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Mr. Hawkins: The Minister will know from other debates of the Opposition's concern about the Government's propensity to place extra burdens on local authorities without providing the necessary funding. Will he undertake to ensure that the Government will provide the appropriate funding to allow local authorities to carry out this additional work?
Mr. Clarke: I said that delegation would take place only with the consent of local authorities, and one consideration for the Government and the authorities would be the financial arrangements involved. I know that the previous Conservative Government at no time placed burdens on local authorities without paying for them, and I am therefore delighted with the integrity of the position adopted by the hon. Gentleman.
The final element of the licensing system will be a public register listing every licensed person and the terms on which they have been licensed. The public and the police will thus be able to establish clearly whether an individual is properly licensed to engage in regulated security activities.
The second main strand of the SIA's functions is the approved contractors scheme. The Bill establishes a system whereby providers of security services who meet certain standards can obtain recognition from the SIA. The Government are aware that some bodies in the industry and elsewhere favour making this a compulsory scheme. However, we have decided against that, at least for the present. We do not believe that a full and comprehensive case for imposing this additional burden across the board on the industry has yet been made. We believe that the majority of reputable companies will want to seek approval under the voluntary system.
We are aware of arguments that the Government should set a lead by requiring that public contracts for security services will not be awarded to companies failing to meet the standards set by the SIA. I cannot give that absolute guarantee, but I can certainly say that we shall draw the virtues of the approved contractors register to the attention of the procurers of public service security contracts, and that we will make it clear to security companies that we are doing so. We believe that that will further increase the attractiveness of the scheme in the eyes of companies.
The Bill contains provisions to convert the voluntary scheme into a compulsory one, if the authority and the Government of the day are convinced that that is the right thing to do. Once again, we will listen very carefully to what the SIA tells us about the operation of the voluntary scheme.
Providers of security services will be able to apply to the authority for approval against a set of published criteria. If the standards are met, the company will be able to advertise itself as approved.
The supporting regime is similar to that for the licensing of individuals. The authority will draw up and publish its criteria; it can withhold or delay approval until the criteria are met; it may attach conditions to the grant of an approval; and it may charge a fee for processing the application.
There will also be a right of appeal to the magistrates courts against any decision of the authority in this area, and there will be a public register of approved companies. It will be an offence falsely to claim approval under the scheme.
It is important that the authority can actively police the licensing regimes that it establishes. The authority will therefore have powers of entry and inspection, but the powers contain a number of safeguards. For example, they are restricted to premises other than those solely used as domestic dwellings, and the purpose of the entry and inspection must be stated. These safeguards balance the rights of the individual with the need for the authority to have an effective enforcement mechanism.
Mr. Clarke: Very high. We shall have to see what Conservative Front-Bench Members and Liberal Democrat Members have to say about the matter, but my impression so far--subject to correction--is that there is a broad consensus, as there certainly was in the other place, as to the approach to be taken. There may be important points of detail to be debated--I do not want to trivialise that fact; but I believe that there is a general desire that we should respond to the wishes of the police and the security industry by getting legislation on to the statute book. I wait with interest to hear what will be said during this debate. I am confident that the Bill will receive Royal Assent by the time a general election is called--whenever that may be during the next year and a month.
As I was saying before I was so politely interrupted, the Government believe that the benefits accruing from the Bill are several. The SIA will, for the first time, introduce a licensing regime that is universal, consistent and transparent. By licensing all door supervisors, the authority will drive down the incidence of violence and drug offences in pubs and clubs. By licensing all wheelclampers, the authority will deter the cowboys who prey on innocent motorists.
The authority will also set about ratcheting up standards across the regulated sectors. It will play a central role in the future relationship between the private security industry, the police and the Government and the public whom we all serve; it will strengthen the partnerships that are so important.
It is important for the authority to work closely with the industry that it will regulate. However, it is also crucial that the authority is wholly independent of that industry. That will enable the public to have increased confidence in the industry, which, in turn, will, we hope and believe, be likely to lead to increased market opportunities for it.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Unscrupulous and criminal activity by those who have been employed in the security industry has been of concern to Members on both sides of the House and in another place.
In his opening remarks, the Minister paid tribute to the long-standing interest of the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). Similarly, I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), who has also been interested in the matter for a long time. Sadly, as the Minister and hon. Members know, because foot and mouth is a serious problem in my right hon. Friend's constituency, he is unable to be with us. Had that not been the case, I have no doubt that he would have wanted to participate in the debate. As he was the Minister of State at the Home Office when the Select Committee on Home Affairs investigated the matter in 1994, I am sure that the present Minister will agree that my right hon. Friend's work was extremely useful in preparing the background for the measure.
I pay tribute, too, to the former Member for Burton, Sir Ivan Lawrence, who was the Chairman of the Select Committee in 1994. He made a significant contribution to the Committee's report on the industry--as the Minister will confirm.
The Opposition's approach to the Bill is that it should not place unnecessary, overly complex, bureaucratic or burdensome regulations on the legitimate sector of the industry. I am sure that the House does not want the Bill to go further than is necessary or desirable. We must be especially careful not to hit the smallest people hardest. We do not want the Bill to impose a huge bureaucratic burden on small businesses; as we know, it is often easier--relatively--for big business to comply with Government regulations.
A large company can afford to employ people in compliance and administrative departments to ensure that regulations are satisfied. However, for people legitimately trying to run a small company, who are working all the hours God sends to build up their business, extra bureaucratic regulation is a huge problem. Thus, in Committee, we shall want to spend a great deal of time considering how the legislation would operate--especially its effects on small companies. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who raised the matter in an earlier intervention, will be as keen as me to probe the Government carefully on that.
I want to pay personal tribute to Mr. Alan Franklin, editor of The Surrey-Hants Star, which covers not only my constituency but the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who intervened earlier, and my right hon. Friends the Members for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) and for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay). Over a period of not months but years, Mr. Franklin has highlighted many of the problems that my constituents and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends have had with particular clamping companies, especially a company that has been used by South West Trains.
Some clamping companies, even those employed by large public limited companies, have frequently indulged in a thoroughly inappropriate approach to law-abiding members of the public. It is particularly worrying, as the Minister will acknowledge, when single ladies return late at night from their work in central London to a poorly lit station car park, where their car may be a great distance from a well-lit area, only to find that it has been clamped--perhaps because the signs about parking charges were obscured, as they have been in some of the cases that Mr. Franklin has highlighted--and then find it almost impossible to get someone from the clamping company to come out and release the car. Understandably, they then feel frightened and vulnerable.
In those circumstances, it is not surprising that there is huge concern. The editors of local and regional papers, who have taken up this cause and tried to embarrass not only the clamping company but the public limited company that employed it into ensuring proper standards, are doing a very worthwhile job.
Some of the cases that have been highlighted nationally have caused huge worry. In a case that was decided by the Court of Appeal in June 2000, a 61-year-old lady was clamped when driving home from hospital following a chemotherapy session--she had had to park her car in order to be sick. It was an appalling case. The clamping company had been employed by the local authority. I am glad to say that the lady concerned was supported by the Automobile Association, and that when it was explained to the Court of Appeal that the sign warning that illegal parkers would be clamped had been obscured in this instance by another vehicle parked in front of it, it ruled that the lady concerned could not reasonably have been expected to see the sign and ordered repayment of the fine imposed on her.
There were, however, even more significant worries when, in February 2000, the Data Protection Registrar began making inquiries, following suggestions that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency had given motorists' names and addresses to conmen who were posing as
In that instance, it was reported in the national press that wheelclamping companies were persuading landowners to let them enforce parking restrictions on private land in return for a cut of the fines improperly collected. Instead of clamping cars, which would deter other drivers from parking, unscrupulous companies were photographing vehicles' registration plates and asking the DVLA to provide the registered keepers' details. Again, that is a matter of huge concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House.
As a result of the wide reporting of such scandalous cases, we all recognise that the House probably needs to act. We shall want assurances from the Government that the provisions that will criminalise those who employ unlicensed operatives will be well publicised. For example, perfectly respectable businesses and individuals may wish to employ wheelclampers to stop the persistent, unauthorised use of their parking spaces.
In another place, my noble Friend Lord Cope cited the example of a dentist who had to employ wheelclampers to deter those who improperly used his surgery car park when visiting nearby shops. He asked whether the dentist would need to be licensed by the new authority. We certainly understand that, under the Bill, the dentist would find himself liable to criminal penalties if he were to employ an unlicensed wheelclamper. However, what would happen if he applied the clamp to an illegally parked car, or instructed one of his employees to do so? We should be interested to hear, in the Minister's winding-up speech, whether in those further circumstances the dentist or a similar professional would be caught by the offence proposed in clause 6.
Despite the limited defence to such a charge provided in clause 6(2), it would be helpful if the Minister could say how the Government intend to publicise the Bill's provisions to law-abiding people, not only those who will need to register with the new authority, but those who will use their services and the individuals who may, even on a limited and irregular basis, carry out such clamping. We want to know how the provisions will apply to people who voluntarily carry out the activities that will be regulated under the Bill. Will they be obliged to be licensed by the new authority?
Under schedule 1, the Secretary of State will have the unfettered power to appoint the new authority's members and chairman. He can appoint as many members as he likes--the Bill contains no lower or upper limit; nor does it state who can be appointed. When challenged in another place, the Minister's noble Friend Lord Bassam let slip that the Home Office expected that the Association of Chief Police Officers would be invited to nominate a representative; but is that all? Will representatives of the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation also be appointed? Will a senior judge or senior magistrate be appointed?
The Opposition think that that provision could be made much more specific. A more specific provision than that exists for, for example, the local probation boards established under the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. I am sure that the debates in Committee will provide an opportunity to explore that important matter in more detail. The Secretary of State should not have an
Will the Minister comment on the decision to make the register of licensed persons open to public inspection? Given that the register will hold not only the names of licensed persons but their addresses, what safeguards does the Bill contain to prevent someone from obtaining the home address of a licensed doorman or wheelclamper against whom he or she may bear a grudge? If such a licensed person were self-employed and worked from his or her home address, even allowing that person to specify a business address would not suffice because, in those circumstances, the business and home address would be one and the same.
Even if only work addresses were open to public view, there could be security implications. We are all aware of cases in which, sadly, private revenge attacks involve the arson of business premises--for example, fuel is poured through the letterbox and set on fire. Therefore, we shall wish to explore the need for further safeguards in that context.
The Minister will be aware that concerns were raised about the register of political donations that was set up by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Section 69(4) of the Act specifically provides that home addresses shall not be made available to the public. Conservative Members think that those concerns apply equally powerfully to operatives engaged in what may be sensitive security work.
We are aware of a number of complaints from police officers and others in sensitive positions about the potential for criminals to obtain home addresses from the electoral register. On a recent visit with the Solicitor-General, I was made aware that even senior people in the Crown Prosecution Service have been put at risk by the activities of serious and organised crime. People in the service felt that they and their families were being intimidated and threatened. That is a huge concern to those of us who are interested in the proper implementation of law and order and the administration of justice. The Government failed to act when such concerns were raised during the passage of the Representation of the People Act 2000. In enacting this Bill, it is important that we do not create similar problems, so we shall want to deal with that issue in detail in Committee.
Some people have expressed the concern that the Bill is really an attempt to provide a statutory framework for the kind of private policing arrangements that the Government envisage in their so-called 10-year crime plan, so that they can attempt to minimise any fuss that that might create. I remind the Minister of the Home Secretary's comments to the Police Federation conference back in May 1995, when the right hon. Gentleman was in opposition. He said: