Last chance to prevent licensing threat to IT consultants

Contractors, MPs and industry experts are lobbying the government in a last ditch attempt to stop legislation that could see IT...

Contractors, MPs and industry experts are lobbying the government in a last ditch attempt to stop legislation that could see IT consultants forced into a licensing regime.

The crucial third reading of the Private Security Industry Bill will take place next Tuesday (8 May). If passed unamended, it could see IT professionals hit by laws intended to regulate wheel-clampers and bouncers.

Shadow Home Office minister, Nick Hawkins, said, "It's the government's last chance. Otherwise the Bill stays as it is and the IT security industry will get caught up in the legislation. I'm hoping that after all the fuss made the government will forward its own amendment for Tuesday. We need to keep the pressure up."

The standing committee considering the Bill, last week heard a briefing from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which prompted Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs to call for the exemption of IT contractors from its provisions.

Opposition committee members said failure to do so risked undermining prime minister Tony Blair's aim of making the UK the best place in the world to conduct e-business.

Hawkins pointed out that the unamended legislation conflicts with a European e-commerce directive saying that IT service providers' activity must not be "made subject to prior authorisation" by member states.

"We and the CBI feel that consideration must be given to the directive that aims to free up the internal market for IT services by requiring member states to avoid measures that might restrict the freedom to supply such services from another member state," said Hawkins.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said that the Bill should reflect the fact that "compliance with minimum standards across the EU must be dealt with".

The Professional Contractors Group (PCG), the contractors' industry body, which fought against the government's original IR35 proposals, is confident that the government will make the necessary amendment at the 11th hour.

A PCG spokeswoman said, "We're very aware of this piece of legislation and understand that it is not intended to target IT contractors, which would be outside its objective aims. We would be very surprised if the government attempted to bring IT contractors within the scope of this legislation. If they did we would object to it."

"Any government that talks about being joined-up but wants to treat a 21st century industry in the same simplistic way as its approach towards wheel-clampers and getting drunks out of bars effectively is not taking the IT industry seriously, and is making a mistake," said the spokeswoman.

Caspar Bowden, director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research said, "If the Home Office has no intention of wading into this area, why not grant an amendment?"

Lisa Kelly

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