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The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I shall disappoint the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) by saying that his kind remarks will not be included in my election address, despite the advice of my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). There is an oleaginous quality to the hon. Gentleman that would not convince the discerning electors of Norwich, South to give weight to his judgment on such matters.
Mr. Bercow: I am genuinely taken aback by the Minister's comments. I do not want to prolong this exchange, Mr. Speaker, because you might become restive, and we do not want that to happen, but what I said in all seriousness about the right hon. Gentleman's expertise was very sincerely meant. I have long been an admirer of the right hon. Gentleman--frankly, since I came out of short trousers and observed politics from 1980 onwards. I am a trifle taken aback by what the Minister has said because although I have periodically been accused--unfairly, but I make no complaint--by Ministers and other Labour Members of being obnoxious, I have never been accused of being oleaginous.
Mr. Clarke: I was commenting on the hon. Gentleman's remarks about me. I completely accept that his comments about my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South were made in all seriousness. Indeed, I was going to make the same remark. Neither the House nor the Committee has been bored at any stage by my right hon. Friend's contributions because, in almost all circumstances, they have brought light to our proceedings. I say that genuinely, and he should not feel that he has bored anyone in any way.
I want to say a word about the missing half loaf that my right hon. Friend mentioned. I support Norwich City football club and am one of its season ticket holders. I take my cooking advice from Delia Smith, who is the catering secretary of a small organisation called Canaries at Westminster, which supports Norwich City football club. I was interested in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks on cooking, and I think that he would agree that the missing half loaf in his assessment of the Bill falls into two categories.
One category is made up of the areas of genuine disagreement between himself and the Government about exactly how far and how fast to proceed. Such matters include, for example, which sectors of the industry should be regulated and which should not, and at what time, and some aspects of the regulatory regime, such as whether the industry should be regulated through a quango or directly. However, those genuine disagreements have been more about pace than about direction.
The other missing quarter of the loaf is made up of things that are implicit in the Bill, but are not made explicit. I suggest that new clause 4 deals with that aspect of the proposals, rather than with any difference of opinion, such as those that we have discussed in Committee, because we accept that the effective discharge of the authority's duties to license only fit and proper persons will inevitably mean that it will need to establish an effective complaints procedure against licence holders and/or approved contractors.
The authority will need to be able to listen to, and investigate complaints made against, anyone who seeks a licence in the first place, or who seeks to renew a licence. The views of the public and customers will be important in that regard. More widely, the authority's general duties to keep under review the industry, the operation of the licensing system and the legislation in general will again mean that it will need to keep its ear close to the ground so as to find out exactly how the legislation is operating. A complaints mechanism--and, indeed, a wider vehicle for other types of public comment, not just complaints--will be an important and necessary contribution to the authority's discharge of all those responsibilities.
The authority, like any other effective public body, will need to establish a complaints procedure for matters within its remit. I can give an assurance to my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South that the Government will build such a complaints procedure into planning to establish the authority. Furthermore, in the extremely unlikely event--so unlikely that it is not foreseeable--that an appropriate complaints mechanism were not set up by the authority, the Secretary of State could direct the authority under the provisions of clause 2 to establish one. I give an assurance on behalf of this Government--and the hon. Member for Buckingham implied the same on behalf of the Opposition--that such a direction would be issued by Government in such a case.
In keeping with the framework approach that we have adopted with the legislation, we do not, however, consider it necessary for such a requirement to appear in the Bill. It is important, but, as we discussed in Committee,
Mr. Bercow: I think that we have had an assurance that the complaints procedure will apply all the time, and not only within the time-limited periods in which somebody is either applying for a licence or seeking renewal of it, but will the Minister confirm that he has ideas in mind for developing the complaints procedure, culled from the practice of other professional services? Can he offer us some inkling of those ideas?
Mr. Clarke: I can give the general assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks that the complaints process will cover the range of complaints that could arise. We do not have in our back pocket a particular form for that process, but it will be culled from the best practice of similar national bodies to try to establish the best form for the complaints regime.
I urge my right hon. Friend to consider withdrawing his new clause. I give him the assurance that this Government will build a complaints procedure into our plans for establishing the authority. In the unlikely event that the authority does not establish an appropriate mechanism, the Secretary of State will be ready to direct it, under the provisions of clause 2, to establish such a procedure. To use even warmer words, I might say that we do not believe that such an authority could operate at all unless it operated an effective complaints procedure.
Mr. Bruce George: I noted a slight altercation between my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). I would have liked to join in, but oleaginous is not a word that I use regularly. I have been called many things but never that by my constituents, and I suspect that most of them are as oblivious of the etymology of that word as I am. I shall look it up and if it is so abusive I shall belatedly come to the assistance of the hon. Gentleman.
Once an election has been called is not the best time to become a rebel, and I do not propose to divide the House. I have received assurances on the main points, although I remain sceptical about some earlier promises. The Minister will go on to higher things--I shall not say better things, because looking after the private security industry is a noble task. I certainly accept his assurances. I apologise for the slight error in the new clause; as the hon. Member for Buckingham pointed out, his knowledge of the English language is greater than mine--he actually knows what oleaginous means. Subsection (c) should state that the
'The Authority shall establish a regulation harmonisation committee with representatives from government departments and other relevant bodies for the purpose of developing and harmonising security standards.'.--[Mr. Bruce George.]
In the less than eight minutes available for my speech, I hope that my reason for proposing the new clause will be obvious. I have often been guilty of arguing that the private security industry--unlike almost every other industry in the world--is wholly unregulated and unaccountable. Strictly, that was and is true, as other people have also pointed out. However, the security industry is enormous, and only some of it has been brought within the orbit of this Bill. As much of the industry is outside as is inside--that is one of the main deficiencies of the measure.
Even more obvious to me, however, is the fact that a vast sector of the private security "industry" falls within the scope of the public sector. For example, probably as many people are engaged in physical guarding, investigation, installation and monitoring of equipment and information security in Departments, Government agencies and local government as in the private sector. An enormous number of public sector personnel have job descriptions almost identical to those in the sectors of private security that will eventually be covered by the measure.
In many countries, the public sector is subject to the same regulatory standards as the private sector. In all honesty, therefore, one must realise that the security industry is well entrenched in the public sector. The reality is that the Government regulate their own areas of competence extremely well; they look after the private security in their own orbit quite well. However, that does not mean that they are good payers. Until recently, some of the worst paid personnel in private security were employed in Departments.
Furthermore, I certainly would not argue with anyone who believes that security in the museum and art gallery sectors, for example, is infinitely superior to that in other sectors. I had a good friend who was a consultant. Despite my frequent protestations and pleadings for him to divulge the contents of a research project that he undertook on a particular museum, he would not go into any detail. However, he told me that the situation was truly appalling. He briefly mentioned that more people were engaged in guarding the museum, which is enclosed
I am not arguing that outside the private sector the activities that come within the scope of central and local government are infinitely better regulated. However, in some cases they are. Departments have tried to save for themselves precautions to prevent them from being open to the same criticism as the private sector. That sounds contradictory, but it is true. The Home Office has established statutory and mandatory standards. The privatisation of prisons and prison escorts was implemented alongside a tough regulatory framework set up by the Criminal Justice Act 1991. The standards of security in prisons are high, despite bad publicity, and outside the scope of regulation. The Guard Dogs Act 1975 provided powers, some of which have not been implemented. The Home Office employs in-house and contract security guards, and the in-house sector is certainly regulated.
The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has extensive statutory responsibilities for regulating security in respect of transport. The transport security division--Transec--is responsible for monitoring and enforcing regulations. Its role is to deliver secure public transport systems in accordance with United Kingdom legislation and international agreements, so all those people who fall within the scope of the Department's remit, such as the guards at Heathrow or Gatwick, are clearly subject to strict control and regulation. When I made a close study of Ministry of Defence security, I discovered that its police and guard service employ a variety of private security companies, so it, too, applies strong regulatory standards.
The Health and Safety Executive is responsible for much activity within the public and private sectors. Guidelines on leisure and entertainment are produced by Departments. They set the norms and are mandated in sports ground licences, safety certificates, occasional licences and contracts. The Department of Health, which has responsibility for a vast number of hospitals and other institutions, has laid down clear standards for the hiring of private security staff.
We should consider the role of central Government as a whole. Although I have not tabled parliamentary questions since the 1994-95 Session, it is possible to make a rough calculation based on the figures that were given for those years. I asked how much Departments had spent on security agencies, contract guards, in-house guards, private investigators, in-house investigators, security consultants and the purchase of security equipment. In 1994-95, the total cost of Departments' spending on private security and security agencies was more than £337 million.
Under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the Home Office plays an enormous role in funding closed circuit television and neighbourhood or community wardens--four such schemes have been funded in my area. It takes 20 days to train a community warden, and that training is infinitely superior to that carried out by almost any private security company. Organisations in central Government--such as the DETR, those in Northern Ireland, and nuclear and defence establishments--employ private security personnel according to different standards.
However, a variety of voluntary standards have been influenced by the Government. For example, the British Standards Institution, Securicor, the Security Industry Training Authority and the International Institution of Security all have different regulatory standards that apply to personnel and to equipment. Hovering in the background--too often, it comes into the foreground--is the better regulation taskforce and it, along with the other organisations, has an influence on security issues.
My new clause is designed to give the Home Office and the regulatory authorities food for thought. I wish to make it clear that they deal with just one part of the private security industry. Other Departments have regulatory authority, and other standards--albeit voluntary--apply particularly to security equipment. I suggest to the regulatory authorities that there should be a committee or some form of grand summit--that may sound rather pompous--that involves the Home Office, regulatory authorities, local government associations and other Departments. The aim should not be to standardise procedures, because that is not possible. However, we should at least try to make the different sectors of the security industry--contract, in-house and those within and without the scope of regulation--aware of what the others are doing through a regular exchange of information.
If my hon. Friend the Minister shocks us all by accepting the new clause, I hope that the Home Office and other Departments will give serious consideration to the practices of a whole range of bodies, many of which I have not mentioned. Although harmonisation is not feasible, we should at least ensure that the guards employed directly by the Home Office or the Foreign Office are subject to similar standards. Consultation is important, and much of the industry will fall outside the regulations. Therefore, the influence of the public sector is important in ensuring that the different organisations meet each other with the aim of achieving a greater degree of commonality than has hitherto existed.