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Mr. Charles Clarke: I give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks. I tried to emphasise that exceptionally important point in my speech and he is right to raise it again, as are others. Independence and integrity are critical to the whole system.
The Government are right to concentrate on individual licences, but I am not sure about the cost. We are supposed to be encouraging welfare to work, to use the current phrase, but someone who wants to get off the dole and into a job will regard £40 as a high price to pay for a passport to that desirable end. Can the Minister be a little more innovative: for example, might it be possible to set up a special scheme or training programme--perhaps paid for by the levy--to help those who are out of work, or might the companies be persuaded to make a contribution?
It is important that we reach a clear understanding about training, especially essential training. We are not talking about a four-year apprenticeship, but there is a need to be specific about the sort of training that is required. In addition, skills will have to be updated as conditions in the industry change and new technology is introduced. We all look forward to hearing the Minister's comments in that respect.
The Government must think again about the regulation of companies. I understand the arguments that the key issue is ensuring that the individuals who actually provide the service are properly vetted and trained and that the market mechanism enables clients to decide which company can provide the best and most credible service. However, I think that the industry needs a bit of a fillip, which could be provided by ensuring that companies have to register. If there is a case for voluntary registration, why not go the whole way and have mandatory registration? That is the way to ensure that the high standards to which the Minister and others have referred are adhered to.
If we do not have mandatory registration, criminals may set up a security company, insist that their employees go through a vetting process, and then use that information to conduct criminal activity. I may be wrong, but I do not think that that would be caught by the Bill. It would be better to put extra responsibilities on the directors. If they work as security officers, they are covered by the Bill, but, worryingly, if they are backseat directors running a criminal activity, they are not. I wonder how the police view the matter; I think that they would have reservations about that aspect of the Bill.
We have regulation in the banking industry because the market did not take care of it. Too many people had too much inside information to be able to give objective financial advice, so it was decided that they should state their interests before giving financial advice. Essentially, that is what the regulatory authorities in the finance
Others have argued that there is a case for registering in-house security staff. I recognise the argument in favour of that, but, to be honest, I also recognise the argument that it should be left alone as the market can take care of it. People who employ staff directly can make decisions on their quality, how they should be vetted and so on. The jury is out on that one, and I would like to see how things develop before insisting on such registration. However, the question of registering companies needs a rethink, and the Minister may have an opportunity to do that in Committee.
As I said, I very much welcome the Bill, which is long overdue. It addresses the genuine fears of people in all walks of life who are connected with the security industry, including the police, the companies themselves--whatever their size or shape--and, perhaps most importantly, those who work in the industry. Like other Members, I am concerned about the late introduction of the Bill and I am worried that it may not reach the statute book before the next Parliament. If it does not, I hope that it will be reintroduced. After 20 years or more of debate, there is more unity on the issue than there has ever been. I urge the House to agree to the Second Reading today and, if necessary, agree to that again in the next Parliament.
Jackie Ballard (Taunton): Unlike the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), I do not have any interests to declare. Touch wood, I have not been wheelclamped yet and have not been bounced out of a nightclub. The Minister will be interested to hear that. In Committee, I usually divulge aspects of my life that engage him, and about which Conservative Members make notes for their leaflets.
My party does not support unnecessary and over-bureaucratic regulation, but we welcome the Bill, which will regulate an important sector of private industry that directly affects the safety and security of the public. Lord Thomas of Gresford led for us in the other place and set out our generally supportive position on the Bill. However, he also raised several issues of concern, some of which the Government responded to in the other place, and others which we shall seek to address in Committee.
It will come as a surprise to many people that the industry is not already regulated, and as a surprise to others that it has taken so long to regulate it. According to the Library briefing, there have been 17 private Members' Bills on the subject in the past 20 years, so the Opposition cannot claim that they were exactly hyperactive in ensuring that legislation was enacted during their 18 years in government.
As the Minister said, some 350,000 people are employed in the industry, but the total number is not precisely known. That in itself is an argument for regulation. Many of the functions performed by the industry straddle the boundary between the private and the public sectors, so it is important that it is subject to regulation not only to ensure high standards, but that the limits of the powers of private security operators are clearly defined. The public need to have confidence in the system, and it is important that the industry and the people who work for it and with the public are subject to checks and balances.
It has been widely reported, including in Home Office research studies, and as we have heard from other hon. Members, that there has been a relatively high level of criminality in certain sectors of the industry, particularly among door supervisors, or bouncers. That has been reduced considerably in recent years with the introduction of door safe schemes and proper training and supervision, which many local authorities have pioneered. However, as so often happens, it takes only a few rotten apples to give an entire sector a bad name. No doubt that is why so many companies involved in the business have welcomed regulation.
In common with other hon. Members, I have had letters from companies that operate internationally, pointing out that the UK is one of the few countries in which they operate where there is no licensing system, and the only country in the EU other than Greece where the industry is still largely unregulated.
Mr. Bercow: It was estimated in 1996 that approximately 2,600 crimes were being committed each year by people hiding behind the disguise of a security officer's uniform. The hon. Lady said that the position had improved in recent years. Has she any idea of what the figures were for last year?
Jackie Ballard: No, but I am sure that with his encyclopaedic brain, the hon. Gentleman does. I note that in 1996, his party was in government, and I am surprised that it did not do anything to address the number of crimes attributed to the industry.
The Select Committee on Home Affairs 1995 report stated that standards, particularly for training, in much of the sector were unsatisfactory and below the standard that the public needed and had a right to expect. That report was published during the time that the hon. Gentleman's party was in power. The Select Committee's comments applied particularly to the manned guarding sector, and the same sentiments are expressed by a large part of the industry. The Bill is therefore widely welcomed.
I come to specific issues in the Bill. We welcome the setting up of the Security Industry Authority, although that entails the creation of another quango. It comes rather rich for the Conservative Opposition to criticise the Government for creating even more quangos, but I can safely criticise them. Both the other parties have created many quangos, but I can claim that my party has not, particularly in the past 90 years. When we are given the chance in a few weeks time, we will not do so either.