Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Bercow: I note what the Minister said, but may I put it to him that, although the authority may be independent of Government, it inevitably cannot be independent of itself? Unless a debate is held on the report of its activities, what opportunity will there be for independent scrutiny of the authority and its self-assessment?

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman makes the same point that has been made before. I apologise for saying this, but perhaps he should let me finish before popping up and raising the point again. In that way, I may deal with it more effectively.

I submit that the clause contains substantial provisions that meet the points made in the amendment. I reaffirm what I have already stated: the Government will undertake a formal review of all the authority's work and its effectiveness after it has operated for three years. I am happy to repeat that undertaking to the hon. Gentleman and the Committee here and now.

We must now ask who the Government are, from this point of view. Are they the better regulation task force or another body? In that context, my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South made some interesting comments about the role of Select Committees. I cannot answer the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) explicitly, in giving him a Home Office line on who the Government are when they carry out such reviews. However, perhaps I may refer to my experience as a member of the Treasury Committee.

Early in this Parliament, we decided to set up a Sub-Committee of that Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer), which conducted a rolling review in every agency of the Treasury—the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise, Royal Mint, the International Monetary Fund and so on. Ours was the only Select Committee to undertake such a task and I was among those who argued for it. The workings of every agency responsible to the Treasury have had an external independent review, and on a cross-party basis, as it was done by the Sub-Committee. Recently, at a drinks party that we held for my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice), who is retiring from Parliament, I discussed the process with the hon. Member for West Worcestershire and asked him how he felt that it had worked. He felt that it had been an outstanding success.

I would argue—not as a Minister but as a Member of Parliament—that there is a case for every Select Committee going through such a systematic process. It does not obviate the need for inquiries as and when particular problems occur, but it means that there is scrutiny of each of the agencies established by legislation, which is to the general good . That would be a good way of proceeding, notwithstanding the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South, that the Home Affairs Committee may well decide to have a review of the operation after three years, or at any other time.

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I will not prejudge what form such a review would take after three years, because we need to consider specific points raised in Committee. The review should not simply be by the authority of itself—it is important that the Government review the whole operation.

Mr. Hughes: I am grateful for the Minister's helpful reflection on his Treasury Committee experience. Will he tell me, because I cannot remember, whether it is now the policy that in the Home Office annual report there is a specific reference to the authorities that report to the Home Office, and that reports are easily identifiable and retrievable? A useful way of ensuring that all the agencies that report to his Department can be found and held accountable is to ensure that they are cross-referenced to other places that can be examined by the public. Such reports should be in the departmental annual report.

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman is right about the Home Office annual report. Above and beyond that, I recollect that a report is produced by the Cabinet Office of all the agencies of Government, which are defined by the Departments to which they are responsible, that enables immediate reference to be made to those organisations. In process and reporting terms, it is right to put them in the context of each Department's report. The Home Office annual report does that as well.

I believe that paragraph 17 of schedule 1, which requires annual reporting to take place, goes a long way to meeting the concerns raised by my right hon. Friend. I assure him, as I have said, that the Government will review the operation of the Act, and conduct a formal review after a three-year period. The powers of the House, through Select Committees and otherwise, to debate and deal with specific issues go a long way towards meeting his concerns. I ask him to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister has pointed to various other parts of the Bill that deal with the amendment. He also says that the Government will undertake a review. Why does he object to saying now that the Government will table an amendment on Report to provide for a review after three years? One difference between what is in the clause as drafted and what is proposed in the amendment is the word ``fundamental''. The amendment talks about a fundamental review, which is rather different from the annual reports that come out on a bread and butter basis. A fundamental review is quite clearly different.

Mr. Clarke: I will consider whether to table amendments on Report. Paragraph (b) in the amendment is already covered. On paragraph (a), I do not think that the authority itself should necessarily carry out the fundamental review. On the precise times at which reviews may be carried out, I will consider tabling something on Report. However, I am sceptical of the merits of being so prescriptive, rather than saying that we will keep the process under constant review in the way in which we have discussed. I acknowledge that there is merit in the case, and with that full and positive discussion, I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend would consider withdrawing the amendment.

Mr. George: I do not want to fight the Minister about the matter, as more fundamental issues will arise later. It is prudent and correct to withdraw the amendment, but I hope that he will consider whether any aspects of it, and of the comments of Opposition Members with regard to it, could be incorporated into the Bill.

I have made it clear that I am broadly supportive of the clause and that the amendment is not intended as a fundamental critique of it. However, it would be improved if some of the suggestions that have been offered in the debate were accepted, and I hope that the Minister will consider them. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Hawkins: As I have said, the Opposition have concerns, in particular about the Government's proposals with regard to the structure of the Security Industry Authority. Those concerns were expressed by Lord Cope of Berkeley, when the matter was debated in another place. He questioned whether the Security Industry Authority is an appropriate name for the new quango, and he tabled an amendment proposing that it should be called the Security Activities Authority, because the clause covers many matters that do not relate specifically to the security industry.

More general concerns have been raised on Second Reading and by parliamentary commentators. As the right hon. Member for Walsall, South mentioned, it is unusual for a Bill that proposes to establish a new quango to be so widely welcomed, and a commentator has expressed surprise that no libertarian voices have been raised in criticism of that proposal.

I have been an opponent of quangos throughout my political career, as have many of my Opposition colleagues, but we are not opposed in principle to the Bill. The respectable side of the security industry wants a regulatory body to be established to drive out the cowboy and criminal elements that have become involved in some aspects of the business. All Committee members are concerned about the infiltration of the private security industry by organised crime and, in particular, by drugs crime. Opposition Members have reluctantly conceded that regulation is required, but some of us have grave reservations about the way in which the quango is to be set up.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I was interested in the hon. Gentleman's discussion. In the event of his party being elected after the next general election and if the Bill was not in effect, would the measure be a priority in a Conservative programme? I ask because he correctly described the tension between what he calls libertarians and non-libertarians, and the reluctance with which he supports the measure.

Mr. Hawkins: I am not going to commit to precisely what would be regarded as a priority by the incoming Conservative Government, who I expect will take power in a couple of months, and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), as the incoming Prime Minister. When we originally debated the Bill, we did not think that it had much prospect of receiving Royal Assent. However, in the light of the current Prime Minister's decision to postpone the local elections—we all know that in practice that means postponing the general election—it now seems that there is such a prospect of the Bill completing its progress in some form. That is due to the Government's Programming Sub-Committee and because the Bill has already been through another place.

Mr. Bercow: Does my hon. Friend agree that our enthusiasm for liberty and aversion to big Government highlight the importance of genuine independent scrutiny of the work of the authority, as well as of the robustness of the regulatory impact assessment, about which we have expatiated this morning?

Mr. Hawkins: Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. No doubt as the Committee proceeds, we will describe exactly the same tensions that emerged in the previous debate on the amendment of the right hon. Member for Walsall, South. Although, as the Minister rightly pointed out, there are undoubtedly tensions between libertarian and authoritarian views in my party, the same tensions exist among Government Members.

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