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Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): Let me start by welcoming two things that I heard during the contribution of the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor). First, the concept of scrapping provisions to hold ballots about the future of grammar schools is an excellent one. The sooner the House enacts such a measure, the better, because those provisions are proving hugely disruptive to schools. Last week, I spoke to the head of a grammar school who said, "The fact that we have this hanging over our heads year after year is enormously disruptive." It takes the leadership of a school away from what it should be doing—educating the pupils. I therefore think that it is a superb idea, and if the Bill were merely about removing that provision, I have no doubt that it would receive overwhelming support from the Opposition.

The second welcome thing about the hon. Gentleman's speech is that it shows clearly that old Labour is alive and well on the Labour Benches. This is an old Labour measure writ large. It is all about the old days of the Labour party and the desire to end the things that worked for this country. It is the living proof of why what was done in 18 years of Conservative Government was right, and why this country would be a worse place

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were the Government to fall back into the hands of Labour Members like the hon. Gentleman. This is yet another Labour attempt to undermine and destroy grammar schools, which are doing a first-rate job educating pupils in many parts of the country. I am surrounded by representatives of those areas, such as Buckinghamshire, Trafford, Bromley and Salisbury. Sadly, I am not surrounded by those who represent the excellent grammar schools in Kingston and Sutton, as they sit on the Liberal Democrat Benches, but I hope that in the near future those areas too will be represented by people who will sit on the Conservative Benches.

The reality is that grammar schools today provide an opportunity for all, and they have always done so. They do not, as our education system does all too frequently today, select by estate agent. Today, one's choice of school is determined by where one lives, and where one lives is all too often determined by the wealth of one's family and one's parents. If one happens to have been born on the wrong side of town, therefore, there is, in those areas where there is a grammar school, a chance to move into the best school in the area, selected by ability and intelligence, not by one's ability to pay or by the wealth of one's family. There are many places in this country where the great grammar schools provided that route to academic success for people from all walks of life. It is no accident that back in the 1960s a higher proportion of those who went to university came from working-class backgrounds than do today. That is no coincidence, because grammar schools provide a quality education and quality educational support for people from all walks of life.

I freely admit that the difficulty with grammar schools was related to transfer at age 11. Undoubtedly, there were those who suffered in an arbitrary system. The Labour alternative to deal with potential injustices in the system, however, is to dumb down the best schools. Rather than finding an alternative ladder for those who have the opportunity to achieve, Labour wants to take away that ladder from the best and most able in our society. That is madness.

Grammar schools provide an excellent academic environment, which affects not only those who attend them: they pull up the whole education system. It is no coincidence that even non-selective schools in the London boroughs of Kingston and Sutton do better than the comprehensive schools in their neighbouring boroughs. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire might say that that is not true, but I speak as a former opposition education spokesman in the London borough of Merton, which directly abuts Sutton and Kingston. What I said is absolutely true, because grammar schools contribute to an overall sense of excellence in their local education systems. They provide opportunities and encouragement, and they pull up standards. The idea that their removal would enhance educational success and performance is complete nonsense.

Most importantly, parents want grammar schools—the few that survive are hugely over-subscribed. Nonsuch high school for girls, which is on the fringe of my constituency, had its test for children who wished to attend it last week. It was heaving with applicants, showing that hundreds of parents want their children to attend grammar schools. Who are we to deprive them of that choice?

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It is worth telling Labour Members that such schools are especially popular with pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds. The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire will remember the comments made by Trevor Phillips from the Commission for Racial Equality when the education debate was focused on entry to university for pupils from independent schools. He rightly pointed out that many families, especially Asian families, work extremely hard to send their children to independent schools because they want the best education for them. The same is true of grammar schools. Those who were involved in the test at Nonsuch school noted with a wry smile that one room was almost entirely filled with young girls with the surname Patel. Asian families are desperate, enthusiastic and determined to help their children into grammar schools so that they get the best education. Are we seriously to say to those families and families from other ethnic minority groups that their children should no longer have that opportunity? It would be wrong to do that.

Parents want grammar schools, and grammar schools deliver results of excellent quality. They pull up educational standards in their areas, and local education authorities that contain grammar schools are among the top-performing authorities in the country. Taking the opportunity to pursue academic excellence away from the children of people from all walks of life would be a total travesty and utterly inappropriate. It would once again do what the Labour party has delighted in doing over the years: destroying excellence in search of equality. That is the wrong way to go about things and this latest attack must not be allowed to succeed.

Sadly, I fear that we will return to the issue year after year as more old Labour Members try to send the wrong message to our grammar schools and those who teach in and lead them. They do not congratulate them on the excellent work that they do for their pupils or the opportunity that they provide for people from all walks of life, but say, "Actually, we think you're a bit too good, and we want to get rid of you." That is not the right way to make progress. We should champion excellence rather than dumbing it down. We must oppose the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 132, Noes 105.

Division No. 368
[12:53 pm


AYES


Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)
Atherton, Ms Candy
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Barnes, Harry
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Brennan, Kevin
Buck, Ms Karen
Burgon, Colin
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Challen, Colin
Chaytor, David
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Dalyell, Tam
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dean, Mrs Janet
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Dobson, rh Frank
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Farrelly, Paul
Fisher, Mark
Flynn, Paul (Newport W)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gerrard, Neil
Gidley, Sandra
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Heath, David
Hepburn, Stephen
Hopkins, Kelvin
Humble, Mrs Joan
Illsley, Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jenkins, Brian
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Khabra, Piara S.
Kidney, David
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Kirkwood, Sir Archy
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Llwyd, Elfyn
Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
MacDonald, Calum
MacDougall, John
Mahmood, Khalid
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Mole, Chris
Mudie, George
Organ, Diana
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Rooney, Terry
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Short, rh Clare
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Tipping, Paddy
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Wareing, Robert N.
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wills, Michael
Wood, Mike (Batley)
Wray, James (Glasgow Baillieston)
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)

Tellers for the Ayes:


David Taylor and
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle


NOES


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Arbuthnot, rh James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Barker, Gregory
Bellingham, Henry
Bercow, John
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Butterfill, John
Cameron, David
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Clappison, James
Curry, rh David
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Djanogly, Jonathan
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Flight, Howard
Flook, Adrian
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Hague, rh William
Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heald, Oliver
Hendry, Charles
Hermon, Lady
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Hogg, rh Douglas
Horam, John (Orpington)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Letwin, rh Oliver
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Lilley, rh Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Mackay, rh Andrew
Maclean, rh David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey
Mercer, Patrick
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Page, Richard
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Randall, John
Redwood, rh John
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, David
Sayeed, Jonathan
Selous, Andrew
Sheerman, Barry
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Stanley, rh Sir John
Streeter, Gary
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Trend, Michael
Tyrie, Andrew
Watkinson, Angela
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)

Tellers for the Noes:


Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. Andrew Turner

Question accordingly agreed to.

18 Nov 2003 : Column 623

Bill ordered to be brought in by David Taylor, Mr. David Chaytor, Mr. Colin Challen, Tony Lloyd, Mr. Gordon Prentice, Mrs. Janet Dean, John Austin, John Cryer, Mr. Kelvin Hopkins, Mr. Roger Berry, Valerie Davey and Dr. Doug Naysmith.


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