Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Simon Hughes: I beg to move amendment No. 23, in page 6, line 44, leave out

    `the Secretary of State has approved them' and insert `an order containing such criteria in draft form has been laid before Parliament and approved by resolution of each House.'.

This point is logically consequential on what we were discussing earlier and it is on well-tried ground. The previous debate indicated the appropriateness of the amendment, which is straightforward. Subsection (5) states:

    ``Criteria or revised criteria set out under this section shall not have effect for the purposes of this Act unless the Secretary of State has approved them.''

It provides entire ministerial authority and discretion without parliamentary approval.

There are two potential sub-arguments, and I understand the relative strength of one over the other. There is a strong argument for the initial criteria to be approved by Parliament, for the obvious reason that, as the Minister said, there are a lot of interests and civil rights to be protected. It is entirely appropriate that Parliament, with its experience, and not the Government, who have a promoting view only, should be able to feed into and inform that process. I am sure that whichever Ministers are in the Department at the time will be willing to publish the criteria in draft, put them out to consultation in the normal way and ensure that Parliament is apprised of the responses. As we all know, the mind of Parliament focuses much more effectively on such matters if they are on the Order Paper coming down the track rather than in a consultation paper that may or may not be in the pile on the desk at the appropriate time to command people's attention outwith the parliamentary timetable.

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The second issue is whether revisions of the criteria must come before the House. It is a matter of getting the balance right. I do not believe that changing dots, commas and minor matters should take up Parliament's time; that would be wrong. Constitutionally, we are developing an intermediate procedure that allows us to examine things without the power necessarily going to statutory instruments, and I am more relaxed about that. For the time being, I prefer us to start by bringing matters here, and later—if we are comfortable that the system is working—we let it go. That is better than starting from a presumption that matters do not come here, and that we respond only in a crisis. By definition, such a response would require the amendment of substantive legislation, which is a much more onerous and time-consuming task.

I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking to examine the proposal and I am conscious that, if Parliament does not have much more time to run, the matter must be addressed quickly. I strongly urge him to indicate that he will be supportive, and I hope that Labour and Conservative Members will see the merit of supporting the amendment. If there must be a process of agreement on drafting and further discussions prior to Report, I shall be happy to participate. It is important that we get the new legislation and the new sector right because, as the right hon. Member for Walsall, South said, the matter affects a lot of people. This is the beginning of a new regime, and it should not be a matter for only the relevant Minister in the Department.

Mr. Bercow: I support the hon. Gentleman, because effective scrutiny and parliamentary approval are the essence of the matter. He may be aware—the Minister is certainly conscious—that the affirmative procedure is a hobby-horse of mine. I do not apologise for that.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made the point that the matters are substantial. He emphasised that he would not be inclined to cavil at every dot and comma, and that that would not be a matter that required or justified a substantial allocation of parliamentary time. It is a common ground that the matters are substantial, and the fact that we have had a reasonable exchange on all the matters demonstrates that there are questions to be asked and answers to be provided. Some answers—in general rather than specific terms—have been provided by the Minister.

We are concerned about the wide power of the authority. Inevitably, perhaps, clause 7 is presented as a shell, because we do not know what will be inside that shell. The Minister has mentioned, in different contexts, that there is always a balance about allocation of time. In relation to other legislation, I remember him telling me that parliamentary time is precious, that there is not a great deal of it and that he did not think that it would be justified to debate matters in considerable detail on the Floor of the House. However, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey knows, that debate is usually only 90 minutes' debate about a statutory instrument, and sometimes the Government conclude that that is justified or essential.

We are discussing the nitty-gritty and detail that affect the rights of individuals, as well as the propriety and efficacy of the procedures of the Security Industry Authority, so the matters are not light or trifling. We should know what we are scrutinising, and know to what—if Parliament is so minded—we are giving our approval. I join the hon. Gentleman in anticipating, as by now I should be able to do, the normal lines that the Minister trots out on these occasions. He tends to say that we do not need to discuss such matters in detail on the Floor of the House, and I always respond—as I shall with monotonous regularity for as long as he trots out his tried and trusted argument—that we must know what the Government have in mind. I am not preoccupied with having a 90-minute debate on the details of the criteria.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): That is not the impression that the hon. Gentleman gives.

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. If he listens to the development of the argument—we are delighted to have him here—he will see why. I shall not dilate on the point, but he has provoked me into making it. It should not be necessary for me to explain the point, and it would not be necessary for me to explain the point to the excellent Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Harrow, West, Mr. Daniel Finkelstein, who will shortly be replacing the hon. Gentleman as that constituency's representative in the House.

I want to know in advance what the Government have in mind, because we may then be sighted and be able to say that the Minister has listened and that he has been good enough to provide a draft of the criteria, and, on the strength of that, we can give our assent on Report and Third Reading. We may then not be minded to request the affirmative procedure on a statutory instrument that requires 90 minutes of debate. I tell the Minister—this is also for the elucidation of the hon. Member for Harrow, West—that one or the other will do.

Mr. Thomas: Thank you.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful for the thanks.

We should have either a draft now or the guarantee of a proper debate later. I hope that the Minister can see that I am being more eminently reasonable than I normally am, which takes a bit of doing. All I want is for him to lift the fog and give us an idea, before Report, of what the Government have in mind. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made the point well, and I have briefly tried to underline the force of that point. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Mr. Clarke: As the hon. Gentleman says, the debate is familiar, and I shall not bore him by repeating what I have said previously about such matters, except to say that I believe that it is right for Parliament to consider such matters fully. We always face a genuine contradiction in that the Opposition rightly, and in accordance with the Government, call for us to consult with industry and various interests about the regulations that we introduce, but want Parliament to discuss them before we have had such consultations. There is a real problem of timing.

I hope that I go some way towards addressing the points made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey by emphasising that, under the Bill, the Government will need to ask Parliament to approve several regulations in order to give practical effect to the main provisions of the Bill. Regulations will be presented to the House, in due course, on a number of matters. First, a regulation to prescribe circumstances in which persons may be exempted from the licensing requirement will be introduced and, if wished, debated. Secondly, regulations will be made that govern the licence application procedure, which is what we are talking about for the reasons set out by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden. Thirdly, we must prescribe conditions on which licences must be granted—which is the same point about establishing structure as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made. Fourthly, we must delegate to local authorities relevant Security Industry Authority functions that relate to the licensing of door supervisors. That also relates to points made by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden.

The fundamental establishing structure, which I think is what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey sought, will be required to be laid before Parliament under the Bill as it stands, for reasons that were set out. However, when we revise the criteria, or establish detailed criteria industry by industry—which was a good point made by the hon. Member for Buckingham and his colleagues, because we may need different criteria for different sections of the industry—I am not convinced that each of those particular sets of criteria ought necessarily to be laid before Parliament.

I accept the general principle of the amendment, that Parliament should have presented to it the core issues that establish the regime under which we shall be working, and I believe that the regulations under the Bill will do that. I think that he said that it was not necessary to put all the technical details, the dots and commas, before Parliament. My argument is not the traditional argument that I have with the hon. Member for Buckingham, but that we have carried out competently what is being asked of us in the Bill. I urge the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey to withdraw the amendment.

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