Letter: Powers of DTI inspectors are an offence against natural justice

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Sir: The real iniquity of the Government's proposal to abolish the two- hour limit for children working on Sundays ("Unions move to sign up child workers", 21 December) is that it will result in more children working above the current permitted weekly total of 20 hours.

Although the Government claims there will be no significant change, as the overall limit on working hours will remain the same, in reality many children will be pressured by poverty and their employers to work above the permitted weekly maximum.

Unrepentant scrooges will be rubbing their hands in glee. In 1996 the chances of a firm being inspected by the authorities are in the order of once every six years, and those caught offending will suffer only a small financial penalty.

One factory inspector's report noted that:

"The profit to be gained by it [violation of a Factory Act] appears to be, to many, a greater temptation than they can resist; they calculate upon the chance of not being found out; and when they see the small amount of penalty and costs, which those who have been convicted have to pay, they find that if they should be detected there will still be a considerable balance of gain."

That report was published in 1856. Tragically, 140 years later, we have slipped back into the full viciousness of the 19th-century economy.

Dr GARY SLAPPER

Director, Institute of Industrial and Commercial Law

Staffordshire University

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