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We welcome the establishment of a body that is responsible for regulating the industry through licensing, inspection and setting or approving standards, and for overseeing implementation of the Bill and making representations to the Secretary of State with regard to further legislation. However, we want further to examine the body's composition in Committee, because as the Bill stands, its membership is selected entirely at the discretion of the Home Secretary. There is an argument for its composition to be specified in legislation, in the same way as that of many other quangos. The Minister said that there would be a place on the authority for representatives of the industry. I understand also that the Government gave assurances in the other place that they would consult the industry on other appointments. However, we would like further clarification, so perhaps the Minister can provide that today.
We welcome the introduction of mandatory licensing for people who are involved in the private security industry. That provision lies at the heart of the Bill's intentions, as it seeks to ensure that certain minimum standards are met. We also welcome the Government's clarification in the other place about who is subject to licensing and who is not.
However, if the Bill is to ensure that the whole industry is subject to the same standards, I must reiterate the question that my noble Friend Lord Thomas asked in the other place: why are licences not required for in-house operatives? In reply to my intervention on the matter, the Minister said that the 350,000 figure included in-house operatives. The Government's White Paper said that members of the public should be encouraged to ask to see an individual's licence. How will the public know that they should not do that if the individual in question is an in-house operative? Such a discrepancy will lead to confusion. The White Paper also said that regulation would apply to the whole of the manned guarding sector and that the exclusion of in-house security personnel from
We also seek clarification on the Secretary of State's power to exempt particular individuals from the licensing requirement. In what circumstances is that power likely to be employed and what criteria will be used? We recognise the need for the authority to set licensing criteria, but there is no indication of what those criteria should be, beyond the requirement that the individual concerned must be
We welcome the Government's amendment to the appeals provisions, especially with regard to licences. We also welcome the approved contractors scheme, which is an important way of ensuring high standards throughout the industry. However, I repeat the question that we asked in the other place: why is the scheme voluntary and not mandatory? That question is especially important if the Government are seeking to ensure high standards across the industry. We acknowledge their argument that there is provision for the Secretary of State to make the scheme mandatory if the conditions call for that to happen. We also accept that they do not want to overburden the authority or the industry in the early stages of regulation. However, it has been argued that there is a need for a more robust scheme, because that is the best way of ensuring effective regulation of the industry. That argument was well expressed by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North.
We recognise that the powers of inspection and entry are a necessary measure of enforcement. However, I am sure that the Minister will not be surprised to learn that we will be concerned to ensure that those powers are not disproportionate and that individuals' privacy is properly respected, in the spirit as well as the letter of the Human Rights Act 1998. We welcome the amendments made by the Government in the other place to refine the authority's powers of inspection and entry. The amendments were tabled after my noble Friend Lord Thomas expressed concerns about the matter. We will reconsider the provisions, however, to satisfy ourselves that they do not unnecessarily impinge on civil liberties. In particular, we would like to ensure effective scrutiny of the guidelines adopted by the authority with regard to the powers.
Two other issues have caused us some concern. First, I understand that on Report in the other place, the Government tabled amendments that sought to exempt from the licensing requirements accountancy firms that are engaged in activities that are included within the scope of the Bill. I am told that the amendments were tabled because of representations made by the accounting community, but I know that some sectors of the security
Secondly, other hon. Members have mentioned the need to keep an effective check on the operations of the industry, as well as to maintain standards. We are concerned to ensure that the security industry does not assume a more extensive public role. In other words, we should not allow licensed private vigilantes.
Although we broadly welcome the Bill and believe that it deserves a Second Reading, I have flagged up a number of issues that we will want to consider very closely. We will seek to make improvements with a view to ensuring that the industry as a whole is required to meet minimum standards, not only some parts of it. We want the Bill to capitalise more fully on the White Paper, and we also see the need for safeguards in respect of the SIA's powers and any unnecessary extension of the Bill's provisions on inspection and entry of premises. We look forward to seeing improvements to the Bill in the weeks ahead and hope that it will be enacted before Parliament dissolves.
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly. It is an important measure that builds on the Government's policies for security and law and order. The issues that it addresses are of particular importance to our seaside and coastal towns, one of which I represent. The provisions are not narrow, tidying-up measures for places such as Blackpool, as the Bill raises significant public order issues that relate to how seaside and coastal towns should promote a culture of quality and reliability, and an antipathy to the yob culture that too often disfigures them. They relate also to how we should prevent actions that will upset residents and tourists in such towns and damage their tourist image.
My interest in those issues derives not only from a general interest in matters that affect seaside towns--I am president of the British Resorts Association and convenor of a Back-Bench group of MPs who represent seaside and coastal towns--but from the effects on my constituents of
The Bill is about securing comfortable public space and balancing rights. I wrote to the Home Secretary on 19 July and said that the activities of some of the private security and clamping businesses that attracted increasing numbers of local complaints were also beginning to have a negative impact on tourism, which is crucial to the economy of many seaside and coastal towns. Small and medium-sized businesses, which are central to generating prosperity in the leisure and tourism industry, are anxious for the Government's proposals on regulation, as outlined in White Paper, to be implemented as soon as possible.
I was therefore delighted when the White Paper's proposals appeared in the Queen's Speech and later in the Bill. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister and the Home Office team for fighting the cause vigorously with Government business managers and giving us the opportunity to consider the measure today.
I want to concentrate on wheelclamping and security, which the Bill regulates. Wheelclamping has long been a matter of dispute. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who have eloquently and persistently spoken about the issue. The Library research paper reminded us that it has featured in private Members' Bills since 1969. It is therefore important to consider it properly, now that it has the advantage of inclusion in a Government Bill.
I pay tribute to all those in my constituency who have raised the issue, especially Mr. Alan Smith, trading standards officer for Blackpool borough council. I also pay tribute to the local police, who were sympathetic if often frustrated that current law did not allow them to intervene more vigorously, to my local paper, The Gazette, which has run an effective campaign through detailing some of the activities of wheelclampers, and to my local hotelier group and others who have approached me on the subject.
Perhaps the best example of rogue wheelclamping inflation that I have come across was described in a letter that I received in the first week of January from Mr. and Mrs. Salmon from Guisborough in Yorkshire. They had the misfortune to attend the new year's eve ball at Blackpool tower. I am sure that it was a great and elegant occasion, but when they returned to where they had parked their car--they believed that it was a perfectly proper parking place--it had been towed away by a private firm called Mac Security. In view of the large amounts of money that the gentlemen subsequently pocketed, I am tempted to call it "Big Mac".
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) referred to the practice of targeting women. One of my constituents who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant was left in a Blackpool car park after finding that her car had disappeared. She had to pay £205. A deaf and dumb holidaymaker was stranded when his car was towed away. In nine months, police in Blackpool received approximately 131 complaints about clamping. The aforementioned gentleman who visited my surgery finished off his nine months by extracting from an elderly couple from Lytham in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) a sum equivalent to their weekly pension after a late-night confrontation with them.
What do people receive for the money? In the last case that I cited, the people received a squiggly receipt for £250 in cash, written on a torn-out sheet from a plain invoice book. It contained no phone number or details of a registered company. There was no form of redress whatsoever.
The Bill therefore tackles significant abuses, and I am delighted that our Government have picked up the torch. I was surprised that an element of the old Adam remained in some Opposition Members. That was shown by the amendments that Lord Cope tabled in another place to restrict the ability to license wheelclampers. Such a restriction would not have conveyed the right message. Although the matter must be kept under review, I hope that the Government will resist similar amendments.
When, God willing, the Bill receives Royal Assent, it is important that the police use their initiative to pursue and control clampers in the period before the Bill is fully effected. I speak for several hon. Members who have been frustrated by the slow progress of police and local authorities in implementing anti-social behaviour orders. I hope that those problems do not occur when the Bill is enacted.
I pay tribute to the fact that much of the self-regulation in many clubs in my constituency and elsewhere has been proactive and responsible. However, as the Minister and the hon. Member for Surrey Heath made clear, there have, sadly, been too many cases in which it has not. In my constituency, I have been involved in issues that have convinced me of the need for regulation. I was involved in a campaign to get to the bottom of a particular case before I became a Member of Parliament, while I was a prospective parliamentary candidate. The case involved a young man of 17 who died after taking an overdose of ecstasy, having been admitted to a club in a condition that any reputable or sensible bouncer would never have permitted.
On another occasion, I visited Wakefield prison, to talk to one of my constituents who was serving a sentence for murder. I do not want to comment on the specifics of that case, as it is still before the Criminal Cases Review Commission, but my conversations with him--along with other background information--revealed the hidden twilight world of drug dealing in which, all too often, relations between unlicensed bouncers played a significant part. In my constituency last year, there was also very sad case involving a young man--he was a doorman--who was savagely beaten almost to death outside one of our clubs in circumstances that underline the need for proper licensing of doormen.
We need the controls that the Security Industry Authority will provide. It is sensible that there is to be a right of appeal locally, but I want to flag up a concern, which has been referred to already, about clause 4(1). There may be rightful concerns about the weaknesses involved in excluding in-house staff who are not bouncers from the remit of the Bill. In the other place, my noble Friend Lord Bassam, in outlining the reasons for that decision, said:
In those circumstances, I hope that the Government will take full and considered account, in the review procedure that they have proposed for the operation of the legislation, of the need to protect children from any rogue elements among such security guards. I would like an assurance that any procedures to check whether those guards are registered on the sex offenders' register, or are involved in any other child protection issues, will be properly taken on board if, as the Bill proposes, they are not to be separately licensed and regulated.
I welcome the Bill overall. It contains important provisions that will benefit my constituency specifically, and seaside and coastal towns in general. Those towns are doing a great deal to regenerate themselves with single regeneration budget money, town centre partnerships and community building. In a town such as Blackpool, in which history and geography have combined to pepper residents cheek by jowl in unprecedented numbers, it is particularly important that sensitive issues such as wheelclamping and security arrangements at places of leisure and tourism are properly regulated and give a sense of confidence.
It is not only the quality of life inside people's homes that is important in those towns, but the quality of life on the street and in other public places as people go about enjoying the facilities that towns have to offer. That is why the Bill will make such a significant and important contribution to the quality of life in seaside and coastal towns, and why I give it my strongest support.