Early Parenthood: Supporting Fathers — [Geraint Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:19 am on 30th January 2019.

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Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North 10:19 am, 30th January 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.

I thank my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch for securing this excellent debate. As I have tweeted, what a great group of Conservative dads are supporting the debate, although I feel slightly unhappy about speaking after three people who are young enough to be my children. That makes me feel a little bit old. I wanted to contribute because my early career highlights the difficulty that dads can have. I thank my first wife for being kind enough to have our children on a Saturday evening, which meant I was dismissed from the hospital, and about an hour after my children were born I was in the pub with about 30 friends and family celebrating the birth. It all turned out damned convenient for me, although having heard stories from others, I appreciate it can turn out differently.

I started life as a civil engineer, working on a building site in an obviously male dominated environment. I will not make excuses for that, but construction, particularly the very large-scale construction I was involved in, has a particular nature. The idea that I might have gone to work one day and suggested to my boss that flexible working would be a good idea, and asked whether I could come in a bit later, is incredibly difficult. By the time I was 25, I was running a building site with a gang of up to 50 blokes who would have thought I was crazy. We were on site at 7 o’clock in the morning in a process that meant that if someone did not turn up and do their job at a particular time, other people would not be able to do theirs.

Fortunately for me, I decided that working outside was too cold, and joined an American company called Cartus, where I was responsible for maintenance of the properties in its portfolio nationally. I found the world to be a completely different place. It was a much more welcoming environment with regard to flexibility in the workplace, but I may not have appreciated at the time the majority female workforce. I mention that because, in preparation for this debate, I read documents and papers from around the world, and I had not realised how difficult legislation is in America. I read a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, published in 2015, when a form of parental leave was just being introduced in California. The early research from that paper showed that if parental leave was introduced, fathers were more likely to be engaged in parental support, and that, interestingly, fathers are more likely to take up that parental leave for their first child or if the child is a boy.

Clearly, there is some work to be done to ensure that men do not lose interest after the first child and that they take equal interest in daughters and sons. I have one of each, and I appreciate the stress that goes with having a daughter. She seemed considerably more difficult for me to manage and look after than my son did. It is interesting that research suggests that there might be a difference in the way they are treated.

Government have a role to play, and that does not always have to cost money. We need to show intent; we need to show men that they have a role to play and that it is important in the 21st century that they play it to their fullest ability. For that not to be the case seems counterintuitive. I loved my role as a dad; in fact, I told colleagues earlier that I am ready to be a grandparent and I have made sure my children are aware of that. There is no rush, but I will be ready when they come. Indeed, Tulip Siddiq, who recently gave birth, sent me a photo, which made me immediately feel paternal.

We have a role to play, but what will we do to play it? Documents have been mentioned, and “A Manifesto to Strengthen Families”, published more than a year ago, has some excellent ideas for Government to follow. As has been mentioned, we have a more significant male population in prison, so it is very important to ensure that men do not lose contact with their families. To reduce reoffending rates, we need to maintain that bond.