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Au Pair Girls And Social Benefits

Volume 374: debated on Tuesday 5 October 1976

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2.49 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their estimate of the number of au pair girls now drawing social benefits.

My Lords, I regret that I cannot give precise figures, but we believe that the number at any time is very small. Only isolated instances of short-term payments have come to our notice. Au pair girls customarily, as the noble Baroness will know, receive their keep from the family with whom they are living. They would not receive benefit while this arrangement continues. Any claim to supplementary benefit from a girl stated to be in difficulties because of sickness or other misfortune would be considered on its merits, taking full account of the terms on which she had been admitted into this country.

My Lords, while I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, might I ask whether he knows of any record available which would show what proportion of au pair girls do not fulfil their contract and do not return to their country of origin? Further, is the noble Lord satisfied that there is sufficient co-ordination between the Aliens Department and the Departments of Social Security and Employment to ensure that the special provisions relating to au pair girls are not used to circumvent the regulations so that people can obtain work permits by other means, using the procedure of entering as an au pair girl ultimately to find other employment?

My Lords, as I said, no figures are available. I cannot answer the first part of the noble Baroness's question. We are very concerned at what is happening in a number of fields at the present moment, not only in relation to au pair girls, and this is part of the special study which we are currently undertaking.

My Lords, is it not very unfortunate that Her Majesty's Government of the time did not sign the Convention in regard to au pairs, because with no legal contract they can opt out at any time they like? If they do not sign a contract they can return to their own countries. Will the noble Lord reconsider the idea of signing the Convention?

My Lords, they can be returned to their own country if it comes to our knowledge that they did not fulfil their contract. Those from the EEC are permitted to come for six months, during which they are entitled to stay and look for work. Those who come from other countries are allowed to remain for 12 months. But if, for any reason, they do not fulfil their contract and become a charge in some way, it is customary to inform the Home Office of the position and it is then up to the Home Office to take action.

Then, my Lords, will this Government now sign the Convention of the Council of Europe, because that would be a safeguard for everybody?

My Lords, with very great respect, I think that that is another question. I would not want to be drawn into that.

My Lords, can the noble Lord opposite give figures for the number of au pair girls who come from EEC countries, from non-EEC European Countries and from Third World countries? Can he also say how many of those stay or do not stay, and what are the regulations vis-à-vis their staying on in work?

My Lords, as I said earlier these statistics are not available because they are not kept. It may well be that they ought to be kept, but the position is that we are not aware of the exact number.

My Lords, is the noble Lord not aware that the number of au pair girls admitted each year is given in the Home Office immigration statistics? Speaking from memory I believe they stated that the largest number in 1975 was admitted from Switzerland, and was I believe 1,610, while the number admitted from the whole of the Commonwealth was three.

My Lords, I was asked in relation to those who had not fulfilled their undertaking and, as I said, that figure is not available.