Earlier this week Cambridgeshire Council was in a media firestorm over using surveillance powers to investigate paper boys. Here the Council leader Cllr Jill Tuck responds to her critics.
Unfortunately the media hysteria over RIPA masks what it is actually there to do – protect the right to privacy of the individual. RIPA is not an anti-terrorism law as the media constantly state.
At Cambridgeshire County Council, we only use RIPA when it is absolutely necessary in the course of investigations where we know the law has been broken. In many cases, such as the one last week, observation work by our officers is the only way of gathering evidence, and RIPA has to be used so that the evidence is admissible in court. We only took action in this case through the courts as a last resort.
In this case, the shopkeepers had been given countless opportunities to comply with the law on child employment, but didn’t. We take our child welfare and safety responsibilities very seriously at Cambridgeshire CC, which is why we work with people who employ youngsters to make sure they
follow the rules so that everyone is protected.
The County Council has a statutory responsibility to regulate child
employment. This is a responsibility the Council takes very seriously
as the safety and welfare of children is involved. This isn’t just a case of following rules and regulations for their own sake – it’s about
ensuring that if children do part-time jobs they do them safely. The
child safety issue is of course paramount but employers also need to be aware that by employing children illegally they invalidate any liability insurance they may have.
The vast majority of employers want to work within the law and we only
consider taking legal action if our attempts to bring about compliance
with the law are persistently ignored. Our prime concern is to ensure that if children are working that they are doing so legally and safely. As a County Council we are not prepared to wait until a child is perhaps killed or seriously injured before we do anything.
We would only consider taking legal action against employers after all
previous attempts to secure their compliance have failed. We will visit
employers, write to them, do all we can. Legal action is very much a last resort. If employers ignore our attempts to persuade
them to comply with the law then we have to consider legal action. If
we do go to court we need to secure the evidence which will lead to a conviction. We do not "spy" on newspaper boys or on newsagents. We will
carefully consider using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act if
this is necessary and proportionate to secure evidence, and a senior officer of the Council will authorise this if it is deemed necessary.
The main laws around child employment are straightforward. Children can
only work if they are over 13; they have a work a work permit; And the
work is light work, which won’t be harmful to their safety, health and development or impact adversely on their school attendance.
There are various restrictions around the hours children can work. For example, children can’t: start work before 7am, work after 7pm or work for more than 12 hours in any week when they have to attend school.
Employers have a clear responsibility to make themselves aware of
these laws and regulations. The County Council regularly does mail
shots and launches publicity campaigns to make people aware of the child employment byelaws. Visits are made to businesses such as
newsagents, restaurants, and hairdressers across the county on a
regular basis. Most employers respond reasonably and follow the necessary procedures to ensure that risk to children is managed
properly and that parents and schools have no concerns about the
proposed employment. This is the first instance, in at least the last ten years, where it has been necessary for the Council to prosecute an employer for failing to meet these basic requirements.