HC Deb 25 April 1917 vol 92 cc2426-8W

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that a boy named C. A. Cooper, aged 16, being employed at a bakery where he had to work eighteen hours per day, applied to the Lewisham Labour Exchange to procure him better employment in regard to hours; that he was told he should join the Navy, which he declined to do; that after an interval of six weeks he was put into communication with a society called the Boys' Country Work Society, whose chairman is Lord St. Levan; that Cooper was induced to sign a document agreeing to work until he was 18 for a farmer named Parsons, Bray Farm, Hessenford, St. Germans, Cornwall; that this agreement contains clauses to the effect that the boy will not give notice to his master but will ask the Hon. Mr. Hamilton, Trevean, Truro, Cornwall, to give notice for him, that he will not find a fresh situation or leave his situation without the knowledge of the honorary secretary, and that this document professes to be witnessed by a person named F. Schwager; whether he will state who the Hon. Mr. Hamilton and F. Schwager are; whether he is aware that Cooper paid for the whole of his clothing and -outfit except his boots, the cost of which was to be deducted from his wages; that his wages were 5s. per week; that this boy was kept at work by Parsons from 5.30 a.m. till 10 to 10.30 p.m., with the result that on 28th March the boy ran away and began to walk to London; whether he was discovered in a state of exhaustion near Dartmoor Prison by -one of the conscientious objectors interned there, and a collection was raised in Dartmoor Prison to send the boy back to his home in London; whether he will undertake that the Labour Exchanges will be instructed to have nothing further to do with the Boys' Country Work Society or any similar body; and whether steps will be taken to limit the hours of work of boys of this age, in view of the state of facts disclosed in this case?


My right hon. Friend has asked me to reply to this question. C. A. Cooper was employed at the bakery of Messrs. Sanders, Lee Green, S.E. The ordinary day at the bakehouse is one of eight hours. Occasional overtime; not exceeding two hours, and specially paid, is worked. The boy's mother has stated that he was not overworked and never complained of overwork in that establishment. The allegation that the boy was told by the employés of the Lewisham Employment Exchange to go into the Navy is incorrect. He applied at that Exchange on 28th February. On 1st March the Juvenile Advisory Committee approached the Boys' Country Work Society, of which Lord St. Levan is chairman. The society suggested to the boy that he should apply for employment in the Navy, and a member of the Juvenile Advisory Committee accompanied him to the nearest recruiting office, but his educational qualifications proved insufficient. The society then attempted to obtain employment for him on a farm, and on the 14th March intimated that they were prepared to place him on the 16th March, and he actually left for Mr. Parson's farm on the 20th March. Mr. Parsons is stated to bear an excellent reputation and had already employed another boy introduced by the Boys' Country Work Society, from April, 1915, to October, 1916. It is a rule of this society that all boys placed by them should execute an agreement with their local honorary secretary that until the age of eighteen is reached, they will not leave their situations without the knowledge of the local honorary secretary. This agreement contains no condition that the boy shall continue to work for the same employer until he is eighteen. In the present case the local honorary secretary is the Hon. Mrs. Hamilton. Mr. Schwager, who witnessed the agreement, is the honorary secretary of the Care Committee of the Lewisham, Juvenile Advisory Committee. The other conditions of the agreement are as stated in the question. The boys clothes were pro- vided by his parent or himself. By arrangement made by the secretary of | the Boys' Country Work Society he was provided by the farmer with a pair of hobnailed boots, the cost to be deducted from his wages which were 5s. a week, in addition to board, lodging, washing and mending. The statement that the boy Cooper was kept at work by the farmer from 5.30 a.m. to 10 or 10.30 p.m. is denied. It is stated that the boy rose at 6.30 in the morning and did not work after 6 o'clock in the evening. Of the boy's movements after he ran away from the farm on the morning of the 28th March the Ministry has no information. The facts elicited would not justify the issue of instructions to the Employment Department to cease relations with the Boys' Country Work Society. The regulation of the hours of labour falls within the province of the Home Office.