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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

Tuesday 1 May 2001


[Mr. Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

Clause 19

Powers of entry and inspection

Question proposed [this day], That the clause stand part of the Bill.

4.30 pm

Question again proposed.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) made two points of substance, and I can reassure him on both of them. He asked whether the purpose of the inspectorate was serious. My categorical and clear answer is that it is designed to enforce the edicts of the SIA. As he said, it will be an independent body that will not owe allegiance to any part of the industry, nor will it have a duty to be courteous or polite in particular situations. It will be rigorous and effective. I hope that I can set his mind at rest on that.

My right hon. Friend also asked about the meaning of ``reasonable''. An amendment to include such wording was accepted in the other place. As I said on Second Reading, what constitutes a reasonable time may vary according to the circumstances. An obvious case is that 2 o'clock on a Friday morning may well be a reasonable time for door supervisors, but for others it may not. The question of reasonableness must be related to the nature of the business and not the regular nine-to-five day, 46-week year, that a normal working life might imply. It will depend on the particular aspects of the industry in question.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): To clarify, could a wheelclamping company be inspected at night? For example a wheelclamping company may not provide adequate lighting of notices warning of wheelclamping, which is one of the ways that such companies can entrap people. If an inspection can take place not only in the company's headquarters but in the car parks, could it take place at night?

Mr. Clarke: I think that I can satisfy my hon. Friend on that matter. The powers of entry and inspection cover all the powers described, including for wheelclampers. Subsection (3) says that the power shall be operated only at a reasonable hour. The word ``reasonable'' should be defined by the working practices of the industries concerned. I can give an absolute assurance on the example that she gave. Obviously, the person or organisation being inspected can subsequently try to make a case about what is or is not reasonable, but I place it on the record that the Government, in proposing that form of words, intend that the word ``reasonable'' should relate to the working practices of the industries concerned.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I know that the Minister accepts that the powers in the clause are quite broad. An authorised person can enter the premises of anyone appearing to be a regulated person. That is a much broader test than merely suspecting that someone might be regulated, and certainly than having reason to believe that he is. What remedy would there be for someone whose premises were entered wrongfully? That is important, because anyone who obstructs an authorised person is guilty of an offence under subsection (5) and could be subject to imprisonment.

Mr. Clarke: Clause 20 describes the authority's duty to prepare and publish a document containing its guidance on the use of the powers, which will reflect my comments about the word ``reasonable''.

I think that I am right in saying that the first point of redress for people who believe that the power has been abused is the law of the land and the courts. More profoundly, as we said earlier in relation to the way in which the SIA will operate, the authority will take account of experience in considering and revising its guidance and updating its practices. It will have to take into account the matter to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention when considering its future practices and how to get them right.

I hope that that clarifies those points. With that, I hope that we can agree that clause 19 should stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 20

Guidance as to exercise of power of entry

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

Mr. Hawkins: I have one quick question, which arises from the Minister's response to my question on clause 19. Do the Government currently expect the people who will be authorised to undertake entries into premises to be officers of the SIA or will the authority authorise others to carry out inspections on its behalf?

Mr. Clarke: The phrasing leaves it open to the authority to decide how best to proceed. My expectation—if that is what the hon. Gentleman is asking about—is that the authority is likely to use its own inspectors. The nature of that arrangement will evolve during the process. I can certainly envisage the authority deciding to retain other inspectors, such as local government officers, to carry out its functions. It might conceivably retain private companies, although I cannot quite imagine that. I do not want to prejudge precisely how those functions will be carried out, which is why the clause is phrased openly. However, my expectation is that the key inspection function will be with the authority, which has the power to address the relevant matters.

With that, I urge that clause 20 stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 21

Access to enhanced criminal records certificates

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

Mr. Hawkins: I have another quick question, which I hope that the Minister can answer equally quickly.

As the Bill stands, the criminal records certificate requirement is intended to apply only to door supervisors, or bouncers. What if a wheelclamping operative has been arrested, cautioned or convicted for blackmail, extortion or threatening behaviour?

Mr. Clarke: That again is a matter to consider. We have singled out door supervisors for the enhanced level of checks because they are a source of particular public concern in view of their frequent contact with young people in nightclubs. They have often been involved in incidents of violence and in drug offences, such as those to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South referred. That is why our current view is that they should be subject to higher levels of checks than exist in other sectors. I say that that is our current view, because the hon. Gentleman rightly said that we might take a different view of the provisions as they carry through in practice. I give a commitment that we will review them in the light of experience, to determine how we should act.

With that, I urge that clause 21 stand part of the Bill

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 22 and 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 24

Orders and regulations

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

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): The purpose of the clause is clear, but its interpretation might not be. Will the Minister confirm that it does not provide in every case, perhaps because it is not intended to do so, an answer to the question whether the order or regulation about which there is debate, inquiry or controversy will be subject to the affirmative procedure? Does he accept that the clause admits of different treatment of different orders, without advance notice of it? It enables the Government to decide the chosen format.

Mr. Clarke: Most of the statutory instruments that will need to or may be introduced will be subject to the negative resolution procedure. The exceptions are shown in subsection (3). The first exception is commencement orders made under clause 26(2). Commencement orders are not subject to negative or affirmative resolution. Secondly, orders made in relation to paragraphs 1 or 7 of schedule 2, which we shall shortly debate, will be subject to affirmative resolution.

An order made under paragraph 1(2) of schedule 2 could bring any activity conducted by the private security industry within the definition of

    ``activities of a security operative'',

which are regulated by the Bill. For example, the Secretary of State could make an order adding the activities of groups such as alarm installers or locksmiths to the list of activities for which a licence will be required from the SIA. That is the kind of approach that my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South has advocated throughout our debates.

Mr. Bercow: Is the Minister saying that such a proposal, which could perfectly reasonably arise later and might well not be anticipated now, would be subject to a 90-minute debate on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Clarke: Such a proposal will be subject to the affirmative resolution, and therefore to those procedures.

An order made under paragraph 7(2) of schedule 2 would allow the Secretary of State to subject certain activities to the additional controls that the Bill currently proposes for only wheelclampers and door supervisors at pubs and clubs. Such an order would require those working in designated activities to be licensed regardless of whether they were employed in-house or under contract.

We believe that the orders under paragraphs 1 and 7 of schedule 2 are significant enough, in extending the powers of the Bill, to require the affirmative procedure. That is why they are excepted from the general requirement of negative procedure as set out in the clause. I hope that that is clear, and I urge that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 25


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

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): The accountancy profession must be among the heaviest hitters in the relevant sphere. All its venerable organisations are listed to ensure that we know what ``relevant accountancy body'' means. My point relates to what was said earlier about the many investigative organisations. One of your senior civil servants met a group of them on Friday, thanks to your kind invitation—


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