Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Bassam of Brighton: We have had a useful debate on the two amendments. It is important for the authority to have the flexibility to decide on the licensing criteria that should be applied. Each sector of the industry has different requirements, and the authority may decide, following consultation with the industry, police, local authorities and other interested organisations, that to obtain a licence in order to undertake a particular type of recruitment activity, a particular skill or standard would need to be achieved. That is an important tool, which the authority will use to drive up standards across the industry. The Bill is therefore designed to give the authority flexibility in determining the criteria that will best ensure that standards are raised in an appropriately targeted way, where necessary, and that regulation is overall more effective.

The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, raised the prospect of the relevant criteria perhaps being skills and/or training.

Viscount Goschen: And training.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Yes. I am attracted to that proposition and I am grateful to the noble Viscount for making it. It may help us to clarify the word "skills" in line 43 on page 5. I shall take the suggestion away without commitment, although I am interested in it. It may help us in relation to the clause and with our earlier debate--it may be relevant in both instances. I hope that we can be helpful in this regard.

When the authority sets out criteria against which it will judge licence applications, subsection (3) will require it to include criteria to establish whether applicants are "fit and proper persons". That subsection will also allow the authority to include criteria relating to necessary skills. Amendment No. 21 would remove the authority's ability to include a third set of criteria relating to,


From our perspective, that amendment would reduce the authority's flexibility. It is important for the authority to have the flexibility to decide on the licensing criteria to be applied. Each sector of the industry will have different requirements, and the authority may decide, following consultation--this is

30 Jan 2001 : Column 619

important--with the industry, the police, local authorities and others, that to obtain a licence for a particular kind of security work a particular skill standard should be required. That is an important tool, which the authority will use to drive up standards across the industry. That is why we want it. It would be wrong to remove the authority's room for manoeuvre when it responds to particular demands. It goes without saying, of course, that it will not use that flexibility capriciously or without good purpose. It is important to remember that the criteria will continue to be published, so that applicants for licences will know what is expected of them.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked why paragraph (c) was so open ended. The relevant conditions will be published by the security industry authority as part of its public statement on standards. It would need the flexibility to review old conditions as circumstances demand. The relevant conditions will all be published, so people will know what is required.

The noble Viscount also asked about how skills will work when contracting out to local authorities. Local authorities will need to give effect to the authority's standards and published criteria; they will not be able to introduce their own criteria.

In a helpful contribution, the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, asked whether the type of employer would be taken into account when a licence was applied for. Personal licences do not necessarily relate to the individual's employer--such licences are, after all, personal. There is a common understanding in that regard. If the security industry authority knew that a substandard firm was seeking involvement, it might add--I argue that it should add--conditions to a personal licence, which would ensure that the threshold would be raised. Clearly, that would create the necessary difficulties.

Perhaps I may refer to our earlier debate about the need to license directors or those with management responsibility. That would provide another safeguard and check. I believe that I made the point that we need to regulate properly the owners or directors of a company precisely to see off the type of difficulty which the noble Viscount mentioned in his contribution to the debate on this amendment. I hope that I have answered most of the points raised.

7 p.m.

Viscount Goschen: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way and for his helpfulness in covering my wider points. I give notice that I should like to return to this point on Report.

Given the Minister's explanation of where the matter now lies within the context of the Bill, I am not sure that sufficient leverage can be applied to a rogue firm. I understand his point with regard to the licensing of directors. However, as we know, the nominal directors of an unscrupulous company may not reflect who controls and, indeed, owns the benefits from the company. I believe that such information would be more difficult to tie down. If an individual is

30 Jan 2001 : Column 620

not overly concerned about having people "roughed up" or if he deals in drugs, and so on, he will probably not be too concerned about the provisions of the Companies Act or shadow directorships. Therefore, I believe that the Bill is not yet sufficiently tight in that regard. However, I appreciate the Minister's explanation thus far.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I understand the issue that the noble Viscount raises. He is trying to get to grips with the character of a company and the company which its owners or directors might keep. I shall reflect further on that matter but I do not believe that there is an easy solution. We may well get to the root of it by taking the approach which we suggest in relation to setting standards and criteria. I am prepared to give the problem further consideration. If the noble Viscount is able to put forward any ideas in the interim, I shall happily pursue those, too. In the meantime, perhaps I may suggest to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, that he withdraws his amendment.

Viscount Astor: I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Goschen for putting forward the argument about skills and training. The words in the Bill are almost contradictory in that Clause 1 refers to training and Clause 6 refers to skills. The Minister kindly said that he would address that issue.

I want to put three questions to the Minister. First, I believe that the criteria will be crucial to the successful running of the authority. I should like to receive a commitment from the Government that they will publish draft criteria for consultation. Secondly, the security industry training organisation has been established. Can the Minister tell me whether that will be used in assessing the criteria for training?

My third question is a request for confirmation of what the Minister said. I believe he said that if anything were contracted out to a local authority, that authority would have to take note of the criteria. In order to clarify my understanding of the situation, am I right in believing that he is saying that the security authority would not contract out to a local authority unless that local authority, in effect, signed up to the criteria and that, therefore, there would be no question of a local authority using criteria which were different to the criteria decided by the authority?

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and, of course, shall withdraw Amendment No. 20. With regard to Amendment No. 21, I note his reply and am somewhat delighted by it because I feel that it will provide me with a far more powerful argument when I come to deal with my Amendment No. 23. In the meantime, I give the Minister the opportunity to respond to those questions.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The answer to the noble Viscount's points are: yes, no and yes. That is as brief and as complex a reply as I would wish to give at the moment. However, I believe that we do meet the points that he raises. First, yes, the draft criteria will be published for consultation. Secondly, no; possibly

30 Jan 2001 : Column 621

they will be used to examine training criteria, but we do not want the SIA's hands tied at this point. Thirdly, yes, the local authority will not be able to introduce its own criteria; we believe that that would be quite wrong.

Viscount Astor: I am grateful to the Minister for being clear. With regard to my second point, the security industry training organisation has been in place since 1991 and has a number of years' experience. Therefore, I ask the Minister to consider how that industry organisation, which is well respected, will be brought into discussions about the authority. Obviously, I shall let the Minister consider that point and, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 22:


    Page 6, line 14, at end insert--("( ) In determining whether or not a person is a fit and proper person to hold a licence, the Authority shall have regard to any representations made to it, whether in orally or in writing, and it shall in any event seek such representations in advance of refusing to grant a licence, giving the applicant an opportunity to respond to any grounds upon which it proposes to refuse a licence.").

The noble Viscount said: In moving Amendment No. 22, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 23. I do not believe that I need to say a great deal about them because the Minister will see that we have been somewhat verbose in our drafting, perhaps in order to make our views clear.

I shall deal, first, with Amendment No. 22. It is important that the authority has regard to the representations that are made to it. It will have the opportunity to be as open as possible with those who apply for a licence. That will be a complicated process and there will be various transitional provisions. A huge number of individuals--as we have heard, more than 300,000--within the industry, not including new entrants, will have to apply. It will be easy for people to fall through the gaps and not be given a licence, but they will not know why. The process will be difficult.

The Government are trying to raise standards in the industry. We do not want people to have to wait or to remain unpaid because they cannot obtain a licence. We want people to have confidence that when they apply for a licence they will have a reasonable chance of obtaining one. If they are not to be granted a licence, they should be told the reason why. We have all had experience of records kept by government organisations or large bodies being wrong. In fact, they are more often wrong than right. I believe that an applicant should have the opportunity to make his case and find out what happened.

That leads me to Amendment No. 23. As we heard, the authority will have extraordinarily wide powers to say "yes", "no" or "maybe" to an applicant. I believe that any quango with that type of power over people's lives should be mindful of the consequences. One way to make government organisations mindful of the consequences is to include a process whereby, if an

30 Jan 2001 : Column 622

applicant has been treated badly and claims to have suffered damage, under reasonable terms as set out in Amendment No. 23 the authority would have to pay compensation. I do not believe that such a situation would arise often. However, it would be in the minds of those who run the authority that they must operate with care and in a proper manner.

The Minister may reply that recourse may be made to judicial review. That response is often given by governments; we have heard it time and time again. However, we all know that judicial review is enormously cumbersome and incredibly expensive. Anyone who applies for a job for the first time does not have a hope in hell of going down that path. Therefore, that is not a good argument and I hope that it will not even be considered by the Government.

I accept that perhaps these two amendments are not drafted as well as they might be. However, I hope that the Government will consider the principle behind them and be able to give the Committee some reassurance. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page