Major to stress 'core value' of education to nation's well-being: 'Back to basics' campaign drops attack on single mothers

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The Independent Online
EDUCATION is to play a higher than expected profile in Thursday's Queen's Speech and will be spotlighted by the Prime Minister today in a speech aimed at pushing forward his 'back to basics' campaign.

John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, also delivered his plainest hint yet that his contentious proposal for a 'mum's army' of primary-school teachers will go ahead.

In a marked retreat from the ministerial attack on single mothers, John Major will emphasise in tonight's Lord Mayor's banquet speech that invoking 'core' values involves recognising that social and economic policy is inextricably related, and that aims such as a better- educated workforce are crucial for the nation's economic well-being.

Such a message is not dissimilar from that propounded by Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, and by Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader.

In an 'alternative Budget' speech in Birmingham tomorrow, Mr Ashdown will spotlight education as the key to stability and prosperity, but will claim that because of the public spending freeze, Mr Major will be unable to deliver.

In the wake of Tory party conference speeches that dwelt on social security scrounging and the need to force social change by making lone parenthood less morally and financially acceptable, the Prime Minister is keen to shift the argument and emphasise that traditional beliefs in a stable background, hard work and the value of education are most likely to produce a competitive, enthusiastic, well-trained workforce.

Mr Major's belief that governments can only wield limited influence on long-term social trends and that the campaign against single mothers could backfire in the eyes of the wider public will disappoint right-wing ministers. John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, and Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, believe the Government needs to take a lead in discouraging lone motherhood.

But Mr Patten yesterday put this little higher than that governments had a duty to 'talk about the fabric of society'. He added that some politicians were not the best mouthpieces or advertisements for moral or family values.

Sir Edward Heath, the former prime minister, told BBC's Breakfast with Frost that the idea that single women had babies to get social security 'could only have been put forward by dogmatists who have no understanding of humanity'. The wisdom of Mr Major's more tolerant attitude appears to be reflected in an NOP/Sunday Times poll suggesting a reluctance to condemn one-parent families or cut benefit.

Further splits in backbench Tory opinion are to be revealed today in a Financial Times survey, suggesting that just over 50 per cent of MPs would back tax increases in the Budget, while just under half think the Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, would be wrong to impose VAT on fuel at the full rate of 17.5 per cent.

Mr Clarke and Mr Lilley are still locked in combat over the highly- sensitive issue of measures to compensate the poor for the imposition of the tax. Despite protracted negotiation and the intervention of Mr Major in a meeting last week, the package has yet to be settled.

Mr Patten declined to elaborate on the detailed contents of the Queen's Speech, but hinted strongly that it would contain the widely condemned proposals for non-graduate teacher-training for primary schools.

'It is important that we bend over backwards to get mature people, in their 30s and 40s, who have perhaps worked elsewhere than teaching, into teaching to help us to get our fundamentals,' he told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend.

Along with education reforms, tougher criminal justice laws and deregulation will be the centrepieces of the Queen's Speech.

Among the revolutionary deregulation measures expected will be the widescale repeal of a host of safety laws, the scrapping of all restrictions on Monday to Saturday shopping hours and the right for parents to take children under 14 into pubs.

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