HL Deb 15 March 2001 vol 623 cc1005-24

4.31 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 3 [Conduct prohibited without a licence]:

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 1: Page 3, line 46, at end insert ("; or ("( ) he is required in the course of his employment to engage in licensable conduct falling within paragraph (b)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I must apologise for returning once again to the question of in-house employees and, in particular, to whether they should be licensed under the provisions of this Bill.

I do so for a number of reasons. First, I have been sent some correspondence between Mr Ian Goswell, who describes himself as "of the private security industry authority"—interestingly enough, because we have not set up that organisation—and the business law committee of accountants, I believe. In that e-mail, dated 23rd February last, he deals with the issue of students and those who are under secondment to accountancy firms. He says that the licensing requirement applies only to those whose main employment is concerned with the activities listed in Schedule 2 and as supplied under contract. Students or secondees employed by an accountancy firm would be in-house employees and would not, therefore, require a licence.

To my mind, that indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the term "in-house employee". That expression would be correct only if, in the context in which it was being written, a student or secondee carried out private investigations for those who employed him; in other words, for the accountancy firm itself. Just as a doorkeeper is an in-house employee when he works for the firm that employs him, so a private investigator can be described as "in-house" only if he is engaged to investigate for the accountancy firm itself. However, as soon as clients enter into the equation—I imagine that that is the purpose of this correspondence—such people would cease to be in-house employees. I should like the Minister to consider whether the people within his department who are engaged with this Bill have dealt with the concept correctly.

I turn to the second reason why I raise this issue again. The Minister will recall that at Second Reading I indicated my opposition and the opposition of my party to the use of private security firms in carrying out police activities. Indeed, the noble Lord was kind enough to give assurances both to me and to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that this was not a precursor to privatisation within the police service. He said: That is not our intention in bringing forward the Bill. We have no great desire to contract out core police tasks. We believe that the police service is properly in the public sector. As many of your Lordships will know, we have spent extra resources and put more money into the police service. We want to shore it up. We do not want to hack away at it for fundamentals".—[Offical Report, 18/ 12/00; col. 600.]

That was followed by the publication of the White Paper, Criminal Justice: The Way Ahead. In paragraph 3.158 of that paper it was indicated that experiments were to take place with the private security industry in carrying out core police functions. The White Paper states: The private security industry will be subject to regulation under the Private Security Bill now before Parliament".

Therefore, when the White Paper was written, the contents of this Bill were clearly before the authors' minds. But",

it says, no attempts have been made to link the overall contribution to public safety made by different bodies in a local area. The Government believes that there is scope for some evaluated schemes to determine the effect on public reassurance of the police accrediting and coordinating a range of independent bodies to work in conjunction with them in delivering community safety. This might best be organised as a crime and disorder partnership initiative. Staff working on such schemes would be deployed to meet particular requirements and would not be diverted to meet other organisational priorities. They would not generally have the power of the constable and would be accountable to their employers, but their recognition as contributors to public safety would depend on police approval of the scheme in question".

Therefore, the White Paper, Criminal Justice: The Way Ahead, envisages the use of private security firms to patrol the streets and to assist the police and community policing. If that is to be the case, I believe that it is essential that in-house employees are licensed under the Bill. Although I have broached this point on a number of occasions, I ask the Minister whether, in the light of the two matters that I have mentioned, he will rethink his position. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, the position of accountants and their staff is a matter that I proposed to raise under Amendment No. 9. Of course, I have raised this issue previously in the course of discussing what happens with regard to professional accountants who carry out audit and other accountancy tasks.

Initially, I made the point that it seemed that an audit was, in effect, a contract to look into a firm's books and to produce an audit report on it, in the course of which part of the purpose was to investigate any possible fraud and, through the accounting system, to eliminate the possibility of fraud in the future. Therefore, it appeared that, as the Bill originally stood, every accountant undertaking ordinary audit work would require a licence, as would all his staff.

The Government were kind enough to agree that that was undesirable and, at an earlier stage, they moved an amendment which provided the accountancy exemption that now appears in the Bill. However, that does not provide for the exemption of any employees. I am aware that correspondence and contact has occurred between the Home Office and the accountancy institute. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, referred to correspondence concerning the position of non-qualified staff employed by qualified accountants on work of that character.

The Government's position, as I understand it, is that because the staff are in-house, they will not require a licence, so there is no need to worry. However, from what I have seen, and according to the advice that has been given to the Institute of Chartered Accountants, to which I belong, when staff are employed on the premises of clients, as they often will be, they will require a licence if they are not members of the institute. If staff require a licence, their bosses will also require a licence under the earlier provisions. Every partner in every accountancy firm will therefore require a licence. That is why I am still concerned about the position of employees.

We need an amendment like Amendment No. 9—I am aware that I am informally grouping Amendment No. 9 with Amendment No.1, but that is for the convenience of discussing this point—if we are to avoid every accountancy firm engaged in audit requiring a licence. I understand that that is the agreed position of the Government and ourselves. It is easier if we raise that matter now.

With regard to the police core tasks, I sympathise with what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said and I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, rightly said, we have been discussing this matter since the earlier stages of the Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)

My Lords, I apologise to the House if the correspondence received by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is confusing. Obviously, I shall look at the text of the letter again to satisfy myself that it is not. Our policy is clear, and is pretty much as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has described it.

With regard to in-house staff, we believe that the balance is about right, and I am more than happy with the way in which we are proceeding. I shall, of course, review the correspondence again to check the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas.

On the second point raised by the noble Lord, the White Paper is trying to describe how to provide for the situation, which probably currently exists, when some activities, which could be described as core policing work, carried out by private security companies are carried out in a more public domain. We need to knit that work into local crime and disorder partnerships. That is where the White Paper is coming from. It would deliver to the public a wider measure of accountability. The measure has been widely praised and broadly welcomed because of the way in which voluntary organisations, the police, local authorities and so on, will be brought together to improve the performance of law enforcement. People are being made more aware of local crime issues, which is what the White Paper is trying to achieve. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, his amendment would not cover private security firms in the way in which he describes.

I hope that I have given a measure of reassurance. The White Paper is trying to improve and strengthen accountability, rather than diminish it. When private security companies are involved in a more public domain, perhaps working on behalf of a private company in a public place, they should be seen as very much part of the aim to tackle crime in our communities, towns and city centres.

We have covered this subject frequently in previous debates, and I see no great purpose in rehearsing the arguments that we have heard before. We feel that we have offered sufficient reassurance. We have debated the matter and, at this stage, we do not believe that it is right to require in-house staff to have licences, except for special cases, such as door supervisors and wheelclampers. The security industry authorities will be keeping these matters under careful review, and will make recommendations to the Secretary of State from time to time if there are gaps in the licensing regime.

In those circumstances, perhaps some of the concerns that have been raised in the past can be readdressed. We shall consult on how best to achieve our goals, and potential loopholes will be identified. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, will feel sufficiently reassured to withdraw his amendment.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he respond to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, about the letter from Mr Goswell? It says that students who are employed by an accountancy firm would be in-house employees, and would therefore not require a licence. My understanding of the Bill is that they would be in-house employees only if they were working in the accountancy firm on its own matters. Is the Minister saying that "audit" is not regarded as doing work under contract for another firm? It seems clear to me that it is, albeit of a specialised character. If the Minister is saying that because such people are employed, they can work under contract without requiring a licence, presumably anyone could work under a contract for another firm of any character, other than wheelclamping or door supervision, without requiring a licence. That is surely not what the Bill means.

Is the Minister saying that "audit" is not regarded as doing work under contract to another firm; or is he saying that a licence is required if the auditor is working not on the accountancy firm's own accounts, but on a client's accounts in the client's premises? Inspiration may strike the Minister any minute.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I shall exercise the correspondence card on that one, as I do not want to spread confusion where there should be clarity. The interpretation of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, is probably right: when staff are working on matters internal to the accountancy firm, that would be considered to be in-house. Perhaps there could be circumstances when no licence is required. I refer, for example, to students or people on some sort of secondment carrying out audits. I want to clarify the matter in my own mind, so I shall happily correspond with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, on the matter.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, the Minister is always willing to write to us, which we appreciate, but we are on Third Reading. Whatever happens today is the end of the debate in this House. In those circumstances, I should be grateful if the Minister would copy the correspondence to my right honourable friend Miss Widdecombe.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, the letter from Mr Goswell seems to suggest that there is a misunderstanding. The easiest way of appreciating what is meant by "in-house" is to look at guarding. If a firm employs guards to look after its premises, they are clearly in-house employees. If, on the other hand, the firm sends those employees to guard someone else's premises, they are no longer in-house employees; and they clearly require a licence. If we translate that into the accountancy field, the only way in which we could say that the employees of an accountancy firm who are non-qualified are in-house is if they are working on their own firm's accounts. If they go off and work on somebody else's accounts under contract, they are no longer in-house. That is the fundamental problem.

The other issue in relation to using security firm personnel on the street is this. Under the Bill, for a security firm to employ personnel to work on other people's premises they will have to be licensed; they will have to go through all the checks that are necessary; their backgrounds will have to be looked into and they will have to satisfy the authority that they are appropriate people. But if the security firm sends them out on the street, as at present, just because the security firm is employed by the Home Office to assist the police, they will not require a licence; they will not require those checks to be made upon their background.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, in the circumstances that the noble Lord describes, they probably would require that licence.

Too much is being made of this point. I can see why the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, may consider that to be the case. But looking at practical examples—for instance where Group 4 may patrol regularly a shopping precinct which is in private ownership—one could describe the activity of the personnel as being not very different from that of a police officer, although they would not have the same powers, patrolling an area. However, the circumstances in which they patrol are different. They are doing important security work; they are employed by Group 4, and one would expect them to be properly regulated in those circumstances.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, that makes my point. Within the shopping precinct they have to be licensed. But what happens if they go out into a public place and, as the White Paper envisages, are possibly given the powers of a police constable? The words used are that they will not "generally" require the powers of arrest. Surely, the checks that will have to be carried out on those personnel will be even greater. I have made my point.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. My noble friend Lord Astor suggested a way out of the difficulty in relation to correspondence. Perhaps the Minister could accept Amendment No. 9 when we come to it. That way we shall have incorporated it into the Bill. Should the Government then decide that Amendment No. 9 is not required, they can take it out in the Commons. It will come back here in due course and we can respond to the correspondence. If the Minister does not accept Amendment No. 9, then we shall not have that opportunity should the Commons fail to raise this matter. I wonder if that course appeals to the Minister.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, the noble Lord is suggesting standing down the troops. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 [Licensing criteria]:

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 2: Page 6, line 39, after ("licensed;") insert— ("( ) may include criteria for securing that persons who engage in licensable conduct have appropriate training in racial awareness and disability equality;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 2 was suggested to me by the Royal National Institute for the Blind. It seeks to add to the criteria which ensure that persons applying for a licence have the training and skills necessary to engage in the conduct for which they are licensed by specifying that they should have appropriate training in racial awareness and disability equality. It is in the public interest that those who exercise functions under this Bill should be made aware of the problems of racism and of the specific requirements of people who are suffering from a disability before they are given the licence to carry out their tasks. I beg to move.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I shall be brief. We cannot support this amendment. Those who are covered by the licence are also covered by existing race relations and disability laws. The amendment would therefore seem to be unnecessary.

Perhaps I should also say to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that doormen are there, by and large, not to turn people away but more often to encourage them to enter in an orderly manner and help them to leave in an orderly manner. That is their job. They are unlikely to keep their job if they spend their time preventing people entering.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I am not sure which side I take in that definition of the primary role of doormen. With regard to this section of the Bill we are probably looking at the possibilities of a more pejorative perspective of the role of doormen, hence the anxiety expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, which led him to table the amendment, as he indicated, being stimulated from an impeccable source elsewhere.

This is an important issue and I am entirely in sympathy with the principle behind the amendment. It would add a new criterion to the face of the Bill which the authority might use when judging an application for a licence to act as a security operative. The new criterion would allow the authority to include that applicants for licences should have "appropriate" training in race and disability issues.

The Government have said on several occasions that one of the reasons for regulating the private security industry is that its operatives are, in most circumstances, coming into contact with people who feel themselves to be in some way vulnerable or, at times, possibly subject to unfair discrimination and over whom the operatives have a certain degree of power and authority. It is therefore an entirely reasonable concern that they should be seen to have a sensitivity to and at the very least an awareness of the position of groups of people in our society who may not always have had a square deal and who are confronted by this element of authority.

Perhaps the noble Lord can anticipate my next remarks, particularly in the light of the contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor; my comments are consistent with the line taken by my noble friend on earlier occasions when sympathy was expressed with the concerns raised. We do not believe we need to include such a permissive criterion on the face of the Bill. The noble Lord may argue that there is more likelihood of the authorities using such a criterion if it is explicitly available on the face of the Bill. Conversely, we would not see it as being any less likely to be used if it fell to be considered under the "other matters" provision of Clause 7(3)(c).

We are therefore willing to give an undertaking to ensure that the possibility of a criterion in relation to race and disability awareness is built into the planning processes leading up to the establishment of the authority. We recognise the motives behind the amendment and that there is a task to be fulfilled in those terms. But we do not consider it necessary for it to be on the face of the Bill. On that basis I hope I have persuaded the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, I am grateful for that reply, and for the undertaking that matters of this nature will be built into the planning process and included under subsection (3)(c).

The training and skills necessary to engage in the conduct for which people are licensed have emerged in one or two cases in the criminal courts in which I have been involved. That sort of training tends to be the ability to hold people in a lock-hold or to eject them forcibly without damaging or bruising them. Matters of racial awareness and disability equality are far more important. I am grateful to the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 3: Page 7. line 30, at end insert (", including formats accessible to visually impaired people,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this matter was suggested to me by the Royal National Institute for the Blind. I appreciate that in a recent letter dated 13th March the Minister stated in paragraph 5 that the Government were not yet thinking in detailed terms about the prescriptions for the format of licences and that that would need to be put into regulation. I have tabled the amendment so that it will be foremost in the minds of those who are charged with the duty of prescribing that format. I beg to move.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, as with the previous amendment, we are sympathetic to the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. However, we believe that the Minister has got it right. We are grateful for the explanation that he gave in paragraph 5 of his letter, and are happy to accept that.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, moved the amendment. It is essential that licences which may have to be on public display are of print which is large enough for most people to be able to read. I include in that people with visual impairments. It is also essential that the licence is designed in such a way that the colour contrast between the paper and the print does not make it extremely difficult to read. This is a sensible amendment, which I support.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, noble Lords who have spoken indicated that there is a principle behind the amendment similar to that in a previous amendment with regard to issues of racial awareness. Once again I express my obvious sympathy with the implications behind the amendment. Therefore, the issue comes down to the narrow point of the effectiveness of the amendment being carried on the face of the Bill.

It is important that the physical licences which the authority will issue will be carried at relevant times and produced when necessary. The authority has the power to impose appropriate conditions in relation to those requirements, including taking account of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, that they are readily legible by those of us who may have difficulty with our eyesight, and certainly by people with significant visual impairment. It is similarly important that the details of the licence are accessible to those with a significant visual impairment. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, is well taken.

Under the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act it is against the law to offer people with a disability a service which is not as good as the service being offered to other people, or to provide a service on terms which are different from the terms being given to other people. The provisions of the Act for a general right of access to goods and services are designed both to prevent discriminatory behaviour and to require reasonable adjustments to overcome physical and communication barriers to disabled people, such as the provision of literature in alternative formats for those with a visual impairment. Those rights apply to all services.

The security industry authority, in common with other public and private bodies, will be bound by the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and will therefore be required to take the reasonable steps that that Act requires. The authority will also take account of best practice in the area of licence format. It will discuss the issue with the appropriate bodies, adopt the best physical format available, and take into consideration other advice it may receive.

On the basis of those assurances, I believe that our existing legislation with regard to disability covers the matters contained in the amendment. I hope, therefore, that I am able to persuade the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, I am grateful for that reply and for the support for the amendment. In the light of the assurances given, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 [Revocation and modification of licences]:

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 4: Page 8, line 37, at end insert (", and ("(b) consider any complaints made to the Authority by members of the public against the licensee.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 4 was drafted before I received the letter of 13th March, to which I have referred. It was an attempt to continue my campaign to put on the face of the Bill the necessity for a complaints procedure in a slightly different way from that which had not previously been accepted in Committee and on Report. I move the amendment simply so that the Government may put on record the assurances contained in that letter. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, we, too, believe in the importance of a complaints procedure. I was similarly reassured by the letter to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has referred.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords. The amendment is a variation on Amendment No. 18 moved on Report, and an earlier amendment moved in Committee. As has been noted, it is a matter on which we have had correspondence. We have also had private discussion.

I said on Report and in correspondence that I do not believe that there is much between the noble Lord and myself on this issue. The noble Lord has advanced—as ever, effectively—points at various stages of the Bill on which we have debated the issue. However, I have not heard an argument which persuades me that we need to put squarely on the face of the Bill a requirement for the authority to take account of complaints made against individual licence holders. I have indicated that the effective discharge of the authority's duties to licence only fit and proper persons will inevitably mean that it will need to establish an effective complaints procedure. I have also indicated to the noble Lord that in the extremely unlikely event that an appropriate mechanism was not set up, the Secretary of State could direct the authority under the provisions in Clause 2 to establish one. That would—reverting to a couple of our debates at earlier stages of the Bill about Secretary of State directions—be an open direction.

The current amendment relates to a complaints procedure to the modification or revocation of a licence. That assumes that a licence is already in force. The authority will need to be able to listen to and, if necessary, investigate complaints which are made against anyone seeking a licence in the first place or seeking to renew a licence. It follows that they must also have that facility when considering whether or not to modify or revoke a licence. Indeed, one prime source of the authority's launching such revocation or modification procedures is likely to be complaints made by members of the public.

As I said earlier, there is no point of principle between us here. However, for reasons I have previously expressed, I do not believe that we need the words of the amendment on the face of the Bill. Having heard that, and sought the reassurances offered that this is a matter of record, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 5: Page 8, line 40, at end insert— ("(4) The Authority may refuse to renew, revoke or suspend a license if it has reasonable grounds for being satisfied that the licensee—

  1. (a) has supplied information in or in connection with the application for the license or its renewal that was knowingly false or misleading;
  2. (b) has contravened any provision of this Act or regulations thereunder; or
  3. (c) is no longer a fit and proper person to provide a security service.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it strikes me that in the Bill there is no way of disciplining those who supply information which is knowingly false or misleading in connection with an application for a licence or for its renewal. The applications are made under Clause 8(l),(2) or (3). Nor is there a specific provision to deal with a situation in which the authority discovers that a person who is the holder of a licence is no longer a fit and proper person to provide a security service as Clause 14(3) envisages. The amendment is, therefore, a suggestion to the Government to include a specific provision to deal with those points, and would give to the authority the power to take rather swifter action than might otherwise be the case. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I realise that lawyers like to have everything in writing, if possible. If an extra clause can be added it would be regarded as desirable on those grounds alone. For myself, I would have thought that the wording of Clause 10, as it stands, was adequate to cover the case suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I am not going to get into a clash between the professions. Being neither a lawyer nor an accountant, I am able to take a detached Olympian view on this point. Of course I understand the nature of the amendment and the motive behind it. Certainly, the reasons as listed in the amendment are entirely valid ones for withdrawing or not renewing a licence. The first circumstance relates to the applicant having knowingly supplied false or misleading information. That is already an offence under the provisions of Clause 22 of the Bill.

The second relates to the applicant having contravened any provision of the Bill or any regulations made under it. The Bill creates a number of offences, and regulations will provide further detail governing many aspects of a licensed security operative's work. The third circumstance is that the applicant is no longer a fit and proper person to provide a security service. Clause 7 requires the published criteria for a licence application, to be successful, to include those which the authority considers show the applicants to be fit and proper persons.

I have no problems with the conditions which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, seeks to place on the face of the Bill regarding the withdrawal or non-renewal of licences. But the Bill already requires the authority to have in mind the criteria that are applicable by virtue of Clause 7 when considering whether to modify, suspend or revoke a licence. I believe that this gives the equivalent effect to that sought by the noble Lord in his amendment.

Clause 7 requires applicants to be, in the authority's judgement, fit and proper persons. I cannot see the authority forming this judgement about an applicant whom it knows to have contravened his existing licensing conditions, to have falsified any part of his application papers, or otherwise to have misled or lied to the authority. The applicant would therefore have committed an offence under current legislation and that is pretty strong prima facie evidence that the applicant is indeed not a fit and proper person.

Therefore I do not believe that this amendment achieves any provisions that are not already available to the authority under the Bill as drafted. I recognise the virtues of clarity which the amendment brings to specific offences, but I would contend that the Bill clearly spells out the powers of the authority in respect of the judgement regarding the validity of any applicant for a licence. On the basis of what I have said, I hope the noble Lord may be persuaded to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, the creation of an offence punishable either on summary conviction or indictment is rather different from the revocation of a licence. Your Lordships will recall that at earlier stages I endeavoured to introduce on to the face of the Bill provisions for the reporting by the police and/or the magistrates' court and/or the Crown Court to the authority any convictions that may follow in relation to a licence holder, whether for a breach of this Bill or anything else. The proposals were not accepted. It was said that there would be arrangements in place, and so on. However, I have heard what the noble Lord said and of course I am not going to press the matter to a vote. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.15 p.m.

Clause 15 [Arrangements for the grant of approvals]:

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 6: Page 11, line 34, at end insert— ("( ) are providing security industry services in England and Wales and are deemed to be acting as a public authority under the Human Rights Act 1998;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this relates to the approved contractor scheme, which, your Lordships will recall, is voluntary. At an earlier stage—I think in Committee—I suggested that the approved contractor scheme should be made compulsory. The purpose of this amendment is to make it mandatory for those who are engaged in public duties as public authorities. The definition of a public authority under the Human Rights Act is in wide terms. It includes executive agencies of central government, local government and so on. However, in this particular area, most importantly, it covers prisons. Of course it is a matter of contract between the Home Office and a particular contractor who offers to supply services for prisons within the scope of this Bill, but I submit that anybody who is to undertake tasks of that kind and of a public nature should be, as a matter of principle, a member of the approved contractor scheme. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I do not take the view taken by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, that it is essential for any firm contracting to a public authority or acting as a public authority to be approved. I am concerned, as I have expressed on other occasions and in other contexts, that this new authority will have an awful lot to do and will have great responsibilities in its early stages. To make it essential on the face of the Bill that everyone acting as a public authority should have to be an approved contractor would add to the work of the authority in the early stages very considerably. It could make for inflexibility in the whole scheme. For that reason, I do not at the moment find myself in support of what is proposed. I am not necessarily against the idea that once all this is up and running and has been, going for a little while public authorities should require in their tendering mechanism that only approved contractors can tender for the appropriate contracts. I think that that might be a better way of doing it.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, this amendment seeks to ensure that those contractors applying for approved contractor status would be deemed to be acting as a public authority under the Human Rights Act 1998. Clause 15 establishes a duty on the authority to make arrangements for granting approvals to the providers of security services who seek such approval. These arrangements must be made available to those who provide such services in England and Wales.

The noble Lord's amendment would mean that each provider of security services seeking approval would be deemed to be a public authority under the provisions of the Human Rights Act. Although the Act does not give a precise definition of a public authority, it does cover all central and local government bodies, the courts, the police, all government agencies, non-departmental public bodies, and the like. It may be helpful if I take this opportunity to confirm that the security industry authority itself, as an NDPB, would be covered by the provisions of the Act. It would be under a duty to act compatibly with rights provided for by the European Convention on Human Rights. If a person's rights were harmed, they could instigate legal proceedings against the security industry authority.

The provisions of the Act can also extend to a private body when it carries out a public function. If they regulate, direct or affect the public, or a group of the public, then they are likely to be covered by the Act. The Human Rights Act deliberately does not explain the meaning of a public authority or a public function in detail. Of course it is for the courts to interpret the Act and to decide what are "public authorities" and "public functions", and what are not. We consider it important that this discretion is left as it is, with the courts; and for that reason we cannot accept the noble Lord's amendment. I hope that, having heard this explanation, he will feel able to withdraw it.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 [Powers of entry and inspection]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 7: Page 15, line 12, leave out from second ("person") to end of line 13 and insert ("and used by him for the purposes of his business").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move this amendment, which goes to the question of powers of entry into domestic premises. I raised the possibility that there might be a house where the wife ran an unrelated business, and this might open up their home to the authority's private powers of entry. In his letter to me of 13th March the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, conceded that a narrow reading of Clause 19(1) might yield this interpretation. Nevertheless, he thought that the authority should not exercise its powers in such circumstances. I am paraphrasing what he said. He suggested that he might put the matter on record at Third Reading. It would be most helpful if he did.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to put the matter on record. As the noble Lord said, the amendment follows a concern that was also raised at an earlier stage.

It is a helpful amendment which perhaps seeks to clarify policy in the area. The noble Lord expressed his concern earlier about the position of premises occupied by a licence holder from which his partner or wife might operate a completely unrelated business. He was concerned that this set of circumstances might bring it within the scope of the Bill. The amendment seeks to clarify that the powers of entry and inspection would only apply to premises owned or occupied by a person appearing to be a regulated person and used by them for the purposes of business.

There are no differences between our views on the issue. I agree that premises which are used exclusively for residential purposes or used by a non-licence holder to run an unrelated business should not be subject to inspections. The amendment already approved by your Lordships on Report achieves that aim and objective.

Premises used exclusively for residential purposes are excluded. Inspectors would have no cause to enter premises used for the running of a completely and totally unrelated business. The authority's duties and powers are limited to private security activities. Consequently, inspectors operating on behalf of the authority would not be able to justify entering residential premises used for an entirely different business.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for tabling the amendment. I hope that the explanation now being in the public domain, as it were, and on the record, will enable him to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I should have made clear that it is not only a wife or partner, it could be anyone who was running the unrelated business. In the light of the Minister's remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 8: Page 15, line 36, leave out ("conduct") and insert ("actions").

The noble Lord said: My Lord, I referred to this matter on Report on 5th March when Amendment No. 28, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, was dealt with. I said: I believe that the Minister may be referring to the actions taken while the person exercising the power is on the premises". In part of his reply to that the noble Lord stated: I believe that the noble Lord is right. Here, we seek to capture the details of what occurred, what transactions took place and what was found. That is what we describe when we talk about 'conduct'—that is the business transacted".—[Official Report, 5/3/01; col. 48.] Subject to that discussion in the Chamber, I had recourse to the 2nd Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary in your Lordships' Library. I looked up the word "conduct". It said: To lead, guide … To lead, command, direct, manage … To convey; to be a channel for". None of those definitions is appropriate. I could not find an appropriate description anywhere under that word that fits what I understand to be the requirement of the Bill.

However, when looking up the word "action", it said: The process or condition of acting or doing … A thing done, a deed … Mode of acting". Therefore, I believe that "actions" is a better word than "conduct". I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, the amendment is a small but useful improvement to the drafting of the Bill.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, on Report, I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, when he presented his argument. During the course of those proceedings some changes were made to the clause. Without the aid of a dictionary immediately to hand, I am loath to remotely challenge his definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary of the word "conduct". But I hope to be able to persuade him that the provisions in the Bill accurately cover the issues over which he has expressed concern.

Clause 19(4) places a number of requirements on a person carrying out an inspection on behalf of the security industry authority. On Report, after helpful debate in Committee, these requirements were added to Clause 19. They seek to balance the authority's ability to enforce its licensing regime with a proper respect for the civil liberties of persons regulated by the Bill.

The noble Lord is concerned about one particular aspect; namely, the requirement in the clause for persons undertaking inspections to make a record of their "conduct", as opposed to his preferred formulation—a record of their "actions". He is concerned that the current wording of the clause limits the subject matter of the inspection record to one relating to the way in which the inspector behaves himself. That is—the noble Lord referred to it again—whether he did so well and honourably. His fear is that a clever lawyer may seek to get a client off the hook by misconstruing that word. I am all for making sure that we have clear legislation to ensure that people do not evade their responsibilities through what might be regarded as an unfair legal process.

I am grateful for the amendment of the noble Lord. We have looked again at the word in question in the light of his representations on Report. I hope to reassure the House, however, by saying that I do not believe that his fears are justified. As my noble friend explained on Report, the intention of Clause 19(4) is to require the details of what occurred during an inspection visit to be placed on record—when the inspector arrived; for what purpose; how long he stayed; what he did while there; and other relevant facts. It should be a full record of the inspection and a copy should be made available to the regulated person.

I do not believe that a reasonable interpretation of the word "conduct" in the context in which it is used in this clause would lead to a conclusion that the actions of an inspector on regulated premises could legitimately go unrecorded on the inspection record. Although it would ultimately be for the courts to determine the matter in relation to any particular case, I am clear in my mind that any record which did not set out the important details of the inspection, such as I have just described, should be regarded as an inadequate record. I am also clear that the use of the word "conduct" is generally taken to embrace actions and includes also the concepts of omissions and statements. Thus, the word "conduct" appears to cover every aspect to which the noble Lord has referred. For that reason, I believe that the clause should remain unamended.

Perhaps I may also point to the requirement in Clause 20 for the authority to prepare and publish guidance on the manner in which the important powers of entry and inspection are to be used. I am quite sure that the guidance will go into further detail about the nature of the record of inspection that is to be made.

I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will recognise that we have taken very seriously his representations on this point. We believe that the word "conduct" covers the whole aspect of actions during the course of such an inspection. On that basis, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, the noble Lord has not wholly convinced me with his response. Can he tell me whether any other piece of legislation uses the word "conduct" when a report on the search of premises has to be made, rather than "actions" or, indeed, another more suitable word?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I think that I have already confessed to the House that I am no lawyer and so I cannot give the noble Lord an immediate reply to his question. However, the Bill will become one of many Acts which permit public servants to carry out inspections. Legislation which relates to taxation and Customs and Excise contains such measures. There is no doubt that in the Bill we have followed a process whereby we have defined the manner in which inspection should be properly conducted. We have allowed a degree of freedom in the drafting to ensure that the authority itself will lay down what is to be expected as regards the conduct or, if the noble Lord prefers, the actions to be undertaken by an inspector when going into private premises.

I repeat: I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that we have taken seriously the points he raised on Report, but we have satisfied ourselves and, I hope, the House, that the word "conduct" is accurate and defines clearly what is expected of an inspector and how the process will be governed.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I am not a lawyer, but I know that court cases often arise over the exact construction and meaning of words. If it is not made clear, it is far more likely that court action will ensue. I hope that the Minister and his advisers will look at this again closely, because I am still not convinced by what he has said. It may well be that the word that I have proposed—"actions"—is not the best word, but I am sure that it is a great deal better than the word "conduct".

However, the House is thin and time is moving on. I shall not delay the House by dividing, as I had thought I might. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2 [Activities liable to control under the Act]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 9: Page 27,1ine 19, after ("such") insert (", or under his supervision and authority,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we discussed this matter earlier in our deliberations on Amendment No. 1. It concerns accountancy staff. I know that the Minister is going to write to me. However, if he accepts this amendment, it would keep the position in play. as it were, should he wish to reverse it. I hope that he finds that acceptable. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I would like to be able to accept this amendment, but I cannot do so. Perhaps I may explain carefully why that is the case. We held a debate on this matter earlier, as a result of a concern raised quite properly by the noble Lord on Report. It was then suggested that the government amendments to exclude qualified accountants should not extend to all staff in an accountancy practice.

As I indicated in our earlier debate, the Government wish to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are targeted at those specialist providers of security services whom we have stated we wish to regulate, and that they do not inadvertently catch groups which are not relevant to our policy aims and objectives. This latter group includes accountants.

The Government have accepted that the wording of paragraphs 4 and 5 in Schedule 2 did not make it abundantly clear that we were not seeking to take accountants into the regulatory framework. Your Lordships' House therefore approved amendments to provide a clear exemption for accountants from the definitions of private investigators and of security consultants. Those amendments were based on exemptions for members of relevant accountancy bodies, as the noble Lord had encouraged us t o do and, indeed, as we have been encouraged to do privately. That is now defined in Clause 25.

This amendment would extend the exemption to those employees of accountancy firms who work under the authority and supervision of an accountant, but who are not members of the accountancy bodies listed in the Bill. It is worth reminding ourselves that we are talking about those people hired out under a contract to supply clients with specialist services. Members of the relevant accountancy bodies and their staff who are working "in-house" fall outside the scope of the Bill.

Employees of accountancy firms who are not members of the relevant accountancy bodies as now defined may, of course, be hired out to provide accountancy services. In that case, they are not providing any of the designated activities which are the focus of the Bill and would not, therefore, fall to be licensed under it. However, as I said in my response on Report, it is not necessarily the case that only members of those relevant accountancy bodies may be hired out under contract to provide services that are relevant to the provisions in the Bill.

Many of the large and well-known accountancy firms now have extremely diversified business interests and provide a wide range of services. In some cases, those services will be "designated services" as defined in the Bill. It may be the case that accountants who are members of the accountancy bodies listed in Clause 25 will take part in some or all of these services. However, even if those services are "designated activities", the accountants undertaking them are now excluded from regulation under this Bill.

However, I am quite clear in my mind that in many cases these large, diversified accountancy businesses will also hire out members of their staff who are not members of the relevant accountancy bodies to undertake activities that are designated activities as defined in the Bill. This amendment would exempt anyone undertaking those activities from the need for a licence simply by virtue of their working under the authority or supervision of a suitably qualified accountant. As I indicated on Report, I do not believe that that would be right.

Those employees, if hired out under contract, would be undertaking the same type of work as people who legitimately offer their services as private investigators or security consultants, but not as accountants. They would be offering services such as the investigation of corruption, asset recovery and fraud risk management. In the Government's view, it would be wholly anomalous for non-accountants in accountancy firms to be exempt from licensing, when private investigators and security consultants offering exactly the same services would be caught.

Indeed, since we debated the Bill on Report, I have received representations from non-accountancy companies offering precisely these types of services who argue that if we were to exclude non-accountants who undertake services similar to theirs, it would create an uneven playing field. I find the arguments wholly persuasive. The counter-argument is to say, "Yes, we are undertaking designated activities as defined by the Private Security Industry Bill, but we are employed by accountants, so we should be exempt". I cannot accept that.

I also have great difficulty with the notion, advanced on Report, that such an exclusion was needed because in today's business world it is often difficult to define strictly what is "accountancy" and what is not. I accept that there may be certain difficulties surrounding definition here, but I am not convinced that the answer to those difficulties is to give such a broad and sweeping exemption to everyone employed by an accountancy firm.

For those good reasons, I continue to resist the amendment. Having heard what I have to say on the matter, and given his great experience in the world of accountancy, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw it.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, the Minister is wrong to say that I have "great" experience in the world of accountancy, although I have some. He must not exaggerate my professional career.

I accept that definitional problems exist, as the Minister suggested. I hope that he is right in his interpretation of what the Bill now says. I admit that I do not think he is right, but I hope that he is. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An amendment (privilege) made.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. In doing so, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debates and who have helped in enabling the Bill to complete its passage.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.