A few weeks ago I opened the new outdoor play area for the Punch and Judy nursery, which meets at Lympne village hall. This is a busy and popular nursery, and it was great to meet the team who run it, as well as some of the children. As a working parent with a young family I know how important having access to good childcare is, and I was pleased to see this addressed in The Queen's Speech at the state opening of parliament last week. In its programme for the year ahead, the government has committed in the Childcare Bill to double the money available to support childcare for working families. This means that it will offer thirty hours of free childcare a week during term time, for all three and four year olds. It is a commitment worth around £5,000 a year per child - a substantial saving on childcare costs.
In the Queen's Speech the government also set out its commitment to hold an in or out referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union, before the end of 2017. The Bill to enable the referendum will shortly be debated and voted on in parliament. Our relationship with Europe has changed dramatically since the last referendum forty years ago, and that is why it is right that we should all have our say, on whether or not we are committed to it for the future. I believe that our relationship with the European Union has to change to reflect the fact that we are not, and never will be, part of the Euro single currency. The central core of Eurozone countries may well wish to deepen the integration of their economies, but that is not something we will join. We also need to address the abuses of the system of free movement of people across the continent. People should be able to move around Europe to work, invest and develop their business. However, we should not have an open welfare system where people can shop around looking for the most generous benefits, so they can send them back to their family in a different country. This is something that has to change, and is one of the core messages that the Prime Minister is delivering to leaders as he visits European capitals, setting out his agenda for reform to the terms of Britain's membership of the EU.
Last Sunday, along with Shepway Councillor Stuart Peall, I spoke at a public meeting in the Elham Valley, on land adjacent to a proposed caravan park next to the former Palm Tree pub. The landowner had recently started work to put down hard standing ground for 45 caravans, in breach of the terms of the pre-existing camp-site licence. This work is not only a real eyesore, but is totally out of keeping with the Valley. Shepway Council have put in place a stop notice on the works, and are ordering the landowner to put right what he has done. We are determined to stop unlawful development in the Elham Valley, and any abuses of existing licenses. I would like to thank Elham Parish Council and its Chair, Briony Williamson, for all their work on this important matter.