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House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Private Security Industry Bill [H.L.]

7.49 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [The Security Industry Authority]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 1, with which it is suggested that we should discuss also Nos. 2, 2A and 12. These amendments seek in different ways to put into the Bill a requirement that the security industry authority, when set up, should have an obligation to consult the industry. They seek to insert the requirement into Clauses 1 and 6.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2A make it a general requirement, as one of the functions of the new authority, that it should consult. Amendment No. 2 provides specially for consultation when the authority is using its power to make representations and proposals for the improvement of standards in the industry and so on. Amendment No. 12 contains a specific requirement that it should consult when dealing with and publishing the licensing criteria. This is a vital matter, about which we have not heard very much so far.

In fact, the specific question of consultation has been the one that has been most raised, to us at any rate, by representatives of the industry. That is not surprising. The Bill is very complex and it covers an extremely wide area: the licensing of guards, night watchmen, commissionaires, night club bouncers, private detectives, investigators, wheel clampers and so on. Many different sorts of people will be covered by the licensing regime, and it is difficult to see how the

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authority will be able to have among its members representatives of each of these sections of the security industry, as well as independents. I think this is fully recognised. There is also a general assumption that it should have representatives of the police, who are much involved in all this. Local government also wants to be represented regarding its own responsibilities, and many people want consumers also to be represented.

On St. David's day I think it is appropriate to say that the Welsh will surely want to have some representatives on the authority because Wales is included as well as England. Fortunately, Scotland is not involved and so it would not be included in this particular matter. It is right for the authority to have as members all these representatives, which is why the various bodies concerned are keen to be consulted and feel that there should be this obligation written into the Bill.

There is a second point, which is that the Bill leaves an awful lot fairly vague. There is nothing in the Bill about the criteria. There are some general remarks about "fit and proper persons" and that sort of thing, but there is nothing at all that is specific. Many things are being left to regulations and future decisions, either by the Secretary of State, with order-making powers and so on to bring before Parliament, or for the authority to bring forward itself. Of course we are assuming that no criminals need apply, but there is not much to go on beyond that. We do not know what sorts of directions the Secretary of State will make; but we will touch on that matter in later amendments.

We do not know who the Secretary of State will leave out of these licensing requirements under Clause 4. He has the power to leave out whole varieties of people from these and other arrangements. The terms of the licence are also left to future decision. We do not know what fees will be charged, except that the suggested amount has already been trebled by the Government and there is nervousness on that account. Some of these matters will be for decision by the Secretary of State and incorporated into regulations and orders that will come before Parliament under the negative procedure. However, others will not; and so consultation will be required.

The British Security Industry Association is concerned about the consultation. Indeed, it is more than keen to ensure that there is consultation on the matters to be decided by the Secretary of State because it hopes to be represented on the authority, I suppose. Of course there are numerous other bodies but they cannot all be represented on the authority. There is a Joint Security Industry Council and there has recently been set up, with the blessing of the Minister concerned, Charles Clarke, a National Security Inspectorate.

We all know that there are people in the Civil Service who are very secretive about what they are doing. The fear is that if there is no statutory requirement to consult such as would be inserted by these amendments, they might advise that there is no need for consultation and that it would best be avoided.

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There is also nervousness on the part of some people who wonder whether they will be allowed to contribute to the consultation. I have had a note from the Association of British Investigators, a professional body, and also from the Institute of Professional Investigators, which is essentially a standard-setting body. They had attempted to feed in their thoughts on these matters and Mr. Clarke said that he was not prepared to talk to two bodies in this field. He said that they really ought to come together. Certainly there are strong links between them but they have slightly separate roles. They are now nervous about not being consulted in the future if they are not consulted now.

Amendment No. 2A is a slightly more elaborate formulation: it is really a variation of Amendment No. 1. It provides in the first place for regular consultation with the industry and its stakeholders: we are not thinking solely of the directors. The word "stakeholders" is not actually defined but we know what is meant. It includes others within the industry, and they believe this would help to achieve the maximum consensus in the work of the authority. That would include, of course, the matters covered by Amendment No. 2: that is to say, proposing amendments to the law and also conducting research within the industry.

Amendment No. 2A also provides that there should be a duty to promote the best practice within the industry. I believe everyone wants the authority to set the tone, as it were, for the industry and to work to improve standards within the industry as time goes on, particularly among the smaller and medium-sized enterprises.

Lastly, Amendment No. 12 is of particular importance because it refers to Clause 6, which lays upon the authority the duty to prepare and publish a document setting out the criteria it is going to use. The question of the criteria, after all, is fundamental to the standards, and it is also fundamental as to whether a business can continue to function. So it is very important to people, and that is why I am suggesting that consultation on the criteria to be used is of the first importance.

8 p.m.

Lord Gladwin of Clee: My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the intent behind the amendments. It is right that the authority should consult on how it will carry out the functions set out in the Bill. However, I am not sure that such a requirement should be on the face of the Bill. I am not sure that consultation should be restricted to the functions set out in paragraphs (b), (f) and (g) of Clause 1(2). There should be a well understood and transparent mechanism for carrying out effective consultation.

There are three ways in which this could be achieved. First, the authority could consult itself by having as its members representatives of the industry. I do not think that that would be enough, or effective. This is a disparate industry. The second choice is to have a committee of the authority, under paragraph 8 of Schedule 1, to which representatives of the industry

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would be appointed. But it would be a committee of the authority. A third choice would be to set up a separate advisory committee which was representative of the industry but independent of the authority, and which would be seen as the mechanism through which the authority would consult the industry and the industry would make representations to the authority--a two-way traffic.

Will my noble friend the Minister agree to seek the views of the industry at an early stage as to what mechanism it would prefer? We can all make proposals, but at the end of the day it is for the industry to indicate to the Minister and to the authority the kind of mechanism that is needed. I should be against a loose, non-mechanistic way of consulting the industry. With this industry, it would mean that some people were left out. I believe that there should be a mechanism which is well understood and transparent so that people would know how to make their views felt to the authority; and there would be a requirement on the authority to consult the industry through an agreed mechanism.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendments relating to consultation. It is probably fair to say that the advent of governments consulting widely and fully has been one of the better developments in terms of open government and better regulation. Casting our minds back to the passage of the Regulatory Reform Bill through this House recently, we recall that a great deal of the debate related to the detail of how consultation exercises should be taken forward. Questions arose as to how detailed the provision on the face of the Bill should be as regards the mechanics of the consultation exercise, or whether it should simply occur.

My noble friend's amendments are helpful in not being overly prescriptive. Amendment No. 12, for example, would provide that before issuing any licences the authority should consult with representatives of the security industry. That leaves considerable latitude as to how the consultation process should be taken forward. During the passage of the Regulatory Reform Bill, the Minister was concerned not to set the process in stone too early; he felt that circumstances could change, the Government's guidance on how the wider consultation processes should be taken forward might change and, therefore, one might be locking into the Bill what might become an outdated set of procedures. My noble friend has not followed that route.

By including a duty on the authority to consult before it issues the criteria for licences--probably one of the most important decisions that it will make--it should consult with the industry. That much should be written on to the face of the Bill. It would make for stronger decisions--ones that would be less likely to be challenged, for example, in a court of law. Producing a document to indicate exactly what the criteria will be is of fundamental importance.

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Indeed, I would take the matter one step further. I suggest that if my noble friend receives a positive indication from the Minister, as I hope he will, he might also look at imposing a duty on the authority to consult before it issues revised criteria. If the amendment is good as regards the production of the original document, I am sure that the same arguments might well apply. There is often some resistance to consultation because of the effort and the burden that it places on those who have to perform the exercise. However, under these circumstances it is important that the authority gets the matter right.

Whether, and to what extent, there is industry representation on the board of the authority is an interesting and important issue. Whatever degree of representation the industry has, the board will never, and should never, consist entirely of members from the industry. The authority must perform its proper statutory duty as a regulator. Therefore, it needs to obtain information from those who are at the cutting edge of what is going on in the industry on a day-to-day basis. Yes, it will include the industry's interests, and the authority's job will be to weigh those against the duties that are imposed on it by the Bill and by the Secretary of State. I support my noble friend's amendments.

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