Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Clarke: I have not addressed that point before now. I have always assumed that a contract involves payment for services rendered, although it may be indirect. Would someone provide a service to another—in whatever form and whatever the nature of the contract—for love or whatever? I do not know, but I will consider the matter.

Mr. Bercow: I am talking about the charitable context.

Mr. Clarke: I understand that. The only exception to the general principle that I have described relates to the special case of wheelclamping. In that case only, the clause extends regulatory controls to others, such as landowners and those acting on their behalf, where they do not use a licensed contractor, but do their own clamping and charge a release fee. In case what I said on Second Reading in column 1058 should lead to any misunderstanding, I wish to make it clear that volunteers who engage in wheelclamping that involves a release fee would need a licence.

I turn to the exemption of activities below a level at which the Secretary of State would prescribe; the small business issue. During our consultations, we were warned about the dangers of excess regulation and cost, and we do not intend to go down that road. Regulation must be consistent, and it would be confusing and difficult to administer the exemption of small businesses from licensing. However, most importantly, that would exempt some of the businesses that are the source of much of the public disquiet that the Bill seeks to address. It is generally not the big reputable firms that harass the public by employing violent or abusive door supervisors, or who demand money with menaces from innocent wheelclamped motorists, but small companies, organisations and individuals who are the furthest from a reputable and non-criminal practice and must be regulated.

Under the amendment, a small company could be exempt from licensing because it carried out small jobs below the envisaged reward threshold, but would need to be licensed for a bigger job above any threshold that we put forward. The confusion involved in that could be a genuine difficulty. I acknowledge the need to protect small businesses, but the Bill is balanced, targeted and, generally, welcomed by the industry. I hope that I have provided clarification, and that the amendments will be withdrawn.

Mr. Bercow: I am rather more encouraged by the Minister's response to this set of amendments than I was by his response to amendment No. 19, and we do not intend the press the amendments. I should be grateful if he would consider seriously my point about contracts that do not require payment or other remuneration.

The Minister mentioned small-scale events, such as a person who undertakes to protect a house. His comments struck me on the whole as being reassuring, although I should like to examine them again in the Official Report. We may return to the matters at a later date if we are not fully satisfied, but the thrust of his comments was encouraging and satisfactory.

I point out, as I regularly do—I say this as a matter of pride to the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central—that I am not a lawyer. I cannot be absolutely certain that our amendments would not have the effect that she describes, but I do not believe that they would, and they are certainly not intended to do so. I do not believe that she is right. Her point about landowners permitting wheelclampers to operate on their land but not paying them is true, but it does not meet my point that they are nevertheless engaged in commercial activity and secure a return for it. Having considered the matter, I am not clear in my mind why the amendments would give them carte blanche. We certainly do not want or intend them to do so. As she knows from the effusive terms of my congratulation to her on Second Reading, I endorse and applaud her work on the subject. I do not believe that anything that we are suggesting would undermine it, but as we do not intend at this stage to press the amendments, the hon. Lady can rest assured.

Ms Winterton: The amendment states that

    ```licensable conduct' includes only conduct which is carried out in return for payment.''

I do not understand how that would cover the problems of wheelclampers. I still feel that it would allow them to continue working as they have been and would not enable them to be licensed.

Mr. Bercow: I do not believe that that is true, because such operators are ultimately rewarded. They would be prevented from continuing excessive, damaging and in some cases obnoxious and threatening activities.

I shall not press the amendments to a Division at this stage, in contrast to amendment No. 19, about which my hon. Friends and I feel especially strongly. I remind the Minister of the commitment that he made. I hope that he will feel able to reply to me in writing about the anxiety that I aired—to which he said that he had not previously given any thought—before we reach the next stage, or, if I may elliptically refer to it, before another event might intervene. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Fearn: I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 2, line 40, leave out from `activities' to end of line 42.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 21, in page 2, line 42, at end insert

    `or as required for the purpose of, or in connection with, any contract he has with his employer.'.

Mr. Fearn: I am not sure whether we shall have time to debate the amendments before lunch or, indeed, whether we shall break for lunch.

We welcome the introduction of mandatory licensing for individuals, which involves all aspects of the private security industry. It goes to the heart of the Bill's intentions in ensuring that certain minimum standards are met. We also welcome the Government's clarification in the other place of who is subject to licensing and who is not. However, if the Bill is to ensure that the entire industry is subject to the same standards, why are licenses not required for in-house operatives? That is the basis for the amendment.

My noble Friend Lord Thomas of Gresford pressed the Government on the matter in the other place and has still not received a decent answer. Perhaps the Minister will answer me today. We support the need for licensing, but why are the Government allowing for a loophole by excluding in-house operatives? Under the amendment, clause 3(2)(b) would stop at the word ``activities''. The other words—

    ``for the purposes of, or in connection with, any contract for the supply of services under which his employer is or may be so required''—

would be removed. I am not sure what those words mean. Perhaps the Minister will explain.

On amendment No. 21, would it not be more appropriate to add at the end of line 42

    ``or as required for the purpose of, or in connection with, any contract he has with his employer''?

In other words, if paragraph (b) is to be retained in its entirety, the wording in amendment No. 21 should be added.

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

        Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Benton, Mr. (Chairman)
Bercow, Mr.
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Fearn, Mr.
George, Mr. Bruce
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hawkins, Mr.
Kennedy, Jane
Lilley, Mr.
Miller, Mr.
Prentice, Ms Bridget
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Stewart, Mr. Ian
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.
Turner, Mr. Neil
Winterton, Ms Rosie

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