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Forth goes on the attack

The Government is paving the way for an autumn offensive against Labour by creating a key role for Eric Forth, the most combative of the six Department for Education and Employment ministers.

Mr Forth is to take charge of the Education Bill due in November which will allow schools to select up to half their pupils on ability. The legislation is expected to provide opportunities to embarrass the Labour leader, Tony Blair, over the choice of school for his sons.

The move means Mr Forth, one of the two ministers of state, will handle more controversial policies in the run up to the election. As well as dealing with grant-maintained schools, he will be involved in the changes to teacher training and measures to deal with truants.

The reorganisation lightens the load of junior minister Robin Squire, who has been the target of a whispering campaign by Conservative right-wingers. The changes will also mean that Lord Henley becomes responsible for higher education.

The move for Mr Forth, who is not an ally of Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, may be a response to criticism reported in June from Brian Mawhinney, Conservative party chairman. Central Office felt Mrs Shephard did not attack Labour aggressively enough.

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