Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the amendment is similar to one tabled in Committee. During that debate I explained that the duties of the

5 Mar 2001 : Column 28

authority and the rights of individuals affected by its decisions would be subject to remedies that already exist, either within the drafting of the Bill or elsewhere in existing statute or common law. The amendment does not add substantively to either the duties of the one or the rights of the other.

I believe that the motivation behind the amendment is to explore what might happen in a case where the authority has licensed someone it should not, and, as a result, the wrongly licensed person uses the opportunity to commit an offence which would probably not have been available to him without his licence.

The security industry authority will, in common with other public bodies, have a general duty to act reasonably, including with appropriate care and skill. The decisions that it makes will be made on the basis of published criteria. That should provide for a transparent decision-making process.

Should any individual consider that he has been treated unfairly, he already has the right to take legal action. For example, individuals who consider themselves adversely affected by a decision of the authority not to grant them a licence to undertake security activities, or by a decision to modify or revoke their licences, will have, in addition to any more general rights of redress, a specific right of appeal to the magistrates' courts against the authority's decision.

The position of a member of the public who alleges an assault undertaken in the course of licensed activities for which the alleged assailant should not have been granted a licence is more complex. The fact that someone is injured by a person holding a licence under the Bill does not mean that the authority should be held liable for the injury. The authority would be liable only if it could be shown to have acted negligently. That would be the position under the existing law, and the amendment as currently drafted is not designed to alter that position.

On the other hand, a suit of negligence may not be available as a remedy if the authority has reached its decision to issue a licence properly on the basis of the information available to it, even if that information is subsequently shown to be inaccurate.

I have listened carefully to the arguments of the noble Viscount in support of the amendment, but I remain of the view that I took in Committee. I believe that existing safeguards are adequate. I hope the noble Viscount will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. When I sat down I realised that I should have gone on and actually covered the point about an individual suing the authority if a licence holder does some damage. I was probably keen to hear the Minister's reply and get through the process. However, I am very grateful to him for dealing with that point. That has been helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5 Mar 2001 : Column 29

Clause 8 [Licence conditions]:

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 17:

    Page 7, line 16, at end insert--

("( ) conditions concerning the use of guard dogs as defined in the Guard Dogs Act 1975;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is another small and perfectly formed additional amendment. It is tabled for the purposes of looking again at the Guard Dogs Act 1975. By modern terms, that is quite ancient legislation and, so far as I know, not particularly actively used. I tabled the amendment as a result of correspondence from members of the public who were concerned that guard dogs should be properly used in connection, in particular, with the activities of manned guarding as set out in Schedule 2(2) to the Bill.

It is interesting to see that Schedule 2(2) states the activities as,

    "guarding premises against unauthorised access or occupation, against outbreaks of disorder or against damage"

and so on. Those are exactly the kind of activities where guard dogs are frequently used. The amendment seeks to ensure that the authority has control over the way guard dogs are employed to make sure that the licence holder is carrying out operations with proper safeguards. I commend the amendment. I beg to move.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I should remember the details of the Guard Dogs Act 1975 because I have to say to the noble Lord that--rather depressingly--I was in your Lordships' House at that stage. But some of the intricacies have temporarily slipped my mind; so I shall allow the Minister to deal with the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, in 1975 I think I was collecting my degree from Sussex University. So my mind was not fixed on the Guard Dogs Act.

Clause 8 sets out the power of the Secretary of State to prescribe the conditions on which a licence must be granted and the power of the authority to impose additional conditions. As has been noted, we previously discussed this matter in Committee. Noble Lords opposite saw the open-ended nature of the list of conditions. It is my recollection that I replied that Clause 8 was an example of what the Government see as the important flexibility of the Bill's framework provisions. The conditions listed in Clause 8 relate to training, registration and insurances of licence holders, the manner in which they carry out their activities, the production and display of licences, the provision to the authority of information, and such other conditions as may be deemed to be entirely necessary.

These licensing conditions apply to all the types of private security activities that are regulated by the Bill; that is, the activities that are set out in Schedule 2. One of these activities is the generic group which Schedule 2 calls "manned guarding", and it is within that group that the activities of private security operatives using guard dogs would fall. It is therefore already the case that the Secretary of State has the power under Clause

5 Mar 2001 : Column 30

8 to prescribe any conditions that ought to be attached to licences issued to private security dog handlers by the security industry authority.

Obviously, it is too early for me to indicate whether the Secretary of State and/or the authority would actually want to prescribe any such conditions over and above those already applying by virtue of the Guard Dogs Act 1975. I can, however, assure the House that the authority will be giving careful consideration to the types of conditions it judges ought to be attached to licences in a way which is appropriate to each particular sector of the private security industry, and that, if additional conditions are judged to be necessary in relation to the use of guard dogs, they will be proposed. I hope that, having heard that reassuring explanation, the noble Lord will consider withdrawing his amendment.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the Minister has satisfied me that the authority will have this kind of problem very much in mind. It is an important safeguard for the public that guard dogs should operate under strict conditions. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 [Revocation and modification of licences]:

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 18:

    Page 7, line 46, at end insert--

("(4) It shall be the duty of the Authority to ensure that arrangements are in place--
(a) for the notification by the police to the Authority of any matter appertaining to a licence holder which might be relevant to the modification or revocation of the licence; and
(b) for dealing with complaints by members of the public against any licence holder.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I moved a similar amendment in Committee. I have brought the amendment back on Report because I am not sure whether the Government gave a satisfactory reply in relation to it. Although there are provisions in the Bill for creating criminal offences and for licence holders to be fined or sent to prison, there is nothing in it that enables a court to remove a licence from a person who is a licensed security operative as defined in the Bill. That being the case, it will be for the authority to consider anything that may arise as a result of a conviction, but the authority can do nothing unless it is told of a conviction, a caution or complaints made by members of the public against a specific licence holder. Unless the authority has information, the authority will be unable to act.

In theory, as matters stand, it would be possible for a person who is a licence holder and is employed, for example as a bouncer, to be convicted and for him to continue to hold a licence. No one would tell the authority. Nothing would happen. He could go to another employer who did not know about his conviction, produce his licence with a photograph on it as required under the regulations that we have heard will be imposed, and get another job. That is highly unsatisfactory.

5 Mar 2001 : Column 31

In response to the amendment brought forward in Committee, the Government said that what was proposed was all very detailed and that the issue would eventually be dealt with in regulations. That is not sufficient. I really do think that it is important to place on the authority the duty to obtain the kind of arrangements that are set out in the amendment. I beg to move.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I have sympathy with what is proposed in the amendment. Paragraph (a) asks for arrangements to allow the police to notify the authority of relevant matters. Paragraph (b) would ensure that the authority had to set up a complaints procedure which members of the public could use. It might be thought that the industry itself would not necessarily want the authority to deal with complaints. However, the contrary is the case. Only a day or two ago I received a letter from one of the large companies in the industry saying that it is important that the security industry authority should establish an open complaints procedure which is fair, fast, effective and accessible to members of the public and in which the public will have confidence. That is quite right not only as a general point but also because of the Human Rights Act, which requires fair and effective remedies.

I am further told that a similar Bill to this is being considered by the Irish Government. That Bill establishes a system of complaints against licensees by members of the public. In practice, it will often be as a result of complaints about the behaviour of those with licences that the authority will be able to consider properly whether to take away someone's licence or to threaten him with taking it away if his behaviour does not improve. The complaints part of the amendment is important as well as the ability for the police to notify anything that may come to court.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page