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Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister satisfied that these young people, as they mostly are, are sufficiently protected against exploitation? Is it not most unfortunate if they are sometimes expected to undertake work for which they are not adequately trained--perhaps nannying very small children, for example?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend is right. One needs to bear in mind that the fundamental purpose of au pairs being in this country is to learn the language, culture and social traditions of this country. It is absolutely right that they should be protected. They are protected by virtue of regulations made under the 1973 Act. If there is any exploitation contrary to the Act and the regulations the DTI should be informed at once.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, if a family lets a room to a lodger, the Inland Revenue allowance is £80 a week; but if, instead, they let the room to an au pair, and feed and look after the young person concerned, the allowance is only £20? How do the Government expect the au pair to be fed? Could this matter be re-examined?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the relationship of a lodger and a landlord is quite different from the family relationship with an au pair. I repeat: the au pair is here not to provide a source of under-paid, sometimes under-supervised employment; he or she is here fundamentally to learn the language. There are the restrictions that I have mentioned which have been extant for many years: no more than five hours a day, no more than five days a week.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Minister say from what countries persons wishing to be au pairs may apply to come to the United Kingdom? Is he satisfied that the Immigration Rules are not in this respect racially discriminatory?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there are not specific regulations that I am aware of, but the general law of the land relating to statutory parental obligations about the care of children overrides anything else. However, there are particular regulations which relate to au pairs, dealing with the nature of their employment and the form with which they must be provided.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I am glad to hear the Minister at the Home Office declare that au pairs are still under the regulations of the Home Office. However, I wonder where the national minimum wage comes in. Is the Minister aware that during the Report stage of the national minimum wage Bill, this House endorsed an amendment that I put down which gave the Secretary of State, at her discretion, an opportunity to exempt certain categories of persons or occupations from the national minimum wage, if the need should arise. That was overturned in the House of Commons. I was described--not in the House of Commons, I hasten to say, but in a national newspaper--as the "vermin in ermine", in return for my hard work on that suggestion, which I found upsetting.
Does the Minister agree with me that his honourable friend in the other place who described my amendment as "a wrecking amendment" was incorrect? What my amendment would have done is to strengthen the Bill in order to allow the Government to depart from the unbending rigidity of the national minimum wage in certain circumstances. With the newspapers and the agencies for au pairs, that has caused a conflict between the Home Office and the Department of Trade and Industry.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, in response to the noble Baroness's questions, first, I am sorry that anyone should have called her "vermin in ermine". After all, we must remember that ermine is vermin.
I believe that there is no difficulty between the Home Office--which is a notoriously civilised and accommodating department--and our friends and colleagues in the DTI. Au pairs have some human rights. The obligation to pay £3 an hour--although it seems to be more than one is paid as a Home Office Minister--is not enormously burdensome.
Others of our colleagues in Europe have similar schemes. For example, in France employers must ensure that the value of the total employment package is at least equivalent to the French minimum wage. The Netherlands and Luxembourg include au pairs for the
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, others who are not nationals of the countries on the list I read out may come as working holidaymakers. So, for example, those who are Commonwealth citizens, including citizens of Australia, are entitled to come here as working holidaymakers. Those who are nationals of the European Union countries may come here by virtue of the provisions which allow free movement between one EU country and another.
I answered the particular question in that deliberate way because that is the au pair scheme, but it does not mean that nationals of other countries of the kind I described cannot come here with generally similar arrangements.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I am shocked that the noble Lord said that £95 a week is nothing to pay. Last week the Secretary of State for Health was appealing to nurses to come back to work, yet they are expected to pay £95 a week out of their net income. I am disturbed by that. I feel that the conflict was bad enough without the Minister's remarks. Is he not aware of the conflict, first, between the Home Office and the Department of Trade and Industry and, now, the Department of Health? Does he not think that there is a dramatic difference between someone living as a member of one's family and an employee? Are there not other ways of dealing with the real problems brought out by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner? An au pair is not to be exploited, but that does not mean that she should not live as a member of the family and learn English. Such people come here primarily as students.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I did not say that £95 a week was nothing. I said that £3 an hour was not a vast amount to pay. I believe that to be so. If any noble Lords doubt me, I invite them to try to live on a wage of £3 an hour.
Perhaps I may continue to answer the noble Baroness's questions. The fact that one lives in a family does not mean that there is no employment situation. I repeat that since 1973 the circumstances of an au pair are that he has been employed.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we have no intention of adding Poland to the list. If the time came when Poland became a member of the European Union, then Polish nationals would be able to come in as of right in the way that I indicated earlier to the noble Lord,
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is it not up to the prospective au pair to decide for himself or herself whether to take up the proposal of someone who wants to use their services? If they are not happy with the wages, they do not have to do the job.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the answer is that often or in most cases it is not a relationship of equality. The mere fact that a young man or young woman wants to come here to learn the language and benefit from our culture ought not to leave them open to wholly unprotected exploitation.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, would the Minister care to put straight a small error he may have made when he said that ermine was vermin? Does he agree that, in fact, it is the stoat which is vermin and that the stoat's winter coat, when removed from it, produces ermine which is worn by an honourable estate in the land?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lady Hayman will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on the national carers' strategy.
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