Education reforms 'may conflict with human rights legislation'

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair faced a fresh rebuke over his education reforms after an influential committee of MPs and peers warned they could conflict with human rights legislation.

Members of the joint parliamentary committee on human rights said the creation of independent state trust schools could affect children's fundamental right to an education.

A report from the committee, published yesterday, warned that creating independent institutions outside the normal framework of maintained state schools could "undermine" the ability of local authorities to fulfil their legal duty to provide a school place for all children.

The report also stated that proposals to give trust schools powers to vary the curriculum could interfere with rights against indoctrination, while reforms preventing local authorities from forcing trust schools to give places to individual children could also breach the human rights act.

The report warned that trust schools would be regulated by contracts with the education department, leaving parents and children with limited rights to challenge them in the courts.

The report comes as senior cabinet ministers moved yesterday to quell a potentially devastating rebellion in Labour ranks over the forthcoming Education Bill.

On Friday, the former transport secretary Stephen Byers warned that Mr Blair's position would be "untenable" if he could not secure Labour backing for the plans.

The Prime Minister's position was the subject of speculation yesterday, amid claims that Mr Blair would relinquish the premiership in favour of Gordon Brown next summer.

Newspaper reports claimed that Lord Kinnock, the former Labour leader, had advised Mr Blair to fix a date for his departure from Downing Street.

But Downing Street repeated its assertion that there was no deal between Mr Blair and Mr Brown, and senior government figures insisted there had been no formal pact between the men.

A source said: "The truth is I don't think Tony knows. There has been no discussion and certainly no agreement or understanding."

Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, told the BBC's Politics Show: "There's no deal, no special agreement. Tony Blair has made it quite clear that he intends to go during this Parliament. In the meantime, the two of them are working closely together and just last week, Gordon Brown made absolutely clear how important it is that, for example, we get our education reforms through because, you know, we shouldn't be in the business of trying to defend the status quo."

Baroness Estelle Morris, a former education secretary and a leading critic of the White Paper proposals, told the BBC she wanted real dialogue with the Government over the reforms.

"This is about the future of our schools for our children and their parents and we have got to have negotiations about substance, so great for the mood music, but let's bring on substance.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said: "Ruth Kelly has been listening very carefully to backbench colleagues who she knows are looking for clarification and reassurance. I believe that the vast majority will receive that."

Mr Darling also moved to reassure critics. "Of course colleagues will want to be assured that we don't have a situation where we'd have children written off, but I think that when people actually see the Bill, when they see what the Government is proposing, they will see that, overall, what we are doing is improving standards, giving children a far better opportunity than they ever had in the past."