Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Ian Stewart (Eccles): Does my right hon. Friend mean that in any structure, whether it relates to this Bill or not, enhanced transparency and scrutiny will add costs in the first instance, but if that leads to more effective work, the costs may be lowered in the long run?

Mr. George: I thank my hon. Friend. It is true that some things cost money, but the situation is unique because most of the industry is desperate to be regulated. If there is a criticism of the Bill, it is that it does not go far enough. It is not often that an entire industry says, ``Thank you for regulating us, but we would like the regulation to be a little tougher.'' The cost element is not unimportant or irrelevant, but hon. Members should not worry that vast structures are being set up that will not be affordable. They will be affordable and will be not just horses for courses, but structures to meet the problems.

I turn to other countries, but I shall not give a lecture on comparative politics. Having been warned once, Mr. Winterton, it will be at least half an hour before I dare to anger you again.

The Chairman: Order. It had better be a lot longer, if at all.

Mr. George: Thank you, Mr. Winterton, for joining in the spirit of the occasion.

The matter requires close scrutiny because we are legislating on something that we do not know much about. Many provisions will be left to delegated legislation, so it is even more important that Parliament has the opportunity to review our handiwork in three years, having considered provisions in rather pathetic statutory instruments, which is Parliament at its worst.

We are starting at the lower end of the learning curve and we should examine the comparative situation. We did not embark on the process of considering legislation until 1997, but many countries began to legislate in the 1960s. Many of those countries, states and provinces have gone through their first and second models of legislation and some are now on their third, having realised that legislation passed in the 1960s or 1970s is now irrelevant because there were no such things as computer security or closed-circuit television. The role of investigation has changed fundamentally.

I can give examples, the best of which come from the USA; the Rand report in 1971, the National Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice, Standards and Goals in 1976 and the Oppal commission in British Columbia in Canada in 1994.

I have been closely involved in developments in South Africa and have had many meetings with the Security Officers Board. Ironically, I have been consulted by South Africa on the review of its legislation, which is probably better than ours will be if we do not amend it. Yet, last year, South Africa began to re-evaluate its legislation and produced a massive report that is now law. It is important that the provisions in the Bill are reviewed within a time scale that is long enough to evaluate but short enough to provide the hope that any mistakes can be remedied.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): Why does the right hon. Gentleman think that the investigation should be carried out by the Security Industry Authority? Is it not a racing certainty that if the SIA carries out the review, it will conclude that it needs a few more powers, a little wider scope and greater authority? That is the way of authorities. It will not propose any diminution of its powers or scope, or conclude that it has used its powers inadequately. The review would be better carried out by the deregulatory authority, assuming it has returned, or the better regulation authority, if it has not.

10.30 am

Mr. George: I would rather that the management board of Birmingham City reviewed the legislation than the better regulation taskforce, the influence of which has been decidedly unhelpful. It is the last group that I would put in charge. Although it is not I who will make the decision, I agree that there is scope in the Bill for outside expertise to be consulted. The Home Office will have views on how effectively the SIA operates. If I was Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, I would want an inquiry in three years' time. As Chairman of the Defence Committee, I have already overseen five reports on the private security industry, in the absence of any enthusiasm on the matter—until recently—from the Home Affairs Committee. Perhaps my Committee will undertake an inquiry in relation to private security companies employed by the Ministry of Defence.

The right hon. Gentleman made the valid point that other people, including me, will be involved in monitoring the effectiveness of the SIA. My interest in the matter goes back a long time and will not suddenly disappear after the passage of the Bill—it may even intensify. The subjects that I have given as a checklist, which would need to be looked at in three years, include how to define a fit and proper person and whether the standards of training are adequate. Has the Bill taken into account the requirements of training? What will be done about excluded sectors? The Bill is largely directed at men who are guarding premises because security systems do not exist.

Mr. Hawkins: The right hon. Gentleman mentioned training. Does he agree that the checklist should also consider the level of skills as well as the amount of training? Sometimes, training is not an end in itself, and we should know what skills result from it.

Mr. George: If I were the Minister, I would accept such an amendment. Skills are important in the security industry, although they are sadly lacking in many companies. The most important issue is whether the Bill will be used to expand sectors of the industry that have been mysteriously blotted out like some kind of Soviet-era removal of characters not wanted in the picture. Whatever happened to in-house security? The charts in the consultative document look like an early map of Africa. I want to know about some of the ghost sectors that were in the consultative paper and then taken out, and I want some that were not in the paper to be included. I want the definition of the Bill to be adequate, because if it is not, it will give ample opportunity for its defects to be exploited.

Sufficient resources must be allocated to the inspections process. Local authorities must be able to cut the mustard in their regulation of door supervisors and bouncers. If the provisions are introduced in Scotland, and upgraded in Northern Ireland, tensions and problems might emerge between the Bill in one part of the United Kingdom and other legislation elsewhere. Will an investigator who goes from Carlisle to Edinburgh have to conform to different regulatory requirements? We need to assess whether the structure of the SIA is adequate. Has the appeals system worked? That needs to be more carefully considered. We must also examine whether the Committee has done its homework, and anticipated what might happen.

Mr. Ian Stewart: My right hon. Friend acknowledged that there would be no single authority that could scrutinise properly. However, the statement made by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) implied that the forthcoming Regulatory Reform Committee will be able to call Ministers to report annually. The existing Deregulation Committee has made it clear that that is its intention. Would scrutiny be better done on an annual basis than on the three-year basis that my right hon. Friend has suggested?

Mr. George: Three years should be a minimum, and scrutiny might happen annually later on. Three years will be sufficient to allow the SIA to become operational and for us to see whether it is working effectively.

My proposals would make marginal additions to a clause that I welcome. It is an excellent kick-off to a Bill that looks decidedly similar to my five abortive private Members' Bills. The title is different, but the scope is almost identical. There are many models of regulation that could have been adopted, and I have seen most of them. I am off to Kiev tomorrow to re-examine Ukraine legislation, which is quite good. I cannot offer much advice on the quality of legislation there, although I can offer advice on corruption, enforcement and leaning on private companies.

I applaud the clause—it is great, and will put the SIA on a proper footing. However, I hope that there will be a fundamental review of the operation of the provisions, and that the SIA will give a written report within three years of their coming into force. If such a document is laid before the House and, it is to be hoped, the Home Affairs Committee, and there is the opportunity for a debate, transparency will be ensured. After three years, with all the changes properly in place, we will be able to say definitely that our legislation is as good as anybody else's, and that we can be proud of putting the security industry on a proper footing after so many locust years.

Mr. Hawkins: I think that all Committee members should defer to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), because he has huge experience. He has just referred to the five abortive private Members' Bills that he has had in this field. I will restrict my comments to the amendment, because I anticipate a stand part debate on the clause, and we will express our wider concerns about it then.

Opposition Members have much sympathy for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. We considered subscribing to the amendment, but did not do so because we felt that, although there was undoubtedly a need for review, it would be better done by an outside body. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden suggested that it should be done by something like a deregulation body. However, we agree entirely with the underlying principle that the Bill should provide for a specific review. For that reason, I say openly that when the right hon. Gentleman presses the amendment to a vote—as I anticipate he will—the Opposition will support it.

It is important that such a provision be included in the Bill. There was considerable debate in another place about how the proposed authority will operate. Lord Cope of Berkeley raised a number of points, some of which I shall return to in the clause stand part debate. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned issues such as who will constitute a fit and proper person, training standards—he kindly said that he feels as I do, that skill standards should also be considered—whether the proposed authority will cover the right sectors of the industry, and whether the Bill's definitions are adequate. He made a particularly good point when he asked whether sufficient resources have been provided for inspections. He also expressed concern about tensions between legislation in different parts of the UK, and again I respectfully and entirely agree. In the light of the consequences of devolution, it is important to note that legislation in other parts of the UK might operate differently from that in England and Wales. We are particularly concerned about whether the structure of the proposed authority and the appeal system are adequate.

I agree that a fundamental review would be helpful. The question is: who should carry it out? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden said, it could be carried out by a deregulation body. I was interested to hear the right hon. Member for Walsall, South say that the very last body that should examine a matter such as this is his Government's better regulation taskforce. That is a savage indictment from a senior Government Back Bencher.

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