HC Deb 12 January 1981 vol 996 cc435-7W
Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services, in the light of the publication of the Low Pay Unit report on underpayment of children, if he will implement the proposals arising from the Employment of Children Act 1973: and if he will make a statement.

Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) if he will implement as soon as possible the Employment of Children Act 1973;

(2) what evidence he has of illegal working by children; and what plans he has to strengthen the law;

(3) if he will launch a national campaign to publicise the law regarding the employment of children; if he is satisfied that this law is working satisfactorily; and if he will make a statement;

(4) how many successful prosecutions there have been in each of the last three years of employers for the illegal employment of children; what was the average fine; if he will increase surveillance in this field; and whether he will introduce legislation to increase the maximum amount of fine payable.

Sir George Young

The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 places a number of restrictions on the employment of children. In addition, many local education authorities prescribe the circumstances and conditions in which children may be employed by means of byelaws. These are made under part II of the 1933 Act and are subject to approval by my right hon. Friend. They vary throughout the country, but with a view to achieving greater uniformity, this Department issued guidance in 1976 which is generally followed. The Employment of Children Act 1973, which is not yet in force, would replace these byelaws by national regulations but the duty of enforcement would remain with local education authorities.

I have read the report by the Low Pay Unit entitled "Working Children" which calls for early implementation of the 1973 Act, provision of more resources to local education authorities to enforce the law, heavier fines and a campaign to publicise the restrictions on the employment of children. Enforcement is a matter for local education authorities. I hope that they will look at the report and consider whether they are acting as effectively as they could.

I hope, too, that they will consider whether the 1933 Act and any byelaws they have made are sufficiently well known to children, their parents and prospective employers. I do not think that a national publicity campaign would be appropriate. Nor would it be appropriate to impose further responsibilities on local education authorities by implementing the 1973 Act at a time when the Government are seeking to reduce local authority expenditure.

I am advised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department that comprehensive information on prosecutions for the illegal employment of children is not available because some proceedings may be under legislation which does not identify the circumstances of the offence.

The only information available relates to the number of defendants prosecuted for offences specifically under Acts relating to the employment of children, and this is published annually in the 'Criminal Statistics, England and Wales'—offence classification 147 of table 1(a) of the volume for 1979 (Cmnd. 8098).

In 1979 the average fine for these offences was £40. Legislation to increase the maximum fine payable under section 21(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 already exists in paragraph 2 of schedule 1 to the Employment of Children Act 1973 which we are unable to bring into force for the reason I have given.

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