Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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The Chairman: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is attributing to me a power and authority, a meeting and a facility, that I do not have. I am sure that he means the Minister.

Mr. George: I am thankful that my experience of working in Standing Committees is rare and of considerable age. If I fail procedurally, I duly apologise. I am trying to be most compliant with your wishes, Mr. Winterton. My point—it is regrettable that your intervention delayed me from finishing it earlier—was that many legitimate investigative organisations will be subject to licensing. Their direct competitors will be the big accountancy companies, all of which have forensic accountancy departments engaged in investigation. Those will run in parallel with the organisations that will be licensed.

4.45 pm

I know that it would be more than the Minister's life is worth to change the law to put accountancy and investigation out of the frame. I merely want to make the point that such discrimination will put those to be licensed at an unfair disadvantage. If it is proven to him or his successor that such competition is disadvantageous and unfair, I hope that they will consider our handiwork and see whether anything further can be done to level the playing field.

Mr. Charles Clarke: We debated the issue on Second Reading, although not at length, and my right hon. Friend makes some serious points. However, I refer him to the Second Reading debate. There is no intention to advantage the great corporations. I know exactly what he refers to when he talks about an unlevel playing field between the big companies and others, but I am aware that there can be confusion on the subject, not least as a result of his interventions on Second Reading. If, as I hope, the Bill receives Royal Assent, I make a commitment to present it directly to the professions and to set out the position clearly and publicly in writing. We have no intention of skewing the whole business in favour of the KPMGs or Coopers of this world.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

4.47 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.57 pm

On resuming—

Clause 26

Short title, commencement and extent

Mr. Clarke: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 19, line 20, leave out subsection (5).

This is the first and last Government amendment in the course of our deliberations. It is designed to remove subsection (5), which was introduced by the Lords to avoid questions of privilege. Although I must not use the word ``procedural'', because I have been ticked off for my abuse of the word, the subsection is a standard procedural device to ensure that this House retains the right to decide financial matters in Bills originating in the other place, and that is why we seek to remove it.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 26, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1

Offence of impersonating a licensed security operative and/or approved contractor

    `(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he displays or has in his possession any badge, card or authority which gives the impression that it is a licence or approval issued under the Act.

    (2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

    (a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;

    (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine, or to both.'.—[Mr. Bruce George.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Bruce George: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause is self-explanatory, but I cannot let you get away with me sitting down so quickly, Mr. Winterton. The private security industry has a high concentration of crooks, charlatans and those who sail close to the wind. The Home Affairs Committee produced a great deal of evidence, and the police have periodically produced evidence. A decade ago, a report by David Owen, the then Chief Constable of North Wales, was leaked. It contained a long list of criminal offences. Saturday's newspaper included some interesting vignettes on crime in the private security industry. We must do all that we can, even through access to criminal records at the highest level, to ensure that the incidence of crime in the security industry is kept to an absolute minimum. We shall never eliminate crime in the security industry, any more than we shall eliminate it in the police.

5 pm

The new clause is an attempt to deal with a potential criminal activity of security firm owners and personnel, be they bouncers or security guards. There will be a lucrative market in the sale of false badges and security identification cards enabling security personnel to avoid applying for a licence that they might not get and for which they would have to pay. I know that it happens with bouncers. Why go for a training programme when one can spend £5 and get a card? When one turns up for a door supervision job, one can display the appropriate documentation.

The Minister will probably say that the matter is dealt with by some other provision. However, I am trying to ensure that a person is guilty of a specific offence under the legislation. The penalties will be severe. The measure will not deal with the whole problem of criminality in the industry, but neither will access to criminal records.

The meticulous interview techniques of good companies will also not, on their own, deal with criminality. I said that the cost to a good company of interviewing a candidate was £700, but I have since been told that it is £1,200. A good company will spend £1,200 just to get to the point of sending the prospective employee's documentation off to the licensing authority. People can go bad even when they have been appointed on the basis of such a rigorous process. Even those who are not strictly criminals should be criminalised if they impersonate security officers or private investigators.

Mr. Hawkins: If the right hon. Gentleman presses his new clause to a Division, we will support it. We agree with what he says. Unfortunately, there will be an opportunity for people who are more ingenious than honest to trade in badges and apparent identification documents. We agree with him that the Bill would be stronger if such a provision, with the criminal sanctions applied to it, were included in it. We will listen with interest to the Minister's response to the right hon. Gentleman's new clause, but we support it and the spirit that lies behind it.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): It certainly ought to be an offence for someone to claim to be something that they are not and present a document that purports to be something that it is not. There is a common view on that. Does the Minister believe that any of the prospective offences contemplated by the new clause are adequately covered by the existing legislation?

If the law is clear, there is no need for additional offences to be created. However, I would like to know what existing offences would be committed by somebody carrying out the activities set out in the new clause. Would it be necessary to rephrase or adapt the existing law to make it clear that it covers those activities, so that anybody with an interest knows what the consequences are if they offend? Could that be easily done?

Mr. Clarke: I was interested in the reference to badges that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) made. Throughout my time in the House, every time that I have seen him, as he stalks the corridors of Parliament, he has been wearing the same badge: the pound sign badge that he is wearing now. I wondered what kind of interest he was seeking to represent by wearing it all the time.

Mr. Hawkins: A genuine one.

Mr. Clarke: A genuine one, he says, from a sedentary position. That is as strong as a pound.

Mr. Bercow: I apologise to you, Mr. Winterton, as well as to my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath—perhaps also to the Minister—for the fact that I inadvertently left my badge at home. Whether the Minister finds the prospect of seeing such badges edifying or not, I have another wheeze in store for him. It will come when I sport my very desirable pound sign tie.

The Chairman: I hope that the Minister will not spend too long replying to that intervention.

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman has forestalled me; I had noticed that, for the first time, he is not wearing a badge. I wondered whether, in his drive to the centre of his party and to fulfil his leadership ambitions, he had decided to dump that aspect of his ideological baggage.

The case is as stated by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Every member of the Committee no doubt agrees with the ambition of the new clause, but the matter is dealt with in existing legislation. It is right that properly licensed operatives should be able clearly to show themselves as such. The format of the licence and the approval will therefore be important. The format will be prescribed in regulations. It will need to be portable, easily recognisable and difficult to tamper with or to reproduce illicitly.

The assurance that my right hon. Friend is looking for can be found in several pieces of legislation. First, clause 16(2) creates an offence of falsely claiming to be an approved provider of services or being registered in terms that have not been approved by the authority. We put the belt and braces of that clause in the Bill to ensure that such serious matters are recognised as offences.

Secondly, any individual who falsely claims to be a licensed security operative is committing offences under existing legislation, particularly the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 and the Theft Act 1968, which deal with attempting to obtain property by deception. Those Acts, combined with the powers under clause 16(2), ensure that unlicensed people who attempt to pass themselves off as licensed security operatives or as approved contractors will be committing criminal offences. They will therefore be liable to prosecution.

We do not disagree with one iota of the new clause, but we believe that the Bill and existing legislation together will provide all that is needed to achieve what would have been the effect of the new clause. That is why we resist the new clause, and I ask my right hon. Friend to consider not pressing it.

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