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Lord Cope of Berkeley: I thank my noble friend for his support for my proposed new clause. I believe that

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there is a problem in this respect. Indeed, the Minister has agreed to reflect further on the matter. As regards subsection (1) of the amendment, I realise that this proposes a very considerable extension of the liability involved. If there is an easier way out of the dilemma that occurs from time to time, we should obviously choose it.

Notwithstanding the support that I received from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, I am also very susceptible to the argument that subsection (2) would, as the Minister said, place an "additional burden" on companies. In the circumstances, I believe that we should all reflect further on the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Licensing criteria]:

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 20:

    Page 5, line 42, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Viscount said: The two amendments in this group are probing amendments that are designed to highlight a range of issues that arise as a result of Clause 6 and subsection (3) in particular. We seek clarification on how the authority will be able to gauge "the skills" and the "criteria" when deciding whether to issue licences. If Members of the Committee look at Clause 6(3)(a), they will see that it refers to,

    "such criteria as the Authority considers appropriate for securing that the persons who engage in licensable conduct are fit and proper persons to engage in that conduct".

That seems to be perfectly reasonable. It is normal duty that is often imposed upon such bodies.

However, subsection (3)(b) extends the criteria, in that the authority will have to consider whether such persons,

    "have the skills necessary to engage in the conduct for which they are licensed".

What do the Government mean by "skills"; for example, what skills are these people supposed to have? I can only assume that they mean "training" in some way. If that is the case, the legislation ought to say so. Will training schemes be set up for the purpose? Will the authority demand that people undertake some training before they can be considered for a licence? If so, will that training form part of an educational system like NVQs? What form will such training take? I do not understand the position. Such a requirement seems to me to be unnecessary. "Skills" seems to be a rather meaningless word in this context.

Can the Minister say what kind of skills applicants will be required to have? Either those concerned will be fit and proper persons or they will not be. I do not understand the meaning of the word "skills" in this provision. It seems to me to be both confusing and unnecessary. If the Government really mean to impose a serious regime of training for the industry, they should say so. They should come clean and state their position clearly on the matter.

I turn now to subsection (3)(c), which seems to me to be an extraordinary belt and braces clause. It appears to say, "If we haven't covered anything

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further than the conditions in paragraphs (a) and (b) which relate to someone being a fit and proper person and having the necessary skills, we can consider anything else that we want, no matter what it is"--in other words, the authority will have a totally undefined power that will enable it to say, "Whatever we think, we can say no".

I should like to know why the Government consider such a provision to be necessary. If the authority is to be responsible for people's livelihoods, it seems to me that a clear duty should be placed upon it to state what it regards as being "fit and proper" and what is not; and what it regards as appropriate training. As it stands, this is an incredibly wide provision, especially when one considers the extraordinarily wide powers that the Secretary of State will have to add further provisions to various parts of the legislation.

The Minister may correct me if I am wrong in this respect, but it seems to me the current licensing functions will be sub-contracted out to local authorities. Therefore, the powers under Clause 6(3)(a)(b) and (c) will also be sub-contracted to local authorities; in other words, local authorities will have a whole series of rather vague rules by which they will have to decide such matters.

When we discussed a previous amendment, the Minister said that the one thing we do not want is different rules applying to different areas. So how will these provisions work? Before the authority contracts out to the local authority, will it stipulate "the skills" required? Further, will it state what training will be required and then outline all the different conditions that are to be attached to the licence application? When one looks at the Bill, one sees that the authority has the power to add conditions once a licence has been issued. How will that work in practice? Like the Minister, I am concerned that there should not be different rules for different parts of the country.

I should like to hear more from the Minister about how the proposed system will work with local authorities. The Government must define what they mean in subsection (3). Indeed, the Minister must explain why it is necessary to have paragraph (c) in the clause. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Viscount Goschen: My noble friend has highlighted an interesting inconsistency. I recall that we argued a similar point a short time ago. At that stage, my noble friend Lord Cope sought to have the word "skill" inserted into the Bill in place of the word "training" in Clause l(2)(e). However, we have a direct reference to "skills" in Clause 6. The Minister put forward a convincing argument against the word "skill" at that time. He said that it was much better to have the word "training" in that clause. Nevertheless, a few pages further on in the Bill, the Minister had changed his mind by the time that we reached Clause 5, where we have the word "skills" instead of the word "training". It seems to me that both words should be used. We could then sleep carefully and safely at night.

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As Amendment No. 21 has been included in this group, perhaps I make take this opportunity to raise a rather wider point that I trust the Minister can answer at this stage. However, if he cannot, perhaps he will be able to respond in relation to another clause of the Bill. Although the issue is relevant to Clause 6 and Amendment No. 21, the point goes a little further and relates to the issue of revocation. Criticism has been made of the Bill that it will target individuals and that the licensing system is based around the activities and licence ability, if you will, of the individual concerned, not of the firm for which he works. I understand that criticism and to some extent support it. There will be individual licensing of all individual security operatives rather than one overall licence for a firm and the imposition of duties on that firm, which would ensure that the people who worked for it were the right sort of people. There is a difficulty concerning bad firms.

What happens when firms go wrong? One knows that the dodgier elements, to use the Minister's expression, of the security business have in some unfortunate episodes overlapped with some elements of the criminal fraternity and that criminals have been involved with the provision of security services. That is why the Bill is felt to be necessary. I am concerned that licences may be given to firms that are substandard and, perhaps, run by criminal elements.

Amendment No. 21 relates to Clause 6(3)(c), which states that the authority,

    "may also include criteria relating to such other matters as the Authority thinks fit".

It would assist the Committee if the Minister said whether the type of employer will be taken into consideration when a licence is issued. In other words, a firm may be known to be dubious--it may be infiltrated, owned or run by criminal elements--and someone in it, perhaps a new recruit, may apply for a licence. That person may be perfectly acceptable, apart from the fact that he works for a dubious firm. Will that be taken into account in an application or would that discriminate against the individual, who may be a perfectly decent person? There may be a failure to impose sanctions on a substandard firm.

My point boils down to this. How can substandard firms--by "substandard" I mean those about which the police and the licensing authority have strong suspicions that criminal activities are going on--be effectively put out of business? As I interpret the Bill, various individuals can have their licences suspended or revoked, or they may not be issued in the first place, but that does not appear to be the case with a firm as a whole.

I do not think that I should prejudge the Minister too much if I guess that his answer will involve a

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reference to the approval scheme. Some of my remarks definitely relate to it. At Second Reading, he said:

    "But we do not believe that the threat of withdrawal of approval will necessarily be a deterrent if companies feel that illegal activities are the way to gain their business objectives".--[Official Report, 18/12/00; col. 600.]

That explanation did not involve the approval process.

That argument, which is relevant to Amendment No. 21, involves the type of criteria that the authority can take into account when deciding whether to issue a licence. However, that argument is also part of a much wider question. I should appreciate it if the Minister would respond to that wider question, but if he cannot at this stage perhaps he would discuss the narrower question of the issuing of licences in connection with an employer.

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