It is a great pleasure to follow Meg Hillier, with whom I agree on many aspects of early years.
The first thing I want to say is that children are everything to those of us who have them, and to those of us who have young nieces, nephews and grandchildren. Children are at the centre and heart of our world. They make incredibly selfish human beings become extraordinarily unselfish. It is when a child is about to get run over that a parent gets superhuman strength to push them out of the way. People are capable of the most enormous sacrifices for the sake of their children. It is clear to us all that top quality child care is vital.
In my case, with three kids of my own—aged 18, almost 16 and 10—I have had just about every form of child care that can be imagined. I was fortunate to start off with my stepfather acting as my nanny until my second son was five years old. Therefore, I thoroughly recommend informal child care. There are not many childminders who will take two little boys out—one in a backpack, one in a frontpack—and explain to them for hours what a worm cast is, build little toy forts and play with toy cars. Even today, I cannot get to Parliament until I have dropped one off at a friend’s, sorted out another with some A-level revision and got the third out of his bed, basically. For us, particularly mums, our children and the child care at whatever age they are—I talk to people with older children who are still looking for food, money or a taxi service—are at the centre of our lives. We all spend a lot of time thinking about the safe and happy lives of our children. Child care is a vital part of whatever we can offer to support those at work in our society.
We also need to support thoroughly the choices that families want to make. They may want an au pair and to deal with someone who is living in and who, perhaps, does not speak very good English. I asked one au pair I had to make a salad. She peeled some parsnips and gave us the peel, nicely dressed, as a salad. That was an interesting one. There are also childminders although, sadly, not nearly enough of them. There is also the formal child care setting; some truly superb, others truly awful. Unfortunately it was the formal child care setting—the nurseries—that led to the old joke about “hair or care”; in other words, someone not smart enough to be a hairdresser could try to become a nursery nurse. That was the reality 10 years ago where some young girls—themselves barely out of their teens—would become the carers looking after our very young children in nurseries. Care for our children comes in all shapes and sizes.
I also want to say a word on behalf of those heroic mums—I would have loved to have been one—who have stayed home and looked after their children themselves, giving up potentially lucrative, satisfying and successful careers. They might feel very depressed about their lack of self-worth, certainly in the eyes of too many politicians. I want to pay tribute to those women who decide to stay home and raise their own children.