Three defeats leave fences to mend;Education Bill

3rd April 1998 at 01:00
The legislation to establish a general teaching council and introduce a new loans system for students, reached its committee stage in the House of Commons this week, with some essential repair work left for ministers to do.

The Bill suffered three defeats in the House of Lords, and in the House of Commons the Government heard criticism from Labour backbenchers for its plans to introduce pound;1,000 tuition fees and replace maintenance grants by loans.

David Blunkett, Education and Employment Secretary, alluding to its rocky ride, said it would be the committee's job to ensure repairs are done while the Bill was still in the air.

The men with the spanners for the Government are standards minister Stephen Byers, lifelong learning minister Kim Howells and Welsh minister Peter Hain. For the Conservatives, Stephen Dorrell and David Willetts will be hoping to extend the damage inflicted by their colleague Baroness Blatch in the Lords.

David Jamieson is whipping for the Government, Sir David Madel for the Conservatives. Don Foster and Phil Willis are representing the Liberal Democrats and will be arguing against tuition fees.

The Government will overturn the Lords' amendments which give the general teaching council similar powers to the General Medical Council and give half the maintenance grant to poor students. The amended Bill also brings English and Welsh students into line with their Scots and European Union counterparts by exempting them from tuition fees during the fourth year at Scottish universities. This change , too, is unlikely to survive.

The Bill also introduces a compulsory qualification for headteachers and the right for 16 and 17- year-olds in work to one day a week of study or training. There will be an induction year for teachers. A consultation document is expected soon and will offer independent schools the chance to join the scheme - if they follow the national curriculum.

From the backbenches, Tony McNulty, fresh from six weeks of committee work on the Standards and Framework Bill, which goes to the House of Lords next week, returns to the committee room.

His Labour colleagues are all new MPs, apart from Ipswich MP Jamie Cann, and are a mixture of former teachers, an OFSTED inspector, and "baby of the House", 26-year-old Chris Leslie.

For Labour: Christine Butler, MP for Castle Point, is married to a teacher, while Vernon Coaker, a former comprehensive school deputy head, is described in Andrew Roth's parliamentary guide to MPs as the "archetypal teacher-councillor".

Valerie Davey, MP for Bristol, taught in Tanzania, Melanie Johnson is a former OFSTED inspector, and Bill Rammel, "soft-left graduate of the student union movement", was once described as looking like the manager of a Sunday football team.

Loughborough MP Andrew Reed, Redditch MP Jaqui Smith -a former head of economics and business studies, and an Aston Villa supporter - and Yarmouth MP Tony Wright complete the Labour side.

Sitting behind the Conservatives' Mr Dorrell is John Hayes, described in Roth's guide as a "bright but patronising hardline right-wing Eurosceptic" who characterised the abolition of assisted places as "an attack on poor people"; John Randall, bird-watcher and Serbo-Croat speaker, who won the Uxbridge by-election; and Caroline Spelman, former spokeswoman for the European beet farmers, who is keen on sports for schoolgirls.

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