Children, Schools and Families Bill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 5:19 pm on 11th January 2010.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families) 5:19 pm, 11th January 2010

May I first associate myself with the comments of the Secretary of State about the former Member for North-West Leicestershire? We all miss him from his accustomed place on the back row of the Government green Benches. He was a good, kind and generous man, a fantastic constituency Member of Parliament, a grammar school boy, who never lost the love of learning-I benefited personally from his wise advice throughout my time in the House. He will be sorely missed and I should like, on behalf of Conservative Members, to associate myself with every word that the Secretary of State said. We would like to send our best wishes to his widow and his four lovely daughters.

May I also associate myself with the Secretary of State's comments about the success of so many providers of information technology in showcasing their wares in our schools and, more broadly, in education in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales? I am delighted that so many Ministers and individuals from abroad have come to admire what is happening, not only in ICT but more broadly in educational innovation.

I am sorry that we did not have an opportunity to see the Secretary of State play Magnus Magnusson again and demonstrate what a mastermind he is. What a pity it is that other members of the Cabinet are not here to play the quiz that they most enjoy with the Secretary of State and have the opportunity to say, "You are the weakest link."

After the events of last week, may I say what a pleasure it is for all Conservative Members to see the Secretary of State still in his place? We are all delighted that he has enjoyed a high profile in recent days and look forward to his playing an even more prominent role in the campaign ahead-or should that be campaigns? As well as wanting him to play as big a role as possible in the general election campaign, I greatly hope that he will play as big a role as possible in any leadership campaigns that follow it. We assure him of our enthusiastic support.

I suspect that the Bill, whether it is passed or not, will end up being the Secretary of State's monument. Balfour's monument was the Education Act 1902, which established a universal system of local education provision. Rab Butler's monument was the Education Act 1944, which established universal free secondary provision. Lord Baker of Dorking's monument was the Education Reform Act 1988, which gave effect to the principles of parental choice, transparent assessment, diversity in the state system and greater freedom for individual schools. As the Secretary of State's monument, the Bill seeks to establish in law one of his highest priorities-a goal that he pursues with restless zeal; indeed, it is his motivation for being in public office: drawing dividing lines.

Even before he was in the Cabinet, when he was a Back Bencher, doubtless leading the fight against any attempt on the Back Benches to organise against the incumbent leader, he told the New Statesman that he wanted to "get back" to dividing lines on education with the Conservatives. That was his highest priority-not helping the poorest, raising standard or supporting professionals, but drawing a dividing line. I do not feel personally affronted by that. The Secretary of State cannot meet anyone outside his immediate family without wanting to draw dividing lines between them. Perhaps he is right and the rest of us-all of us-are wrong. Perhaps he is the Galileo of education policy-uniquely and brilliantly insightful while all around him is mediaeval darkness and error. However, on the Bill, I am happy to be on the other side of the argument. The debate at the heart of the measure is, as the right hon. Gentleman says, about how one drives up standards in schools.

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