Forty-five Labour MPs defied the Government last night to demand an overhaul of admissions to faith schools.
The backbench rebellion – the biggest to hit Labour since the election – came after an impassioned six-hour debate on the issue during the report stage of the Education Bill.
A move by the former health secretary Frank Dobson to force faith schools to take at least a quarter of their pupils from other religious backgrounds or none was defeated by 405 to 87, a government majority of 318.
He was supported by Liberal Democrats and 45 rebels in the biggest show of backbench dissent for 15 months.
Launching his move, with Liberal Democrat backing, Mr Dobson said the change to the Bill was "right and popular".
He warned: "I believe that if we don't work today ... to counter division and inclusion we may be promoting a ghastly society with groups at one another's throats – a sort of society with a combination of Clockwork Orange and Bladerunner and racism all thrown in together. It's an awful thought."
Referring to the "terrible example" of the Protestant picket of Catholic schoolchildren at Belfast's Holy Cross School, Mr Dobson said the system of selection for faith schools encouraged division.
Estelle Morris, the Education Secretary, said the amendment was flawed, and warned rebels not to make faith schools the "scapegoat" for communities' lack of social cohesion. The rebels included the former ministers Chris Smith, Glenda Jackson and Chris Mullin, as well as senior backbenchers such as Clive Soley, Gwyneth Dunwoody and Ann Clwyd.
Damian Green, the Conservatives' spokesman on Education, defended Church schools and accused Mr Dobson and his supporters of trying to make education "less diverse and worse".Reuse content