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Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

Standing Committee B

Thursday 26 April 2001


[Mr. Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

9.55 am

The Chairman: I welcome members of the Committee to our discussions on a very pleasant morning, at a time that I describe as the calm before the battle.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): On a point of order, Mr. Winterton. You will be aware that, on Tuesday, I referred to the staging of one-off events, often at short notice, and the difficulty that that might create for an organisation that would otherwise want to comply with the procedure for applying for and obtaining a licence. In reply, the Minister said that he would reflect on the matter and come back to us with information about how the Government intended to tackle it. I wonder whether now might be a suitable opportunity to make the Committee aware of the Government's plans.

The Chairman: While the hon. Gentleman's question was strictly not a point of order, I believe that what the Minister has to say might be of great help to the Committee. For that reason, I am happy to ask him to respond.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) describes accurately what happened on Tuesday. We share the ambition that he set out in that debate and we have considered the matter further. We do not believe that it is necessary to amend the Bill, but it is necessary for the Secretary of State to lay down a set of procedures to enable the authority to deal with the matters of urgency of the type that were discussed. I want to place on record that we accept the hon. Gentleman's point and that that will be an aspect of the operation of the authority that the Government will put into effect if the Bill receives Royal Assent.

The Chairman: I am very happy that the Minister has provided such helpful information.

Clause 7

Licensing criteria

Mr. Bercow: I beg to move amendment No. 34, in page 6, line 26, at end insert—

    `(2A) Before publishing or revising the document mentioned in subsection (1), the Authority shall consult—

    (a) Persons whom it considers to represent the interests of the private security industry in England and Wales;

    (b) Persons whom it considers to represent the interests of the police in England and Wales.'.

The amendment relates to the consultation that might be undertaken by the Security Industry Authority before making decisions on the grant of licences. The Minister will know, and I hope that all members of the Committee will be conscious of, the breadth of the powers that clause 7 affords the SIA when determining the criteria for the granting of licences. I emphasise that I am not cavilling at the breadth of those criteria, but with power comes responsibility and, I hope, an emphasis on accountability for its exercise. That is why my hon. Friends and I have tabled the amendment. It would require the authority before the publication or revision of the document under subsection (1) to consult persons whom it considers to be appropriate. We want to probe the Government's intentions. How are the criteria to be determined? Will there be consultation with the police and the security industry? What element of glasnost is intended to attach to the procedure? Will the Minister provide further and better particulars about what the Government have in mind?

Mr. Charles Clarke: We agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman said about the operation of the authority. We do not believe that it can succeed unless it is in close consultation with the industry, the police and other interest groups. We will discuss the authority's composition further when we come to schedule 2, but we believe that it will reflect the kinds of interests to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I should also emphasise that we envisage the authority not simply as one group, but as having a series of subsidiary supporting groups to deal with particular industries in particular ways—for the reasons that we discussed on Tuesday—in which, in exactly the same way as in the authority itself, the interests of various organisations would be expressed.

10 am

We also agree with the spirit of what the hon. Gentleman said about glasnost; I was surprised that he used the word, although I know that he is an expert on Soviet history. The authority should be an open and effective body. Frankly, following the Committee that considered the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the Home Office is learning how to have better dialogue with industry, and is doing so much more widely and effectively. We want to continue that process, and the establishment of the authority is a way of doing that. That will require open, effective and comprehensive lines of communication. We do not believe it necessary to amend the Bill to achieve that, so I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment. I hope that he accepts what I have said in response to his perfectly reasonable points; we want the authority to operate in the way that he describes.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): I hope, Mr. Winterton, that you will insist that I am included in the discussions; I should be delighted to participate. Obviously an enormous amount of consultation is still to be undertaken, although there has already been a consultative process. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister appreciates that the industry is so diverse that we cannot simply go to one representative body for advice; we must consult a range of organisations, such as private investigators and the Master Locksmiths Association.

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I confirm that the Government entirely accept his point about the diversity of organisations, institutions and industrial sectors involved. The consultation about the establishment of the authority will have that at its core.

Mr. George: That is fine. One of the dangers is that often people—although not my hon. Friend the Minister—see the industry as a homogeneous entity with one body sitting on top to represent it. However, the industry is worse than the Conservative party and the Labour party used to be in terms of diversity and in-fighting. Even choosing the people to consult will be a delicate decision. There is wide experience of drawing up such regulations in other areas of Home Office responsibility and, above all, many countries have gone through such a process in their private security industries, such as South Africa, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Spain. It is superfluous to reinvent the wheel; we should see how other countries have drawn up regulatory schemes, look at their application forms and note what criteria they have drawn up. I am sure that from a wide-ranging national consultation and a reasonably wide-ranging set of letters sent to regulatory authorities elsewhere, a great deal will emerge to strengthen the provisions.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Despite what the right hon. Gentleman says about the diversity of the industry, I am sure from his interventions in earlier debates that he would accept that there are a number of entirely reputable representative bodies. In particular, we have referred to the British Security Industry Association, the Joint Security Industry Council and the group of leading corporate investigation consultancies. Does he not accept that it would be helpful to have written into the Bill—as our amendment proposes—that there should be a specific role for the police and the industry, however difficult that might be? The reputable umbrella bodies to which I referred would inevitably form part of the industry representation. He knows—as I do, from meetings that we have had—that the group of leading corporate investigation consultancies that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and I met earlier this week are keen for a specific role to be written into the Bill.

Mr. George: The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that following the Minister's kind offer to meet representatives of those leading corporate investigation organisations, a meeting is being set up. I would not be so boastful as to argue that chapter 5 of my book should be included in the legislation, but in it I discuss the diversity of the organisations—

Mr. Bercow: Read it out.

Mr. George: I am not going to fall for that; I have learned my lesson.

This is a crucial part of the Bill. I know that the Home Office is aware of the problems and that the Security Industry Authority must consult well to get the proper criteria established. It is right that small companies as well as big companies—the guarding side of the industry is dominated by ``one man and a dog'' operations—need to be taken into account. I support what the Government and Opposition regard as the right way to proceed.

Mr. Bercow: I am delighted to hear from the right hon. Member for Walsall, South that the Minister intends to meet the group of leading corporate investigation consultancies; my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and I can claim some modest credit for that. We met representatives of the organisation earlier in the week and counselled them to seek a meeting as quickly as possible because they have some concerns.

I have noted the Minister's comments—I do not specifically object to what he has said in his attempts to reassure us—but I feel that the specific requirement to consult obviously important sectors is such that, pending the meeting and any outcome thereof, we would wish to insist on the inclusion of the amendment. Not in a provocative way, but by means of a safety valve, I wish to press the amendment on this occasion.

Mr. Clarke: I have nothing further to say, except that I ask my colleagues to reject the amendment; not in a provocative or antagonistic way, but because we believe that the requirement to consult is well established in the processes that we outlined. I have sought to place on record commitments to reinforce that. I understand the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman is pressing his amendment, but I ask my colleagues to vote against it.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 9.

Division No. 2]

Bercow, Mr. John
Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Hughes, Mr. Simon

Clarke, Mr. Charles
George, Mr. Bruce
Hall, Mr. Mike
Miller, Mr. Andrew
Pickthall, Mr. Colin
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Mr. Ian
Turner, Mr. Neil
Winterton, Ms Rosie

Question accordingly negatived.


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Prepared 26 April 2001