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The question of profits, which the Minister raised with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West, was dealt with in the other place in previous debates. We have still not had a proper answer to the questionseveral contradictory answers were givenof where the profits would go. One Minister says that the profits will go back into the school, while the other says that the profits will be shared. Baroness Ashton stated:
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Does my hon. Friend accept that what the Minister seems to misunderstand in saying that schools should be able to make a profit is that the other side of a profit is the risk? People and private companies who make profits generally do so by risking some of their assets. If, for instance, a school company were to publish a CD-ROM, it would risk money in publishing that CD-ROM, which it may not recover. That lossthe company may even have borrowed money to pay for ithas not been explained by the Minister.
The Minister also referred to insurance liability in his opening remarks. We do not need to go into all the points that I placed on the record in the previous debate that we had on this issue. However, when a company overtrades or faces legal liabilities, he simply cannot say, "Oh, well, insurance and school trips do not come into this." The fact is that liabilities can accumulate from a variety of sources and a company could be afflicted by substantial liabilities. If it gets into difficulties, what will happen in practice?
The bottom line is that Lord McIntosh referred to crooks, but the Minister seemed to dismiss that suggestion. He seems to think that there is no question of crooks taking over schools, but Lord McIntosh clearly thought that that was a possibility. I will not repeat what went on in another place, but it is clear that the Government have conceded that the individuals who will not be able to join companies will be those who are not currently permitted to be school governors or to teach. That is a step forward in response to our representations, and we are partially grateful. However, it took an intervention from me for the Minister to recall what was said in the other place. As we are now dealing with the same clauses, I presume that what was said in the other place will now be binding on him. I would be grateful for confirmation of that.
The Minister also has a responsibility to explain the manner in which governing bodies will operate. In exchanges with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West and in relation to the written reply that was held up, the question of whether the governing body can or cannot contract out of the duty to conduct the school raises an issue in relation to clause 2. The Minister therefore has an obligation to the House to explain it. In particular, how can anyone prevent a school from delegating functions to a company? If it did, what would happen? That also raises the question of who foots the bill. Is it intended that staff will be brought insupply
Throughout the entire proceedings on the Bill, Ministers have completely failed to answer the questions that I have put in this House or in relation to issues raised in another place. For example, Lord Northbourne asked the Minister in the other place
The question of whether the local education authority would be a fall guy if things went badly wrong was raised in the same debate. The Minister in the other place again did not answer that question except by reference to the simple statement that the Government keep on making. She said:
The debate has gone on between the two Houses for a long time and it has raised questions that the Government are not prepared to answer. That has been the prevailing characteristic of our debates from beginning to end. The Minister says that there is no hidden agenda, but he does not attempt to answer the questions. He hides behind provisions that are so wide that my noble Friend Lord Kingsland referred to the Government view in his concluding remarks to the debate in the other place. Referring to Baroness Ashton, he said:
The plain fact is that the Government are not prepared to answer our questions or to explain the Bill properly. That is why we will persist in opposing these provisions. They are not in the interests of schools, governing bodies, teachers or children. They are our first priority. There may be something to be said for giving more freedom, but the manner in which that is being done, the mechanism that
Mr. Willis: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). He should abandon his European campaign and work full time on these issues. As ever, he made an incredibly valuable contribution. I shall not go over the issues that he raised, particularly that of liability, in respect of which we have still not had a satisfactory answer.
The Minister says that this is ultimately a matter of trust. Lord Dearing referred to that point in the debate in the other place yesterday. I accept that it is a question of whether we trust the Government, but the Liberal Democrats do not, simply because far too many questions remain unanswered.
I wish to raise the issue of individuals taking out profita subject on which the Minister would not allow me to intervene. He cannot have it both ways. In Committee, the Minister then responsible for the Billnow the Minister for E-Commerce and Competitivenessmade it clear that it was possible for the individuals who had put capital into the company to take out profit. That is in direct contradiction to what the Minister has said in this debate. The Government cannot have it both ways. Such contradictions are totally unacceptable.
The Minister says that there is nothing new about thisthat schools have been involved in such activities for as long as he can remember. I can remember a little further back than he can, and he is right. One has to ask why we need this huge sledgehammer to crack a relatively small nut. For example, charitable status is not covered anywhere in the Bill. Why is it possible for some of the largest independent schools in the country to be run on the basis of charitable status when it is not possible for a small company set up by a school or a group of schools to do the same?