Clause 8 - Licences to engage in licensable conduct

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 26th April 2001.

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Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South 11:15 am, 26th April 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 13, in page 7, line 33, leave out `applicant' and insert `relevant person'.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

With this we may discuss amendment No. 14, in page 7, line 34, at end insert—

`(7A) For the purposes of subsection (7) above a relevant person is—

(a) the employer, where an applicant is an individual who in the course of his employment with the employers carries out designated activities;

(b) the applicant, in all other cases.'.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

This will be one of my shorter speeches. Historically, most—although not all—sectors of the security industry have been appallingly badly paid. I recall writing 15 years ago, in partnership with the Low Pay Unit, a chapter of a book on low pay in the security industry, and the situation has not improved since then. The introduction of the minimum wage, and the fact that it will be increased in a few months time, will lead, to a degree, to a level playing field for guards, because an employer will not legally be able to pay less than the minimum wage, so long as it is properly enforced.

However, low pay for guards has led to a depression in standards and a downward spiral in quality. Because the industry is viciously competitive, contracts tend to be won on the basis of price rather than quality. Until a few years ago, local authorities were legally obliged to choose the lowest bid. If an authority hired on that basis, it would live to repent its decision, because it would have hired a low-quality service. That was certainly the case with regard to security.

The unfortunate man or woman who finds a job in the security sector is entering into an industry in which wages are chronically low, even allowing for the minimum wage. One must consider the other types of industry with which the security sector is in competition. Would someone who had the choice of working for a contract cleaning company or for a local authority sweeping the road, which involves no licence payment prior to employment, enter the security industry, which already has numerous bars such as late and long hours and low status? The fee for prospective employees could be £30, £40, £50 or £60. I do not feel that many people will say, ``Before I get that job, I shall have to pay some sort of introductory fee in order to be allowed to enter a low-wage industry.'' It will be an obstacle to the free movement of labour.

My amendment is supported by the GMB, just about the only union that operates seriously at the level of guarding. Few companies are unionised, but at least some people have the protection of belonging to a union. I have been approached by security companies such as Group 4, which say that they will pay the licence fee. As they will employ the person, they are prepared to take on the additional burden of stumping up whatever the fee will be.

As I said on Tuesday, when selecting staff, companies will not have people simply coming in off the street, filling in the form and sending it off to the regulatory authority for approval. They would be mad to do that. They should do what any decent company would do in hiring staff: check their background, make telephone calls and ask for letters of testimonial. That could cost £700 or £1,000. An additional £40 will hardly make a crucial difference, but it will put good companies at a competitive disadvantage, as they will have additional costs because they, rather than the individual involved, pay the licence fee.

I have no idea what the Government response will be and whether they will specify in the Bill that payment of the licence fee should be the hirer's responsibility. I can cite examples of when that takes place already. If the Minister is not prepared to do that, he might at least give the industry encouraging words that it should bear the cost.

People coming to the job are not on £25,000 a year and moving from a reasonably well-paid job. It is a working-class, non-specialist job. Some sectors of the industry have highly qualified staff. The possession of a masters degree is almost a minimum in some cases, and vast experience is required. Such people may be able to afford to pay £50, but the humble security guard who has been moving from unemployment to job creation schemes and low-paid jobs is not going to stump up the money, so it is incumbent on good employers—and all employers if the Minister is prepared to reconsider—to accept that the obligation should be on the company, not the individual, who will suffer enough working for the security industry without having to pay for the privilege.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Before I call the next speaker, I counsel the Committee, as its servant, that it has agreed a programme, and important matters are yet to be discussed. After this sitting, we have only a further three sittings. I hope that all hon. Members, whether Government or Opposition, will bear that in mind, because I want all important matters in the Bill to be properly debated and scrutinised.

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

On a point of order, Mr. Winterton. The official Opposition anticipate that, although some substantive issues are likely to be debated this afternoon and will take some time, the Committee will make rapid progress when we reach later clauses, to which few, if any, amendments are tabled. I anticipate that next Tuesday morning, in particular, we shall cover a lot of ground quickly.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that remark, but I am a servant of the Committee, and I want the Bill to be properly debated in Committee. I call Mr. John Bercow—for a few seconds.

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

The amendments would require employers to pay the registration fee for their employees. Necessarily, that would entail a burden, but equally, as the right hon. Member for Walsall, South said, why should the employee be burdened? That is especially a matter of concern, although it does not affect the principle, if the individuals involved are low-paid.

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

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.