HL Deb 22 February 1955 vol 191 cc291-302

4.3 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the object of this small Bill is really to clarify the position with regard to Section 22 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, in relation to the participation by young children in horse shows, gymkhanas and other sporting events of a similar kind. Section 22 of the Children and Young Persons Act lays down, of course with certain exceptions, that no child shall take part in any entertainment in connection with which any charge, whether for admission or not, is made to any of the audience, unless a licence is obtained; and the parents or guardians or others concerned who offend against that section are liable to a fine. So far as the exceptions are concerned, subsection (2) lays down that licences are not necessary if the child has not taken part in more than six entertainments within the preceding six months. It also lays down that licences can be granted only by the local authorities of the area in which the children reside, and only for children not under the age of twelve.

I think it is clear that this section was drafted to give protection to children taking part in pantomimes and other theatrical entertainments of a commercial character. I understand that, so far as such entertainments are concerned, it has in fact worked very well indeed. It also ensures that the children are not improperly exploited and that their education is duly provided for. On the other hand, I suggest that Section 22 is wholly unsuited to deal with the appearance of children in riding displays, gymkhanas and other sporting events. It seems to me that the section was never intended to apply to entertainments of such a kind, but unfortunately recent experience has shown that local authorities can so interpret it if they wish to do so.

I would remind your Lordships that in November last year, for instance, two children—a girl aged eleven and a boy aged thirteen—were riding ponies at a Flower and Country Show at Olympia. An officer of the London County Council said that he had seen the children give eight performances, and that he has also established that within the last six months they had ridden in gymkhanas and other fairs in the country for which a charge for admission had been made. The magistrate found that the summonses against the proprietors and father of the children were in fact proved. These were his words: I cannot see any defence that can be raised in these summonses. In a sense, a public service has been done, and in those circumstances I think the proper thing to do on all summonses is to make an absolute discharge on payment of. … costs by each of the defendants. The defending counsel used these words: If this is the law—and your Lordship must say so—it is up to the Legislature to alter the law. If this is so, at every village fête at which a charge for admission is made, every horse show, every kind of communal activity, whether in the country or town, in connection with which a charge is made for admission and at which children under fifteen years of age take part, any performance will be in danger. I think I might add that, when finding the summonses proved, the magistrate said that there could be no question but that what the children did was most beneficial to them. They came to no harm whatever, and only did what thousands of children do all over the country, and the only way to get the point decided was to force the issue. I am not suggesting today that we should try to force the issue, but I earnestly ask Her Majesty's Government to look very closely indeed at this matter. Naturally, great concern has been felt by all those connected with horse shows, gymkhanas and riding displays, and it seems quite clear that Section 22 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, is so drafted as to be applicable to children taking part in such entertainments, because admission charges are inevitably made. Moreover, riding has become such a popular sport among children to-day that many of them take part in a considerable number of gymkhanas during the summer months and, therefore, would not be covered by the exception in the section of the Act made for those who take part in less than six entertainments in a half year. The pony clubs of this country have a child membership of something like 20,000; in addition, I believe that there are just over 1,000 children registered with the British Show Jumping Association. The most keen and advanced children probably attend eight shows during term time, and sixteen during the holidays—a total of twenty-four shows. By an easy calculation it will be seen that some 8,000 licences will be required by children if it is now intended to enforce Section 22 of the Act of 1933.

It may not be realised that the licensing of children under the Act is not by any means a simple matter. Among other provisions, the local authority (the licensing authority) must satisfy themselves that the child is fit to take part in the entertainment. Surely this is not intended to apply to a sporting event—it cannot be. I suggest that to apply for licences for children to appear in gymkhanas would be an intolerable burden on all concerned; and what is more serious is that the local authorities could not grant them if the children were under twelve years of age. Those children would therefore be limited to six appearances every six months. I think that is not fair at all. Unless the law is amended, the horse societies will have to advise those concerned with the organisation of gymkhanas and riding displays that the parents of children who participate, as well as the organisers, run the risk of such prosecutions as that to which I have referred, unless the children obtain the licences, which, as I have already pointed out, is a cumbersome procedure and which should not be necessary. I think noble Lords would not wish to put any difficulties of this kind in the way of the pony clubs and others concerned; these clubs are doing immensely valuable work. I hope that it will not be argued by the Minister replying for the Government that amended legislation is not necessary because the recent convictions which I have mentioned will not necessarily be followed by prosecutions elsewhere. Unfortunately, the Government are unable to direct the local authorities with regard to these matters, and if nothing is done the position will be remarkably unsatisfactory.

This Bill has been carefully drafted so as to make it clear that the exemption which is being sought will not apply to the participation by children in commercial entertainments, such as circuses or variety entertainments. Also, it will be necessary to ensure that no payment is made directly or indirectly to the child, and that the net proceeds of the function are devoted to purposes other than the private profit of the promoters. The whole essence of the Bill is contained in Clause 1, which I will read. It says: Notwithstanding the provisions of section twenty-two of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, a licence under that section shall not be necessary for a child to take part in an entertainment if—

  1. (a) the child takes part only in a riding or athletic event or in any game or sport; and
  2. (b) the entertainment is not a circus, travelling show, stage play, ballet, music hall or other variety entertainment; and
  3. (c) no payment is made or reward given to the child other than any prize competed for and won by the child; and
  4. (d) the net proceeds of the entertainment are devoted to purposes other than the private profit of the promoters.
I hope that the Government will welcome this Bill, so that it will be made clear beyond all possible doubt that children cart participate in these valuable activities without their parents, and the promoters of the gymkhanas and other events, running the risk of similar prosecutions to that to which I have referred. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

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

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, this is a Private Member's Bill, and therefore I am speaking for myself in this matter, although I believe that some of my noble friends will agree with what I am going to say. I think the noble Lord has made some case for some amendment of the law, although I am bound to say not a very strong case. I do not feel at all enthusiastic about making it easier for, say, children under twelve to take part regularly in entertainments, whether they are being run for private profit or not. Nevertheless, in so far as there is an evil which the noble Lord desires to remedy, I think this Bill goes far beyond the evil that he seeks to put right. Indeed, it is quite possible, in colloquial language, to drive a coach and horses through the whole thing and open the door far more widely than I think he himself intends to the practice of exploiting young children. I am sure the last thing he would wish to do is to exploit children for the purposes of entertainment.

We have to remember that the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, was designed for the protection of children and not for the purposes of permitting or encouraging entertainments in which children take part. We must be extremely careful about opening the door which the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, tried to close, particularly by enabling children under twelve to take part in these entertainments. For instance, I attach no great significance to the words "other than the private profit of the promoters." I believe we have these words in connection with certain theatrical performances which are supposed to be educational, but noble Lords know that no particular significance is attached to them, and these so-called educational theatrical performances are in kind not very different from performances which are run for the purpose of profit. Nor do I attach any significance to the expression that no payment is made or reward given to the child other than any prize competed for and won by the child. For one thing, it does not say there is not to be a reward given to the parent; and furthermore, the prize can be so great that it is reasonable compensation for the absence of payment.

There are so many factors in this question that require closer scrutiny, and which may possibly open the door so widely in enabling children to take part in these, in many cases, undesirable activities, that I feel so little enthusiasm for the Bill that I should prefer that it did not even receive a Second Reading. However, I am perfectly content to leave the matter to the Government and abide by their advice, because I believe that they are as keenly desirous of safeguarding children's welfare as any other Government might be—and I would not pretend to have a monopoly of the desire to further the welfare of children. What I do say, however, is that I myself would prefer that the Government should not give this Bill any support at all. If they do, I think the Bill will require such drastic amendment that probably it would become unrecognisable by the time it had passed through this House.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, there is a good deal of business to follow, so I will not presume to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes, but I do hope the importance of this small Bill will not escape your Lordships' notice. Clearly, it is a Bill that will affect many entertainments and pastimes enjoyed by children and young persons. I wish merely to refer to pony shows and horse shows, especially those sponsored by the many riding, clubs and the branches of the Pony Club. It all arose from the case mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. At that time it came as a shock to me and to many to realise that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children were each year breaking the law owing to the hitherto unobserved provision of this 1933 Act; breaking the law, becoming juvenile delinquents, aided and abetted by their parents, by their elders and betters, and by all, in fact, concerned with horse shows. That is an alarming state of affairs.

Until this Bill passes, if it does, it would appear, first of all, that children under twelve years old will be confined entirely to six gymkhanas or six events for which they wish to enter, and after that they will have to wait six months before they enter for something else. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, seems to think that that would not be a bad idea. That may be so or not, but it may interest your Lordships to know that there were no fewer than 800 classes at shows organised especially for children under ten years of age, which it is calculated attracted no fewer than 16,000 entries in one year, and that does not include any number of small gymkhana events which are, in fact, games and sports, in my opinion good for the children. Therefore there may be 20,000 or more occasions when young children enjoy themselves and on which they will be precluded from doing so in future. Furthermore, older children, those between twelve and fifteen years, will be prevented from taking part in more than six events in any one period of six months unless they go through this laborious process of obtaining a licence.

What is much more likely to happen is that they will all carry on exactly as before, continuing to offend against the 1933 Act and probably getting away with it. I am sure noble Lords will agree that not only is it undesirable that a rule of law should be almost incapable of enforcement—as this one is—but that it is even more undesirable that a large number of young children should openly arid knowingly break the law. From the many inquiries I have received since the case to which the noble Lord has referred, I can assure your Lordships that many children and their parents fear they will be breaking the law unless they apply for this particular licence. No one will doubt that participation by children in mounted sports and similar shows should be encouraged, so I will not enlarge upon that point.

It might well be argued, however, that participation in such events could well take place without paid admission so that the 1933 Act would not apply. Unhappily the situation is not so simple; if it were, there would be far less need for the Bill that has now been introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. Without this Bill it would appear that several hundred riding branches of the Pony Club, and of riding clubs, would be prevented from running their own shows. One of the objects of these clubs and branches is to provide opportunities to ride, to learn to ride and to take part in mounted sports and similar activities at the lowest possible cost, so that as many children as possible, regardless of their means, may be able to take part on equal terms with those who are better off. If clubs were prevented from securing the income they derive from their own shows, many of them would find it impossible to continue their existence, or the cost of membership and of participation in their events would become so high as to exclude many of those members whom it is desired to help.

To give an example, the branch of the Pony Club for which I am in some measure responsible derives its income roughly in these proportions: one quarter from subscriptions, one half from the running of shows (which would come within the meaning of the 1933 Act), and one quarter from other sources. If we had to lose the income from these shows, then clearly we should have to increase our membership charges by 200 per cent. in order to raise the necessary funds to keep the branch going. On the other hand, if we ran our shows without charging the public for admission to them, then we should have to increase the entrance fees paid by members and competitors by at least 100 per cent. Either of these increases would be beyond the means of quite a number of those members whom we most wish to encourage. In order that these riding and pony clubs may continue to survive and prosper and do a really good job in the best interests of children and of young people (as I believe they do), I hope your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, the Olympia case, as my noble friend Lord Teynham has rightly called it, has occasioned much uneasiness and we should therefore be grateful to my noble friend Lord Teynham for having put his hand to this Bill, if only because it gives us an opportunity of threshing out the matter and seeing whether we can allay some of the uneasiness which has been occasioned among pony clubs. I hope that I may be able to convince the noble Lord, and your Lordships, that much of this fear is quite unjustified, and that the unfortunate results which noble Lords fear may devolve from the Olympia case are not really so serious as would at first appear. Concern has been largely due, perhaps, to the fact that the reports of counsels' speeches during the case were a little garbled, so that their content has not wholly been grasped. May I just remind noble Lords of what is the law, as I think it is important that we should get this clear? I do so, with the greatest respect to my noble friend, Lord Teynham, because I believe that he made a slight slip of the tongue when he was explaining the matter to us.

The existing restrictions on children's taking part in entertainments, together with the important exception to which the noble Lord has referred, are contained in Section 22 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933. The general effect of the section is that a child under twelve years of age may not take part in any entertainment in connection with which any charge, whether for admission or not, is made to any of the audience. A child under fifteen may do so only under a licence from the local education authority. This provision, however, does not apply when the entertainment is not for private profit and when it is held intermittently—the actual expression is "not more than seven occasions in six months." That is a purely arbitrary number, put in because one cannot introduce into an Act of Parliament such words as "regularly" or "intermittently" without causing great confusion as to their meaning. The arbitrary figure of "not more than seven occasions in six months" was fixed in order to give some standard to the word "intermittently." This is a necessary safeguard and is not just restrictive red tape. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin pointed out, it is designed to prevent the exploitation of young children, either innocently or for financial profit, though admittedly this does not occur frequently.

I readily admit that this provision was primarily designed to cover such things as pantomimes, which run for some considerable time and which may have a chorus or ballet of small children whose schooling might otherwise be interrupted, and whose welfare, in theatrical accommodation, should obviously be subject to careful supervision. I am not for one moment suggesting that all pantomimes are badly run, or that children are exploited—far from it; but we must guard against the danger. I do not wish to harp on extreme cases, but I want to point out to noble Lords that the restrictions apply only to "entertainments." I have twice emphasised that point, for therein lies the difficulty.

The word "entertainment" is not defined in the Act. By no stretch of the imagination could the word "entertainment," as we are now discussing it, apply to the Saturday afternoon gymkhana, in which so many children take part the whole year round. Saturday afternoon mounted sports and such occasions could not possibly constitute "entertainments" within the meaning of the Act and they never have done so. The Olympia case, however, was clearly an entertainment. The display was given repeatedly, three times a day, by the same children. One child was under twelve and was not, therefore, eligible for a licence. In the case of the other children, however, I am sure—although I have no authority for saying this—that a licence would clearly have been granted. There is no difficulty in obtaining these licences, and they are frequently granted. On the other hand, I think it is right and desirable that the local authority should scrutinise most carefully applications for licences in cases which are obviously "entertainments."

The noble Lord goes further in the Bill and deals with games and other competitions. Under the existing law, games or competitions do not automatically become "entertainments" because there are paying spectators. If that were so, most tennis tournaments—and not merely regular tennis displays given by two children up and down the country, in the same way as two professionals sometimes give exhibitions—would constitute "entertainments." In fact, such games and competitions could not possibly be covered by the existing law as interpreted in the Olympia case. I think, therefore, that most of the fears which have been expressed by good people interested in the matter are groundless, and they arise because they have not realised the limitations contained in the word "entertainment."

Let me make this further point, if I may, on the interpretation of the word "entertainment." I admit that such a game as that to which I have just referred would be called entertainment for the purpose of entertainment duty. I mention that point in case anyone raises it; but, of course, the fiscal mind works in a different way from the mind of anyone else, and the analogy is not relevant. I should like to emphasise this fact also. The provisions in the Bill would give rise to a large number of anomalies. If there were to be a distinction between the various types of sports and activities as proposed in the Bill, it would mean that children would be free to ride in a display every afternoon, without a licence, but would have to be licensed to take part in the evening in amateur theatricals. I agree that this is an extreme case of anomaly but it is one which could occur under the Bill.

I cannot, therefore, advise the House to accept the measure, but I can, I think, offer the noble Lord more than a few crumbs of comfort. I agree that the law about children generally is in a confused state and is capable of much improvement. For instance, it may be unknown to many of your Lordships that any child under thirteen employed in films is in breach of the law. A child over thirteen is employable only under rules passed in 1933 and drafted as if the cinema industry did not exist. There was, as your Lordships know, a Committee, known as the Bateson Committee, which was set up in 1948 and which in 1950 submitted a Report on this subject, Command Paper 8805. The Government have taken a careful note of the recommendations in this Report and are proposing to amend the law with regard to children in several quite important aspects. We have noted any anomalies and rigidities and particularly those which need to be ironed out in the light of modern conditions. Particular attention will be paid to the problems thrown up by the rule about granting licences to under twelve-year-olds. We shall certainly look into our proposals again in the light of the Olympia case to see whether there are any clarifications which can be made, or any general tidying up and relaxation that may be required. I hope that that will meet some of the difficulties of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, and will set at rest those minds which are worried about the case which we have been discussing.

Summing up, I can say at once that the fears which I have heard expressed, particularly those of the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, are largely groundless. In general, where licences are required under the existing law, I think it is right that they should be required. But I must ask the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, not to press his measure to a Second Reading but to rest assured that we will investigate again this question of employment of children, bearing in mind the problems of the pony clubs and so on. If we find that the law needs amendment, we shall hope that one day we may be able to introduce suitable legislation. With that promise, I hope that the noble Lord may see fit to withdraw this Bill.


My Lords, I appreciate very much the news that the Government have in mind a new Children's Bill, but I would say that it is for the far-off future. I suggest that we should have the position clarified a little more quickly than the Government appear to have in mind. I should certainly be prepared to withdraw the Bill if the Government spokesman would give an assurance that the Home Secretary will be prepared to receive a deputation on the subject matter of the Bill, so that an agreed measure can perhaps be worked out and the whole matter properly investigated.


I shall be very pleased indeed to look into that. Obviously, I cannot give an assurance on behalf of my right honourable friend, but if I would suffice, I will certainly do what the noble Lord has asked. Whilst I cannot commit the Home Secretary, I feel sure that he will be glad to do what he can to meet the noble Lord about this.


On the understanding that the Home Secretary will look into the matter again as quickly as possible, and will receive a deputation, I beg leave to withdraw the Bill.

Motion, by lease, withdrawn: then Bill, by leave, withdrawn.