Redwood spells out his basics message

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JOHN REDWOOD, a leading Thatcherite in the Cabinet, yesterday defended the crackdown on absentee fathers by the Child Support Agency. 'I think it is important to establish the principle once and for all that you can never divorce your children,' he said.

The Secretary of State for Wales, who provoked a controversy over lone parents and the welfare state, gave his support to the Prime Minister's 'back-to-basics' campaign.

There was a back-to-basics message on law and order, he said. Parents who did not know where their children of 10 or 11 were late at night were letting down the community. The action the Government could take was limited but Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, had disclosed measures to crackdown on absent fathers to pay more maintenance.

He also warned that differences in standards between schools were too great. His remarks to the Press Gallery luncheon at the Commons were intended to back the strategy by John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, for school league tables, but were also seen as a clear warning that more should be done to raise standards in schools. Differences between schools were too great and it was 'the duty of ministers, governors, head teachers to do something about those which are not performing well enough. Cracking down on truancy is one of the most important back-to-basics messages in raising standards. So too are basic tests and examinations'.

The Government had to reverse the 1960s trend against testing pupils, Mr Redwood added. 'I learnt a great deal more if I thought someone was checking up.'