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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 22:33 GMT
Blair wins crunch education vote
Tony Blair at prime minister's question time
The vote was seen as a test of Mr Blair's authority
Tony Blair has won the first Commons test of controversial school reform plans for England - but only by relying on support from the Conservatives.

MPs voted by 458 votes to 115 in favour of plans to give schools more control over admissions and budgets.

But 52 Labour backbenchers rebelled and another 25 MPs did not vote.

The revolt will be seen as a blow to Mr Blair's authority but Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said she was delighted to get through the plans.

For: 458
Against: 115
Majority: 343
Labour MPs voting for: 274
Labour rebels: 52
Labour MPs not voting: 25
Tory MPs not voting: 20

The second reading vote of the Education and Inspections Bill means the plans have gained initial approval.

Conservatives, Lib Dems and some Labour rebels failed in their attempt to sabotage the government's timetable for further debates on the plans and prolong detailed scrutiny for weeks.

The government won the timetable vote by 300 to 290, with its majority cut to just 10.

A committee of MPs will now go through the plans line by line before reporting back to all MPs.

'Defining moment'

The prime minister has called the Education and Inspections Bill a "defining moment".

But critics seized on the fact that about a quarter of Labour MPs, including eight ex-ministers, did not support the plans.

John McDonnell, the chairman of the left-wing Labour Representation Committee, said Mr Blair had undermined his own authority and lost the party's confidence by relying on Tory support against his own backbenchers.

Parents, businesses and voluntary groups to be able to set up foundation (trust) schools, with control over budgets and admissions
Interviewing pupils and parents to be outlawed
Schools to 'act in accordance with' - rather than just 'have regard to' - admissions code
Schools to set up 'partnerships' with outside groups and 'federations' with other schools
Failing schools given one year to turn around or face being closed and replaced
30m for councils to raise standards

"Tonight the prime minister has walked out on the party and effectively resigned as leader," said the Hayes and Harlington MP.

Twenty Tory MPs did not vote but no Conservatives opposed the plans.

Shadow education secretary David Willetts said: "It is an enormous contrast between a divided Labour Party that cannot deliver education reform and a united Conservative Party that clearly is committed to reforming public services."

The education secretary denied she was feeling bruised by the scale of the rebellion.

Ms Kelly said Mr Blair was delighted that more than three out of four Labour MPs backed what was a "Labour bill".

We need to tackle the aspects of the bill that damage the chances of the disadvantaged
Sarah Teather
Lib Dem spokesman

"I am proud to have been able to deliver a bill that will make a difference for this country's children," she told BBC News 24.

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Sarah Teather said she would focus on how the plans could be improved in their committee stage.

"We need to tackle the aspects of the bill that entrench existing social divisions and damage the chances of the disadvantaged," said Ms Teather.

Under the plans, private companies, faith groups and parents will be given freedom to set up and run "trust" schools within the state system.

To allay backbench concerns, ministers promised a ban on schools using interviews to choose pupils, strengthened the admissions code and told councils they will be able to enter competitions to build new schools.

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