Parliament and Politics: Au pair becomes an equal opportunity job

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BENNY HILL would turn in his grave if he heard the news. A favourite stereotype of politically incorrect comedians was turned on its head yesterday when the Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, ruled that au pairs can be male, writes Kathy Marks.

The announcement of a change in the law was prompted by the case of Johan Egelstedt, a Swedish student who was recruited by a couple in Leicester to look after their four children.

Mr Egelstedt, 19, was offered the job by Sue and Iain Baughan, who had advertised in a Swedish newspaper and interviewed candidates of both sexes over the telephone. They were impressed by his personable manner.

But when he arrived at Heathrow airport last August, immigration officials told him that only single women aged 17-27 were allowed into the country to work as au pairs. He was detained for three hours and threatened with immediate deportation.

After intervention by the family and Greville Janner, the MP for Leicester West, the Home Office granted him a visitor's visa on condition that he did not work.

Yesterday Mr Clarke struck an unexpected blow for sexual equality, announcing that new regulations allowing men to work as au pairs would be put before the Commons in the next few months.

'The days are long gone when only women were seen to be capable of looking after children,' Mr Clarke said.

The change will not come in until the end of this year, to give au pair agencies time to prepare. This is too late for Mr Egelstedt; his visa has run out and he returns to Sweden today.