Clause 16 - Right to use approved status

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 1st May 2001.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 12:45 pm, 1st May 2001

I understand the reason for, and I certainly do not object to, the purpose of clause 16. However, I seek an assurance from the Minister in relation to subsection (1). I understand that the intention is to prevent an individual from misrepresenting his or her entitlements, by which I mean the services that he or she has been approved to provide. Can the Minister explain the basis on which that will be achieved? Can he confirm that subsection (1) will not lead to undue interference in, or a detailed determination of, the way in which an approved individual chooses to advertise his or her services?

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

For the hon. Gentleman to go from satisfaction to dissatisfaction so quickly is a matter for severe concern.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Opposition Whip (Commons)

At least the hon. Gentleman has an opinion.

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

He is never consistent, from one minute to the next.

Turning to subsection (3)(b), what is the current maximum fine and in what way might it be varied? Clearly, the power to impose a significant fine must exist. I understand how the maximum fine for a summary conviction is fixed, but there seems to be no similar mechanism in respect of conviction on indictment.

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

On the second point, the fine is unlimited and at the discretion of the court. On the first point, the hon. Member for Buckingham correctly identified the reason for the provision. The aim is to establish a set of criteria for the quality mark, including standards relating to technical and other requirements, the question of whether an applicant is a fit and proper person, and so on. The voluntary quality mark would last for three years. In finalising the criteria, the normal consultations will of course take place. It is a relatively universal charter mark, and is not designed to be intrusive in terms of marketing a particular company. However, it is intended to enable an individual who uses a company to know whether it is approved.

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

I understand what the Minister is saying, and it is genuinely not my intention to nitpick. However, is he arguing for universality, or that the provision is generally provided for in a number of different sectors? As an intelligent fellow, he will recognise that his phrase ``relatively universal'' is a contradiction in terms.

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

I was rather hoping that you were a philosopher rather than a classicist, Mr. Winterton, so that you could give a discourse on the precise meaning of the phrase ``relatively universal''. I was trying to say that everyone who is approved will receive a kite mark or clear mark of approval. Of course, that will not extend to those who are not approved. The provision does not deal with establishing different categories within the same mark for different parts of the industry, but the matter could—and certainly would—be decided by the SIA.

The purpose of the provision is to make as clear as possible to the consumer of a service that a contractor is approved for the type of business that we are describing, but in a manner that will not stand in the way of a company's making its own presentation of its services. With respect, that is a relatively bog-standard—to use a phrase that is currently in vogue—approach to such matters. Many organisations adopt it: it is simply a question of empowering the SIA to do so.

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

The Minister's colleagues mischievously muttered that perhaps the answer is to put the mark on the forehead—an idea to which the Minister was attracted earlier in our debate—or to put a luminous stamp on the back of the hand. Those of us who frequent what are no longer called pop concerts are sometimes required to comply with such requirements. On the relevance of classicism, it is clear that some people need a bit more of it. When answering a question about his new house, an actor said that it was very nice and had 58 rooms, including seven bedrooms and three ``bathra''. That struck me as somewhat pretentious.

I welcome the Minister's answer in respect of fines, but will he point out to the Government that it would be consistent and good if, on indictment, fine levels were to remain unlimited. That has been a matter of controversy before. For example, people often feel that there should be more significant penalties for breaches of Health and Safety Executive licensing regulations, which involve limited fines, especially if there has been a corporate infraction by a company that then pays relatively nothing for a clear breach of building regulations or the like.

I welcome the fact that the higher courts should be able to impose a fine that means something to the person or company that it is fining. I should be grateful if the Minister would pass on that concept to the appropriate authorities and perhaps contemplate the possibility that we could remove at a stroke the barrier to upper levels of fines across the Crown courts and higher courts.

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

I shall pass on those remarks to my colleagues.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.