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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, I am grateful to the three noble Lords who have contributed to this discussion. It has been useful and will help us later on. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwin of Clee has set out three ways in which he thinks consultation could take place. The noble Lord urges us to consult about consultation. That is helpful, as are the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, which in a sense indicate the areas about which we should consult.
Perhaps I may move through the constituent parts of the amendments. In Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 12 and the first part of Amendment No. 2A, the establishment of the security industry authority as the central and authoritative regulatory authority for the industry means that it will need to consult in any event probably with all sectors of the industry to enable it to do all of the things referred to in the amendments.
In preparing to introduce the licensing regime and the approved contractor scheme in an efficient and effective manner, it will be essential for the authority to pay due regard to what is both practicable and achievable; and the industry will, as ever, be one of the prime sources of the information, as it has been during the generation of this piece of legislation. We have arrived at where we are through consensus.
Similarly, the authority will be required to keep the work of the industry under review so that the Secretary of State can be advised on the effectiveness of regulation and make recommendations for improvements if and when they are necessary. Again, that would be absolutely impossible without an open line of dialogue with all parties of the industry. It has to be said that the Secretary of State will also work very closely with the authority and consider any
It may be helpful if I also take this opportunity of reassuring your Lordships' House that the Secretary of State will not be making any regulations without considering the views of both the authority and the security industry as a whole. Indeed, to attempt to do so would run the risk of introducing unworkable proposals. I do not believe that any of us would wish to do so.
We have made clear on many occasions that we see it as important for the board of the security industry authority to have one representative--perhaps more--of the security industry sitting on it. That will allow the industry a direct input into the workings of the authority, and will also have the benefit of ensuring that appropriate consultations take place. I believe that that deals with one limb of the suggestions made by my noble friend Lord Gladwin of Clee.
The authority may also create committees in order to help it in its work. The committee structure is another way in which the voice of the industry will, and can, be heard. It may also be through that channel that it is most appropriate for the authority to hear the voice of employees in the industry--an issue, which, again, my noble friend raised directly with myself and officials. As the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, observed, it will be important for the authority to ensure that it receives a balance of views now that its independence is not comprised or measured in any way.
In order to achieve all of its aims the security industry authority will naturally need to work closely with all sectors of industry and listen. The second part of Amendment No. 2A places a duty on the authority to promote best practice. The authority has already been given a duty under the provisions of Clause 1(2) to set and approve standards and to make recommendations for their improvement. As part of those functions, it is inevitable that the authority will be promoting best practice. I am afraid that I am not convinced that this part of Amendment No. 2A adds anything to what is already a significant function for the authority; in other words, we believe that it is already there.
The Government believe that adequate assurance already exists in the Bill as regards the points made in these amendments, in the way that I described. For those reasons, we do not consider it necessary to have such specific requirements spelt out on the face of the Bill, as suggested in the amendments.
One or two further points were raised during the debate in respect of which I should like to offer some reassurance. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, suggested that the licence fee had trebled during our considerations on the Bill. I do not believe that it has. We made it clear during the consultations on the White
Lord Bassam of Brighton: No, my Lords; I do not believe that it has doubled. Even at the upper limit it has not quite doubled. It has perhaps been increased by one-third. It will depend very much on how expensive the SIA becomes. I should like to correct one other misimpression that I do not believe the noble Lord intentionally created. He referred to discussions that Charles Clarke had with the Association of British Investigators and the Institute of Professional Investigators. The suggestion was that he had only talked to them together. He certainly met them so that they could discuss these matters together, and thereby submit any views that they wished to express. He was not seeking to make them merge or bring their views together in one view. I am sure that that was just a slip, metaphorically, on the part of the noble Lord.
Again, I should like to reassure my noble friend Lord Gladwin. He asked whether the views of industry would be sought at an early stage on the form of mechanism that it would prefer to see. The answer is yes. I believe that that is obvious from everything that I have said this evening. We should want to consult about the nature of future consultation. Although we cannot fix these matters in primary legislation--indeed, the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, made the point that that is, perhaps, less wise--we want to hear from the industry very plainly as to how it best sees consultation being established--
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I am obliged. The Minister is correct. I said that we should not put overly-detailed descriptions of exactly how this should work into the legislation. However, as my noble friend Lord Cope said, I still believe that it should be written on the face of the Bill that the authority "shall" have a duty to consult before, for example, producing the document containing the criteria.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Viscount's clarification. However, the point remains that we do need to consult and discuss on how the various mechanisms might work, regardless of what that mechanism might then cover and the quality of its consultation.
I hope that I have answered the various points that were raised, and that I have given noble Lords sufficient reassurance. I trust that your Lordships' House will provide for the Bill to retain its current level of flexibility.
My noble friend said that he would go further and require consultation on revised criteria. I did not actually put that requirement in the amendments because I assumed that the criteria would be published, consulted upon and then revised criteria that took the consultation into account would be issued. If we make the industry consult on the revised criteria, it would become a circular process in which it would go on and on doing the same thing.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, my noble friend is entirely correct. We would not want an endless circle of consultation. However, if in due course it was decided that the criteria were not working very well and that new ones should be considered, the authority could then consult on them. I did not mean that we should have further consultation immediately after the first criteria were introduced.
The Minister said that the authority will need to consult, and that it was essential that it should do so--with all of which I agree. However, he admitted that there was likely to be only one representative of the industry, or thereabouts, on the authority itself. It is an extremely diverse industry. It is not one industry: it is a whole series of different and smaller industries. The Minister also referred to the committee system that might solve the problem.
I should point out to the Minister that what I said about the Association of British Investigators and the Institute of Professional Investigators was not a slip; it was almost a direct quotation from the letter that I received from senior representatives of those two bodies. However, I take it from what the noble Lord said that it is not the intention to cut them out of consultations, which is a good thing. They are not the only bodies of that character. There are also other bodies involved; for example--EPIC (ex-police in industry and commerce), and so on. It is necessary to talk to all the bodies.
The Minister made clear that he regards it as essential for the authority to consult, and that is the main point. I am sorry that he is not prepared to put such a provision in the Bill. However, I shall not press the amendment, which I beg leave to withdraw.