Wednesday, July 7, 1999 Published at 19:30 GMT 20:30 UK
Clash over grammar schools
Parents can decide the fate of grammar schools
Conservative leader William Hague has accused Labour of lying when it made an election pledge not to close grammar schools.
In a clash with Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Commons, he said Labour party activists were campaigning to close grammar schools.
But Mr Blair said that the power to shut grammar schools lay with pupils' parents, not the government, and that so far no parents had chosen to close any grammar schools.
Mr Hague raised the issue during Prime Minister's Questions, referring to a letter to parents during the Wirral South by-election of February 1997, in which he said Mr Blair had pledged a Labour government would not close grammar schools.
Mr Hague said to Mr Blair: "When the Labour Party made that promise at the last election, they lied to the people.
"Isn't it time that, instead of their hypocrisy, you called off the members of the Labour Party from destroying some of the best schools in the country?
"Or is it that even you have no respect now for the promises that you made?"
He said he would campaign against the Labour party to save grammar schools.
But Mr Blair said: "As you know perfectly well, the Labour government has not closed a single grammar school."
'Rise in spending'
He said the power to close grammar schools used to lie with local education authorities, but now lay with parents, and that Mr Hague was talking "complete nonsense".
The Labour government was raising spending on school children by £200 per pupil, whereas the Conservative government, of which Mr Hague had been a cabinet member, had cut spending per pupil by £80, he said.
"The party that closed more grammar schools in Britain than any other was the Conservative party."
She raised the issue in a Commons deabte on choice and diversity in education on Wednesday.
The abolition of grant maintained schools, ballots to close grammar schools and the reduction of the ability of schools to determine their admissions were leading to "increased uniformity and less choice" in schools, she said.
This, added to the government's policy of reducing class sizes, rules on how money can be spent, and "increasing bureaucracy from the centre", was causing particular problems for rural schools.
"Prescription from government doesn't take account of the different needs of rural schools, and increased bureaucracy is particularly difficult to handle in a small school with a small number of teachers", she said.
But Education Secretary David Blunkett denied Labour policies were restricting choice and diversity.