Education and Health

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:02 pm on 19th November 2009.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families) 12:02 pm, 19th November 2009

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" any more of that kind of nonsense. The Financial Times went on to point out that

"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 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."-[ Hansard, 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.

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