A package of measures to help families and children will be unveiled in the Queen's speech as the coalition attempts to offer a full legislative programme while maintaining its focus on rebuilding the economy.
New laws to give parents more flexible leave and strong commitments to family-friendly working hours will be among the headline measures.
Other announcements expected include reform of the system for diagnosing and helping children with special educational needs to give parents more choice in how they are schooled; reforms to the family justice system to speed up care proceedings so no cases take more than six months; and promised changes to the adoption system to make sure parents and children are matched more quickly.
The government will also say it is getting legal advice on how to strengthen the law so that if couples split up, their children can have a strong relationship with both parents.
A No 10 source said: "Dealing with the deficit and getting the economy growing remains the coalition's number one priority. But we're also grappling with some long-term issues around adoption, the care system, and children with disabilities, to make life better for some of the most vulnerable children in society."
The speech will contain plans to give shareholders a binding right on future executive pay and liberalising of unfair dismissal laws. But the two coalition parties almost see the Queen's speech as a sideshow to the chief political task of rebuilding an economy over the next year that they say was more damaged than they realised when they took office.
Many of the changes will affect only a minority of families. However, ministers will hope that they will deflect concerns that the legislative programme does not go far enough to boost economic growth or job creation, and controversy over some specific measures such as reform of the House of Lords. It could also be used to dilute criticism that by dropping the promised social care bill the government is not doing enough to help the most needy in society.
Liberal Democrats denied they had succumbed to Tory protests over Lords reform and insist the Queen's speech will contain a reference to a bill on the second chamber's composition, but Tory sources were suggesting the legislation could only go ahead with cross-party support, and almost certainly a referendum, something Nick Clegg opposes.
On Thursday David Cameron and Clegg admitted the effort to eradicate the deficit might take as long as seven years, and conceded parts of the country did not yet feel the coalition was governing for them.
On the second anniversary of their optimistic opening coalition press conference in the rose garden at Downing Street, Cameron and Clegg chose the stark symbolism of a tractor factory floor in Basildon to rededicate the coalition to its central painstaking work of rebalancing the economy and tackling the deficit.
Cameron listed welfare reform, looser employment laws, banks lending to small businesses, investment in apprentices and completion of the single market in Europe as the keys to growth.
Setting out a timetable to clear the deficit and boost recovery beyond the next election, Clegg said: "We have a moral duty to the next generation to wipe the slate clean for them of debt. We have set out a plan – it lasts about six or seven years – to wipe the slate clean to rid people of the deadweight of debt that has been built up over time."
He also admitted the local election defeats last week had revealed a divided country: "It is not lost on me that where our two parties got a particular beating last week was in Wales, Scotland and in the large cities of northern England. I take one message from that. We must redouble our efforts to govern for the whole country. There is a particular dilemma in these parts of the country where for the last 10 to 15 years they have been reliant on subsidy from Whitehall, and those subsidies were funded by explosive growth in the City of London. That economic model has hit the buffers."
Both Cameron and Clegg appeared nervous of being portrayed as advocates of austerity budgets of the kind that have been rejected by many voters on mainland Europe. Cameron said he preferred the word efficiency to austerity, and denied he was obsessing about dry numbers for the sake of it. Clegg said reducing debt was a necessary – but not in itself sufficient – step to achieving growth.
Both men also argued that the new French president, François Hollande, was not in reality taking a different path to Britain. Clegg said he could not disagree with someone who said they wanted to grow their economy.
"He knows you cannot create growth on the shifting sands of debt. You have got to have a stable foundation."
Cameron agreed, saying: "If you actually look at what President Hollande is suggesting in France, his programme for getting rid of his budget deficit is pretty much on a pathway with ours. I think it is a bit of a myth to believe that somehow there are some people in Europe who are going to spend a lot more money and those of us who realise we have to deal with our debt and our deficit."
Both men's aides insisted that the show of unity around economic policy was designed to tell the country and their own querulous backbenchers that they will not change course.
Cameron defended the plan to include an elected second chamber in the Queen's speech despite the cacophony of calls from his own backbenchers to drop the bill: "I wouldn't for a moment say that this is the most important thing the government is doing. Of course it isn't. But parliament is capable of doing more than one thing at a time. Do I think that it would be a good idea if parliament delivered a House of Lords that had people who were elected by you – the members of the public – to pass the laws that we all have to live by? Sure I do … it is a perfectly sensible reform for parliament to consider."
Ultimately Cameron is not willing to face down a major backbench rebellion over the issue, even if this leads to a further row with Clegg and more horse trading over other constitutional issues such as constituency boundary reform. Clegg defended the plan, saying: "Although it is wildly controversial in Westminster and people get terribly hot under the collar, actually most people think that the principle that the people who make the laws of the land should be elected by the people who have to obey the laws of the land is not as controversial outside Westminster as it appears to be in Westminster.
"A smidgen of democracy I don't think will go amiss, since we've been talking about it for about 100 years."
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