HL Deb 01 May 1973 vol 342 cc3-8

2.41 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of the Bill is to strengthen the existing legislation governing the employment of children in part-time work and during holidays. The general position at the present time is that the law prohibits, with minor exceptions, the employment of any child who is under the age of 13. This Bill seeks to protect all children between the age of 13 and the school leaving age. It has wide support from many groups who are interested in the welfare of children. The Bill was piloted through another place by my honourable friend and fellow countryman from Somerset, the Member for Louth, and was passed unamended.

It is, however, slightly more than an ordinary Private Member's Bill, for two reasons. First of all, the Bill is based on research. This research was sponsored by the Department of Health and Social Security and was carried out by Dr. Emrys Davies in 1970. On November 10, 1972, a summary of his research findings was published in a periodical called Education. This periodical, I understand, is not in the Library at the present time, but the Librarian assures me that should any noble Lord wish to consult it he will obtain a copy. Secondly, the Bill is based on consultation. A consultative document was issued in 1970 and comments on it were received from no less than 50 organisations covering the fields of education, welfare and local government, and in addition comments were received from employers' associations and from the Trades Union Congress and its counterpart in Scotland.

Two main points of common ground emerged from the research and from the 'consultation. The first was the lack of uniformity in the present rules and regulations governing the employment of these children which, at the present time, are embodied in by-laws passed by local authorities. There is a very wide variation from one part of the country to another in these by-laws. For example, some of them state that there may be no employment before the age of 13, whereas in other places the age laid down is 14. It is also possible for a child to be living in one area subject to one code of bylaws, and to be employed only a mile or two away in another area with a different and separate code. Rules for working on Saturdays and Sundays also vary considerably from place to place. All these factors make for difficulties, particularly for families who, for one reason or another, move house to a different part of the country. They also produce very serious difficulties and problems of enforcement. This aspect of the question is dealt with in Clause 1, which replaces the existing local by-laws by a power given to the Secretary of State to make regulations applying uniformly to the whole country. In addition, the Secretary of State will be enabled to make it necessary for children to obtain a permit from their local education authority before they take up any employment.

The second point of common ground concerns the supervision of children's employment and the prevention of unsuitable, though lawful, employment. Clause 2 enables local authorities to obtain in advance details of proposed employment from parents and employers. It gives power to local authorities to prevent a child taking a job which is unsuitable to that child or is prejudicial to its education. Such prejudice is likely to be on purely personal grounds, something affecting the particular child in question; and I believe it would be a definite improvement on the present position where the harmful employment has to be actually begun before the local authority can intervene. At present, local authorities' powers extend only to children in certain specified schools. In future, it is proposed that the powers should apply to all children, regardless of what school they are attending and regardless of whether they are actually attending school at the time, provided that they are of the necessary age.

I think that the majority of Members of this House have children of their own and many of those who do not have been concerned over a long period of years with the education and welfare of children. This Bill seeks to protect the interests of the individual child and it is estimated that as many as 750,000 children may be affected by its provisions. I trust that it will commend itself to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a;.—(Lord Hylton.)

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, may I offer the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, congratulations on introducing this measure in this House, and particularly on the manner in which he has done so. I have no wish to repeat all the good points about the Bill which he has enumerated. On this side we welcome it, because it ensures that there will be uniformity throughout the country in regard to the conditions of employment of children of compulsory school age. At the same time, it leaves to local government considerable responsibilities for ensuring in their turn that the measure is respected as it ought to be. We on this side will do everything we can to help expedite the progress of the Bill through this House. I would join with the noble Lord in commending it to your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I should like for one very brief moment to support this Bill, not so much because of what is in it, but because it is concerned with a subject which is rather dear to my heart. Under this Bill there will be regulations which can be used as a very powerful lever to right a position which has become rather serious, particularly of late. There is a quite extraordinary gap between the child at school and the young person at work and, to some extent, this gap must somehow be bridged before the child leaves school. That means that before he leaves school the child must be given a picture of what life at work is like. I am afraid that schoolmasters are almost exactly the wrong persons to do this. Schoolmasters are quite extraordinarily bad at telling children what will follow after, and they have very little experience of it themselves. It is my belief that if, centrally, something strong can be done towards letting the children see more of industry before they leave school, either through short experience or other methods, and if regulations can be carefully framed so as to make this not only possible but, so far as it can be done, open wide, so that it can be done thoroughly, then this Bill is going to be an extraordinarily good thing. It is for the sake of those regulations and the purpose for which I wish to see them used, which is showing school children what is available when they leave school and go into industry, that I wish to support this Bill.

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I speak today in the absence of my noble friend Lord Aberdare, and I should like to confirm that this Bill has the Government's full support. My noble friend Lord Hylton has admirably explained the purpose of the Bill and its background, and we are pleased to have from the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, confirmation of support for this Bill in its passage through this House. As my noble friend Lord Hylton has said, the Bill stems from a review of this branch of the law which the present Government initiated in November, 1970, when a Consultative Document was issued. Useful comments were made by a wide range of interested bodies. Broadly, the Bill gives effect to changes which the Government decided upon as a result of that review. Noble Lords may recall that these intended changes were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Aberdare last May in the debate on the Second Reading of the Children Bill. We therefore welcome wholeheartedly the introduction of this Bill; and, as my noble friend Lord Hylton has said, our consultations in 1970 showed overwhelming support for its two main objectives among organisations representative of the wide range of interests affected.

The principal objective of this Bill is that the many and varied local by-laws should be replaced by one set of regulations made by the Secretary of State and applying throughout Britain. The regulations would cover, broadly, the same ground that is now covered by local bylaws. The regulation-making powers in the Bill are basically the same as the present by-law-making powers, but are a little more extensive. Nevertheless, I should like to make it clear that before these regulations were made it would be the Government's intention to consult very widely about what precisely they should contain. The Department has been preparing a Consultative Document containing a set of proposals on which all the interested bodies would be invited to express their views, and the present intention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is that this should be given wide circulation as soon as the Bill has passed.

The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, raised a point, but I should like to make it quite clear that this Bill is concerned with children who are employed outside school hours, and it should not be confused in any way with what is generally called work experience, which nowadays comes as part of the school curriculum. As this Bill is not concerned with what is called work experience within a school curriculum, I should like to draw that distinction and make it quite clear at the outset I think that that is really all I need say by way of explanation of this Bill. I think it deserves the welcome which your Lordships have extended to it; and I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Hylton for bringing it forward here and also my honourable friend the Member for Louth for introducing it in another place. The sooner it is on the Statute Book the better.


My Lords, I think it only remains for me to express my thanks to all those speakers who have taken part in the debate. With the blessing that the Bill has received from both Front Benches, I feel it can hardly fail in its objective.

On Question, Bill read 2a;, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.