HL Deb 27 May 1924 vol 57 cc690-2

VISCOUNT ASTOR had given Notice to ask Lord Parmoor as League Minister whether his attention has been called to a Report made to the International Labour Office of the League of Nations by the Persian Government on the improvements which have been effected in the conditions of child labour in the carpet industry in Persia, and whether His Majesty's Government are in a position to corroborate the statements made in that Report.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, some three or four years ago the attention of the International Labour Office was drawn to the conditions under which children were employed in Persia in the carpet industry. One can only describe the conditions, as they then seemed to exist, as being pitiable and inhuman. Persia, being a signatory to the Covenant of the League of Nations, was approached by the International Labour Office, and I understand that the Persian Government has recently made a Report to that Office as to the changes which have been brought about. I shall be very grateful if the noble Lord can tell the House whether His Majesty's Government are able to confirm the report as to improved conditions which has been submitted by the Persian Government.


My Lords, the noble Viscount is quite right in saying that this is a matter which comes largely within the purview of the Labour Office of the League of Nations, and that Persia being a member, the question of the employment of these people in the carpet trade has been a matter of much inquiry, and at one time of much anxiety. At the present time I may say, generally, that nearly all the causes which rendered this employment unsatisfactory have been removed, and the Foreign Office has information which entirely corroborates the information to which I think the noble Viscount refers. Perhaps, with the permission of the House, I may read what I think to be the information to which he refers, because it appears to me to be entirely satisfactory, and then I will add a word or two of corroboration from the information which has come to the Foreign Office.

I think the document to which he refers is in these words:— The office (the International Labour Office) now learns by a communication from the Persian Minister at Berne that in accordance with the decision of the Persian Government, the Governor of the Province of Kerman has issued a Decree dated December 17, 1923, which confirms and in some respects extends the measures previously applied. There follows an account of the measures now applied— The new Decree provides for a maximum working day of eight hours, holidays with pay on Fridays and festivals, a minimum age of eight years for boys and ten for girls, separate work places for boys and for girls with forewomen to supervise those for girls, prohibition of the employment of workers suffering from contagious disease, prohibition of underground or damp workshops, the provision of windows facing south, disposition of the weaving frame and worker's seat such as to give the best possible working position for the young worker, and monthly sanitary inspection of workshops. The police authorities are instructed to enforce these requirements, any infringement of which is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding twenty days, That is a Decree which has followed former Decrees, and I will now state what information, as regards the conditions, has come to the Foreign Office, apart from the mere question of Decrees being issued. I think that will be entirely satisfactory to the noble Viscount.

These Reports have been received by the Foreign Office for a series of years, and I have summarised them, in order that I may give the result at which we have arrived at the present time. In the first place, they find that the workshops are excellent, and compare favourably with Persian houses, even such as are lived in by the upper classes. Secondly, the conditions in the villages are good, so far as is known. That, of course, is important, because it is more difficult to see that conditions of this kind are complied with in the villages than it is in the towns. Thirdly, the standard set by foreign firms of repute has been largely followed. I should like to emphasise the fact that a large factor in the development of better conditions in the native industries has been the excellent standard which most of the foreign firms have set as regards the treatment of their workpeople. Lastly, the tendency towards general improvement is expected to be progressive.

I have not troubled your Lordships with the large number of Reports which have been received, because I thought it better to summarise them. That summary, I think, ought to be entirely satisfactory. I should like to add that I think that one of the factors which show the great importance of the work which the League of Nations docs is that they have managed to introduce a system so satisfactory into the conditions of these workpeople, and these boy and girl workers in Persia—conditions which in the past, when they first undertook the task, were found to be wholly unsatisfactory, and such as could hardly be tolerated having regard to the conditions prevailing in more civilised countries. I had an opportunity the other day of stating, in answer to Lord Lamington, the satisfaction of His Majesty's Government with the present conditions in Persia both with regard to finance and with regard to law and order, and I am pleased to add that in their industrial development great progress has taken place, entirely to the satisfaction of the Labour Office of the League of Nations and of His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, I think the Lord President of the Council has said rightly that we ought to be gratified with regard to the general condition of Persia and also with regard to the information that the regulations as to industrial conditions in that country are apparently being so carefully carried out. I was a little surprised to hear such a statement, because I travelled through the country before the war, and I do not think it could then have been said that any such satisfactory conditions existed. I understand that the information given to us is confined to the Province of Kerman. Of course, that is the Province where the principal carpet factories are, and no doubt the fact of there being European agencies in charge has largely contributed to these more satisfactory conditions. I think that we, and especially Persia, ought to feel very gratified that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, has elicited so satisfactory an account, corroborated, as it is in two quarters, by His Majesty's Government and by the League of Nations.


Lest there should be any mistake, I will repeat that I was dealing with the Province of Kerman.

House adjourned at ten minutes before six o'clock.