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5.45 pm

New clause 3

Employment of Young Persons

.--(1) No young person under the age of eighteen shall be employed without competent adult supervision in the following industries--

(a) mining and quarrying,

(b) the manufacture of coke or smokeless fuel,

(c) construction,

(d) offshore oil and gas.

(2) The Secretary of State for Employment may by order specify industries in which young persons shall not be employed without competent adult supervision in addition to those specified in subsection (1) above.-- [Mr. Strang.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this it will be convenient to take the following : New clause 5-- Statistics --

The Secretary of State for Employment shall lay before the House of Commons each year statistics which shall show--

(a) the number of persons under eighteen in paid full-time employment,

(b) the average number of hours worked by persons under eighteen in such employment.

(c) the average wages paid to persons under eighteen,

(d) the number of industrial accidents involving persons under eighteen.'.

Amendment No. 40, in clause 8, page 6, line 39, after effect', insert

except insofar as that would be inconsistent with Article 7(8) of the European Social Charter.'.

No. 41, in page 6, line 44, after age', insert

except insofar as any such amendment would be inconsistent with the provisions of Article 7(8) of the European Social Charter.'. No. 42, in page 7, line 16, after age', insert

provided that no provision made in any order under this subsection, shall be inconsistent with Article 7(8) of the European Social Charter.'.

Mr. Strang : The new clauses and the amendments have been tabled in response to the notorious clause 8 of the Bill, which repeals the law that seeks to protect young workers from exploitation by unscrupulous employers. In Committee it became clear that that clause was the most important of the Bill. Many of the regulations that protect young workers derive from the Factories Act 1961 and the Shops Act 1950. The regulations have the effect of giving young workers protection which, in many circumstances, is desperately needed. The regulations limit the hours of work, provide for meal breaks and, of course, restrict night shift working. By young people we mean those who have left school, but have not yet reached their 18th birthday--in the main 16 and 17-year-olds. The 1985 labour force survey recorded that there were 887,000 such young people in the work force and that no less than 70 per cent. of them worked in areas where current legislation controlled their hours of work.

The origin of clause 8 was mooted in the Government's consultative document "Restrictions on Employment of Young People and the Removal of Sex Discrimination in Legislation" In that document the Government spelt out their proposals for the removal of the controls on the

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working conditions of young people. The first paragraph of the document refers to the legislation governing young workers and states :

"It is unlikely that such a complex framework of legislation would be introduced today. This document therefore takes as its starting point that it is the maintenance, rather than the repeal, of restrictions on young people's employment that must be justified." That is an illogical conclusion. The emphasis is on the complexity of the framework of legislation. Of course we recognise that the legislation is complex, indeed it has been built up over more than 100 years, but to say that, because the legislation is complex, the principle--that there must be some protection for young workers--is no longer acceptable is outrageous. It is a reflection of how extreme the Government are that such a clause could come before the House. It is not surprising that such opposition was expressed to the proposals about young people's hours of work, and so on, in the consultative document.

As we would expect, the Trades Union Congress made it clear that it was totally opposed to the proposals. It said :

"The TUC considers that more research is urgently needed into the effects on young workers of extended hours of work, shiftworking and exposure to toxic substances. There is also an urgent need to examine the causes of accidents to young people at work in order to explain the increased risk of accidents that they face. Until this is done, existing legislation protecting young people from long hours, shift or nightwork and other hazards to health and safety, should remain in force."

The Confederation of British Industry recognised the need to maintain legislation. In its response to the consultative document, it said :

"Many CBI members recognise however that young people could be obliged to work excessive and unsocial hours by unscrupulous employers. We would therefore accept some limitation on night work for young people and some general guidance on what are seen as reasonable working hours for them today."

I acknowledge that, in the main, the CBI supports the thrust and vast bulk of the Bill's proposals. However, it is significant that the CBI opposed the sweeping away of the controls.

Most startling of all is the fact that the Government have seen fit to ride roughshod over the response to the document of the Health and Safety Commission. It said :

"that the restrictions may be unnecessarily detailed and elaborate, although not an apparent burden on industry, but that they should not be replaced without some form of control of young persons' hours of work in order to safeguard their welfare and opportunities for education, training, and social development."

It is a measure of how sweeping the proposals are and of the scale of opposition to them that the CBI, TUC and the Government's own Health and Safety Commission opposed such drastic legislative changes.

The Liberal amendments that we are taking with the new clause refer to the Council of Europe's European social charter, which was signed in 1961 and came into force in 1965. Article 7 states :

"With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right of children and young persons to protection, the Contracting Parties undertake : to provide that persons under 18 years of age shall not be employed in night work with the exception of certain occupations provided for by national laws or regulations."

The Council of Europe's social charter is purely a statement of objectives. It is interesting that today the European Commission's social charter of workers' rights has been published. I have not studied the contents of that

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charter, but it is important that if it is agreed by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, as it undoubtedly will be, it will be binding.

I have no doubt that the basic principles in relation to workers' rights that are contained in that charter will mean a general advance in the conditions of this country's work force. It was predictable that in today's press conference by the Commission the British Government would be singled out as the only one opposing the idea of enacting basic rights for workers in relation to wages, conditions of work and--as contained in another European directive--health and safety.

The Government's proposals are totally out of line with the legislation that exists in most other European countries and they certainly move in the opposite direction from that which the European Commission and European Community will, no doubt, take in due course. That is a measure of how backward the Government are on workers' rights and the need to develop decent social standards and maintain conditions at the work place. The issue of health and safety at work is germane to this debate. In our view, there is no doubt that if the legislation is enacted it will jeopardise young people's conditions at work. That is why our new clauses specifically refer to that. In Committee it seemed, remarkably, that Ministers were suggesting that a young worker was no more likely to be at risk than an older one. Frankly, that is nonsense. The idea that an inexperienced worker, a young person, is no more likely to be involved in an accident or to subject himself to hazards from toxic substances is patently indefensible. The statistics that we have point in that direction. I say that the statistics "point in that direction" because they are inadequate and we had considerable discussion on this matter in Committee.

The main information that we have about this comes from the Health and Safety Executive. Its 1984-85 statistics analysed in detail the correlation between the age groups of workers and accident rates. It would be inappropriate to consider the detailed figures here, as we did in Committee. It was quite clear that there is, of course, a correlation between the two, particularly in the figures for workers under the age of 26. Unfortunately, we did not have a detailed breakdown on workers aged 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20. That should be available and that is why new clause 5 specifically asks for those statistics.

It asks for data about

(a) the number of persons under eighteen in paid full-time employment,

(b) the average number of hours worked by persons under eighteen in such employment,

(c) the average wages paid to persons under eighteen,

(d) the number of industrial accidents involving persons under eighteen.'.

We want even more comprehensive information than that. We want the figures for the different age groups.

If the Government proceed with the legislation, over a period there will be a risk that accident rates will be higher for young workers. That will not be obvious at the beginning. They will not be high, as they are now, with protective legislation in place, merely because the workers are young. They will be even higher because existing legislation will have been swept away. Young people will face other dangers as a consequence of the removal of restrictions.

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New clause 3 deals specifically with health and safety. Some hon. Members may be slightly surprised to know that it specifies that "No young person under the age of eighteen shall be employed without competent adult supervision in the following industries". It then lists four industrial groups, which are the most dangerous, but naturally we would expect the Secretary of State to add to these groups. Rather than placing a long list of industrial groups on the Amendment Paper, we merely list four because the clause goes on to state that

"The Secretary of State for Employment may by order specify industries in which young persons shall not be employed without competent adult supervision".

The Government must face up to their responsibilities : there is no doubt that they will live to regret it otherwise.

Dangers in the work place are not the only aspect of the problem. Exemptions laid down by the Health and Safety Executive will be swept away by the Bill, along with the power to make such exemptions. That will mean that some young people will be alowed to work night shifts. Although there is a general assumption at present that they should not do so, in many instances the existing legislation permits it, and the Bill will place no controls on their exploitation.

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When young people work night shifts it is necessary to ensure that the terms and conditions of their employment are properly met : often, for instance, transport must be provided to take them home. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson), speaking on the previous new clause, rightly focused on the special position of women workers. Many young workers, especially young women, will not have cars in which to drive home from night shifts--as a high proportion of older workers have--and that will make them particularly vulnerable. Last week Labour Members who met Edinburgh's chief constable were told of the large increase all over the country in reported cases of rape and other sexual assaults.

We are also worried about young people on youth training schemes. YTS accident rates are unacceptably high. Is there anything more tragic than a young person on a YTS being seriously injured or killed at work? Such tragic accidents are reported from time to time in the press. On Second Reading and in Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South- East (Mr. Nellist) raised the case of Derek Cain, the Shefield boy who was killed by a paper baling machine within three weeks of starting work at a factory in the town.

I remind the House of that case not because of the substantial compensation that was eventually paid--after a long struggle--but because the authorities were liable. Effective action is needed to reduce the risk to young people on such schemes, particularly those working in potentially dangerous factories. We need proper supervision, and a reporting system to ensure that careers offices or other authorities involved inform the Health and Safety Executive and the factory inspectorate that YTS people will be employed in the work place.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet) : New clause 3 seems slightly defective. It picks out four industries in which it proposes that all jobs must be under adult supervision, and the hon. Gentleman implies that all those jobs are potentially hazardous. In the construction industry, for example, many young people may be employed in office work, which would not be regarded as hazardous in any

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terms. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the inevitable consequence of putting in statutory terms a requirement for excess supervision over and above that required by normal safety considerations would be a reluctance by employers to recruit people for such office jobs?

Mr. Strang : We do not refer to "excess supervision". We should certainly not object if the hon. Gentleman persuaded the Minister to table a slightly adjusted form of the new clause including the phrase "appropriate supervision". Of course some jobs require considerably more supervision than others ; that is not at issue. The new clause is intended to reduce the risk to young people in the work place, for we have no doubt that if clause 8 is passed unamended the opposite will result.

The new clause would also cover school children working in factories to gain work experience. I know that the Bill will not affect such people, but the new clause will enable us to establish a new and comprehensive framework. We do not argue with the Government's view that piecemeal legislation is unsatisfactory, and there is certainly a need for new legislation in this regard. What we oppose is the elimination of measures aimed specifically at protecting young workers.

The Bill is a further chapter in the saga of young people's exploitation for which the present Government have been responsible. Young people suffered the most from the horrific levels of unemployment at the beginning of the 1980s. A whole generation was affected, some of whom may have been lost for ever. They may never work as a consequence of the misery and deprivation brought about in their communities--communities in which the vast majority of young people, perhaps three quarters, had no job and no hope of obtaining one.

More recently, there was the disgraceful removal of young people's right to income support unless they joined a youth training scheme. Further legislation affected the wage councils, removing all statutory protection from the wages of workers under 21. As a result there is no statutory minimum that an employer must pay a young worker, and no limit to the possible exploitation. Now, shamefully, the Government are introducing a Bill that will remove legislation aimed at protecting standards relating to working hours, night shift working and, undoubtedly, health and safety.

The changes relate to the Government's so-called flexible labour market. Employers will be free to recruit workers--including young workers--on terms dictated by them rather than negotiated with trade unions, and, when it suits them, not to provide decent, secure, permanent jobs.

Hon. Members will say--and I agree--that the last thing that the vast majority of employers want to do is exploit young workers or put their health at risk. But there are enough unscrupulous employers who will, and the working of the market will cause them to bring pressure on others. By exploiting young people they will reduce an element of their costs, thus bringing about unfair competition and forcing other employers to lower their standards. That is why we need national legislation, and why, if we cannot have such legislation, we should support the European Commission's proposals for EEC legislation to require recalcitrant Governments such as this to legislate for basic standards in the work place.

By pressing ahead with clause 8 and refusing to accept the new clauses, the Government will go down a

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dangerous road. They are gambling with the health and safety of our young workers, and in some instances it may be a matter of life and death. We appeal to the Government to draw back before it is too late.

Mr. Wallace : I support the new clause. I shall also speak to amendments Nos. 40 to 42 which are in my name and the names of my hon. Friends.

On Second Reading my hon. Friends and I tabled a reasoned amendment. It acknowledged that there were anomalies in youth employment legislation, some of which will quite readily withstand repeal. It was important that we did not seek a blanket repeal because there are some provisions in the legislation which protect young people. On Second Reading the Secretary of State gave some ludicrous examples of employment laws in relation to the working hours of young people. Never in a month of Sundays, although in that case we were talking about Saturdays, would such laws ever be operated in this day and age. I do not think that any hon. Member would object to some anachronisms being repealed. However, in doing so we must ensure that necessary protection is not lost. It is important to protect young people in terms of the number of hours that they work and in relation to their workplaces to which certain standards of health and safety should apply. Those standards should apply particularly to the needs and aptitudes of young people. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) quoted from the response by the CBI to the Government's initial proposals. The CBI is known for its general support of the Government, although it does not always wholeheartedly support them in the way that the Government would like. The CBI has been critical of some aspects of the proposals. It expressed concern that young people could be obliged to work excessive and unsocial hours by unscrupulous employers. Once reduced standards become commonplace, some of the best employers find themselves under pressure to go down roads which in the normal course of events they would not go down.

We have heard statistics in this debate and in others, including the debate which dealt with health and safety in the construction industry. They show that young and old people tend to be more susceptible to accidents after they have been working for a long time. When we combine young people and excessive hours the likelihood of accidents increases considerably. It is incumbent on us as legislators, as the people who make the rules, to ensure that protection is given to people who might otherwise, in the words of the CBI, find themselves exploited by unscrupulous employers. Our amendments refer to the European social charter which is the product of the Council of Europe. Today the European Commission published a social charter, but before commenting on it one would have to look at its terms. I and my party believe that as we look forward to 1992 and beyond, it is important to recognise that the opportunities and benefits of 1992 should not be confined to business. They should be open to all people, employees as well as employers.

The Government suffer from Euro-paranoia. They think that anything that comes from Brussels and has anything to do with social justice must inevitably be wrong. That means that the Government will attempt to deny to our citizens rights that have applied for years in many other European countries without any obvious

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damage to their economies. The Government's attitude is that everyone in the regiment is out of step except the Prime Minister. In the long term that attitude will damage Britain and in the short term it will damage the rights of young people. I shall have to look at the charter to see whether it refers to young people, but I am sure that it does.

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Some of the provisions of article 7 of the social charter are relevant to the debate but others are not. For example, it says : "To ensure the effective exercise of the rights of children and young persons to protection, the contracting parties undertake to provide that persons who are still subject to compulsory education shall not be employed in such work as would deprive them of the benefit of their education."

The Bill makes the school leaving age the cut-off point and it would not be appropriate to include the whole article. The charter also says :

"a higher minimum age of admission to employment shall be fixed for prescribed occupations regarded as dangerous or unhealthy or where regular medical control is requred."

Those recommendations could have been incorporated in the Bill. In framing the amendment I highlighted article 7(8) of the charter which says :

"To provide that persons under 18 years of age shall not be employed in night work with the exceptions of certain occupations provided for by national laws or regulations."

I did that for two reasons, the first being because of the inherent dangers of expecting children unnecessarily to work at night. Secondly, the Bill repeals section 1(3) of the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920. If that is repealed it will mean the derogation of Britain from the European social charter. In their blanket repeal of old legislation the Government have not thought through the protection that should remain on the statute book. It does not do the standing of our country any good to create or support an economy in which young children have to fill shelves in supermarkets at midnight or have to sell petrol all night. Our economy can thrive and prosper without such things happening. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East has said, young people who work at night often have to find transport to get home at times when public transport may not be available. That applies especially in rural areas where public transport is difficult to find at the best of times. The hon. Gentleman spoke about attacks on young women and there is an increasing number of violent attacks on young males. Young women working at night will travel home in fear of rape, sexual assault or other forms of harassment.

In spite of the practices of the House, people are daytime creatures. We are not nocturnal and many adults who undertake night work or flexible shift work find it difficult. That is why they do not have to do it for long periods. Young, inexperienced people are likely to find the problem of coping with that somewhat more difficult than many older and more experienced workers who themselves at times experience stress because they have to work at night. No one compels young people to work at night, but economics can compel them to do so. That can have a disruptive effect on family life. We are told that family values should be encouraged. I support that, but it is

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difficult to see how such values could survive alongside legislation which in the long term could oblige young people to work at night.

The Government could accept the new clause and the amendments without in any way thwarting the purpose of the legislation. We can still get rid of the anachronistic anomalies and the Bill, even with the new clause and amendments, will present more opportunities for employers to take on young people. In many respects we are asking for the bare minimum. The new clause asks for appropriate supervision and the amendments ask for some basic form of protection for young people who could be more readily exploited by unscrupulous employers. We are not asking for much and I hope that the Government will seriously and sympathetically consider our requests. If they are not prepared to accept the new clause and the amendments because of technical deficiency, perhaps they will say that they accept the need for protection and have some measures in mind for another place.

Mr. Cope : It might assist the House if I intervene at this point, although, if points arise in the debate, I might seek to catch your eye again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with the permission of the House. I appreciate that the two new clauses and the set of amendments provide a handy peg for a debate on the subject. Certainly we are as concerned as anyone about the health and safety of young people. We have not done anything in the Bill to remove any protection for the health and safety of young people that was considered necessary by the Health and Safety Commission, as we have repeated throughout the proceedings on the Bill. At the same time we cannot support the proposals in the new clauses. I shall explain why.

On new clause 3, which was moved by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang), we recognise that adequate supervision is important, particularly where young people are likely to be at risk because of their immaturity and inexperience. The same applies to inexperienced people of any age. In our view, there is sufficient protection, particularly from a supervisory point of view, in existing legislation, which is better and in many respects wider than the new clause would provide.

Section 2(2)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 requires every employer to provide, among other things,

"such supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees".

That means all his employees and not just young people. The degree of supervision varies with the circumstances and with the individuals involved. Section 2 is framed in such a way as to allow for that. The new clause makes no distinction between the different jobs within an industry. It would apply, therefore, to a typist working for British Coal who would have to be under constant adult supervision, as my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) indicated in his intervention, although I accept that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East offered at that point to change the new clause.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Can the Minister explain to the House the difference between the new clause and relying on the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, as

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he is doing? Where a person was injured and made a claim for compensation, would not the defence under the Act dwell on the words "so far as is reasonably practicable"

in that the employer could argue that it would be too costly to employ supervision and therefore he could not be held responsible? The new clause says that there shall be supervision and would make it easier for the ordinary worker to get compensation for serious injury.

Mr. Cope : Several points arise. There could be a claim for compensation under civil law. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act relates primarily to criminal law. The first court case would probably be for breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. The nub of the point made by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) was the words :

"so far as is reasonably practicable".

In practice I believe that the courts would find that there was an absolute duty in the light of what was sensible. Some cases demonstrate that.

Apart from that, it is important to draw attention to the fact that it is not just a matter of the employer saying, "It was not practicable, and that is that," or "It was too costly." It does not widen the provision much to include

"so far as is reasonably practicable"

but it ensures that the employer does not have to provide, as he might under the new clause, supervision in all cases, including the example of the typist in British Coal.

In addition to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act there is specific protection relating to particular industries. That includes, for example, the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, which places a duty on a mine or quarry manager to ensure that nobody does any job unless that person has been adequately instructed, or trained if necessary, and is competent to do the job unsupervised. Again, that applies to all workers but obviously it is of particular relevance to young people working in mines and quarries, one of the industries specified in new clause 3.

Another example is the total ban on young people working on offshore installations. We do not propose any alteration in that. That goes further than new clause 3(1)(d). Young people under 18 are not allowed to work on offshore installations. Nor are we removing the many restrictions on young people operating dangerous machinery, driving locomotives or working with hazardous substances, such as lead. There are other restrictions which will not be affected by the legislation.

I appreciate that the industries listed in the new clause may be more dangerous, but where a particular hazard has been identified, legislation has been brought forward to cover it. The new clause provides for further industries to be added by order. That is unnecessary because there is already power to make regulations to improve health and safety under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. The House will be aware that we frequently discuss additional regulations and orders that are brought forward under that Act. I hope that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East will not think it necessary to press new clause 3 because supervision is already provided in legislation.

Similar arguments apply to new clause 5, which calls for new statistical returns. There are already several sources of information covering the statistics required, including the labour force survey, the new earnings survey and health and safety statistics from the Health and Safety Executive.

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It is not always appropriate to put the statistics together because the figures are compiled at different times of the year.

We could set up a new survey to provide additional statistics but it would not cover any figures other than those required by the new clause. The cost to the taxpayer and to employers would be considerable and would not be justified in our view, apart from the imposition of further form-filling burdens on employers. As I have said, the various statistics are produced already.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) spoke about amendments Nos. 40, 41 and 42 relating to the Council of Europe social charter. As has already been mentioned, that is not the same as the charter which is to be proposed by the European Commission for adoption within the European Community. I understand that there was a press conference in Brussels this morning, but the Commission has not issued a copy of the draft document on which it is working, so no one outside the Commission knows the details. From what has been said previously, we know the sort of things that are likely to be included in it. Health and safety regulations will no doubt be mentioned in the documentation but they are already covered by European directives and by the Single European Act. From time to time we discuss important directives that are brought forward under European legislation on health and safety.

From the health and safety point of view, the competence of the European Commission and its mechanisms is accepted. The charter to which the amendments refer is the Council of Europe charter which dates back to 1965. The argument is that article 7(8), the one referred to in the amendments, is no longer appropriate.

We believe that the control we have in respect of specific industries is best, and that a blanket ban on young people working in the night hours if they so wish is unjustified. We are committed to removing such unnecessary barriers to their employment. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East stressed at the end of his speech, it is important that young people have an opportunity to enter the employment market and take jobs if they so wish.

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