Clause 12 - Register of licences

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 1st May 2001.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 11:00 am, 1st May 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 28, in page 9, line 40, after ``requirements'', insert—

``(and which is not his usual residential address)''.

I can make my point briefly, but the Opposition feel strongly about the matter. The point was made strongly on Second Reading, and we have seen nothing since then to change our minds. There is undoubtedly concern, which the Minister will probably acknowledge in his response, about a register of licensed people being open to public inspection. On Second Reading, on 28 March at column 983, I raised the sad fact that we have seen a huge increase in grudge attacks, which occur for all kinds of reasons, over recent years. For example, people have poured petrol through somebody's letterbox and set it alight. Sadly, such crimes can have devastating and tragic effects.

Our concern is that many small operators in the security business work and trade from their home addresses. Security, wheelclamping and operating as a bouncer are fields of work that can lead to grudges. We foresee that there may be grudge attacks, so an element of protection must be built into the legislation. We recognise that the Government want some kind of register, but we know that there is a problem when somebody's home address, which is also their trading address, is open to those who may want to take revenge.

I mentioned on Second Reading that that was brought home to the Solicitor-General and me when we made a joint visit to the Crown Prosecution Service office for my area, which is situated just south of my constituency in Guildford. Even senior people from the CPS have been the victims of threats by serious and organised criminals to themselves and members of their family. The Minister and the right hon. Member for Walsall, South have stressed from their considerable experience that they know that organised crime has played a part in security. When people who are involved in the administration of justice have to be transferred by their employers because of personal threats against them and members of their family by serious and organised criminals, there is clearly a significant danger.

My hon. Friends raised concerns about such matters in proceedings on the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and the Representation of the People Act 2000. In section 69(4) of the former, the Government made some changes at our urging. Similar changes could be made to the Bill. We are dealing with important concerns that will not go away. I hope that the Minister will say that he not only takes the matter seriously, which I am sure that he and his officials do, but will consider tabling Government amendments on Report, even if they cannot accept the amendment today. If he is unable to say that, we shall want to pursue the matter today.

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

That raises the issue of how public people's addresses are, which has arisen in the context of all sorts of issues, such as animal experiments and Members of Parliament standing for elected office. I am keen to know what the process is for ensuring that somebody has an authoritative and up-to-date statement of an address, even if that need not be given in public. I understand the argument—I am not persuaded of it yet—that the personal address of the holder of a licence should not be known publicly. The licence holder may of course be corporate, in which case there is no excuse for the address not being public. I assume that that address should be the registered office of the company, and it would be illogical if it were not. In the case of personal licence holders, I should be interested to know what address would be valid other than their current personal address. In that context, I should be interested to know whether the Minister takes the view that because people are given licences to do a public job, their addresses should be made public.

I assume that the Government intend that the authority will ensure that the register is accessible through all modern methods of communication. The main way in which the corporate and business sector will want to access information is through a website or a national database, rather than a local library, as in the past. Will the register of licences be held in a technologically accessible way? Of course, data protection issues arise. I concede that I have not thought the matter through, but a Home Office official doubtless has. I assume that, having applied for a licence, a person can expect the relevant details to be in the public domain and available to anyone with an interest in the sector.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 11:15 am, 1st May 2001

The amendment would require the licence holder's address as published in the register to be other than his home address. Following the amendment of the clause in the House of Lords, where much of this debate took place, subsection (3)(b) provides that the address published in the register is that

``which satisfies the prescribed requirements''.

In other words, the address must be that which is supplied when a person applies for a licence or a company approval. The clause will not require home addresses for anyone. Indeed, we believe that in the vast majority of cases the relevant address will be the business address of the firm employing the security operative.

The amendment would go a step further by requiring that the address always differ from the licence holder's usual residential address. We cannot go that far for the reason suggested by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. Some security operatives work from home as a matter of choice. It is true that the Bill as drafted would require publication of the home address in such circumstances, but I am not convinced that publication of the place of business should be a significant concern. Of course, people who work from home would already have made their address available, not least to potential customers. We are talking about a very narrow group of people who choose to work from home and who have no other address. We continue to believe that there should be an address for everyone in the system. If there is no alternative to a home address, we think it right that that address be given.

I can confirm for the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that we intend that the register should be accessible through modern electronic means, rather than the local library.

On publicity, I can offer some reassurance to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. Subsection (4) states:

``It shall be the duty of the Authority to ensure that such arrangements are in force as it considers appropriate''.

That wording was chosen to give the authority a safeguard, in that it can consider whether it is appropriate to publish an address in a given circumstance. That safeguard should reassure him. If the amendment were accepted, there would be no address on the register for those who work solely from home. That would be unacceptable and we cannot go that far. On the basis of my comments and assurances, I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

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

The Minister has, as I hoped, responded in an appropriately serious way. I hear what he says, but the problem is that one does not always choose, as he puts it, to work from home. Someone with a very small business, who works alone and has no substantial private means, might be unable to afford separate business premises and have no alternative to operating from home. Although I accept the point about the reference in subsection (4) to arrangements that the authority considers appropriate, there is a danger that it might make an exception only after a problem had been drawn to its attention. The trouble is that it would often be too late: by the time that the problem existed, the revenge attack would have already taken place. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, the whole register will probably be on the internet, and those who wants to commit grudge or revenge attacks on others need only press a few keys to find out their home address.

In the light of that concern, I want to press the matter to a vote.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify what he thinks should happen in the case of those whose operation is so small that they work only from home? Should they not give their address? Should it be handled confidentially and not made open?

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

My view, and that of my party, is that the authority needs to know the operational address, but it should not be given any publicity through an open register that would be on the internet.

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

That clarifies the hon. Gentleman's position. If I said to him that I would be prepared to consider whether individuals working from home in that category could ask for their information not to be published under subsection (4), would that modify his approach to the amendment?

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

That is extremely helpful, and I hope that the Minister and his officials will continue to consider the matter and perhaps table an amendment on Report along those lines. If so, we would welcome the Government's change of heart. However, I still think that it would be useful, ``pour encourager les autres'', to vote on what is in the Bill. If the Government can subsequently improve on that through a Government amendment, as the Minister suggested, that would be of assistance.

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

I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would say a little more to persuade me to support the amendment. If I am concerned that a Mr. Nick Hawkins, whom I have come across in a previous existence, is not the sort of person whom I would want to be given a licence for a particular job, and there are many Nick Hawkinses around—as I assume that there are—how will I know that the Mr. Nick Hawkins about whom I am concerned is the right one if I do not know his home address? If one just plucks an address out of the air that is nothing to do with one's home, that is obscuring the truth and putting people off being able to track down the very information that they need.

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

The only parliamentary Mr. Nick Hawkins, Mr. Winterton.

As long as the authority has an individual's full details, if there is any inquiry to which it thinks it proper to respond, it can make its own decision. My worry is that a public register could be used by a person who wished to commit a grudge attack. For example, if he knows that there is a Mr. Simon Hughes who is a bouncer in the Southwark, North and Bermondsey area, he has only to push a couple of buttons on a computer keyboard and up comes that Mr. Simon Hughes's home address. The hon. Gentleman and I, and all those of us who have been involved in court cases, have seen the horrendous consequences of such grudge attacks—which happen far too often and sometimes have the most tragic consequences—and know that we need to protect people against them. Sadly, we are talking about an industry in which grudge attacks are not merely a possibility, but almost an inevitability. It is all too common for people to try to take revenge against bouncers.

I am grateful to the Minister for his response, but I wish to press the matter to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 12..

Division number 5 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 12 - Register of licences

Aye: 3 MPs

No: 12 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

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

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

This excellent Bill addresses the statutory framework. It will set up regulatory authorities and give powers, where appropriate, to local authorities.

I have already referred to the importance of contractual matters in the maintenance of good standards. We have dealt with issues such as sick pay, training standards and proper employment contracts, and I would hope that when the regulatory bodies exercise their duties under the clause, they will look to those matters as well.

I want to discuss the philosophy behind the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South has adequately discussed the industry.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. I have listened extremely carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Clause 12 relates to the register of licences, and the philosophy behind the Bill is not relevant to it. Perhaps he will relate his remarks to the subject of the clause.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Thank you for your advice, Mr. Winterton.

The register of licences, and the philosophy behind it, is extremely important. The learned contributions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South have been about the past. He referred to how the people whom we now prefer to call door stewards have been at the lower end of the scale and have not adhered to standards that the Committee would accept. Local authority licensing must be seen as having a more productive and civilised approach, involving women, for example. When physical contact is necessary, the intent should be about restraint and control, not about bouncing. That is the philosophy that should be behind licensing at that level.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.