Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. George: It has been instructive to be a member of this Committee, and my knowledge of procedure has doubled. Sadly, that knowledge is superfluous, as I have no intention of sitting on another Standing Committee for a considerable time—not because of your Chairmanship, Mr. Winterton, which is an inducement, but because I find Select Committees more edifying.

Mr. Hawkins: The right hon. Gentleman is being brave. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall), the Government Whip, was listening when he said that he had no intention of sitting on further Standing Committees. The Whip might have found his contributions to this Committee so entertaining that, in another Parliament, what will then be the Opposition Whips Office will call on him a lot more.

The Chairman: Order. We have been most interested to hear that, but it is not relevant to the amendment.

Mr. George: Thank you for your protection, Mr. Winterton. I did not divert the Committee from the straight and narrow.

We come to the composition of this eagerly sought-after board. As with much of the Bill, what is intended is rather unclear. The amendment would describe the kind of men and women who should be considered. I am not too exercised about how many members there should be—it could be nine, 10, 11 or 12. In one way, the more the better, because more members will bring with them a wider range of activities and experience and a greater ability to make the authority work. Those who are chosen by the Secretary of State will have to read not only the Bill but the document from the House of Lords telling them what is to be laid down by statutory instrument. If they can survive that, and take up their positions, they will have assumed enormous responsibility.

The selection criteria should be such that they ensure that the board is not dominated by one group or another. Although the security industry must be well represented, it must not be in the majority—representatives must include people from all the constituent parts. As the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments does its work, I hope that more sectors of the private security industry will be added to the list of those who may undertake licensable conduct. Places should be available for other groups to be represented on the board.

That is my thinking in proposing that the private security industry should be well represented. It would be impossible to exclude the police service, the insurance industry, representatives of consumers' interests and local authorities, but will the Minister consider including representatives of employees' interests?

Regrettably, we will be licensing not the companies but the employees. They are not well unionised—in fact, they are hardly unionised at all. They do not necessarily have to belong to an official trade union, but I would hope that they would. I must declare an interest. I am a member of the GMB, which, like the Transport and General Workers Union, provides membership services. However, it would be quite wrong to have all the gaffers, owners and retired chief constables on the board without including somebody who works at the security coalface.

I hope that the governing principle in the compilation of the list will be to ensure that no single interest dominates and to ensure that the definition of who should be included is broad. If there are not enough places on the board, the establishment of sub-committees—not a plethora, but some—would give the opportunity to those who do not make the main board but who have an enormous contribution to make, to participate at a low cost to the authority and the taxpayer. I believe that that would make this important organisation representative and help it to do a splendid job of work.

Mr. Hawkins: I very much support the thinking that lies behind the amendment No. 6. The Committee will realise that amendment No. 31, which is grouped with it, is intended to have a similar effect. We have dealt with these issues previously. We feel very strongly, as do a lot of the trade bodies, including the leading corporate investigation consultancies, that there should be a specific provision to ensure that the industry and the police service are represented. In addition, it does no harm at all to include the other groups that amendment No. 6 would write into the Bill. I have no strong feelings about whether amendment No. 31 or amendment No. 6 should be incorporated, but one or the other should be.

Should the right hon. Member for Walsall, South listen to the blandishments that I expect the Minister will shortly offer and decide not to press amendment No. 6 to a vote, I will be seeking your approval, Mr. Winterton, for a separate Division on amendment No. 31. That is subject to what the Minister may say. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has his own amendment to deal with, which is also grouped with these other two.

I echo the remarks of the right hon. Member for Walsall, South. We feel strongly about the issue, for similar reasons.

Mr. Simon Hughes: The idea that there should be a broad spectrum of people on the authority is clearly widely supported. Amendment No. 52 sets out the same six categories of people as amendment No. 6, and amendment No. 31 sets out at least two of the categories as being prerequisite. We cannot leave the matter entirely at the discretion of the Secretary of State. It looks bad and it allows for abuse. As it stands, the Bill does not include proper controls.

This is the first piece of legislation dealing with this industry. The core provision of the legislation, without which the rest cannot happen, is to set up the regulatory body. Whatever the precedent may be, it must be better for that body to be representative. I need not elaborate the point. I want the Minister to explain why on earth we cannot have minimum criteria for the representative categories on the authority. That would at least allow for proper consultation about who should come from each of the sectors, which would be represented and be able to make nominations.

My supplementary point concerns the procedure for appointments, which will be public appointments to a quango. What, under the new rules, are the procedures for nominations and for scrutinising them? What is the procedure for advice on appointments? What procedure is in place as regards minimum qualifications and other considerations to ensure that people are perceived to be fit and proper candidates? Will there be a declaration of relevant interests and the like?

5.30 pm

Let us please move from total discretion on the part of the Minister to a much more transparent and appropriately represented system. If he thinks that there are obvious omissions, he should tell us so that we can table a better amendment on Report—I would be happy to do that. What criteria and public processes exist to ensure that those appointed, by whatever means, are fit and proper people and are seen to be so? Such criteria will be necessary to give the authority the reputation and respect that it will need to do its job for the purposes that we intend.

Mr. Charles Clarke: There are some interesting points in the amendments, and I shall deal with some of the more straightforward ones immediately.

We are clear about the fact that the form of appointment mentioned by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is the standard Nolan process. That should obviate many of his concerns about the potential corruption of a decision by a Secretary of State to nominate someone.

It is clear from everything that has happened that the Secretary of State will look for someone who has experience of the industry and who comes from one of the wide range of organisations set out in amendments Nos. 6 and 52. He will also be looking for a broad range of representation on the authority, in precisely the way set out in the amendments.

My first proposition is to make a case for the flexibility that we have discussed. Flexibility is important, although it can be contested as an abuse or for leaving too much open. However, under the system in this country, the flexibility of the Executive to address such matters is a positive, not a negative factor.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister seemed to be making a general statement about flexibility. In the light of that, will he not concede that his case is somewhat undermined once again by the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, which was recently introduced by none other than himself. Paragraph 1(3) of schedule 4, on the Central Police Training and Development Authority, does not give such flexibility. It requires two people to represent the interests of the police authorities, two to represent those of chief constables and one Crown servant. If that was appropriate for that authority, why not for the SIA?

Mr. Clarke: For the very good reason that I gave earlier. Police training springs from the tripartite nature of our police system, which involves chief constables, police authorities and the Government. That new police training authority is very narrow and has a narrow but important responsibility. That is in strong contrast to the regulatory body that we are establishing.

Leaving aside the general arguments for flexibility, I want to make two important points that flow directly from the wording of amendment No. 6. There are different emphases in the amendments. Amendment No. 6 uses the words

    ``ensuring the Authority includes persons representative of, or who have experience of''

the various categories. Amendment No. 52 includes the significantly different phrase:

    ``whom the Secretary of State considers to represent the interests of''.

That raises the issue of what type of body the authority will be. It is important that we do not simply see it as an agglomeration of representatives of various interests. To take an obvious question, which has been the subject of entertaining exchanges between my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Stewart) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South, is the Transport and General Workers Union or the GMB a more appropriate representative of employees in the industry?

In amendment No. 6, my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South speaks of

    ``persons representative of . . . the private security industry'',

and in amendment No. 52, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey speaks of

    ``persons whom the Secretary of State considers to represent the interests of . . . the private security industry''.

The slight differences in those two formulations are important. The question concerns who is represented and the nature of that representation. One of the criticisms of the quango structure is that such bodies are less executive and represent a wide range of interests rather than taking action. I would argue positively for an executive authority to carry out the proposals that we have set out in the Bill rather than a representative body.

Determining who is representative in that sense is a major difficulty and it raises non-trivial questions on each of the categories set out in the Bill. Most people accept that the Association of Chief Police Officers is the appropriate body to represent the police, although some might argue that the Police Federation or the Police Superintendents Association is more appropriate in certain circumstances.

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