HL Deb 03 July 1995 vol 565 cc933-6

2.45 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will extend the au pair placement arrangement to citizens of Poland in view of the fact that it already includes citizens of the Czech Republic, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Macedonia, the Slovak Republic and 11 other European countries.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, no. We have no plans at present to extend the au pair scheme to Poland or to any other countries, but we do keep it under review.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Can she explain why, when most other former communist countries—certainly those in central Europe—have been admitted to the scheme, Poland, which has closer ties with the people of this country than any other country of central or eastern Europe, is excluded? Can she further explain the apparent hostility of the Home Office to Poland on this and other matters?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is not true that there is hostility within the Home Office against Poland specifically at all. There is considerable immigration pressure from Poland and therefore, it is thought, a real danger that the au pair scheme in particular would be used as a means of securing entry into this country in order to undertake full-time employment.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that more people from Poland are admitted into this country by other means than from any of the countries mentioned in the noble Lord's Question? Does she agree that substantial numbers of people from Poland are admitted monthly to this country under various other schemes?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Poles come in under student schemes, immigration schemes and, as the noble Lord said, other schemes. Whether there are more than from any other country, I am not sure. There is some doubt about the figure. Certainly, more come in than from Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Unfortunately, the au pair scheme has been used as a means to gain entry and for taking up full-time employment illegally. Indeed, one au pair agency told us that about three-quarters of the au pairs on its books worked illegally as well as carrying out their duties, often with the support of the host family.

Lord Braine of Wheatley

My Lords, can my noble friend give the reason for such discrimination against the citizens of one of our bravest allies in the Second World War and a firm friend in peace?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I hope that nothing in any of my answers detracts from the relationship between this country and Poland; I acknowledge the particular points made by my noble friend. However, since the abolition of the visa requirement in 1992, the number of Polish nationals refused entry has risen considerably. In 1994, over 2,000 were refused admission, representing about 1.5 per cent. of those seeking leave to enter. Four hundred and seventy-two Polish nationals were detained as illegal immigrants; and 200 were found to have overstayed or to have been working in breach of their conditions.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether there has been a great change in the situation? I had a Polish au pair 25 years ago and when I saw the Question I thought that perhaps au pair now meant something different. I had an au pair helping with my children. She was from Poland and was admitted by the Home Office. Has that arrangement changed and, if so, when? Are they now specifically excluded?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there was a change in 1980 but this particular scheme is for young people—men or women—between the ages of 17 and 27. They must have no dependants whatever in their countries. They come here on a special contract with a family who will keep them as a member of the family, paying them up to about £35 a week and assisting them to learn English. It is a very good scheme.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I acknowledge that a retreat into nostalgia can be a little dangerous. Will the Minister bear in mind, however, that those who drive along the A.40 pass at Northolt a memorial to the Polish squadron who fought very bravely on our behalf in the war? Are those considerations to be abandoned altogether in these modern times or are we sometimes a little guilty of base ingratitude?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have absolutely no difficulty in recognising and agreeing with all that the noble Lord says. We are talking here about one particular scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Dean, made the very real point that there are many ways of coming into this country and visiting it. Many Polish people live here and many of their relatives visit; many of them come in on the schemes. In fact, to return to the normal immigration controls, 141,000 applied to come in last year. Of that figure, 2,000 were refused, but that still means that 139,000 were granted entry into the country. It is just that the level of those staying here illegally and the level of breaches of the scheme is higher in the case of people from Poland, sadly, than it is for those from, say, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, if the Government are so worried about abuses of the au pair scheme, why is it not policed better?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, this matter was raised in relation to another Question I answered the other day. It would be disproportionate to have a policing system on almost every house in the land to check up on what people are doing. Those involved come here on a two-year scheme; it is expected that they will go back. However, it is difficult to detect when a young au pair is working for a friend of the family. We know that there is widespread abuse of the scheme.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am trying to understand the Government's position. In a sentence, is the Minister saying that the reason the scheme is not extended to Poland is that, in the Government's view, Polish citizens are more likely to cheat than are the citizens of the Czech Republic, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Macedonia, the Slovak Republic and the 11 other European countries? Is that what the Government are saying?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, no, and that is rather a crude way of putting it. I said that in statistical terms the figures that I gave for Poland are infinitely higher than they are for all the countries named. I do not call it cheating. I am simply saying that the scheme exists and the scope for abuse is greater.