Ex-teachers team up with old stagers
Ex-teachers dominate the group of MPs chosen to nurse the School Standards and Framework Bill through its committee stage.
Of the 22 members, 14 have been teachers or lecturers at some time in their career. A dozen new boys and girls will be among those voting on every clause of the Bill and considering amendments for two days a week for six weeks.
A House of Commons committee of selection chooses members who can put themselves forward or have the honour thrust upon them. The party-political composition is based on the proportions of MPs in ths House.
With a cast-iron Labour majority, it seems unlikely the Opposition will be able to sneak through unwelcome amendments, but they will be able to force ministers to give more details and quiz them about how certain sections will work. However, the Opposition will have one weapon to hand - the filibuster.
One veteran Parliament-watcher said that if Stephen Dorrell, the Conservative education spokes-man, tried to spin out proceedings in committee he could push the Bill into a log-jam with the Scottish and Welsh Assembly Bills. This fiendish plan could mean at least six months more life for grant-maintained schools, he reckoned. Changes to the Bill can be reversed at later stages.
Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, will be sharing the workload with fellow minister Estelle Morris. Both are seasoned players in the committee room. Peter Hain, Welsh Office minister, will be there to cover issues concerning the principality. They will face Mr Dorrell and Angela Browning for the Tories and Don Foster and Phil Willis for the Lib Dems.
Although Mr Dorrell has hardly set the world alight since taking over the education brief, his exchanges with Mr Byers and Ms Morris could occasionally cause the rest of the MPs to look up from their piles of constituency business. MPs have traditionally used the long committee sessions to write letters and compile shopping lists.
The jobs of whipping - rounding up stragglers having fag breaks when votes are called - have been given to David Jamieson and Sir David Madel. Mr Jamieson, an affable chap with a dubious taste in waistcoats, is also a stalwart of education legislation. In Opposition he championed legislation to license activity centres after the tragedy in Lyme Bay when four students died on a canoe trip. He also campaigned for tighter inspection of independent schools.
Sir David, after 25 years on the back benches, and unpaid parliamentary aide to Edward Heath, was appointed a whip by William Hague despite voting for Kenneth Clarke in the Tory leadership contest.
Don Foster, the booming-voiced MP for Bath, was part of the pre-election "Dave and Don show" on the education conference circuit, pairing up with David Blunkett, the Education Secretary.
These days, however, he finds his policies rather more left wing than the Government's. He and his able deputy, Mr Willis, will support large parts of the Bill but will argue against foundation schools and take a harder line on grammar schools.
Lively Opposition contributions will be expected from the energetic Prince Andrew lookalike Graham Brady, who has many GM and grammar schools in his Altrincham and Sale constituency.
He once described Margaret Thatcher as his "greatest political heroine". Things may get personal if he clashes with Beverley Hughes, former Labour leader of Trafford council, who once threatened to remove his old school's grammar status.
The other Conservatives are Nicholas St Aubyn, the former banker who was once voted one of the top ten "Hunks of the House" (coming eighth), and the sharply dressed, comprehensive-educated Theresa May.
Swelling the Labour ranks are Phil Hope, who once appeared in Z Cars; accomplished skier Bob Blizzard, former editor of History Today Gordon Marsden, former English teacher Helen Jones; Rachel Squire, Mr Byers's parliamentary private secretary, left-winger Tony McNulty, former teacher Joan Ryan, Kali Mountford, MP for Colne Valley, and former headteacher George Turner, MP for Norfolk North West.
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