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Child Labour (Farming and Food Sectors)

Volume 517: debated on Thursday 4 November 2010

17. What recent discussions she has had with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority on the use of child labour in the farming and food industry sectors. (21662)

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority licenses labour providers in the agriculture, food processing and shellfish-gathering sectors, and also enforces the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004. It does not have responsibility for enforcing legislation on child labour—that falls to the police, who work alongside local authorities’ children’s services departments. Nevertheless, the GLA played an important role in liaising with the relevant authorities in the recent very shocking case of Romanian children found picking spring onions in Worcestershire.

The Minister is right that we are all shocked at the news of those Romanian children. I take on board what he said about the GLA, but does he feel that, given the remoteness of some locations where people are expected to work in the agricultural sector, managing the possibility of child exploitation is difficult?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, children below the age of 13 are not permitted to work other than in certain parts of the entertainment industry. He will also know that restrictions apply to the number of hours that 13 to 16-year-olds can work and that a licence must be obtained from the local authority before such employment begins. Let us therefore be under no doubt that if children are employed in agriculture, they are employed illegally, unless they are licensed in the way I described.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the remoteness of much agricultural activity. I entirely understand his point, but I do not think that we should allow that incident—I cannot comment on the detail—to make us think that such practices are rife all over the country. The vast majority of farmers and fruit and vegetable growers behave properly towards their work force and ensure that they comply with employment legislation. We need to ensure that breaches in the law, as might have happened in that case, are dealt with appropriately.

The Romanian children were found working in my constituency. Many of the local farmers use migrant labourers. Has the Minister any general advice for those farmers on the employment of migrant labour?

I can say to my hon. Friend quite clearly that the most important thing that anybody who wants to employ migrant labour—or, indeed, any non-local labour—should do is ensure that they are dealing with a licensed gangmaster. They should ask to see the certificate or licence of the gangmaster proposing to bring the labour on to the farm. That way they can all be reassured they are doing the right thing.