Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Simon Hughes: I, too, take the view that a system is needed that goes to some judicial authority by way of oversight of licence granting. There are many licences, such as gaming licences and justices' licences granted for liquor and licences for music and dance. With the new licensing law, the likelihood is that more and more first decisions will be taken by local authorities. I support that. An appeal to the local court seems reasonable. People know which court it is. It is geographically based.

I differ from the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) in that I believe that magistrates are trained to be licensing magistrates. They deal with all the licences, whether for market traders, nightclubs or whatever. They are used to working out who are fit and proper people. There are sometimes lawyers in important cases who do that all the time, too. They deal with licensing matters. They may be different parts of the spectrum, but they are all under the same umbrella.

We seem to have got locked into a historical system that gives us this 21-day rule. Most people do not live life in cycles of 21 days. It would be much fairer generally to allow people a month in which to appeal. People are likely to remember. Occasionally, people fall out of time simply because they do not remember, and 21 days means nothing to them. I simply flag that up. It is really a matter for the Lord Chancellor's Department and other legal Departments as much as for the Home Office. The Minister has heard me make similar requests in the past. I simply ask him to consider a timetable that will allow people to understand the appeals process most easily.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South on successfully tweaking the tails of the lawyers. The Home Office has some sympathy with the points raised about the need for a separate appeals system, and had originally proposed that the Secretary of State should establish an appeals tribunal by regulations. The Human Rights Act 1998 and natural justice itself require an avenue of appeal against authority decisions. That is an important part of our system.

There was, however, substantial opposition in the other place—not only on the Opposition Benches—to an internalised appeals mechanism as favoured by my right hon. Friend, and originally by the Home Office, too. A powerful argument was put, which we finally decided to accept, that appeals should be to the legal system—to magistrates courts and to the Crown court.

I do not accept the suggestion that magistrates courts would not be competent to deal with such matters. Plenty of magistrates courts are competent to do so. However, I understand the point that it might be better to have an internal system, which could deal with some arguments more expeditiously than the full-scale legal process.

Mr. Hawkins: Does the Minister accept that one of the difficulties with an internal system would be that an aggrieved party might nevertheless go to law, and would then do so through an application for judicial review of the Security Industry Authority's decision? That could be much slower and more costly for all concerned than the appellate system to which the Government have, reluctantly but rightly, agreed.

Mr. Clarke: That is one of the arguments for going straight to the legal channel, rather than through other processes first. One of the first political lessons that I learned was from John Smith, the late leader of my party. He told me, at a key time, never to forget that the law will have its way. That is an important lesson, which I learned over many years and could pass on to many others. It is the point that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath is really making, and is a reason for going down this path.

I have much sympathy, as do the Government, with the crusade of my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South to have more and more such processes dealt with in a non-legalistic way. The only aspect of his remarks that I cannot accept is that magistrates courts might not be competent to deal with such matters.

Substantial criticism, such as that made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, of the idea of a separate appeals process—rather than going straight to the legal system—made us feel that it could stand in the way of people's access to an appeal. That is why we tabled an amendment on Report in the Lords to get rid of the kind of proposal that my right hon. Friend suggested, and to replace it with what is now in the clause. That is the history of the matter.

Points have been made about the general relationship between councillors and magistrates over licensing, but I have nothing further to add on that. It will be debated in the context of liquor licensing when any legislation to implement the White Paper that we have published is considered by the House. That will be the appropriate place for that debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12

Register of licences

Mr. Hawkins: 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.

Mr. Simon Hughes: 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.

11.15 am

Mr. Charles Clarke: 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.

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