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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 22 October, 2002, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Morris toughs out resignation calls
Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris faces more trouble this week
The Education Secretary Estelle Morris is facing renewed calls to resign - over an apparent failure to honour her own promise to resign if targets were missed.

But in response Ms Morris says she wants "to be judged on a wide range of targets" and has rejected calls to step down.

Damian Green
Damian Green says the education secretary should resign

This latest accusation - that she misled a House of Commons select committee - will add to the pressure on an education secretary already being labelled as accident-prone.

She has been under fire following the problems with A-levels and later this week faces further discomfort with the publication of a report into an education training scandal.

The Conservative education spokesperson Damian Green has highlighted Ms Morris's apparently unequivocal commitment to resign if primary school targets were missed in 2002.

These targets were missed - and the quote that is now being used against Ms Morris was a reply to a question in March 1999 asked by David Willetts in the House of Commons.

'Of course I will'

Mr Willetts asked: "Will the minister commit herself to the secretary of state's pledge to resign if the government do not reach their literacy and numeracy targets by 2002?"

Ms Morris, who was then School Standards Minister, replied:


Paul Holmes:
Will you resign next year if those targets are not being met?

Estelle Morris:
No, and I never said I would.


Education Select Committee, October 2001

"Of course I will; I have already done so. Indeed, I generously commit the Under-Secretary, my honourable friend the member for Norwich, South (Charles Clarke), too. We speak with one voice.

"The honourable gentleman's question is a reflection of what life was like under teams of Conservative ministers, when a secretary of state would promise to resign but the rest of the team would not go too."

Compounding this unfulfilled promise, say the Conservatives, was Ms Morris's later denial that she had made such a pledge.

In October 2001, Paul Holmes, a member of the education select committee asked about promises to resign if primary test targets were not achieved.

"Will you resign next year if those targets are not being met?" asked Mr Holmes.

"No, and I never said I would. I want to be judged across all our priorities," Ms Morris replied.

Targets

Explaining the discrepancy, Ms Morris said on Tuesday: "When I gave the speech to the select committee I made it clear that I wanted to be judged on a wide range of targets within the department and I stand by that.

"As minister for school standards and as secretary of state, my role is one that I am very happy to defend."

Mr Green did not accept the education secretary's defence.

"Even Stephen Byers was never caught as red-handed as this. She promised the House of Commons that she would resign if she missed the primary school targets, she missed the targets, but she refuses to resign.

"How many more terrible errors of judgement does it take before Estelle Morris does the decent thing?" said the Conservative education spokesperson.

The promise to take responsibility for primary test failures began with Ms Morris's predecessor as education secretary, David Blunkett.

'Failings'

But Mr Blunkett was never recorded making any explicit resignation pledge - and it was later claimed that he had said in a general sense that his "head would be on the block" if targets were missed.

Ms Morris's much more direct comments will be difficult to ignore.

And this looks like it could become an even more difficult week for the education secretary.

After being buffeted by the problems with this year's A-level results - she now faces the findings of a National Audit Office inquiry into a multi-million pound training scandal.

The Individual Learning Account (ILA) scheme, set up by the Department for Education, was scrapped after widespread fraud.

And a report from the Education Select Committee accused the education department of "serious failings".

Sunk by a search engine

The amount of money stolen in the scheme has so far never been established - and there remained ambiguities about the circumstances in which the scheme was closed.

And there have been accusations that the government failed to respond to early warnings about the extent of the fraud.

Another mauling, with claims about millions of missing public money, will mean even more trouble for an education secretary already under heavy fire.

Damian Green's reference to Stephen Byers raised echoes of a minister whose department was rocked by a disputed e-mail from an adviser.

Estelle Morris will be worried that she is to become the first minister to be sunk by the long memory of an internet search engine.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Education Secretary Estelle Morris
"It is not always possible three years ago to remember everything that has been said"
Shadow education secretary Damien Green
"It is absolutely black and white and there in Hansard"
See also:

26 Sep 02 | Education
01 May 02 | Education
27 Sep 02 | Politics
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