Clause 1 - The Security Industry Authority

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 24th April 2001.

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Question proposed [10 April], That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question again proposed.

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

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Benton. We are confident that we shall prosper under your wise chairmanship as we did under that of your co-Chairman, Mr. Winterton.

Before the Committee adjourned for the short recess, I was describing the concerns of Conservative Members about the future role of the lay magistracy in relation to the Bill. That is an issue to which my noble Friend Lord Cope referred in another place on 30 January and to which we shall return when discussing subsequent clauses. However, we also have other worries about clause 1, such as those to which reference was made at column 564 of the Official Report in another place on 30 January. It concerned whether the Bill would be better if it applied to people who were employed wholly or predominantly as security operatives.

As my noble Friend Viscount Astor said on that occasion, there is still some confusion about the position of people who are working full-time or part-time in the security industry. It should be clear that the new authority is responsible for those who are either full-time or predominantly employed as security operatives. For example, let us consider barmen. They are frequently called on to exclude people from pubs. Some busy pubs in city centres operate as late-night bars and have people who look after security. However, many pubs do not employ full-time security doormen, but use the bar staff when people need to be excluded. It would be excessively burdensome for such barmen to be covered by the authority.

On Second Reading in another place, the Under-Secretary, Lord Bassam, said that the Bill might catch publicans, and we are concerned about how and to what extent that will work. An amendment was tabled to add the words

``people employed wholly or predominantly as security operatives'' and to ensure that the Bill would cover only the operation of people who work in security as a principal part of their employment.

As the Minister will be aware, there has been much correspondence from those in the security industry, particularly from the licensed trade. Some people in the industry want to extend as widely as possible the provisions of the new body. Some see it as a wonderful business opportunity. There is always the danger that a regulatory measure can act as a job creation scheme and set up a completely new bureaucracy. We sympathise with those who do not want the industry to be faced with costly over-regulation. We want the new body to work. We do not want it to be heavy-handed. We want any regulation to be a light-touch measure.

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

My hon. Friend knows that I share his concern. Does he agree that there would be a greater argument for including the pub trade within the provisions of the clause if there were a demonstrable problem of people in public houses behaving heavy-handedly and abusing their authority? As that would not seem to be the case, does he agree that there is no need to extend the power?

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

My hon. Friend is right, but the difficulty lies in the fact that there are different kinds of pubs. As I said earlier, some pubs operate as city-centre late-night bars and have their own security staff, and it is clear that such full-time security staff should be covered by the new agency. However, we do not want pubs that have no need for full-time security staff to be covered as a by-product or side-effect of the provisions.

In my remarks before we adjourned for the Easter recess, I touched on concerns about how training should operate. More information is coming to light as the Bill progresses, and a fascinating letter was passed to me during the short recess. Michelle Mackleston from Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire is a qualified training officer for the Security Industry Training Organisation who works in the security industry and was a warrant officer in the armed forces. She wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) about her concerns, and perhaps the Minister can deal with them in his response to this debate.

Miss Mackleston asks what the word ``training'' means in clause 1. From her experience working at the sharp end, she points out that, while training security staff, she has encountered individuals who have worked in the security industry for years without any basic training. Those people tell her about their experiences. One person who came to her for training told her that on starting work in the security industry

``I was told to carry a piece of 2 by 4'' for protection. Some people told her that they thought it appropriate for men to search women—with no regard for the possible later allegations of indecent assault. She had also been asked to train people who, although they had been working in the security industry for years, had not been told anything about the powers of citizen's arrest. She wrote:

``When I hear comments like these I begin to worry about not only the security officers safety but also the safety of the people in the areas where the security officers are working.''

She knows that reputable

``companies do train their officers (to BS7499) -but what about the ones who do not.''

Miss Mackleston is concerned about the number of people who are unaware of the obligations of criminal law regarding the restraining of individuals and the use of minimum force, and security people who believe that it is legitimate to use handcuffs and batons. Those are the concerns of someone working at the sharp end in the industry, and perhaps they touch on some of the points raised by the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) at an earlier stage of our deliberations.

Conservative Members feel that the remit for the powers of the new authority as drafted in the Bill is too wide. The provisions in subsection (3) are astonishingly wide. It states:

``The Authority may do anything that it considers is calculated to facilitate, or is incidental or conducive to, the carrying out of any of its functions.''

That is a wide brief. In the other place, we sought to test the breadth of subsection (3) with an amendment designed to stop the authority borrowing money, and, more importantly, to require annual consultation with the industry to be written into the Bill.

That point is similar to a point raised by one of the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Walsall, South that was starred for our previous sitting. We still feel that such a move would be greatly welcomed by the reputable side of the industry—trade bodies such as the British Security Industry Association and the Joint Security Industry Council. Are the Government prepared at least to contemplate later, perhaps on Report, adding wording to reduce the breadth of the wide words in subsection (3)? We look forward to the Minister's response.

Photo of Mr Ronnie Fearn Mr Ronnie Fearn Liberal Democrat, Southport

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Benton. It is not the first time that I have sat with you in Parliament, and we sat together on Sefton council many times, you with the Labour group and me with the Liberal Democrats. We got on well together, so I am sure that the Committee will go smoothly.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) touched on the fact that the powers in the Bill are wide. They are not specified anywhere, and I have read the Bill closely. The Secretary of State seems to have overall consent and power. How is the industry being consulted? Will representatives from other sectors, such as the police, be invited to serve on the body? Those important questions should be dealt with.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I used the recess profitably, visiting Denmark to consider further its excellent regulation. My attempt to consider security legislation in the Ukraine was less successful, as I only reached Heathrow, proffered the wrong passport minus the visa for the Ukraine, and was back in the office at 7 o'clock in the morning. However, having been there twice before for the same purpose, I feel that I have a handle on the system there.

Although I have been critical of aspects of the Bill and its predecessors, I am reasonably satisfied with the clause. In almost all cases, clause 1 is in essence the nub of a Bill, and this one is perfectly okay.

I am especially delighted given the fact that the Government could have used another model of regulation, many of which are available in this country. Another Department or, as in many countries, the police could have been responsible for regulation. In Germany, much is done by an economic, industrial Department. Wisely, however, the Government have chosen the model of a non-departmental public body.

The Bill bears more than a superficial resemblance to my first private Member's Bill on the subject, which was published in 1977 and subsequently disappeared without trace for a quarter of a century. I like the fact that clause 1 shows the symbiotic relationship between the Home Office and the Security Industry Authority: one is dependent on the other. The Bill provides the Home Office with information and consent and decentralises much of the decision making to the regulatory body, while the Home Secretary reserves his or perhaps her rights to instruct, advise and be consulted.

That could be an ideal relationship of neither dependence nor total independence. It establishes some independence from the industry. Although the industry must be seriously consulted, the model will not be the voluntary self-regulatory one that we had before. Responsibility will be divided between the Home Office and the regulatory body. That is the best model because it is the most flexible. It is good that a Department has not been given sole responsibility for regulation, because Departments often fail to develop the necessary expertise and flexibility.

The police feel that, in some ways, the private security industry is a competitor. If they had been given a dominant regulatory role, some people would have cried foul: it would have been thought, erroneously perhaps, that the police were protecting their own interests, rather than those of the public.

Mixed regulatory systems that involve many layers of government frequently breed conflicts over responsibility: problems of jurisdiction might arise as legislation is introduced in Scotland and Wales—and Northern Ireland already has its own rules.

I have studied a wide variety of regulatory systems in countries around the world. Regulation can be categorised as either narrow or broad. Opposition Members have said that they want a light-touch regulatory system. I am in favour not of heavy-touch systems but of broader and deeper modes of regulation. The Home Office has, perhaps, achieved the right balance between those categories.

However, the Bill is narrow: it covers man guarding and the activities of private eyes, with regard largely to their man-guarding functions, but it excludes many other aspects of the security industry that should be included in the regulations. Many security companies engage in a range of activities other than man guarding that involve, for instance, alarms and information technology. A broad regulatory system should therefore be chosen.

A distinction should also be drawn between shallow regulation, which might merely permit access to criminal records, and deep regulation, which lays down standards concerning a range of matters such as education, training and insurance. Regulation should, therefore, be regarded in terms of breadth and depth.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:45 am, 24th April 2001

Does the right hon. Gentleman's support for a broad approach lead him to favour the inclusion within the terms of the legislation of public houses that do not employ designated security officers? As he knows, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath objected to that.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

The majority of public houses have security problems, although there are a fortunate few that do not. Many 19th-century pugilists ended up either as chucker outers or as the owners of the licensed premises where they worked. They dealt with their security problems in a manner unique to middle-aged, 22-stone pugilists.

If a public house does not employ designated security officers, their role might have to be undertaken by other staff, so the definition of security staff presents problems. There are so many marginal or tangential—although not peripheral—sectors of the security industry. Many employees perform security roles. If a driver pulls off the M1 to visit a service station to buy a copy of The Guardian—although I suspect that Conservative Members would be unlikely to buy that newspaper—the sales assistant might have a screen that monitors what is happening in the rest of the building.

The problem of definition would bedevil any legislation. I failed O-level maths so I am not in a position to offer advice concerning horizontal explanations, but depth of regulation takes account of entry requirements for firms and individuals wanting to operate in the industry and minimum standards of operation, and I feel that the Bill is in between shallow and deep. I devised five models of regulation: non-interventionist—which we have had until now—minimum narrow, minimum wide, comprehensive narrow and comprehensive wide. My view, and that of professionals in the security field, is that if we consider the top 10 countries in terms of a successful, accountable, regulated security industry, we can see that most of the best-regulated systems have a combination of breadth and depth. The Opposition want the system to be narrow—just covering man guarding—and shallow, whereas I think that it should be wide and deep. I suspect that the Home Secretary and the Minister are in favour of something in between. The clause is admirable—I will not be quite as eulogistic about all the other clauses—it sets the scene, and I support it.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Good morning, Mr. Benton. It is good to see you in the Chair. I, too, am happy with the clause. The industry to which it applies ranges from well-organised, well-regulated companies to, at the other end of the spectrum, cowboys. I want to speak about the cowboy end.

I should declare an interest. Most people know that I am a lifelong trade unionist, and although I am extremely keen for the clause to be implemented in relation to standards, I believe, on the basis of personal experience, that because of the nature of the cowboy firms—doormen in clubs and pubs provide a good example—it is problematic in terms of industrial relations. A large number of people involved at that end of the industry pursue their activities within the black economy. That militates against good and proper standards in the industry, which are the subject of the clause. The one matter cannot be considered separately from the other.

During my 20 years as a Transport and General Workers Union regional officer I had occasion to recruit those who are known, colloquially, as bouncers. The nature of the recruitment was such that I did not have to go looking for them. Every December, they would come knocking on the union's door, asking to join. I came to realise that they would knock on the door in December, make use of their union identity for that month as a bargaining lever to ensure the highest possible return for working over Christmas and the new year, and in January they would no longer be members. Such playing of the game was endemic in the black economy.

I am firmly in favour of good, sensible and appropriate minimum regulation, as outlined in the clause. In turn, however, the Government should not forget that employment regulations are equally important.

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

I join my colleagues in welcoming you as Chairman, Mr. Benton. I hope that you will find the Committee interesting, and I am sure that we shall conduct ourselves in order under your stewardship.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South for his comments on the clause. He is right to say that it raises a question of balance of judgment. He is also right to emphasise, as I have sought to do throughout, that the process will be dynamic rather than static. As we examine the situation, we must see how we can make progress and respond to such circumstances.

I was grateful for the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Stewart) because he summed up his experience of organising many of the people who work in one sector of the industry, and of the practical problems that we are trying to address. I shall refer to his comments when I mention training.

I agree with the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) about the need for proper consultation and collaboration in the process. There has been a full consultation process since the publication of the White Paper, and my colleagues and I have had many meetings with the industry and the police to discuss the matter. The membership of the authority is addressed in the schedule. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have debated issues such as the extent to which the Bill should specify interests. I want to reinforce two points. First, we believe that it is critical that the authority is independent in character and is not merely an in-house operation. Secondly, the authority should contain people who can ensure that it operates in an informed and intelligent way, because of their professional experience and knowledge of the industry. I assure the hon. Gentleman that such a factor will be a major consideration when we address the make-up of the authority.

I shall address the specific points of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. On the matter of the licensed trade, it is important to make a point that follows on from an observation made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South. The Bill does not cover publicans or any other people who perform security duties that are incidental to their main employment. There was confusion about that in the other place, in the debate to which the hon. Member for Surrey Heath referred. I make it clear that where security responsibility is incidental to a person's main employment, the Bill does not cover that individual. An illustration is that the bouncer is covered but not the barman, because the bouncer is retained specifically for security responsibilities as the main part of his employment. The barman is not covered because his main concern is to serve the drinks and run the pub, rather than security matters. I hope that that clarifies the matter.

The Bill does not cover a wide variety of people who undertake security activities incidentally. My right hon. Friend referred to many such people who undertake security as a bit of their job, but are not covered by the Bill. We are specifically focusing on the security industry.

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

I think that what the Minister is saying is clear, but I want to establish it beyond peradventure. Will he confirm that the definition or job title of an individual establishes what is incidental and what is not, rather than the frequency with which he or she may have to deal with outbreaks of disorder?

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

That is correct. The point is what is the main employment, and therefore what is the definition of that employment. There are other Bills currently before the House, or in the other place, in which we are considering issues such as outbreaks of disorder in other circumstances. That is not germane to the key purpose of this Bill, which is to focus on people whose main employment is within the security industry.

On training, I was interested in the letter that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald received from the trainer in Newcastle-under-Lyme. I think that it illustrated as clearly as anything could the importance of training in the process. That is why subsection (2)(e) states that a function of the authority shall be

``to set or approve standards of conduct, training and levels of supervision''.

That is key to the clause. Many argue for a much stronger and better training regime—individual Members of Parliament with experience of the matter, trade unions and many of the companies involved. We should establish what types of training are involved, both on fundamental issues such as what forms of restraint may be used in which circumstances—handcuffs have been mentioned, for example—and on how to operate generally. Consideration must be given to whether carrying a two by four is the appropriate way in which to deal with such situations.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath referred to well-established organisations that have done a lot of work in such matters, such as the Security Industry Training Organisation, the National Security Inspectorate, the British Security Industry Association and the Joint Security Industry Council. They would be the first to say that to establish a national regime whereby standards are approved by a national body is the right way forward. The letter to which he referred emphasised the strength of the case for such action. It will be a central function of the authority.

I cannot be as helpful about the hon. Gentleman's final point as he would wish. Subsection (3) states:

``The Authority may do anything that it considers is calculated to facilitate, or is incidental or conducive to, the carrying out of any of its functions''.

That is an important responsibility of the authority. We live in a dynamic world. An example to which reference has already been made is the fact that 30 years ago the current structure of security in pubs and clubs would not have been recognisable. The industry has evolved. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South referred to the security camera. Reforms in the industry will take place because of the rapid process of change. It is an important obligation of the authority to have that responsibility under subsection (3).

We are not considering further amendments to define that provision more widely. I say in its defence that the clause is only ancillary to the SIA's function, which is why it is covered by subsection (3), not subsection (2). Its power is not that broad: it is supplementary to what else is happening. The power is important, however, for the reasons of change that I have set out. I urge the Committee to agree to the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.