Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Bercow: I do not want to spoil my hon. Friend's argument, as he is making an extremely important point, but would he not agree that it is important not to over-egg the pudding as far as such high salaries are concerned, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House would not want to tempt the right hon. Gentleman away from his current profession towards an alternative?

Mr. Hawkins: I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would ever be prepared to sacrifice his chairmanship of such a distinguished Select Committee to be tempted by the high salaries on offer. As always, however, my hon. Friend makes a good and entertaining point.

I do not want to detain the Committee for long on this important matter, because the Minister will have to respond, and he may need to take further advice and respond in detail next week. The issue has been taken up not only by the CBI and its experts but by journalists covering the IT field. As recently as lunchtime today, journalists from the distinguished magazine Computer Weekly got in touch with me to find out more about how we would pursue that important issue. [Laughter.] It may be a matter of amusement to the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice), but in my constituency and many others where the information technology business is a huge employer, such issues are of enormous significance.

Mr. Bercow: Perhaps someone else should have been in my hon. Friend's gun sights. Does he accept that many of us indeed regard Computer Weekly as an excellent journal, consulting it regularly, and that it is profoundly offensive for it to be made the subject of immature skits by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey)?

The Chairman: Order. Perhaps we can return to the amendment.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend has once again made an effective point. [Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. The sound level is a little high. Will hon. Members please extend some courtesy to the hon. Gentleman who is speaking. It is difficult to hear sometimes.

Mr. Hawkins: Thank you, Mr. Benton. Labour Members are perhaps a little demob happy.

We shall return to the effect of the provisions as a whole on IT security people, which I raised on Second Reading. However, it is particularly important to alert the Government to the clear conflict that arises, and the CBI's concerns about that. I anticipate that the right hon. Member for Walsall, South will tell the Committee that the amendment is a probing one, but he has done the Committee some service in providing an opportunity for this debate. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Mr. Simon Hughes: I said earlier that I thought it important to recognise the international nature of the industry, including international aspects of domestic parts of the industry, which are called on, sometimes at short notice, to work abroad. Unless the amendment is unnecessary by virtue of the fact that its provisions are covered by other legislation and practice, I hope that the response will be positive. I should like it to be made clear in the Bill or in the rules governing its implementation that compliance with minimum standards across the EU must be dealt with and, ideally—because there is sometimes intergovernmental collaboration as well—that any intergovernmental agreements should be complied with, whether the context is the Council of Europe or another forum.

Mr. Clarke: This has been a helpful debate and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing it.

In establishing its principles and drawing up the licence criteria, the authority must have due regard to all existing British standards. However, in the same way it must have due regard in particular to the situation in other European Union member states, but also, to take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), to other international agreements as they arise. It must take into account any requirements relating to the single market and the free movement of services. The authority will be able to endorse British or European standards or codes of practice and to draw up new ones.

My right hon. Friend and I differed over amendment No. 13, but there is no such difference of opinion between us on the present question. He is right to raise it. Arising from the Tampere summit, which dealt with police co-operation and law and order, and the current discussions about, for example, the establishment of a European police college—which it is to be hoped will be located in the United Kingdom—increasing collaboration, as my right hon. Friend describes it, is a critical issue. Police collaboration is important in contesting international organised crime, particularly that involving class A drugs and the illegal movement of people, and in those matters co-operation between the private security industry and the police, internationally, is also necessary.

We do not, however, think it necessary to set those requirements out in legislation, as in the amendment, for the reason implied by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, that both practice and law will require the authority to do that.

In response to an earlier intervention, I mentioned that discussions are starting to take place in the European Union on the degree to which barriers may arise to the operation of the single market in the private security industry. I also said that I anticipated initiatives to address the issue in the EU context in the relatively near future. I hope that those will establish a framework within which such matters can be effectively addressed, in the way set out in amendments Nos. 6 and 7. I believe that that will be their effect.

On the points made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, I am aware in general of the directive to which he referred. On Second Reading and in Committee, I have described the consultation that the Department of Trade and Industry will hold with the IT security industry, and that is the right way to tackle the issue: there are compatibilities that can deal with it. By chance, I was informally discussing the matter with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry last night. A consultant in the IT security industry had lobbied him on the matter on a train coming up from Devon. That proves that this is a matter of current debate among politicians travelling among the people.

Mr. Hawkins rose—

Mr. Clarke: I give way to the populist Member for Surrey Heath.

Mr. Hawkins: I am always happy to be called populist. The Minister is describing someone else from the industry who realised, while badgering the Secretary of State, that the Government had once again got something wrong. I appreciate that they did so by inadvertence rather than design, but the Minister has helped to make my point for me.

Mr. Clarke: The point that I was making—

Mr. Bercow: Were they travelling first class?

Mr. Clarke: I do not know, but I gather from what has been said about salaries in the industry that that is likely. My right hon. Friend told me that it was a civilised and positive debate.

Seriously, however, we are committed to the process that I set out on Second Reading, and we will debate it further on schedule 2. As I said, I was aware of the directive in general, but not in detail, and if I have any further thoughts on its implications I will comment in the debate on schedule 2.

With that, I hope that my right hon. Friend will withdraw the amendment. We agree completely with the substance of what he is saying, but the issues are taken into account in the existing process.

Mr. George: That was an encouraging response. Perhaps the Home Office could even draft a clause.

I know that time is short, and I am not one to raise a point of order. No filibustering has gone on—with the exception of our first sitting, when I spoke at too great length, although not by my standards. We have proceeded as swiftly as possible, with no one seeking to be excessively political. When the Committee's progress was discussed a few weeks ago, it was said that an extra sitting might be possible. Could the usual channels give deep consideration to the fact that we are trying to produce a better Bill than the one that we received? Could an additional sitting be introduced or could our final sittings be slightly longer than initially envisaged?

The Chairman: If that is a request for an extension of Committee proceedings, it will have to be made formally when the Programming Sub-Committee reconvenes. I will leave the right hon. Gentleman to pursue that in other quarters.

Mr. George: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Mr. Simon Hughes: Following the Minister's humorous intervention, I should say that no one is suggesting branding people on the forehead. However, he will know from visiting clubs, bars and other establishments that it is increasingly common for people to be branded with luminous identification, which can be seen not only then and in the dark, but for some days afterwards. We should not forget modern technology and street practice, which work much more effectively than some of the old techniques.

4 pm

Mr. Bruce George: Ironically, there is a great deal of debate about the conditions for issuing licences. There is much evidence in the Bill that the Government have given considerable thought to the necessary standards to which the companies must be subjected. That is very good. However, those clauses imply that the scheme is voluntary and that only good companies will adhere to those standards.

On the matter of licences applied for by individuals, the application form that will eventually be drawn up by the regulatory authority should contain the name and address of the applicant and evidence that the person whose name is on the form is exactly who he or she purports to be. A birth certificate, passport or other proof of identity should be required. Letters of support, letters from previous employers and signed photographs taken within the six months before the date of the application may be necessary.

Fingerprints may be necessary, verified by the police according to proper principles. A medical certificate may be necessary. Will there be an age restriction on the form? Will it be between 18 and 55 or 16 and 65? That would depend on the nature of the task being undertaken. The person should put down on the form whether he or she has any criminal convictions. He or she should also put down his or her employment record and details, so that the authority can examine any gaps to see whether that person spent some time in incarceration.

Will there be any restrictions on height, weight or eyesight? Would one need to be a 25-stone obese security guard in order to qualify? These and other factors should be borne in mind.

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