Deferred Division

– in the House of Commons at 5:55 pm on 28 March 2001.

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker 5:55, 28 March 2001

I have now to announce the result of the Division deferred from a previous day. On the motion on Local Government, the Ayes were 362, the Noes were 134, so the motion was agreed to.

[The Division List is published at the end of today's debates.]

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:09, 28 March 2001

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton). She made a characteristically thoughtful and sensible speech. For the second time in a week, I am about to speak in a debate on a matter on which there is a large consensus, and that grieves me—although I hope to inject some controversy into my later remarks.

I do not know what my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) on the Front Bench is going to say, but he is looking uncomfortable at the degree of consensus about the Bill evident across the House. Consensus is not his natural style, to his great credit, but he will have to demonstrate a good deal of it this evening.

It is also a pleasure to speak after my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Goldfield (Sir N. Fowler). Subject to the Prime Minister's decision, my right hon. Friend may have made his last speech in the House. In many respects, I hope that I will be proved wrong, but it was wonderful to hear him bring to fulfilment a campaign that has characterised his political career. I am sure that he was delighted to be able to speak as he did today.

I wish to speak on the security industry aspects of the Bill, and on wheelclamping. Both topics flow from constituency interests. I am privileged to have the British headquarters of Group 4 in my constituency—at least, the front gates and the postal address are in my constituency, and many Group 4 staff employed at Broadway in Worcestershire are my constituents, but the company's head offices are in fact situated in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown). He and I therefore have an important constituency interest in Group 4. Incidentally, the British Security Industry Association has its headquarters in my home city of Worcester, which is not in my constituency.

The key message from Group 4, which should guide the House in its consideration of the Bill, is that the Bill contains no measure that a good company should not be pursuing already. If that is true, the Bill cannot be objected to in any real sense, and we should welcome it.

I am involved in a campaign—I hope that it lasts as long as that pursued by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield—to bring a solution to the vexed question of foxhunting. I am struck by the strong similarities between the Bill and the proposals of the Middle Way Group, of which I am joint chairman.

I do not want a make a party political point, but it amuses me that the Bill appears to have passed through the other place without causing any significant controversy. Some useful amendments were tabled, and the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central mentioned the one relating to wheelclamping and land. In contrast, my humble proposal to license foxhunting seemed to engender much anger in the House of Lords.

It seems to me proper that an activity that impinges on other people, as the operation of the private security industry clearly does, should be subject to some form of statutory regulation or licensing. There is nothing wrong in principle with that, but in saying so I have to grapple with the other part of my persona. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham will wind up the debate, and no doubt will exhibit a real reluctance—which I share—to impose excessive regulation. I was not a member of the previous Government. I sat on the Government Benches and encouraged my colleagues, but they did not have the wisdom to include me in their ranks. I therefore cannot speak from inside knowledge, but I suspect that the reluctance to introduce regulation arose from the tension between an understanding that something had to be done to protect people—including employees—from a poorly run security industry, and an unwillingness to add to the bureaucratic burden borne by the private sector.

Therefore, if the Bill is granted a Committee stage, the House will have to consider how to strike the balance between those competing principles. It will also have to ensure that the Bill does not give advantages to the big operators and discriminate against the small ones—and I say that as Group 4's constituency MP.

The small operators are not always the cowboys in the industry. Group 4 is a role model for the industry rather than a cowboy, but some bigger firms' practices are also sometimes suspect. The balance between regulation and competitiveness is a difficult one to get right.

Group 4's position is straightforward. It has campaigned for 30 years for statutory regulation of the industry, so it is hardly surprising that it welcomes the Bill. Interestingly, the company states that the measure is a vital first step towards the fullest possible regulation of the industry … We are pleased that the Bill provides for the possibility of converting the system of inspection and approval of security providers from a voluntary to a compulsory one. It adds that it firmly believes that only a mandatory system will free the industry from the unscrupulous operators who would undermine it. If the Bill is enacted, the Minister must consider that matter carefully when he implements it.

Under the Bill, everyone in the industry—from chief executives and headquarters staff up to the guards and uniformed operators who offer security services in public places—will have to have a licence. I attended the lunchtime reception held today by the Police Federation, where I was reminded that police officers undergo an intensive training programme and a two-year probation period, and that they continue their training on the job throughout their careers. The federation contrasted that experience unfavourably with the provisions in the Bill.

The better companies offer intensive training, which continues throughout their employees' careers with them. It is right that that should happen, and it is important to recognise that private security staff do not merely hang around Woolworths or shopping malls, keeping an eye out for the occasional shoplifter. Such staff can be engaged in extremely difficult and testing situations.

A recent tragic case involved a security guard who refused to pursue a shoplifter out of a shop. His judgment proved to be correct—the shop assistant who did pursue the shoplifter was subsequently stabbed to death. That is the sort of challenging situation that can arise.

Security officers deal with people in public places, so they necessarily are exposed regularly to people's more eccentric acts. On occasion, private security guards have had to deal with people attempting to commit suicide by burning themselves to death, or with people trying to jump off bridges or hang themselves.

Training is needed to handle such difficult and sensitive situations. The industry is concerned that the proposed Security Industry Authority may not insist on sufficiently adequate training when it issues licences. That is important, but the challenge that we must face is to ensure public safety while at the same time maintaining the right regulatory touch. If there is to be a Committee stage for the Bill, I hope that those of my hon. Friends who are selected for it will test the Government on what they anticipate will be the SIA' s action in that regard.

I emphasise that I am concerned about the lack of mandatory regulation for companies. I need to be reassured by the Government that they have done the right thing in not making the provisions of the Bill mandatory.

I said earlier that not all the cowboys are small operators: some are of quite a significant size, and can engage in some very off practices. At the moment, it is possible for people to be on the dole one hour, and in uniform and serving in very sensitive public places the next. I understand that that has happened in some prominent public buildings in London. The absence of a criminal record does not mean that a person is fit and proper to engage in sensitive public activities.

Companies must be well managed. Like the people whom they employ, they must also be fit and proper. The Government will have to consider that matter very carefully.

The independence and impartiality of the proposed S1A will be an important issue too. The SIA will have properly to reflect the interests of the different parties, both in the industry and among those who are served by it. Schedule 1 gives the Secretary of State power to appoint members of the SIA. Group 4 believes, and I am inclined to agree, that the framework for the composition of the SIA should be laid down in legislation. Group 4 also believes that the SIA should contain representatives from the industry, employees, customer groups and others. It suggests that the authority should have 12 members, and that that number should be set out in the Bill.

I believe that the Minister prefers a more flexible approach. That is another matter that needs to be tested in Committee.

Group 4 certainly believes that the Minister's proposal to leave wide discretionary powers with the Home Office will lead to uncertainty—to have a floating number of members is not practical. If the Government want flexibility, Group 4 thinks that it could be provided by allowing Parliament to consider the size and composition of the SIA at a later date, but for the time being to stipulate in the Bill what the size and composition are to be.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Does he agree that we require from the Government some practical reassurances in the Bill on the subject of the composition of the authority, in order to dispel any notion that either the present, or a subsequent, Home Secretary might try to use the power of appointment to the authority as an opportunity to offer somebody a bauble for loyal service in a wholly unrelated field?

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

As always, my hon. Friend makes an important point. The House is ill advised to give Ministers flexibility unless it is genuinely needed. Whatever Ministers' reasons for trying to distort the purposes for which they were given discretion in the first place, it is helpful if as much detail as possible is included in a Bill. At present, that is an unfashionable view; to be fair, it was not especially popular with the previous Government either, but it has become splendidly unpopular—Bills are now largely concerned with setting up order-making powers for Secretaries of State. That is not acceptable.

Group 4's suggestion meets the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend and me. It is that the authority should include two members from the industry's employers; two members from employees in the industry; one member from the police and criminal justice system; one member who represents local authorities; one representing insurance providers—an important group; and one member representing customer groups. The industry has some big customers who could easily supply an individual to fill that role. Finally, there should be a member to represent the public. That is a more difficult challenge—I always worry about the appointment of surrogates for the general public.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I understand the intelligent approach suggested by Group 4 and other companies in the field. However, how would the hon. Gentleman deal with the point that I made about the need to ensure that the authority is an independent organisation and not simply an agglomeration of special interests—however significant?

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

That is a philosophical debate. How can we guarantee independence if a Minister is given complete discretion to make appointments? With all due respect to the Minister, for whom I sincerely have a high personal regard, I do not trust him to behave independently in making appointments to a public body. I do not trust any Minister to do that. If Ministers have a framework in which to operate, the prospects of independence are enhanced. There is a debate to be had on that subject. The Minister smiles benignly; I am not sure whether that is from the knowledge that he has won the argument or because he suspects that there may be something in my argument. He nods to indicate the former. However, he needs to reflect on the matter.

The Minister should reflect especially on Group 4's point that there should be more than one representative from the industry. The industry is diverse, with companies of different sizes and scales of operation. At the very least, the authority should include a big fish and a small fish. It would be good if the Minister were to say that during this debate or in the Standing Committee.

I emphasise Group 4's excellent point about the desirability of including employees on the authority. The voice of employees needs to be heard loud and clear; they have often been the victims of badly run security companies.

The authority's powers are also of some concern. The Bill allows for the authority to establish minimum standards. Group 4's view is that minimum standards of training are needed and that they should be specified in the Bill. I made a similar point earlier, so I shall not labour it. Are Ministers really content that so much discretion should be allowed to them and to the authority in the formulation of proposals?

The subject of in-house security staff is contentious. Many people in the industry are worried about the exclusion of such staff from the Bill's provisions. Group 4 and the British Security Industry Association share those concerns. They believe that a two-tier system of private security could develop, and that failure to regulate in-house staff may provide a loophole which could help unscrupulous people to find their way into the industry and undermine the very principles of the Bill.

The Minister of State, Home Office is currently not at the Dispatch Box, although he has been replaced by another Minister of State, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), for whom I also have high personal regard.

I hope that Ministers will consider including provisions on in-house staff. The criminal justice White Paper provides for the extension of private sector work in policing; that is a powerful reason for arguing that case. The growing role of the private security industry in many aspects of the lives of local communities means that the industry must keep a watchful eye on the Human Rights Act 1998. We must be certain that the Government are right to exclude provisions on in-house providers.

The BSIA has concerns on that point: There are two main points to consider here, a) businesses may choose to revert to in-house security, as it could become cheaper than employing contractors, once the cost of regulation has been added to contract prices, and b) individuals who cannot obtain a licence may seek work within in-house operations. It will be interesting to see what form of vetting the Government recommends for in-house security. Will businesses be allowed to access enhanced criminal records to assess the suitability of their in-house staff? If so, why not include licensing for in-house officers as a legal obligation? That is a powerful case; the Government must answer it.

The burden of the cost of licensing must not fall on employees. I still have reservations about the minimum wage, despite everything that has happened. Recent increases in the rate will pose severe challenges for some businesses—not necessarily because they pay at that rate, but because of differentials. However, in the private security industry, the absence of a minimum wage often led to shabby treatment of employees. There is no doubt that scandalously love rates were paid, so in that particular industry, the minimum wage brought great benefits. The company should meet the cost of the licence and I hope that the Government will keep that firmly in mind.

I am slightly surprised that the Bill lists no exemptions. Group 4 suggests that the Act should not apply to a police officer … a prison officer … a member of Her Majesty's armed forces … a member of the Ministry of Defence Guard Service … an officer or employee of a Government department, government agency or non departmental government body … a person who in whatever capacity carries out any designated activities in relation to a public works or supply contract relating to the provision of prison escort, custody and immigration services. They are, of course, already separately regulated.

It is strange that there are no exclusions. It is important that correct boundaries and delineations be set out in statute; the case for exemption seems strong.

There is some urgency on these issues, because the Government seem to be planning to make much greater use of the private security industry. Indeed, we seem to be going through privatisation by stealth. I suppose that I should welcome that, but I am somewhat surprised because when the White Paper on the industry was published in 1999, the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Brent, South ( Mr. Boateng), said: I have no plans for police patrol or any other police functions to be carried out by the private security industry, except that we have proposed that the escorting of certain abnormal loads should, in future, be carried out by the private sector Representatives of the police and other bodies have raised many matters in discussions, but neither I nor my Ministerial colleagues have proposed any changes to responsibility for police patrolling. No Ministerial committees or Working Groups are currently examining any such proposals.—[Official Report, 27 July 1999; Vol. 336, c. 263W.] I found that answer difficult to reconcile with the White Paper "Criminal Justice: The Way Ahead", published last month. It seems to have a different vision of the future relationship of the private security industry with the police service. In the chapter on the police, we are told that one of the key measures is experimental accreditation of security or patrol staff from other organisations, working under police co-ordination to deliver improved community safety. In a little less than two years, there seems to have been a huge shift in the Government's thinking.

The White Paper rightly notes: There has always been a wide range of people contributing to community safety in various forms. These include park keepers (some with constabulary powers), security guards in shopping centres, car park attendants, neighbourhood wardens, night club bouncers and the private security industry. The issue for policing is how these various activities can be co-ordinated to make the most effective contribution to making safer communities. The paper talks about the Private Security Industry Bill and the Government believing that there is scope for some evaluated schemes to determine the effect on public reassurance of the police accrediting and co-ordinating a range of independent bodies to work in conjunction with them in delivering community safety. It says that these activities could be co-ordinated with policing needs by an officer with an enhanced role as a community beat manager. That proposal represents a very significant shift in the Government's position.

Now here comes the more controversial part of my remarks—my more partisan remarks.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

I see that my hon. Friend is pleased to hear that.

I am afraid that I am a bit cynical about this because police numbers are down, and in my area, very sharply down. The very useful document "Police Service Strength", produced by the Library, shows that under each and every Conservative Government, police numbers in West Mercia rose, sometimes by—

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

Does the right hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that—

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

I am sorry. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that between 1979 and 1997—for me, formative years—in constituencies such as Tottenham, crime increased by 166 per cent., and that the partnership approach that the Labour Government have put forward is what has begun to tackle that?

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am reluctant to be drawn too far into this argument, because I suspect that you would rule me out of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, but let me say this. Crime was falling at the end of the last Conservative Government, as a result of the measures that we introduced, and in recent years crime—especially violent crime—has been rising again, causing great distress to my constituents, so that kind of Millbank argument cuts no ice in Worcestershire. It is hardly surprising because in Worcestershire, police numbers have been falling for the first time in more than 20 years.

If the hon. Gentleman wants the figures for police numbers under the various Administrations, they increased by 9.9 per cent. in the first—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman was quite correct when he said that if he went too far down that path, I would call him to order.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

I certainly have no intention of going down a primrose path that leads to being out of order, but there is an important point here. The Government plan to make increased use of the private security industry in partnership with the police, and my contention is that they are doing so because police numbers are falling and the Government need to cover up for that loss of numbers. The Minister of State, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, looks puzzled. I have no wish to make you unduly anxious about the orderliness of our proceedings, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will simply say that police numbers in Worcestershire increased under every Conservative Government and have fallen by 7 per cent. under the present Government. That is the fact that I cannot get on to the public record because there is a conspiracy of silence—

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche Minister of State, Home Office

I shall be extremely brief. The figures do not bear out what the hon. Gentleman says. If he looks at them, he will see that, during the Conservative years, police numbers were falling, and that it is only now, as a result of the resources that we have put in, that that picture is changing. That is the truth.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am drawn into considerable difficulties here. I am glad to provoke the Minister, but she is simply wrong—as far as my constituency is concerned, at least.

In Lady Thatcher's first term, in West Mercia there was an increase of 9.9 per cent. In her second term, there was an increase of only 0.7 per cent. In the third term, under Lady Thatcher and my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), there was an increase of 5.4 per cent., and in the final term, under my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon, there was an increase of 0.3 per cent. There was an increase—sometimes big, sometimes modest—in each and every Parliament. However, under the present Administration, police numbers have fallen by nearly 7 per cent.

Those are figures from the document produced by the Library, confirmed by Home Office figures published last week. I am not surprised that the Minister does not like to be confronted with the truth, but it is the truth. I am afraid that is why I am so cynical about provisions designed to increase the role of the private security industry.

I find it difficult to get this subject debated because, when I make these allegations, the BBC—not unreasonably—wishes to find someone to counter them, and there is a conspiracy of silence on the other side. No one will answer for those figures. They are a matter of fact and I am afraid that the Minister will have to accept it. I will happily give her a copy of this document after the debate. It is excellent; I commend it to her.

The use of the private security industry is a matter of some concern to the Police Federation. Fred Broughton, chairman of the staff association, has expressed his concerns. In a press release in 1998, he said: Mr. Blair's comments"— not the comments of the Prime Minister but those of the chief constable of Surrey— show that chief officers do not appear to be able to guarantee effective patrolling strengths within their current budgets and are seeking ways around this … Our view is that the proposals by the chief constable of Surrey to make greater use of the private security industry three years ago will reduce standards with lesser calibre patrol officers with limited performance".

In a statement of the Police Federation's view on the proposal to use the private security industry more, which appears on its website at present, the federation says: Private policing would operate against the public interest and any proposals to hand over the existing responsibilities of the police to the private sector should be strongly resisted. We do not want a two-tier system of policing, where those who can afford to pay for protection do so and those who cannot, lose out. I am not sure that I go all the way with the Police Federation, but its concerns need to be addressed.

The security industry already has an important role—that is why the licensing proposed in the Bill is so important—in shopping malls, in prison escorts and in privately funded public patrols. In Group 4's own village of Broadway, in my constituency, there is a privately funded public patrol, which brings great comfort to the residents.

As the Government are obviously trying to privatise the police through the back door and to use the private sector more intensively than before, it is entirely proper that the industry should be more effectively regulated. More opportunity for Group 4 and the other operators, provided by the Government, should be accompanied by more responsibility, and that is essential if the services provided by these companies are to be acceptable to the communities and organisations that they serve.

I suggest one thought to the Minister. I understand that the Government have shown considerable reluctance to commit themselves only to employing registered companies. Obviously, when the Bill becomes law and is put into effect, all individuals will be licensed, but companies will not. There may be something to be said for the Government at least considering sending a message that they will use only companies that register, and will not just rely on those that comply with the literal terms of the Act and have their individual members licensed.

I shall try not to make my final point too long, but it is important. It follows on from the comments by the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central about wheelclamping. She is right to say that there can be reputable wheelclamping: it does happen. I would like to have a wheelclamp for the cars that regularly park outside my flat, where they should not be. I have a notice that I run off from my word processor, which is fairly offensive and normally gets them moved, but it is nevertheless a problem.

The horror stories about wheelclamping are legion. Clampers in Doncaster threatened to hold a mother's three-year-old daughter to ransom until £60 was collected from a bank. Clampers in Sheffield demanded a woman's gold tooth as payment. One woman was asked for sex unless she came up with the release payment immediately. A hearse with a body in the back was clamped outside a church. Sixty-one year-old Marina Vine was clamped when, driving home from hospital following a chemotherapy session, she pulled over to be sick. This is the type of problem that we must deal with. There are real cowboys in the wheelclamping industry.

The British Parking Association, to its credit, has done its best to deal with this menace, but it has no powers. The code of conduct that it has drawn up contains some very welcome provisions. It says that release should be undertaken within 2 hours of payment, and where the circumstances dictate that de-clamp operatives receive the release fee on site, they should attend the clamped vehicle to accept the fee and release the vehicle within 2 hours of the intent to pay being stated"; and that enforcement staff shall be uniformed and carry photo identity cards"; and that the release fee shall not exceed that which would be paid if the vehicle had been clamped on-street in that area as determined by the DETR (currently this is £45 to £58 outside London and £75 to £85 within London)".

It is difficult to reconcile all these good intentions with the activities of the cowboys. I have a constituent who wishes to remain anonymous because he is fearful of recriminations from the parking company. I had a representation from him in January. What happened was as follows: My son was in my wife's car and he was stopping at the Copthorne Hotel in central Birmingham last Friday night. He was dropping off his suitcase at the hotel and was going straight out, he was unable to park at the hotel so he pulled his car onto some waste ground at the side of the hotel at 7.30pm.

My constituent admits that there were signs, although they were not very visible. He was actually doing something wrong. He returned to the car at 7.45pm and it had been towed away within 15 minutes, there was a contact telephone number but the voice message said the office was unmanned until 9am.When he phoned the office in the morning he was told he had to pay £240.00 cash to get his car back. From what I have heard from the hon. Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and for Doncaster, Central, £240 to £250 seems to be the cowboy going rate at the moment. My constituent continues: When the 3 men arrived back with the car they wanted the £240 in cash and were not prepared to say who they were. As they were next to a police station, my son asked to have an address or a copy of the invoice so he could go into the police station to see if they were bona fide traders.

That was a prudent step for him to take. The letter continues: This request was refused and the men drove off after a brief argument. Then when he phoned again the price to get the car back was £270.00. The company involved is Parking Solutions (U.K.) Ltd, PO Box 7765, Halesowen, B64 6AY My constituent and his father have phoned Parking Solutions and the police, who said that it was a civil matter and there was nothing that they could do.

My constituent continued: in the end we had to give in and pay the £270.00"— I have the receipt here. He goes on: To add to the saga damage has also been sustained on the rear bumper which they say is our problem (Seems there is a disclaimer on the notice board).Since the weekend I have spoken to the police who say it is a civil matter, trading standards who say it does not fall in their area of responsibility. Birmingham Trading Standards advised me to check to see if they were a registered company and told me to contact the company Licensing Office". All that work was done to try to deal with a cowboy contractor.

My constituent spoke to Parking Solutions asking for details of their insurance company which they refused to do on the phone. They said I had to write in for this information which means I have to disclose my home address which I am not happy about I understand my constituent's concerns about disclosing his home address. He continued: I am now taking advice from Worcester trading standards who suggested I do the following which I have done:Talk to the Tax Man and see if Parking Solutions declare the cash". I hope that the hon. Lady will commend that course of action to her other hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am shocked by the example that my hon. Friend cites. I wonder whether he might choose to refer that important issue to the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (Mrs. Heal).

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

I shall carefully consider that characteristic suggestion from my hon. Friend.

My constituent has sent an invoice for the repairs to the company, but he used the address of the Worcester trading standards office, rather than his own, for fear of recrimination. He says that Worcester trading standards office advised him to Send full details to my MP to raise in Parliament as they are also not happy with this practice. It is a pleasure to be able to comply so comprehensively with a constituent's concerns.

Earlier this week, I received a very good reply from the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who is temporarily not present on the Treasury Bench, and my constituent will receive a copy of it tomorrow. I am pleased with what the hon. Gentleman says about the provisions on such incidents, but he adds: Among other provisions, the code lays down both a ceiling on charges and a complaints procedure. Although we cannot say at this stage exactly what provisions a code under the Authority would include, we certainly envisage it covering both those points. That returns me to my earlier points about the comprehensive nature of legislation. It is crucial that the code of conduct should include such matters, and I hope that it will. I would like the statute law to specify that the code should include such provisions.

For example, to return temporarily to foxhunting, we envisage that its codes of conduct will have statutory force and we specified some of the matters that should be included in those codes. I commend that course of action to the Minister. We should specify what the code of conduct should say about the greatest abuses. I am sure that the authority will take care of such matters, but we are here to act for constituents from whom we have heard horror stories.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Labour, Doncaster Central

We should consider the fact that if too much is laid down by Parliament, we may not be able to overcome some of the on-going problems. Some cowboy wheelclamping companies now adopt different methods, such as taking photographs of cars and sending out notices demanding penalties. It is important to be able to vary the code of conduct easily, without having to return the matter to Parliament.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I obviously was not explaining myself clearly, and I apologise to her. I am saying that certain matters so obviously need to be encompassed in the code that they should be specified. We must ensure that the authority imposes a ceiling on charges and a complaints procedure.

I am not a lawyer; I do not understand the provisions of the Human Rights Act, and so on, but I think it sensible to allow the authority to insist on certain provisions. I certainly do not suggest that we should draw up a complete list; I am saying that it should at least state that a code of conduct should be established, dealing with such issues as the authority thinks fit, but including X, Y and Z. There is a strong case for ensuring that such issues are included.

I have spoken for 35 minutes, which is longer than I intended to when I rose, but these issues are important not only for my constituents—as employers, employees and as victims of cowboy wheelclampers—but for the general public, who want the security industry to offer the level of competence and security that they have a right to expect, but which has not been offered until now. I am sorry that the Conservative Government did not get around to resolving their own internal conflicts, which I discussed at the beginning of my speech, and I am glad that this Government have done so. They have fewer qualms about regulation than we do, but I commend them on the Bill. I hope that they will consider the detailed issues that I and other right hon. and hon. Members have raised, and that the Bill will reach the statute book at a relatively early date—notwithstanding the guillotine motion, which we shall debate later.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 6:45, 28 March 2001

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), I am member of the GMB, but that is not especially relevant to what I wish to say. I have not seen many of our wheelclamping colleagues at GMB branch meetings in Luton; it is possible that they are not even members of the GMB, so what I say will not offend fellow members.

I commend the speech made by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), especially the last part of it, in which he emphasised the importance of the police, who are unarmed and on the streets of Britain. We should be proud of them. Although there are always problems in policing and patrolling the streets of any country and any city, the police in Britain do a good job, often in difficult circumstances. They are often understaffed, and I shall deal with that in a moment.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) said that particular qualities are required in the security industry. Police officers possess exactly those qualities. That suggests that there might be a case for extending, rather than restricting, the areas in which the police operate. I should not wish to see a creeping privatisation of the police force. Indeed, my constituents would prefer their streets to be patrolled by police officers, who are accountable to the police authority and the Home Office, rather than by private sector organisations. People might expect a Labour Member to make those comments, and I shall continue to hold that view.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

I commend pages 83 and 84 of "Criminal Justice: The Way Ahead", from which the hon. Gentleman will see that the Government have rather different plans.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I listened with interest when the hon. Gentleman was reading that document. My hon. Friends on the Front Bench will be aware that my constituents are keen to have more police on the beat and that, however the Government have done, we still need more, and they have a good case. There could be a little less trouble on the streets if we had a few more police. I shall certainly continue to write to my hon. Friends asking them to provide the resources so that we can have more police, especially in Luton, North, and, in equity, elsewhere in the country.

I very much welcome the Government's decision to regulate the private security industry and to take steps towards filling a gap that has existed for far too long. The Bill deals with a range of activities that we deride as "cowboy", but that is sometimes a slur on cowboys. I shall cite some examples from my constituency later.

I wish to focus specifically on wheelclamping and the impounding of vehicles parked illegally on private property. I have described what has been happening in my constituency in letters to Ministers, and I have described it publicly as "legalised mugging", because it seems tantamount to that. In my constituency at least, the charges imposed are extortionate—for example, £80 to release a wheelclamp, and £150 a day for an impounded car to be released.

There are many examples from all over the country, but in my constituency a middle-aged couple were delivering clothes to a garage at the back of a charity shop when wheelclampers pounced on them. The husband was sitting in the driving seat with the engine running while his wife quickly unloaded the car boot. His car was clamped while waiting, and he was surrounded by a gang of young men, demanding £80 to release the clamp. It is alleged that, at one point, one of the young men threatened to head butt the driver. By all accounts, the gang was very menacing indeed.

In another case, wheelclampers marched an old-age pensioner to a cash machine and made her withdraw £80 from her account to pay them, despite the fact that she had a disabled person's sticker on her car. Those are just two examples, and I shall not waste time describing others, as we have heard some previously.

The Government are right to want to regulate activities on private as well as public land. In one area of my constituency, there is a small unadopted road next to a shopping centre. Wheelclampers wait in a van and pounce as soon as a car comes round the corner and parks even temporarily with the driver still in it. They leap out, clamp the car and demand £80. That has happened time and again.

My concern is that the Bill deals only with private wheelclampers, but I have written to Ministers on more than one occasion urging them to consider the possibility that the local authority could play a role in wheelclamping even on private land. Local authorities undertake some wheelclamping, and they have a right to do that. For example, my local authority employed a private wheelclamping firm to undertake wheelclamping on its behalf. However, the authority sacked the company because it misbehaved in the way that other wheelclampers misbehave. Thus even when a local authority was involved and employed a private sector organisation, the private organisation behaved badly and had to be dismissed.

Local authorities are now considering other ways to overcome the problem. They and the police wish to wheelclamp in many cases, but the small amount of wheelclamping that would take place on local authority land would not be sufficient to make it financially viable for local authorities to set up a system involving a pound and a wheelclamping team. However, if they were given responsibility for wheelclamping in general within their area—for example, they could act on behalf of the police in an agency capacity or on behalf of local residents—they would have more scope and their greater activity might enable them to set up a self-financing scheme. A reasonable charge to the owners of the clamped cars would pay for the service, and the authorities would not even have to charge the private property owner on whose land the car was parked.

I have personal experience of the problem. I live a mile or so from Luton Town football club and it is customary for visiting fans to park their cars in the road outside my house. I do not mind that; it is not a problem. However, on one occasion, a group of young males parked their car in the driveway of my house. They locked it up and quickly ran away, and I was not going to tangle with them. When they returned, they jumped into the car and drove off.

I did not know how to handle that situation, because I certainly was not going to remonstrate with four large male football fans who were rather more youthful than me. I thought that they had been a bit cheeky, to say the least, but I had no one to whom I could turn. The police would not bother with such a case; they have more important things to do. The local authority has no role, and I was not going to get in touch with a private wheelclamping firm. I might have found that they were friends of the football fans—who knows?

In that case, one would have liked the local authority to have had a role. I would have liked to have been able to ring up the council and say, "Someone has parked in my driveway. Can you bring your service round to deal with the problem?" The local authority would then have taken charge. People would not argue with it, because it would have the staff and the resources to deal with the problem. It would also have the police to back it up, should that be necessary. I would not have been happy to use a private firm, but I would have been happy to telephone the local authority. Therefore, we should consider giving local authorities a role in the future.

Everyone else in the Chamber seems to have an idea when the general election will take place. I do not, and the Government may be in office for the full five-year term. However, it is possible that the Bill will not reach the statute book before the election—whenever that may be. If it does not, I hope that a second-term Labour Government will reintroduce it and consider giving local authorities a role. They could permit and encourage—not compel or require—local authorities to play their part.

I have spoken informally to local government officers about the problem, and they have said that, provided that the scheme operated on a sufficiently large scale, they could operate it and would be happy to do so. Indeed, I know that some private citizens and firms have asked local authorities to impose restrictions on people parking illegally on private property. Local authorities cannot do that at present, but if a new Bill gave them the appropriate rights backed by law, they could certainly assist. That would work extremely well and everyone who faced the problem of illegal parking could telephone the local authority. To me, that looks like creeping municipal socialism, but I am not averse to that. I hope that the Government will, at least, consider that possibility in future.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham 6:55, 28 March 2001

I welcome the proposal to regulate the private security industry to ensure that those employed in it can carry out their jobs professionally. I say that because in the summer of 1991 I was employed as a security guard to patrol a huge building in Fleet street that was to house a large accountancy firm. Therefore, I am delighted that, 10 years later, I have the opportunity to speak in the House on this subject.

I am sure that many Members recognise that the private security industry in London and the major conurbations employs many ethnic minority people. I was a student who needed work during the summer holidays and I know that many young men and women—both black and white—take up such employment primarily so that they can read their law or biology books while they are on night patrol, ensuring that buildings are kept safe and sound.

However, the industry also provides permanent employment because many people in communities such as mine in Tottenham are in lower socio-economic groups and take up much needed work in that sector. I was saddened, therefore, when I heard the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) challenge the minimum wage. Many people in the industry rely on it, and I am glad that the Government have recently increased it.

Many young people and those in lower socio-economic groups will welcome the fact that, to some extent, the industry will be professionalised, regulated and supervised. They do not want to work alongside people who have criminal convictions and they do not want to be vulnerable in the workplace. They want to be recognised for the service that they provide and the Bill will, at long last, give them security. I welcome that.

By definition, private security employees are entrusted with protecting people. Whether they are security guards, door supervisors, professional security investigators or, indeed, wheelclampers, it is in everyone's best interest that people employed in positions of such trust should meet required standards and be registered for all to recognise. The Bill will promote standards within the industry and serve the public interest.

I appreciate that the private security industry covers several activities, but the sector that springs to my mind, as the youngest Member of the House, is the door supervision sector, which is made up of people who are readily known as "bouncers". I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends have at one time—perhaps in the not too distant past—been under the so-called protection of bouncers and many will have children who frequent pubs and clubs. Such venues attract a large number of young people, often under the influence of alcohol—legitimate, of course—on a Friday or Saturday night.

Bouncers have unfortunately been a magnet for illegal drug dealing. We had a problem with a small underground club in my constituency. Drug dealing often stems from the people who are meant to protect our younger generation. Unfortunately, many of us have examples of bouncers who engage in criminal activity. In some London clubs, they take drugs off the dealers, kick them out and peddle the drugs themselves. I am delighted that the Bill will at last ensure that drug dealers and criminals will be unable to engage freely in that activity in our clubs. Many bouncers have also been too readily involved in physical assaults on people who have gone out to enjoy themselves on a Friday or Saturday night. There is no justification for that, as I am sure all hon. Members would agree.

Legislation is the only way to ensure that such problems do not occur and that no bouncer has a criminal background. It sends a clear message that inappropriate behaviour by those workers, who are entrusted with the care of the public, will result in their licences being revoked. All aspects of the private security industry will benefit from the promotion of standards that will result in regulation, and I hope that there will be a more creative use of private security workers.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister's announcement about extending neighbourhood warden schemes, especially in deprived areas. It must be clear from the outset that the use of private security guards to patrol housing estates, parks or other public areas should only complement the work of the police. I was saddened, if not surprised, to hear the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire challenge partnership schemes, which I think are the future of crime prevention.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton

How does the hon. Gentleman envisage preventing private security operatives from substituting for the police rather than complementing their work?

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

That is not a matter for me. However, partnership must be the way forward. In deprived areas such as mine, the police can never police on their own. They rely on the community, neighbourhood wardens, neighbourhood watch schemes and residents associations. All must play their part. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire used the word "partnership", but he talked about privatising the police without recognising that my constituents need that partnership in order to police our estates. I welcome a Government who turn their back on paternalism and a top-down approach to crime. The input must also come from the bottom up.

There is no suggestion that security guards will act as a quasi police force. They will not be given powers of arrest that are any different from those available to the general public. I dare say that people who criticise proposals for neighbourhood wardens do not live on estates with repeated vandalism and aggression, which is often perpetrated by a small minority. A partnership approach is essential. The Bill has a role in the wider issue of crime prevention.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about partnerships and policing to create safer communities. However, does he not understand that there is a fundamental difference between paid-for private security operatives who are brought into a community and community-based volunteer neighbourhood watch schemes? They are completely different.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

The hon. Lady seems to suggest that paid-for private operatives have existed only for the past year. Estates in different parts of the country have for a number of years used private security firms to manage affairs in their buildings. Local authorities, including mine, have employed private companies to do that. If there is proper scrutiny, that sector has a role in working alongside the police and ordinary people in neighbourhoods that are worried about crime.

In my road in Tottenham, the neighbourhood watch scheme works closely with security people on the nearby estate and the police to ensure that our homes are no longer burgled. The number of burglaries is decreasing because of the partnership between the residents in the neighbourhood watch scheme, security on the estate at the top of the road and the police half a mile down the road in their local station. The use of private security firms has not come about in the past year; the arrangement has been in place for some time and the Government seek to cement it.

On wheelclamping, I should say that I do not drive. I believe that I am in good company in this place—my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) are Londoners who also do not drive. I have therefore not been a victim of overzealous clampers, but I rely on other people and friends to drive me. I have been horrified to see friends, many of whom are on low incomes, charged a stack load of money—usually £200-plus—to get their cars back. It is difficult for them to retrieve their cars or get the clamps removed. I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) about the need for greater involvement of local authorities in that exercise. I hope that the Government will consider that further.

I hope also that the Government will consider the position of local authorities that contract out services to private companies and then find that they are not reliable or as good at the job as they had expected. A constituent of mine, who had saved for a long time to go on holiday, returned to find that her car, which had been deemed by the private contractor to have been vandalised, had been towed away. Ultimately, it was revealed that wheelclampers had damaged the car, and the outcome was that my constituent was awarded some compensation. I hope that local authorities who contract out services will come under the auspices of the Bill, although I suspect that they do not. The matter needs closer attention.

I welcome the Bill. It will make my constituents very happy because it will help to prevent crime and foster the partnerships that are needed in areas such as mine. In addition, many ethnic minority people are employed in the sector, and they need the security of knowing that they are not joining organisations that employ criminals and that they are recognised by the Government as a professional body of people, with all the rights and obligations that come with that status.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour/Co-operative, West Bromwich West 7:12, 28 March 2001

I welcome the Bill, which addresses a number of problems in my constituency and in the neighbouring black country area which have been made known to me. I pay tribute to my neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who, as other Members have said, has done considerable research on this subject and is recognised as an authority on it. He has fought a long and lonely battle for the licensing of security operatives. I believe that he wants to contribute to the debate and I look forward to his comments with interest.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) rather sidetracked the House on policing. If, in their years in power and their subsequent years in opposition, Conservative Members had been as concerned about the security industry as they had been about the police, we might have had an even better record on crime prevention than this Government have managed so far. During their 18 years in power, the Conservatives showed little inclination to tackle security issues, which I know are of considerable significance to the public.

We must be clear that the industry is in many ways complementary to the police and law enforcement. I thought that the industry employed 300,000 people, but it was said earlier that the estimated figure is now 350,000. Many of those people are very underpaid, work extremely long hours and receive poor training. The Government have already tackled the first issue with the minimum wage, which will shortly go up to £4.20 an hour, but there remains a tranche of issues that are addressed in the Bill and on which action is long overdue.

Given that combination of adverse circumstances, it is not surprising that staff turnover in the industry is enormous. Consequently, any training that is given is of little benefit to the industry as a whole. In many areas, security work is regarded as not only low in pay but low in status, and it is unattractive to potential employees. That is ironic when one considers that given the industry's vital role in preventing crime, the level of responsibility is completely unrecognised and inconsistent with the prevailing pay rates, public status and training.

It is hardly surprising that security work is in many ways regarded as a potential employment opportunity for crooks. I make it clear that I am all in favour of the rehabilitation of offenders. We want ex-criminals to go into full-time, rewarding employment and to contribute to society. However, I am highly suspicious when people with a track record of abusing the law suddenly demonstrate a totally uncharacteristic enthusiasm for applying for positions that involve upholding the law. In reality, the inside knowledge that many security operatives have when working for companies offers opportunities for rewards that are far greater than those to be gained by any honest employment.

The most conspicuous example that I have come across occurred in my constituency a few years ago, when an ex-criminal got a job as a security guard and was then made a supervisor in the same company. Unfortunately, he had been imprisoned following the murder by strangulation of a young woman in front of her child. Earlier, he had beaten up an old lady who subsequently died in hospital. In case any Conservative Members try to intervene, I might add that his release from jail took place under the previous Government.

The company had employed that man without knowledge of his history. Not surprisingly, when it was exposed the company went bust. One can only imagine the horror felt by other employees following the revelation of the criminal past of the man who had been supervising them as well as dealing with others as part of his work. That underlines the need for change. Under existing legislation, there is no access to criminal records. Happily, the Bill will change that, and it is about time too.

The issue of door supervisors is also of enormous significance in my constituency. We have heard talk about the importance of partnership arrangements between the police, licensees and the security industry in enforcing law and order in that context. I can advocate the benefits of good working partnership practices at local level. I can see those benefits even within my own family because I have an 18-year-old stepson who at weekends likes to go with his mates to a nightclub in West Bromwich, where they enjoy themselves dancing the night away.

When asked why he chose a nightclub in West Bromwich rather than one in a neighbouring police command unit and local authority, my stepson replied that he and his friends went to West Bromwich because they knew that if there was trouble in that nightclub, the bouncers would apprehend the troublemakers and keep hold of them until the local police arrived, arrested them and took them away, whereas troublemakers apprehended inside nightclubs in other areas tended to be thrown out on to the street, where they could continue to fight and engage in fisticuffs with any passers-by who caught their eye. That is a clear example of a company with a good working partnership with the police, benefiting not only the company's clientele, but the neighbourhood and the police. The Bill is designed to facilitate such partnerships.

A concern I share with other hon. Members focuses on the role of bouncers in drug peddling. I especially welcome the provisions that deal with the licensing of doormen and provide for the banning of those with inappropriate criminal convictions. My local police superintendent assures me that where drug problems exist in our area—happily, there are worse parts of the country for drug problems than West Bromwich—they are often directly related to door operatives who use the atmosphere generated by alcohol, music or peer group pressure among young people to peddle drugs.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I entirely agree with him about the activities of doormen, but does he not feel somewhat embarrassed that, only about a month ago, in the Committee on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, he allowed himself to be persuaded by his Whips to vote down a Conservative amendment that would have introduced into that Bill provisions that were designed precisely to stop drug dealing by bouncers on nightclub doors?

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour/Co-operative, West Bromwich West

I am confident that the measures taken by the Government to curb drug dealing mark a considerable improvement on those taken by the previous Government and that they are likely to be more effective. It takes some nerve for a member of a party that had 18 years in government to pass such legislation to talk about embarrassment now.

Much has been said in the debate about wheelclamping, and some of the tales related by other Members make my personal experience pale by comparison. None the less, I shall spend a few minutes describing an experience of friends of mine and exploring the issues that arise from it, which I hope will be addressed by the code of practice for wheelclampers under the Bill.

Two friends of mine—highly respectable, law-abiding school teachers—went on a bank holiday Monday to drop off their daughter at a bus station in the centre of Birmingham. Unable to find a public car park, they saw what they thought was a private car park with no vehicles in it and parked their car there while they saw their daughter off. They returned within 15 minutes to find a white van, a wheelclamp on their car, and two very large and intimidating males demanding £85 for the release of their car. They did not have £85 on them and they were told that a cheque would not suffice, so they had to find a bank cashpoint. It should be borne in mind that that can present difficulties on a bank holiday: not only are banks not open, but sometimes the cash machines run out of cash. Had my friends not been fit, able-bodied people, obtaining that £85 to secure their car's release would have presented considerable difficulties. Afterwards, they described their emotions as suppressed anger, fear and fury at the fact that people could behave in such a manner.

Compared with one or two of the cases about which I have heard today, my friends' experience was not too bad. None the less, their case raises a range of issues that I hope the Bill will address. First, it is obvious that wheelclamping companies must be registered and the areas in which they operate clearly identified. Secondly, there should be a locally determined scale of fines that are considered acceptable and support the logic of the local neighbourhood parking scheme. Thirdly, people who transgress and have their car clamped should have the right to pay in a way that does not compromise their personal safety. Fourthly, they should be given a receipt bearing the company name. Finally, if they are not satisfied with their treatment, there should be a mechanism whereby they can make a formal complaint.

I note that the Bill allows considerable flexibility—some have criticised that—regarding the power given to the Secretary of State and the Security Industry Authority. There are many areas in which the Bill lays down no prescriptions, but instead leaves the matters for later prescription. I welcome the Minister's comment that the operation of the legislation will be continuously reviewed with a view to improving aspects that are not felt to be working appropriately. I should like to single out one such aspect: the inspectorate.

If we are to develop an effective licensing process, the inspectorate must carry out its job with appropriate sensitivity. The existing regime of inspectors has been too close to those elements within the security industry that have opposed the regulation of their industry. When the Bill is passed, a new inspectorate must be established with inspectors recruited who are appropriately qualified and directly accountable to the Security Industry Authority.

I conclude with one caveat: we look to the Minister and the authority continuously to review the process, make amendments where necessary and fill in gaps left by the basic legislation. None the less, we welcome the Bill. A properly regulated security industry will enhance the status of the profession, reassure the public and be of enormous benefit in the fight against crime. I am proud that it is a Labour Government who have, at last, acted.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South 7:29, 28 March 2001

First, I must apologise for my sudden absence from the Chamber, which was not due to a lack of enthusiasm. As Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, I was meeting the Secretary of State for Defence in what may be our very last meeting. I am afraid that the task of juggling two of my major interests in this place could be done only by listening to half of the Minister's speech, rattling through the Defence Committee in an hour and a half—the speediest session we have ever had, despite the complexity and sensitivity of European defence and security—and returning to listen to my colleagues.

I shall save my colleagues from a speech of Brezhnevian proportions, although I could give one. The introduction of the Bill in the Commons makes today memorable. It is perhaps a little premature to express the aspiration that the Bill will soon become law, given the complex political situation that we are in, but we may be close to seeing legislation. I heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), in which he said that he had been a security guard. I was almost a security guard; I introduced my first private Member's Bill in 1977, and sought to show how simple it was to get a job in a security firm. I went to Iver in Buckinghamshire and was asked some penetrating questions by the managing director of the firm, such as "Are you frightened of the dark?", "Can you read?", and "How quickly can you start?" He asked for names of people whom he could contact. I gave the name of my father and my then secretary, neither of whom were approached. Bingo! I was offered the job, as long as the company could get a uniform large enough to fit me, which was probably its biggest task.

It was and is simple to get a job with a security company. When I asked the managing director what training I would get, he almost fell off his chair laughing because there was none. In many ways, our debate is 25 years late. The security industry should have had the intelligence—the self-interest even—to realise that going up the blind alley of self-regulation would be a disaster. It chose that course, in collusion with the previous Government, because it fitted in with the Conservatives' anti-bureaucratic activities and their alleged hostility to regulation. Apparently, when the former Deputy Prime Minister was approached to support regulation, he refused, as he was in the business of deregulating, not regulating.

Most other countries in—dare I say it—the advanced world regulate private security and, indeed, are in their third generation of legislation. Having learned the lessons of the past 25 to 30 years, at long last we are doing what others have done. I would have liked more evidence of experience derived from many of those countries, but the Bill is curiously British and suffers as a result. This is an important day both for me and the private security industry, which, at last, is on the verge of a major breakthrough. Along with other factors that I shall mention later, the Bill will provide it, its employees and those who hire security with a very different type of private security industry, which is more professional, competent, accountable and acceptable to the police and the population as the whole.

Perhaps the industry will rue the day when it saw me as the enemy of the private security industry. The position is quite the reverse: with others, including the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler)—who led the way in the House by introducing an early private Member's Bill in 1973—I made helpful suggestions, but I am afraid that the security industry chose to ignore them.

In my home, I have a plaque that says: To Bruce George, in appreciation of his dedication to the task of regulating the private security industry. That plaque has been hanging on a wall in my house since 1978. When my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham said that he was the youngest Member of the House, I was tempted to say, "I was almost the youngest Member of the House when I first took an interest in the private security industry." One should not draw too many conclusions about the ageing process, but I have waited a long time. A good friend of mine, Peter Heims, once asked at a public meeting whether I was another flash in the pan; he asked whether I was another Member of Parliament getting quick publicity from introducing a ten-minute Bill, then disappearing. Well, Peter Heims, I proved not to be a flash in the pan.

The security industry is enormous, and the number of people it employs goes up almost daily. It has been said that it employs 350,000 people, but I can argue with some justification that it employs even more than that. It depends on how one defines private security. If one defines it in its broadest sense, I am certain that the figure is much higher than 350,000, dwarfing the Home Office and non-Home Office police forces.

The industry comprises manned guarding, both contract and in-house; cash in transit; private investigators, who come in many guises; security consultants; close protection; VIP protection; bodyguards; door supervisors or bouncers; private sector detention services; and manufacturers, designers, installers and maintainers of alarms, locks, safes and security equipment. That equipment includes safes, vaults and security containers; satellite tracking; closed circuit television and other electronic monitoring devices or surveillance equipment; intrusion detection; access control; bomb protection; fire detection; metal detection; X-ray detection; telephone security equipment; computer security; security storage; security shredding; barriers, shutters, fences and security glass. The industry also comprises staff at places of entertainment, such as pop concerts—the list goes on indefinitely.

There are also products and services on the margins of private security, such as those in employment agencies that specialise in private security; credit check agencies; porters; receptionists; risk managers; museum curators; park rangers; computer operating staff; caretakers in colleges, schools and universities; car park attendants, who have a security function; managers; gamekeepers; and hospital porters. I could go on.

The industry is extremely large and, for a long time, it has been subject to public criticism. It is not a new industry; it goes back three or four millennia. There were locksmiths in the ancient world, as well as bodyguards, watchmen and craftsmen making security grilles.

According to modern detective writers such as Ellis Peters and Lindsey Davis, most monks were engaged in private investigation in one form or another.

Some people believe that the private security industry is a new industry that has supplanted the police. I shall not bore the House with historical evidence, but for most of the past 1,000 years policing and security work has been done by private individuals, groups engaged in self-protection, vigilantes, posses and amateur constables who usually transferred their responsibilities to others by paying them a fee. The role of the state was very limited. There was no police force in modern guise until the beginning of the 19th century. The process of creating the Peel police—the new police—took place over half a century.

The private security industry that existed previously was not expunged by the emergence of the police—the private security sector increased, along with the growth of the police. In many ways, nothing much has changed. Policing and security have been the responsibility of the state, but not exclusively. Neither the industry nor its relationship with the police is new, but that relationship will be on a much better footing after the passage of the Bill.

The modern contract security industry dates from Allan Pinkerton in the United States and the corps of commissionaires in the 1850s. Although the private security industry in its modern form began in Germany, Austria, the United States and Scandinavia, it developed in the United Kingdom only 50 years later. When it did develop, it was subject to enormous criticism and was alleged to be a private army. The idea of the massed ranks of Securicor or Group 4 marching down Whitehall to capture the seat of government stretches the imagination, but in the 1960s and 1970s there was a fear that a group of self-interested organisations was threatening the security of the state.

The image in the 1960s and 1970s, which has persisted, was of an industry with low pay poor efficiency, an enormous turnover of staff and low public esteem. The industry was seen as disreputable. It was the object of contempt and derision and the butt of endless jokes. I and others tried hard, working alongside, the more far-sighted members of the security industry, to put it on a different footing, but the attitude of the industry and the Government ranged from indifferent to hostile.

The Government post-1979 were decidedly unhelpful. In 1991 the Home Office produced a document that stated: Inevitably, users of the industry get what they pay for. The Government considers that issues such as training and wages are fundamentally matters for the industry and its customers. It is ultimately for users to ensure that the company they choose is competent and reliable. I am afraid that that was not the case.

There were several milestones in the progress towards regulation. Eventually, the Select Committee on Home Affairs took an interest in 1995 and produced an excellent report. A document written by the chief constable of north Wales was leaked. There were parliamentary debates. There were those in the industry who struggled hard to swim against the tide. Now we are at the point of regulation.

I am delighted that in 1997 my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced to the British Security Industry Association that regulation was to be introduced. A consultation paper was issued in 1999 and the Bill was introduced in the House of Lords. Sadly, it reached the House of Lords first, but I suppose that that was the decision of the business managers, who had a great deal of legislation to cram into a limited parliamentary timetable.

Many have asked why private security is necessary, and whether it undermines the police. The exponential growth in private security was deliberately fostered by Lady Thatcher for the same reasons as were attributed to the present Government by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff). Lady Thatcher wanted more people engaged in protection in support of the police. Many of the functions performed by the police as a monopoly for a century were taken away from them.

I believe that that was the right decision, although the police did not always like it. The private security industry is the best job creation scheme yet devised for retired military personnel and retired police officers at any level. Although they might whinge about it when they are serving officers or members of the Police Federation, their hostility sometimes changes to enthusiasm when they realise that there is life after leaving the police force. The Police Federation and the police force recognise that a properly regulated private security industry is not a threat, but a complement to the police force.

There is enough crime to go around; one should not try to hog it all. One should try to transfer many of the responsibilities at present held by the police to the private sector, as long as that does not compromise the primacy of the Home Department police forces. Now that the security industry is about to be legitimised by legislation, I expect that the police and the public need have no fears that they are handing over to the private sector tasks for which it is singularly incompetent.

When I was in Sweden a couple of years ago, I was told that the private sector was guarding the king's sons and nuclear establishments. At that time, the idea of some British private security company having bestowed on it tasks for which it was clearly ill-equipped would have been so laughable as to be almost criminal. I recall that the Select Committee on Defence—we took more interest in private security than did the Home Affairs Committee—regularly said that the Ministry of Defence should not give any further contracts to private security unless the industry was regulated. We are approaching a period in which the rules of policing and security will have changed while new regulation is being properly implemented. I suspect that most people will say that those changes are for the better.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I am most interested in the case that the right hon. Gentleman makes, with which I am broadly sympathetic. Will he comment on the interface between the police and the public? One of the problems with policing is that people see fewer and fewer policemen and do not have enough non-adversarial contact with them. The Bill will have a strong impact on the police time that is available to deal with the public directly and to develop that relationship in order to build the trust between the public and the police that we all want.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

A report published some time ago by the Police Foundation and Policy Studies Institute made the radical suggestion that the police should give up their basic patrolling functions to the private sector. It argued that that would allow them to concentrate on the detection of murder, rape and so on. It would have been a mistake to implement such a proposal, however, as the strength of our police must lie in their umbilical link with the public.

Under the previous and current Governments, the private sector has been increasingly present in public places. In some cases, it is even patrolling them. My late father was a copper for 29 years. During the last 15 years of his tenure in the Glamorgan constabulary, he was paid by the National Coal Board. That is a 1960s practice that could almost be called the privatisation of policing. My father had patrol duties and eventually became head of security of the Coal Board in Wales. I might add that he would not have much to do in that job if he were alive today. His salary as a policeman was paid by the Coal Board to Glamorgan, which then paid it to him. It is wrong, therefore, to suggest that the public-private relationship has changed only recently, although far more such practices now exist.

The police must have more presence on the street, even though everyone says that that is a less efficient form of policing. Thanks to the Home Office under the current and previous Governments, there is now magnificent funding for closed circuit television. I hope that a couple more of the bids that have been made in my constituency will be successful. Monitoring is carried out through closed circuit television cameras that were produced by the private sector, but paid for by the Government. The cameras are providing eyes and ears for the private sector to enable it to work with the police.

Community wardens will soon be walking around instead of policemen. People will be happy to see a uniform, even though it might not be the one that they want to see. If community wardens can communicate swiftly with the police, they will be a sort of municipal security guard on the beat, even if they cannot be bobbies on the beat. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 ensures that local authorities have more policing and security functions, so it takes a change of mindset to realise that the days are gone in which the coppers in blue uniforms and funny hats were dominant, although that is not necessarily for the worse.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I entirely accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. Those days may be gone, but they have gone for good practical reasons. He is right to draw attention to partnership, however, because if the police were to withdraw completely from such roles, it would be injurious to the relationship that I described in my previous intervention. There is a need for a balance of partnership. Finally, he may be very lucky with closed circuit television, but the Government have turned down Spalding's bid for CCTV—a disgraceful decision that provides no comfort for people in my constituency. [Interruption.] Instead of chuntering on the Front Bench, the Minister should take some responsibility for the matter, as he is not very popular in Spalding at the moment.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

My hon. Friend the Minister is popular in other areas. I suspect that crime in many inner urban areas is excessive even by rural standards.

Many things are changing for the better. We now have a partnership that will have an enormous effect on crime prevention and detection. There is very little that the private sector cannot do. Most of the functions of which the police are capable of performing can and are being performed by the private sector. As public forensic laboratories are overstretched, much forensic work is being farmed out to private laboratories. More investigators are probably attached to central Government Departments and to the private sector than to the police force. Technology has monopolised the private sector's expansion. It does not want police powers, as it does not want to be seen to be seeking to usurp the police. However, intelligent members of the police force, such as John Stevens, the Commissioner, and officers in my area, recognise that a new relationship must be forged.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I revert to the valid point that my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) made. If we allow our private security industry to play too great a role in policing domestic estates, is there not a danger of creating a two-tier justice system comprising those who can afford to employ such firms and those who cannot? Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the differences between the powers of the police, who can arrest on suspicion, and those of private security firms, which can make only a citizen's arrest?

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

That will remain the case. I hope that Home Office funding will increase and that the accusation that only those who live in expensive areas can afford private security will thus disappear. In my constituency, the likelihood of imposing a levy on householders to pay for enhanced security is small. However, I recognise, as do the intelligent sectors of the private security industry, that community wardens do not want to be perceived as the protectors only of those who have the fattest wallets.

The private security industry has grown throughout the world for roughly the same reasons: increasing experience of crime and the fear of it. I visited Finland, which has a thriving security industry but hardly any crime. I asked where the perception of crime originated; it came not from Finland but from watching "Starsky and Hutch" and "The Bill". Such programmes give the private security industry a fillip. American and British television gave the Finns a greater fear of crime than reality dictated.

Private security has grown because it is a good industry to enter for people who want to make a profit. The increase in terrorism and environmental protest, the demands of insurance companies, the Government's commitment to privatisation, Governments' failures adequately to fund the police, the growth of mass ownership of property that is "worth nicking", the role of advertising, changes in technology and the deregulated nature of the market are all contributory factors.

Let us consider good legislation. My former assistant and I have studied more than 100 measures from around the world. We devised a method of comparing different regulatory regimes, and we placed them in the following categories: non-interventionist, which pertains in this country; minimum narrow; minimum wide; comprehensive narrow and comprehensive wide. I shall not bore hon. Members with details, but I believe that the best category is broad. A broad regulatory system covers all the sectors of the private security industry.

I do not support a shallow system of regulation, which means only access to criminal records. I want the Bill to establish broad and deep regulation. I am in favour of heavier regulation; Conservative Members may not agree.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am listening to the right hon. Gentleman's speech with interest and respect, but given the length of time for which he has campaigned for a statutory regulation system, does he not agree that it should be visible, explicit and clear? Does that not lead him to be mildly suspicious of, if not unhappy about, the Bill's scope for secondary legislation? Would it not help if as much as possible were incorporated in the measure?

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I shall deal with that point shortly. Before the hon. Gentleman gets too excited about my response, I emphasise that I would have loved to be subcontracted by the Minister to draft the Bill. I have drafted four measures, all of which—especially the first—were at least as good as the one that we are considering this evening. However, the four attempts that I made all met with miserable rejection by the hon. Gentleman's colleagues who were in government at the time.

I would like to have seen a more comprehensive Bill that filled in the gaps and met the criteria that I believe are critical. There is a problem with the Bill, as I have said clearly to the Minister, whom I deeply respect and admire. I am not saying that in an attempt to influence him—well, yes, I am. Forgive my earlier remark, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I apologise fat lying to the House.

I am not quite certain what we are voting for. We shall be supporting a Bill that is quite exciting, because we do not know exactly what is in it. Even if the Bill is not as detailed as I would like, there is a great deal in it that offers the opportunity to deliver what I want to see. There is great flexibility in its provisions. However, that same Bill is capable of delivering a form of regulation that will be only marginally superior to what we have now. My dilemma is that, because we could be only weeks from a general election and days from the prorogation of Parliament, I, or anyone else with an interest in the subject, will hardly have ample time to table an enormous number of amendments or to consider them effectively.

I hope that the very thing that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) thinks is a weakness in the Bill might be to its advantage. The Minister can see the near unanimity not only in the House but in the security industry, which is delighted that the Bill is being introduced, but it does not go far enough. There have been few cases in the recent history of legislation of an industry begging the Government to dump more responsibilities on it. There are those who say, "Ah, but we don't want to burden industry." In my view, the security industry is quite prepared to have additional costs imposed on it, if the legislation will do the trick. I therefore look forward, in the next few weeks or days, to seeing a little more detail of what the Minister intends to do.

I recall that, when I gave evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs five years ago, the then Chairman, Sir Ivan Lawrence, said, "Aren't you, Mr. George, rather too heavy in your model of regulation? Don't you prefer the lighter touch, the model of regulation that is not heavy? What do you think about Oftel, Ofwat and Ofgas? Why not Of-sec-ind?" I said, "Mr. Chairman, my reply to you would certainly contain the word "off"." I was not, therefore, at all enthusiastic about the light model of regulation.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

It is the sophistication that takes one aback.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

Indeed. Sir Ivan Lawrence could see what I was getting at, because he had defended and prosecuted many people with a wide, or, indeed, a narrow vocabulary, including the Kray twins—a case that I was delighted he lost miserably.

It is important that the legislation should do the trick, and in many ways it does. The fact that it exists is a step forward. It will establish greater accountability. At the moment, who has heard of the British Security Industry Association, unless they belong to it? Not many companies do, out of the totality. To whom does one complain if one's burglar alarm turns out to be duff? To whom does one complain if the private investigator whom one hires does not find the person he is looking for—and does not even try—but charges a vast amount for doing nothing?

The regulatory authority will represent consumers, trade unions and employers, large and small, and I hope that it has a chairman who is genuinely independent of the industry. The Bill will lead to greater efficiency, greater accountability and greater transparency, so I do not want my criticisms to be considered as outweighing the positive elements.

The Bill will deal more effectively with crooks. How much longer can the industry tolerate being considered to be the repository of crooked coppers who set up private security companies after being thrown out of the Met or West Midlands police? How long can it endure people"s taunts? I recall watching Inspector Frost discuss with his sergeant the culprit for a series of rapes. Suspicion turned to two security guards in a nearby factory. The sergeant said to Frost, "Those guys over there—have they got form?" Frost replied, "Course they have. They"re security guards, aren't they?"

Such perceptions are partly the fault of the private security industry, because it has taken that route and not got close to the Government. Nor has there been legal access to criminal records. I know of endless examples of crimes being committed, but the Bill has a wider aim. I would not want the Government to think that the Bill's main purpose is to deal with crime, and I am sure that they do not—it is more to do with efficiency, accountability and professionalism, which is singularly lacking in many sectors of the industry.

The hon. Member for Buckingham tried to get me to criticise the Government; well, I shall make some criticisms. The Bill's prime weakness is its lack of width—it is focused too closely on manned guarding. As I said early in my speech, a vast sector of the private security industry is, for the moment, outside the scope of regulation. If one enters a major City bank, however, one can consider the security industry's penetration of such a building. There is closed circuit television, access control, security shredding and security lighting. It will have been designed by an architect specialising in security, and computer security is also involved. Every aspect of private security is there, but the only people who will be regulated are the two guys on the door, and they will not be regulated if they are in-house employees. It would be better to call this the "part of the private security industry" Bill.

Ample scope has been built into the Bill to allow the Security Industry Authority and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to enlarge the focus. Although that is right, I do not like the way in which it has been done, as the regulatory authority could not cope with 350,000 people suddenly appearing before it to demand approval to operate. Perhaps it is right to deal with manned guarding and bouncers subcontracted to local authorities first, after which we can regulate the other sectors. I hope that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister tell us how much of the security industry will be regulated, because it genuinely wants regulation.

My next major concern—the exclusion of in-house security operatives—is linked to the previous one. Initially, in-house operatives were in the consultative paper, then they were out. Who nobbled the Home Office? As the press say, step forward the better regulation taskforce and those members of the security industry who are recidivist opposers of reform. In my view, they clearly nobbled members of the better regulation taskforce, who then put the screws on whoever advised the Minister. Out went in-house security, because, somehow, regulation would impose too many burdens on it: cobblers—absolute cobblers. I am not certain whether that word is acceptable in this permissive age, but the first one that came to mind would have had to be withdrawn.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

May I continue for just one sentence? I am sorry, but as I have waited for 25 years, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will continue to be indulgent. After all, I will not have a chance to speak in the Standing Committee if one is not established.

Let us consider the example of a factory whose security arrangements are a mixture of private and contract. Part of its security force is subject to regulation and standards, while the rest is not. Let us imagine a shopping mall in which some shops are guarded by in-house personnel, while others are guarded by contract personnel. The security staff will all wear the same sort of uniforms, and the register may state who is licensed and who is not; nevertheless, the system is nonsensical.

I promise to give way to the hon. Member for Buckingham in a moment, but there is another big problem. There are some excellent security companies in this country—world-class companies—but we have more rubbish companies than almost any other country, and they will find smart lawyers. A company hiring staff will say, "Why should we go to a contract security firm? It will have education and training standards, which will cost us. All the guards will now have to apply for licences, and that cost will be passed on to us. We do not want all the problems associated with improved standards; we will hire in-house staff."

That company—unless it is a good company—will say, "We will not train those staff. We will not pay them more than the minimum wage. We will duck and dive to do the minimum that will ensure that our insurance company is prepared to accept what we are doing." Alternatively, it may find a crooked private security company which, by some legal dodge, can masquerade as in-house security. I think that providing for in-house personnel not to have to be licensed defeats the Bill's objectives.

Now I give way to the hon. Member for Buckingham.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He has nothing for which to apologise: I am listening to his speech with rapt attention, and my appetite for it is insatiable. I hope, however, that he will tell us—on the strength of his experience and knowledge, which I respect—something about what happens in other European Union countries. I mentioned this in an earlier intervention on the Minister.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us something about the trends, in terms of the incidence of crime, in the private security industries of EU member states where there are statutory regulation systems, and also something about the costs of some of those systems?

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

The costs of a proper regulatory system are by no means excessive. Good companies such as Group 4, Securicor and Securitas, which is a Swedish firm now operating in the UK, work in regulated environments, and very profitably.

If I were asked, "Who is the biggest villain of the piece? Is it the Home Office, is it the private security industry, or is it someone else?", I would say, "If I must identify a single cause of the malaise in the industry, it is this: the public who hire want good security without being prepared to pay for it." In a properly regulated private security industry, men and women will not undergo the ridiculous two-day period of training with no examination and one day of on-the-job training that currently passes for proper training in this country.

Companies should pay people a decent wage. They should not necessarily recruit from the bottom of the employment pile, because they will generally get what they pay for. They should provide proper facilities, proper communications and decent uniforms. They should encourage the men and women whom they employ to feel a sense of pride in belonging to the security industry, rather than feeling embarrassed to admit that they are door supervisors, burglar alarm installers or security guards. It will cost—it will really cost—but we are demonstrating the price to be paid by those who do not pay a decent price. The price that we are paying is a low-status industry that has high personnel turnover and does not work with the police, which perhaps contributes to increased crime.

I had long thought chat any legislation was better than no legislation, but I was wrong. With no legislation, we have at least the possibility of decent legislation being introduced eventually.

There is no federal responsibility for the issue in the United States, for example, but some states have very good regulatory systems. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member for Buckingham, but some of those states very definitely have a free-enterprise culture. Florida, which is not known for its great enthusiasm for central intervention, has one of the best regulatory systems that I have seen. It is an excellent system. I visited the regulatory authority in Orlando and its head office in Tallahassee and was enormously impressed. British Columbia, most of the other Canadian provinces and most of the Australian states also have excellent regulation.

I am delighted to say that, in the European Union, the French and the Germans are no better than we are on the issue. Undoubtedly the best regulatory systems in Europe are in Scandinavia, principally in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. Spain also has an excellent regulatory system although it is a little too detailed. I really do not think that the design of women's tights should necessarily be the responsibility of the Interior Ministry and the subject of statutory instruments. That is going too far. I could willingly send the Minister diagrams of those instruments of torture. Russia also has an excellent regulatory system.

Currently, we are with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and some countries in Africa and in Latin America in having no regulation whatsoever. I want us to create the type of system that I have seen in numerous other countries. When people see security guards in the United Kingdom, I want them to say, "They look almost as good as police. They are paid almost as well as police. They are alert, helpful and professional. Just look at how they are dressed—clean shoes and nice uniforms. They are proud of their job."

Conversely, in the 1970s, in Wolverhampton, a firm called Shield used to recruit by going round the Salvation Army on Fridays and Saturdays. It found the down-and-outs and offered them a weekend's kip in a private security guard's uniform. It would take them to a site at 8 pm on a Friday and pick them up again at 8 am on a Monday. Not many companies operate like that now, thank goodness, but too many still do.

I have described my vision, which may sound a bit apocalyptic, of how the industry should operate, and I can genuinely see the way forward. We now have a minimum wage and stipulations on how companies should operate, some of which are based on European initiatives. Technological growth will force many companies to choose between employing better technology or more people. As labour becomes ever more expensive, the greater the pressure will be on those companies to strike a balance in how they operate. I can certainly see the industry evolving into something that is very different from what it is today.

I should like other provisions to be included in legislation. Intruder alarm designers and installers, for example, should be covered by legislation. Some dreadful companies are operating in that sector. Although there is not the same incidence of crime among those who install intruder alarms, I believe that, for the sake of efficiency, the sector should be regulated.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

A moment ago, in his excellent speech, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the need for the public to be reassured by private security guards. I am sure that he will know the Bill backwards. I am wondering whether the public have any way of distinguishing security guards who are licensed under the Bill from those who are not. Paragraph 2 of schedule 2 deals with the duties of manned guarding. However, none of the six sub-paragraphs in that paragraph deals in any way with the issue of identification. Does he think that it would be a good idea if security guards employed by firms that are licensed under the Bill had somewhere on their uniform an insignia showing that they are so licensed?

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

My private Member's Bills in 1977, 1984, 1987 and 1994 offered models for regulation. They addressed that problem, but I suspect that the Home Office believes that primary legislation does not need to go into such minute detail. My Spanish friends can describe exactly the size, weight and shape of a badge, but it is more important to strengthen existing legislation to ensure that no uniform can be confused with that of other, public, services.

It is very important that staff wear a badge that can be easily seen, and readily inspected by any appointed person. I am worried that the regulated sector will be given different privileges from the non-regulated sector. How will people distinguish between security guards who are in-house and unregulated and those who are regulated and under contract?

The better regulation task force looked into fit-person criteria and produced a scintillating piece of nonsense. I mean no disrespect to plumbers and cleaners, but to compare their roles with those of alarm installers and locksmiths displays a degree of unreality. It is necessary to regulate the people who set up security apparatus in other people's homes. Why should home owners not know that those people have been well trained and that they have not just come out of the slammer? Their job is not comparable to a plumber's, who is entrusted with a different set of tasks.

A further criticism—or suggestion—that I would offer has to do with a matter on which the Bill remains flexible. The Bill, rightly, will require individuals to be licensed, but it proposes only a voluntary code for companies. There is ample precedent in other industries—such as financial services, gaming, gas supply, insurance, meat processing, telecommunications, television and radio broadcasting, water and aviation—of companies being subject to standards and having to prove certain matters to the licensing authority before being awarded a licence to operate.

In my Private Security (Registration) Bill of 1994, I went into some detail about what companies should be required to present by way of information. It specified that information should be given about the characters and backgrounds of directors and officers of the firm, and about their criminal records. It also specified information about the financial records of the firm, its directors and officers, and information about the character of the private security services that the firm proposed to provide. That 1994 Bill also specified that a proposed firm should have adequate insurance, and that its premises should be adequate.

The latter point is very important. My 1994 Bill said that a proposed private security firm should operate from premises considered to be "suitable for the purpose". In my model, a licence could not be given to a company offering, say, a central monitoring station for the intruder alarm industry if that station is not strongly protected. That protection must be able to deter a person from taking over the premises and thus allowing burglar alarms to ring without response. I hope that companies will be subject to compulsory standards.

The part of the Bill devoted to training standards is an element that has the potential to be developed in a way that I would consider appropriate. However, the drafting leaves me with no idea whether that will happen. If the Minister has already covered that matter during my absence, I apologise—I shall check in Hansard tomorrow.

We could carry on with the present BSIA system of two days' formal training, plus one day on the job and no examination. However, I should much prefer the Home Secretary to issue stronger instructions—not mere guidelines—to the SIA to the effect that he does not want to maintain the current arrangements, which amount almost to an absence of training.

Perhaps the following account of training in other countries will scare some people. In Belgium, security officers receive 120 hours' training; within eight months they must pass a test. Additional specialist training of 40 hours for weapons is given—that will not apply to us—as well as 75 hours on the protection of people and 16 hours on guard dogs. Incidentally, I was invited to speak at a conference on guard dogs in Barking—the organisers did not know why I was helpless with laughter when they telephoned me.

In Belgium, an extra 65 hours' training is given for people who are responsible for cash in transit. Managers receive an extra 70 hours. Why not? Why should training be confined to the poor infantry? Why should not there be training for non-commissioned officers and the officer corps?

In Denmark, the training period is 120 hours; there is no examination. In Finland, it is 40 hours. In Germany, the situation is almost as bad as it is in this country. In the Netherlands, three weeks' basic training is required, with additional training leading to a basic security diploma that must be passed within 12 months. In Spain, 200 hours of training is set and supervised by the police, and an examination must be passed. Thereafter, training of 75 hours a year is required. In Sweden, security officers need 217 hours of training before they are accredited. The mother of all security training schemes operates in Hungary, where 350 hours are imposed. In a British university, that would probably lead to the award of a master's degree.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what assessment he has made of the merits of the Security Industry Training Organisation? It was founded about 10 years ago and is known for its independence. It operates not only in this country but internationally. Can he also offer the House a pearl of wisdom on the merits of ISO 9000 and of the proportion of private security industry operators in this country who conform to it?

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I suspect that most of them have never heard of it. In the absence of standards set by the Government, the many privately established standards— on the ISO model—are better than nothing. I should like a system such as that proposed in my Bill, which stated that: The Council shall make rules specifying the training to be received by all private security agents, which may include … a basic training course …a minimum period of pre-assignment training … refresher training … further training, including management training; and … professional qualifications approved by the Council.The Council may recognise as satisfactory and efficient training programmes, including training programmes established by or under the auspices of registered firms or associations of registered firms or persons engaged in the private security industry.The Secretary of State may designate as efficient such courses, offered by academic institutions, which appear to him to provide appropriate training, of to lead to appropriate qualifications, including National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ). Things have moved on since then.

Each sector of the industry will have its own specific training requirements. Obviously, it will take longer to train a locksmith than a security guard, so I hope that the Home Office will instruct the SIA to work with the industry to lay down the standards for each sector.

They should be sufficiently challenging to ensure that the people who emerge from the training programme, at the end of an examination, can do the job.

I recall my assistant applying for a job with a reputable American company, now Swedish owned. The two-day training programme that he undertook had no examination at the end of it and was not part of the company's training programme. If he successfully completed the two-day training programme—that is, if he was still alive, had not expired and still wished to be a security guard—he would be offered a job. That is not the way to proceed.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is criticising the British Security Industry Association. I am sure that he is aware that the BSIA covers about 70 per cent. of the existing security operations in this country. It covers closed circuit television, access control, manned security, grilles, safes, secure transport, and alarm manufacture, distribution and installation. The association therefore covers a very wide field in its ISO 9000 qualification, and in that qualification it regularly works with representatives in Europe to ensure that its standards are compatible. Is he saying that he criticises the BSIA for those standards, or does he think that the Bill should build on them?

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I have no objections to the BSIA as a trade association. My objections to the BSIA are limited to when it purports to be a regulatory authority, because I do not believe that a trade association should have undertaken the task of regulation.

As a result of criticism from people like me, the BSIA took its inspectorate out of its Worcester building and sent it 25 miles down the road. To my mind, that mileage did not separate its licensing authority—its inspectorate—from the industry.

There must be a proper inspectorate. I mentioned several countries with great legislation, but great legislation is a waste of time unless there is a decent inspectorate. One of the nonsenses in the House of Lords a couple of days ago was the statement that the inspectorate may inspect during reasonable hours only. The time to catch people cheating is in unreasonable hours, and I do not know why the Under-Secretary, Lord Bassam, acquiesced in that nonsense.

The Security Industry Training Organisation, a very good organisation, may be part of the framework but must be extricated from its links with the BSIA. The inspectorate should use the expertise obtained in BSIA and its inspectorate, and in the National Approval Council for Security Systems—the intruder alarm inspectorate. Both those organisations are closely linked either to the security industry or to insurance.

I hope that the Minister, in his wisdom, will say that we need a strong inspectorate, that that inspectorate may take in people from the good existing inspectorates, wherever they may be, but that those people will be part of a Home Office inspectorate and it will not be a case of the Home Office subcontracting to an inspectorate closely linked to industry and telling it to get on with the job. The inspectorate and the legislation will seem compromised if it is seen that the big boys, who have obstructed regulation for 30 years, are to be the beneficiaries of something to which they objected so strongly.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The Home Affairs Committee, in the report to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, explicitly concluded that the current standards, particularly standards of training, in much of the private security industry were unsatisfactory and below the level the public need and have a right to expect. In the light of that, does he believe that the Bill goes far enough? I detect in his remarks an implication that he thinks that it does not.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

The Bill as it stands is in part a mystery. It will depend on whom the Home Secretary appoints as chief executive, as chairman, and on who the members of the board are. I would not want them to be toadies directly responsible to the Home Secretary or the Minister of State, seeking permission from them before they blow their noses. Nor do I want the members of the board simply to come from the private security industry and from those companies that still object to regulation.

Can hon. Members believe that two large security companies would still love to see the Bill simply fade away? One of the crucial issues, therefore, is: who will be appointed to the board? I hope that the chairman will be not an establishment figure but an established figure, with a track record of impartiality, who does not come from the private security industry and is seen not as taking his or her orders from Worcester and the BSIA, but as basing the general framework of his or her operations on orders from the Home Office.

I hope that, in the days ahead, the Ministers of State will say, "We were a bit vague in the section on training. We will tell the SIA and its chief executive and chairman that the training must be serious." We do not want the current training to prevail; it must be more on the lines of that in Spain or Sweden, where the training is conducive to establishing a professional guard, not a half-trained or untrained guard.

Even if people with PhDs were instructed, it would be difficult to convey what is required. Spain has a good system that involves an examination, but the trainers will not even be regulated under the proposals. Proper training is important, and the trainers must be able to convince the Home Secretary that they, too, are competent to be licensed.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) mentioned the auditing process and analysis involved in ISO 9000. Is it not the case that, in the typical circumstances that exist in most other industries, part of that process involves the accreditation and careful assessment of trainers to ensure that they do their job properly? If the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that that will not obtain under the Bill, it represents a glaring omission.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

The ISO standards series is voluntary and the percentage of people who have adopted it is, regrettably, too low. I want the training and standards to be compulsory. Perhaps we can use the various rules or models laid down for security storage, cash in transit or central stations. That is a good basis on which to find out how other people think security companies should operate.

Having gained that expertise and having consulted the industry, the SIA will, I hope, draft its own standards. I hope that the SIA will tell those who want to provide guarding services that they must meet certain requirements, that their men and women must undertake certain training and that, if they cannot do so, they will not be given a licence.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern about the fact that the authority should not be a prisoner of the private security industry, but that, of course, does not mean that it is incapable of learning from and being inspired by it. I do not know whether he was meeting the Secretary of State for Defence at the time, but I wonder whether I can refer to the point that I made earlier. I hope that he will agree that the Secretary of State's discretion should be properly circumscribed so that it is not unfettered and so that he does not have the opportunity simply to throw baubles at people as a reward for loyal service in unrelated fields. Does he agree that the authority's composition should draw in the expertise of the industry, the police force and others in related sectors?

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

From conversations that I have had with Ministers, I am sure that they have that in mind. My Private Security (Registration) Bill stated: The Council shall consist of twelve persons nominated by the Secretary of State … The Secretary of State in making nominations to the Council shall have due regard to the desirability of securing that the Council includes persons representative of or, as the case may be, who have experience of, armoured car and courier services, guard and patrol services, private investigation services, installers and manufacturers of locks, safes, alarms and other security equipment, the police service, the insurance industry, the consumer interest and the Home Department and of all parts of the United Kingdom. I wanted a balance and, in fairness, I am satisfied that that will be achieved under the Bill. There will be sub-committees and sub-committees of sub-committees, and people who are not on the main board can serve on them. It is right that the private security industry is well represented, but that should not just mean the big boys and the major companies. The body should include members from the small and medium-sized companies— the alarm installers and contract guards—but a significant number on the body should come from outside the industry.

Initially, I thought that there should be a balance between the two, but I now think that the majority should be made up of those from outside the industry. The chairman should also come from outside the industry and should not be linked to a private security company. That will ensure the legitimacy of—and the respect for the organisation.

I again offer my profuse apologies for the length of my speech, but with one book and three more on the way, 150 articles and hundreds and hundreds of meetings, mostly involving bashing my head against a brick wall, I know that the industry has a potential that has not been remotely realised. Regulation by itself will not be a panacea. The industry will still require ingenuity, good investment, good people and the use of universities and teaching courses in security. Regulation can, however, make a significant contribution despite the Bill's imperfections and omissions.

The hon. Member for Buckingham thinks that the Bill's timing is malevolent; as I said, it should have been introduced 25 years ago. Unless the general election is in November, there is no way the Bill will receive the proper scrutiny that amendments deserve. However, I hope that the Bill will receive its Second Reading and that Ministers will say that the permissive powers provide us with a clue as to what they have in mind. I hope that it is not the minimalist approach of hardly any training, or the maximalist approach either, because I would not want to destroy the security industry by imposing the idea that a guard should receive 150 hours training. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his colleagues will give us a greater clue as to what will be available.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman is far more knowledgeable about the subject than me and many others, and I bow to his knowledge. This is a serious question, but given the political situation that we are in, does he advise that we should have a canter round the course now, but not seek to rush the Bill through before a possible early election? Or is it better to have the debate on Second Reading, benefit from the deliberations of the Lords and then return to the Bill in the early days of the next Parliament, whoever are in government? Liberal Democrats certainly make the commitment that we shall expedite its passage as long as it receives proper scrutiny in the next Parliament.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

The hon. Gentleman missed most of my speech, but he has hit the bull's eye. In an ideal world, I hope that we would give the matter the adequate scrutiny that would allow a better Bill to emerge than the one that is before us.

The security industry faces the same choice as I do. After 1,000 years—or the 25 years I have wanted to do something about the issue—we have a Bill. Will we accept it with its imperfections, or will we say that it is not good enough and ask the Government to introduce a better Bill in the next Parliament? The latter is an attractive option. However, most of us are realists. There is no guarantee that when the Prime Minister and his Cabinet decide on the legislative programme, they will say, "Ah well, old Bruce George was hoping there would be a new security B ill, so let's have one." I merely hope that the Bill is flexible enough to deal with most of the industry's anxieties and expectations.

I shall not rattle off the organisations and companies that have called for stronger legislation. I hope that the consultative process has made the Minister realise that the Bill is pitched at a level that is lower than the industry would accept. However, if he is able, without imposing outrageous costs and standards, to advise the chairman of the new authority about the parameters within which he wants him to operate in the short term, it will have been worth it. The Bill could almost be as good as the best legislation. However, if that opportunity is not taken and the Bill satisfies the better regulation taskforce and the minimalists, I will look back at the past few weeks with despair.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am seeking the right hon. Gentleman's advice as much as anything. If there is no chance to amend the Bill, is it worth having as it stands?

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I was not here for half the Minister's speech, so I do not know what promises he gave. If he sets out how we are to proceed with training, which is not mentioned in the Bill, that will help. He said that the chairman will be independent, so I am satisfied on that count. I will be happy if he assures us that the Bill's flexibility will allow this Government and their successor to say to the new authority, "You don't have carte blanche. Parliament has supported the Bill and it wants something a little stronger."

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I do not wish to dampen or quell the right hon. Gentleman's optimism, but I have a constitutional point to make. He must be aware that no Government are in a position to bind their successors. No Minister of State, no matter how senior, important, respected, or influential, and no matter how full his diary is—as in the case of the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke)—is in a position to say what his successor would do. The right hon. Gentleman should not be bought off too easily.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

People do not always proceed according to what is constitutionally available. I recognise the hon. Gentleman's point, but l hope that the Home Secretary or the Minister will put some flesh on the Bill in a speech over the next week or two. I realise that whoever becomes Home Secretary or Minister of State may not be constitutionally bound to accept this Government's policies. Perhaps the Home Secretary will take over the role of Foreign Secretary and the Minister will deservedly be promoted to the Cabinet, perhaps as Minister of Defence. However, a word in the ear of the Minister of the day, with an offer that cannot be refused, would transmit the views of this Administration to the next.

This is not a great Bill, but it is a potentially good one. If the gaps are filled in, I suspect that most of the industry and most hon. Members present would be reasonably satisfied. After the election, we shall see what Administration we have, and hopefully the words of the Minister of State will influence his successor so that when the regulatory authority is established, the guidelines will be stronger and will not give the new SIA carte blanche to allow the old nonsense that has bedevilled the industry for the past 25 years to continue.

We do not want the SIA simply to be a gatekeeper, regulating who comes into the industry. We want it to be a catalyst for progressive change in an industry that has underperformed over the years. We are now setting the framework for an industry of which we can be proud, not to, of, or about which we can be hostile, critical and ambivalent. I will support the Bill, in the hope that it will deliver more than a rather negative view of it might lead us to conclude it will.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 8:51, 28 March 2001

I am delighted to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am even more delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), one of the leading experts on the subject in the country, if not the world. His speech was one of the most effective that I have heard in my nine years as a Member of Parliament.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

If the Minister is patient, I shall give way in a minute. I want to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South because his speech was statesmanlike. I hope that in the light of the right hon. Gentleman's great experience on the subject, the Minister listened carefully to what he had to say.

I want to quote from the right hon. Gentleman's book, which he wrote last year with Mark Button, because he summed up the private security industry admirably. He said: The term 'private security industry' is a generic term used to describe an amalgam of distinct industries and professions bound together by a number of functions, including crime prevention, order maintenance, loss reduction and protection; but these functions are neither common nor exclusive to all the activities of the private security industry, though the more that apply to a particular activity the more clearly it can be considered as private security. I agree with that definition entirely. I now give way to the Minister.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

Why did the hon. Gentleman wait five hours before seeking to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Why was he not here for the first four hours of the debate?

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is a rather churlish point. The Minister knows perfectly well that hon. Members have other duties in the House. Any Member is entitled to attend a debate and to speak in the House, provided that we can catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and hopefully to achieve some benefit by doing so. The House may conceivably derive some benefit from the speech.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

May I put it on the record that my hon. Friend and I have previously discussed this matter, that I thought it entirely possible that he might wish to speak on the important issues appertaining to the private security industry and that I, for one, am delighted that he is now contributing to the debate? Will my hon. Friend take it from me that I am delighted to be here to wind up the debate, and to wait right up to the last speech before the Minister's, in the approach to 10 o'clock if necessary? [Interruption.] The Minister is chuntering inanely from a sedentary position, expressing his disapproval of anybody else's entitlement to speak.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the Minister's attitude is simply due to the fact that he is gradually becoming a bit too big for his boots? He thinks that he is important and superior, and that he should be somewhere else; he cannot really be bothered and he does not want to listen. That is arrogance, and he deserves to be kicked out of office as soon as possible.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is absolutely right—the Minister has a bullying, hectoring style. He is part of an overbearing Executive who would rather put legislation through the House with no debate at all, so of course he does not want Members to speak on the matter, to debate it thoroughly and to explore all the points that need to be made.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

If the Minister is going to make the sort of intervention that he made before, I shall not give way, but if it is to be a sensible, constructive intervention, I will. Does he wish to intervene?

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

No, he does not, so his intervention was not to be sensible and constructive. That says volumes about the Minister of State.

Let us return to the real debate before you call us all to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Member for Walsall, South helpfully listed the sorts of activity that are covered by the private security industry. It is worth examining their scope, as the industry covers an extremely wide field. It covers manned security services, including static guarding, cash in transit, door supervision, stewardship, close protection, detention services, security storage and shredding; professional security services, including security consultants and professional investigators; and security products, including intruder alarms, closed circuit television, access control, electronic article surveillance equipment, detection equipment, locks, safes, vaults, security storage, barriers, shutters, fences, security glass windows and armoured vehicles. It can be seen that the industry's scope is very wide.

The Minister of State asked why I wanted to participate in the debate. Had he been a little more patient and listened to my speech a little longer before intervening, he would have learned that it so happens that the offices of the Group 4 security firm are located in my constituency.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I shall in a little while, but only if the Minister's intervention is going to be sensible and constructive.

During my years as a Member of Parliament, the director of Group 4, David Dickinson, has become a good friend. He is an extremely sensible person whom I last met when I went to see the potential asylum seekers from the hijacked Afghan aircraft, who were temporarily housed at the fire service college in my constituency. He was personally supervising the guarding operation for them and we renewed our friendship on that occasion. He has said of the Bill: Self-regulation has failed. There are too many horror stories around and too many people who are engaging in criminality under the cloak of the private security industry. Most of us would say amen to that.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I wondered whether the hon. Gentleman was aware that the fact that he represents part of that company has already been discussed at some length by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), who also made many of the points that the hon. Gentleman is now making. However, as he was not present, he would not know that.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I have spoken to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) and discussed with him the points that he made. I do not think that he made the points that I have already made, and I believe that in the rest of my speech I shall not make precisely the same points as he made. Again, the Minister of State's intervention has been churlish and not very constructive, so I shall now continue with my speech and hope not to have to give way to him too many more times. However, I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes).

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I simply wanted to say that the Minister is doing his reputation no good with those foolish interventions. He would do well to remember the words of Mark Twain, who said that it was better to remain seated in silence and be suspected of being stupid than to rise to one's feet and speak, and remove all doubt.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I shall not pursue my hon. Friend's line. He has made his point in his own way. Suffice it to say that the Minister is extremely able on occasion, and he demeans himself when he makes the sort of intervention that he has made during my speech. I hope that we can now proceed in a constructive manner.

The chairman of the Association of Security Consultants, who has also welcomed the Bill, said: I am pleased to see that 'Regulation' will be in a Bill before Parliament in the next session". On the whole, the Bill has received a welcome in general terms. However, I agree with the right hon. Member for Walsall, South that it does not go far enough and that it is insufficiently comprehensive, so I issue a small challenge: if the Bill is not passed before the general election, perhaps there will be time during the recess for him to compose some useful amendments and addendums to the Bill. The Minister of State then might—in a constructive manner, I hope—consider those amendments and addendums before reintroducing the Bill in the new Parliament, if that is the intention. We would all benefit from that advice and information.

The Bill has had a quite a long genesis. I do not want to go into its full history; suffice it to say that much of that genesis occurred under the previous Conservative Government. A consultation paper was issued in December 1986, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), who was then a Home Office Minister, said: We want to get at the one man and his dog, the cowboy, the guy who has stayed out of Wormwood Scrubs and is trying to work as a security guard the next day. That is precisely the type of person whom we want to eliminate. It has recently been estimated that 2,600 crimes a year are committed by people hiding behind the apparent legitimacy of a security guard's uniform. As I said, such people should be banned from employment.

I made a few points in response to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South, including the fact that it is essential—this should be covered in primary legislation—that the public have legitimate means of knowing who security guards are and whether they are licensed by the Security Industry Authority or are employed by firms licensed by the SIA. I hope that the Minister will deal with that in his winding-up speech.

The British Security Industry Association is the main professional trade association for the security industry. As I said in an intervention on the right hon. Member for Walsall, South, 70 per cent. of the security business in the United Kingdom is covered by its members. Although it has largely welcomed the Bill, in line with the right hon. Gentleman's criticisms it has issued a number of strictures and reservations about it. It is worth briefly going through the aspects with which it is unhappy, including the lack of mandatory inspection for security companies. We would probably all like that to be covered by the Bill. If there is no mandatory inspection, how can we be sure that the inspection regime operating properly?

The association has reservations about the absence of licensing for in-house officers. If officers running such firms are not properly licensed, how do we know that they are running them properly? The association also mentions in-house CCTV monitoring personnel and alarm installers. There is a very good CCTV scheme in Cirencester in my constituency. It was one of the first in the country, was grant-aided by the previous Conservative Government and works incredibly effectively, covering the centre of Cirencester and a wider area—some security cameras are on a high building and can scan a long way. When it was first introduced, there were civil liberties concerns but, as time has passed, people have got used to it and feel safer in the centre of Cirencester. A number of serious criminals have been apprehended through the CCTV scheme. Although it is often manned by civilians, there are strict rules on how long the pictures can be stored for recall. Basically, they can be stored for more than 24 hours if there is a suspicion of a crime. It is precisely those issues that need to be discussed; the private security industry must follow similarly strict guidelines.

The association also says that a fair and efficient system of retrospective licensing is needed so that companies are not disadvantaged. Clearly, there needs to be a reasonable period after the Bill comes into operation to allow security firms—not just the big two or three firms, but the little firms that want to do a good job—to meet its requirements. Little firms are not all cowboys. Many of them want to do a decent job and to be employed by bigger companies to carry out guarding activities. We should allow them to come up to the standards of training and efficiency that the Bill requires, so there should be a reasonable phase-in period.

The BSIA seeks clarification as to whether cash-in-transit personnel are included in the provisions. I endorse that. Operations involving cash in transit run by Group 4 have been well run, but there is scope for all sorts of things to go wrong for firms that are not quite up to the mark in this respect.

Finally, there is the high estimated cost of the licence—an old theme of mine. When a non-departmental public body is created, it should be cost-effective. It should charge the minimum necessary to cover its costs, and it should not be riddled with excessive bureaucracy.

I know that others want to speak, so I shall deal with just one or two of the more important matters that I intended to discuss tonight. Training is an important aspect of the Bill. As I mentioned to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South in an intervention, the BSIA carries out training, and has long experience of doing that. By training up to the standard of ISO 9000 and co-operating with and consulting various European security organisations, it has acquired huge knowledge of the subject. Although it should not be the sole provider of training, that bank of knowledge about how to train security guards and firms should be used. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.

On the licensing regime, I have said that it should not cost any more or be more bureaucratic than is strictly necessary. As a non-departmental body, it will still be subject to ministerial direction and subject to audit, as though it were a Government Department. I urge the Minister to ensure that it is not excessively expensive or bureaucratic.

It is important that there is a proper appeals mechanism for firms and individuals who are not granted a licence. No one wants to allow cowboys to operate, but regulation could become draconian. We could end up with a cosy little club, with only the elite in the security industry getting a licence. We need to be fair to smaller operations.

A licence will be required for a firm to engage in manned guarding, including overseeing property and premises. That impinges on the wheelclamping issue. We have all heard horror stories about innocent people being beaten up after straying on to private premises. We have heard of cowboys wheelclamping cars that were parked on private premises by mistake, not releasing those cars for several days and demanding huge ransoms before the wheelclamps are removed. Such activity should not be tolerated in a free society. Yes, under proper licence, wheelclamping is an effective deterrent to illegal parking on private property, but there should be good reason for it.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Can he confirm, for the benefit of the House, that no cowboy wheelclamping takes place on his estate?

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I can confirm that absolutely. Not only does wheelclamping not take place, but I have never employed a wheelclamper, be he cowboy or any other type, in my life. I hope that I shall never need to do so. In Norfolk, we are a relatively law-abiding community. Although fly tipping and the dumping of old cars are an increasing local menace, I hope that they will never necessitate wheelclamping.

A licence will also be required for the work done by a private investigator in undertaking surveillance and investigations to obtain information about another person. Those are especially sensitive matters. We all know about private investigators. Before my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) bobs up to ask me whether I have ever employed one, I assure him that I have never done so. Indeed, I hope that I shall never need to do so, but we all know that some individuals need to employ investigators for various commercial and personal reasons. That is understandable, but investigators must be required to adhere to a carefully defined legislative licence regime. Nobody wants private investigators to go around breaking the law.

The House of Lords agreed to an amendment that exempted all private domestic dwellings from the remit of security firms operating under the terms of the Bill. That must be right. Nobody wants to encourage anybody, whether or not he or she is a private investigator, to break into a private dwelling without the permission of its owner or occupier. Of course, the giving of advice about security devices and precautions will also have to be subject to licensing. Many people use bugging and surveillance devices, especially when they work in investigation, but such devices should be covered by strict rules and a licensing procedure.

Finally, in respect of keyholders, I assume that the Bill covers only professional firms. I have a private friend who acts as a keyholder for the alarm system on my house, so I hope that he will not be categorised as doing the job specified in the Bill. The Bill should, however, cover the professional security firm that installed and maintained my alarm, as it is also a keyholder.

Other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall conclude my remarks. I broadly welcome the Bill and I hope that the Government will give it the serious consideration that it deserves. If they call a premature election on 3 May, it might be one of the casualties of the final sort-out. I have no idea whether that will happen, as I will not be a party to the relevant negotiations. If the Bill is dropped, however, it will have to be reintroduced in the next Parliament. If that happens, I hope that the Government will think carefully about what has been said tonight. I hope especially that they will take the advice of the right hon. Member for Walsall, South, but I ask them to listen also to all the other comments that have been made. For once, let us see whether we can produce through genuine parliamentary debate a better Bill than the one first published by the Government.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 9:13, 28 March 2001

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate. I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who always brings to our deliberations the energy of a terrier and the charm of a spaniel. I am pleased also to follow the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), whose experience in these matters is legendary. Any even cursory examination of the subject with which the Bill deals leaves one with the impression that deliberations on such matters have been peppered for more than 15 years with references to him and to his comments.

The history of private security is a long one. Indeed, it might be said that it extends back into pre history. In bed last night, I was reading "The Golden Bough" by Frazer, and I was reminded of the kingdom in the part of southern Europe that is now Italy where murder was the normal means of succession for the monarch, as the person who murdered him took his place. Consequently, monarchs spent most of their time running around a tree, looking for potential murderers and jumping at shadows. I suppose that that was an example of personal private security. If we trace law enforcement and personal security through the ages, we find that it has largely been conducted privately. Public security is a relatively modern phenomenon, and the notion of putting law enforcement into the hands of a publicly funded police force is recent.

Should there be regulation? The case has been well made in tonight's discussions, but it is worth considering the conclusions of the 1995 report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs on the private security industry. Several hon. Members have already referred to it. The right hon. Member for Walsall, South will be familiar with it because he gave evidence to that inquiry. The conclusions did not concur with his recommendations, but they paid tribute to the pertinence of his contribution. The report concluded: We conclude that current standards, particularly standards of training, in much of the private security industry are unsatisfactory and below the level the public need and have a right to expect. We note that it is in the manned guarding sector of the industry that most of the worst examples are to be found. We are particularly concerned about the evidence that there is a growing problem of totally unregulated private local patrolling operations, often preying on the fears of vulnerable people, and we conclude that this needs to be tackled firmly.

The subject of private patrolling organisations will permeate much of my speech. We must strike a balance between law enforcement in the private and public sectors. The right hon. Member for Walsall, South referred to that. Such a balance is vital to maintain public confidence in the proper enforcement of law; it could be jeopardised unless we take the right action in the Bill and elsewhere.

Because I want to dwell briefly on the constitutional issues that are associated with the relationship between the public and law enforcement, as would be expected, I immediately searched for my copy of "The English Police—A Political and Social History" by Clive Emsley. Chapter 5 refers to a case in 1893 when the Home Secretary was asked about an English woman, a member of the Society of Friends of Russian Freedom, who was allegedly treated with "rudeness and even violence" by a member of the Metropolitan police. The police denied the charge and Mr. Asquith, who was Home Secretary at the time, said: I do not see any reason for doubting the accuracy of the police statement. Mr. Emsley concludes: The Bobby was now firmly established as a part of the model British Constitution. The publicly funded police forces of the United Kingdom are indeed perceived as an intrinsic part of the constitution. We need to consider the balance between private and public law enforcement in that context.

I want to refer to a second study, which covers public perception of the constitutional aspect of policing. "The Force Inside the Police", by Robert Chesshyre, firmly makes the case for the positive perception of the police force. The public has a different perception of and relationship with the private security industry. In that respect, I slightly disagreed with the right hon. Member for Walsall, South, as he may have inferred from my intervention.

We discussed people who wear badges, uniforms and caps and whether they were the equivalent of policemen. Mr. Robert Chesshyre states in his book that when a policeman turns up, he is merely a policeman and has a degree of anonymity. Chapter 7 states: But that anonymity does not mean that we are neutral towards the unknown officer, as we are towards others who wear uniforms, such as postmen, ticket collectors or gasmen, civilians like ourselves merely masquerading in fancy dress while they go about their business. Every policeman is a representative of the force: the sight of him may move us to feelings of relief, security and trust; or fear, hatred and contempt. He is the 'law', he is authority.

That authority vested in the police force is critical to the public perception of the police, and we must tread carefully and warily when we advocate the use of private security forces if we believe that they will in any way jeopardise or impinge on that relationship, that perception and that understanding of the police force by the public.

I would like to speak for a great deal longer, as I have a great deal more to say. However, I shall end by talking about the ethical dimensions of law enforcement. I want to refer to "Power and Restraint, the Moral Dimension of Police Work" by Cohen and Feldberg. I shall list the things that seem important in that respect, and then I shall sit down.

Mr. Cohen and Mr. Feldberg tell us: There are five ethical standards against which police work can be judged. I think that, to some degree, this applies also to the private security industry. They go on to list those standards. Standard I: Fair Access. As a social resource, police must provide fair access to their services.Standard II: Public Trust, Citizens, having limited their right to enforce their own rights, have made police work a public trust. That also applies to the private security industry.

Standard III: Safety and Security. Police must undertake law enforcement within tie framework of maintaining safety and security.Standard IV: Teamwork. Police are part of a system that includes legislators, other law enforcers,"— this is the partnership that I am talking about— prosecutors and judges, so their behaviour must meet the tests of teamwork: coordination, communication and cooperation.Standard V: Objectivity. Police work is a social role that often requires the officer to set personality and feelings aside, and demonstrate objectivity

Those studies are useful and apposite in considering the matters before us tonight. Unless the private security industry can, through the Bill and other measures that the House might introduce, conform to the constitutional role of the police that I have described, maintain the public trust that I have illustrated, and—vitally—ensure that those ethical standards for law enforcement are maintained, I believe that we are heading towards a dangerous abyss, into which no Member of the House, of whatever party, would wish us to tumble.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:22, 28 March 2001

This has been an excellent debate, to which, thus far, no fewer than 14 right hon. and hon. Members have contributed. The level of interest in the subject reflects its importance.

The Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), set out the context of our debate on Second Reading at the outset of his speech. There are approximately 8,000 firms in the private security industry sector. Estimates differ as to the number of people whom they employ, but it seems that the most recent is about 350,000. The industry enjoys a turnover of about £2 billion a year.

The Minister was right to say that the industry is, on the whole, successful. It has a good track record and is delivering much that we can celebrate. I could not help but be a trifle amused by the entirely appropriate chiding of the Minister by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who pointed out that the Minister's cheery acknowledgement of the success of the industry was in marked and hasty contrast to what he and his right hon. and hon. Friends had been saying in opposition. At that time, they were happy to conjure up an impression of a largely ineffectual, thoroughly corrupt and almost totally discredited industry. None of those charges is true. I am grateful that the Minister has now experienced an apostolic conversion and is prepared to concede that the sector contributes much that we can welcome.

The Minister was a little weak on some of the facts. I was surprised at that, because I have often drawn attention to his seriousness and, in particular, to the seriousness with which he regards himself. He is an ambitious fellow. He is very busy, very influential, very senior, very respected, and very important. He has many ambitions, many commitments, and certainly a very full diary. I was a little disappointed, in the circumstances, that he did not seem to appreciate the significance of the point about small businesses in the sector, and the proportion of the totality of the sector for which those businesses account.

I think that I am right in saying that approximately 80 per cent. of the sector is represented by companies employing fewer than 50 people. That fact, which is critical to our exchanges, is fundamental to the issue of regulation, the extent of that regulation, the costs that it will necessarily impose and, therefore, the need to be judicious and as restrained as possible in the new but justifiable impositions. At any rate, the Minister believes that we now need a statutory framework. He is able to adduce evidence from the private sector that that is what many companies—probably most—want to achieve. Although he skated over the improvements that have been made thus far through more effective self-regulation, he was entitled to point out that the vast majority of European Union member states have a statutory regulatory system.

I simply make the point that in our perhaps understandable impatience to legislate to remedy or mitigate an identifiable evil, it is important to take care not to over-egg the pudding. I am entitled to say to the Minister, who has an army of civil servants to advise him, that we need to take account of what the record shows in other countries. Okay, they have regulatory systems, and those systems have statutory force. They entail, among other things, imposing charges and levying fees. What, in practical terms, do they achieve to reduce or diminish the incidence of crime, and at what cost?

Of course, there is always a balance to be considered, and an opportunity cost is involved as well. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) referred to small companies and the burdens that they might face. It is important to emphasise that not all small companies want permanently to remain small. If they are to have the opportunity to grow legitimately and constructively, it is important that we minimise the legislative and regulatory burden on them.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend has referred to the financial aspects of the need to keep bureaucracy low so that the costs of licensing are low and reasonable for small firms. Does he also accept that the regime itself needs to be reasonable? It would be possible to promote a regime so exacting that it would be difficult for small firms to continue. They would be frozen out and that would produce a cosy club of big security firms.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend is right. The affordability of the regulatory system and the extent to which it impacts on the bottom line is not the only issue—the psychological impact of the decision to legislate and to regulate is also important. I have often made the point, not least when I introduced a ten-minute Bill on 27 April 1999 about regulations on small firms, that, too often, they give up the unequal struggle against the regulatory leviathan. That is depressing, and it is our fault. Small firms do not necessarily go bankrupt; they simply decide that it is no longer worth the candle. I am grateful to him for pointing that out.

The debate was opened from these Benches in characteristically robust and eloquent fashion by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), who covered the broad canvas of issues that are relevant to the Bill. In particular, and like other Members to whom I shall refer in a moment, he mentioned the frankly evil practices of a great many of the cowboy wheelclampers across the country. I am glad that he did so, and the theme was echoed throughout the debate.

My hon. Friend also made a point about the scope of the Bill and the importance of ensuring that we know exactly to whom it applies. I share his concern that, for example, computer specialists engaged in sensitive work on behalf of their employers or, on a contractual basis, for clients, could find themselves inadvertently drawn into the embrace of the Bill. Ministers give us the impression that that would not be so, but we cannot be sure and we would welcome assurance on the point.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), who, sadly, is not in his place, traced the evolution of the Bill. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is returning to his seat. He had much that was worthwhile and informative to say. I was, however, a little taken aback by one aspect of his speech. In the first part, he was at pains to emphasise that he was not keen on extensive and zealous regulation; in the second part, however, he lamented the inadequacy of the Bill's scope, and said that he wanted further regulation. Never mind: we shall try to square that circle at some stage. He speaks with experience and some authority, and the House accordingly listened to him with respect.

The hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) welcomed the Bill in general, but drew attention to two important points. The first related to the independence of the Security Industry Authority, or what might more accurately be described as the current concern that it will not be as independent as it should be. She rightly dwelt on the power of appointment, and seemed to be keen—as we are—for ministerial discussion to be if not eliminated, at any rate properly circumscribed. She also—again, rightly—referred to the powers of entry and inspection. She will, I think, be aware that a number of us have made similar observations in relation to other recent legislation. It should be said, in fairness, that comments by Conservative Members on such matters were echoed by Liberal Democrats during, for example, our recent debates on the Vehicles (Crime) Bill. I therefore identify strongly with what she said today.

The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) brought to bear the perspective of one representing a seaside constituency. He also spoke, with many examples in mind, of the adverse impact of wheelclampers.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield delivered a tour de force in what may prove to be his valedictory address to the House, more than 30 years after he first entered it. He rightly reminded us of the ten-minute Bill—the Security Industry Licensing Bill—that he presented in 1973. He was, if I may say so, relatively relaxed and insouciant about the fact that it had taken 28 years for his wise words and policy recommendations to be translated into practice.

My right hon. Friend made another important point. He said that in no sense should the gradual increase in the numbers and powers of private security industry employees be allowed effectively—perhaps even surreptitiously—to substitute for the legitimate, historic and proper role of the public service called the police. He made the practical point that the genesis of the police force that we now enjoy and wish to preserve was, in fact, the ending of private patrols. It was precisely because of the inadequacy of that system that we developed a more satisfactory arrangement.

The Minister has sought to assuage our concerns by indicating that the Government have no intention of substituting the private security industry for the police force. I hope that he will accept—if he does not, I am afraid reality will prove that he will be obliged to do so—that deeds matter more than words. It is important for us to ensure, in practice as well as in rhetoric, that there is a role for the private security industry, but that it does not seek to supplant or nudge out of the way the public service called the police force.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Does it not concern my hon. Friend that that is precisely what is happening? The police are expecting more and more people to employ private security firms and to use alarm systems, because, unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer police on the beat to guarantee the safe towns and safe countryside that people have taken for granted in the past.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend is right. He knows the truth from bitter experience, not least in his Macclesfield constituency—but that experience is replicated, almost without exception, throughout the United Kingdom. Under this Government, who said that they would support the police, we have fewer police. They bear greater burdens, they are given less support, and they are constantly told that they must do more with less. My hon. Friend has encapsulated that point in his characteristically eloquent fashion.

The hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) made an excellent speech—it was witty, it was engaging, and it marked the culmination of a long-standing campaign by her to take proper action against wheelclampers. I am well aware that she has asked four parliamentary questions on the subject in this Parliament, between, I think, 7 July 1997—a date of particular significance to me—and 4 February 2000. I think that I was in the Chamber on the occasions on which she asked those questions. I therefore know the feeling with which she speaks on the subject, and I hope that she feels that she had a proper outing today.

The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) lamented the phenomenon of the cowboy dampers. However, I suggest to him that, in a sense, what we are talking about are the "Del Boy" dampers. They are the dampers who give legitimate dampers a bad name.

The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy)—only part of whose speech I was able to hear—apparently told the House of his experience as a security guard in, I think, 1991. He made the wider point that he saw quite a few students working part-time in a security capacity while also studying for their exams. I think that he underlined the importance of partnership between the private security industry and the police. However, the relationship must be one of partnership and not one of substitution.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) gave us many examples from his own area. He seemed to be an enthusiastic, if belated advocate of the Bill's contents.

The right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) made one of the fittest speeches that I have heard in this place since I was elected in May 1997. He had an effortless command of his subject and I listened to him attentively throughout. I hope that he is not too disappointed that the Government have not paid as much notice to what he has been saying as he had hoped. I am still a little suspicious of him in this matter because, at heart, he is a socialist and I am a Conservative. He believes in regulation and I am rather suspicious of it. Nevertheless, I listened to what he had to say with interest and respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold drew attention to a number of representations from the industry about the Bill's deficiencies.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) treated us to a combination of historical reminiscence and constitutional exegesis of a type to which we are fast becoming accustomed from him. It was high-calibre stuff and I much enjoyed it.

The truth of the matter is that the Government have made a case for the creation of the authority, the issue of licences and establishment of the new offence of operating without a licence or offering security services without a licence. However, it is very important indeed that we should have a proper debate on the Bill's contents.

The reality is that, ultimately, in the other place 23 amendments were made—three in Committee and a further 20 on Report, covering such diverse but important issues as licensing, the Bill's scope, exemptions from the Bill and the appeals procedure. As we know, there is scope within the Bill for the modification, revocation or suspension of a licence. It must be right to have, for example, the balancing mechanism of an appeals system that is credible and fair and that is seen to be credible and fair. In that relatively brief—I do not say cursory, because my noble Friend Lord Cope of Berkeley did the job extremely well—consideration of the issues in the other place, a goodly number of amendments were made to the Bill. It is important that we should have the chance to make amendments.

We have to be sure of the independence of the Security Industry Authority. We have to be certain that, in practice, the Bill's provisions will not be a queue for or staging post en route to the substitution of the private security industry for the legitimate and historically accepted functions of the police force. We have to guard against what Lord Cope rightly described in the other place as the "law of unintended consequences". That law operates in such a manner that sectors, companies and individuals who did not think that they fell within the Bill's ambit might subsequently discover that they do, with damage to their businesses, unanticipated costs and implications for employment.

There is also the very important issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath raised in his opening speech of the list of licensed persons. I hope that the Minister will have something to say today on that issue. There may be a good reply on the issue, but it is important that people should be aware of what the issue is. There is intended to be a publicly available list of licensed operators. My hon. Friend raised the legitimate concern that if the list is available, names and addresses will be known. That means that people operating in the sector could be subject to vengeful attacks by people who had fallen foul of them and who bore a grudge.

Little has been said of the related issue of the costs that flow from the Bill, which is accompanied by a frankly pitiful regulatory impact assessment The summary of the assessment consists of about two paragraphs of breathtaking complacency from the Government. From time to time, the most extraordinary parameters for possible costs are given. For example, we are told that costs for the voluntary scheme arising from the Bill could range from £1 million to £9 million a year. Another cost is put at £110,000—methinks it a trifle unlikely that that cost will be sustained.

One does not need to look into the crystal ball when one can read the book. We talk about fees and charges, but the Government have already increased their estimate of the licence cost from £22 to £40. That is dramatically above the inflation level, and the rise has happened in a very short space of time. Unless there is a more robust, credible and fully explained regulatory impact assessment, the concern must be that eventual costs will substantially outstrip those currently portended.

Important matters remain to be debated and considered thoroughly. Much detail has to be studied. I emphasise to the Minister that I have an on-going concern for which I make no apology. It is that the Government intend to do a good deal of their work in this sector by means of secondary legislation. I referred in an earlier intervention to some of the regulations that we will face. We should subject any regulations that the Government introduce to the affirmative procedure, so that a proper debate can be held. In the absence of such a procedure—for which the Minister has not given a proper justification—we should at least be granted the courtesy of advance sight of a draft copy of the intended regulations.

We need to be assured also by the Minister that a proper period of consultation—of not less than three months—will be devoted to the regulations, and that there will be a similar period of notice of their required implementation. The Government's motives are sound, but we have to be clear that the detail will match the rhetoric.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) made an outstanding speech, in which he pointed out all the weaknesses in the Bill as it stands. He is a formidable performer and could happily have gone on for another hour if we had indulged him, and he only touched on—or skated over—some of his concerns about the measure.

I want to be reassured by the Minister. I hope that he will make a genuine attempt to do that. I own up to the fact that I err on the side of opposition and caution when it comes to regulation. I make no apology for that. I happen to believe that, on the whole, Walter Lipmann was right: in a free society the state does not administer the affairs of men and women, but rather it administers justice among men and women who conduct their own affairs.

We must be sure that we do not over-regulate. The Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote the foreword to "Equipping Britain for our Long-Term Future", Labour's business manifesto issued in April 1997. He stated that a Labour Government would not impose burdensome regulations on business because the Labour party understood that successful businesses had to keep costs down.

I am sorry to say that that pledge has not been honoured. There has been an explosion of regulation. The sea of regulation now facing businesses is greater than any with which they have had to contend previously. We must make sure that the regulations imposed by the Bill are necessary, proportionate and effective. They must be no more burdensome than is necessary.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 9:44, 28 March 2001

Until after the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the debate was first class. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) opened excellently for the Opposition; he set out their position clearly and made a number of points to which I tried to respond. I shall deal with those to which I could not give an adequate response; for example, I shall try to give a constructive reply to his point on the computer industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) made an exceptionally informed speech, based on his experience as a GMB organiser. He knows about the industry and knows what is involved; he enlightened the debate. The hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) put the position of her party clearly and articulately; her contribution added to the debate. She made raised a couple of important points to which I shall respond in a moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) made an excellent speech on a slightly more profound aspect of the Bill—the attempt to change the culture in parts of the country such as his constituency—and noted that a properly regulated industry could lead to a better state of affairs in society. He made an extremely interesting and provocative speech. I agree with the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) made an outstanding speech, from his own experience and his campaigns on such matters. I shall address some of his points shortly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) went through the arguments on wheelclamping with tremendous clarity and passion. I hope that the passage of the Bill will be a commendation for and vindication of the personal campaign that she has mounted, along with motoring organisations and others.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) for having had to miss part of his speech. He put an excellent and constructive set of arguments based on his experience in industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) came dangerously close to creeping socialism as he put his argument for greater municipalisation; his remarks were powerful and important. My hon. Friends the Members for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) and for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) spoke extremely appropriately and from some personal experience of the importance of the position of the individual and of what might be done in that regard. They made excellent contributions.

The speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South was an outstanding tour d'horizon. He went through the whole issue. The first of my specific responses will deal with the points that he raised. His outstanding personal experience shone through his contribution and his conduct of the debate.

At the end of the debate, the hon. Member for Buckingham made an excellent statement of his party's position. He participated fully in the debate.

A couple of contributions were made towards the end of the debate by hon. Members who were dragged in to lose time, having missed the first four or five hours of our proceedings. I shall give no time to them.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South referred to the Swedish example—interestingly, as a Swedish manager has just ensured our important 3-1 win in Tirana. I tried to work closely with my right hon. Friend before and during preparations for the Bill, precisely because of his tremendous experience in the field. My opening speech addressed some of the points that he made, although I appreciate that he was unable to hear it because he was chairing the Select Committee on Defence.

I shall go quickly through the points made by my right hon. Friend. He referred to the nature of the Security Industry Authority. As I said earlier, we attach tremendous importance to the independence of the SIA. It must be genuinely independent and strong. That is why—to respond to a point raised by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath—we are not in favour, at present, of specifying exactly the range of interest groups that should be included on the body.

We want a genuinely independent, strong regulatory body—not one that is the lapdog of either the Home Secretary of the day or the industry—that will develop and use the powers set out in the Bill and thereby give my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South the assurance that he seeks: that the SIA will not be a quiet body that makes only a small shift from the status quo, but a serious organisation that will drive forward reform of the industry in the various sectors to which he referred. For that reason, its independence is important.

As my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members rightly said, it is also important that the SIA has a strong relationship and links with the industry: it must not be distant. I hope that I have given my right hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks.

On in-house provisions, which were also referred to by other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North, I emphasise my earlier point that our minds are not closed to the arguments in favour of regulating in-house staff; we shall bear them closely iii mind. The authority has been given a general duty to keep operation of the industry under full review. We shall hold a formal review of all the arrangements after the authority has been in force for three years. The Bill is flexible, and the Government can add or delete sectors of the industry by regulation. We will pay very close attention to any recommendation from the authority that in-house manned guards should be brought within the scope of regulation. I acknowledge that that argument is being advanced not only by my right hon. Friend but by several organisations in the industry. It is likely, therefore, that that argument could have a good hearing at that point. I believe that the Bill allows for that.

On the "voluntary versus compulsory" point that my right hon. Friend and a number of other hon. Members have made, the Bill contains explicit provisions to convert the voluntary scheme into a compulsory one if the authority and the Government are convinced that that is the right thing to do. Once again, we will listen carefully to what the SIA tells us about the operation of the voluntary schemes and the extent to which they have or have not failed to deal with the issues that my right hon. Friend raised in his intervention. The Government are entirely open to that approach.

There was no conspiracy among the security industry on the "voluntary versus compulsory" point. The better regulation taskforce scrutinised the Bill very closely to check for burdens on industry—a serious issue that we took seriously. There was no plot within part of the security industry; we were concerned with the ideological position, if I may put it like that—the role of regulation in modern society and where it goes.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield raised the issue of width and alarm installers. We are very much open to arguments in that regard. As my right hon. Friend said, the Bill already gives the SIA a major task and we do not want further to front-load its waiting list of people to license.

Our aim is to get the authority up and running with the duties set out in the Bill as drafted, and then listen to the voice of experience. That applies very much to alarm installation. The key reason why alarm installers are not covered by the Bill is that when we went into detail about the criminality that could be demonstrated in relation to that industry, as opposed to the criminality that can patently be demonstrated in relation to, for example, the manned guarding industry, the evidence of such criminality from the police and others was significantly less, which was a significant factor. Of course, the evidence may change as new forms of criminality become evident, and such evidence would be decisive in getting both the authority and the Secretary of State of the day to address the issue very directly.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South and several of my hon. Friends spoke about the important matter of training; my right hon. Friend did so with particular force. I want to reinforce the provisions of the Bill. Under clause 1(2), it is a function of the authority to set or approve standards of conduct, training and levels of supervision for adoption by— those involved in the industry, and to make recommendations and proposals for the maintenance and improvement of standards in the … industry". Those are very real statutory functions

I agree, and have said so publicly many times, that getting the training right—I am not subscribing to a list of particular functions—is a key element in raising the standard of the service. I can confirm that I have talked to many of the private sector industries that we are debating, and the associations, the trade unions and the current educational bodies, all of which are committed to raising training standards. The Government are absolutely committed to raising training standards. We believe that the power that I have set out for the SIA provides the way to address that, and to do so explicitly

In some of the remarks that I am making, I am repeating what I said in my opening speech. I am now trying to say as strongly as I can that if we have the option of an SIA that is relatively flimsy and does not bring us very far from where we are now, or an SIA that independently and authoritatively goes about the job of driving up standards in the industry, it is the latter that we shall go for.

Many other points were made in interventions. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North mentioned shadowy directors who may not need to be licensed under the Bill but who use employees for criminal purposes. The directors will need licences. If "Mr. Bigs" remain in the shadows, pulling the strings for criminal purposes, that is beyond the SIA's remit; it is a matter for the police. As discussed extensively in the other place, the Department of Trade and Industry has very extensive powers under the Companies Acts to close down companies that act inappropriately. The power to deal with the criminality of the Mr. Bigs that we are discussing lies with the police and company regulation.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire made a point about home addresses being made available on a public register, and it was reaffirmed by the hon. Member for Buckingham. The Bill will require the publication of addresses, but not necessarily home addresses. The publication of business addresses will be useful in regulating the industries. Some home addresses may be published if security operatives choose to operate their businesses from home, but in general the address given will be a matter for the individual concerned.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does not the Minister accept that Northern Ireland is a specific case, where it might not be advisable to publish even the names, because punishment beatings are continuing just as much as they did even before the Belfast agreement?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I accept that Northern Ireland may be a specific case where that issue might be directly relevant, and we are certainly prepared to consider it in that context. Precisely that issue was considered in detail when we discussed the addresses of the directors of animal research companies during recent debates on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill.

The hon. Member for Taunton referred to the exemption from licensing for accountancy firms. She expressed concern about whether that exemption would lead to an uneven playing field. The Government accepted arguments in the other place that members of accountancy bodies, such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants, may be exempted from licensing. The relevant accountancy bodies are listed in clause 25. The Government did not, however, accept the arguments that employees of those accountancy companies should be exempt. The companies might be exempt, but not their employees, because we fully accept that that would lead to an uneven playing field, about which she expressed concern, where large accountancy firms have diversified into designated activities under the Bill. That provides the reassurance that she seeks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South referred to child protection and amusement arcades, and he gave other reasonable examples. Under the Bill, anyone providing security services who is licensable will be given a Criminal Records Bureau check. Therefore, those who act as security guards in areas open to children will be checked. Outwith the Bill, any member of staff with access to children is eligible for CRB checks as set out under the various processes that have been discussed.

On wheelclamping, in-house employees or people providing the service will need to be licensed, but not volunteers. If the dentist to whom reference was made were to engage in do-it-yourself wheelclamping, he would need to qualify for a licence.

I shall not embark on the police numbers debate. We have been right around the houses about that in the debate, but we have just announced the largest increase in police numbers for 12 years, and they are increasing across the country.

A serious point was made, first, by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, and then by other hon. Members. He asked whether we intended to replace police with private security guards. We had an exchange on that, but I want to take this opportunity to say as clearly as I can that that is not the Government's policy. The Government's policy is, first, to increase police numbers in the way that we have set out, so that we shall have a record number of police in the history of this country by March 2003.

Secondly, our policy is to ensure that the office of constable, which police officers hold, is respected and operated throughout. Thirdly, it is to develop not competition but partnerships between the police and the private security industry so that they work together in all the ways that we have described. Absolutely no part of our policy involves replacing the police with private security companies, but we can argue about how such partnerships can be implemented.

Finally, in a spirit of inquiry, I asked the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield why he thought that previous Conservative Governments had not regulated the industry during their 18 years in power. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire put his finger on it when he said there was an issue about the merits of regulation versus the merits of deregulation. He implied that, on balance, previous Conservative Governments had decided that they would not introduce a regulatory burden of any kind.

The hon. Member for Buckingham said very honestly at the end of his speech that that burden was right at the top of his concerns and doubts. I tell the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield in particular that if the Conservatives were to form a Government after the general election, there is absolutely no guarantee that they would put such legislation into effect. That did not happen for 18 years, and it would not happen now. That is why the Bill deserves its Second Reading, and I hope that the House will agree to it tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).