Clause 1 - The Security Industry Authority

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:55 am on 10th April 2001.

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Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South 9:55 am, 10th April 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 19, at end insert—

`Without prejudice to subsections (3) and (4), the Authority will—

(a) carry out a fundamental review of the practice and operation of the Act;

(b) send to the Secretary of State a written report on the review within three years of the provisions coming into force; and if different days have been appointed within three years of the first provision coming into force; and the Secretary of State shall lay a copy of such a report before each House of Parliament.'.

I have not been a regular attender of Standing Committees during this Parliament, and I gave the game away by coming in and sitting down on the wrong side of the Room, before being forcibly removed. My reticence or lack of enthusiasm for putting my name down for Standing Committees—and my valiant resistance if chosen—is because they are often Parliament at its worst, unlike the Committees that we chair, Mr. Winterton, which are free-spirited, critical, and prepared to challenge established principles. I had quite forgotten how people usually seek to ingratiate themselves with you, Mr. Winterton, prior to speaking. In many ways we are both reformers and renegades, so I am sure that you will look very tolerantly on any obstreperous behaviour of which I may be guilty.

What appears to be good about this Committee—and quite worrying for the future of Parliament—is that we might even agree on most things, as we do in Select Committees; the last vote on the Defence Committee was in 1982. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) did not have the advantage of reading the psychological profiling, which was a bit like discovering the code to the Rosetta stone. Now we really know how to deal with him. It may be difficult for him to be in an environment in which sweetness and light, generosity of spirit, and willingness to legislate free of political partisanship may occasionally shine through.

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

Let me confirm, for the avoidance of doubt, that generosity of spirit flows freely from my tap whenever I am in the company of the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

That is very kind. I must be the only Labour Member to be so blessed. There are many who are not party to the hon. Gentleman's bonhomie and generosity and have the scars to show for it.

The postponement of the election has given us the chance to properly scrutinise this important Bill. We can demonstrate how the House of Commons is superior to the House of Lords in our scrutiny. With the co-operation of the Home Office, I hope that a better Bill will emerge from the Committee. I have examined legislation throughout the world. This is a goodish Bill, but others are far better, and I hope that over the next few weeks we can close the gap between an okay Bill that is capable of being amended by statutory instrument and a much better one. I hope that we can achieve those objectives.

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

I know that this has been a subject of special interest for the right hon. Gentleman over many years, as he said on Second Reading. He mentioned that other countries' legislation covering this field is better. Which country's legislation is a paradigm of virtues in that regard?

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman replies to that, I have been exceedingly generous in allowing comment that has made no reference whatsoever to the amendment that we are supposed to be debating. I have allowed such generosity to prevail because I felt that it was appropriate to set the scene, but I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with the intervention he will refer to the amendment.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I was merely clearing my throat, Mr. Winterton. Not only shall I tell the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, I shall send him the legislation. Briefly—although, as a Welshman, I find it difficult to be brief—having investigated Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, some of the provinces in Canada and Australia and one or two in the United States, South Africa and Russia, which will surprise hon. Members, I learned that there is not much point in having good regulation, which is fairly easy to introduce. What matters is having the means of enforcing it. That is far important to Russia, which has good legislation but not good enforcement.

Thank you, Mr. Winterton, for bringing me back on to the straight and narrow. The clause is the best clause in the Bill. It sets the stall out clearly. I have little difficulty with the rest of the clause, and when we reach clause stand part, my comments will be generally rather eulogistic. Even the amendment is not a fundamental criticism of the clause or the Bill, and would merely add to what is already in the clause. I propose to include in the clause an obligation on the part of the authority to carry out a fundamental review of the practice of the legislation and that a written report should be sent within three years to the Secretary of State, which will be laid before both Houses of Parliament for their consideration.

The reason for the amendment is that I believe that the Bill is rather strange. Despite the fact that we have been waiting a quarter of a century for it and that a consultative paper was issued, some signs suggest that matters proceeded rather swiftly in the Home Office. That might be one reason why so much is to be left to statutory instruments, thereby giving the Security Industry Authority the chance to analyse the Bill, consult industry, decide on statutory instruments and discuss the matter with the Home Secretary. In that respect, I have no difficulties.

However, the Bill will have an enormous impact on the operation of the private security industry. Other legislation will have an impact, too, such as the national minimum wage and legislation emanating from I shall not mention where, for fear of inflaming Opposition Members. If I mention human rights, perhaps they will have a clue what I am talking about. Developing technology and the increasing concentration and internationalisation of the industry will result in enormous changes. Many factors will have a profound effect on the evolution of the private security industry.

The structures that will be required as a result of the Bill will vary in their effectiveness. It is vital that the Bill is reviewed quickly and that recommendations are made for the improvement of the operation of the SIA and of the Bill to establish it, following a suitable period to enable the effectiveness of the structures set up to be evaluated. Sufficient time must be provided to consult outside organisations and the Home Office and to establish whether we and the Home Office have done our collective work effectively and have devised a decent Bill to meet the many problems that the private security industry has faced, is facing and will face. That should be done, so that, in three or four years—and, perhaps, in the lifetime of the next Parliament—sufficient changes can be made either to fine-tune or, in some cases, to substantially alter the Bill.

All Governments, Members of Parliament and Committees are somewhere along a steep learning curve. With no disrespect to the Minister or his able civil servants, I suspect that, over the years, they have not been able or instructed to develop a great interest in the private security industry. The philosophy of the previous Government, with which I disagreed, was to shunt things out to the private sector. That only stiffened the staff in the Home Office because, whenever there was a crisis, people were brought in from other Departments; the excellent inquiry and report by the Home Affairs Committee is an example of that.

The Home Office will have time to beef up its staff and to realise that there is more to dealing with law and order than the engagement of the police force and more to tackling prevention and detection than the involvement of local authorities. The private security industry is two or even three times larger than the police, depending on how the industry is defined and the Home Office will have a chance to get up to speed. The SIA—half of which, I presume, will not be drawn from the private security industry—will be able to learn about the nature of that incredibly complicated industry. Representatives from the security industry will have ample opportunities to see how the legislation is working and talk to their mates in other companies. Right hon. and hon. Members have not so far displayed great enthusiasm for following the workings of the private security industry unless something big crops up, and there is a nice, easy story to be grasped. We, too, will be able to see what is happening, monitor and offer advice.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 10:15 am, 10th April 2001

I understand entirely the right hon. Gentleman's suggestions and he makes a good point. However, I am puzzled by one aspect of his argument. If and when the Bill is enacted, a new authority will be set up, and he seems to be saying that he anticipates that there will also be more civil servants within the Home Office dealing with that matter. Clearly, that will have additional cost implications. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that, in addition to the setting up of a new quango, there will be more civil servants?

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

It would be easy for me to say that I do not anticipate a substantial increase, but the fact is that there will not be a substantial increase. It is right that civil servants in the Home Office who are currently engaged with another form of policing, or non-policing, will be invited to attend courses and bone up on an issue with which they have not been directly involved hitherto in order to provide the Secretary of State and the Minister of State with more information.

I am not criticising existing civil servants, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not suggesting that there will be a recruitment drive for 150 additional staff for the Home Office. I am merely suggesting that there should be a reorientation, because private security is coming out from the shadows and more into the mainstream of policing—in its broadest sense—security and crime prevention. Greater accountability will mean that more Members of Parliament will take an interest, more questions will be asked, there will be more conferences to attend and more liaison will take place with the industry. We will all have to adjust to a situation in which private security becomes more central to the operations of those who are interested in policing and crime prevention.

The clause provides the SIA with powers to review the operation of the Act and recommend modification. However, nothing in the Bill would ensure a public debate on the effectiveness of the Act, which would include those who are directly or indirectly involved in the industry. The chairman of the SIA might ensure that anyway; I am confident that he or she would do so, but the amendment would merely insert into the Bill an obligation to undertake the inquiry, which would show that we were watching what those concerned were doing and bring a greater degree of transparency to the operation.

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

I am slightly apprehensive in the light of what the right hon. Gentleman said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath. The right hon. Gentleman has raised the spectre of a modest, perhaps necessary but apparently incessant trickle of increasing costs as the Act unfolds. Does he agree that in the review of the practice and operation of the Act for which his amendment calls, there should be proper consideration of the cost-effectiveness of the authority and of how that relates to the prognosis contained in the regulatory impact assessment?

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I see no objection whatever, but I must caution the hon. Gentleman in the following terms. I anticipate that 350,000 people in the private security industry may eventually be dependent on reviews and Home Office requirements, and may be subject to some form of licence application. There are thousands of companies operating within the private security industry, as well as in-house operations, which I hope will eventually be incorporated into the legislation. The problem that the SIA will face is not a lack of money. I expect the authority to be awash with money; it will not know what to do with it. The more people who are brought within the regulatory framework, the easier it will be to cover the costs. The authority should not make a profit and the money should be handed back to the Home Office, or the fee structure should be changed. I honestly do not anticipate even remotely the kind of problem to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

As I said earlier, we are all obsessed with the police. If a policeman blows his nose without using his handkerchief, some little old lady will report him. No operation at any police station escapes being subject to persistent, continuous and often erroneous comments by hon. Members, especially as elections approach. There is ample opportunity to complain about the police, but I defy anyone to tell me where one would go to make a complaint against the private security industry.

The industry is enormous, raises vast amounts of revenue and is of great benefit to the economy in terms of export of equipment and personnel. It would be fatal to carry on the tradition of the previous Conservative Government and say, ``Let's wash our hand of this matter because it is not our problem.'' Let us consider all the police structures, all the committees and civil servants and people involved in complaints procedures. An enormous number of men and women, offices and equipment are engaged in directing and monitoring the police force. It would be folly beyond words to impose a minuscule structure to secure accountability and effectiveness in the private security industry and ensure that the number of crooks in the industry is kept to a minimum. A larger structure is required, although it should not be an out-of-touch, out-of-control bureaucracy. Sufficient resources should be devoted to the tasks to meet the many functions that will be imposed on the authority.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Does my right hon. Friend mean that in any structure, whether it relates to this Bill or not, enhanced transparency and scrutiny will add costs in the first instance, but if that leads to more effective work, the costs may be lowered in the long run?

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I thank my hon. Friend. It is true that some things cost money, but the situation is unique because most of the industry is desperate to be regulated. If there is a criticism of the Bill, it is that it does not go far enough. It is not often that an entire industry says, ``Thank you for regulating us, but we would like the regulation to be a little tougher.'' The cost element is not unimportant or irrelevant, but hon. Members should not worry that vast structures are being set up that will not be affordable. They will be affordable and will be not just horses for courses, but structures to meet the problems.

I turn to other countries, but I shall not give a lecture on comparative politics. Having been warned once, Mr. Winterton, it will be at least half an hour before I dare to anger you again.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. It had better be a lot longer, if at all.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

Thank you, Mr. Winterton, for joining in the spirit of the occasion.

The matter requires close scrutiny because we are legislating on something that we do not know much about. Many provisions will be left to delegated legislation, so it is even more important that Parliament has the opportunity to review our handiwork in three years, having considered provisions in rather pathetic statutory instruments, which is Parliament at its worst.

We are starting at the lower end of the learning curve and we should examine the comparative situation. We did not embark on the process of considering legislation until 1997, but many countries began to legislate in the 1960s. Many of those countries, states and provinces have gone through their first and second models of legislation and some are now on their third, having realised that legislation passed in the 1960s or 1970s is now irrelevant because there were no such things as computer security or closed-circuit television. The role of investigation has changed fundamentally.

I can give examples, the best of which come from the USA; the Rand report in 1971, the National Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice, Standards and Goals in 1976 and the Oppal commission in British Columbia in Canada in 1994.

I have been closely involved in developments in South Africa and have had many meetings with the Security Officers Board. Ironically, I have been consulted by South Africa on the review of its legislation, which is probably better than ours will be if we do not amend it. Yet, last year, South Africa began to re-evaluate its legislation and produced a massive report that is now law. It is important that the provisions in the Bill are reviewed within a time scale that is long enough to evaluate but short enough to provide the hope that any mistakes can be remedied.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden 10:30 am, 10th April 2001

Why does the right hon. Gentleman think that the investigation should be carried out by the Security Industry Authority? Is it not a racing certainty that if the SIA carries out the review, it will conclude that it needs a few more powers, a little wider scope and greater authority? That is the way of authorities. It will not propose any diminution of its powers or scope, or conclude that it has used its powers inadequately. The review would be better carried out by the deregulatory authority, assuming it has returned, or the better regulation authority, if it has not.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I would rather that the management board of Birmingham City reviewed the legislation than the better regulation taskforce, the influence of which has been decidedly unhelpful. It is the last group that I would put in charge. Although it is not I who will make the decision, I agree that there is scope in the Bill for outside expertise to be consulted. The Home Office will have views on how effectively the SIA operates. If I was Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, I would want an inquiry in three years' time. As Chairman of the Defence Committee, I have already overseen five reports on the private security industry, in the absence of any enthusiasm on the matter—until recently—from the Home Affairs Committee. Perhaps my Committee will undertake an inquiry in relation to private security companies employed by the Ministry of Defence.

The right hon. Gentleman made the valid point that other people, including me, will be involved in monitoring the effectiveness of the SIA. My interest in the matter goes back a long time and will not suddenly disappear after the passage of the Bill—it may even intensify. The subjects that I have given as a checklist, which would need to be looked at in three years, include how to define a fit and proper person and whether the standards of training are adequate. Has the Bill taken into account the requirements of training? What will be done about excluded sectors? The Bill is largely directed at men who are guarding premises because security systems do not exist.

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

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned training. Does he agree that the checklist should also consider the level of skills as well as the amount of training? Sometimes, training is not an end in itself, and we should know what skills result from it.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

If I were the Minister, I would accept such an amendment. Skills are important in the security industry, although they are sadly lacking in many companies. The most important issue is whether the Bill will be used to expand sectors of the industry that have been mysteriously blotted out like some kind of Soviet-era removal of characters not wanted in the picture. Whatever happened to in-house security? The charts in the consultative document look like an early map of Africa. I want to know about some of the ghost sectors that were in the consultative paper and then taken out, and I want some that were not in the paper to be included. I want the definition of the Bill to be adequate, because if it is not, it will give ample opportunity for its defects to be exploited.

Sufficient resources must be allocated to the inspections process. Local authorities must be able to cut the mustard in their regulation of door supervisors and bouncers. If the provisions are introduced in Scotland, and upgraded in Northern Ireland, tensions and problems might emerge between the Bill in one part of the United Kingdom and other legislation elsewhere. Will an investigator who goes from Carlisle to Edinburgh have to conform to different regulatory requirements? We need to assess whether the structure of the SIA is adequate. Has the appeals system worked? That needs to be more carefully considered. We must also examine whether the Committee has done its homework, and anticipated what might happen.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

My right hon. Friend acknowledged that there would be no single authority that could scrutinise properly. However, the statement made by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) implied that the forthcoming Regulatory Reform Committee will be able to call Ministers to report annually. The existing Deregulation Committee has made it clear that that is its intention. Would scrutiny be better done on an annual basis than on the three-year basis that my right hon. Friend has suggested?

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

Three years should be a minimum, and scrutiny might happen annually later on. Three years will be sufficient to allow the SIA to become operational and for us to see whether it is working effectively.

My proposals would make marginal additions to a clause that I welcome. It is an excellent kick-off to a Bill that looks decidedly similar to my five abortive private Members' Bills. The title is different, but the scope is almost identical. There are many models of regulation that could have been adopted, and I have seen most of them. I am off to Kiev tomorrow to re-examine Ukraine legislation, which is quite good. I cannot offer much advice on the quality of legislation there, although I can offer advice on corruption, enforcement and leaning on private companies.

I applaud the clause—it is great, and will put the SIA on a proper footing. However, I hope that there will be a fundamental review of the operation of the provisions, and that the SIA will give a written report within three years of their coming into force. If such a document is laid before the House and, it is to be hoped, the Home Affairs Committee, and there is the opportunity for a debate, transparency will be ensured. After three years, with all the changes properly in place, we will be able to say definitely that our legislation is as good as anybody else's, and that we can be proud of putting the security industry on a proper footing after so many locust years.

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

I think that all Committee members should defer to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), because he has huge experience. He has just referred to the five abortive private Members' Bills that he has had in this field. I will restrict my comments to the amendment, because I anticipate a stand part debate on the clause, and we will express our wider concerns about it then.

Opposition Members have much sympathy for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. We considered subscribing to the amendment, but did not do so because we felt that, although there was undoubtedly a need for review, it would be better done by an outside body. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden suggested that it should be done by something like a deregulation body. However, we agree entirely with the underlying principle that the Bill should provide for a specific review. For that reason, I say openly that when the right hon. Gentleman presses the amendment to a vote—as I anticipate he will—the Opposition will support it.

It is important that such a provision be included in the Bill. There was considerable debate in another place about how the proposed authority will operate. Lord Cope of Berkeley raised a number of points, some of which I shall return to in the clause stand part debate. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned issues such as who will constitute a fit and proper person, training standards—he kindly said that he feels as I do, that skill standards should also be considered—whether the proposed authority will cover the right sectors of the industry, and whether the Bill's definitions are adequate. He made a particularly good point when he asked whether sufficient resources have been provided for inspections. He also expressed concern about tensions between legislation in different parts of the UK, and again I respectfully and entirely agree. In the light of the consequences of devolution, it is important to note that legislation in other parts of the UK might operate differently from that in England and Wales. We are particularly concerned about whether the structure of the proposed authority and the appeal system are adequate.

I agree that a fundamental review would be helpful. The question is: who should carry it out? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden said, it could be carried out by a deregulation body. I was interested to hear the right hon. Member for Walsall, South say that the very last body that should examine a matter such as this is his Government's better regulation taskforce. That is a savage indictment from a senior Government Back Bencher.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I am not renowned as a grovelling loyalist.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

My criticism related specifically to the better regulation taskforce's malign influence on the Bill—I did not comment on its and the Government's general philosophy. However, it seems not to have much of a handle on the private security industry, and its intervention was unhelpful. Having spoken to people outside the House, I suspect that it had some influence in terms of legislation on house security. Mine was a criticism not of policy in general, but of the private security industry.

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

No one who has listened to the right hon. Gentleman's trenchant speeches in the House on a variety of issues—he has particular expertise not only in this field, but in defence—would describe him as a grovelling loyalist.

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

Indeed. When the right hon. Gentleman said that he is not a grovelling loyalist, the Minister said ``Shame'', which is revelatory of Ministers' attitude to this and other aspects of policy.

We agree that a fundamental review will be necessary. When a new authority is established, it does no harm to scrutinise what the House has done, and such scrutiny should be carried out not by the authority itself but by an outside body. It would be a valuable improvement if the Bill required that a written report on the review be sent to the Secretary of State, to be laid before both Houses of Parliament. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will want to pursue the matter, and even if he does not, we shall return to it on Report. We may consider a modification of the amendment, to bring in an outside body to conduct the review.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:45 am, 10th April 2001

The idea of a review is always reasonable, and it is proper that a body should produce a report that Parliament can examine, so the amendment is uncontroversial. However, I also tend to the view that the best reviews come from somebody who looks from the outside, rather than from within. Commons or Lords Select Committees can examine such reports, and they generally do a good job. We are moving to a system in Parliament in which we routinely build in scrutiny by Select Committee and, when matters fall within its remit, by the all-party human rights group. The Westminster Hall idea for a supplementary Chamber is clearly intended to allow more reports to be discussed. Since I have been in Parliament, one frustration has been that Select Committees were set up to do a great deal of work, but their reports have merely sat on the shelf. Reports were published, there may have been a press conference and some coverage, but nobody apart from Ministers and civil servants paid much attention.

We must have a proper debate about who reviews agencies and authorities that report, in this case, to the Home Office. Such agencies principally work within the Home Office, but they also work across other Departments. I do not have a final view on that, but there must be an independent person who neither holds the brief of Government nor speaks for the industry being regulated.

The amendment would produce a reasonable and normal addition to the legislation, and there would be a report by the authority that would be laid before Parliament. There is a case for seeking to discover what could be the wider form of regulation. Since the Minister has been in his post, and I in mine, most new legislation has been accompanied by the creation of new authorities. Most recent Bills have entailed an appeal authority, a regulatory authority or a supervisory authority. It will be helpful if he can tell us whether the Home Office, apart from annual reports, has taken a view on how the workings of those bodies could be independently scrutinised by people who do not have a vested interest in either their continuation as they are or in removing them because they are regarded as over-prescriptive.

We must be mindful that many quangos and agencies have been created. If we are not careful, the citizen's opportunity of managing that burgeoning process of government will continue to be reduced. The dangers are that consistency will be diminished and authorities will become self-serving. Normally—the right hon. Member for Walsall, South was right about this—authorities ask for more power, resources and responsibility from the public sector, rather than less.

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

This has been an interesting discussion. At the outset, I should say that I agree with the central thrust of the argument across the Committee.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South did not give a great deal of time to the question that he raised on Second Reading on the independence and authority of the authority itself. I am sure that we shall debate that at length when we consider schedule 1, to which he has tabled amendment No. 6. There is an interrelationship between that matter and the issues that he has raised in this debate. The clause contains several references to specific charges on the authority to review the operation of the legislation, which I shall go through in order.

Subsection (2)(b) states that one of the authority's functions will be

``to keep under review generally the provision of security industry services and other services involving the activities of security operatives''.

That represents a substantial responsibility, which is reinforced by subsection (2)(g), which gives the authority the obligation and function

``to keep under review the operation of this Act.''

The authority must keep under review not only the provision of security industry services, but how the Act operates. That is an important obligation.

Subsection (4) states:

``Without prejudice to subsection (3), the Authority may, for any purpose connected with the carrying out of its functions—

(a) make proposals to the Secretary of State for the modification of any provision contained in or made under this Act; and

(b) undertake, or arrange for or support (whether financially or otherwise), the carrying out of research relating to the provision of security industry services and of other services involving the activities of security operatives.''

Those two substantial and significant powers will enable the authority to address the situation further and to face up to the challenges to which my right hon. Friend referred when he gave his analogy of the map of Africa. As we better understand the operation of the industry and its changing nature in the modern world, the undertaking, arranging or supporting of the carrying out of research will become important, and the Bill explicitly states that it is one of the authority's responsibilities.

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

Perhaps I misunderstood the right hon. Member for Walsall, South, but I thought that his reference to the map of Africa meant that the White Paper had contained certain aspects that he anticipated would be covered by the Bill, which then disappeared, and that that was like going back to an old map of Africa. I think that the Minister misinterpreted him.

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

The hon. Gentleman may be right: perhaps I misinterpreted my right hon. Friend's interesting metaphor. I took his point to be that, as we gradually discover and explore the nature of this beast—the private security industry—we may want to change the way in which we operate, and will therefore need to review the situation in that context.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I would have used the geographical analogy of Atlantis had I wished to emphasise the disappearance of mythical elements that had appeared at an earlier stage. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman intervened to clarify my thoughts, which were rather hazily presented. I meant both what he said and what my hon. Friend the Minister said.

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

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I drew attention to his metaphor in order to make the point that the extent to which the authority uses the power to make proposals to the Secretary of State or to undertake research depends on the calibre, intelligence and independence of the authority, which are very important, and which we are determined to secure.

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

I put it to the Minister that the provisions in the clause for continuing private self-scrutiny do not provide the same discipline or incentive that would be provided by a bird's-eye or holistic overview after a set period. Would he at least consider the proposition that such a bird's-eye view, undertaken by an independent authority and reported publicly, would be substantially preferable?

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

That leads me directly to my next point, which deals specifically with an aspect of the amendment. Schedule 1(17) says:

``As soon as practicable after the end of each financial year, the Authority shall send to the Secretary of State a report on the carrying out of its functions during that year . . . The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of each such report before each House of Parliament.''

The obligation is clearly set out that each year—not, as the amendment suggests, at the end of three years—a report must be made on the issues considered here. If research has been undertaken, arranged for or supported in the way set out in subsection (4), or if the authority comes to conclusions in carrying out its statutory responsibility to keep under review the operation of the Act, that will be reported every year to the Secretary of State and laid before the House for the kind of the debate requested by the hon. Member for Buckingham. I should say ``consideration'' rather than ``debate'' in order not to prejudge the decisions made in the Whips Office in any of those circumstances.

A substantial part of my argument in urging my right hon. Friend to withdraw the amendment is that throughout the clause several specific obligations are placed on the authority to review the process, commission work and make proposals. It has an obligation to report every year on what has happened in a document that will be laid before both Houses of Parliament. Much is provided in the Bill that meets his points.

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

I note what the Minister said, but may I put it to him that, although the authority may be independent of Government, it inevitably cannot be independent of itself? Unless a debate is held on the report of its activities, what opportunity will there be for independent scrutiny of the authority and its self-assessment?

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

The hon. Gentleman makes the same point that has been made before. I apologise for saying this, but perhaps he should let me finish before popping up and raising the point again. In that way, I may deal with it more effectively.

I submit that the clause contains substantial provisions that meet the points made in the amendment. I reaffirm what I have already stated: the Government will undertake a formal review of all the authority's work and its effectiveness after it has operated for three years. I am happy to repeat that undertaking to the hon. Gentleman and the Committee here and now.

We must now ask who the Government are, from this point of view. Are they the better regulation task force or another body? In that context, my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South made some interesting comments about the role of Select Committees. I cannot answer the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) explicitly, in giving him a Home Office line on who the Government are when they carry out such reviews. However, perhaps I may refer to my experience as a member of the Treasury Committee.

Early in this Parliament, we decided to set up a Sub-Committee of that Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer), which conducted a rolling review in every agency of the Treasury—the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise, Royal Mint, the International Monetary Fund and so on. Ours was the only Select Committee to undertake such a task and I was among those who argued for it. The workings of every agency responsible to the Treasury have had an external independent review, and on a cross-party basis, as it was done by the Sub-Committee. Recently, at a drinks party that we held for my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice), who is retiring from Parliament, I discussed the process with the hon. Member for West Worcestershire and asked him how he felt that it had worked. He felt that it had been an outstanding success.

I would argue—not as a Minister but as a Member of Parliament—that there is a case for every Select Committee going through such a systematic process. It does not obviate the need for inquiries as and when particular problems occur, but it means that there is scrutiny of each of the agencies established by legislation, which is to the general good . That would be a good way of proceeding, notwithstanding the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South, that the Home Affairs Committee may well decide to have a review of the operation after three years, or at any other time.

I will not prejudge what form such a review would take after three years, because we need to consider specific points raised in Committee. The review should not simply be by the authority of itself—it is important that the Government review the whole operation.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 11:00 am, 10th April 2001

I am grateful for the Minister's helpful reflection on his Treasury Committee experience. Will he tell me, because I cannot remember, whether it is now the policy that in the Home Office annual report there is a specific reference to the authorities that report to the Home Office, and that reports are easily identifiable and retrievable? A useful way of ensuring that all the agencies that report to his Department can be found and held accountable is to ensure that they are cross-referenced to other places that can be examined by the public. Such reports should be in the departmental annual report.

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

The hon. Gentleman is right about the Home Office annual report. Above and beyond that, I recollect that a report is produced by the Cabinet Office of all the agencies of Government, which are defined by the Departments to which they are responsible, that enables immediate reference to be made to those organisations. In process and reporting terms, it is right to put them in the context of each Department's report. The Home Office annual report does that as well.

I believe that paragraph 17 of schedule 1, which requires annual reporting to take place, goes a long way to meeting the concerns raised by my right hon. Friend. I assure him, as I have said, that the Government will review the operation of the Act, and conduct a formal review after a three-year period. The powers of the House, through Select Committees and otherwise, to debate and deal with specific issues go a long way towards meeting his concerns. I ask him to withdraw the amendment.

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

The Minister has pointed to various other parts of the Bill that deal with the amendment. He also says that the Government will undertake a review. Why does he object to saying now that the Government will table an amendment on Report to provide for a review after three years? One difference between what is in the clause as drafted and what is proposed in the amendment is the word ``fundamental''. The amendment talks about a fundamental review, which is rather different from the annual reports that come out on a bread and butter basis. A fundamental review is quite clearly different.

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

I will consider whether to table amendments on Report. Paragraph (b) in the amendment is already covered. On paragraph (a), I do not think that the authority itself should necessarily carry out the fundamental review. On the precise times at which reviews may be carried out, I will consider tabling something on Report. However, I am sceptical of the merits of being so prescriptive, rather than saying that we will keep the process under constant review in the way in which we have discussed. I acknowledge that there is merit in the case, and with that full and positive discussion, I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend would consider withdrawing the amendment.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I do not want to fight the Minister about the matter, as more fundamental issues will arise later. It is prudent and correct to withdraw the amendment, but I hope that he will consider whether any aspects of it, and of the comments of Opposition Members with regard to it, could be incorporated into the Bill.

I have made it clear that I am broadly supportive of the clause and that the amendment is not intended as a fundamental critique of it. However, it would be improved if some of the suggestions that have been offered in the debate were accepted, and I hope that the Minister will consider them. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

As I have said, the Opposition have concerns, in particular about the Government's proposals with regard to the structure of the Security Industry Authority. Those concerns were expressed by Lord Cope of Berkeley, when the matter was debated in another place. He questioned whether the Security Industry Authority is an appropriate name for the new quango, and he tabled an amendment proposing that it should be called the Security Activities Authority, because the clause covers many matters that do not relate specifically to the security industry.

More general concerns have been raised on Second Reading and by parliamentary commentators. As the right hon. Member for Walsall, South mentioned, it is unusual for a Bill that proposes to establish a new quango to be so widely welcomed, and a commentator has expressed surprise that no libertarian voices have been raised in criticism of that proposal.

I have been an opponent of quangos throughout my political career, as have many of my Opposition colleagues, but we are not opposed in principle to the Bill. The respectable side of the security industry wants a regulatory body to be established to drive out the cowboy and criminal elements that have become involved in some aspects of the business. All Committee members are concerned about the infiltration of the private security industry by organised crime and, in particular, by drugs crime. Opposition Members have reluctantly conceded that regulation is required, but some of us have grave reservations about the way in which the quango is to be set up.

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

I was interested in the hon. Gentleman's discussion. In the event of his party being elected after the next general election and if the Bill was not in effect, would the measure be a priority in a Conservative programme? I ask because he correctly described the tension between what he calls libertarians and non-libertarians, and the reluctance with which he supports the measure.

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

I am not going to commit to precisely what would be regarded as a priority by the incoming Conservative Government, who I expect will take power in a couple of months, and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), as the incoming Prime Minister. When we originally debated the Bill, we did not think that it had much prospect of receiving Royal Assent. However, in the light of the current Prime Minister's decision to postpone the local elections—we all know that in practice that means postponing the general election—it now seems that there is such a prospect of the Bill completing its progress in some form. That is due to the Government's Programming Sub-Committee and because the Bill has already been through another place.

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

Does my hon. Friend agree that our enthusiasm for liberty and aversion to big Government highlight the importance of genuine independent scrutiny of the work of the authority, as well as of the robustness of the regulatory impact assessment, about which we have expatiated this morning?

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

Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. No doubt as the Committee proceeds, we will describe exactly the same tensions that emerged in the previous debate on the amendment of the right hon. Member for Walsall, South. Although, as the Minister rightly pointed out, there are undoubtedly tensions between libertarian and authoritarian views in my party, the same tensions exist among Government Members.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

To help the hon. Gentleman out, I repeat the Minister's question. Would the measure be in the Conservative programme?

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

I indicated in my response to the Minister that, as an Opposition spokesman, it is not for me to commit to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks would regard as a priority. We are talking in the abstract. The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Stewart) knows perfectly well that we do not know for certain the date of the general election. Who knows how much debate we shall have on aspects of the Bill?

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


Matters were raised in another place—particularly by my noble Friend Lord Cope of Berkeley—about the security industry and aspects of it that are better described as security activities. On 30 January, my noble Friend moved an amendment to suggest that the new authority should be called the security activities authority. He said:

``this authority will regulate a good many activities that are not generally considered part of the security industry. So far ''the security industry'' has not been a very carefully defined and understood term and many people would not know what the definition covers.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 January 2001; Vol. 621, c. 563.]

Two major trade bodies cover the industry. I have met both of them, and I am sure that the Minister and his advisers have had many such meetings, as, no doubt, has the right hon. Member for Walsall, South. The British Security Industry Association's membership includes large and small firms, which cover many activities that are regulated by the Bill, such as wheelclamping. As it stands, the Bill will cover wheelclamping by private individuals who are not part of what one would consider the security industry to be.

The hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), who spoke on Second Reading, has taken a particular interest in the activities of so-called cowboy clampers and will no doubt want to discuss in Committee at some length the provisions that relate to wheelclamping, which I mentioned on Second Reading.

The Bill covers activities such as wheelclamping, and many of those who carry out wheelclamping could not be regarded as part of a security industry. The Bill also covers private detectives. In some senses, private detectives belong to the security industry, but ``security industry'' must be defined extremely widely for it to be regarded as covering private detectives.

The Bill also covers keyholders, and some of those covered are door bouncers. Again, those who patrol the doors at pubs and clubs are not necessarily regarded as part of the security industry, but bouncers and wheelclampers are covered by the Bill, regardless of whether they are under contract to a large firm.

The Bill is extremely wide in terms of the coverage for the new authority. My noble Friend Lord Cope of Berkeley suggested in another place that the security activities authority might be a better name.

Amendments considered in another place also related to people employed wholly or predominantly as security operatives. Extensive debates were held on amendments to clause 1—some of which we tabled, although they have not been selected for discussion today—that relate to the insertion of skills in addition to training. I was grateful to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South for suggesting in a previous debate that the Minister should either accept our amendment or table a Government amendment along similar lines so that the standards of not only training but skills are considered by the Security Industry Authority.

The right hon. Member for Walsall, South also tabled amendment No. 12, which suggests that he feels that additional duties should be placed on the authority

``to carry out regular consultation with the industry and its stakeholders''

``to promote best practice within the industry''.

Those matters seem important. Although the amendment is starred, it is relevant to touch on the matter in discussing the clause.

One of the most important issues debated at length in another place was whether the authority should be tasked with investigating not only those who are clearly employed by security companies but those who seem to be or are suspected of being involved in security. It was rightly said in another place that if the authority has the power to institute searches and investigations, it should consider not only people employed by major security companies. It should have the power to investigate those who operate in an unauthorised way in trying to carry out security duties.

If the authority were to consider only the reputable side of the business and if major reputable companies were constantly to face inspections and searches, that would be putting the cart before the horse. The authority should spend much more of its time considering those who constitute the dark side of the industry. The Bill should provide investigatory powers so that anyone who seems to operate as a security guard or purports to behave as a security guard or bouncer should be capable of being investigated. That was the feeling in another place and I feel that that point has not been dealt with.

It would be helpful to specify in the Bill that the new authority has the power to investigate anyone who looks as though he is behaving in a security capacity or purports to be a security man. It is precisely that dark side of the trade—those who work as nightclub bouncers, but might also be involved in the sale and supply of illegal drugs—about which we are most concerned. As the Bill stands, however, the authority's powers seem to be directed far more towards the reputable side of the industry rather than at those who are merely pretending to be involved in the industry.

I want to consider in detail some of the precise terms of the clause. When one considers subsection (2) on the functions of the authority in relation to licensing and approvals, several issues arise. These were also debated in another place. Those issues relate to how the licensing aspects of the new authority will overlap with the work of local magistrates and local authorities. The noble Lord Bassam, speaking for the Government in another place, said that they intended drinks and dancing licences, for instance, to be transferred from the purview of local magistrates to local authorities. That was hugely controversial, and all of my hon. Friends have said that they are strongly in favour of a continuing role for the lay magistracy.

The Government's intention to move licensing matters away from local magistrates and towards local authorities is not only malign, but leads to the danger of a great deal more corruption. Sadly, over the past few years, many concerns have been expressed about corruption in local government—for example, the Donnygate scandal in Doncaster. Moving drinks and dancing licenses and, potentially, security to local authorities would be a matter of grave concern because of the dangers of corruption.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West 11:15 am, 10th April 2001

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious allegation against local authorities. Does he have chapter and verse about a local authority that has been involved in corruption in relation to, for example, the licensing of door supervisors?

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

The hon. Lady misunderstands me. Local authority cases, such as that in Doncaster, where corruption was rife in the hon. Lady's party—about which acres and acres of newsprint have been written—have led to the Opposition's concern that a move to give local authorities greater power over matters in which organised crime might have an interest would be a dangerous precedent.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to condemn the activities of Westminster city council under the leadership of Baroness Porter? Will he make it clear that his party utterly condemns the kind of gerrymandering in which that leadership was involved?

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

The Minister tries to tempt me to discuss history. If he wants my hon. Friends or I to list all the local authorities under Labour control—

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. I must bring the Committee back to the business under consideration. The question of whether there has been corruption in local government has no direct bearing on what we are discussing.

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

I want to refer back to an important and serious debate in another place. As the Minister knows, his noble Friend Lord Bassam of Brighton conceded that there was a serious debate to be had on the question of whether the Bill, and especially clause 1(2)(a) constituted a further move away from the functions of the lay magistracy. Clearly, the Opposition are seriously concerned that the aspect of the authority's work under discussion would further undermine the lay magistracy. We would greatly regret that. Lord Bassam rightly said that it was important to consider whether there might be scope for the same body—be it a local magistrates court, as we would suggest, or, as the Government suggest, a local authority—to look at aspects of liquor licensing, dance licensing and security approvals at one and the same time. If the same body is not looking at one and the same time—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till Tuesday 24 April at half-past Ten o'clock.