to the recruitment of any juvenile.

Viscountess Astor

Is my right hon. Friend quite satisfied that work in the labour lines is really the kind of atmosphere in which these young people ought to be?

Mr. MacDonald

A very careful inquiry was made by a committee, only two or three months ago, into the whole question, and if I may say so, it was a committee which was very sympathetic towards these children, and that committee expressed itself as being satisfied with the conditions.

Mr. Logan

In view of the conditions which the right hon. Gentleman has explained, will he see that no Virginian children are imported there?

Mr. James Griffiths

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise the effect which an exposure of conditions of this kind must have in European countries in times like the present, and will he take every opportunity of remedying the scandal of the hours and conditions of these children?

Mr. MacDonald

If the hon. Member will read the answer in full, he will see that the wages paid do not by any means represent the remuneration or reward which these children receive for their work. There are rations, housing and other facilities in addition to the wages. Of course, in the Colonies the standards are somewhat different from what they would be in this country, but I think that in the British Colonies generally conditions compare favourably with conditions in other colonies.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is just the kind of answer that was given when complaint was made about workhouse children being farmed out in former times?

Mr. MacDonald

It is just the kind of answer that was given by Labour Colonial Secretaries to similar questions.

Mr. Mathers

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what is the estimated value of the medical attendance and other perquisites?

Mr. MacDonald

I should like to have notice of that question.

Sir H. Croft

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these children receive a full ration of food, and is he also aware that it would be a great hardship if they were denied the right to go out with their parents working on the cotton plantations?

Mr. MacDonald

As I said in my original answer, on top of wages full rations have to be taken into account, and there are many other circumstances.

Mr. Broad

If that is the best the British Empire can do, is it not time that it was wound up?

50. Viscountess Astor

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will take steps to secure that no child in Kenya may be employed away from its home unless the employer as part of the contract accepts responsibility for returning it home on expiry of its contract?

Mr. MacDonald

It is already prescribed in the Employment of Servants Ordinance that any servant recruited, or engaged by a labour agent, shall be provided, on the completion of his contract of service, with reasonable transport to the place of recruitment or engagement, at the expense of his employer. I have already asked the Governor to make further inquiries into the problem presented by children who, after the completion of their original contracts, may enter the service of some other employer at a distance from their homes.

Mr. Creech Jones

At what age do the penal sanctions come into operation in respect of children who are away from their homes?

Mr. MacDonald

I would like to have notice of that question.

Mr. J. Morgan

Are some of the employers referred to companies operating from the city of London?