Labour rebels vent anger over Kelly's reforms

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Ruth Kelly faced a barrage of criticism from Labour MPs as she tried to quell backbench opposition to theEducation Bill.

Labour MPs lined up to question aspects of the Education and Inspection Bill, despite Ms Kelly's attempts to reassure critics about the legislation. She insisted: ''This is a Bill whose very heart and purpose is to give every child, no matter who they are or where they are from, the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

''If we want every school to be a good school, and that is our aim, we must act to make it happen, not just hope that it will. This Bill, through its proposals on trust schools, increased local authority intervention powers on stronger pressure to improve, does just that.''

She struggled to make progress as she tried to placate anger among Labour MPs by insisting that selective and partially selective schools would be banned from expanding under the legislation.

Peter Kilfoyle, the former defence minister, said: ''What will happen if these trust schools come in, in the way I envisage? They will atomise comprehensives, co-operations and cohesive local education communities."

Michael Meacher, the former environment minister, warned: ''If we want a fair, accountable and equitable system that will drive up standards in all schools, the reform model in this Bill is the wrong one.''

Helen Jones, the Labour MP for Warrington North, said: ''I cannot support the Government's proposals for trust schools because I believe them to be wrong in principle and flawed in practice.''

Austin Mitchell, Labour MP for Great Grimsby, added: ''I have to consider what this will do for Grimsby; in my view not a lot.''

David Willetts, the shadow Education Secretary, branded Labour proposals for trust schools as a successor to the Conservatives' own grant-maintained schools.

He declared: ''I know it is the Ides of March today and the Prime Minister may well feel a little bit uncomfortable at the sound of daggers being sharpened around him. But we, on this side of the House, are here to praise this Education Bill, not to bury it.''

He added: ''We look forward to the fact that private providers, outside organisations ­ not just charities ­ but commercial organisations and independ-ent schools, will all be able to put in in those competitions.''

Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, said: ''It's essentially a timid Bill with hidden dangers because instead of building a radical fresh agenda for reform for the 21st century, the 11th Bill on education from this Labour Government looks back 20 years for its ideas instead of forward.''

David Blunkett, a former education secretary, made an impassioned plea for his colleagues to back the Bill. He said: ''It would be a great disservice to those who have listened and responded if the message went out that, having done so, Members on our side of the House were churlish enough not to take that response and to rejoice in it ­ in other words to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as we did so often in the 1980s.''

The Labour MP Martin Salter, one of the authors of a backbench alternative education white paper, urged MPs to "lend'' the Government their votes. He said: ''My message to colleagues still concerned about aspects of this Bill is to stick with it, continue to argue, lend the Government your support at second reading, but revisit it when it comes to report stage.''

Barry Sheerman, the Labour chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, defended the proposals: ''We actually made this a good Bill, a rigorous Bill, a better Bill, a radical Bill, because I believe in the principles of the Bill ­ fair admission, diversity of choice ­ what's wrong with that for the communities we represent?''

'I have to consider what this Bill will do for Grimsby: in my view, not a lot'

'We, on this side of the House, are here to praise this Education Bill, not to bury it'

'The 11th Bill on Education from this Government looks back 20 years instead of forward'