Clause 7 - Licensing criteria

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:55 am on 26th April 2001.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:55 am, 26th April 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 34, in page 6, line 26, at end insert—

`(2A) Before publishing or revising the document mentioned in subsection (1), the Authority shall consult—

(a) Persons whom it considers to represent the interests of the private security industry in England and Wales;

(b) Persons whom it considers to represent the interests of the police in England and Wales.'.

The amendment relates to the consultation that might be undertaken by the Security Industry Authority before making decisions on the grant of licences. The Minister will know, and I hope that all members of the Committee will be conscious of, the breadth of the powers that clause 7 affords the SIA when determining the criteria for the granting of licences. I emphasise that I am not cavilling at the breadth of those criteria, but with power comes responsibility and, I hope, an emphasis on accountability for its exercise. That is why my hon. Friends and I have tabled the amendment. It would require the authority before the publication or revision of the document under subsection (1) to consult persons whom it considers to be appropriate. We want to probe the Government's intentions. How are the criteria to be determined? Will there be consultation with the police and the security industry? What element of glasnost is intended to attach to the procedure? Will the Minister provide further and better particulars about what the Government have in mind?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 10:00 am, 26th April 2001

We agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman said about the operation of the authority. We do not believe that it can succeed unless it is in close consultation with the industry, the police and other interest groups. We will discuss the authority's composition further when we come to schedule 2, but we believe that it will reflect the kinds of interests to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I should also emphasise that we envisage the authority not simply as one group, but as having a series of subsidiary supporting groups to deal with particular industries in particular ways—for the reasons that we discussed on Tuesday—in which, in exactly the same way as in the authority itself, the interests of various organisations would be expressed.

We also agree with the spirit of what the hon. Gentleman said about glasnost; I was surprised that he used the word, although I know that he is an expert on Soviet history. The authority should be an open and effective body. Frankly, following the Committee that considered the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the Home Office is learning how to have better dialogue with industry, and is doing so much more widely and effectively. We want to continue that process, and the establishment of the authority is a way of doing that. That will require open, effective and comprehensive lines of communication. We do not believe it necessary to amend the Bill to achieve that, so I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment. I hope that he accepts what I have said in response to his perfectly reasonable points; we want the authority to operate in the way that he describes.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I hope, Mr. Winterton, that you will insist that I am included in the discussions; I should be delighted to participate. Obviously an enormous amount of consultation is still to be undertaken, although there has already been a consultative process. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister appreciates that the industry is so diverse that we cannot simply go to one representative body for advice; we must consult a range of organisations, such as private investigators and the Master Locksmiths Association.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I confirm that the Government entirely accept his point about the diversity of organisations, institutions and industrial sectors involved. The consultation about the establishment of the authority will have that at its core.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

That is fine. One of the dangers is that often people—although not my hon. Friend the Minister—see the industry as a homogeneous entity with one body sitting on top to represent it. However, the industry is worse than the Conservative party and the Labour party used to be in terms of diversity and in-fighting. Even choosing the people to consult will be a delicate decision. There is wide experience of drawing up such regulations in other areas of Home Office responsibility and, above all, many countries have gone through such a process in their private security industries, such as South Africa, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Spain. It is superfluous to reinvent the wheel; we should see how other countries have drawn up regulatory schemes, look at their application forms and note what criteria they have drawn up. I am sure that from a wide-ranging national consultation and a reasonably wide-ranging set of letters sent to regulatory authorities elsewhere, a great deal will emerge to strengthen the provisions.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Despite what the right hon. Gentleman says about the diversity of the industry, I am sure from his interventions in earlier debates that he would accept that there are a number of entirely reputable representative bodies. In particular, we have referred to the British Security Industry Association, the Joint Security Industry Council and the group of leading corporate investigation consultancies. Does he not accept that it would be helpful to have written into the Bill—as our amendment proposes—that there should be a specific role for the police and the industry, however difficult that might be? The reputable umbrella bodies to which I referred would inevitably form part of the industry representation. He knows—as I do, from meetings that we have had—that the group of leading corporate investigation consultancies that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and I met earlier this week are keen for a specific role to be written into the Bill.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that following the Minister's kind offer to meet representatives of those leading corporate investigation organisations, a meeting is being set up. I would not be so boastful as to argue that chapter 5 of my book should be included in the legislation, but in it I discuss the diversity of the organisations—

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I am not going to fall for that; I have learned my lesson.

This is a crucial part of the Bill. I know that the Home Office is aware of the problems and that the Security Industry Authority must consult well to get the proper criteria established. It is right that small companies as well as big companies—the guarding side of the industry is dominated by ``one man and a dog'' operations—need to be taken into account. I support what the Government and Opposition regard as the right way to proceed.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am delighted to hear from the right hon. Member for Walsall, South that the Minister intends to meet the group of leading corporate investigation consultancies; my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and I can claim some modest credit for that. We met representatives of the organisation earlier in the week and counselled them to seek a meeting as quickly as possible because they have some concerns.

I have noted the Minister's comments—I do not specifically object to what he has said in his attempts to reassure us—but I feel that the specific requirement to consult obviously important sectors is such that, pending the meeting and any outcome thereof, we would wish to insist on the inclusion of the amendment. Not in a provocative way, but by means of a safety valve, I wish to press the amendment on this occasion.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I have nothing further to say, except that I ask my colleagues to reject the amendment; not in a provocative or antagonistic way, but because we believe that the requirement to consult is well established in the processes that we outlined. I have sought to place on record commitments to reinforce that. I understand the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman is pressing his amendment, but I ask my colleagues to vote against it.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 9.

Division number 2 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 7 - Licensing criteria

Aye: 3 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 35, in page 6, line 28, leave out paragraph (a).

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 36, in page 6, line 31, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 37, in page 6, line 34, leave out paragraph (c).

No. 38, in page 7, line 4, at end insert—

`(7) In determining in accordance with the criteria set out for the time being under subsection (3)(a) whether or not a person is a fit and proper person to engage in licensable conduct, the Authority shall have regard to any representations which may be made to it; and if the Authority proposes to refuse an application on the grounds that the applicant is not a fit and proper person to hold a licence, it shall give the applicant an opportunity to respond prior to the refusal.'.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

These are probing amendments, as the Committee will understand. They relate to two broad issues—the fitness and propriety of a person to be granted a licence, and the training and skills required by the unamended clause.

We are worried about the limited definition of the criteria provided in the Bill. Will the Minister comment on the inclusion of a fit and proper person test in subsection (3)(a)? Looking askance at the clause, it seems slightly strange that the Government are including a fit and proper person test while simultaneously proposing to abolish that test for alcohol licenses in the licensing White Paper published last year.

I am conscious of your strictures, Mr. Winterton, and of the firm display of authority that we always have from you, so I merely animadvert to the licensing White Paper, and do not intend to dilate on it. As you will be aware, one of the Deputy Speakers of the House, the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir A. Haselhurst), has acknowledged the distinction between animadversion and dilation.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am slightly worried that the hon. Gentleman is becoming a dilettante.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Very witty. If we continue today's proceedings in that spirit, we shall not be doing too badly. I shall try to avoid becoming a dilettante, as the Minister puts it. I have many gripes about him, but I would not accuse him of being a dilettante.

There seems to be a difference of approach between the Government's attitude to the licensing regime as reflected in a Home Office White Paper—and, indeed, widely welcomed, not least by me—and their approach in this context. There may be perfectly good reasons for that, but they have not yet been advanced. These probing amendments provide an opportunity for the Minister to explain.

In paragraph 15 of the licensing White Paper, the Government contend that the test is vague. It is not entirely clear why, if it is vague in that context, it should or can be other than vague in this context. If the Government's proposals on licensing are enacted, as I understand it—I am happy to be corrected if I am mistaken—the licensee of a nightclub will not need to be a fit and proper person, but his or her bouncers will. That seems contradictory and presents rather a conundrum, which I hope that the Minister will be good enough to explain or, better still, resolve. It is germane to our discussion whether the authority will take representations on whether someone is a fit and proper person or whether it will merely determine the matter on the strength of an interview or a written submission from the applicant.

In the event that there is an element of interactivity—an exchange of views—will the applicant be able to respond to any adverse comments that have been made about him? In other words, we want to know not only whether an applicant is entitled to a comeback on the decision, but whether he is entitled to know the information or commentary that led to the original decision about which he is vexed.

What is meant by the phrase

``the training and skills necessary'' in subsection 3(b)? Will there be recognised training courses or minimum standards? If so, what sort of courses will they be? Who will conduct them? Where will they take place? Will fees be payable in respect of the service provided? Will there be prerequisites? Such matters are not entirely clear to me, but I hope that the Minister will clarify the matter.

How will the authority verify whether someone has been trained to the required standard? I assume an arrangement will be in place whereby a certificate must be produced. The Minister may consider that some of these matters, particularly the more commonsensical elements, are implicit in the clause, but whether there will be formal mechanisms, formal courses and formal individuals appointed to train is not entirely clear. Such matters require some explanation. I am quizzical about the clause, so will he say what areas are likely to fall under the rubric of ``other matters'' under subsection 3(c)?

The powers are broad. That, in itself, may be entirely necessary, but we need to know what they are. Subsection 3(c) states that the criteria set out by the authority

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

That may be a moveable feast, and over time new criteria may emerge as a result of situations that were unsatisfactory or deficient. It may be difficult in advance to depict the scenario for those issues to arise. However, will there be a safety valve or an accountability mechanism for the exercise of criteria in relation to such other matters? I look forward to hearing what other members of the Committee have to say, and to the Minister's reply in particular.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:15 am, 26th April 2001

Having had to argue, in a previous life, that people were or were not fit and proper in terms of licensing matters, I concur that a consistent approach must be taken when licensing people to undertake particular jobs. The hon. Member for Buckingham advanced a reasonable argument that, not least for the sake of those who adjudicate, there should be consistency. It strikes me as anomalous that there would be no parallel between people who are given drinks licences and music and dance licences—whatever changes occur following Green and White Papers—and those who will be licensed under the Bill.

As my noble Friend, Lord Thomas of Gresford said in the other place, there is a huge amount of case law and history on the fit and proper person definition. Generally, in terms of lay understanding, it is a perfectly reasonable starting point. Without going into the detail, everybody understands what it means: somebody who does not have a criminal track record and will not be inappropriate to do the job. Have the Government thought about whether it is the only possible definition available? Did they consider others and reject them? If they concluded that it was a term of art that has been established, do we not need a system whereby people can challenge an initial refusal, as in amendment No. 38?

I am concerned that many such matters might harm people's prospective careers. It is analogous to teachers being suspended, for example. If, on the basis of an argument brought to the attention of the licensing authority—which might not be well supported, and might be an allegation rather than a proven fact—it was decided to refuse a licence, there should be an opportunity to correct the decision. In the case of credit ratings, for example, somebody might have been taken to court for not paying rent, but it might be discovered later that it was entirely due to the housing benefit process not having paid the rent for the individual concerned. If we are to have a subjective test, which, by definition, the fit and proper person test is, we should have a mechanism whereby people can correct the record and submit their own information before a final adjudication is made.

I can think of other parallels. Sometimes—nowadays, it is a sensible process—the police indicate that they might be likely to take a course of action in relation to somebody, then ask for that person's representations, and then decide whether to go ahead. In certain cases, a reasonable explanation might exist of which the police did not know. It would be good to have a sequence of events, rather than a heavily bureaucratic procedure, that allowed application to be made, objection to be collected, and then a response to the objection.

The last example that I can think of is in relation to this House and the Government. Select Committees often produce reports in which they inquire into Minister's activities. Invariably, those reports are submitted to Ministers to read at draft stage to make sure that they do not include inaccuracies or misrepresentations.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I want to underline the importance of the point made by the hon. Gentleman about credit ratings and the refusal of credit. I shall not dilate on the matter, because you will not allow me to do so, Mr. Winterton, but I want to draw attention to the fact that an individual can be turned down for curious reasons. It is important that such an individual should know what those reasons are. I do not know whether he has had a similar experience, but on one occasion I sought to have an account with Harrods, although I would not want to do so now because of the appalling Mr. Mohamed Al Fayed. I was turned down, and it transpired that the reason was that I had not previously sought credit facilities, and the company was astonished that I should want them. It was nothing to do with not being a good credit risk. It is important to know such things.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I have never sought an account with Harrods.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Yes. Indeed, I think that I have only been through the door once in my life, and that was not after queueing for the sales.

The individual concerned needs to know the case against him before an initial adjudication is made. It is good to have an appeals system, but it does not deal with the immediate problem—if the individual is turned down for the job, it may be too late. The job may not become available again. For instance, if someone were to live in a rural area where there was a pub with a dance hall attached—I can think of a wonderful place in Herefordshire called Wormelow Tump that has just such a facility—that might be the only convenient place in relation to the person's home.

Amendment No. 36 relates to subsection (3)(b). I assume that the Minister will say that the authority will be required to set out criteria that may differ according to the particular job for which it is licensing people. We are anticipating the jobs that will be given to others. How will that be done? Consultation with the industry must inform that. However, we will license people to do many different jobs, some of which come within relatively well-defined and confined categories. There should be an easily identifiable set of criteria that apply generally, and some that apply specifically to different activities.

There will always be a need to update the process and revise the criteria, and I understand that that is built into the Bill—the right hon. Member for Walsall, South is more experienced than the rest of us on the matter—on the basis of experience elsewhere. Increasingly, there are international dimensions to the matter. I shall give an example. There is a well-known music and dance club in my constituency, at the Elephant and Castle, called the Ministry of Sound. It is the premier music and dance club in the country. [Interruption.] The Minister is challenging that—he obviously goes to the Norfolk equivalent—but I have frequented the club.

As the Ministry of Sound has expanded its business, the club has gone to Spain and the Balearic islands. It takes its own staff, and sometimes uses a troop of people who are in the same industry, but who move around. That often happens with people who run international companies and hotel chains, and the David Lloyd sports centres may do that. Many people do not stay in one fixed place. What consideration has the Minister given to how certification, regulation and qualification in this country will validate people and allow them to work for the same employer, even if they are in a different place? We are in an age of increasing mutual transferability and recognition of qualifications. Other countries may have tougher regimes than us, and we do not want people who have gone through the validation process in this country, and are then asked by their employer to go on a summer assignment—in Ibiza or wherever—to find that they are in difficulty.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in the light of the transferability of qualifications, it is important to establish how the existing training standards in the UK will be used by the new authority? The hon. Gentleman had other duties during a previous sitting—when his colleague, the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) was here—so he did not hear the concerns that I ventilated on behalf of a lady from Staffordshire, who wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). The lady specifically asked whether the new authority would use the current training standards that she operates through the Security Industry Training Organisation and the International Professional Security Association. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be helpful to hear from the Minister about that?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I read the record of that sitting and I agree that it would be helpful to hear the Minister's comments. I have read an article in one of Southwark's local papers about a similar issue. The appropriate committee of the local authority granted a planning application last week for a nightclub on the site of a former cinema in the Elephant and Castle, on the Old Kent road in my constituency. One of the conditions imposed was that those in charge of security for the venue should be men and women; it should not be a male-only regime. I understand the reason for that. Would that be an appropriate set of criteria?

The issue is not about training and skills; these are separate matters. It is about ensuring that the people who are employed are appropriate for the culture of the venue. The criteria should not be overly prescriptive, so that intelligence can be used to decide what is likely to work and to produce a positive public response.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 10:30 am, 26th April 2001

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman, or any other Committee member, saw the BBC's excellent ``Crimewatch'' programme last night, which showed a reconstruction of an unpleasant attack on a woman shortly after she had left a nightclub. The story provided a good example of how staff could behave appropriately by allowing the victim to re-enter the club to be cared for following the attack. It occurred to me that it was apposite that the reconstruction of that horrifying incident was broadcast while the Committee was still sitting, because it highlighted the task facing the new authority.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I did not see the programme. However, the police are the official security industry, and they have adapted considerably in that regard. They try to use officers who are appropriate in terms of both gender and ethnic mix to reduce tensions and defuse situations, and they increasingly act in ways that are more likely to be effective in managing a mixed male and female clientele. Similarly, well-managed pubs and clubs tend no longer to employ merely a bunch of traditional male heavyweight bouncers who may not always respond appropriately to customers.

Will the Minister deal with the points that have been raised? His reply will determine my attitude to the amendment.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I shall not reply at length with regard to the matter, as I will also address it when subsequent clauses are discussed. However, the amendment is probing, and it addresses an important issue. The significant point is that the industry employs 350,000 people, many of whom are neither fit nor proper to operate either at managerial level or in less glamorous roles, such as security guard or bouncer.

I have faith that the Home Office will draw up the right set of criteria. That faith is based on my experience of how the Department has drawn up legislation over the past few decades. I sought advice from the House of Commons Library, which produced an excellent brief for me about licensing criteria and the meaning of the term ``fit and proper''. I will willingly circulate that brief to hon. Members. It shows that the Home Office has laid down clear criteria for issuing licences in the legal profession—for barristers and solicitors—and in various areas of gambling, such as bookmaking, casinos and gaming.

The brief also contains an excellent section that addresses how various Departments have laid down the necessary criteria for operating within the financial services sector. Strict criteria have also been laid down, within the framework of the term ``fit and proper'', with regard to jobs that are more closely related to the matter under discussion, such as debt collector, insolvency practitioner, peddler and firework retailer.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Before the right hon. Gentleman concludes his remarks, will he express his opinion, based on his expertise and his many years of studying the security industry, of the current SITO and IPSA standards of training? Michelle Mackleston, a former warrant officer, wrote about the matter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

If I were capable of being succinct, I would say that existing training requirements are inadequate. Under pressure, and with a gin and tonic, I would say that they were grossly inadequate and, on occasion, I would be even more critical than that. Good standards are purely optional for those companies that wish to be subjected to them. SITO is a fine organisation and is linked to the British Security Industry Association. Its standards—and those of the city and guilds—are better than standards that are adhered to by most companies.

However, if we want a viable, accountable, professional private security industry, the licensing authority must simply thank all those good bodies for what they have done so far and say that their standards can be used as a form of guidance. It must say that the purpose of the new legislation is to lift the industry by the scruff of the neck—it will be struggling, in some cases—and lay down standards of training that are so different from those adhered to by even the allegedly good companies that belong to the BSIA and have a standard two days' formal training and one day on the job training.

Not all such companies adhere even to those rather pathetic standards. Some areas of private security demand far higher standards; for example, a long apprenticeship is required to be a locksmith. There are different standards. It would be ludicrous to apply a set of uniform standards for an industry that is so fragmented and diverse that it can hardly be contained within a definition of private security.

The Government have said the licensing authority will lay down the standards. We do not know what the standards will be, but I urge the Minister to move towards a professional industry that does not have an optional two days' training, with no examination at the end of it, and which employs people at the bottom end of the employment market. All that is required of them is to sit through two days of lectures, trying to stay awake for much of the time. If they can get away with an alternative, they will; after which time they will be given jobs. Most companies do not even have those minimalist standards.

It is important for the industry to employ not only people who can meet whatever criteria are laid down, but those who consider that the security industry is sufficiently worthwhile to join for a career. It is not equal to the police, although some segments of private security are similar to the police. In fact, many ex-policemen go into the private security industry. Some do so for noble motives, because they want a retirement job, although Robert Mark chased many security staff out of their jobs in the 1970s in his anti-corruption investigation. That happened in my area.

In other countries, security guards are respected. They do not seem bored while guarding; they are vigilant. They are well trained. In Hungary, their training lasts for 300 hours. I am not saying that the industry will want to cope with 300 hours of training, but it is essential to move it up to that level. It is good to debate fit and proper persons and the criteria to be laid down for them. Later we shall be discussing appeals mechanisms—about which I have tabled an amendment—vetting and the standards that would apply. Should a person be told that just because he pinched apples when he was aged 13 he should be barred from working in the security industry? Of course not. However, activities such as arson, rape, murder, fraud and armed robbery should bar such criminals from working in the industry in perpetuity.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Some past activities should probably disqualify people. Does he agree that other matters—people should know what they are in advance—should bar people for a period but then become spent if there is no recurrence? Taxi drivers go through the same sort of process. There must be a clear system so that people know exactly where they stand—what is mandatory, what happens automatically and where there is the discretion to argue mitigating circumstances.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

An enormous amount of consultation will be necessary to get it right—to bear in mind the needs of efficiency and of a society that wants professional and honest personnel guarding property and installing alarms, and looking after children on occasions. There are civil liberties and human rights factors to be taken into account and it will be difficult to achieve a balance. It is ironic that someone who has served time for theft or fraud can become a Member of Parliament but, I suspect, would find it far more difficult to get a job in the security industry. One must be sensitive. I believe—the Home Secretary would know—that many people in the police force now have criminal records. A high percentage of the population has a criminal record of one form or another. The idea that we can look forward to a utopian future in which we appoint only those who have gone through 40 or 50 years with unblemished records is impractical.

The Home Office has ducked out of most of the serious problems in this legislation because it realises that they are far too complicated to make rushed decisions about. Although I do not like the fact that so much will depend on delegated legislation, the virtue of that is that a good Home Secretary will have ample opportunity to say, ``Let's get this right. Let's consult widely on all the different sections that have gone through the Committee stage, through the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Now we get down to serious detail.'' I am sufficiently confident in the Minister to believe that the instructions given to the SIA will be clear enough to provide the right criteria for employment, not only for the poor bloody infantry down the bottom, but for management and senior management. One cannot impose standards on security guards to ensure that they are fit and proper persons if the managers and owners of companies are crooked. They must all be subject to the same, or in the case of senior management, even more rigorous standards. I am delighted that we have had this opportunity to discuss the matter, but I shall allude to the greater detail of what criteria should be taken into account in debates on later clauses.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

This has been a useful discussion. The amendments would replace what we believe to be a rigorous and flexible set of requirements with a requirement that would, effectively, be weak and incomplete. However, I do not make any criticism of that because the intention, clearly stated by the hon. Member for Buckingham, was to have a probing debate to raise the issue in a way that has been generally helpful.

I will comment on two basic issues: the criteria and the process. Let me make it absolutely clear that the Government are determined—and the legislation sets this up—that applicants will have a fair and impartial process with clear rights of appeal. That is why the authority will publish and consult fully on the criteria, and will produce different criteria for different industries. There will be a full debate.

The criteria will have to deal with the question of criminal records, which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South and by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), and clearly set out what form of criminal record will be a disqualification. That will be an important part of the criteria to be published and consulted on.

The criteria will also have to set out clearly the position of training, which we have debated. I make one observation on that debate: a central part of the establishment of the authority is to raise the level and quality of training and skills in the industry, for the reasons argued by my right hon. Friend and by the correspondent of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. However, I am slightly more defensive of some of the existing organisations than was my right hon. Friend. I met them and discussed the issues with them. They are committed to and support the establishment of the authority. I am sure that the training organisations would recognise some of the criticisms that are being made and believe that establishing a framework such as is in the Bill will enable them to improve the quality of their work. I believe that they would accept some of the criticisms made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South and that there is a need to improve it and lever it forward in that way.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey talked about training and the transferability of qualifications in Europe. Discussions are being held in the European Union about barriers to the operation of a single market in relation to the private security industry. Meetings are taking place, and the question that he raises is an important element in that context. I understand that at some point in the not too distant future it is hoped that the EU will deal with the matter. We shall be in a better position as a result of the Bill to participate properly in that process, which will allow us to take advantage of experience such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South describes of legislation in other EU member states and to ascertain how the matter can be dealt with more effectively.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:45 am, 26th April 2001

This is an increasingly important matter, and I am grateful for the Minister's helpful response. I am not up to speed. Is it now normal procedure for a Bill such as this to be passed for information and observation to the Commission in Brussels to state whether it contains anything that might constitute a barrier to competition, which, like the free movement of workers, relates to a treaty obligation that we must uphold? The matter seems to involve both a minimum standard, which may be an EU requirement, and other national requirements. Have we sought EU advice, and if not, could we do so?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am not a constitutional expert, so I shall answer off the cuff, with the qualification that I may correct myself later. I believe that we do not as a matter of routine give draft legislation to the Commission for comment on such matters, but we have procedures in the House—about which you, Mr. Winterton, will know more—that involve European Standing Committees, for example, to scrutinise particular parts of legislation. I would worry about a proposition to hand our legislation to the Commission for approval.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I do not know whether we pass legislation as a matter of routine to the institutions of the EU, whether the Council of Ministers, the Parliament or the Commission. I shall find out. I do not believe that we do, and I agree that there might be some merit in doing so.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

At the risk of being appallingly pompous, the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that many aspects fall within the pillar of the EU and are exclusively the preserve of national Governments, but some aspects of employment rights fall outside that pillar, and the EU has already passed related regulations on employment.

An organisation that used to be called DG5, in the European Commission, brought together trade unionists and security companies to work out better rules and regulations to recommend to the Commission in the field of employment. I would not have expected permission to be requested for areas that fall exclusively in the domain of Her Majesty's Government, but as some areas fall within European Union competence, some information is relevant to the Commission.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that information. The operation of the single market in relation to the private security industry is obviously not a matter that falls within the justice pillar but relates to the single market process that he describes. That is why I framed my answer to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey in that context.

A series of issues are raised about Parliament dealing with the matter. Good practice, as my right hon. Friend suggests, is to have a dialogue about such questions to find out how we can move forward. We are not required to check the Bill with the European Commission and are not doing so.

The final point on publishing criteria, raised by the honourable Member for Buckingham, is the definition of a fit and proper person. For the purposes of this legislation, we believe that that well-worn phrase, given the case history that has built up in the way described by the honourable Member for Southwark North, and Bermondsey, is an appropriate one for this Bill. There are different criteria within the security industry than there are for licensees, although they are clearly related. There is a White Paper on whether the law should be changed to reflect the definition of a fit and proper person for the purpose of selling alcohol, as the hon. Member for Buckingham said. If we are re-elected, we will introduce a Bill to put into effect that licensing White Paper.

I do not want to prejudge that debate, but the hon. Gentleman would do better to suggest a change in the phrase ``fit and proper legislation'' in the context of the licensing Bill, rather than saying that the phrase ``fit and proper person'' is inappropriate for this Bill. I take his point about consistency, but we have retained the phrase because it provides a concept of what we are seeking to do in licensing people, and it has a track record, as he said.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

In the light of that, will the Minister undertake to re-examine the inconsistencies raised by me and the hon. Member for Buckingham, which would result in this Bill being tested in this way, and the other not?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I undertake to pass on the points about comparability to my colleagues dealing with the licensing legislation, for their consideration when drafting the Bill that we hope to introduce to implement the licensing White Paper.

I have said all I wanted to say on the question of publishing criteria. The hon. Member for Buckingham raised a number of points about the ability of an applicant to influence the process, how details are verified, and so on. They were entirely reasonable points, but I would categorise them as being to do with general good public administration. That is an area in which—for the reasons and examples given—Governments of all parties have not been as rigorous as they should. We are trying to improve that. I give the commitment that the operation of the licensing regime, under a new authority, will establish the kind of processes that he describes.

In addition, there is the failsafe of the appeals process, which we shall debate under clause 11, whereby—if they feel that there has been misadministration or insufficient consideration of their concerns, or that decisions have been taken that are not in accord with the published criteria—individuals may seek redress. The principle that the hon. Gentleman described, of a fair and impartial process with clear rights of appeal, is well established under the Bill. I concede, however, that proper and good public administration of the system by the new authority is crucial. It will be a priority for both the new authority and, I hope, the Secretary of State.

I have endeavoured to answer the points that the hon. Gentleman raised, and I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am in a generous mood today, so I hope that the Minister of State enjoys it while it lasts. I have some very brief points to make in response to what he has said. On his concluding point, I accept that some of the matters that I highlighted essentially relate to principles of good administration. I recognise also that the Government have a vested interest in ensuring, in every possible way, that the Security Industry Authority has good procedures in place. If it does not, it will clearly not operate as effectively as it might, and will not enjoy the confidence that it otherwise would. I have no doubt about the Government's intentions on that front. Before the Bill is passed, however, there must be some specificity about the process of appeal, and the extent to which people will be informed about the reasons for being rejected, should be clearly established. Good intentions are valuable but not enough: they are necessary but not sufficient conditions. The opportunity to have a further debate under clause 11 is welcome, and I hope that members of the Committee will take advantage of it. On training, I am substantially reassured by what the Minister said. The debate was boosted by the contribution of the right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South.

As far as the fit and proper person test is concerned, the most charitable interpretation that I can put on the Minister's remarks is that he was unsighted on what we were arguing. We had not discussed the matter in advance, and he might not have been aware that I was proposing to allude to the licensing White Paper. I do not blame him for that—I am, in the most gentle way possible, a little critical of what he said in one respect. He did what he has done on previous occasions, which is to say, ``We're doing what we're doing because we're doing it.'' That is not entirely satisfactory. In a roundabout way, he was saying to me, ``It may be that we've got it slightly wrong in relation to our proposals for licensing, so if that's what the hon. Gentleman thinks, he should argue it in that context when the opportunity arises. I think that what we're doing is right. I know that it contradicts what we're doing elsewhere, but I think that we're right on this one, and it's the only one with which I intend to preoccupy myself at the moment.''

As we are discussing the Private Security Industry Bill rather than the licensing White Paper, the Minister's point is fair in procedural terms, but I hope that he will accept that there is a feeling in the Committee among those who have spoken—not least the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and myself—that there should be consistency between the two pieces of legislation. If there is not to be consistency, there should be a good reason why a different process is adopted.

However, I do not want to press the point further at this stage. In general terms, I am happy with what the Minister said in reply to what were probing amendments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 23, in page 6, line 44, leave out

`the Secretary of State has approved them' and insert `an order containing such criteria in draft form has been laid before Parliament and approved by resolution of each House.'.

This point is logically consequential on what we were discussing earlier and it is on well-tried ground. The previous debate indicated the appropriateness of the amendment, which is straightforward. Subsection (5) states:

``Criteria or revised criteria set out under this section shall not have effect for the purposes of this Act unless the Secretary of State has approved them.''

It provides entire ministerial authority and discretion without parliamentary approval.

There are two potential sub-arguments, and I understand the relative strength of one over the other. There is a strong argument for the initial criteria to be approved by Parliament, for the obvious reason that, as the Minister said, there are a lot of interests and civil rights to be protected. It is entirely appropriate that Parliament, with its experience, and not the Government, who have a promoting view only, should be able to feed into and inform that process. I am sure that whichever Ministers are in the Department at the time will be willing to publish the criteria in draft, put them out to consultation in the normal way and ensure that Parliament is apprised of the responses. As we all know, the mind of Parliament focuses much more effectively on such matters if they are on the Order Paper coming down the track rather than in a consultation paper that may or may not be in the pile on the desk at the appropriate time to command people's attention outwith the parliamentary timetable.

The second issue is whether revisions of the criteria must come before the House. It is a matter of getting the balance right. I do not believe that changing dots, commas and minor matters should take up Parliament's time; that would be wrong. Constitutionally, we are developing an intermediate procedure that allows us to examine things without the power necessarily going to statutory instruments, and I am more relaxed about that. For the time being, I prefer us to start by bringing matters here, and later—if we are comfortable that the system is working—we let it go. That is better than starting from a presumption that matters do not come here, and that we respond only in a crisis. By definition, such a response would require the amendment of substantive legislation, which is a much more onerous and time-consuming task.

I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking to examine the proposal and I am conscious that, if Parliament does not have much more time to run, the matter must be addressed quickly. I strongly urge him to indicate that he will be supportive, and I hope that Labour and Conservative Members will see the merit of supporting the amendment. If there must be a process of agreement on drafting and further discussions prior to Report, I shall be happy to participate. It is important that we get the new legislation and the new sector right because, as the right hon. Member for Walsall, South said, the matter affects a lot of people. This is the beginning of a new regime, and it should not be a matter for only the relevant Minister in the Department.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 11:00 am, 26th April 2001

I support the hon. Gentleman, because effective scrutiny and parliamentary approval are the essence of the matter. He may be aware—the Minister is certainly conscious—that the affirmative procedure is a hobby-horse of mine. I do not apologise for that.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made the point that the matters are substantial. He emphasised that he would not be inclined to cavil at every dot and comma, and that that would not be a matter that required or justified a substantial allocation of parliamentary time. It is a common ground that the matters are substantial, and the fact that we have had a reasonable exchange on all the matters demonstrates that there are questions to be asked and answers to be provided. Some answers—in general rather than specific terms—have been provided by the Minister.

We are concerned about the wide power of the authority. Inevitably, perhaps, clause 7 is presented as a shell, because we do not know what will be inside that shell. The Minister has mentioned, in different contexts, that there is always a balance about allocation of time. In relation to other legislation, I remember him telling me that parliamentary time is precious, that there is not a great deal of it and that he did not think that it would be justified to debate matters in considerable detail on the Floor of the House. However, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey knows, that debate is usually only 90 minutes' debate about a statutory instrument, and sometimes the Government conclude that that is justified or essential.

We are discussing the nitty-gritty and detail that affect the rights of individuals, as well as the propriety and efficacy of the procedures of the Security Industry Authority, so the matters are not light or trifling. We should know what we are scrutinising, and know to what—if Parliament is so minded—we are giving our approval. I join the hon. Gentleman in anticipating, as by now I should be able to do, the normal lines that the Minister trots out on these occasions. He tends to say that we do not need to discuss such matters in detail on the Floor of the House, and I always respond—as I shall with monotonous regularity for as long as he trots out his tried and trusted argument—that we must know what the Government have in mind. I am not preoccupied with having a 90-minute debate on the details of the criteria.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party

That is not the impression that the hon. Gentleman gives.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. If he listens to the development of the argument—we are delighted to have him here—he will see why. I shall not dilate on the point, but he has provoked me into making it. It should not be necessary for me to explain the point, and it would not be necessary for me to explain the point to the excellent Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Harrow, West, Mr. Daniel Finkelstein, who will shortly be replacing the hon. Gentleman as that constituency's representative in the House.

I want to know in advance what the Government have in mind, because we may then be sighted and be able to say that the Minister has listened and that he has been good enough to provide a draft of the criteria, and, on the strength of that, we can give our assent on Report and Third Reading. We may then not be minded to request the affirmative procedure on a statutory instrument that requires 90 minutes of debate. I tell the Minister—this is also for the elucidation of the hon. Member for Harrow, West—that one or the other will do.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful for the thanks.

We should have either a draft now or the guarantee of a proper debate later. I hope that the Minister can see that I am being more eminently reasonable than I normally am, which takes a bit of doing. All I want is for him to lift the fog and give us an idea, before Report, of what the Government have in mind. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made the point well, and I have briefly tried to underline the force of that point. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

As the hon. Gentleman says, the debate is familiar, and I shall not bore him by repeating what I have said previously about such matters, except to say that I believe that it is right for Parliament to consider such matters fully. We always face a genuine contradiction in that the Opposition rightly, and in accordance with the Government, call for us to consult with industry and various interests about the regulations that we introduce, but want Parliament to discuss them before we have had such consultations. There is a real problem of timing.

I hope that I go some way towards addressing the points made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey by emphasising that, under the Bill, the Government will need to ask Parliament to approve several regulations in order to give practical effect to the main provisions of the Bill. Regulations will be presented to the House, in due course, on a number of matters. First, a regulation to prescribe circumstances in which persons may be exempted from the licensing requirement will be introduced and, if wished, debated. Secondly, regulations will be made that govern the licence application procedure, which is what we are talking about for the reasons set out by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden. Thirdly, we must prescribe conditions on which licences must be granted—which is the same point about establishing structure as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made. Fourthly, we must delegate to local authorities relevant Security Industry Authority functions that relate to the licensing of door supervisors. That also relates to points made by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden.

The fundamental establishing structure, which I think is what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey sought, will be required to be laid before Parliament under the Bill as it stands, for reasons that were set out. However, when we revise the criteria, or establish detailed criteria industry by industry—which was a good point made by the hon. Member for Buckingham and his colleagues, because we may need different criteria for different sections of the industry—I am not convinced that each of those particular sets of criteria ought necessarily to be laid before Parliament.

I accept the general principle of the amendment, that Parliament should have presented to it the core issues that establish the regime under which we shall be working, and I believe that the regulations under the Bill will do that. I think that he said that it was not necessary to put all the technical details, the dots and commas, before Parliament. My argument is not the traditional argument that I have with the hon. Member for Buckingham, but that we have carried out competently what is being asked of us in the Bill. I urge the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

It is not entirely clear that the Government have done what the Minister claims, but I hope that they will do so. While I accept his point about the potential for a multiplicity of slightly varied criteria for different sectors and either the impracticability or the undesirability of providing details of them in advance of the enactment of the Bill, they should be in the process of being worked on now or be worked on soon. It would be helpful and courteous if he sent copies of the drafts, perhaps with no absolute commitment, to all members of the Committee before Report stage.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

We have a timing problem, as we have with other Bills. We have tried, but it is been difficult sometimes for the Home Office to produce draft guidelines during our proceedings in Committee, because we genuinely want to consult different people about what we are doing. The hon. Gentleman himself rightly urged consultation on us. Obviously, we have ideas, but they are very much in shadow form, and not developed to the level of detail that he would want. I subscribe to the general desirability of his question about providing information to members of the Committee at the earliest possible time, but I cannot give the commitment that he is seeking, which is that within 10 days or a fortnight we produce a document that will be genuinely useful to members of the Committee or the House more generally. I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful, but timing is a genuine dilemma, given how it interrelates with the consultative process.

I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful for the Minister's considered reply and for the support of the hon. Member for Buckingham. It will be helpful if the Minister asks his civil servants to write him a note for us that sets out in compendium form the further processes that will come before Parliament so that we can consider them outside the Committee and ensure that they cover the criteria. Furthermore, what is envisaged in the Government's policy in relation to the steps that precede such criteria? We understand the timetable problem that he outlined, but he must bear in mind those who have a direct interest in our proceedings.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am happy to give the commitment sought by the hon. Gentleman. I shall write to him and other members of the Committee with as much detail as I can give on the issues that he raised. I provided some information in my response to the amendment, as he acknowledged, but I shall write to him with whatever further information I have.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 11:15 am, 26th April 2001

On that basis, given that we want the Bill to have broad consensus and be in the best possible shape in a fairly short time, I do not intend to press the amendment. I might wish to return to the issue on Report, as, I suspect, might other hon. Members. I am not persuaded that the situation is resolved, but rather that it might be possible to make do without the amendment. Given our tight timetable, it would be helpful if other such matters could be raised that might help us to make as early decisions as possible about what we will need to pursue in the remainder of the Committee and on Report. For instance, if we were given advance notice of any further amendments that the Government might be minded to table on Report, that would help us to achieve the maximum consensus.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

Because of the tight timetable, I am willing to give the commitment to notify the Opposition parties and the Committee of any further amendments that the Government might be considering.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I am not in the Chair, but I wish to point out that the discussion of the licensing criteria has not yet finished, because that matter will also arise in the debate on clause 9. The Minister might think that he has got away with it in the debate on this clause, but I hope that I will be called to speak in the debate on clause 9.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Opportunities to discuss the matter arise in clauses 7, 8 and 9. I do not assume that we shall ever be finished with the matter, and if the right hon. Gentleman is re-elected to the House it will remain on the agenda, which would be a good thing.

In light of the Minister's helpfulness, and the willingness of the hon. Member for Buckingham to help me to keep an eye on the matter, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 69, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.