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Children: Paid Work

Volume 695: debated on Monday 29 October 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How they intend to improve the safety of children when they undertake paid work.

My Lords, staying safe is one of the five key Every Child Matters outcomes for children, to which the Government are committed in all circumstances. No child should be put in unacceptable danger by their employment, and legislation already deals with this. We also look to parents, carers, teachers and employers to take responsibility in advising young people about risky behaviour or unsafe experiences.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. However, is he aware that 607 children were injured at work in 2004-05, yet the law on children who work consists of 200 pieces of legislation and is very confusing? Is he also aware that, since the introduction in 1968 of the Children (Performances) Regulations, there has been no new guidance? Will he look very seriously at this matter in the light of the fact that the way that children who work are treated varies and is very inconsistent across the country?

My Lords, in response to the 2004 report on child employment legislation by the Better Regulation Task Force, the Government undertook to produce simple, best-practice guidance and we will do so. However, as the noble Baroness is aware, the law on the employment of children is very stringent and ensures that adequate protection is in place.

My Lords, is it due to laws or just due to the general attitude of society that children who used to take part-time work—in particular, paper deliveries—in the mornings are simply not interested now? I have asked in my local village but the response is, “Oh no, we might get an old-age pensioner to bring you papers but no way would a child take on this sort of activity any more”.

My Lords, I could not possibly comment on old-age pensioners taking up paper deliveries, although I am sure that it is a very worthwhile activity for those in need of additional income. The law on this matter relating to young people dates back to the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, so I suspect that practice in this area is more to do with changes in social custom than the law. However, it may also be because children are working harder at school and taking their studies more seriously, which of course is thanks to the reforms introduced by this Government.

My Lords, will the Government consider giving guidance to the Learning and Skills Council so that sufficient funding is given to bodies that organise work experience to ensure that children can work safely in the premises of small to medium-sized firms and that those firms are not discouraged from offering such opportunities?

My Lords, such guidance is available but I am sure that it can always be improved. I shall draw the noble Lord’s remarks to the attention of the Learning and Skills Council.

My Lords, the plethora of legislation covering the employment of children paints a confusing picture for employers. During the passage of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, the Government promised a communication strategy. Can the Minister say how extensive this has been?

My Lords, it is estimated that 218 million youngsters between the ages of five and 17 across the world are exploited in some way in the labour market. Is it not time for the Government to press the United Nations to strengthen, as well as implement, the Convention on the Rights of the Child? As has been reported in the newspapers over the past couple of days, sweatshops in India exploit children and the goods are then sold on the market in the UK. What discussions are the Government having with countries such as India where children are exploited?

My Lords, that question goes very wide of the Question on the Order Paper. I gave a full response on child labour and the rights of children internationally when I replied to a debate on child protection initiated last week by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. I draw his attention to those remarks.

My Lords, the Minister’s answer to my question was funny but I am afraid that it did not answer it. What does he mean by “very extensive”? Who has the strategy gone to and has it been distributed at a national or local level?

My Lords, I will write to the noble Baroness, and she can rely on me to give her very full particulars.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that out of his own mouth he has agreed with me that the legislation is very out of date? Is it not time that the 1933 Act to which he referred was updated and brought into line with the requirements of the modern world and modern children?

My Lords, I have undertaken that we will issue best practice guidance, but not all laws dating from 1933 are necessarily bad laws.