asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the recommendation contained in Document 2072 of the Council of Europe that the Committee of Ministers should prepare Europea Rules for the employment ofau pairgirls, which was passed unanimously by the Consultative Assembly on 29th September, 1966; and if he will make a statement.
The Council of Europe has appointed a sub-committee of officials to study the recommendations of the Consultative Assembly. The United Kingdom is represented on the sub-committee, which held its first meeting in November and is to submit a draft convention to the Committee of Ministers by the end of this year. It is too early to say what the outcome of these discussions will be.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether, in his new appointment, he has been able to see the previous records? I have led two delegations to the previous Government and to his Government in regard to the great urgency of taking some action about au pair girls. This term is in fact a misnomer. As we in this country take more au pair girls than any other country in Europe, will the hon. Gentleman see that his Government endorse the Convention?
I assure the hon. Lady that I have seen the records of previous discussions, and I am personally interested in this question. I might add that over the last 16 years in my family I have permanently had an au pair girl, amounting to about 50 by now, which has led to many personal and continuing contacts. I am very much aware of the representations which have been made, and certainly a very constructive attitude will be taken by our representative on the official committee.
I do not think that there is any question of having resisted the resolution of the Council of Europe. We have our representative on the special committee which has been set up. We have taken a very positive attitude, and a number of recommendations or draft rules are already in line with our practice. I think that the vast majority of au pair girls who come to this country have a very satisfactory experience, but, as I said earlier, we will consider all representations.
Is my hon. Friend aware that many of us who also have personal experience of the au pair problem are appalled at the difficulties both for the girls themselves who are at a very vulnerable age, and for the employers, due to our present haphazard arrangements? Is my hon. Friend aware that we would welcome very much anything that he could do to speed up action by his Department to bring us into line with the recommendations of the Council?
With regard to the question of age, at the moment we permit girls of 15 and over to come to this country. The draft rules of the Consultative Assembly suggest 18. I think that the figure of 18 would bring some problems for those girls who are finishing school and want to come here immediately before going on to a university or a job. I shall, however, certainly look carefully at the representations, including those from the association of which the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Dame Joan Vickers) is chairman, the British Vigilance Association, to see what we can do before the next meeting of the Committee, which does not take place until May.
It has decided that representations will be made to Ministers by the end of this year, and the official committee has its programme of meetings. The first one was in November. The next one will be in May, and by then certainly the position of the British representation will have been made clear.