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Mr. Charles Clarke: Before the hon. Gentleman develops his argument, will he pause and give his attention to clause 19(8)? Will he consider paragraph (b) in particular?

Mr. Bercow: I am always happy to be referred to a subsection of any clause of which the Minister is the parent. I have focused my beady eye on clause 19(8), which features on page 16 of the Bill, with which I am sure all hon. Members who are present will be intimately familiar. For the avoidance of doubt, I point out that subsection (8) deals with the meaning of the term "regulated person". That seems clear, but I think that the only provision of even modest significance in the subsection--this point is important if the hon. Gentleman is trying to develop an argument--is paragraph (d), which refers to

I assume that the Minister is suggesting that an individual who is not fully approved, but who is nevertheless providing services, will be subject to the entry and inspection powers contained in clause 19(1). That is not entirely clear, but if that is what the hon. Gentleman says, I shall not object. Indeed, I shall be tempted to dance around the mulberry bush in appreciation of the fact that the Government have seen the point and have incorporated it in the clause. However, although I am grateful to the Minister for moving me on from page 15 to page 16, I see no good reason why such provision should not be included in subsection (1) to ensure that the matter is clear beyond peradventure. That is my answer to him, but if he tells me that the matter is dealt with and that there is no need for any further i-dotting and t-crossing, I shall be happy to accept his assurance. I would be grateful if he made the matter clear, as it is not trivial. I hope that he will accept that civil liberties and the important issue of equality of treatment, to which the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and I keep returning, are of the first importance.

I should like briefly to comment on clause 20 and on the attempt of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey to amend it. As I understand it, amendment

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No. 9 would ensure that no document on the guidance about the way the powers are to be exercised should take effect before

In short, that is an argument for the affirmative method--I use that term for want of a better one, as we usually use it in relation to the statutory instrument procedure--rather than the negative one. The hon. Gentleman was slightly doubtful about whether everybody would understand the distinctions between regulated and unregulated matters. I argued only that people who are not regulated should not be treated preferentially in comparison with those who are regulated. The point is simply stated: the question of affirmative and negative procedure should be clear beyond doubt to those outside the House who take an interest in these matters. As the Minister, but not everybody, knows, the negative procedure does not allow debate. It means that measures are rammed through the House on the nod, without the opportunity for speeches or voting. However, the affirmative procedure gives hon. Members the chance to express an opinion.

My view is consistent with that of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. I believe that the guidance on the exercise of entry and inspection powers is critical. Great issues are at stake. The powers of the officers must be adequate, or there will be no point in providing for them. Equally, there must also be adequate protection for those who will be subject to the exercise of those powers. It is not entirely a matter of those words that Ministers tend to use in the context of amendments to proposed legislation--our old friends "minor" and "drafting". Issues of judgment, evaluation, degree and what I might best describe as proportionality are involved. In that context, I think that the hon. Gentleman has a good point. Let us see the draft, which can be placed before this House and the other place, and let there be a debate on it in which we can offer our opinions about whether the Government have got the balance broadly correct.

6.45 pm

Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath expressed with a world-weary cynicism born of his nine years in the House his hope that the Minister would change the habits of a lifetime and accept an Opposition amendment. I want to renew that plea in an unselfish fashion, on behalf of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. The request in amendment No. 9 for an opportunity to see a draft document and to scrutinise it, as well as for an acknowledgement of hon. Members' right to speak and the possibility of a vote, is of the essence. That request is so transparently reasonable that only an extraordinarily unreasonable Minister could resist it.

The Minister is an assiduous, eager and very ambitious man, as I continually remind him. He is a man who was described by Mr. John Kampfner, the distinguished political commentator of The Guardian, as a future leader of the Labour party, and he is now under inspection.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Bercow: I shall perorate in a moment, but how can I refuse to give way to a man who is not only older than me, but substantially bigger?

Mr. Soames: What my hon. Friend says about the Minister is true. Does he agree that it would be a terrible

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shame if blind, untrammelled ambition were to stand in the way of such a reasonable request from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), and such profound and splendid oratory from my hon. Friend?

Mr. Bercow: I say to my hon. Friend frankly that I am in danger of becoming emotional. We had a rocky start when this Parliament began. I think he doubted whether I had any right to sit in this place at all, as I went to a state school, paid a mortgage and bought my own furniture. Since then, he has been reconciled to me, and we have what might almost be described as a symbiotic relationship, so often do we see eye to eye on matters of state, both great and small. His interventions are invariably sensible and eloquent. With his unfailing skill in hitting the proverbial nail on the head--a skill that only somebody who has spent as much time on the Clapham omnibus as he has could demonstrate--he has got it absolutely right. We are considering a question of ambition versus reasonableness. I say to the Minister, who is always anxious to throw red meat in the direction of his under-utilised and ordinarily militant Back Benchers--

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Ah!

Mr. Bercow: I say to the Minister that he should prove reason, independence of mind and generosity of spirit. I say to him that now is the opportunity to show oneself to be a man of independent mind and generous nature. Will he pass or fail the examination? I await his response and the answer as to success or failure with bated breath, eager anticipation and beads of sweat upon my brow.

Mr. Charles Clarke: Before I begin, let me say how glad I am to see my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) in her place. I would not say that I have a symbiotic relationship with her, as I have been advised by my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) that the only known example of a symbiotic relationship in the natural world is that between a plover and the crocodile from whose tongue it plucks leeches. When the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) described his symbiotic relationship with the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), I was trying to work out which of them was the soft little bird and which was the crocodile. I think that most people would acknowledge that, at a time such as this, the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex has the more meat-eating characteristics.

I was amused that the hon. Member for Buckingham began his speech by referring to the alleged plagiarism of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). I do not think that he was correct. Plagiarism is often a two-way relationship. When we discuss the relationship between libertarianism and authoritarianism in the Conservative party, we get into deep waters. At the end of the Conservative party conference last year, everyone lined up behind their libertarian or authoritarian leadership challengers.

Some people listen to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. Some libertarians in Conservative party ranks--perhaps including the hon. Member for Buckingham--may support him, but others would not.

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The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) would not agree with him. In all friendship, I therefore advise the hon. Member for Buckingham not to go far down the road on which he embarked. However, it is an interesting debate. I know that the hon. Gentleman will not make the same mistake as some do of confusing civil rights and libertarianism with the rights and interests of the legal profession.

Let me consider more serious matters. I asked the hon. Gentleman to examine clause 19(8), which defines a regulated person as either


Licensable conduct is defined in clause 3(2). Clause 19(8) defines the powers that we are discussing as applying to licence holders and people who are engaged, without holding a licence, in the sort of activity that the Bill tries to regulate. I do not, therefore, believe that the hon. Gentleman's anxiety has substance.

Clause 19 provides the authority with an important power that will help it to enforce its licensing regime effectively. It gives it the power to enter premises and require the production of documents or other relevant information.

A person who is properly authorised by the authority will be able to enter premises owned or occupied by a regulated person. Proper authorisation is defined in clause 19(1) and in clause 20, which states:

about the way in which authorised people will act. There is no precondition in the Bill for an authorised person to provide prior notice. In general, one would expect prior notice to be given of a visit for routine purposes. However, there is no requirement to do that. Clause 20 provides for the production of guidance, which will set out the terms for giving prior notice. That is also the burden of amendment No. 8.

The Bill provides for guidance, and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey argues that Parliament should consider that guidance. The answer to his question about whether prior notice will always be given under authorisation is no. He also asked whether the notice and the operation of the authorisation would be set out in clear guidelines, which were publicly available and hopefully agreed. The answer is yes.

A regulated person is defined in clause 19(8) as anyone who has or who ought normally to have a licence. Such a person may be required to produce documents or information about licensable conduct, the provision of security services or conditions attaching to approved contractor status under any compulsory scheme, should the voluntary scheme ever be converted into a compulsory one.

Amendment No. 8 would require a person who was authorised to enter premises to do that in a reasonable manner and only as part of a routine check, or as a result of reasonable suspicion of a breach of regulations or commission of an offence. The main effect of the amendment would be to limit the authority's ability to conduct random checks of regulated persons.

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The provisions already place several requirements on any person authorised by the authority when exercising the powers. They include: exercising the power only at reasonable times; operating only in relation to persons "appearing" to be regulated--mere suspicion is not enough; and stating the purpose of the inspection. The inspector must produce evidence of identity and authorisation; a record must be made of what happens during the inspection; and a copy of that record must be given to those on the inspected premises if requested. That would form the basis of any subsequent challenge.

Those measures place several requirements on persons entering premises. They take appropriate account of civil liberties while providing a powerful and focused tool to enable the authority to enforce the licensing regime.

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