Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mr. Fearn: I can see that it might be overbearing if the Secretary of State and the authority both had to consider the same cases. Some cases being considered by the authority might eventually require the approval of the Secretary of State, but those cases would not be seen by him. Is that right?

Mr. Clarke: In the Bill, the use of the phrase

    ``as the case may be'',

means that either the Secretary of State or the authority will make a judgment in relation to the protection of the public. That judgment is the key that will determine the situation. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the authority would take the decision and the Secretary of State would not go through it in great detail. Our concern is that to require both, rather than either, to act ould be unnecessarily burdensome both upon the industry and upon the two organisations, the Home Office and the authorities.

Mr. Fearn: With that explanation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.45 pm

Mr. Bercow: I beg to move amendment No. 45, in page 5, line 8, at end insert—

    ``(6) A person may apply, on notice to the Authority, to the magistrates' court having jurisdiction over the area affected by the designated activities, for an exemption from the requirement to apply for a licence; and the Lord Chancellor may make an order as to the procedure to be followed on such an application, including on urgent applications; and the test to be applied by the court is the same as that which would have been applied had an application been made to the authority.

    (7) An exemption granted under subsection (6) shall not be granted for a period exceeding one month and shall not be renewable.''.

The amendment is similar, as Committee members will be aware, to one that was moved in another place on 30 January 2001, at columns 604-610 of Hansard. The significance of the amendment, like the one moved in another place, is that it would cover cases in which a one-off exemption from the requirement to have a licence might be needed in connection with a one-off local event or an urgent case in which it would not be practicable to apply to the Security Industry Authority in time for a licence to be granted. That is to say that by the time the decision had been made on the application, the moment would have passed—the date for the intended event, gathering or meeting would have been overshot.

There is some concern about that matter. When it was raised in the other place, Lord Bassam indicated that he could not see good reason why exceptions might arise. However, at other points in our proceedings, the Minister of State, Home Office, argued—despite the voluminous briefing available to him—that although he could not envisage circumstances in which provision X or Y of the Bill might take effect, such circumstances might arise. It was in the nature of the case that it was not possible to anticipate what they might be, but the measure was by way of being—no pun intended—a security device or precaution to ensure that the power in the Bill was sufficiently wide.

I cannot say in this instance—I do not intend to dilate the point—exactly what events might be involved. However, in the context of a debate that necessarily raises the issue of parties and large-scale social activities at which security operatives or bouncers might be present, it is important to recognise that there can be many other circumstances in which one might require the services of doorkeepers or bouncers. I know that the hon. Member for Eccles does not like the term, but at least we know what we have in mind when we use it.

There can be many other events at which such people might be required. It is imaginable—indeed, eminently likely—that at some stage and probably more than once in the last 30 years, large-scale, highly important and indisputably urgent meetings have had to be convened in the constituency of Macclesfield to discuss matters of local controversy. It is very unlikely that the controversy resulted from the behaviour or malfeasance of the hon. Member for that constituency. It is more likely that he, being the peacemaker that he is, and the industrious and assiduous representative of the masses that he has always aspired to be, was seeking to quell the flames.

Mr. Charles Clarke: On a point of order, Mr. Winterton, is it appropriate for the hon. Gentleman to say that it is ``very unlikely'' that the Chairman of this Committee would be engaged in this kind of activity? Surely it would be impossible.

The Chairman: Although I agree with the Minister's assessment of the remarks, I have to say that they are not out of order, as yet.

Mr. Bercow: I do not want to be unkind to the Minister, but I was going to say that under any sycophant's charter, he would always do better than I would. I am happy to accept that alteration to my comment: it is impossible and unimaginable that our Chairman would be guilty of such actions.

However, while trying to make the point in a light-hearted way, I do not want to detract from its seriousness. An important gathering or event might be organised at short notice. If it were a public meeting, for example, and if the subject were highly controversial and passions had been aroused, the organisers might feel that they needed to appoint people to perform a security function—not in exchange for remuneration, but simply out of a sense of community spirit and a desire to maintain good order.

That meeting could not take place two, three or four weeks later because the issue would no longer be live then. It would not be unreasonable for the Minister at least to consider whether there should be some flexibility in such circumstances, so that if it could be clearly demonstrated that there were a good case for exemption—I emphasise that I this should apply only where it could be demonstrated that there were a good case for an exemption—such an exemption might be provided. We are asking the Government to reconsider the issue—notwithstanding the observations of Lord Bassam in the other place—and recognise the need for flexibility, so that the Bill is not so rigid as to be unable to meet the needs of urgent local cases that might arise. That is what we are about. I suspect that the Minister will say that he has not reconsidered Lord Bassam's remarks in the other place. If he has not, or if he thinks that, on the whole, the Government have got the balance right, will he at least address directly the sort of scenario that I have just described?

I hope that the Minister accepts that such a scenario could perfectly well arise. If so, does he not also accept that the greater danger would be if such an event had to be cancelled or prevented from taking place simply because the procedure was too cumbersome and long-winded to allow a successful application for a licence to be made in the time scale that that public, local and urgent issue required. On the strength of those opening remarks—I do not rule out the possibility of making further remarks; it depends on the response that I receive—I rest the case for the amendment and wait to hear what other hon. and right hon. Members, not least the Minister, have to say.

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Member for Buckingham raises the question of what procedure should be used in a case of urgency. That is a reasonable question. Although it is hard to see what kind of event we are talking about, I accept in principle that there could be a need for such procedures in such circumstances.

Mr. Hawkins: I want to help the Minister to envisage the sort of event we have in mind—it is one that could easily crop up in of any our constituencies, so I hope that he will find the following example valid. Sometimes a planning issue arises in a constituency and a report on it suddenly appears in the local paper. All of us, from whichever political party we come, will be familiar with such cases. There is often an outpouring of public feeling, sometimes on both sides of an issue, and sometimes an immediate public meeting is convened to which local councillors are invited and for which a hall is booked. That is the kind of thing that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and I had in mind. It could happen in any of our constituencies, and frequently does.

Mr. Clarke: I accept that. I acknowledged in principle the possibility of urgent cases arising, and I agree that the hon. Gentleman's hypothesis could be a practical example of such a case.

However, I have some qualifications to add. In most circumstances, the sort of security activities that would be undertaken to deal with such a situation would involve the taking on of approved contractors that were already covered by the process to deal with such circumstances. The natural response would be to call in a security company and deal with the situation in that way. Volunteers of the type described by the hon. Member for Buckingham are not covered by the Bill. That said, I concede that one can imagine urgent circumstances in which volunteers were not being used and an approved contractor who was already fully able to deal with the matter was not called in. I think that that is unlikely, but I accept in principle that it could happen.

To establish a parallel process through the magistrates court to address the issue would complicate and confuse the situation by having a court consider such circumstances when the SIA was looking at the whole industry in another way. There is a danger of establishing confusing parallel procedures. It might be costly and give rise to uncertainty and doubt about the best way to proceed. Under the Bill, we envisage—I think that, in general, the Opposition agree—the SIA being a one-stop shop. The danger of establishing a separate exemption scheme is that it might weaken the licensing regime.

I concede to the hon. Member for Buckingham—perhaps we should have conceded the point in the other place—that it may be necessary for us to look at an urgency procedure for the SIA that is consistent with the rest of the way in which it operates, to deal with the circumstances to which he referred. There is no explicit power in the Bill as it stands to do that. While I resist the proposal to set up a parallel path through the magistrates court to deal with such matters, I accept the proposition, at least in principle, that the SIA ought to have some process whereby it can make rapid decisions in such cases.

If it will assist the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment, I am willing to make a commitment to look carefully at what urgent procedure we might be able to take on board and what amendment, if any, would be needed, to the Bill to achieve that. It may be that no amendment on Report would be needed; however, there might be such a need and I shall come back to the matter. I accept in principle that there could be a need for urgency procedures, but will the hon. Gentleman accept that it would be better if that were carried out through an SIA process, rather than a parallel process? I shall look carefully at the matter.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 24 April 2001