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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 21:20 GMT 22:20 UK
Rebels defeated on schools veto
School classroom
New battles on school reform loom on Wednesday
Ministers saw off a rebel amendment to the Education Bill which would have given parents a veto over secondary schools becoming independent trusts.

Lib Dems and 67 Labour MPs wanted to give parents a vote on English schools leaving local authority control.

But in the end an alliance of Labour loyalists and Conservatives prevailed, voting by 412 to 121 to reject the amendment - a majority of 291.

Education Secretary Alan Johnson said his plans would provide greater choice.

Last time the bill was before the Commons 52 Labour MPs rejected it, forcing ministers to rely on Tory support.

The left-wing Socialist Campaign Group of MPs say this time up to 67 Labour MPs - plus two tellers - rebelled. That included nine former Blair ministers two of whom held Cabinet status.

The group's chairman John McDonnell said: "This is a crippling blow to the Education Bill, which the prime minister is only able to force through the Commons on the back of Tory votes."

Former Labour Cabinet minister Frank Dobson said: "Both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition talk endlessly about empowering parents, but they collaborated tonight to make sure that parents won't decide whether there will be any trust schools."

KEY STICKING POINTS
Calls for local ballots on the creation of trust schools
Education secretary's veto on LEAs setting up community schools
Tory calls for all mainstream schools to have to stream pupils according to ability and aptitude

Earlier a spokesman for Number 10 said he was not aware of any "particular efforts" on the part of Tony Blair to persuade potential rebels to back the government.

The Education Bill is expected to reach its final Commons stage on Wednesday and then passes to the House of Lords.

As well as the 52 rebels in the vote after the last debate, there were 25 Labour abstentions wiping out the party's parliamentary majority - hence the need for Conservative backing.

The biggest sticking point concerning the bill is over the establishment of trust schools, which would give them more independence than schools currently have.

Opponents fear the reforms could create a two-tier education system.

They want high-performing local education authorities (LEAs) to be able to set up community schools - something the government initially refused to countenance.

Ministers have now agreed to allow LEAs to set up new community schools, but this can be vetoed by the education secretary in certain circumstances.

Warning

Labour MP John Grogan - who had wanted local ballots for parents - said "one member, one vote" had a long history in the Labour Party and ministers would be on a "sticky wicket" if they opposed it now.

Schools Minister Jim Knight: "The important thing is we get the bill through. I would love to see everyone in the House of Commons supporting this bill - I don't think that's going to happen."

Conservative shadow education secretary David Willetts said the bill was timid compared with the prime minister's original proposals.

And Sarah Teather, the Lib Dems' education spokesman, accused Mr Johnson of "playing politics".

"The sad fact remains that these measures, to give schools control over their own admissions, will lead to schools choosing pupils, not parents choosing schools," she said.


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