Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Hawkins: I hear what the Minister says. However, the clause gives the Secretary of State a wide order-making power. According to subsection (1),

    ``The Secretary of State may by order make provision for local authorities to carry out some or all of the Authority's relevant licensing functions''.

However, in subsection (6), the one that we seek to amend, the Secretary of State is put under a duty to consult the authority, but not the local authorities that will be given the power. That seems inconsistent. Because there has been difficulty in the past, at least in connection with one local authority of which I have personal knowledge—it might be common elsewhere; I hope not—it would be useful for the local authorities, not merely the main authority, to be consulted before the Secretary of State exercises that power.

Mr. Clarke: Is the hon. Gentleman proposing that there should be both a consultative process by the Secretary of State in the Home Office and a consultative process by the SIA? I should like to be clear about that before we come to a decision on the amendment.

Mr. Hawkins: We are saying that before the Secretary of State exercises his order-making powers under the clause, he should consult the local authorities for the areas to which the orders would relate. It seems a sensible thing to include in the Bill. Nevertheless, as the Minister said that he will keep the matter in mind and will look at the correspondence in due course, we may be able to persuade the Government to table a further amendment at a later stage once he has considered the matter with his officials, so it would not be appropriate to press the amendment to a vote, but I take on board what has been said and I am grateful that he will consider the matter further. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Mr. Bruce George: You almost did not notice that I wanted to speak, Mr. Winterton. I am sure that you did not employ a Nelsonian tactic in failing to look at me through your spying glass. It was merely inadvertent that you did not notice my 18-stone-12 frame.

If an outsider assessed the Bill, he would say that it was all about bouncers and wheelclampers. I do not understand why wheelclamping comes under private security, and some would argue that bouncers—door supervisors—are not strictly part of security either. However, they are, and the matter is in urgent need of reform. I am not convinced that the Home Office's subcontracting the task of licensing door supervisors to local authorities is wise. I hope that if the measure goes through, the Home Office will evaluate how local authorities perform in order to see whether they can—as I should have hoped—be considered to be part of the private security industry, and be licensed and regulated directly by the SIA. That would result in 50,000 personnel paying £50 for a licence, which would greatly enhance the authority's revenue-gathering capability.

One of my concerns is that the licensing authorities of local authorities could be susceptible to party political activity, so judgment that should be legal and rational could be bound up with party politics. I know of an exemplary case, which I will say is hypothetical. A senior politician signs up 40 black cab drivers disenchanted with the way in which the licensing authority has been operating. They are in his political party, and they turn up for a ward meeting to boot out those who are there, and then turn up to a selection conference to endorse that politician. Is there a quid pro quo? Licences are issued, disciplinary action is taken—will political pressure be exerted?

I am pleased to say that, in the case to which I am referring, pressure has been resisted, but the temptation is there. Decisions on licences for local companies and individuals will be made by human beings who are subject to the same pressures as hon. Members, and in many ways to a greater extent. On occasion, those people, be they Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat or of other political allegiances, will be tempted to use political reasons to make what ought to be administrative judgments.

Mr. Ian Stewart: Is not the alternative to my right hon. Friend's analysis that local politicians understand the problems in the locality better than remote civil servants or officers of other authorities? That local knowledge—the understanding that one group of old-fashioned councillors have turfed out another group of old-fashioned councillors—is really important.

Mr. George: My hon. Friend's argument has its attractions, but there are counter-arguments as well. The Home Office has said that, on balance, this is the route that we are going down. I accept that decision; I am merely making a point and will, in no more than four further minutes, make some other points that I hope the Home Office will take into account.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): In Doncaster, in terms of the licensing of bouncers, the police work at a local level and know what is happening on the ground. That is very important, and as the crime and disorder partnerships are working increasingly well, it would be a shame to transfer the decision making to national level, where those involved would not have that local knowledge.

Mr. George: I am acquiescent, but not enthusiastic, and would like the measure to be under review. One of my great concerns is that we are talking about at least 50,000 personnel. They have, putting it at its best, an image problem. In reality many of the people protecting the public inside and deterring the public outside are part of the drugs scene, and have their rake-off of the profits. That is why it is incredibly lucrative for an individual if he or she wins a contract to be a bouncer or a door supervisor or for a company if it wins a security contract . As a result, a number of gang wars are taking place in our cities, and it is quite right that the Government are stepping in and doing something.

Mr. Stewart: Now my right hon. Friend and others will see the significance of my short comment about philosophy. It is important that we positively promote the activities of women as door stewards and create a training and standards-based environment.

Mr. George: Women must search women. One cannot have a lecherous 50-year-old male performing an intimate body search on a woman attending a disco. However, there are dangers. I met the head of security of a company, a very attractive woman, who was asked by a drunken yob at a door, ``Do you believe in equality, missus?'' She said yes, and he punched her on the nose, saying, ``There you are, I would have done that to a male.'' It is a dangerous job.

All the bad publicity is directed towards the bouncers, but for the money that they get, those who are honest and professional are in a very exposed and dangerous situation. Although they often mete out severe punishments, there are many door supervisors who have been viciously attacked and need some protection via the legislation. In the absence of any security legislation before now, the only way in which local authorities could meet the problem was by using the public entertainment licence process, in order to fill a vacuum.

11.45 am

I shall now rattle through a few points that will be boring but relevant. I am not certain what role the local authorities will play under the proposed system. Ideally, it should be one of enforcement, with licensing and standards to be met by supervisors in the SIA. The Economic and Social Research Council funded research into local registration schemes that revealed that they suffered several problems under local authority licensing. For instance, there is a problem with reciprocity when, often at great expense, door supervisors have to register in different local authority areas, undergoing vetting and training for each. The standards varied significantly among the schemes, and it was possible for some door supervisors to be granted registration in one area but not another. The study concluded that enforcement regimes were often chaotic, and that in many places revocation of registration was rare. A widespread system of informal practices to get round registration has emerged, including the forging of licences.

The Home Office commissioned research—the safer door project, which was about door registration schemes and was conducted to develop best practice—from a gentleman named Walker. He identified best practice for a national scheme, but did so in the context of there being no national licensing structure for the private security industry into which supervisors could fit. He also identified the need for a national scheme.

I agree, but argue that licensing and the setting of standards should be pursued through the SIA. Local authorities have a role to play in the enforcement of the provisions through their general licensing function, enabling them to receive applications for licences and make decisions on their approval and issue, among other matters. Even according to national standards, differences between schemes may still be created, which will lead to further problems such as those that I have identified.

I ask the Home Secretary not to junk what the Home Office has decided but to look at it carefully. Some licensing authorities have poor standards. It is crucial that the Home Office gets it right on the issue, as there could be a great danger to the paying public and people living or wandering in the vicinity of a nightclub. I merely ask the Home Secretary to give mature reflection to some of my points to see where, if he sub-contracts to local authorities to undertake licensing, he should minimise that role. He should ensure that syllabuses are determined nationally by the SIA and not left to the vagaries of local authorities, some of which are good and some of which are bad. The trainers must be subject to approval, so that their training schemes are good.

The Home Office should carefully monitor the first couple of years of the operation of a legitimate local authority licensing scheme, to see whether the old bad habits are replicated in the new system. The Home Office must lay down strict standards. It should not minimise the role of local authorities, nor give them a great deal of discretion. Local authorities should be allowed to be the agents of central Government, not freewheeling organisations that can replicate the practices that have led to the Government's wanting to take a stronger hand in the process.

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