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"to get back to a clear dividing line between us and the Conservatives on education policy."
Note his priority: in the very first interview he gave on education, his priority was not raising pupil attainment, extending parental choice, freeing teachers from bureaucracy, improving discipline, enhancing literacy or closing the widening gap between the richest and the poorest. No, his priorities were not our priorities. His priority was simple: creating dividing lines-putting political positioning over principle, with partisan politics instead of national renewal.
Where there was harmony, the Secretary of State promised to bring discord. That is one promise he has certainly fulfilled. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) pointed out earlier when discussing subatomic particles, we all know that atoms, whether fluoride or otherwise, are made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. The way to transform an atom into an ion is by adding or taking away an electron. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the type of ion the Secretary of State is probably responsible for producing is one that is relentlessly negative. However, one of the problems with the right hon. Gentleman is that if subatomic particles are handled insensitively they can sometimes create nuclear explosions.
Talking of nuclear explosions brings me to relations between the Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. One thing has not changed in the last 12 years. The Secretary of State still thinks he is running the Treasury. He will not rest until he is in No. 11. For him, "Move Over, Darling" is not a film starring Doris Day,
it is an operation he has probably subcontracted to Damian McBride. In the battle between the Secretary of State and the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, South-West (Mr. Darling)-between the man the Prime Minister wanted to be Chancellor and the man he was too weak to move-things have not quite gone the Secretary of State's way.
Let us look at the tangled story of Mr. Balls and the public spending commitments. Early in the morning of 15 June this year, on Radio Five Live, the Secretary of State promised a real-terms increase in spending on health and in his Department after 2011. Later that same morning, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury told journalists that there would be no such rises, and that the Secretary of State could not make that promise. At lunchtime, however, the Secretary of State was back, this time on Radio 4-moving upmarket. He again promised those same real-terms rises, but when he was told what the Treasury had said the Balls balloon quickly became deflated.
"We want to see spending rising",
"we can't make those commitments now."
Michael Gove: The crucial thing is that the Secretary of State has not committed to a real-terms increase because the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not let him. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary have been perfectly clear: the Secretary of State is not authorised to make such promises. I notice that when the Secretary of State asked his question, he used the conditional. He was not so hesitant before. He was absolutely adamant that spending would increase-until he was slapped down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
After the Secretary of State was slapped down by the Chancellor he went quiet for a little bit over the summer. After that period of silence-I think welcomed by the nation-came to an end in September, he shared his thinking with The Sunday Times. On 20 September, in an interview with Isabel Oakeshott and Jonathan Oliver, he promised not spending increases but spending cuts:
"It is going to be tougher on spending over the next few years",
"reduce the number of senior school staff such as head teachers, deputies, assistant heads and heads of departments."
He wanted to remove 3,000 posts, saving the Department £250 million a year. Cutting 3,000 of the most senior professionals in our schools? When the public said they wanted heads to roll because of the Government's failure, that is not what they meant.
Head teachers and school leaders are crucial to improving our education system. We should be supporting them, not sacking them. A Conservative Government would give our heads more power over budgets, over discipline, over the curriculum and over staffing. A Labour Government would give them a P45.
Unsurprisingly, the Secretary of State's proposals were described as disastrous by John Dunford of the Association of School and College Leaders. Mick Brookes of the National Association of Head Teachers said it was a sign of a Department in disorder. The Chairman of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who is in the Chamber, said:
"I haven't heard of anyone in the educational network who thinks it's thought through."
That is just what the trade unions and the Labour comrades thought of the Secretary of State's plan, so perhaps we should not be surprised that we have heard no more about those proposals to decimate the number of heads in this country.
Bob Russell: Around the country, we have seen the emergence of a few super-heads, who run two or three secondary schools. Although the Secretary of State has been silent about them today, he has welcomed them outside the Chamber. Can the hon. Gentleman let us know what the Conservative party view is on super-heads?
Michael Gove: I am in favour of super-everything. If schools wish to federate, I am all in favour of the idea that they have an executive head who can help to co-ordinate their efforts-someone such as Dan Moynihan, for example, who does such a brilliant job for the Harris group of academies, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman admires. Dan Moynihan does a wonderful job, but the point is, as he said, that he does it in tandem with great school leaders, great deputy heads and great heads of department. He does not get rid of them; he promotes them and enhances them. He backs them.
After the Secretary of State had talked about cuts in The Sunday Times-after that particular little adventure-he decided, again, that a period of silence might be appropriate. We heard no more from him on spending until this week, when the man who, two months ago, wanted to cut the total Department for Children, Schools and Families budget by £2 billion told the Treasury that he did not want any cuts at all-quite the opposite; he now wanted an extra £2 billion spending increase for his Department.
The response from the Treasury was, I understand, curt; it was probably restricted to just two words, but there were more words in a considered response from the Financial Times. A leader in that newspaper-I know that the Secretary of State naturally has a great deal of respect for leader-writers at the Financial Times-said that
"Alistair Darling...is right to refuse this bid and should slap down"
"Mr Balls is on the wrong side of the argument, as his own past...must tell him."
The Secretary of State is wrong in the eyes of the Financial Times, wrong in the eyes of head teachers and, crucially, wrong in the eyes of the Treasury. The truth is that the biggest dividing line in British politics is the one that divides him from the Chancellor, and the Secretary of State is on the wrong side of it.
Given how unreliable the Secretary of State has been on public spending, it is perhaps no surprise that the Chancellor wants to legislate to end budgetary waywardness from Ministers by means of a new fiscal responsibility Bill. Of course, such a law would not have been needed in the past, as the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), a former Education Secretary, argued yesterday. He said:
"It should...be possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to subject the Secretary of State for Education to the normal fiscal disciplines, without having recourse to a fiscal responsibility Act of Parliament."-[ Official Report, 18 November 2009; Vol. 501, c. 37.]
That clearly is not the case with this Government. We can all understand why the Chancellor wants to use the law to restrain the Secretary of State; indeed, given how often the Secretary of State has gone off the reservation on public spending, I am surprised that the Chancellor does not want him placed under house arrest.
The truth is that after boasting about spending increases and retreating, then offering spending cuts and retreating, and then again boasting about spending increases and retreating, the Secretary of State has absolutely no credibility left on the issue. He is the Katie Price of public spending-the Jordan of this Government. All that he is interested in is being on the front pages, so he has massively inflated what he has to offer. The past few months have left him dangerously overexposed; that means that he is in desperate need of support before it all goes south, but given his record of loyalty, it is a very brave man who would get into bed with him.
Ed Balls: I am not going to take lectures from the hon. Gentleman about people who have an inflated sense of their importance. To get back to policy, he has made it clear that he thinks that a real-terms rise after 2010-11 would be wrong; he has clarified that. Would he match our budgets for 2010-11, or would he reduce them, if he were in government?
Michael Gove: The right hon. Gentleman has no authority to speak about future budgets, because as we have heard, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have contradicted him on every occasion. It is always a pleasure to hear the Secretary of State attempt to sandbag, manoeuvre or finagle the Treasury into spending more money, but- [Interruption.] The Secretary of State has not answered the question. Every time that he has come out to talk about public spending, he has been cut off at the knees by either the Chief Secretary to the Treasury or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we all know that the Secretary of State's promises are bogus.
Take the so-called September guarantee-the pledge that every 16 or 17-year-old who wants it should have a college place or apprenticeship. Why was it introduced? It was because a series of supposedly solemn promises from the Government were broken. In April this year, the Government wrote to those in charge of the nation's sixth forms, telling them that all the money that they had been promised for next year was no longer available. It was an outrageous dishonouring of commitments, a reneging on pledges to young people.
Under pressure from the Opposition-both from my colleagues and from the Liberal Democrats-the Government eventually agreed to do what every previous Government have agreed to do. They promised, as we
have done in the past, funding for every 16 and 17-year-old who wanted to stay in education. The Government dressed that up as a wholly new guarantee, but in fact it was nothing more than established practice, which this Government had to be shamed into following.
Even after being exposed for failing to keep their word, the Government have not played straight with young people. The Secretary of State said earlier that their future was too important to play politics with, but that is precisely what he has been doing, because there is no new money from outside the DCSF budget to pay for the September guarantee. On "The Andrew Marr Show" this autumn, the Secretary of State was asked where the money for the guarantee would come from. He said that it would come from
"a squeeze on some...departmental bodies",
"to be more efficient in their per pupil funding."
In other words, the DCSF would cut some of its existing programmes, although the Secretary of State has not said which. He will also have to give colleges a smaller sum for every student whom they take, but he will not say how much smaller.
The September guarantee is not a pledge, or a promise from the Secretary of State to get cash from the Chancellor to pay for more students; it is an order from the Secretary of State that colleges will get less per student, is it not? What is it, other than a squeeze, to say that colleges will have to be more efficient in their per-pupil funding? That is not a guarantee; it is a confidence trick, and a particularly cruel one, as colleges are now finding out.
Ed Balls: To make the matter absolutely clear, at the time of the Budget, we made an efficiency saving contribution to the Treasury. The Treasury announced new money that would be given back to us-£650 million. The Minister for Schools and Learners and I have written to the hon. Gentleman 10 times in the past four months, asking him to pledge to match that September guarantee. He cannot, because the shadow Chancellor will not let him. He should not talk about me being cut off at the knees; it is his party's shadow Chancellor who is not letting him match our budgets for 2010-11. That is the politics.
Michael Gove: That is not politics; that is drivel. The Secretary of State did not answer my question. There will be less money per student, will there not? The only way that you can afford your September guarantee is by reducing the amount of money for students.
Mr. Laws: While we are on the issue of funding, may I explore the Conservative party's policy on education funding? The Conservative health spokesman-the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), who is sitting next to the hon. Gentleman-has won a pledge that his party will increase health spending in real terms, if elected in the next Parliament. Did the hon. Gentleman make the same bid for additional money to the shadow Chancellor?
Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman is kind to ask. If he would like to know more about my conversations with the shadow Chancellor-I know that he has had certain conversations with him himself-he is welcome to join us in the Conservative shadow Cabinet; he would be a very welcome addition. As it is, I suspect that freedom of information, of which we are all in favour, can only go so far. I have cordial relations with the shadow Chancellor; he is an extraordinarily helpful guy, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would find him good company.
Mr. Laws: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind offer, which I am afraid I have already declined, but I am concerned that he has not answered my question. We need to know whether he decided not to make such a request, in which case we would be concerned about his commitment to education funding, or whether he made the request and was turned down. Why, when the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire has been so successful and triumphant, does the hon. Gentleman not seem to have delivered?
Michael Gove: When it comes to making requests for schools funding, the hon. Gentleman, whom I greatly admire, is on very shaky ground. The leader of his party said, in The Times Educational Supplement, that DCSF funding would be ring-fenced overall, but the next day-I think that the Secretary of State will back me up on this-he had to offer savage spending cuts. The Liberal Democrat leader subsequently said that the schools element of the DCSF budget might be ring-fenced, but that he could not give a guarantee in other areas. I have no wish to intrude on the private grief felt in meetings of the Liberal Democrat shadow Cabinet; I can only say that such matters are better ordered in our party. Even though the hon. Gentleman turned down our kind offer, it remains, whenever he wants to take it up. From the funding chaos of the Liberal Democrats, let me turn to the more profound funding chaos of the Government.
Michael Gove: The Government have not answered my question. The Secretary of State has not revealed whether there will be more per-pupil funding for those who are 16 and 17. Indeed, the Government's own quango, the Learning and Skills Council, has said that there is only enough money to fund an extra 22,000 places under the September guarantee, but this year, there were applications from schools and colleges for 74,000 places. There are up to 50,000 students who do not have funding for their places this year. Most schools and colleges will not want to turn those students away, but to take them on those institutions have to cut their funding even more. The Association of Colleges says that its members alone will have to take 15,000 students for whom there is no funding. In Hartlepool, the constituency of the Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs, the college principal says that there are more than 50-
The college principal says that there are more than 50- [ Interruption. ] Mr. Wright is the other Minister who deals with these issues. Anyway, it is sad not to see him on the Government Front Bench today.
Mr. Speaker: Order. I just remind the hon. Gentleman that Ministers should be referred to by their title and, perhaps, by their constituency, but not by their name, unless the hon. Gentleman is quoting directly from a newspaper article.
In Hartlepool, the constituency of the Member who, I believe, does sit on the Government Front Bench, although he is sadly not there at the moment, the college principal says that there are more than 50 students in his college for whom he has no funding. The September guarantee does not apply to them, does it? There is a shortfall of £400,000 in the budget, and he says:
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