Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Bruce George: The Bill will be a bit of a mystery to outsiders. Someone running a small private security firm, who accesses the Bill on the internet, will see very little because first, he will have to wait for two or three years before the regulations are made and, secondly, much that he will be looking for will not be in that document. If he cannot access our proceedings or read the Counterfeiting Act of 1797—

Mr. Clarke: May I add a word of clarification for my right hon. Friend? Someone looking on the internet will see not only the Bill, but also all the guidance published by the SIA. That will answer all his questions.

Mr. George: The new clause was meant to be informative; the information is being elicited reluctantly. I shall go, as I did during in my footballing career, rarely on the winning side. I am not sure whether, at the end of these proceedings, I shall be on the losing or the winning side. We shall have to wait for three years to see whether our work has any real effect. I hope that it will. I reluctantly beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1

The Security Industry Authority

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move amendment No. 30, in page 20, line 5, after `members' insert—

    `(being at least five but not more than fifteen)'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 10, in page 20, line 14, leave out `five' and insert `three'.

Mr. Hawkins: The amendment is designed to change the number of members of the authority. We believe that the Secretary of State has too wide a discretion. The Minister will recall that the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 established the Electoral Commission; that body bears some similarity to the new authority as it has broad regulatory functions, and is required to keep registers and so on. Section 1(3) of that Act imposes a precise requirement in relation to numbers. It states:

    ``There shall be not less than five, but not more than nine, Electoral Commissioners.''

Why cannot something similar be provided in the Bill?

The Bill is inconsistent with other legislation promoted by the Minister. Paragraph 1(4) to schedule 4 of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, which the Minister and I debated not so many weeks ago, states:

    ``The total number of members of the Authority shall not at any time be less than eleven.''

The Government seem quite happy to put that sort of requirement in other recent legislation. Why not this one?

The quorum for the new authority is to be determined at its first meeting, at which at least five members must be present, as provided in paragraph 10(2) of the schedule. However, it is open to the Secretary of State to appoint fewer than five members. The amendment would ensure some consistency within the Bill. We believe that there should be consistency within the Bill and also within the Department.

Amendment No. 10, tabled by the right hon. Member for Walsall, South, seeks to reduce the maximum time of membership of the authority from five years to three. I do not know whether it is simply a probing amendment—the right hon. Gentleman is nodding—but amendment No. 30 is substantive. We seek to limit the Secretary of State's discretion not to fetter him but to ensure consistency. Even if the Minister cannot accept it, I hope that he will at least consider the matter and table a Government amendment on Report, so that the Bill is consistent with itself and with other recent legislation.

Mr. Bruce George: As the hon. Member for Surrey Heath suggested, I believe that a three-year term would be better. I have been a member of various Select Committees for 20 years, but I sometimes think that membership should be limited to six months. Five years is a long time, especially for someone who may not be terribly interested or who makes no contribution to the proceedings. I suspect that a considerable number of people would be prepared to make a contribution—we could get 200 from the private security industry alone, which we would not want. A three-year term would mean that they had to prove their worth. If they were good, their term could be extended, as happened with the old Commission for Racial Equality; if they did not pull their weight and make a real contribution, three years would give the chairman and, initially, the Secretary of State the opportunity to move other people in—there will be many takers. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

5.15 pm

Mr. Charles Clarke: I am not sympathetic to amendment No. 30, but I am to amendment No. 10. The reason for my lack of sympathy for amendment No. 30 is that there is no great virtue in consistency in the size of such bodies. They are created in different circumstances and perform different roles. It would be unnecessarily restrictive to tie ourselves to a minimum of five and maximum of 15 members in the development phase of the SIA in particular, because we are starting from scratch and want to have a consultative process and to ensure that the authority is broadly based.

However, I agree with the hon. Member for Surrey Heath to the extent that I acknowledge that the size of the body is important and that it is difficult to get the balance right, as we discussed on Second Reading and elsewhere. I will certainly take his points carefully into account. However, my initial inclination is to say that the Secretary of State—whoever that is after the general election, and whatever his party—should have the flexibility to build a body that can properly meet the needs of the industry and carry out its role.

I am much more sympathetic to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South. The Bill sets a maximum term of five years. When the matter was discussed in the other place, we acknowledged that there was no particular significance in the number five. Indeed, the terms of appointment in the majority of non-departmental public and other similar bodies for which the Home Office has responsibility are nearer to the three years proposed in the amendment than the five years in the Bill. I therefore commit myself to reconsidering the matter. In addition, I am prepared to make a commitment that if the Labour party returns to government, it will be committed to a maximum three-year term of appointment in such circumstances. We will examine changing the legislation to reduce terms from five to three years more generally.

The point is powerful and reflects experience, but a proper rotation and a proper time in service are appropriate. I have given my right hon. Friend two commitments. First, a Labour Government would appoint for only a three-year period, despite the power to appoint for a maximum of five years. Secondly, we will consider tabling an amendment on Report. With that, I hope that he will withdraw—

The Chairman: Order. The right hon. Member for Walsall, South does not need to withdraw amendment No. 30, because it is grouped with the amendment No. 10.

Mr. Clarke: I apologise for not being clear about that, Mr. Winterton. I hope, however, that my comments go some way to dealing with my right hon. Friend's concerns. I think that I am right in saying that Conservatives in the other place also favoured a three-year maximum term. I hope that Conservative Members on the Committee will acknowledge that I am trying to respond to that view.

Mr. Hawkins: I certainly acknowledge that the Minister is trying to be helpful. He is not, at this stage, prepared to go quite as far as we would like, but he correctly described the attitude of my noble Friends to the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Walsall, South.

I hope that the Minister and his officials will reflect further on the precise numbers. I genuinely think that there is a need for consistency between the new authorities that the Home Office is creating. I do not seek to press the point further, and will withdraw the amendment with the proviso that we might return to it on Report if the Government do not table their own amendment.

The Chairman: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will wait for a moment before seeking leave to withdraw the amendment, because I first intend to call the right hon. Member for Walsall, South to make a few closing comments on amendment No. 30.

Mr. George: Because the Minister was standing up, Mr. Winterton, you could neither see nor hear me falling to the floor with a thud, having heard that he would accept one of my amendments. Having fully recovered, I now express my delight. What else can I do but enthusiastically withdraw the amendment? The score is 18-1. I am on a roll, and I hope to increase it to 18-2 before our proceedings conclude. With great pleasure, and a deep sense of shock, I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment No. 30.

The Chairman: The right hon. Gentleman does not have to withdraw the amendment; it would not have been put unless he had asked for a Division. I should have been happy to grant one, but as the Minister has conceded the point, there is no need.

Mr. Hawkins: I return to what I was saying, Mr. Winterton, when you said that you would call the right hon. Gentleman. With the proviso that I mentioned, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. George: I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 20, line 10, at end insert—

    `(4) In making appointments to the Authority the Secretary of State shall have due regard to the desirability of ensuring the Authority includes persons representative of, or who have experience of

    (a) the private security industry,

    (b) the police service,

    (c) the employees' interest,

    (d) the insurance industry,

    (e) the consumers' interest,

    (f) local authorities

    and that no single interest will predominate.'.

The Chairman: With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 31, in page 20, line 10, at end insert—

    `(4)(a) At least one of the members appointed by the Secretary of State shall be a person whom the Secretary of State considers to represent the interests of the police in England and Wales; and

    (b) At least one of the members appointed by the Secretary of State shall be a person whom the Secretary of State considers to represent the interests of the private security industry in England and Wales.'.

No. 52, in page 20, line 10, at end insert—

    `(4) The Secretary of State shall ensure that the membership of the Authority includes persons whom the Secretary of State considers to represent the interests of

    (a) the private security industry

    (b) the police service in England and Wales

    (c) the employees' interest

    (d) the insurance industry

    (e) the consumers' interest

    (f) local authorities in England and Wales.'.

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