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Child-care and the mother of all parliaments

June 16, 2008

Judging by Matthew Parris’ Times column this week, there won’t be many Conservatives who will be filled with thanksgiving and gladness at David Davis (their Shadow Home Secretary) resigning his parliamentary seat to raise the profile of the 42 days detention without charge issue. However, I imagine Caroline Spelman will.

Caroline Spelman MP is the Chair of the Conservative Party, and I had occasion to meet her when I was involved with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty. She is very nice – for a Conservative!

But I doubt she will be glad of Mr Davis’ resignation in the same way that we Liberal Democrats are.

Like David Davis, Liberal Democrats urged the Government not to extend the time allowed to detain someone without charge from 28 to 42 days. We believe that (whatever the judicial safeguards) this is a fundamental affront to the traditions of British liberty. We don’t think it’s necessary. And we think that (like the illegal Iraq War) it has the potential to be highly counter-productive, and to radicalise extremists rather than apprehend them.

Mrs Spelman may be glad however, because Davis’ resignation has taken the media spotlight away from her own travails, and the confusion around historic payments that she made, out of the public purse, to a nanny.

I mention this not to have a go at Caroline Spelman. In any event, the relevant parliamentary body will pronounce on her case in due course.

I mention her because I empathise with someone wanting to get involved in politics and having the responsibility of caring for a young family as well.

The way that Parliament operates is notoriously un-family-friendly. It is a travesty that it remains so, and that it remains open to the accusation of being like a nineteenth century gentleman’s club.

It seems that we have stark choices to make. Either we change the way Parliament works, or we forego being able to send as our representatives to Parliament, people of child-rearing age, who want to have children of their own, and who want to have functional family lives.

I do not believe that our legislators should have to make a choice on this.

At the moment, my partner and I are trying to arrange things so that she can go back to work part-time. I am hoping to reduce my hours so that I can look after my daughter one day per week, and for the time when neither of us can care for her, she will be going to nursery.

We don’t have the money for a nanny. Not that we would necessarily opt for this kind of childcare if we did.

We are just discovering how hard it is to juggle work, bills and bringing up children.

In my view, this proximity to the process of trying to bring up children can be helpful in terms of forming good social policy, and legislation that really works.

So whatever the result of the investigation for Caroline Spelman, I hope that Parliament will take the opportunity to reflect on its approach to its Members with young families, and put its Houses in order.

Pigs might fly.

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