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Mr. St. Aubyn: I am sure that the Minister is aware of the difficulties of proving that point. That is why one

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has to consider that it is ultimately the parents in those families, who have created the situation and who clearly know what is going on, who must in some way be made responsible for their actions.

Ms Hodge: A system that would require form filling by au pairs and some policing of parents would be an absolute nightmare and incredibly difficult to execute properly. It would not serve its purpose. The best thing that we can do is have a greater spread of information. Au pairs always have the right to change the family for whom they work, but they choose to come over to this country and, as with all such life choices, that involves some risk.

Like anyone else living in this country, au pairs have full access to the criminal justice system, so au pairs who believe that they have been wrongly treated, or mistreated, should report that to the police. Such a report would be fully investigated in the same way as any other offence.

The hon. Gentleman talked about reporting to police stations. The current system is that only visa nationals who come in as au pairs--those from four countries--are required to report to the police. There is no enormous benefit in the police knowing where the au pairs are. I am not clear how that would improve the opportunities for au pairs, protect them or ensure that they were not exploited.

Mr. St. Aubyn: Clearly, the scheme was more rigorous until August last year. There is no evidence that it was a huge burden on the police. It is a point of contact for au pairs. It is a point where their welfare can be checked, but it also means, as I have said, that the police know who the au pairs are and which au pairs are extending their stay within two years. That will ensure that the terms of the scheme are not abused by people who are seeking unlawful entry to this country.

Ms Hodge: I still think that the bureaucratic burden of such a scheme outweighs the benefits. What is probably better is to ensure that, in the leaflet, we publicise a range of agencies to which au pairs can go, from citizens advice bureaux to FRES--the Federation of Recruitment and Employment Services--and that there is a better distribution of the leaflet, so that au pairs have access to that information. I genuinely believe that that would be a more appropriate, less bureaucratic way forward.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the good work that he has been doing on the gap year and a voluntary code of practice. I have said that we will return to that issue when we see how our voluntary code of practice in relation to nanny agencies develops.

As part of the national child care strategy, we are setting up a national child care information line to provide printed information for parents on a range of issues. That will give a signposted service, referring callers to local contact points, other national organisations and helplines.

As part of the four-point strategy that I announced in early January, we are drawing up guidance for parents--first, on the employment of nannies in their homes--which we shall issue in April. Furthermore, by the end of next year, we should be issuing more general guidance for parents on a range of child care issues. We shall ensure that

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we incorporate in that guidance--which is being prepared for us by the Daycare Trust and the National Early Years Network--some ideas on guidance on au pairs.

The rights of children were at the heart of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I agree with him about those rights, which are behind every decision that the Government take on children being cared for by both formal and informal carers. He raised many important issues in the debate, and

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I congratulate him on having secured it. I hope that he will be satisfied that we are taking seriously some of the proposals that he made, and I look forward to working with him in the future, to ensure that we provide the best start for our children.

Question put and agreed to.

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