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Decade-long campaign to overhaul child performer laws claims victory

Tom Klenerman in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Photo: Helen Maybanks Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Photo: Helen Maybanks
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A 10-year campaign to overhaul child licensing and performance regulations is celebrating success after the introduction of a new act marked the biggest change in legislation in more than 40 years.

The 2014 child performance regulations, which have just come into force and replace the 1968 performance licence, were presented to the entertainment industry at the BBC’s Radio Theatre last week.

The Stage first highlighted problems with the previous child licensing regime in 2005. Producers warned of a “postcode lottery” that meant children in some  local authorities were missing out on  the opportunity to perform owing to inconsistent application of the law.

The new regulations include the removal of restrictions on the different types of performance a child may take part in during a single day, as well as bringing theatre and television working hours into alignment.

Previously, children could only work  for television until 7pm, while regulations for theatre work stretched to 10pm. Under the new arrangement, children aged under five can work until 10pm across both mediums, while those over five years old can now work until 11pm.

In addition, the limit on the number of consecutive days children can perform has been extended to six, whereas previously different maximum periods were specified for difference types of performance.

Tarquin Shaw-Young, managing  director of Stagecoach Agency and a  leading figure in the campaign, said  the new regulations, while not addressing all the concerns put forward by campaigners, signified a move to a more “common sense approach” to child licensing.

“The whole point is to try to all sing from the same hymn sheet,” he added. Shaw-Young also said that the extension in working hours and the number of  consecutive days children can perform should still be used with caution, describing the new rules as a “maximum” that should not be exploited consistently.

Other new regulations include the replacement of a compulsory doctor’s  note with a medical declaration form issued by a parent, and allowing child  theatre performers to be in the venue  for up to five hours on a performance day.

“That gives children the time to warm up and rehearse, rather than being shipped in and out because the clock  is running,” Shaw-Young said.

Louise Norman, head of legal affairs  at the Society of London Theatre, said: “For many years, SOLT and UK Theatre have been working with government, local authorities and other entertainment industry bodies to make the outdated child performance licensing system fit  for purpose. Although the government rejected the possibility of wholesale reform, we believe the new regulations  for England go a long way towards  simplifying and updating the system, which will benefit children, producers  and local authorities alike.”

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