Mr. Lewis: If somebody fell under a Clapham omnibus, they would be unlikely to be able to pursue their application, and if somebody died the relevant authorities would have to be informed immediately that there was going to be a change and the proprietor was no longer there.
We are talking about an application for registration and the proprietor could be an individual or a company. It has to be right that that individual or the directors of that company have to apply for registration.
The hon. Member may be referring to the fact that in many cases, lawyers, accountants and other such professionals have to do the processing, administration and a lot of the background work. Everyone on the Committee accepts that that is legitimate support for an individual or a company that was seeking to open a school. However, application for registration has to be fully the responsibility of either the individual proprietor or the directors of the company that is the proprietor. There can be no ambiguity about who is ultimately responsible for applying. If an application were made by someone else and it was accepted—if we had the flexibility that the hon. Gentleman seeks—we could enter into all sorts of litigation about who is or is not responsible.
The hon. Gentleman has not presented one scenario that justifies his amendment. The Clapham bus was one; the death of the proprietor was another. He did not refer to someone being admitted to prison—the word ''admitted'' is probably not appropriate. He gave the example of somebody who was chronically, or terminally, ill. When we are developing legislation, we have to use an element of common sense. I do not imagine that someone who was terminally ill would want to put in an application to start a new school.
There is an even more fundamental issue, if we are going to get silly about this. If someone is not in a fit state to put in an application because they have a chronic health problem, they are not a fit person. If their health was so bad that they could not make intellectually cogent decisions, they would not be in a fit state to put in an application. When the inspection came, prior to day one—the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight does not want us to have the inspection prior to day one—it would be patently clear that the proprietor is so ill that they cannot even make the application. Yet the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West wants us to accept an application made on that person's behalf and allow the person to take
Column Number: 581responsibility for a school. I am not being disrespectful to the hon. Gentleman, but surely common sense should prevail in legislation.
Mr. Brady: The Minister's response is hopelessly inadequate. The one thing that legislation cannot exhibit is common sense. Common sense can come only through the interpretation of legislation, and that is precisely what the Committee is trying to draw out from Ministers.
The Minister can sit there, as I am sure that Ministers for centuries have done, considering Bills and claiming that it is not possible for a set of circumstances that he has not foreseen to arise. Like Ministers over the centuries, he will be proved wrong. It would be helpful to the Committee and to those who, through the courts or otherwise, may have recourse to our deliberations in interpreting this legislation to know what the Government's thinking is.
So far, it seems that the Minister believes that if the proprietor of a school becomes incapacitated for whatever reason, or indeed dies during the process, no other body will be considered fit to take the application forward. That leaves open the possibility that there will be an indeterminate period while the estate is being administered in the event of a death or while somebody is ill and incapacitated during which no further steps can be taken.
I ask the Minister to be slightly less flippant and to attempt to engage with the point. At some point in the future, should the Bill become law, a situation may arise that he does not envisage today. The legislation will have to be interpreted by the courts or otherwise. It would be helpful if the Minister would give a more considered response.
Mr. Lewis: It was not a flippant response. When I use the word common sense, which used to be a term that was endearing to the former Leader of the Opposition, I did so in the context of an application for registration as an independent school. It is surely common sense that the person or the corporate entity required to make the application is either the individual or the corporate entity that seeks to run that school. I do not think that that is complicated.
It is very dangerous to answer no to any question in this context. I envisage no circumstances in which it would be unreasonable, impractical or impossible to require the person or corporate entity that wants to create a new independent school to sign on the dotted line of the application. I will no doubt regret this at some stage in the future, but I ask the hon. Gentleman, on that basis, to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Brady: All that Opposition members of the Committee seek to do is to minimise the number of occasions when Ministers regret their actions in introducing legislation. The Minister says that he knows what he is doing, so we will leave him to face the consequences. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 156 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 157 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Column Number: 582
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