HC Deb 17 June 1958 vol 589 cc883-5
43. Mr. Thornton

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies the maximum daily and weekly hours, according to law, that women may be employed in factories and industrial undertakings in Hong Kong.

Mr. Profumo

The maximum daily period of employment is thirteen hours between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Overtime may be worked up to 9 p.m. with special permission of the Labour Department which is granted only subject to the condition that meal breaks of 2¾ hours are given. There is no separate legislation governing weekly hours.

Mr. Thornton

Is the Minister aware that, on page 103 of the 1956–57 Report of the Hong Kong Commissioner of Labour, it is stated that women frequently work maximum legally permitted hours? That is the statement of the Commissioner of Labour. Is the Minister aware that the labour laws of Hong Kong governing the hours of work of women are the worst in Asia and probably the worst in the world? Will he and his right hon. Friend please give attention to this matter? Is it a fact that women frequently work about eighty hours per week?

Mr. Profumo

I do not agree that the conditions under which these people are working are the worst in the world. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is the hours."] I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman did refer to the hours of work and conditions, and I am saying that I cannot agree that the conditions are the worst in the world. We had a full discussion on this on the Adjournment the other day, during which I told the House that an Employment Bill is at present in course of preliminary drafting in Hong Kong. I have said also that my right hon. Friend and the Governor are both, naturally, concerned with this problem. I hope that, when the Employment Bill is published, it will be seen that it will start to rectify some of the things hon. Member's have in mind.

Mrs. Slater

Does not the Minister think that this is a matter of great urgency and one touching the honour of our own country? Is not it a real disgrace to this present generation that we allow women to have to work thirteen hours and more a day? Can it be treated as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Profumo

Certainly, it requires to be treated as a matter of urgency, but this is not a matter which the Governor who is giving a full report, can deal with in a few days. It is a matter which requires very careful consideration, and I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) and other hon. Members will remember the very exceptional economic conditions existing at this stage in Hong Kong.

Mr. Patrick Maitland

Will my hon. Friend publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT figures showing the comparable conditions in the neighbouring Communist Republic of China and in Japan?

Mr. S. Silverman

Will the Minister bear in mind that this is a British problem as well as a Hong Kong problem and that, when he talks about exceptional eonomic conditions in Hong Kong, he should bear in mind that, as a result of those conditions, economic conditions in Lancashire are rapidly becoming exceptional too? Will he endeavour to see what relationship there is between the hours and the figures which he himself has given and the importation of goods produced under those conditions into Lancashire which is causing our own Lancashire cotton industry to bleed rapidly to death?

Mr. Profumo

I would ask the hon. Gentleman to remember what he himself has just said and to understand that this is a British problem, whether one regards it from the Lancashire end or from the Colonial end. The people of Hong Kong are just as much the responsibility of the Government as the people of Lancashire.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the Under-Secretary aware that it is because we regard them as part of our charge that we are interested in this matter? When does he expect this Bill to be produced? Can he give an undertaking that it will provide for a substantial reduction in the maximum number of hours worked?

Mr. Profumo

No, Sir; I am afraid that I cannot give any undertaking. I did indicate that it was in its early stages, but I am quite certain that the discussion we have had now will be fully reflected to the Governor and Government of Hong Kong.

Dr. Summerskill

In view of these shocking revelations, will the Minister at least give an undertaking that he will ask the Governor to prohibit women in an advanced stage of pregnancy working the maximum hours?

Mr. Profumo

That is a matter which I should like to consider. Perhaps the right hon. Lady will put it down as a separate Question.

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