Clause 1 - The Security Industry Authority

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

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Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South 10:30 am, 24th April 2001

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.