§ 23. Mr. Thornton
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement on the operation of the labour regulations in Hong Kong limiting hours of work of women and young persons, which came into operation on 1st January, 1959.
§ Mr. J. Amery
During the first six months of 1959 transitional provisions operated to give industrial employers the opportunity to adjust working conditions. The regulations are now being 1117 vigorously enforced. All factories maintain a register of women and young persons employed. A comprehensive system of inspection is aimed at ensuring that hours of work, meal breaks and rest days comply with the regulations and that there is proper reporting of overtime.
§ Mr. Thornton
Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the Colony's factory inspectorate is adequate to deal with the complex administrative problem of ensuring that each woman and young person has a rest day each week when the mills are operating on a seven-day week?
§ Mr. Amery
I hope we shall never be satisfied about these matters. Complacency is a very dangerous thing in a Government Department. The considerable number of prosecutions for evasion of the regulations should encourage the hon. Member to agree with me that the vigilance of the authorities is fairly good.
§ Mr. Osborne
Can my hon. Friend say what powers the United Kingdom Government have over the Colony to insist that decent labour standards are observed in these factories?
§ Sir J. Barlow
How many days a year are the women and children permitted to work under the new regulations?
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Did not the hon. Gentleman recognise, in answering his hon. Friend's supplementary question a moment or two ago, that there is a strong moral obligation on the Government of this country to exercise whatever powers they possess in this respect, since the result of this kind of labour condition in Hong Kong is materially to help the deterioration of the cotton industry in Lancashire, which the Government are doing nothing to assist?
§ 24. Mr. Thornton
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies when he proposes to take further steps to reduce the maximum hours of work of women and young persons in industrial establishments in Hong Kong, and so bring maximum hours into line with general Asian standards.
§ Mr. J. Amery
When the present regulations were introduced the Hong Kong Government made it clear that they were only a first step in its policy of raising minimum standards of employment. But the hon. Member will realise that the regulations have involved a major adjustment of working conditions in many undertakings. The problems of adjustment have already been overcome in all spinning mills and in more than half the larger weaving mills by changing over to 8-hour shifts. This process is spreading to other industries, but I am not yet in a position to forecast a date when maximum hours of work could be further reduced.
§ Mr. Thornton
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the maximum hours of work of women and young persons in India and Pakistan, now independent Commonwealth countries, are nine hours per day, whereas in Hong Kong even now they are ten hours a day, six days a week, with an average of two hours' overtime throughout the year? This means that the maximum legal hours of work of women and young persons in Hong Kong are still sixty-two hours a week with only four days' holiday a year. Having regard to the surplus of labour which exists in Hong Kong and to the very high profits that are made there, is it not the sensible and humane thing to reduce hours of work to general Asian standards?