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Lord Bassam of Brighton: I listened carefully to what the noble Lord said. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, wishes to speak at this point, but it may well help the Committee if I indicate that I intend to make a confession. I am happy to explain now.
Perhaps I may say for the record that I understand the concerns behind the amendments. The noble Lord wants to make explicit on the face of the Bill the fact that an appeals mechanism will be established to deal with a range of SIA activities. This issue is quite complex and there are a number of related matters. The noble Lord was kind enough to say that he was providing us with three options. I am not going to say at the Dispatch Box which option I prefer, although I will say that we are not drawn towards using the magistrates' courts.
I should like to take away the propositions in the amendments and bring back at Report stage something which will certainly satisfy the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and, I suspect, of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. We fully recognise that there must be a right of appeal. I intimated that at Second Reading. I said then that we would bring a mechanism forward under Clauses 10 and 17. I should like to consider how best to do that.
We were at one stage, particularly with regard to appeals from local authority decisions, considering having those heard within the security industry authority itself. Having heard the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I am no longer entirely satisfied that that would be the most appropriate way of dealing with the issue. But I should make the point that I am not convinced that we necessarily would want to set this up within the ambit of the Lord Chancellor; we would prefer to leave it with the Secretary of State.
However, I can confirm that we would like to bring forward a proposal for an independent tribunal; I can confirm that we are happy to take on board, in spirit, the points that have been made today; and I can also confirm that, having agreed to go in that direction, we will take into consideration the licensing matters currently in the remit of the local authority decision-making process. That will lead to a consequential amendment, probably with an effect similar to that of Amendment No. 29.
If the Committee is happy to leave it to us to bring forward proposals at Report stage, I shall be happy to consult with noble Lords on the shape of those proposals so that we are very much in spirit with what has been said in the debate.
Perhaps I may make this point for him to consider. When we were debating Amendment No. 22, he will recall that the Government were not anxious to give to the applicant an opportunity to respond to the grounds upon which it was proposed to refuse a licence. The reason given for that was that there was an appeals process. That means that, on the appeals process, for the first time the applicant will have his say on the objections that are being made to his having a licence for whatever activity. This becomes a justiciable question. Points will be put by both sides and a tribunal, however it is constituted, will have to decide precisely between the balancing forces; the objections and the responses to it. It is very much a thing for a tribunal to do.
I noted that the Minister did not consider the Lord Chancellor as appropriate and preferred to rely on the Secretary of State. The machinery for setting up the tribunal is in the hands of the Lord Chancellor anyway. He is the person who keeps the list of people who are suitable for appointment to tribunals of various kinds. It is his department that is concerned with setting up rules that will meet the criteria of the human rights legislation--rules regarding fair hearing and so on. I should have thought that from a practical point of view it would be right for the Lord Chancellor to set up the tribunal and lay down the rules. In that regard I support the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I make these points in welcoming the Minister's announcement.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Minister's remarks. I suggest that as an earnest of his good faith and his intention to do this he might accept the Liberal Democrats' Amendment No. 25A--it is the most modest of the amendments in this group; it seeks to substitute "shall" for "may". That does not close off any of the other points.
I took the Minister to say that the Government were more or less decided that the appeal should apply against local authority decisions. I shall not necessarily hold him to that; however, it is clearly the way that his mind is working, which I very much welcome. Amendment No. 27A ought to commend itself as well--it would allow the tribunal, whichever it is, to make changes in the conditions.
Finally, to make the point clear, it is my belief that the provision regarding the tribunal that is set up ought to apply equally to decisions on licences under Clause 14, as well as to other licensing decisions made under this clause. Clearly, the tribunal will acquire some expertise in the matter and can make decisions on both matters. So two groups of tribunals are covered by this group of amendments and will, I hope, be covered by the noble Lord when he considers these matters.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I have listened carefully to the contributions made and I shall take away the many points raised. I also undertake to consult further with Members of the Committee. Perhaps a further meeting with officials might assist in that general direction. In saying that, I shall not commit the Government to points in the amendments as they stand; however, I hope that we can have further discussions and arrive at a point of agreement. We are at one in wanting to design a simple, effective and cost-effective appeals mechanism that works to the benefit of the industry and satisfies local authority interests as well. That is where matters stand and we shall be in touch.
The noble Lord said: The amendment deals with a simple point. At Second Reading, I drew attention to the fact that between the publication of the White Paper and Second Reading, the proposed fees for licences had virtually doubled. Instead of the authority charging,
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I support what the noble Lord has said. Over the past few weeks I have detected rising concern in the industry regarding the potential costs of this provision. Admittedly, that does not always sit well with the industry asking for the powers to be further extended; nevertheless there is concern about the cost, because it will ultimately be borne by the customer. As has been said, the proposed cost has escalated from £23 for a personal licence, as was set out in the White Paper just over 12 months ago, to more than double that--to £50 to £60 per person.
This is not an industry with high profit margins. On the contrary, sections of it, particularly the "guarding" part of it, have low profit margins. They have no alternative but to pass costs on to the customer. That is the danger facing those areas of the industry. That is why the authority should not be the ultimate decision-making body as to what is in all circumstances a "reasonable" fee that people can be expected to bear.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: We consider it important that the security industry authority acts responsibly and sets all its fees at a reasonable level. Members of the Committee will have judged from my demeanour and approach during the course of these debates that we seek to introduce a "lean and mean" regulatory machine. We are not keen on extending the weight of regulatory enterprise, nor do we seek to overburden the industry. Therefore, we want the fees to be kept at a necessary minimum--I want that to be clearly understood on the public record. Fees will be kept to a level sufficient to enable the authority to be self-financing as a regulatory body. Therefore, the degree to which we can narrow the need for regulation will enable the SIA to keep its fees to a lower level.
We consider, however, that there are already a number of safeguards against excessive charging built into the Bill. Under the Bill's provision, the SIA is, for example answerable to the Secretary of State; it is required to comply with directions given to it by him. There are also other financial controls. The authority will be required to produce an annual statement of accounts for the Secretary of State and the Auditor General, both of which will have to be laid before Parliament for scrutiny and debate. We believe, therefore, that the Bill already contains adequate mechanisms to prevent any excessive charging.
It is perhaps worth further clarifying how the initial setting up costs of the SIA will be met. It obviously cannot be self-financing from the beginning. The start-up costs will be funded by the Home Office. However, it is our intention to recoup these costs over a longer period of time so that they are spread out. The fee of
I hope that that explanation satisfies the concerns of noble Lords. We are happy with the wording as it stands. In any event, I am not entirely sure that the wordingsuggested by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, creates the measure of objectivity towards which he seemed to be directing us. I can assure the Committee that it is our intention to ensure that these fees are kept to the necessary minimum--but necessary, nevertheless, to provide for more than adequate financing to make the SIA effective.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I ask for the Committee's indulgence briefly to mention a point that arises indirectly from Amendment No. 27B. The point was mentioned to me by someone involved in the industry but too late for me to table a particular amendment. The fee referred to in Amendment No. 27B is to inspect the register. There is a fear that if people can inspect a register containing the names and addresses of security operatives, that information may be used to blackmail and bring pressure to bear on security operatives involved in carrying cash. I am told that the modern thief does not try to break into cash vans. The modus operandi that has recently been used is to pass a note to a security guard explaining that his wife and children, whose address can easily be discovered from this register, are being held hostage and that unless he, under their instructions, drives the van to the place in which they choose to deal with it, he will not see his wife and children again, or some similar threat. The names and addresses of the individuals concerned could be sensitive in this respect. I do not wish to press the point. I mention it because I believe it is worthy of consideration. It did not occur to me in time to table an amendment.
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