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5.30 pm

Mr. Bercow: That is a veritable masterpiece, even by the high standards that the hon. Gentleman has set over a long period. [Interruption.] The Minister of State is chuntering from a sedentary position, to no obvious effect. It is welcome to have the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey's reassurance about the good intentions of the Conservative party in this matter, but his speech has highlighted the problem. He says that he agrees with the Government that it is not intended to regulate the IT sector--but that is precisely the point. There is an apparent disparity--in the intention and, so far, in expressed words--between the stance of the Home Office on the one hand and that of the DTI on the other. It is about that that we are arguing.

Mr. Hughes: In amendment No. 2, the Conservatives are seeking to exclude for all time from the Bill advice in relation to security and information that is held in electronic form. The Government have said that the Bill is a rolling programme; this is a framework Bill. It is not compulsory, and people can opt into it. Some of us have argued that the Bill should have been compulsory for some sectors. I also understand that sectors move quickly. The Minister will know that I have concerns about accountancy firms that were not doing security work at all but now are and which have fallen within the remit of the Bill.

The central criticism of the amendment is that it shuts the door for all time on the matter. That is not reasonable. If an appropriate agreement can be made, there is logic in having everybody who does security work included. No matter which party is in power following the 7 June election, nobody will suddenly sweep the IT industry into the regulations. We have had a perfectly proper debate about an important sector. We may not need to include this type of information in legislation. If we do, we ought to try to identify all the relevant sectors. We would then have a great list in the legislation, and that is not necessary.

Mr. Charles Clarke: In broad terms, I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), because their analysis is correct. I am looking forward to fighting the general election campaign if the Leader of the Opposition chooses IR35 as the slogan behind which he hopes to unite Conservative voters throughout the country so as to sweep the Conservatives to power.

As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, it is reasonable to raise the issue addressed in the amendments. However, the case is not strengthened by arguing that it is on a par with the fixed penalty notice debate that we had on earlier legislation, and that was a trivial point made by the individual who argued the case to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). Nor do I accept the adjectives that the hon. Gentleman used. The Bill is not careless, inadvertent,

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botched or over-hasty, either in relation to the IT sector or more generally. The process, from consultation to White Paper to legislation, has allowed a wide contribution from wide interests to the crafting of the Bill.

Amendment No. 3 requires any order designating as licensable conduct the activities of IT security consultants to be preceded by a certificate stating that the order complies with the electronic commerce directive 2000/31/EC, which is designed to ensure the free movement of information society services between EU member states. It relates to the provision of remunerated services at a distance by electronic means and at the individual request of a recipient of services. Services provided in the physical presence of the provider and recipient are not covered, even if they involve the use of electronic devices.

Article III of the directive, about which I was questioned, is about the cross-border provision of information society services, and article IV prohibits the taking up and pursuit of the activity of an information society service provider being made subject to prior authorisation or any other requirement having equivalent effect. Article IV does not apply, however, to prior authorisation schemes that are not specifically targeted at information society services, so it would be unlikely to affect the application of this Bill.

Nevertheless, the Home Office would clearly need to consider very carefully the implications of the directive if it intended to introduce regulation of IT security consultants under the provisions of this Bill, but--and here I take the point made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey--as we do not intend to, we will not have to address the issue in the way suggested by amendment No. 3.

Amendment No. 2 is more substantive. We recognise that part of the information technology sector has been concerned about what application, if any, the Bill will have to it. Specifically, the sector is concerned that the Government want to regulate it under the Bill. We discussed the point in Committee at some length, and we said that the definition of "security consultant" used in schedule 2 is deliberately broad. That is because we want it to remain usable in the face of changing security systems, in particular those making use of technology. It is in that context that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston are right to say that we must draft the Bill and implement it in a way that is sensitive to how the industry may develop.

The term "security consultant" means someone advising on

The licensing requirements under that definition will, as with all parts of the Bill, be brought into effect in due course by implementing regulations, and those regulations will need to specify exactly which security consultancy activities are licensable. Activities that are not specified will not be licensable.

It is our fundamental principle to ensure that the Bill is targeted at those specialist providers of security services whom we have indicated we want to regulate, and that the provisions do not inadvertently catch groups that are not

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relevant to our policy aims. I tried to put the position of IT security consultants in relation to the Bill beyond doubt on Second Reading and in Committee. In the light of the remarks made in Computer Weekly, I should like the IT industry to take careful note of what I said in Committee:

I made it clear that the Department of Trade and Industry will consult the IT industry on the extent and effectiveness of existing precautions and on whether further action is required. I look forward to seeing the results, because the Government believe that there are issues that need to be explored in relation to confidence in the information security consultancy industry. The business has a vital role to play in protecting the new economy from vandalism and other forms of crime.

Consideration of the Bill has started a valuable debate about how information security consultants may match or exceed the levels of confidence that the Bill will create for other security contractors. The Government's position is absolutely clear and the principles that we set out, of legislating with the industry following proper consultation on an evolving basis, are encapsulated in our approach to the IT security industry.

The amendments are helpful in enabling us to elaborate and clarify an important area of concern, but I urge the hon. Member for Surrey Heath to withdraw amendment No. 3, on the basis of the assurances that I have given. I urge hon. Members not to follow those in the IT security industry who have used exaggerated language about the threat that the Bill might present to the e-business world. That world has absolutely nothing to fear from it.

Mr. Hawkins: I am afraid that the Minister has not persuaded me and, far more importantly, has completely failed to persuade the experts at the Confederation of British Industry. He has repeated yet again that what he is offering is simply further consultation by his friends at the Department of Trade and Industry on the secondary legislation, but the CBI said:

The Minister said that we should not suggest that the industry got dragged into the Bill by inadvertence, but the CBI said:

The Minister's two arguments have been comprehensively demolished by the leading experts.

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