§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mrs. Millie Miller (Ilford, North)
Over the years countless words have been poured out in this House about employment agencies. As recently as 16th February 1973 the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) succeeded in introducing a Private Member's Bill on the subject. In doing so, he stressed the urgent need for reform to license and regulate the private sector in employment agencies "nationally, realistically and firmly". That was a fine intention, but despite considerable support from both sides and the insistence of hon. Members on the need for this regulation, nothing firm has happened to this date.
1819 In that debate, much was said about the particular need to protect young people. Part of the discussion hinged on a recent scandal involving some 250 young girls who had gone to Spain to work in various kinds of sleazy establishments with "conditions of residence"—a term which does not usually apply to such situations—which according to a Guardian article at the time, appeared to have including sharing living accommodation either with Service men or with groups of men and women. The subsequent fuss gave rise to a good deal of Press comment. It is interesting to read in that debate the Minister's reference to the LCC's Employment Act of 1921, which related primarily to immorality and fraud. He said that they were subjects about which we did not need to be quite so concerned today.
I refer particularly to the need to protect the young because of revelations within the last week about young girls—in the case of one agency up to 100 over the last year—having been sent out to Belgium for similar activities. Perhaps it would interest the House if I gave some details.
Advertisements have been appearing in a journal, sold primarily for advertising purposes, which read:Girls! Tired of that routine job? Do you enjoy dancing, night life? Take a break—have fun working in a discotheque in Belgium (no experience necessary). £40 to £60 per week plus bonuses.I suppose that the only experience needed would be that of dancing, whether in discotheques or anywhere else.
That advertisement was in a magazine for which one had to pay, but others having been appearing in give-away magazines.
§ Mrs. Miller
Yes, of course—it is the London Weekly Advertiser.
It is interesting to note that, although that advertisement does not appear in the current issue, there is a different one which I had intended to bring to the attention of the House. That one is headed not just "Girls", but "Photogenic Girls". Those photogenic girls are required to model for nude photographs. One of the attractions, apparently, is that free photographs 1820 graphs are provided. Perhaps this adds interest to this kind of job for the girls themselves. I mention the fact that girls are involved because although it is true that the word "girls" can cover a multitude of sins, those going over to Belgium are aged between 16 and 20.
I am concerned about the nature of the advertisement and the implication that it is young girls who are wanted. I am even more worried about the fact that advertisements of this kind have been appearing in journals which are given away in their thousands or even hundreds of thousands on the streets of London. One is called Girl and another is called Miss London. Both are free, pushed into the hand of every likely-looking young woman who passes. I was even given one myself, by mistake, probably in connection with the advertisements for office workers rather than those for discotheque dancers.
I think that the House should know what happens after a girl has seen an advertisement and before she actually reaches foreign climes. I know of two agencies particularly concerned in this. One calls itself a theatrical agency—Ballet Jon McGrath. In response to inquiries it sends out a letter and then interviews suitable girls, of whom there seems to be no shortage. The letter says:We have noted … that you have been interviewed for work in Belgium. We are at present interviewing Disco-Birds for the King Discotheque, Ostend. Salary 600 Belgium francs per day (approximately £6.50) less Ten per cent. agency fee, also social security. Accommodation is arranged"—a fact which should be noted—costing approximately £1 per day … The contracts used are passed by the Westminster City Council and comply with the Belgium laws. Should you be interested, please telephone my office and arrange a meeting.P.S. Disco-Birds. The name Disco-Bird was taken from Discotheque Disco-Bird Bird-lands as some of the pubs are called in London.A Disco-Bird is employed for the Disco-theques in Belgium just to create ambience"—translated in brackets as "atmosphere"—to encourage people to come into the Disco-theques especially in the early part of the evening something similar to the crowds as seen on TV programmes i.e. Top of the Pops, Ready, Steady, Go etc. Ordinary clothes are worn just as one would wear in any disco.So the young girl goes along and is interviewed and told that she is the lucky 1821 person who is to get this fabulous job abroad.
I have been the mother of a 16 to 17 year old girl. Until I entered the House I was employed on counselling girls in this age group. I know only too well the lure of travel anywhere across the sea, the lure of anything to do with television and the lure of anything to do with disco-theques. Further, I know the pressures that these youngsters can impose on their parents, especially if their friends are already involved in this kind of activity.
The young ladies who are fortunate enough to be engaged are given a contract to sign, which is the standard contract of the Variety and Allied Entertainers' Council of Great Britain. It gives the address of the King Disco in Ostend and gives the hours the girls are to be employed as from 7 to 4 p.m. or 8 to 5 p.m. That is what it says on the card. Further back, however, somehow the hours seem to change. They change in the schedule of performances from 7 to 4 p.m. I am sorry—I have mislead the House. They still remain the same, but my information is that they are the opposite—7 p.m. to 4 a.m.
In fact, if young people in Belgium were to apply for jobs of this kind they would be precluded by Belgian law from taking them because no girls under the age of 21 are allowed to be employed in any kind of entertainment industry at night. From that point of view, therefore, their employment is illegal.
It is true that the wage, as set out in the original letter, is 600 Belgian francs per day. It goes on to say:The artiste will be fined for any 1 minute late two Belgian francs. The artiste is not allowed to work or visit any other disco within the run of this contract. Doing so will mean a breach of contract.It also says:Should the artiste stay in Belgium for any other reason than sickness they will forfeit to the agency £2 for any 1 week of this contract completed.I have no idea what that means. I am sure that the signatories to the contract have no idea either. I mention that because it is another example of the misleading nature of the contract.
I return to the point which I have asked the House to remember—that accom- 1822 modation is arranged. It is arranged in an establishment called the Night and Day Hotel in Ostend. During last week the BBC televised a programme showing some of these young girls aged from 16 upwards who had gone to Belgium on a contract of this kind and had gone to the Night and Day Hotel. That hotel turns out to be a brothel and is known to be a brothel by the Belgian police. In the interview which the Chief of Police in Ostend gave on television he expressed grave concern about the situation and said that these young girls were on the threshold of prostitution.
A lot has been said, as I have mentioned, about the need to protect young people. In the debate on his Bill the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford said that it was nonsense to pass his Bill without adequate regulations being made. He referred—I agree absolutely with the example he gave—to his Bill as "a slumbering elephant—all trunk and no movement" without the regulations which would force its implementation.
The sad thing is that although that Bill received Royal Assent in July 1973 no regulations were introduced until June 1974, although the regulations which are set out would in many ways serve to deal with the kind of situation I have described today. As I understand it, the Government sent out draft regulations for consideration by interested parties in the industry. The proposals include one which states that an agent will not be allowed to introduce to an employer anyone under the age of 18 years unless he has first satisfied himself that the young person has received vocational guidance from a local education authority. I wonder about the vocational guidance necessary to be a disco-bird.
However, we then move on to the recommendations regarding employment overseas where it is said thatThe written consent of parent or guardian will be a pre-condition of placing anyone under 18 years in a job abroad, or from overseas into a job in this country. Agents placing young people from abroad, or going abroad, will have to satisfy themselves as to the suitability of accommodation and its cost. Premature termination of employment in under a year makes the agents responsible".I mention this because the misleading sentence that I quoted, describing what would happen in the event of sickness, or 1823 whatever it was, in Belgium, is quite contrary to this, which states that an agent would be responsible for financing the cost of the fare for the employee's return to the home country and thatAdvertisements issued by agents for publication outside Great Britain will have to state any conditions that must by law be satisfied by job applicants before they can take up employment in this country".It is a pity that these regulations have not so far been implemented. I know that it is the Government's intention to introduce them. I hope that the time will not be too long delayed. However, what I feel I should do today is draw the attention of the Government to the fact that movement of young people under the age of 16 abroad is amply covered under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. Section 25(1) of that Act clearly states:No person having the custody, charge or care of any person under the age of eighteen years shall allow him, nor shall any person cause or procure any person under that age, to go abroad for the purpose of singing, playing, performing, or being exhibited, for profit, unless … a licence has been granted in respect of him under this section.Penalties are laid down for breach of the regulations in this respect. It seems, therefore, that already, before we have the regulations which cover the whole of the Employment Agencies Act, there is the possibility of taking action against agents who are flouting the conditions of an existing law. That is one aspect, but there are many others.
I was a little troubled, in view of the information I have given to the House, to see that in the discussions on that Bill theatrical agencies were expressly excluded. I can well understand that the relationship between genuine members of the theatrical profession and their agents may be a subject which ought not to be tied in quite the same way. Nevertheless, where an agency is using its freedom as a theatrical agency to do this kind of thing as a sideline the Government should be very well aware of what is going on, and such an agency should be certainly subject to the conditions in the Children and Young Persons Act even if it does not have to abide by them under the Employment Agencies Act.
A further point which is of considerable importance concerns the whole question of advertisements. At present 1824 the control of advertisements is entirely on a voluntary basis. It is dealt with by the code of advertising practice of the Advertising Standards Agency. Unfortunately, it has no powers over the give-away books. I have consulted it on this matter and it is confirmed that these magazines are totally outside its realm. In any case, it can make recommendations only, and it tells me that it usually does so very discreetly. We then come into an area of concern about a whole range of advertisements. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear this in mind when talking to his colleagues because it is something to be taken into account.
There is one other point which does not relate to young persons. I am as concerned for people over 18 as for those under. A number of such people are among those who are in Ostend at the moment. There are two agencies and I have named one of them. The second is the H and V Agency which apparently is a Belgian-based company. I have its full name if hon. Members are interested. It has a branch in this country and is engaged in the same kind of business as the first agency. However, it has an additional interest which my hon. Friend might find of particular concern in view of the problems in other areas. The second string of the agency is exporting "lump" labour to Belgium. It is sending a wide range of building workers out to Blankenberghe and these workers are putting in something like 12 hours a day under the same conditions which apply to "lump" labour in this country. In view of the concern that trade unionists here are expressing about "lump" labour I should imagine that if what is happening comes to be known among Belgian trade unionists, they might take a similar view.
This subject has been discussed ad infinitum. I mentioned originally the London County Council's 1921 Act. Subsequently there have been Private Members' Bills, not all of them successful. There was a Prices and Incomes Board report on the matter and a House of Commons Select Committee has reported on it. There is an ILO Convention of a similar nature, but that convention goes much further than the proposals which are before this House by saying that agencies should be either regulated or 1825 abolished. It is quite clear and specific on that aspect.
The Government must take action. I am sure that there has been a sufficient succession of events surrounding foreigners coming here to work—and I refer to the au pair girls and the Philippino women who have come here in the past few years, and workers going out of this country to the most unsatisfactory conditions—to give cause for concern. People are making substantial sums by handling an illegal trade—in the case of the young girls it is not too melodramatic to say that this trade is verging on white slavery—by sending youngsters unprotected abroad to a place where they are, according to views of the police of that country, in very serious danger and at moral risk.
I ask the Minister to consult with those responsible for receiving the girls into Belgium. I have recently had a case in my constituency of a young woman, quite legitimately and with the consent of her parents, going with her fiance to live in another Common Market country. However, because she had only a small amount of money with her, and although her fiance had an ample supply of money, a job and a flat for them both to live in, she was turned back at the port of entry. If the Belgian police are concerned about what is happening the British Government should put pressure on the receiving authorities in Belgium not to allow into their country young girls who have inadequate money and unsatisfactory jobs.
This matter has been talked about long enough. The regulations would do a great deal to rectify most of the abuses I have described. The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford, in introducing his Bill, was dealing with a very important subject of great public interest, not merely to the parents of the youngsters and to trade unionists concerned about "lump" labour, but to everybody who is concerned that we should not be misled about the way in which jobs are advertised. I hope that what I have said today will help to speed up the introduction of the regulations without which the Act, which is now two years old, will continue to be meaningless.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
First I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) on raising this subject. It has been somewhat nostalgic to listen to her speech and think back on the Bill that I introduced. It now seems a long time ago. I congratulate her, too, for raising the subject at this civilised hour. We have had two rather late nights and I do not know what we would have done if this subject had come up at 5 o'clock in the morning.
Introducing a Private Member's Bill is almost like having a child. There is a certain amount of activity well in advance to produce the Bill, as with a child. There is a long period of hard labour in actually producing it, and afterwards one is never quite sure whether it will be implemented immediately. I am told that it is not unusual for a Private Member's Bill to take some time to be implemented. This Act has been on the statute book long enough and we require regulations to be introduced as soon as possible.
However, in this case I think the regulations which have to be laid under Section 5 of the Act require a certain amount of consideration and a good deal of discussion. I have kept in touch as far as I could with what was going on. I understand from the Government that they have almost completed their consideration, so it may not be too long before they have the regulations. The regulations will cover what the hon. Member for Ilford, North has rightly pointed out is required in order to establish a good pattern of employment agencies and a system of working which will give confidence to the public.
While my Bill was going through the House, I was in close touch with those involved in the question of employment agencies which belonged to the Federation of Personnel Services. Without any doubt, they want the measure, its regulations, and the standards which will follow. They believe it is the only way in which they can provide the kind of service which the public wants, and in which they can root out the kind of agency that the hon. Member for Ilford, North described and which seems still to exist.
After the Government have put their proposals before the House the agencies 1827 will have to register, and if they do not conform to standards they will cease to exist. There is no reason why the sleazy agency should exist now, however—certainly in London and some of the big cities. The Greater London Council can take action already. In many ways it should have begun to take action under its existing powers as soon as the measure was put through the House. Perhaps the fact that the hon. Lady has raised the subject, and that we are having this short debate, will lead the GLC to consider what it should do.
I do not think that the newspapers should be blamed for taking the advertisements. Having investigated the matter, the hon. Lady discovered that there was something underlying the advertisements that she read out. But the advertisements appeared to be perfectly reasonable as she read them out. I am glad that the hon. Lady was not tempted to become a disco-bird, because she would have been lost to the House. Doubtless she thinks that she has enough night work here, anyway. The publication in question does a service to London. I believe that it is widely used by people wanting jobs and that most of the advertisements in it would normally meet the standards laid down by the Advertising Standards Agency.
I imagine that the publication had no idea that there was anything unsavoury about the advertisements the hon. Lady read out. The GLC can deal with the matter if it wishes.
I support the hon. Lady's request to the Government to introduce the regulations as soon as they can. I believe that they will be fairly comprehensive. The Act provides that they should be. They can deal with the two questions that the hon. Lady raised—of young persons and of people leaving this country for employment abroad, as well as people coming from abroad to be employed here. I want to see the measure activated as soon as possible.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising the subject.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) on raising the subject. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland 1828 and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) said, it seems a long time ago, although it was not, when we put the Act on the statute book. Any reasonable person would be on the hon. Lady's side in her condemnation of unsavoury practices such as she described. It is right that the Press and others should expose such practices. But the hon. Lady will agree that, whichever Government are in power, there will always be those who try to get round the regulations. There will always be examples of such malpractices, however much we legislate.
I must declare an interest, because I am a director of a management consultancy firm of international repute. The important thing is to get a good, high standard generally among the majority of operators in a particular area.
My hon. Friend did a Trojan amount of work on the Employment Agencies Act, which had the benign acceptance of the Department of Employment, in which I was then engaged. The Act went a long way towards levelling up the standards of all types of agency. The vast majority of agencies throughout the country are honourable and of good repute, whether they are engaged in the kind of activity in which my firm is engaged—executive search—or in dealing with domestic employment, clerical employment or other specialised interests. They welcomed the Act, and, as I know from my time in Government, co-operated in making it a sensible measure which could show the way to those who perhaps were not quite up to the previous standards. Once the regulations are implemented, those who flout them will lose their licence and can be hounded out of business.
Like my hon. Friend, I hope that the Government will be able to indicate when they will be able to produce the regulations. I also hope that the regulations will be sensible and workable, and in the spirit of the Act. During the passage of the Act there was a good deal of unanimity between the two sides in Committee.
I appreciate the hon. Lady's concern about advertising. I know that in another context the code of advertising practice is well operated by all reputable publications, and that people in the advertising industry and the newspaper industry are constantly giving concern and 1829 attention to making sure that malpractices do not occur. But advertisements can be worded in such a way as to have a different meaning from that which they appear to have. It is hard to guard against that. However, it would be wrong to introduce statutory control of advertising, as some Labour Members have suggested. It would be dangerous in the long term to go down that road.
I am glad that the hon. Lady raised the subject. We look forward to having the regulations from the Government. I hope and believe that they will be sensible and workable. I am positive that the employment agency profession will do its best to co-operate in their implementation.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
I must first declare an interest. As the Minister knows, I act as an adviser to the Federation of Personnel Services, and I know full well that most agencies in this country will be as grateful as we are to the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) for raising what is obviously an outrageous case.
As the promoter, or perhaps re-promoter, of the Indecent Displays Bill, I am totally in agreement with what the hon. Lady said, and I hope that she will be with me next week, at least in spirit.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) said, it is important to get it firmly on the record that what the hon. Lady described is not typical of the behaviour of employment agencies. The hon. Lady spoke moderately and sensibly, and did a service to the House and the whole industry, but it is important to underline that there will be just as much revulsion and horror among the vast majority of decent agencies, which place millions of girls in good jobs over the years, at these malpractices.
The federation with which I am associated will never have any truck with that sort of agency, as the Minister knows. Such an agency is not admitted to membership. If members misbehave, they are expelled. A tight code of practice is operated by the federation and rigorously applied to all its members.
Agencies are anxiously waiting for a definitive pronouncement from the Minister, 1830 who has been extremely helpful over the last two years. He was on the Opposition benches when the Act went through, and made many constructive suggestions. He enjoys a happy relationship with the federation. I hope that he will be able to tell us tonight when the regulations are likely to be implemented, for it is essential that they should be implemented.
I underline a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis), who has done so much in this matter. Within London and many of our great cities, there is already the power to deal with rogues and pirates. I hope that certain officials will blush when they read Hansard and realise that the sort of thing about which we have heard tonight still goes on. Theirs is the obligation and the responsibility, and they should be doing something about the matter.
I hope that the regulations will be produced soon, and that they will be sensible and workable. But that is no reason why they should not be tough and rigorous and solve not just most of the problems, as the hon. Lady said they would, but all the problems.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)
We have had an interesting short debate. I join my hon. Friends the Members for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) and Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) in congratulating the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) on raising the topic. It is good that we have the father of the Employment Agencies Act here to tell us something about it, to tell us of some of the difficulties of getting it on to the statute book and of the need to introduce the regulations so that it works at 100 per cent. capacity.
I have before me the draft regulations from the Department of Employment which were published in December 1974. I feel that the section that deals with placings outside the United Kingdom or with workers from outside the United Kingdom goes almost the whole way in dealing with the points that the hon. Lady raised in bringing a particular case to the attention of the House. As she has said, the Bill received all-party support. It is not yet properly off the ground because the regulations have not been laid before the House.
1831 I shall refer briefly to two points which are of importance and which stood out in the Bill when it became law. Section 13 of the Act deals with licensing authorities. It provides that licensing will be done by local authorities rather than by some sort of national unit. I hope that we shall have a hint from the Minister about the plans of the local authorities to train inspectors for licensing purposes. For some local authorities the licensing of employment agencies will be a new function.
I hope that my next point will be noted by the public. If we are to give power to local authorities—I am all for getting as much power as possible out of Whitehall and Westminster and into the hands of the local authorities—the question may arise of whether a local authority has carried out its licensing duties properly. There could be a case in which a member of the public felt aggrieved by the way that he or she had been treated by the licensing authority. He or she might feel that it had not investigated an employment agency properly. As I read the Local Government Act 1974, it would be open to a member of the public to go to the local ombudsman if he or she felt that there had been maladministration by the licensing authority, which, as the Act provides, is the local authority.
I desperately want the public in local matters to make full use of their local ombudsman. We put a provision to that effect into the Local Government Act. We gave local ombudsmen a wide range of powers. In my view, we do not have enough local ombudsmen.
The Act gives a new responsibility to many local authorities, and there is an extra safeguard if a member of the public feels that the licensing authority has not done its job properly. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that he means to keep the local authorities as the licensing authorities. I hope that he will be able to say something about the training of inspectors and about any plans that the Government may have in that respect. I am sure that the public will be given confidence as the Act gets off the ground. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford said, the sooner the regulations are made law the better.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)
I must 1832 straight away add my congratulations to those which have been properly and readily extended to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller). I think she has done a service for young women. She made a sensible and effective speech. I hope that this short but useful debate will add to the attention which has been rightly focused on what seems to me to be a clear abuse and exploitation of young womanhood. I think that the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) will see as I proceed that I intend to respond to the points that he has raised.
I understand and sympathise with my hon. Friend's concern. Similarly understanding and sympathy have been reflected during the debate. I agree that there is a need for the activities of private employment agencies to be controlled and for there to be careful regulation governing the placing of young people in jobs abroad.
The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) has rightly reminded the House that we were largely in agreement in Committee when dealing with the Bill and, indeed, during its passage through the House before it became the Employment Agencies Act 1973. As he and the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) will recall, there were one or two points about which we had some difference of opinion. For example, there was the matter of which authority should be the licensing authority. Perhaps the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford will not be completely happy about what I shall say on that point at a later stage.
I have noted carefully what my hon. Friend has said about the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 and the way in which that Act is available, in her understanding, to do something to deal with the problem about which she has spoken. I must tell her that that Act does fall within the responsibility not of my own Department but of the Department of Health and Social Security. I see that my hon. Friend nods in agreement; I am glad that she understands that. I shall convey what my hon. Friend has said to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. Equally, I shall convey her remarks to the attention of those responsible for the overseas 1833 activities of my Department. Having regard to what she has said about the need to draw attention to these matters with those who have relationships with foreign Governments, I shall pass on her remarks.
The House will recognise that private employment agencies have grown into a major commercial activity. We recognise that at present they have a rôle to play in the labour market alongside advertising and other forms of recruitment and alongside the public employment service. As the House will know, that service is undergoing a radical and successful modernisation. I believe that the private employment agencies will have a rôle to play only if they are properly and honourably conducted. I am sure that I echo the feelings of all hon. Members who are present.
The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West said that he spoke to some degree on behalf of the Federation of Personnel Services. The federation has done a great deal to lift and maintain standards, but there still remains a real need for effective national licensing and for controls to raise standards generally to those of the very best. There are those who take the view that private employment agencies should be abolished altogether. We have been required to look carefully at the representations to that effect that were made recently by the Trades Union Congress. We concluded, as did the House of Commons Expenditure Committee in its Seventh Report for the 1972–73 Session, that abolition is not a practicable proposition at present and that such abuses and malpractices as there are in the current system can best be dealt with through the implementation of the Employment Agencies Act.
I should say to my hon. Friend that we are sharply aware of the manpower policy commitment of "Labour's Programme for Britain" and the declared objective of using a strong manpower board and its facilities tobe responsible for using its vastly superior resources and expertise to drive almost out of existence the private employment agency …".I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome that declaration of healthy competition. Let me assure her that it is our 1834 intention to deal with the immediate situation by bringing the Act into operation. I am afraid that the consideration given to abolition has delayed implementation. I must tell the House that I expect some further slight delay. I am sure that the reason will be seen as fully justified as the result will be to increase the effectiveness of the legislation.
The Act at present provides for licensing and enforcement to become the responsibility of 160 larger units of local authority. During the period of consultation on possible regulations to be made under the Act it has become increasingly apparent that there is a need for stronger and more uniform enforcement than that which can be achieved by a large number of local authorities with differing interpretations and standards. I see the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford smiling in recollection that that was very much the point that I made when the Bill was in Committee. It was also a point that was recognised by the House of Commons Expenditure Committee in the report to which I have already referred.
We hope to amend the Act to transfer the licensing authority responsibilities to the Department of Employment. I think that the House will agree that a centralised system of licensing will ensure stronger and more consistent standards of enforcement. We hope to incorporate the necessary amendments in the forthcoming Employment Protection Bill. It is our intention to bring the amended Employment Agencies Act into operation as soon as practicable after the Employment Protection Bill is passed.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
The Minister has made an interesting and important announcement. I do not cavil too much at that. I do not feel too strongly about it. We debated this during the proceedings on the Bill. Some people favoured the county council and others the district council. On balance, we came down on the side of the smaller authorities because we felt that they were local and knew the local scene. There was one other reason, and that was that we felt it would be rather difficult for the Minisstry to be judge in its own court since the Ministry, through the Manpower Services Commission, has its own employment agencies. The Manpower Services 1835 Commission is the State arm of employment agencies. We have the free enterprise agencies competing with the Manpower Services Commission agencies. The Minister would have the power to regulate the free enterprise agencies. It is possible that the Ministry, in certain circumstances, and with certain Ministers, might feel that it wanted to support the State sector rather than the free enterprise sector. This was the argument that made us come down in favour of local authorities. I do not over-rate the point. I want to see this Bill effective, and, therefore, I will not make too much of it.
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman has put his point most reasonably. I understand it. I ask the House to appreciate the great and growing pressure that there has been—all hon. Members have seen evidence of this—for the abolition of private employment agencies. We cannot ignore the strength of the demands made not merely by trade unions but by some employers, who see employment agencies as a disagreeable activity with which they come into contact from time to time. We have also seen Government civil servants protesting on the streets about the activities of these agencies. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman said that he did not wish to make too much of the point that has been repeatedly made about the State having access to the internal affairs of its competitors and to some degree having influence over such agencies.
We must recognise that the State is in the business not as a commercial activity but, instead, to render a social and economic function. Therefore, it is wrong to see it as a kind of commercial competitor. It is important to bear that in mind when making the point about the position of the State vis-à-vis the confidential information of the private employment agencies.
§ Mr. Cormack
This is an important point. Everyone knows to what considerable pressure and powers of persuasion the Minister and his colleagues at the Department have been subjected for some months. Nevertheless, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) has considerable substance. I hope that the Minister will clarify who, in each 1836 area, will be personally responsible for the supervision of the area. If he cannot do it tonight, perhaps he will undertake to do it at the earliest opportunity.
§ Mr. Walker
I am anxious to be as frank and as helpful as possible. Let me try to help the hon. Gentleman by saying that it is our intention to create a unit within the Department that will have its own officers to look after the enforcement of the regulations.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
I, too, am extremely interested in what the Minister has said. This is probably not the time or place to debate it. Could I ask him to make absolutely sure that there is some worthwhile and fair basis for appeal if the whole procedure is centralised? It would be utterly wrong for the Minister to be judge and jury in his own court. There has to be some means of appeal, because there will undoubtedly be occasions when there should be an appeal. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the good sense which he, his officials and the Government, have shown on this one occasion in resisting the reactionary forces who want to abolish almost everything which is of a private nature. For once the Government can be congratulated.
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman ought not to be too premature in his congratulations. I have not yet reached the end of my speech. I thank him for his remarks. I speak off the cuff here—I have the Act at my side but I do not want to take up time by going through it—when I say I believe there is provision for appeals in the Act. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford nodding.
§ Mr. Walker
Yes, There is provision in the parent Act. There is the power for the Secretary of State to establish an appeals machinery. He has the power to appoint a person to listen to appeals.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
I have the Act here. The relevant section is Section 4. There is one slight hiccough here, and that relates to the Secretary of State appointing someone independent to hear the appeal "in the prescribed manner". If the Secretary of State is changing the registration it will be necessary for him to appoint someone who is independent.
§ Mr. Walker
The Act says that the Secretary of State has the power to appoint someone to hear appeals. I am sure that in those circumstances the Secretary of State would seek to appoint someone who would have the confidence of the parties to the appeal. Otherwise it would, manifestly, be a charade.
The amendments we propose will not, however, preclude the possible delegation of these functions to the Manpower Services Commission at some future date if it is thought, in the light of experience, that that would be an appropriate way to proceed. We think, too, that there would be value in a study being undertaken on the rôle of the private employment agencies and employment businesses in the labour market, particularly in the light of changes resulting from the bringing into operation of the Act. It might be that the Manpower Services Commission would be a suitable body to carry out such a study. I intend to have discussions on this with the commission.
I turn now to the regulations to be made under the Act. We have referred to the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford as the "father" of the Act. I am not sure whether we have not been confusing birth with conception. I could not help recalling the words of T. S. Elliot, thatBetween the conception and the act Falls the shadow.Here has fallen a shadow which will continue to delay the regulations for a little while.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North that the Act and the regulations cover theatrical agencies. The exemptions are dealt with in Section 13(7), and theatrical agencies are not among the exemptions. I ought to qualify that by pointing out that the Secretary of State has power, under Section 6, to exempt from the requirement not to charge employers for finding work. That could apply to those employers operating in the theatrical world.
The Act gives my right hon. Friend the power to make a variety of regulations. The heart of the Act is Section 5 which provides for the making of regulations to secure the proper conduct of not only of employment agencies but employment businesses, which are separately de- 1838 fined, and to safeguard the interests of workers and employers who use them.
We have consulted a large number of interested bodies about our proposals for the regulations, and the House will be glad to hear that we are now close to the stage of finalisation. We are confident that the stringent set of rules we propose will go a long way towards dealing with abuses which have been the subject of frequent criticism and complaint. They will help to achieve a uniformly higher standard in the industry.
I would single out for special mention some of the proposals for regulations which will bear on the sort of situation to which my hon. Friend referred; namely, the placing abroad of young people. One or two have been referred to in the debate, but I think it would be as well for me to spell them out.
First, our proposals will require an employment agent to obtain the written consent of the parent or guardian before placing a young person under 18 abroad.
Second, and most important, an employment agent will not be permitted to arrange for the employment abroad of any United Kingdom resident unless he has obtained written information from a person or source of suitable standing—for example, a firm of solicitors on a British consul's list—testifying to the satisfactory nature of the proposed employment and to the good character of the prospective employer. Similar clearance will have to be obtained of the standing of any agent abroad whose services an agent in this country proposes to use. Such an agent would have to hold a licence in the country concerned if the law there required it.
Third, before placing a young person under 18 abroad the agent will be required to satisfy himself that the young person has suitable acommodation to go to, and that the charge for it is commensurate with the wages to be paid and that these arrangements are acceptable to the young person. Fourth, he will have to satisfy himself that the young person has a return ticket. Otherwise he will have to obtain a written undertaking from a suitable person who agrees to advance the amount of the return fare in the event of premature termination or non-commencement of the job, or on its completion if it is for a fixed term. 1839 Moreover, in the event of failure of a written undertaking of this kind the agent will be held responsible for advancing the return fare to the young person. Thus, where the job falls through, or turns out to be very different from what the young person has been led to believe, he or she will not be left stranded and unable to get home without the assistance of a British consul.
Fifth, in the case of all placings abroad the agent will be obliged to give the worker, before he departs, a written statement setting out full details of the job, including its nature and the duties to be performed, plus particulars of such matters as wages, hours of work, notice, accommodation, travel arrangements and information about the general requirements of the immigration law of the country concerned. Similarly, he will have to give written information about the worker to the prospective employer.
Sixth, the agent will not be allowed to introduce a worker to an employer where he has not satisfied himself that the employment would be legal, and in cases where legal conditions attach to the taking of a job the agent will be required to ensure that both employer and worker are aware of them. This will mean, for example, that if the law of the country concerned provides that no person under 18 shall be employed in a particular type of establishment, the agent must take reasonable steps to ensure that he places no one under 18 with such an employer.
My hon. Friend referred specifically to advertising, and I note what the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) said. Seventh, we also intend to make regulations in relation to advertising by private employment agencies and businesses. We have not yet finalised our proposals, and we are considering carefully how such matters as false or misleading advertising should be dealt with. I should certainly welcome any views that my hon. Friend or any hon. Member might have.
Finally, the agent will have to keep records on all these matters to enable an inspector of the licensing authority to check that the regulations are being complied with.
These are some of the matters that we have in mind to include in the regula- 1840 tions. I will make sure that my hon. Friend is sent a copy of our full proposals and would certainly welcome any comment which she or any other hon. Member may care to make on them. I feel confident that she will agree that they will help to curtail the undesirable overseas placing activities of certain less scrupulous—or as my hon. Friend says "sleazy"—agencies which have been the subject of publicity and complaint in recent months.
There are, of course, penalties for non-compliance with the regulations. Contraventions will render an agent liable to prosecution and on summary conviction to a fine of up to £400. Furthermore, the agent's licence may be revoked on the grounds that an employment agency has been or is being improperly conducted.
§ Mrs. Miller
Will the regulations require that agencies should not set up in business initially until they have been licensed? Under the present system of local authority licensing, where it applies, local authorities allow agencies to be set up pending the granting of the licence.
§ Mr. Walker
I understand my hon. Friend to say that there are circumstances at present in which, in a licensing area, an agent can set up a business first and then apply for a licence.
§ Mr. Walker
I understand the point, but I cannot tell my hon. Friend exactly the position. I think it is as she wishes it to be and that a business must seek a licence before it can operate, but I had better make certain of that. I will do so and let my hon. Friend know exactly what the position is.
My hon. Friend referred to "lump" labour. She will recognise that this problem, apart from what the Government are bringing forward in terms of other legislation, will fall not so much on employment agencies but on employment businesses, which are separately defined in the Act and for which we intend to bring forward regulations as for employment agencies.
In conclusion, I should perhaps explain the present position in relation to the licensing and control of employment 1841 agencies. As my hon. Friend may perhaps be aware, a number of local authorities, mainly in London and the home counties and a few other cities, currently license employment agencies under local Acts and require them to comply with byelaws relevant to their conduct. Thus, until the Employment Agencies Act comes into operation complaints about the conduct of any agency situated in one of these areas should be raised with the local authority concerned. I understand that the appropriate licensing authority is, in fact, aware of the case about which my hon. Friend is concerned.
I thank my hon. Friend once again for having brought this matter to the attention of the House. She has given me the opportunity to explain the latest state of play and to give assurances for which the House has asked about the introduction of regulations. Although I have not perhaps answered all my hon. Friend's questions, I hope that I have assured her that the action she seeks has been taken.