Scottish MPs have not ruled out breaking with convention to block Theresa May’s bid to scrap the ban on new grammar schools in parliament, Schools Week can reveal.
Carol Monaghan, the Scottish National Party’s education spokesperson in Westminster, said her party was “not ruling anything out” when it comes to the prime minister’s plan, which will have to get the approval of politicians in both Houses of Parliament.
The government only enjoys a small majority in the House of Commons, and although SNP members would traditionally abstain on issues which only affect England or be blocked from voting altogether, the scale of the change being proposed by the government could prompt the third largest party to try to block such a move.
May could also face further hurdles in the House of Lords, where the government does not have a majority, and where peers on opposition benches are already preparing to work together to scupper any bill which proposes a return to selection.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that May is considering the move in a bid to please the Conservative Party grassroots and cabinet colleagues who want new grammar schools to be allowed to open for the first time since 1998.
But Monaghan, a former secondary school physics teacher, said the SNP would not support any expansion of grammar schools.
“Obviously I would have to have discussions with the whips, and there’s also the issue that we might not be given a vote on it, but as far as what the SNP’s position would be, we certainly would not support grammar schools,” she told Schools Week.
It is not yet known how the government will proceed with its plan, but it will be up to John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, to decide whether to apply a parliamentary convention called “English votes for English laws”, which would preclude the SNP’s participation in a vote.
There has been speculation that May could announce details of her plan as early as October, when Conservative Party members will meet in Birmingham for their annual conference.
The government may attempt to include a mechanism to scrap the ban, introduced by Tony Blair’s government, with other bits of legislation connected to the expansion of the academies programme, but it is already clear May won’t have the support of all of her MPs.
“We will do all we can to stop this reactionary education proposal” – Lord Storey
Neil Carmichael, the MP for Stroud and chair of the education committee, has already announced his opposition to the move, and the votes of former education secretaries Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan, who blocked a change to the law on grammars during their tenures, will be critical to getting legislation passed.
The problem is even more acute in the House of Lords where the proposal can easily be out-voted if Labour and the Liberal Democrats work together, as they did last year when they secured significant concessions on the education act.
Mike Storey, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson in the Lords, told Schools Week his party would “fight the return to grammar schools all the way”.
“We might only have a handful of MPs in the Commons, but working with cross-benchers and Labour we will do all we can to stop this reactionary education proposal.”