HC Deb 08 May 1958 vol 587 cc1405-6
24. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies the limitations on hours of work for women in cotton mills in Hong Kong; and what provision is made for a weekly rest day and annual holidays, respectively.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

There is a statutory prohibition on the employment of women between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and in addition the Commissioner of Labour's written authority is required for their employment after 8 p.m. and before 7 a.m. There are no statutory provisions for rest days and holidays. In practice, rest days in the spinning mills vary from 1½ to 4 days a month and on average six annual holidays are granted.

Mrs. Castle

Is the Colonial Secretary aware that I have received a letter from cotton workers of Tsun Wan district of Hong Kong, pointing out that the women there are working twelve-hour shifts with only a half-hour break for meals, seven days a week, for something like half-a-crown a day, and that they have appealed to Members of this House: Please help the cotton workers of Hong Kong to enjoy a decent life by ceasing this 84 hours' week"? Will not the Colonial Secretary therefore take steps to protect both Lancashire and the Hong Kong workers, who have a joint interest in this matter, against the sweated labour conditions now prevailing in Hong Kong?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

If the hon. Lady lets me have that letter, I will see that the Commissioner of Labour in Hong Kong has it. He has a particular interest and responsibility in this matter. I cannot, however, be taken as accepting as accurate the statements in the letter quoted by the hon. Lady.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Since my right hon. Friend feels that the works in Hong Kong should remain in direct competition with the mills of Lancashire, does not he feel that he has a particular responsibility to equate labour conditions between the two places?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

If we start trying to equate labour conditions everywhere as an essential ingredient of international trade, the United Kingdom might find itself in difficulty in its own overseas markets.

Mr. S. Silverman

However that may be, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that there is an immediate British interest in this matter, especially in Lancashire? While the Government refuse to impose any kind of restriction of the importation of these sweated goods into Great Britain, the Lancashire cotton worker is immediately, directly and oppressively affected by these sweated conditions in Hong Kong.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I do not think that the great problems of Imperial trade can be settled by Question and Answer in this House.