HC Deb 17 May 1988 vol 133 cc791-2
6. Mrs. Fyfe

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has any further information about the inquiry into the leak of the letter of 21 January from Paul Gray, in the Prime Minister's Office, to Tom Jeffrey in his private office; and if he will make a statement.

8. Mr. Dalyell

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the progress of the leak investigation into the improper disclosure of correspondence between Mr. Paul Gray of 10 Downing street, and Mr. Tom Jeffrey, relating to educational testing.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

No, Sir. It is not the usual practice to give information on such matters.

Mrs. Fyfe

I do not know whether to thank the Minister for that abbreviated answer. Which does he think is the worse crime—that a mole should leak a letter, or that a Prime Minister should oppose the diagnostic testing of children on the ground that the remedial action that would necessarily follow would cost too much?

Mr. Baker

The Prime Minister does not oppose the diagnostic testing of children. If the hon. Lady reads the task group on assessment and testing report carefully she will find considerable criticism of diagnostic testing and its misuse. I remind the hon. Lady that not only has TGAT been published, but that on the substantive issue I have received three supplementary reports. We shall be publishing those, together with our responses, in the near future. We shall also be publishing our views on the system of assessment and testing.

Mr. Dalyell

What does the Secretary of State think would occur if he confronted the Prime Minister with the truth, namely, that the leak was authorised on the Prime Minister's behalf from Downing street?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman's paranoid preoccupation with plots is one of his most enduring and, indeed, endearing characteristics. I am afraid that yet again he has let his imagination run wild, and his imagination is one of the most unpredictable elements of British politics.

Mr. Dickens

Is it not a fact that over the years the Opposition have had so little to contribute to debates that they are pleased to find leaks of letters to act as a diversion to cover up their inadequacies and failure to contribute to debates on education and on every other subject?

Mr. Baker

I could not have put it better myself. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are still waiting to hear from the Opposition—[interruption.] I know that my hon. Friend is very popular, so I must mind my Ps and Qs. We are still waiting to hear from the Opposition their ideas and policies on a whole range of education matters, particularly assessment and testing.

Mr. Straw


Mr. Skinner

Is the Secretary of State on the Chancellor of the Exchequer's side?

Mr. Straw

I was just about to ask that.

We have read not only the TGAT report but the letter that passed between the Prime Minister's private secretary and the right hon. Gentleman's private secretary. The Secretary of State must know that there is a major difference of opinion between the Prime Minister and himself. Now that the Chancellor has beaten the Prime Minister so roundly over the issue of sterling, will the Secretary of State follow his example, find his courage, and beat the Prime Minister, who wishes to introduce a system of competitive testing that will damage the education of the nation's children?

Mr. Baker

The Prime Minister and I were at one in welcoming the report. The questions raised by the Prime Minister were precisely the same as those raised in Committee, namely, that any system must avoid being too elaborate to be understood, too difficult to implement and too expensive to be practicable. The hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that the TGAT report came out in favour of age-related testing at seven, 11, 14 and 16 and the publication of results and records of pupil achievements—all opposed by the Labour party in the past. Are Labour Members going to agree with those recommendations now, or not?

Mr. Dalyell

In view of that unsatisfactory reply, I give notice that I shall seek to raise once again on the Adjournment the conduct of the Prime Minister's Office.

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