My right hon. Friend always sought to deploy his considerable personal gifts-his intelligence and capacity for hard work-in the service of those who were less fortunate. In particular, he championed the interests of
poorer children, making the case for more investment in their education and for more freedom for teachers to close the gap in performance between the poorest and the rest. It is thanks to him more than anyone that a commitment to investing more in the education of the poorest-a pupil premium-is at the heart of this coalition Government's plans for schools. In securing that reform, he has already secured an achievement in government of which he and his many friends can be proud. It is my profound hope that he will very soon have the chance to serve again, and I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing him well at this time.
Although we might disagree about much, I know that the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood is wholeheartedly in agreement with me on that issue. I pay tribute to him, too, for the work he did in office. He is a pugnacious political operator, as his rivals for the Labour leadership-including the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham)-are about to find out if they do not already know. Having shadowed him for three years, I know that his pugnacity is matched by passion. He came into politics for the right reason: to help the underdog. During his time at the Treasury, although we may have argued with much that he did, it is to his credit that he never forgot to prioritise the fight against child poverty.
During his time as Secretary of State, the right hon. Gentleman secured real achievements. He secured a better deal for children living with disabilities, with more respite care for parents and progress on improving the education of children with special needs. The separation of exam regulation from curriculum design, with the creation of a new regulator, Ofqual, which has the potential to play a part in restoring confidence in exam standards, was a real step forward. He also showed real leadership on child protection, with swift action in the aftermath of the terrible tragedy of baby Peter Connelly's death. The right hon. Gentleman also took constructive steps to help social workers in the vital task that they perform. The coalition Government will build on his initiative in this area, in particular taking forward the recommendations of the social work task force.
I also thank the right hon. Gentleman for the robust way in which he made the case for the continuation of key stage 2 tests to mark and monitor the achievement and attainment of children in primary schools. These are a vital accountability measure, and his robust case for their continuation ensured a consensus across the House for more data, greater parental accountability and a relentless drive for improvement in early years education. We are all in his debt, and I hope that we can maintain that consensus in months to come.
The right hon. Gentleman also always made the case robustly for his Department in budget rounds. He fought with determination, and he was never reticent in letting the Treasury know just how it should discharge its responsibilities towards our schools. That is perhaps why the shadow Chancellor has today come out in favour of the David Miliband leadership campaign.
David Wright (Telford) (Lab): On the subject of negotiations with the Treasury, can the Secretary of State tell us what negotiations he is having about the future of the Building Schools for the Future programme? Four secondary schools in my constituency are waiting for a decision. They badly need to be renewed and rebuilt: will he deliver?
Michael Gove: We will seek to deliver at every stage. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is in his place and that I had the opportunity to visit two superb schools in his constituency, including Madeley school, which has recently been rebuilt. I know that Building Schools for the Future makes a distinguished contribution to ensuring that we renovate and refurbish the schools estate, but I have concerns that under my predecessor the programme was not allocating resources to the front line in the most efficient way. It is critical that we ensure that taxpayers' money is spent on the front line improving education, and not on consultants, architects or bureaucracy. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that we all have a duty to ensure that money goes to the front line, and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood will agree that we should congratulate the Chancellor and the Treasury on the agreement that was reached in the spending round just concluded. For the remainder of this financial year, we will guarantee that there will be no cuts in front-line funding for schools, Sure Start and sixth forms. I hope that both sides of the House approve of that.
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): My right hon. Friend is setting out his stall eloquently and is being generous in his remarks. He mentions his discussions with the Treasury. Will he accept that the county of Leicestershire is bottom of the pile when it comes to funding, and will he reconsider the funding formula, as we asked the previous Government to do throughout the last two Parliaments?
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes a passionate case, and I know that Leicestershire is one of the F40 local authorities that have had to do a remarkable amount with not enough. I will listen sympathetically to him and to other colleagues from both sides of the House who represent areas that need a fairer funding formula.
Michael Gove: I know how committed my hon. Friend is to the education of children in Colchester and, indeed, to that of children throughout the country. He will be relieved to learn that we will ensure that front-line funding for existing schools will not be damaged by the reforms that we intend to make.
Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is aware of some of the successful pilots that have been attempted in recent years to provide free school meals on a universal basis in some of our primary schools? Will he confirm that the educational and health gains that have been seen as a result of those pilots will now be taken forward, and that his Government will commit to continuing the pilots that the previous Government announced?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I know that in her previous incarnation, in the Child Poverty Action Group, she was a committed fighter for the very poorest children. We are now looking to ensure that we can guarantee that those children
most in need receive support with free school meals, and we are examining the evidence that has come in from the pilots that she has mentioned.
Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Can the right hon. Gentleman comment on the closure of BECTA, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, and the QCDA, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, in Coventry, costing probably 600 jobs, and the potential impact not only in Coventry but on education for poorer families? A letter was sent out announcing the closure arbitrarily, so what will happen to those staff?
Michael Gove: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He, too, is a dedicated fighter for his constituency, and I know how hard he has fought for the interests of the people of Coventry. However, given the difficult state of the public finances and the situation that we inherited from the Government whom he supported, we have had to make some tough decisions. My judgment was that we had to prioritise spending on the front line. That has meant that those bodies-BECTA and the QCDA, which were responsible for spending money not on the front line, but in an arm's length way, as quangos-have had to accept that economies are necessary. I have ensured, by writing to those responsible for both organisations, that we handle any redeployment and any redundancy in the most sensitive way possible.
Ed Balls (Morley and Outwood) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind words. Before the interventions started, he confirmed that he had agreed with the Treasury to match the previous plans for spending in the current financial year-2010-11 -for Sure Start, schools and 16-to-19 education. Can he confirm to the House that he has reached a similar agreement with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to match funding for 2011-12 and 2012-13 as well?
Michael Gove: The right hon. Gentleman, I am sure with admirable zeal, wants to look into the crystal ball and find out what will happen in future. However, I have to remind him that just six weeks ago, during the general election campaign, he was engaging in his own form of future forecasting. Just six weeks ago, he said that if we took office, there would be 38,000 fewer staff working in our schools, 6,900 fewer teachers in primaries and nurseries, and 7,300 fewer teachers in secondary schools. Those redundancies have not taken place. The Nostradamus of Morley and Outwood was found out. His predictions did not come true. For that reason, I will not enter into any forecasting about what will happen in future years.
What I will say is that unlike the right hon. Gentleman's Government, we have secured additional funding from outside the education budget, as confirmed by the Prime Minister at this Dispatch Box just an hour ago, in order to fund our pupil premium-something that the right hon. Gentleman was never able to do, but that we have been able to do in partnership-to ensure that funding goes to the very poorest children. I would have hoped that he would find it in himself to show the grace to applaud that achievement for our very poorest children. I would also have hoped that he would applaud the Chancellor for protecting front-line funding for Sure Start, 16-to-19 education and schools.
Christopher Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State has been talking about protecting front-line spending in education. Can he confirm that that includes important services such as special educational needs provision and school transport, which are of great value to our constituents?
Michael Gove: I could not agree more. School transport is covered by the revenue support grant in almost all circumstances and has not been affected. With respect to special educational needs, we are ensuring that the commitment is there to fund the services that our most vulnerable children need.
What I would say to all hon. Gentlemen on the Labour Benches- [ Interruption ]-and hon. Ladies too-is that in their requests for more spending, however passionately constructed, they should remember one thing. Who were the Government until just a few weeks ago? Who was responsible for the financial situation that we inherited? Who was responsible for writing a letter to the Treasury saying, "There is no money"? None of us in this House wants to see front-line spending on our schools reduced, but none of us on the Government Benches would have wanted the public finances to be reduced to the state that we inherited after the election. As the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) put it, in a rare moment of candour when he left the Treasury, there is no money left. In fact, as the markets are all too aware, there is less than no money left. We are currently spending £163 billion every year more than we take in taxes-
Meg Hillier: In the right hon. Gentleman's desire to be sensible about money, which we would all want to see, will he think about the extended schools programme? What connections is he making with other Departments? That extension to school hours really helps working parents, and working parents help to tackle child poverty. That should be at the centre of his agenda, and I hope that it is.
Michael Gove: I pay tribute to the hon. Lady's commitment to fighting child poverty, both in her role as a Minister and also, previously, as a member of the Greater London assembly. She will be aware that my Department is working with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Communities and Local Government to carry forward the good work that is already in place as a result of the extension of hours, but it is critical to recognise that everything that is happening in and around our schools to support young people is taking place against a backdrop of dire economic news. That backdrop is one that she played a part in constructing when she was a member of the Government who left us with the desperate economic situation in which we find ourselves. Our debt is growing at a rate of more than £300,000 per minute. That money could have been spent on the front line-on our schools, on teachers and on teaching assistants-but it is not being spent in that way, thanks to the profligacy and inefficiency of the Labour Government.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The right hon. Gentleman might be having a bonfire of the bureaucracies, but will he acknowledge that many of them are not just bureaucracies and that they actually do an important job in education? We still need curriculum development capacity, for example, and we still need technology to be applied in our schools to advance good learning. There is a rumour sweeping through the corridors that he is about to announce the abolition of the General Teaching Council for England. Is that true? What would be the purpose of that?
Michael Gove: Lots of teachers are asking what the purpose of the GTCE is; they have been asking that question for years. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on where the resources should go. Should they go to quangos or to the front line? He listens to teachers, and I listen to teachers. They want resources on the front line, in the classroom, raising attainment; they do not want them spent on the bureaucratic bodies that have for too long siphoned money from where it needs to be spent.
Critically, I know that many hon. Members will want to ask why we are not honouring their commitment to spend £250 on the child trust fund. Let me take that question head on. When the Labour Government left office, they ensured that every single child was paying £23,000 of debt every year in order to deal with our deficit. Why is it progressive politics to saddle children with £23,000 of debt in order to give them a financial product worth just £250? That is not progressive politics; it is Maxwell economics. Instead of seeking to defend its financial mismanagement, the Labour party should apologise to the House and to the next generation for saddling them with a national debt so huge that it undermines our capacity to make progress.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): The Education Secretary is right about the level of debt that the Labour party left behind: £1 trillion of national debt is a huge amount. However, to use that as a justification for doing away with the child trust fund is wrong. The child trust fund is the only savings product I can think of with a 71% voluntary take-up rate and, given that savings ratios in this country were so low for so long and that the fund goes directly to help children when they leave school, it is a false economy to butcher the scheme, notwithstanding the chaos and mayhem that the Labour party left the economy in.
Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman answers his own question: the Labour party did leave chaos and mayhem, and the tough decisions that it relentlessly avoided now have to be taken. By refusing to state exactly how it would deal with the public spending mess that it left behind, the Labour party is placing itself outside the European mainstream- [ Interruption. ] In every major European country, including Ireland, Italy, Germany and Spain, steps are being taken to deal with the deficit. The right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood was a noted Eurosceptic, when he was at the Financial Times and when he was at the Treasury. I note that he is now taking a similarly Eurosceptic position by refusing to join the European consensus that we need to deal with our sovereign debt crisis by bringing down public expenditure. The longer the Labour party is in denial, the longer it will consign itself to irrelevance and the longer it will stay in opposition.
Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I congratulate him. In suggesting that other countries are, to use his words, reducing their sovereign debt, is he not admitting-given that he is the Education Secretary and that he can therefore add up-that the previous Labour Government cannot have been responsible for those countries' debts? Does he acknowledge that they took action in the same way as our Government did to protect us from a meltdown in the system?
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making the point, as I was arguing, that other countries are taking action now-in this year, even as we speak-to deal with these problems. He stood on a platform, as did the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood, saying that it would be "folly" to take action this year. That view-that action was required this year-was not put forward only by Conservative Members, as it was the view of the Governor of the Bank of England, who backed early action to deal with the deficit. He said that we needed to
"tackle excessive fiscal budget deficits"
"I am very pleased that there is a very clear and binding commitment to accelerate the reduction in the deficit over the lifetime of the Parliament and to introduce additional measures this fiscal year to demonstrate the importance of getting to grips with that before running the risk of an adverse market reaction."
"That is why Bank of England independence, once a controversial idea, is now accepted across all parties and by both sides of industry."
Michael Gove: It is a great column and a great newspaper-never was a truer word said. It is against the backdrop of the terrible fiscal position left us by the previous Government, in which the right hon. Gentleman played such a distinguished part, that we have to make our judgments in this Queen's Speech.
Hard times require tough choices, and we have chosen to put health and education first, not just in terms of spending, but in terms of reform. Unlike the last Prime Minister, we recognise that investment in the front line has to be matched with trust in the front line. That is why, in both health and education, we will devolve responsibility down-away from Whitehall towards schools and hospitals. Power will be taken out of the hands of politicians and bureaucrats, and placed in the hands of teachers, nurses and doctors.
Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and congratulate him on his new post. The single most important way to raise standards in education is to attract, retain and motivate higher calibre people in teaching and school leadership. What steps will the new coalition Government take to make teaching more attractive and to ensure that we increase the motivation and support of teachers?