|Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]
Mr. Bercow: Of course, no one should be the hapless victim of Chinese whispers, tittle-tattle or the vagaries of the rumour mill, but it is not entirely clear from the hon. Gentleman's remarks whether the committee meeting to which he referred in support of his argument took place in public or merely in private. Does he agree that it is of the essence that, wherever possible, matters should be publicised and there should be transparency? There should also be the opportunity for people who have been unjustly vilified to take action in response, including, if necessary, recourse to the law.
Mr. Hughes: I agree. Just for the record, the meeting took place in public. My complaint was that it included in the papers before the adjudicating authority evidence and material that had been dealt with before and should not have been available. That is like evidence of previous unproven allegations being made available in a court case.
There is a common willingness across the Committee for the authority to have the power that the amendment would give it. If the Minister rejects the amendment, what assurance can we have that such a power will be available and that, before it comes to a conclusion, the authority will have some wider approbation than just its own for its proposals?
Mr. Hawkins: Once again, I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and if he wants to press the amendment to a Division, my hon. Friends and I will support him. For the reasons that he gave, it would be useful to have the matters set out in the Bill.
Mr. Charles Clarke: This is a rather different case from the previous amendment. It is not so much a question of assurances as of examining the reasons that the SIA might have for refusing to renew, revoking or suspending a licence. The clause simply refers to clause 7 and the licensing criteria contained there. The amendment sets out three specific examples, in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). However, there are other potential examples and I will give a couple to illustrate why the SIA might decide to revoke or refuse a licence. New information might come to light that demonstrated that a licence holder no longer met the licensing criteria, and criminal cases might take place, which would mean that the person did not fulfil the definition that we described of a fit and proper person.
We ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment, not becauseas with the previous amendmentwe agree with the principle but disagree technically on whether it should be in the Bill, but because we can envisage circumstances that are not encompassed in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), in which it would be appropriate for the local authority to refuse to renew, to revoke or suspend a licence. That is the fundamental reason why the wording in subsection (2) is the right approach, and the breadth in relation to clause 7 arises.
Mr. Hughes: I understand the argument, but the Minister's second example is covered by paragraph (c), so he has given only one other circumstance that has not been included in the list so far.
Mr. Clarke: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman thinks that my second example is covered by paragraph (c). I can see his pointa new criminal record could be considered as being in that categoryand I do not mean this in an unhelpful spirit, but his point illustrates the difficulty of having a tightly defined list of criteria according to which a licence is refused or revoked, rather than a simple reference back to the licensing criteria set out in clause 7.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's other point, which was reinforced by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), about the right of individuals to know about the situation and reasons for decisions, and to have transparency. I can assure the Committee that the SIA will have a procedure to ensure that licensees receive in writing the reasons for any decision made under the clause, so that they can examine them. Then, if they want to challenge the decision under the law, they will have material with which to make a judgment on whether to do so.
More generally, I assure the Committee that the authority will work under the law of the land as set out in the Bill, and as with other such authorities, everyone will accept that the law is paramount. If my giving reasons in writing helps to clarify that and provide assurance, I am happy to do so. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment, for a reason that is different from the one that I gave for rejecting the previous amendment: the definition set out in it is too narrow. The authority will have to take account of all the considerations set out under clause 7 about which licensing criteria are to be considered.
Mr. Hughes: I accept the Minister's argument, given that, for all we know, this may be the last complete month that he is at the Home Office, or at any Ministry, depending on the electorate's view. I do not want to give him too hard a time when he came so close to defeat in the previous debate. I would not want to make the Government any more nervous and ruin his reputation, so in a minute I will ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I would just like one point to be clarified before I do that. If the Bill becomes law in this Session, how does the Minister envisage that the authority, or the Government, will publicise the proposed procedure in consultative form? What say will Parliament and the interested parties have in that second stage of the procedure?
Mr. Clarke: The general issues of timing are dealt with in clause 26. I do not have anything particular to add to that.
I can assure the Committee that we will publish consultative proposals on the procedures for comment by all interested parties before they are finally enacted. That will, of course, include the ability of the House itself to comment on the situation. We have said throughout that having a proper consultative process, to which everyone in the industry is committed, is an important aspect of the effectiveness of the legislation. That is why we will take that approach.
Mr. Hughes: That is helpful and will reassure outside interests as much as Committee members. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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