§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Lord Lewis of Newnham rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on the Protection of Young People at Work [23rd Report, HL Paper 100].
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I discuss the report referred to in the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, perhaps I should bring your Lordships' House up to date with the position in Brussels. The Social Affairs Council met on the 12th October, when key changes to the draft directive were agreed. Those are expected to go forward for formal adoption of a Common Position by the Council. The Common Position will then be transmitted to the European Parliament for its opinion before returning to the Council for final adoption of the directive, probably in the first half of 1994.
§ I am not clear what that means so far as concerns today's discussion. have a horrible feeling that it means arriving too late for the main event. However, we discussed the situation in Sub-Committee C and it was generally felt that we should proceed as that would give the noble Lord, Lord Henley, an opportunity to tell us in detail the outcome of the deliberations in Brussels. It would also allow your Lordships to consider any aspects of the directive which may be of specific concern.
§ I turn now to the report. Sub-Committee C of the Select Committee on the European Communities has 422 carried out a short inquiry into the amended proposal for a council directive on the protection of young people at work. The Council's proposal involves the consideration of work carried out by children and young people below the age of 18. The main topics covered are: restriction on hours of work; risk evaluation and health assessment associated with work; and the prohibition of work in certain areas. I believe that we would all agree that those are important aspects of working conditions for children and young people.
§ The Select Committee reported on those proposals and the report was published in July of this year. The Government response was received in August. I should like to take this opportunity to thank Ministers for their replies.
§ We would all agree that the employment of children within society has always occurred, often with exploitation. Perhaps we can use as a measure of the civilisation of a society how it has been able to deal with such exploitation. There is no doubt that children and young people at work require protection. Equally, there is no doubt that the experience gained by the young from work is important. It therefore follows that the rules governing work by children must be carefully considered to allow for gradual transition from childhood to adulthood and to lubricate what can be a very difficult change.
§ I have very little direct experience of this particular form of training for young people. However, for about 20 years I was involved in examining for the Higher National Certificate in chemistry, which is a subject which has a very large work training component. Equally, I find within my own university that many engineers take a year off before going up to university, and so have industrial experience. There is little doubt in my mind that that leads to the development of maturity in young people. It is a very valuable aspect which complements their academic attainments.
§ The sub-committee considered the proposals with considerable care because of our belief in the importance of managing that transition from school to work, which is not only of potential importance to the individual but also to society as a whole.
Before considering the detailed conclusions of the committee I should like to deal with two considerations which may be regarded as technical, although I am not sure how far these are now appropriate if the directive has reached an adoptive stage. The first is that the proposal was based on Article 118a of the EC treaty. As your Lordships may be aware, that article authorises the Council to adopt directives having as their prime objective the harmonisation of conditions, especially in the work environment, with regard to health and safety. The article states:
Member States shall pay particular attention to encouraging improvements, especially in the working environment, as regards the health and safety of workers, and shall set as their objective the harmonization of conditions in this area, while maintaining the improvements made".
The evidence before the committee was divided as to whether the then draft directive was correctly based in Article 118a. However, there was no doubt in our minds that Article 11 of the draft directive, which is concerned with paid leave, was most inappropriate in this
connection. I fear that we are now reaching a very delicate decision as to which of the various articles will be used for legislation. The Social Charter is an underlying problem which I believe will come to the surface on a number of occasions.
§ The other question which taxed the committee and some witnesses was the problem of subsidiarity. There are clearly wide variations in the laws concerning working practices. The times at which school starts, the length of the day within a school and even leaving ages vary considerably across the Community. It was felt by some that the present directive imposed unnecessary uniformity across the Community. The alternative view was that the directive would set a minimum standard for the Community as a whole. I remind the House that under Article 118a any member state is allowed to enhance the conditions for its own particular community.
§ Some witnesses believed that employers could be discouraged from giving jobs or training work because of the new rules. That is an extremely important point, because in the present economic environment it is becoming difficult for many employers to provide appropriate training experience. I know that industry as a whole is finding it very difficult to fulfil that commitment at present.
§ So far as concerns the adequacy of the law in this country, there was a sharp difference of opinion between those who believed that the UK's law and practice were fully adequate and those who regarded the situation as potentially dangerous for young people. The main legislation in this country governing work by children derives from the 1920s and 1930s. The Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act was introduced in 1920 and the Children and Young Persons Act came into force in 1933. It is also important to note that the Employment of Children Act 1973, which was passed in order to provide a national standard across the country, remains unimplemented. In the light of evidence given to us we question whether the situation in the UK is satisfactory. In other words, the law may exist but enforcement of the law is becoming important.
§ A survey carried out in Birmingham found that 43 per cent. of children between the ages of 10 and 16 have some part-time employment. About 75 per cent. were employed illegally and 25 per cent. were under the age of 13, the age below which no work is permissible under existing UK regulations. It has been argued, particularly by the Minister, that that evidence is anecdotal and that hard evidence is not available. However, to put it at its lowest, we cannot be confident that the present laws and by-laws concerned with work by children and young people are widely known or enforced. It is probable that they are not.
§ Until I was involved in this inquiry I was totally unaware of the need to obtain a work permit for the employment of a child. In my discussions I have met few people who knew of the existence of such a document. I have obtained a copy. I find that it is necessary to have the application countersigned by a parent, the employer and the headmaster of the school 424 which the child attends. I understand the reasoning for that. But, equally well, I understand that that will be a somewhat cumbersome operation which will not be attractive to many employers. A further point is that the possibility of not fulfilling that procedure is becoming great. Allowing children of this age to ignore the law does not start them on a good trail or with a good example.
Perhaps I may console some noble Lords with the fact that it is possible to have one's lawns cut by one's own kith and kin. Regulations often provide for that. For instance, in the Cambridgeshire area the regulation states that,
a child who has attained the age of 10 may be employed by his parent or guardian under the direct supervision of a responsible person in light agricultural or horticultural work but only on the agricultural or horticultural holding of such parent or guardian".
In other words, it is not legal to go next door and cut the lawn. In this instance, if the child is under a certain age the type of lawn cutter that one can use is somewhat limited. I am not clear whether such employment will now become illegal in this country if the directive is passed.
§ Another aspect worries me, I refer to the close inter-relationship between work and school. At present there is considerable concern over truancy and attendance at schools in general. I am not clear whether there may be some correlation between those facts.
§ Perhaps I may consider some specific points in the proposal. I shall not elaborate upon them in too great detail because I am not sure of the future of the programme. We accept that special rules for children must exist. However, we cannot see the justification for special rules for those above minimum school-leaving age which do not apply to adults. In other words, for over 16 year-olds different sets of regulations will apply depending upon whether one is or is not attending school. That does not seem to us to be a wise procedure.
§ We cannot see the justification for lowering the maximum weekly working time outside the school holidays from 15 to 12 hours. However, we welcome the revised proposal that protects the position of work experience and training. We undoubtedly view that as one of the more important aspects of training available to young people. I emphasise that we regard work experience and training as an important part of the total development of children. We should like to ensure that we are not in any way limiting that possibility.
§ In conclusion, I thank the members of Sub-Committee C. It is the first report since the reconstitution of the sub-committees of the Select Committee on the European Communities. I remind noble Lords that it involved the merger of Sub-Committees C and F. I much appreciate the help and support which the committee gave me during the investigation. I wish also to take the opportunity to thank the previous chairmen of Sub-Committees C and F, the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and my noble friend Lord Nathan, who is present today. Both provided excellent leadership of their committees and are difficult to follow. I thank our clerk, Mr. John Goddard, for his considerable help and dedication 425 during the inquiry. Finally, perhaps I may also thank all who helped the inquiry by giving evidence to the committee. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on the Protection of Young People at Work [23rd Report, HL Paper 100].—(Lord Lewis of Newnham.)
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will be grateful to the sub-committee for the most interesting, informative and well drafted report, and to the noble Lord, Lord Lewis of Newnham, for his speech today. In the course of that speech, he gave us some idea of the problems of regulating the employment of both school children and young adolescents. In the light of existing legislation—enforced or in some cases perhaps unenforced—and the importance of getting it right, both because we would wish to continue the tradition of protecting children against exploitation—that has been a mark of our social legislation since early in the last century—and, as the noble Lord rightly pointed out, because the transfer from dependence and study to active participation to the world at work is an important phase in the life of every young person, if proposals were made to your Lordships' House on behalf of this or any future government to look again at our legislation and the degree to which it is enforced, my sympathies might certainly be with such a step.
However, what I find difficult—it was alluded to by the noble Lord—is the position in respect of the directive which forms the object of investigation. When the Government gave their evidence to the committee—it is recorded in the evidence in the report—it was made clear that the Government held the view, first, that Article 118a was an unsuitable clause for covering much of the material in the proposed directive. It had to be stretched a great deal to cover many of the clauses in the proposed directive. They also took the view—I understand that it was shared by the committee—that subsidiarity would indicate that the control of the work of young people, most of which does not enter directly into international commerce (I refer to mowing daddy's lawn), would not appropriately be dealt with by international or supranational action and was indeed exactly the kind of thing which the concept of subsidiarity was expected by the British Government—perhaps by no one else—to cover. Therefore we have a prime example in the directive of what I and some other noble Lords in this House frequently warned the Government about during the passage of the Maastricht Bill; namely, that the Government might clutch at subsidiarity thinking that the concept meant that more would be left to them but that that was not what they were going to receive from the Commission or from some European governments favourable to the cause of European integration.
It is interesting that the issue has arisen so quickly. However, I should warn your Lordships that if the directive is passed—I base this warning on plenty of evidence from the Continent of Europe—we may expect further directives concerning, although perhaps not exclusively regarding, our labour legislation. They will 426 be dressed up to depend upon one or other of the elastic clauses in the Treaty of Rome in which the notion of subsidiarity will be regarded as a curious British quirk.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lewis, pointed out, we need to know what has actually happened. We do not know that. According to the press, at the meeting to which the noble Lord referred and which I think was some time last week, the British Government accepted the directive, though perhaps in a revised form. We wait to hear from the Minister what revision the Government succeeded in obtaining.
However, it seems to me peculiar, in the light of the evidence that the Government gave to the subcommittee, that they should have accepted it at all. That is because their view that Article 118a was not sufficient to justify it, and their belief that subsidiarity made that in any event an unsuitable area for Community action should have made them refuse to accept it under any circumstances. In other words, have the Government climbed down? Do they no longer take the position which the Minister himself gave to the sub-committee? If there has been such a change, are we to regard it as second thoughts? Are we to regard it as the fact that a noted Europhile has become Secretary of State for Employment rather than a more robust lady who preceded him? We should very much like to know, because if we are to have that kind of thing again and again, we need to understand how the Government will operate in regard to such directives.
In particular, it is important for your Lordships' House. We have a whole series of sub-committees to deal with proposed Community legislation. As in this case, their reports were delivered with considerable promptness. The committee worked hard; it produced a document which is convincing and, as I said at the beginning, well phrased and well drafted. Then the committee finds that, irrespective of that, the Government apparently change their mind. If that is going to be common, if House of Lords reports will not be considered seriously before the Government accept a directive from the Community, we may as well save the Treasury a little money and wind up our European Communities Committee altogether. I think the Minister has some important explanations to offer the House this afternoon.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, first, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lewis, for chairing the committee so ably and for his exposition this afternoon of what the report is about, as well as for the explanation he gave about what happened last week in Luxembourg. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff. referred to it in a speech which for him was not totally unexpected, but it was directed more to the Minister for his reply rather than to members of the committee.
When the report was being considered by the Select Committee, one member asked what had been the point of having the inquiry if in fact the need for a directive was being queried. In a way that is what I think the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was asking. However, I believe that the evidence we received shows conclusively that there is a need for better knowledge of what is 427 happening in this area and what the law is, depending, as it does, on a vast number of by-laws produced by the local authorities.
That is not to say that the situation in Europe is satisfactory. It palpably is not, as I shall point out later. We did not seek evidence on the situation in member states, but we have received evidence from a range of organisations with varied responsibilities for young people in this country, including local authorities, employers, trade unions and those concerned with the welfare of children and young people. In the light of that, we are not convinced that the situation is satisfactory. Research shows that there is a high level of illegal working by children below the minimum school-leaving age.
We detected a good deal of complacency from the two Ministers who gave oral evidence. They seemed to think that matters were under control; that it was the responsibility of the local authorities to create by-laws and to inspect and enforce them. It was up to them. I cannot help commenting that it is convenient for Ministers and the Government to pass responsibility to local authorities—for which at times they show a good deal of scorn—and then not to give them the resources to carry out the work. I asked the Minister about the failure of any government to implement the Employment Act 1973, now 20 years old. He responded that most local authorities had introduced by-laws as required by the Act. I am not so sure. We had written evidence about one shire county where in 1981 there were four separate child employment by-laws covering the county, each differing from the other. The local authority made an attempt to update them but in 1992 that had not been achieved.
It was not until a new head of the education welfare service from Birmingham arrived that action was taken. She had knowledge of the work undertaken in Birmingham for the National Child Employment Study, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lewis, referred, and she found evidence of gross infringements. I quote from her evidence on page 51 of the report. She found, for example:Evidence of recent prosecution against employers regarding children and young people 'carrot Topping' … Children absent from school because of injury sustained by the removal of the top of fingers through 'carrot Topping' … Children as young as ten working on a market stall … Village schools turning a blind eye to whole families taking their children out of school to help with the fruit picking … Only 1,500 children registered for employment with the Authority. (The National Child Employment Study suggests that there is likely to be two thirds more children working illegally)".Anyway, new by-laws were then made and given the seal of approval by the department, to take effect in June 1993.
It is difficult to believe that all other authorities are perfect, and in fact the Association of County Councils in its evidence admits that they are not. But even now the Government's response to our report continues to be complacent.
When the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, and I asked Mr. Yeo whether local authorities were enforcing the by-laws, the answers were far from satisfactory. On page 8 of the report he said: 428the evidence is probably a little patchy … Some authorities are very much more zealous than others".The noble Lord, Lord Gregson, asked whether the Minister knew of any local authority which employed people to enforce the laws. He said, in paragraph 31 on page 8, "I do not know". Well, I do. The National Association of Social Workers in Education is the professional organisation for all staff who work in the education welfare services. It gave written evidence which is disturbing. There are only 3,000 of them in the country and they have other duties besides enforcing child employment legislation. They believe that there must be some national standardised legislation which would make the law more easily understood and therefore more easily enforced. This, they thought, could be achieved by the Government implementing and supporting the directive, which is similar to the 1973 Act.
We now know that that will probably not happen, but we shall not be certain until we have heard definitely. More research has been called for by a number of people and in the situation in which we now find ourselves I believe that that is important.
I wish to speak of the likely effects of child employment on education. The Department for Education has recently been concentrating a good deal on truancy, which the noble Lord, Lord Lewis, mentioned. I guess that a great deal of truancy is linked to illegal employment. So far as I can make out, the department's concentration does not seem to be on that. The recession, with many families suffering financial hardship, encourages parents to turn a blind eye if the child is bringing home additional pennies to help the family budget. I suspect also that many children are working more than the permitted hours per day or week, probably again in many cases for more cash.
The Government must realise that there has to be better knowledge of the law among local authorities, employers, teachers and parents and the law needs to be enforced; and that means that sufficient resources are needed. The welfare officers believe that the Department of Health should make certain that illegal child employment and the exploitation of children and young people are recognised as a form of child abuse. The Children Act 1989 should be amended accordingly.
We should be really anxious about the effect of working too long hours on a child's education. If children are tired—and they have been known to fall asleep in lessons—they will not absorb what is being taught and will not have the energy or perhaps the time for homework. If they are truanting, they will miss out altogether on education. We hear a good many complaints from the Government about standards of literacy and numeracy. Maybe if more trouble were taken about protecting children in that area there would be an improvement.
In that context, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, who asked whether, if the work turned out to be detrimental to the child's education, the school would have an opportunity of saying that the child should stop work for the sake of the education, Mr. Yeo said:The education authority has a statutory duty to stop that work from taking place … if it is detrimental".429 The noble Lord asked, "Even within permitted hours?", to which the answer was yes. I believe that research would prove that that is not what is happening.
I should like to say a word on work experience, which we all agree is a good thing. The directive posed problems in Article 8. Young people working eight hours a day might need to go to evening classes. People in further education undergoing work experience might also need to attend an evening class and would have been prevented from doing so.
I said earlier that I would mention member states, and I want to refer to Portugal. During the Recess I read a short book, Child Labour in Portugal, by Suzanne Williams. It was supported by the European Human Rights Foundation. It had some horrifying tales of the exploitation of young people. A boy, Nuno, aged 13 had worked in a bakery since the age of 11. He worked from 9.30 in the evening until 12 noon; he slept from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.—that is 93 hours' work. The pay was £23. In ceramics, shoe-making, textiles, the service sector and stone-breaking, which led to lung disease, there were more horrific stories. Fifteen is the minimum working age. It is estimated that 200,000 under-15s are working. Their education is totally disrupted.
In written evidence we heard that Portugal has one of the most comprehensive legal frameworks preventing the exploitation of young people but one of the worst practical records. Presumably it will agree to the directive. As a member of the Community I do not think that we should be complacent about what is going on elsewhere in the Community.
Now the Social Affairs Council has had its meeting, as the chairman said. There seems to have been fierce disagreement, according to the papers, about whether Mr. Hunt had won a famous victory or suffered a humiliating defeat in gaining a six-year renewable opt-out from measures which would have forced the Government to scrap the legislation that they passed in 1989 to remove restrictions on child labour.
It seems rather ridiculous that we are debating a report which is redundant. But I hope that it will not be neglected.
The deletion of one sub-committee and the amalgamation of the Social and Consumer Affairs Committee with the Environment Committee was a big mistake. They do not mix well. It may well be that some directive needing scrutiny gets put aside. We might well have concentrated earlier on this one if we had not started on packaging and packaging wastes. If so, we could have had the report earlier and perhaps debated it before the decisions had been taken by the Social Affairs Council. I hope that the Leader of the House and others who came to that unnecessary decision will think again, and think quickly. The European Communities committees are very good value and extremely cheap.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I would have thought that your Lordships' Select Committee report on the European Council's Directive on the Protection of Young People at Work is something of a gem. I say that only partly because of its content, although I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that it is indeed of the 430 very high quality which the world has come to expect of your Lordships' Select Committee reports. However, since I had the privilege of sitting on the committee which produced this particular report, I fear that it would not be appropriate for me to dwell upon its excellence; although I think it is in order for me to congratulate and to thank our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Lewis of Newnham, for the patience and skill with which he conducted our business, and all those who assisted us.
I believe that it is appropriate for me to touch briefly on what most of our witnesses saw as the deeply misguided quality of the directive itself. However, I propose to spend most of my few minutes looking at what I regard as the report's star quality; namely, its timing, and the wider questions which its publication therefore begs. I say that because this debate comes close on the heels of our debates in June and July on the Treaty on European Union signed at Maastricht. The circumstances surrounding the directive on young people at work appear to belie all the vital assurances given by the Government then about subsidiarity and the Luxembourg Court; and because we thus have the opportunity of asking the Government exactly where they think they are going from here, particularly at the proposed Euro Summit at the end of this month.
At this point I should perhaps offer an apology to my noble friend Lord Henley (who I see is to answer for the Government) if he were to feel that some of my questions might be more fairly directed at my noble friend Lady Chalker and at my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who between them gave most of the assurances to which I refer; or indeed, at my right honourable friend the Prime Minister himself, whose article in the Economist on 25th September makes such encouraging reading but which does not seem to relate to the reality of where we find ourselves with this directive on young people at work. I cast no aspersions on my noble friend's ability to answer for the Government—quite the reverse. If he feels that my apology is out of place, then I trust that no harm has been done.
Other noble Lords have dealt with much of the detail of this unfortunate directive far more ably than could I. Suffice it for me to say that the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Confederation of British Industry, the Engineering Employers' Federation, Grand Metropolitan Hotels, the Institute of Directors, the Independent Television Network Centre, the National Farmers' Union, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents and the Society of West End Theatre all agree that it is likely to do much more harm than good to young people at work.
The general savour of their submissions is that the directive is likely to increase youth unemployment and to restrict work experience, employment and training opportunities for young people. Those who disagree with them have to explain how a European directive, and especially one which rests on a false legal base, as does this one, can be expected to help with the problems that they perceive when adequate UK law already exists. There may be a case, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, has pointed out, for enforcing existing UK law 431 more rigorously. But I cannot think that there is much case for this interfering and damaging nonsense from Europe.
To give noble Lords some idea of the insidious stupidity of this directive I must tell the House that it proposes to ban all work by children under 13 years of age. In its original form, the directive did propose to make an exception for children working on a limited or occasional basis for their family. But the vigilantes of the European Economic and Social Committee got at it, aided and abetted by the European Parliament, and appear to have removed the exemption. That seems so absurd that I have to ask my noble friend if I have got this right. Will it in future be lawful for me to pay my nine year-old daughter to clean my shoes; or indeed her own shoes? Where will those of us who do not believe in giving pocket money to our children unless it is earned by some limited or occasional work for the family stand towards the law? Shall we be breaking it? If so, perhaps I may remind my noble friend that bad laws eventually make bad people.
Perhaps I may go further, and point out that this whole process of having bad laws thrust down our throats by the European socialist super-state is bound in the end to turn the British people into less law-abiding citizens. Surely my noble friend would agree that that would be a tragedy if it were to happen.
I come then to the wider questions which this wretched directive begs. To start with, it is clear that the Government rightly do not agree that the directive should be based on Article 118a of the Treaty of Rome, which proposes to harmonize the health and safety of workers across the Community. To quote from the Government's response to our report dated 2nd August 1993, to the chairman of your Lordships' Select Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, and signed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment, Mr. David Hunt:We … remain to be convinced that the Treaty Base is appropriate. In our view the proposals involve a range of social and educational considerations and go beyond the protection that would be justified on Health and Safety grounds".The letter continues with a statement which may prove useful to anyone wishing to gauge the value of our opt-out from the Social Charter. My right honourable friend has this to say about what he rightly calls "the prescriptive nature" of the proposal:The Government welcomes the point made by the Committee on the need to emphasise the requirement for leaving the Member States to argue the objective case for the need for regulation at a level other than the national level. As the Committee knows the UK did not sign the Social Charter. We nevertheless welcome the Committee's conclusion that, even by the requirements of the Charter, the directive is excessively prescriptive".I am sure that all noble Lords on these Benches and indeed elsewhere in the House, though perhaps not on the Benches opposite, will welcome the words of the Secretary of State. The trouble is that his opinion was not shared in Luxembourg last week at the Social Affairs Council when he met with his colleagues. I understand that he was out-voted by 11 votes to one. If I have that wrong, no doubt my noble friend will advise us.
432 So I should warn my noble friend on the Front Bench that my first general question will be: "Of what value is subsidiarity or our opt-out from the Social Charter in resisting this and other similar directives?"
The other European initiatives that I have in mind are works councils, sex discrimination, working time and the acquired rights directive. I should be most grateful if my noble friend could tell the House what value the Government now place on the subsidiarity clause in the Union treaty and more particularly how they intend to use subsidiarity to resist the young people at work directive. Before my noble friend comes to reply, it might help your Lordships if I quote a little more from the Government's response to our report dated 2nd August 1993. The Government's response is not available to most noble Lords because it has only just reached the Select Committee. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment made clear the Government's determination to resist the directive. He was also under no illusion as to the seriousness of the national interest. I quote:The proposals will affect an important element of our society and deal with the serious matter of young people's transition from school to work. The Report is an extremely useful consideration of the proposals and will help in our negotiations in Europe".My right honourable friend then took the subsidiarity issue head on and made it clear that he believed our report would have strengthened the Government's hand when they came to invoke Article 3b of the Treaty on European Union; namely, the subsidiarity clause. His letter went on:We welcome in particular the Committee's confirmation of the Government's view that while accepting that children and young people need to be protected, much of the draft directive is unacceptable on the grounds of subsidiarity, and inappropriate for Community legislation. The Committee's endorsement of the Government's view that there is no convincing case for detailed Community action gives valuable support to our efforts to press the Commission on points of principle and practice in the negotiations to come".Your Lordships will no doubt agree that nothing could be clearer or fairer than that.
However, to get the full flavour of the Government's determination in this matter, I must ask your Lordships' indulgence to quote two further paragraphs from the Secretary of State's letter. My right honourable friend continued thus:Finally, the Committee's recommendations and views on: the need for a distinction between those above and below school leaving age; the definition of the 'employment relationship'; the need to reinstate a limit of 15 rather than 12 hours weekly work; the general undermining of job opportunities by derogation; the impracticability of accumulating working time for different employers; the need to safeguard training opportunities for young people; the inappropriateness of different assessment regimes between adolescents and adults are most welcome and will strengthen the Government's hand in the negotiations to come …I must restate the Government's intention to resist the directive as it is currently drafted and generally handle matters in line with the Committee's recommendations. We agree that the matters of ensuring and encouraging training, work experience and young people's employment opportunities are very serious ones. These should not be left to the mercies of arbitrary and inadequately focused regulations, whose basis for introduction into the EC programme of initiatives are themselves questionable. We will aim to convince our European colleagues of the Government's views and will no doubt be much helped by the report to secure their conversion".Noble Lords will be relieved to hear that that is the end of the quotation. They are fine words and show 433 courageous tenacity to the lofty principle of subsidiarity; but the vote last week was still 11 to one against us on the substance of the directive about which my right honourable friend was so eloquent in his thanks to your Lordships' committee. I am told that my right honourable friend was also fairly forthright in his condemnation of this and other similar directives at this year's Tory Party Conference. If so, he was perhaps echoing the truly excellent article in the Economist of 25th September by no less an authority than my right honourable friend the Prime Minister himself. I am sure that noble Lords will have read that article and so I shall not burden the House with further extensive quotations, apart from one short one which is very much to my point. It goes as follows:Long term unemployment is higher in the European Community than in either Japan or the United States. There is now increasing agreement that these problems stem from the inflexibility of European labour markets, from the tangle of regulations, from wasteful systems of welfare, from the burden of too high taxation, which Europeans have imposed upon themselves in the last 40 years".Quite so. I should have thought that the young people at work directive is just one further extension of what my right: honourable friend so rightly criticises.
So I must ask my noble friend on the Front Bench whether the Government still believe that subsidiarity can save us from the young people at work directive and similar directives. Noble Lords will be aware that I am among those who have always regarded the subsidiarity clause as worthless. But I suggest that the young people at work directive sets up an interesting test case. I very much hope that the Government will prove me and others who agree with me to be wrong. But the omens are not good for the Government. It seems that they are not always well advised as to what the attitude of our European partners may be to these matters and indeed to subsidiarity itself. I say that because I am told that the UK representatives were caught on the wrong leg, to put it mildly, by last week's 11 to one decision against us in Luxembourg. Apparently they had not thought that the issue would even go to a vote and advised our Ministers accordingly.
Finally, I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister whether the Government are thinking of referring this directive to the Luxembourg court. Here again, it would be an interesting test case. Those of us who objected to the Union treaty regard the Luxembourg court as no court of justice at all, in the British understanding of that expression, but merely as the engine of the Treaty of Rome. We believe that it is most unlikely to find against an 11 to one decision in the Council. But as I said, it could be an interesting test case.
I end by throwing down two gauntlets for my noble friend and his colleagues on the Front Bench. First, I say that the story of the young people at work directive shows that subsidiarity is worthless to our national interest. Secondly, I say that justice will not be available to us in the Luxembourg court. I very much hope that the Government will prove me wrong.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, we are warned—are we not?—that the Maastricht debate is by no means over. So it seems from today's contributions to the debate. However, I should like to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, on one matter; namely, that it is most regrettable that decisions should be taken by the Government before your Lordships' House has had the opportunity to discuss the reports produced by the Select Committee.
A great deal of work goes into the preparation of the reports, excellent evidence is taken and the deliberations are most carefully carried out. I am not a member of the committee but I feel that it is both discouraging to he committee and slightly less than complimentary to your Lordships' House that the Government should take action before there has been a proper opportunity to consider the matters put forward in these reports. I recognise that perhaps this is an exceptional occasion in that we are just at the edge of the Recess and no doubt the timetable for considering these matters was not entirely in the Government's hands. But I hope that the Minister will confirm that there is every intention that reports should be properly debated in your Lordships' House before the Government arrive at a conclusion about what they intend to do. Having said that, that is the only point on which I can find any agreement whatsoever with what has been said from speakers behind the Government on this occasion.
It seems to me that this is a matter for which there should be a directive. I do not understand the arguments. After all, we accepted in the Treaty of Rome that there should be directives in relation to equal pay. The argument was not that this was being put forward by great libertarians or feminists when the Treaty of Rome was being adopted; it was that if some countries paid equal pay and others did not, the countries that paid would be at a disadvantage economically. It follows equally that if some countries are able to employ large numbers of children at very low rates of pay that is an economic disadvantage to the countries which are trying to apply reasonable standards—the standards which have been laid down in the legislation of this country and laid down in the legislation of this country before the European Community ever came into being.
It is in our economic interest, leaving on one side all social considerations, that countries which are exploiting child labour—we have had good examples from the noble Baroness, Lady David, and there are no doubt many others—should not be tolerated and that on strong economic grounds we should be able to demand that minimum standards be enforced throughout the Community. I know everyone will say that the problem is enforcement. Of course there is a problem of enforcement. That is something on which we have to work, and to work much harder than we have done in the past. But I would agree that this is a subject for subsidiarity.
I do not take the view that has been taken by the dyed-in-the-wool anti-Maastricht people that subsidiarity is some sinister device for doing down this country. I want subsidiarity in this case because I believe that this 435 country should be prepared to go further than the minimum standards laid down. It may be that this directive puts too much detail into those minimum standards and does not leave enough for countries which are able and wish and consider that they ought to apply higher standards to apply them without being handicapped by details which in some ways run across the better practice which we are already carrying out, or which some of us hope we will in future carry out in this country—although, as we have already been reminded, our legislation in this country is not being enforced as it ought to be enforced.
In my view, the requirements laid down here are an absolute minimum, and in some cases are not high enough even at the level of enforcement, let alone at the level at which countries which are able to do better ought to do better. I find it quite extraordinary that people should think it desirable that children under the age of 15—under school-leaving age—should be able to work even 12 hours a week let alone 15 hours a week. Children should be in school. We deplore all the time the low level of performance of so many children coming out of school. I cannot believe that encouraging them and allowing them to work is a way in which to improve their educational standards. It is on that that we should be focusing as much as we possibly can. To go from 12 hours to 15 hours is very retrogressive. We ought to be reducing rather than increasing the number of hours that children are able to work.
I am also sorry that the committee took the line—I think I have this correct—that there should not be a distinction between those above minimum school leaving age and adults. It is the view of many of us that youngsters between the ages of 16 and 18 should be regarded primarily as trainees and that they should be given the opportunity to learn based inside a place of work. These are years of learning and training and not years of production. In this connection, in talking about the transitional period when youngsters leave school and go into work, the question of work experience has been discussed and is discussed in the report.
Those of us who have had anything to do with the transfer from school to work recognise that work experience is important. But there is a tremendous distinction to be made between planned work experience, which fits in and is devised in order to enhance the skills and learning processes of the youngster, and any old job which they happen to pick up in which there may be no training content whatsoever and which is entered into simply in order to earn a little more money. From the point of view of the health and safety of youngsters and indeed the health of the economy, the level of training is what really matters. That is not gained by any kind of job. It is gained only by planned work experience, which is something quite different from letting youngsters pick up a little knowledge about work by delivering the papers or whatever else it may be.
For these reasons, I think that the Government not only should accept the basic principle that there should be directives in this field but that they should look at 436 their own provision and recognise that it is far from adequate. So far from cutting it back, it should be enhanced.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the committee on its report. As usual, the committee has done a great deal of work. It has taken evidence from a wide range of interested parties, from organisations concerned with the welfare of young people and from trade unions and employers' organisations as well as from the Government themselves. Not surprisingly, those organisations, while expressing concern for the welfare of young people, came to very different conclusions about the EC directive.
Meantime, as we all know, there have been some further developments, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lewis, has already referred. The EC in Brussels wanted to move on with this directive, but the British Government have objected and the Secretary of State emerged last week with what he apparently thought was some kind of triumph. As I understand it from newspaper reports, the UK now has six years before it need put the provisions of the directive into operation. This has been presented to the media as a great victory on behalf of boys and girls who are extremely anxious to be able to do newspaper rounds. Their freedom to do so was threatened, so we are led to believe, by this directive. In fact, I think that this probably had nothing to do with it, since I understand that Britain had already, at the time of the Secretary of State's intervention, secured for itself a special exemption in regard to newspaper deliveries.
At the time the committee considered this directive, a revised version had been produced which altered the original version under which workers under 18 working on a limited or occasional basis for their family were excluded. The revised version brings within the scope of the directive all persons under 18 working for one or more employers. In other words, it brings into consideration people working for their families. Admittedly, there may be some difficulties about enforcement here; but many witnesses made the point—I think rightly—that it is often in family businesses that children and young people are vulnerable and exploited. I therefore take the view that the directive was right to move away from the original exclusion.
Perhaps I may give an example from my own experience. My husband was the bright child of small shopkeepers. He has never got over the resentment he felt that he had to work in the business instead of working at school. He has said to me repeatedly, "I didn't do as well as I might have done at school because they made me work in the shop". That still is true for many children in those circumstances.
The directive quite specifically rules out nightwork for young people under the age of 18, and places limitations on hours worked. In the case of children under compulsory school-leaving age, it reduces the hours from 15 to 12 a week. On the other hand, the directive accepts that the provision of work experience 437 and training should be safeguarded. The committee and various of the respondents to the committee welcomed those references in the directive to work and training.
The directive, as we have heard, has as its legal basis Article 118a, which is used to harmonise conditions in regard to health and safety in the working environment, and as such can become operative by qualified majority voting. It seems to me that as concerns young people, it is vital to ensure that their working conditions are conducive to maintaining good health. At that period of adolescence with which the directive is concerned young people are still developing, and a bad working environment can be seriously damaging. Working hours and leave may therefore be more important in that context regarding health than for older people.
Therefore, it does not seem to me to be entirely inappropriate to use Article 118a as the legal base although I note that both the committee, and of course the Government, take a contrary view.
The Government's standpoint in this directive, as with others, has been entirely predictable. They regard any regulation of employment conditions as unnecessary—worse, as an interference with the market; a disincentive to employers to employ more labour and thus a diminution of employment prospects. It does not seem to matter to the Government what kind of jobs, if any, are created as a result of this free-for-all philosophy.
In the context of this report, the Government also seem to me to take a rather odd view of subsidiarity. They believe that a directive to harmonise is not necessary since few young people are likely to move across transnational borders looking for work. But I thought that harmonisation was about more than that. Surely, it is regarded as good in itself; avoiding social dumping to which the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has referred, and allowing everyone to feel that they may benefit in the EC single market. In other words, there is a social dimension designed to ensure basic protection for the most vulnerable. As I understand it, the subsidiarity doctrine applies when the social objectives can best be achieved by national parliaments enacting legislation to suit their own circumstances. Surely that is reasonable and sensible.
There is already some sort of provision in the UK designed to regulate hours for children below the minimum school-leaving age. It is the employment card system. But witnesses gave evidence to the effect that it was little known and rarely enforced. Moreover, protective legislation covering 16 to 18 year-olds—legislation which prohibited night work in accordance with the directive—disappeared in 1989 as a result of one of the all too frequent Employment Acts. Therefore, in two key areas covered by this directive, whatever provision existed in UK legislation is either not enforced or has been abolished.
Many of the organisations submitting evidence expressed anxiety that UK legislation of itself seemed unable to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable young people. The Trades Union Congress was concerned at the level of health and safety protection for the young, pointing out that in agriculture, for example, there had been 22 deaths of young people in the past three years. 438 Even the Government's spokesman, in giving evidence to the committee, expressed worry at the level of industrial injury among young people working in farming. Any steps which might reduce the risk of injury or death should surely be taken. Long hours do result in fatigue, and that is recognised as one of the causes of industrial injury.
The Government's position appears to be that there is no justification for introducing special protection for young people on health and safety grounds and, as already indicated, used this argument to justify removing most of the protective legislation covering 16 to 18 year-olds in the Employment Act 1989. They were also removed from the protection of the wages council by the Wages Act 1986. These measures have resulted, as the Children's Rights Development Unit said in its evidence, in young people entering the workforce being treated as adults. The unit says that there has been an increased incidence of accidents to young people, particularly in the first year at work. There was also some anxiety expressed about Article 2c which appears to provide an exemption in the case of children not less than 13 years of age, performing "light work". Derogations are permitted under this article to cope with established national practice.
I understand that it is under this article that the UK would be allowed to continue with the practice of employing children still at school to deliver newspapers in the early morning or in the evening. Despite the fact that there may well be noble Lords—perhaps even Ministers—to tell us that they were delivering newspapers at the age of 12 and enjoying it, and that it never did them any harm (we have often heard those kinds of arguments) I have never been very happy with this good old British custom. One cannot help noticing that it is often the children of poorer families who engage in this sort of activity. One should not always assume that they enjoy doing it. Children are only too well aware of what is going on if their parents are having difficulty making ends meet and often will want to help out. I accept that there is nothing much that can be done about it, particularly when so many are having to cope with reduced living standards. But it does not exactly fill me with unrestrained joy that a British Secretary of State should regard it as a triumph that he has preserved the "freedom" for this kind of exploitation to continue.
Of course, we must expect that employers' organisations will not want restrictions on the rights of their members to employ vulnerable labour as cheaply as possible. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, that that is just to be expected—hence the comments of the IoD, the CBI, the EEF, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, and others. But it is the duty of the Government to protect the vulnerable, and the duty of parliamentarians to make sure that the Government do that.
It is to the credit of the committee that while it does not believe that the directive was appropriate, it refused to be complacent about what its research had revealed. It said,We are not convinced that the situation here is satisfactory".The committee refers to the fact that research indicates that there is a high level of illegal working by children 439 below the minimum school-leaving age, with by no means trivial breaches of the "no work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m." rules. My noble friend Lady David gave us some examples of that. Moreover, the committee has expressed concern that the Employment of Children Act 1973, passed in order to establish national standards, remains unimplemented.
In case the Minister says that it remained unimplemented by Labour Governments as well, I am not impressed by that argument because I believe that things have moved on. Anyway, for 14 years we have had Conservative administrations committed to reducing the amount of protective legislation in employment on the plea that only in this way can employment be provided, since regulation is a "burden on employers". Deregulation has not produced more employment, and those in employment have had significantly less protection than hitherto, as have young people who are the subject of the EC directive.
I commend the committee for suggesting that the Government should commission research into enforcement and the adequacy of the present laws. I would have preferred it had the committee supported the directive at least in principle. But now that the Government have obtained their so-called "renewable opt-out", it becomes even more necessary that something should be done by ourselves to ensure that young and vulnerable people are protected. As the TUC points out in its evidence, in times of high unemployment many young people feel constrained to take whatever is on offer. Some unscrupulous employers see young people as a source of cheap labour, often willing to carry out dirty or dangerous jobs that more experienced workers would decline. Such young people may not be aware of rights that already exist under health and safety legislation. As I said earlier, the Government must ensure that the vulnerable are protected. The committee's report makes that point very clearly, and I fully concur with that.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Lord Henley)
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, put it, two strands have developed in this debate. As they have developed, and with their links, I found myself very much between the devil and the deep blue sea. The first strand of the debate relating to the question of the European Community to some extent continues the debate which we had at some length last summer. I shall deal with that in due course. Secondly—and this is what the draft directive and also the report of the Select Committee is about—is the principal question of the protection of children and young people at work. There was a third point which I shall briefly touch on—that is to say, the remark made by the noble Baroness, Lady David, about the work of the sub-committees. I believe that the noble Baroness will appreciate that it would not be for me to respond to these particular points she made, but I am sure that they will be noticed by both my noble friend the Leader of the House and by the Chairman of Committees.
We welcome the committee's report and its findings. 440 We fully agree that children and young people need adequate protection of their health and safety and of their educational development. That has never been in dispute. Where we have differed from our partners in Europe is over the extent to which community legislation in this field is either necessary or appropriate. In drawing the attention of the House to his report, the noble Lord, Lord Lewis, quite rightly drew attention to the appropriateness of Article 118a and voiced the concerns that subsidiarity should rule. That was a point made both by my noble friends Lord Beloff and Lord Pearson. I must stress that we are still not convinced that there is a need for Community legislation in this field. The Council that met last week did not reach a decision that was put to a vote, so I say to my noble friend Lord Pearson that there is no question of a 11:1 vote. The Council recognised the diversity of national arrangements and, in particular, the United Kingdom's approach to health and safety. The amendments agreed by the Council show a far greater recognition of the principle of subsidiarity than did the original proposals which the Select Committee was considering. My noble friend also wished to know whether we intended to challenge the directive and the use of Article 118a.
The text of the draft directive, as agreed, focuses far more firmly on health and safety matters. The agreement that we reached addresses the vital anxieties that we put; and therefore we shall not be challenging the directive in the European Court of Justice, if it is adopted in its present form. I should stress that the United Kingdom's challenge to the proposed directive on working time will enable the issues of principle in Article 118a to be ventilated fully. We believe that that will be sufficient.
The House will be aware that there was much discussion at the Council last week, and that it reached broad agreement. I shall describe that more fully in a little while. The essential point is that on the major points in the proposed directive where it would have conflicted with our own approach we shall be free to continue that approach.
Our prime concern must of course always be the best interests of the young people themselves. We must take account not only of their health and safety, but also their social and educational development and their preparation for adult life. Ultimately, our aim is to help them realise their full potential and make full use of all their talents and abilities.
The protection of children and young people in the United Kingdom has a long history. I do not believe that I need to review it now. It runs from Lord Shaftesbury, through the Factories Acts, factory inspectors and other legislation right up to the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and beyond. We believe that we have one of the most effective and admired systems of health and safety protection in the world.
In relation to children—by which I mean those below the minimum school leaving age—we have long prohibited their work in factories, mines and quarries, construction, ships and road and rail transport. We do however see no harm, and much positive benefit, in permitting suitable light, non-industrial, work from the 441 age of 13 upwards, always provided children's health and safety and their educational development is not compromised.
My noble friend Lord Pearson asked whether the under-13s could do odd jobs at present and would be allowed to do so in the future. Doing those types of odd jobs is not part of an ongoing commercial undertaking, and there should be nothing wrong in such a child doing such work. The wording of the draft directive takes us no further in that. I can assure my noble friend that my understanding is that he can continue to have his shoes cleaned by his children aged under 13, or whatever.
For young people above the minimum school leaving age (broadly speaking 16 and 17-year olds), the basis of our current legislation is to provide additional protection where there are specific risks greater than those to adults in the same occupation. Although I may have misunderstood him, I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Lewis, who said that he saw no need for such protection. I am sure that he will agree that there is a case for it where the risk to the young person is greater than the risk to an adult. For example, there are regulations on the work of young people involving potentially dangerous machinery, chemicals and other substances, and ionising radiation. Obviously, as all will recognise, that can affect a young person to a greater extent than it will an older and more mature person. That is of course in addition to the general duties of all employers under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act and the vigorous enforcement powers of the HSE.
We do not however see a convincing case for imposing special restrictions on young people's hours of work. Such restrictions may have been justified in the past, when the general system of health and safety protection for all employees was less developed; and when, moreover, the school leaving age was substantially lower than it is today. But the regulations that had been put in place became increasingly complex and outdated. They were difficult to understand, to enforce, or to justify on any scientific basis.
The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, referred to the point—although with no great enthusiasm—that in 1989 Parliament enacted a major reform of the existing legislation, retaining all protection for children below the school leaving age, and all the protection of young people above that age which the Health and Safety Commission advised was necessary on health and safety grounds, but repealing restrictions on hours of work and night work for which there was no health and safety basis.
There is no evidence to suggest that that reform of our legislation has had any adverse effects on the health or safety of young people. In so far as accident rates of young people are a guide to this (I appreciate that they are only a guide) not only have they not risen since 1989, but they have actually fallen. While we must never be complacent about such matters, there is no reason to believe that our current system of protection for young people is inadequate or that restrictions on their working time of the kind envisaged in the draft directive are necessary.
I come to the outcome of the Social Affairs Council itself. There were confusing reports of the outcome in 442 the press. I ask noble Lords not to believe everything that they read in the press. I shall come to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, in due course. The noble Lord, Lord Lewis, rightly said—I believe that he spoke for the entire committee—that they were too late for the event in that the Council had taken place before the House had had an opportunity to consider the report. My noble friend Lord Beloff and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, pressed me to say why we were debating the report now when it appeared that it would be of little effect. It was not our decision that the matter should go to the Council now. It was in fact the desire of the Belgian presidency. My noble friend put a rather strange interpretation on Her Majesty's Government's action. We were not ignoring everything in the report and taking no note of the committee's work. We did take note of the report—and, as I shall show, it influenced last week's deliberations. I should he the last to decry the efforts and work of this committee.
I should like to stress that it is untrue to say that everything was agreed in advance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, seemed to imply. Seine possible amendments had been discussed before the Council, but nothing had been agreed. The lengthy discussions in Council would not have been necessary had the amendments been agreed in advance. Moreover, some of the important changes were only threshed out in the Council itself. I do not believe that our Community partners would recognise the descriptions in the press reports to which I presume the noble Baroness was alluding. I repeat our regret to the noble Lord, Lord Lewis, the chairman of the committee, that the Council reached its decisions on this matter before today's debate. I must stress that we took full account of that report which influenced the outcome of the Council meeting.
The Government remain of the view that member states themselves are in the best position to provide protection, taking account of their own particular circumstances and traditions. It became clear, however, in the course of negotiations that a majority of member states felt committed by their adherence to the Social Charter to taking action at Community level.
Our partners have recognised the strength of concern in the United Kingdom about the impact of the directive on our different national approach to the protection of young people, and the need to take account of the principle of subsidiarity. Building upon that recognition, the Council agreed to make substantial changes to the draft directive to accommodate our principal concerns. I will mention three main points.
First, in the light of the committee's recommendations, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State emphasised the need for the directive to give some acknowledgment of the positive value of appropriate work by children, subject of course to necessary safeguards, as stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lewis. The Council has adopted the suggestion of the sub-committee that that point should be incorporated in the preamble to the directive.
Secondly, the Council recognised that the directive as it stood would present some obstacles to the traditional practice of newspaper deliveries. I do not accept what 443 was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. Notably, it accepted that a requirement for two days' rest in every week would be unnecessary in such cases, and that a requirement of 14 hours' consecutive daily rest would be an obstacle to some children who deliver newspapers in both the morning and the evening. Those potential problems have been removed by an appropriate amendment.
Thirdly, the Council recognised the strength of our anxieties as regards unnecessary limits on daily and weekly work and evening or night work by young people above the school-leaving age. While our labour force survey statistics show that comparatively few young people work beyond the limits previously proposed, they would nevertheless have affected significant numbers of young people and would have involved a complex administrative burden on employers. As a result of the Council's decision, these provisions will not apply in the United Kingdom for at least four years following the date set for the implementation of the directive. At the end of the four-year period—at least six years from now—the Commission and the Council will review the arrangements and decide whether to amend them.
The noble Lord, Lord Lewis, alluded to the view of the committee that there is a significant level of illegal working below the minimum school leaving age in the United Kingdom and that the present laws, which date from the 1920s and 1930s, need to be updated, preferably through the implementation of the Employment of Children Act 1973. The enforcement of the law relating to children below the minimum school-leaving age is primarily a matter for local education authorities. They have the power to enforce not only the national framework of legislation but also to enforce their own by-laws which central government approve in the normal way.
As regards illegal working, it is for local authorities to take action if they have any concerns. Some local authorities may argue that their resources are inadequate; but it is for the authorities themselves to decide their priorities and to allocate the resources accordingly. We have no reason to think that, generally speaking, local authorities are failing to make and to act on informed and responsible local judgments.
In the areas where the Health and Safety Executive is responsible for enforcement—notably where children are found to be working illegally in industrial premises—I can assure the House that the policy of the executive is to take immediate and vigorous action in the first instance by excluding children from the workplace and, if necessary, by closing it. The matter is then reported for possible prosecution.
The noble Lord, Lord Lewis, the noble Baroness, Lady David, and others suggested that there is a need for further research into the extent and effects of children's work. We remain unconvinced that local authorities are experiencing problems with the adequacy or the enforcement of legislation. In our consultation with local authorities in connection with the draft directive, they have certainly not represented the issue to us as a significant problem. Therefore, it is to be expected that 444 this will not feature high on the Government's priority list for further research, and it will certainly not be appropriate to divert what research funds are available from other much more pressing research on childcare and child protection.
I turn to the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady David, that the 1973 Act should be brought into operation. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, reminded the House that the Labour Government of 1974 decided not to implement that Act because of the resource implications for local authorities. Since then the vast majority of local authorities have brought their by-laws into line with the proposed content of the national regulations under the 1973 Act. We believe that the degree of standardisation envisaged by the 1973 Act has therefore largely been achieved. The advantage of by-laws is that local authorities may update them in order to take into account local circumstances and modern conditions. Therefore, we do not believe that it is necessary to bring the 1973 Act into force.
We made it clear from the outset that we see no need for this directive. I can assure the House that the vigorous presentation of our anxieties by my right honourable friend has succeeded in removing the directive's potentially most damaging effects. Moreover, the principle of subsidiarity has been taken into account in provisions which recognise the validity of the United Kingdom's approach to the protection of young people. The draft directive will now go forward for formal adoption of a common position by the Council and then for further consideration by the European Parliament.
I conclude by thanking all noble Lords who took part in the debate, in particular those who took part as members of Sub-committee C, for their careful analysis and comments which, as I have tried to make clear, greatly assisted Her Majesty's Government in their endeavours to present the United Kingdom's concerns to our Community partners.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Lewis of Newnham
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his full exposition of the position in which we find ourselves. Today's debate has been a fair representation of the variation of views which the committee received. I am still concerned that the Government are not prepared to look in some detail into the enforcement side of the problem. I believe that it is dangerous to have laws and not to be concerned with their enforcement. The sentiments voiced in the House make it clear that there is considerable anxiety about the employment of young people and children. If that is true it is a natural consequence to see how the law is being enforced, but I can readily see that the Government are not prepared to take that view.
I thank noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. All fairly represented the various facets of our experience in the committee. The problem as regards subsidiarity, with which the noble Lords, Lord Beloff and Lord Pearson, were concerned, taxed us. I fear that this is by no means the last time that the House will be concerned with it. On one occasion the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, kindly offered to make available to 445 me copies of the Edinburgh discussion on subsidiarity. For about 30 seconds I thought that I understood it but after that it was as elusive as will-o'-the-wisp. I still do not understand it and would love to have an insight into the issue.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, made her position clear. There is no doubt that the imposition which enforcement will place on local authorities will be great and will certainly cost money. I found most poignant her sentiments about the situation as regards school, education as a whole and work.
It is clear that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and I do not agree on many of the basic issues. I do believe, however, that the planning of experience at work is essential and I do not believe that there would have been disagreement with the sub-committee on that issue. However, the suggestion of 12 to 15 hours did not reflect the way in which the committee was looking at the programme.
I turn to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden. We dealt again with the problem of Article 118a and subsidiarity. As regards the 1973 Act, it is one of those problems which comes and goes. It is interesting to note that the appearance of a work permit for children was as a result of the non-implementation of the 1973 Act. It was put forward in that Act as an alternative procedure until the Act was introduced. It is one of the primary problems which exists in such a form of enforcement.
Having said that, I thank your Lordships for your considerable attention on this occasion.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.