Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Simon Hughes: I am sympathetic to the amendment for the reasons that the right hon. Gentleman gave. As people in the security industry do a job that brings them into contact with the wider public—not just with their fellow employees—they should be subject to the same general approval. I can see the argument against that. When a company employs people directly, they have all the terms and conditions before them and are governed by the usual rules of company employment, which include the security of interresponsibility between employees. It does not seem to me, however, that the amendment would necessarily be more burdensome. It may be rejected on the ground that regulation exists, and no doubt the better regulation taskforce will point out any additional regulations. Although I accept that the amendment would produce a slight increase in administrative responsibility, the logic of the case has been made.

We shall shortly reach the group of amendments that relate to the companies that provide the security industry's range of services, even though that is not their main range. An increasing number of companies in the construction industry, such as large building and surveyors companies with international contracts, used to do building work and provide professional surveying advice, and are now facilities companies offering a package of services. They may take up a contract in the middle east and do everything from obtaining planning permission, if that is required, to the final signing over of the building. They will subcontract in everyone from lift contractors to the suppliers of public utilities. Likewise, in this country many people offer a service to take over an operation. They may take over a national health service building, or an office block across the river, and look after the whole operation, providing all services—catering, cleaning and so on. There is no guarantee that the employer is used to dealing with such work. It is therefore at risk if it is not well done, as it would be in other sectors.

I hope that the Minister understands the importance of this issue. Are the Government simply not yet persuaded of the case, do they think that it should not happen in the first wave, or have they a more fundamental objection to the amendment? If it is the latter, he might suggest how such an objection could be overcome by argument and persuasion.

As a post-script, if the Government resist the amendment and the Secretary of State later decides that there should be an alteration, is there an opportunity in the Bill to amend the future Act through secondary legislation and introduce the category identified in the amendment?

The Chairman: Before I call the Minister to reply, I want to make a plea to the Committee. We have five groups of amendments, and I would like to have them all moved and followed by a ministerial answer. That can only be achieved if self-discipline is exercised by Committee members.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I shall be brief because we have debated at some length the subject of the amendments on Second Reading and in previous Committee sittings. I shall not return to the arguments at great length. The reason why we decided not to include in-house security, following the publication of the White Paper, was because we thought that two vetting processes—by the employer and the authority—might be unduly burdensome. We regulate some in-house staff such as door supervisors and wheelclampers. However, we did not think that that argument extended any further.

I accept many of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South, as I did at Second Reading and in previous Committee debates. The SIA will have a duty to keep the industry and the operation of the legislation under review.

I emphasise the point that I made on Second Reading to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey--we are not closed to the arguments in favour of regulating in-house staff. However, that would not be right at this stage. The Bill is flexible, and paragraph 7(2) of schedule 2 allows that issue to be addressed by secondary legislation--it would not need further primary legislation. I have no doubt that the authority will receive arguments about in-house staff, and the Government will be happy to listen to its views in due course. The developmental method is a coherent and positive approach for us to take.

I shall make a final point about the better regulation task force before it becomes guilty for all sins of omission. To defend it—and I had to give evidence to it about the possible content of the Bill—it argues that before putting systems of regulation, which could be oppressive, on sections of industry, one must have a good case. That is important in terms both of initial functionality and ensuring that regulation does not destroy the efficiency of particular sectors of industry. That is the position of the taskforce. Indeed, it is a good position that allows further argument and development over time.

We have set up a process that allows us to say that criminality in a certain sector is of such concern that we want to tackle it in a different way. It also allows us to say that we have found a better way of regulating that does not involve both the authority and the employer in the process, which is the right way to address the issue. To avoid all doubt, I can tell the Committee that if such arguments were made to bring the sector within the Bill, it would not require further primary legislation. It could be done with secondary legislation on the recommendation of the authority with the proper consultation. With that in mind, I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider withdrawing his amendment.

Mr. Bruce George: I am experiencing deja vu. I profoundly disagree with the arguments made by the Minister and the better regulation task force. The Government perceive the Bill as legislation that will reduce crime. That is, of course, a major factor, but it also concerns the efficiency and accountability of the industry. Merely to say that there has been insufficient evidence of criminality to encourage us to do x, y and z is to put an argument similar to that in the Green paper in 1979. I hoped that we had moved on from that.

I hope that the regulatory authority will make a more mature assessment than the better regulation task force, and will do what everybody—well, almost everybody—in the industry wants. It is superfluous to argue further, so I reluctantly beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Bercow: I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 27, line 1, after `(c. 41)', insert:

    `or of an employee or volunteer working under his supervision.'.

The amendment is intended to exempt people working under the supervision of legal professionals. Specifically, and it can be stated succinctly, we are discussing provision for private investigations. Paragraph 4(4) states:

    ``This paragraph does not apply to any activities of a person with a general qualification within the meaning of section 71 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990''.

That is intended to exclude legal professionals such as solicitors and others from the provisions of the Bill.

The purpose of the amendment is simply to add the protection provided by the provision to employees or volunteers who are working under the supervision of legal professionals. That is what our amendment states and that it is what it is intended to achieve. I look forward to hearing comments from other members of the Committee, and especially to hearing the Minister's response.

Mr. Clarke: We recognise the continuing interest of lawyers in the Bill as it relates to them. There was extensive discussion in the other place about the employees of firms of accountants. We took the view that it would not be right to extend a blanket exemption to those employees, because many accountancy firms have diversified to the extent that they provide services that are properly designated activities as defined in the Bill. However, we accept that firms of lawyers are generally somewhat less diversified than accountancy firms. We want to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are targeted on those specialist providers of security services whom we have stated that we wish to regulate and that they do not inadvertently catch groups that are not relevant to our policy aims, including solicitors and the employees of solicitors' firms.

6.30 pm

Mr. Hawkins: Those in City firms of solicitors would challenge the Minister's assertion that they have not diversified to the same extent as accountants. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to consider the matter further if I tell him that today my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and I received a letter from the Institute of Chartered Accountants saying that it supports the amendment, as does the Law Society.

Mr. Clarke: I will certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's point. I accept that, in a small number of large practices, there is much greater diversity than there was, say, 20 years ago. However, I would still maintain that some accountancy firms have moved more widely—although that is a pedantic point that I shall not pursue at great length.

The licensing requirement applies only to those whose main employment is concerned with the activities listed in the Bill. It does not apply to in-house staff except those in the door supervision and wheelclamping sectors. The amendment would extend the exemption to those employees or volunteers who work under the authority and supervision of a person qualified under the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 but who are not themselves qualified under that Act. The exemption for those who are so qualified was included in the Bill for the avoidance of any doubt that those employed in the legal profession were excluded by virtue of the way in which the term ``designated activity'' is drafted. It was clear to us that qualified lawyers are thus excluded on the basis of the drafting of the Bill.

The amendment is unnecessary, as the employees whom it seeks to exclude do not in any case fall into the licensing category by virtue of the definitions that are used in the Bill. Any security-related activity as defined in the Bill that the employees of lawyers undertake will, under paragraph 4(9), be incidental to the main purpose of their employment. As we have said previously in Committee, where it is incidental it is not covered. There is a further exemption. Paragraph 4(8) excludes activities carried out with the knowledge or consent of the person about whom the information is sought or every person whose interest in any property has been affected by the loss or damage about which the information is sought.

We are therefore satisfied—I am happy again to place it on the record—that employees of solicitors' firms providing services to their employers are excluded by the exemptions, especially by the exemption based on the incidental nature of any security-related work that is undertaken. The incidental nature of the work is the key point. An employee of a solicitor would fall into the licensing category only if he or she had been supplied to another company under contract to supply any of the activities listed in schedule 2. In those circumstances, it would be anomalous for non-solicitors in law firms—or, in a parallel case, as we discussed on Second Reading, non-accountants in accountancy firms—to be exempt from the licensing requirement, as private investigators offering exactly the same services would be caught. Therefore, it would be right for individuals in such limited circumstances to need a licence.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath mentioned the Law Society. I can tell him that Home Office officials have been in contact with the Law Society to discuss the matter, and I understand that it is content that, for the avoidance of any doubt, we ensure that employees of solicitors' firms supplying services to their employers will be excluded when the subordinate legislation commencing the licensing provisions is drafted. I am happy to give that undertaking and to place it on the record.

I hope that I have given the hon. Member for Buckingham the assurance that he seeks and that, on that basis, he will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

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