The Queen's Speech occurs at the State Opening of Parliament, which signifies the beginning of the Parliamentary session. It gives an idea of the Government's proposed policies and legislation for the coming session.
Once the Government's programme is presented by the Queen it is then debated by the Commons and Lords for four or five days. The first day's debate is a general one, and I chose to comment specifically on the economic measures that the government is taking and the announcement of a Children and Families Bill. Extracts from the latter are below, and the full speech can be read here.
From the detailed list of Bills in the Queen's Speech, I want to pick out the Children and Families Bill, which contains an acceptance of the important principle I proposed in a ten-minute rule Bill last year: that children have the right to know, and have a relationship with, both their parents following separation. I believe that that is right and in the interests of the child and their welfare, but let me explain why. The Bill does not set out with complete clarity reasons for that provision or for the shared parental leave provision, but they are linked, because families have changed. There is a new norm, and we need to accept modern families.
Let me set out how families have changed. One can have an "olde worlde" image of the family—a bloke goes to work while the mother bounces the child on her knee or does the washing up at home. That is perhaps how it was in the 1950s, but things have not been like that for a very long time. Just about everyone I know from my generation joint works. I looked at the figures, because many of our policies seem to be aimed at people who live that kind of traditional family life, rather than at families who joint work, which is the reality.
There has been a massive social change, and we need to understand modern families and how they live. If most women are going back to work when the child is pre-school age, there is a lot of juggling and work-life balancing. Who takes the kid to school or nursery? Who collects the kid? Who looks after the child? Who takes primary responsibility in the workplace and in the home? Increasingly, most people whose children are grown up will know from their children's lives that there is much more of a juggle and a balance of work and life.
There is substantial change in families, which has consequences for family policy. The flexible parental leave provision in the children and families Bill is justified because it is necessary. It is a recognition that families juggle work and child care. More work needs to be done on child care . In 2001, there were more than 300,000 places with child minders and about 300,000 day nursery places—about 600,000 places in total. The number of places with child minders stayed static, but the number of nursery places—full day care—increased to about 600,000. In 2001, there were 600,000 places in total, but in 2008, there were around 900,000 places. The number has remained static since.
It struck me that there is potentially a shortage of child care places. There are about 13 million children in the UK, of whom roughly 3 million are pre-school age. The numbers indicate that 55% of children at pre-school have parents who both work. In other words, about 2 million children need child care, but there are only 900,000 child care places. There is a kind of child care apartheid. On the one hand, there is a system of nurseries that are so heavily regulated that most people cannot afford them, and on the other hand there is a system of child care for the other half that is completely unregulated. We know nothing about what is going on in that half. The right balance would be to reduce the regulation on our nurseries, increase the number of places and bring the cost of child care down so that more people can access it, because one of the biggest pressures on modern families is affording the cost of child care for pre-school children. It is an absolute nightmare.
I am delighted to support the Queen's Speech. It focuses on the economy, on utility bills, on the cost of living and on helping hard-pressed families. It focuses on families and children, and on helping families to bring forward the next generation.
It has been an honour and privilege to serve as Member of Parliament for Dover & Deal. I hope to be re-elected to serve our community for another term.
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