Clause 9 - Licence conditions

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 26th April 2001.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 2:45 pm, 26th April 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 47, in

page 8, line 6, at end insert—

`(ba) conditions containing requirements for the licensee to make himself easily and clearly identifiable to members of the public as a licensed security operative.'.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 46, in

page 8, line 8, after `licence', insert—

`and any other appropriate documentation'.

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

I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. Benton. The amendments are extremely important. I imagine that other members of the Committee who have particular interests in wheelclamping, not least the right hon. Member for Walsall, South and the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), may also wish to contribute to our discussions. In an earlier debate, the hon. Lady referred rightly to the good work of the RAC. I am now about to refer to the other leading motoring organisation, the AA, to thank it for the work that it has also done on behalf of motorists.

I make no secret of my welcome for the fact that the AA was able to send us detailed briefings on such matters, but even before we had read them we had intended to table such amendments, because we feel strongly that those who are working for wheelclamping companies should be easily identifiable by motorists. The Government would be wise to write that into the Bill. Security guards and bouncers should also be easily identifiable.

We tabled amendment No. 46 because wheelclampers should show motorists documentary evidence that they have permission to clamp. I make no apology for dwelling on such matters, because motorists throughout the country are a much put-upon species, particularly during the past four years of this openly anti-car Government. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions made great play of his policies that were hitting at motorists when the Government first came into power. Over the years, they have been forced by pressure from the official Opposition and motoring organisations to go back on that. Moreover, the Department's many embarrassments about its policy for motorists were reinforced by the Secretary of State's appointment of Lord Macdonald to the Department, so that he could water down some of the more overtly anti-car policies.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman to keep to the amendment under discussion.

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

I will. We regard ourselves as members of the party that wants to defend the rights of hard-pressed motorists, particularly from the depredations of the Government. We want some protection for motorists written into the Bill.

Mr. Charles Clarke rose—

Mr. Bercow rose—

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

I shall give way to my hon. Friend and then to the Minister.

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

I am exceptionally grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me first. He was wise and discerning to do so, because the Minister of State's intervention is likely to be vexatious and mine assuredly is not. As for the argument about the requirement of proof of identity, there is a parallel or an analogy with the requirement—

Photo of Mike Hall Mike Hall Assistant Whip

Interventions should be brief.

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

I will develop the point, and the Whip will learn his lesson. There is a parallel or an analogy with the requirement to provide proof of identity in the case of, for example, gas inspectors or other officials of either public companies or privatised utilities where there is an invasion of property rights.

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

I agree with my hon. Friend. I want to explain why my party and the Automobile Association believe that such identification is necessary.

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

I do not want to get embroiled in an argument, but I want briefly to place it on the record that the Government are not anti-car. Organisations such as the AA and the RAC have been more involved in making policy under this Government than under any previous Administration. With regard to wheelclamping, the motorists' forum, chaired by Sir Trevor Chinn, has discussed road penalties and other matters.

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

Motorists will have the right to express their views about the Government's record at the general election. Labour Committee members, some of whom may not be here in a month or two, will no doubt reap the whirlwind.

I mentioned on Second Reading, and in various Committee debates, concerns that have been raised in the area of the country that I represent about the misbehaviour of employees of a clamping company that has been hired by South West Trains. The AA has wisely commented that the new system must address motorists' concerns about the honesty, probity and character of wheelclamping operators. With regard to that matter, the AA has rightly criticised the Government's proposals: the Bill does not explain in detail the conditions that should be mandatory for a clamping operative to gain a licence.

The amendments are designed to ensure that motorists who have been clamped will have certain assurances. Licensed clamping operatives should wear approved uniforms so that they are clearly identifiable. That is already a requirement for contractors employed by local authorities to enforce on-street parking regulations: for example, all contractors who enforce restricted parking regulations in London boroughs are required to wear approved uniforms. As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said, that is also the case for many workers in the security industry who have dealings with the public. Clamping operatives should also carry written consent from the landowner to clamp unauthorised vehicles that is available on demand, so that motorists can request to view it before agreeing to pay their release fee. The Bill must refer to that requirement in detail.

It is important that motorists, and in particular those of a nervous disposition, feel secure. That point has been raised with me by many of my constituents—and, as I have mentioned, by the editor of a local paper, who has published a series of articles on the subject. Many single women commute to London and return to station car parks late at night: we must ensure that they feel safer. Some of them have been threatened. For instance, the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central referred to a celebrated case on Second Reading, and I share the views that she expressed about it: an unauthorised clamping operative demanded sexual favours in return for removing a clamp. I hope that Committee members will agree with me that the Bill must include provisions that deter operatives from engaging in such appalling criminal activity.

As the AA have pointed out, if clamping operatives are required to carry written authorisation from the landowner, motorists will be able to discover whether their vehicles have been legally clamped. Motorists often hold understandable suspicions that a clamping operative is not acting with the landowner's authority but merely extorting money.

My party also agrees with the AA's comment that clamping should be practised in private car parks only as a last resort. Landowners should be obliged to demonstrate that all other practical and reasonable means of excluding unauthorised vehicles have already been tried, and that clamping is necessary in terms of parking management. It must be made quite clear to each motorist entering a private car park that only authorised vehicles are welcome, and unauthorised vehicles are likely to be clamped. That can be achieved only with clear and unambiguous signage. Motorists entering the car park must be able to see the signs and be aware of the risk that they run if they leave their vehicles in an unauthorised way.

There have been many occasions in and around my constituency when inconspicuous signs have been placed where motorists are unlikely to see them, or the signs have not been looked after—the paint has rubbed off. People have had their vehicles clamped without having the opportunity to see a sign. That is why the matter should be dealt with in the Bill.

We feel strongly about the amendments. Even if the Minister cannot accept the precise wording, we hope that he will return to this serious issue on Report. The problem will not go away. Not only do we feel strongly about it, so do the Automobile Association, and other motoring organisations, I am sure. I hope that he will give us some comfort by saying that he will continue to think about the arguments carefully and perhaps table Government amendments on Report.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Labour, Doncaster Central 3:00 pm, 26th April 2001

I am a member of the RAC public policy committee, and knowing the work that it has done over the years on wheelclamping, it is a bit rich for the hon. Gentleman to criticise the Government. The previous Conservative Government published a Green Paper on wheelclamping years ago and did nothing about it. Only when this Government came in with pro-car policies such as measures against wheelclamping has something been done. Members of the RAC have welcomed that, as has the AA.

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said about the need for wheelclamping operatives to carry identification, but I am concerned—as are the RAC and AA—that the danger of including some measures in the Bill is that one may leave out others of equal importance. Clearly, companies that are issued with licences should agree to follow a code of conduct that should be worked out between motoring organisations, the new authority and other interested bodies. For us to anticipate their deliberations may lead to important things being left out. For example, it is important that vehicles used by wheelclamping companies are clearly marked. At present, many wheelclamping operatives drive around in unmarked vehicles as a way of entrapping motorists. That important issue must be examined.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned signage and other issues that should be included in a code of conduct. However, we should also examine the new measures that wheelclamping companies are taking to entrap motorists, such as using photographs and sending out demands for money later. They are gradually changing their practices. There may be a restriction on the curbing of their activities if too much is included in this legislation, which I fear would be the result of the amendments.

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

I should have thought that the hon. Lady's anxiety on that point could be assuaged, not least on the grounds that the Government regularly invoke in relation to other parts of the Bill and other measures, that there is always scope for revision. Given the choice between having half a cup and an entirely empty one, the former must be preferable. If her preference is for a code of conduct, does she believe that it should have statutory effect?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Labour, Doncaster Central

Licences should be granted to people who agree to stick to the code of conduct. If the code must continually return to the House for revision, it will become inflexible. The licensing authority needs flexibility to change it if necessary. That is my fear about the amendment and why I believe that we need to consider ensuring that—as I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to assure us—motoring organisations will be consulted by the authority when it drafts the measures under which licences will be granted.

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

I am sympathetic to the amendments. The consumer or user is likely to have someone say that he comes with authority, and people need to be able to see that that authority is carried. It presents a dilemma for Liberals and others that people increasingly pretend to be what they are not.

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

The hon. Gentleman provokes me. Tories tried to be regulatory when they were not, the Labour party tries to be new when it is unsure whether it is old or new, and we have all sorts of confusion. No wonder it looks, sadly, as though people will not vote in great numbers. Liberals do not tend to be guilty of the same error, and some of us are consistent over many years and try to be both liberal and progressive all the time.

The argument relates to whether we need to regulate. As the Minister knows, my view is that we should regulate only when we have to and that we should have a presumption against a law unless we need one. I have therefore wrestled a bit with the issue, but I have reached the conclusion that so many people pretend to be meter readers for electricity supply companies, of which there are now so many, or pretend to work for the local authority, for example, that we must have some way of checking. One of the ways of doing so is to have something that attests to the fact that they are what they claim to be. The difficulty is that people can buy a uniform at the local market, put a badge on the cap or the blazer, and fool people who have partial or failing sight or are uncertain. Plenty of cowboys and girls around the country use land, clamp vehicles and make money. It is an extremely profitable activity. Merely saying that people must have something that says that they are authenticated does not get us home, however, because people can pretend to be authenticated by having a false uniform, cap badge and identification card.

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

The hon. Gentleman conjures up the alarming and even eerie spectacle of a uniform that has effectively been aped by an organisation that is not authentic or respectable for the purposes of the Bill. Does he agree that a signed warrant, although of course still susceptible to abuse, is a much more reliable instrument for these purposes than a fairly easy-to-imitate uniform?

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

We seem to be going down the road of neighbourhood wardens, which the Minister knows that I welcome for people in authority, but not the police. My colleagues and I believe that we should go further and have local authority-employed community safety people.

We have discussed regulating people who work in pubs and bars for the licensing trade. There is a strong argument for people who have to be licensed to do their job to have an approval system from the local authority. In this day and age, many people claim to do jobs that were previously in the public sector. Such jobs are now in statutory undertakings in the private sector such as electricity, gas and water supply. Local government is the best level for approval, because there is an easily accessible identification number that can be authenticated. It would not be a great burden on the industry to have to register with the local authority those employees who are to engage in licensable activities.

That is not a fully worked-out thesis but a proposal that we go down the road in the simplest possible manner. That will give us the greatest chance of consistency, because somebody local will say that everybody who does a job in the area must have an easily identifiable and certifiable signed warrant that can be checked. I do not pretend that that is perfect, but it is as good as it can be in the foreseeable circumstances. People must have the right to challenge such a person, so there must be something that is visible about that person. That concept works well with the police, and it is a good idea for somebody who does a respectable job to have an identifiable number that makes them unique. I do not see a problem with people working in Southwark or Doncaster having to wear a number on the outside of their uniform or clothing, without which they should not act with authority.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Labour, Lewisham East

I see the merit in simplicity. The hon. Gentleman discussed what Southwark, Doncaster or Lewisham may do under such a system. The problem is that although there may be consistency within a small area, there would not be consistency throughout the nation. Has he considered that?

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

Of course, there would be the argument about how that would be done nationally. The truth of the matter, as the hon. Lady, who comes from the borough next to mine, knows, is that we are moving down the road in which we have borough voluntary schemes, through which boroughs authenticate people such as bouncers. In each of our boroughs, we have local authority employees who use separate identification methods, and that seems to be manageable at a local level. If a security company wishes to operate pubs, clubs or car parks across boroughs, that must be cleared. There is not an endless number of principal local authorities, and I accept that lower-tier local authorities should not deal with the matter, because there are too many of them.

I have not thought of an alternative for when we have regional government, which I hope will be soon, if the Labour party lives up to its earlier promises that have been delayed—although half the job has been done in London. I hope that we shall be able to introduce a system in regional government, and I understand that we must have a debate. I argue that there should be a system, and I suggest that local government is the best tier under which to operate it, but I am open to persuasion that there may be a better tier.

It is no good having identification that may be seen only if one has sight like a hawk and can read from a great distance, and to have to peer at somebody's right breast in order to identify who that person is, what he or she does and what their number is. Increasingly, we go to conferences and everybody is almost vulgar about their personal relationships, because the only way we can work out who we are talking to—I am serious—is to look down a woman's cleavage or peer at a man's lapel. That is fine in the private world of mutual identification, but, in the public world when somebody is doing a proper job, people should not have to go to such extremes to know who someone is.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles 3:15 pm, 26th April 2001

We know the name and address of a good psychiatrist if the hon. Gentleman wants to continue his analysis. I apologise, Mr. Benton.

On a serious point, a sensible argument has been made on both sides of the Committee that there must be a national set of standards. However, the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's argument was that the regime should be administered locally. I have sympathy with that, but the wording of the amendment does not lend itself to that. I suppose that the spirit of the amendment is in line with that analysis, but I am sure that he will accept that there is a wide spectrum of circumstances: it is important to be able to identify door stewards and wheelclampers in case there is inappropriate action—

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. I am sorry to have to remind the hon. Gentleman of this again, but interventions should be brief.

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

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman once more to allow him to finish his point.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

The point that I am making is that certain security staff need anonymity to an extent. It is when they conclude their actions or investigations that they need to make themselves known. I am sure that that can be better dealt with later—not in the Bill but by regulation or codes of practice.

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

I completely understand the hon. Gentleman's point. I used to do legal work in relation to prosecutions for shoplifting on behalf of the police or private stores. There are two different types of security jobs—those in relation to which it is important that the public know that they are dealing with somebody who has the authority to take their possessions and remove them from the premises, or somebody who, by definition, does their work on behalf of the employer, privately, until they have to prove their identity at a later stage. The point that I made, somewhat light-heartedly, is that it is no good having an identification method that is so difficult to check that it is no use at the time—it is no good checking the day after—or so difficult to see that one cannot identify the person on the door of the pub or club.

I share the hon. Gentleman's view that the amendments would not take us all the way to the conclusion that he and I would like. That is not a failure of the amendments, but they do not address all the issues. This is a framework Bill rather than a prescriptive one, and I would be grateful to know how the Minister sees us reaching such a conclusion, which, I would guess, is a widely shared aspiration. It is no good having a system that does not work for the consumer 99 per cent. of the time because the identity of the person with authority is not known, so people who pretend to be in authority cannot be prosecuted because they cannot be identified.

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

I was entertained by the hon. Gentleman's remarks about cleavages and how he operates. He told us in a previous Committee that he always used to encourage people to run away from the police. I wonder whether the Liberals will now introduce proposals that everybody should have their name stamped—

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

The Minister and I will be able to go into business jointly and write a tome based on all the revelations made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey in various Committees on which all three of us have served. It will be known as ``The Confessions of . . .''

Photo of Mike Hall Mike Hall Assistant Whip

There will not be a market for it.

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

My hon. Friend rudely and offensively says that there will not be a market for such a book, because only Liberals would want to buy it.

On the issues regarding utility companies, I advertise the work being done under this Government by the distraction burglary taskforce that we set up. We have put significant resources into the taskforce, which, with the help of the major utility companies, is trying to deal with severe and damaging crimes involving exceptionally elderly people—mainly women over 75—who are targeted in a cynical and vicious way by criminal organisations. We are doing significant work, and on a problem that has not been tackled before.

An interesting point was made about local authorities. Clause 13 envisages a role for local authorities, and we will no doubt debate that more fully later in our deliberations. I think that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey would concede that the approach that he advocated is more general in its application rather than being restricted to the Bill.

I believe that there is no difference between any of us on issues of substance. The Bill sets out: that there must be a personal licence; that the format of the licence will be prescribed in regulations; and that it must be portable, easily recognisable and difficult to tamper with or reproduce illicitly. The licence should include a photograph of the individual and a list of designated activities that the individual is licensed to undertake. That is explicit and clear in the Bill.

On the examples mentioned by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, any individual who falsely claims to be a licensed security operative by means of the devices that he described—whether or not he had a name stamped in the middle of his forehead—would be committing offences under existing legislation, namely the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 and the Theft Act 1968, which covers the offence of attempting to obtain property by deception.

There are two clear wings in the Bill. First, a licence for everyone, format defined. Secondly, the illegality of passing oneself off as a licensed person if one is unlicensed. Under clause 9(1)(c) and (e) we establish further conditions and obligations:

``(c) conditions imposing obligations as to the production and display of the licence;''

—a highly relevant point—and

``(e) such other conditions (whether or not relating to the criteria that would be applied by the Authority in determining whether to grant the licence) as the Secretary of State or the Authority thinks fit.''

A combination of paragraphs (c) and (e) provides the authority with the right to establish a framework that makes clear the requirement for people to display and operate in the manner that we have described.

There are real issues relating to what conditions are laid out under paragraphs (c) and (e). It is interesting to note that the British Parking Association last year launched a voluntary code of practice for wheelclampers—I was present at the launch and encouraged the initiative. It was a useful step towards preparing the ground for a code that the authority might eventually endorse. The precise form of the other conditions to be applied will—I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster Central—be the subject of discussion with motoring organisations and others when we discuss how the code should operate.

The existing powers should allow entirely for what the hon. Member for Buckingham was saying. However, I had one flutter of doubt on the question of the wearing of a uniform, and I reassure the hon. Gentleman that I will reflect between now and Report on whether I am satisfied that paragraphs (c) and (e) confer the power to establish a requirement to wear a uniform, if that were desired after consultation and consideration.

I ask myself whether the powers are sufficient, and my preliminary advice is that they are, but I will give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. Between now and Report I will consider carefully the legal advice, and should we decide after consultation to go down the uniform route, we must be happy that the power in those paragraphs is sufficient. I cannot think of any other example raised about which I have any doubt, but I give the requested assurance that I shall consider the matter carefully.

I urge the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) to withdraw the amendment. I entirely accept what has been said, but I believe that the Bill allows the authority to do precisely what hon. Members from all parties urge.

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

I understand that the Minister approaches the matter in a constructive spirit. He has helpfully undertaken to consider the point about which my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and I were anxious. Nevertheless, we are confident that the Bill would be improved if such important matters were specified in it, and we shall press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 10.

Division number 3 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 9 - Licence conditions

Aye: 3 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 8, line 28, at end insert—

`(6) The Secretary of State and the Authority shall take into account mandatory and other conditions set in member states of the European Union in prescribing the conditions under subsection (1).

(7) The Secretary of State and the Authority shall ensure that in establishing the conditions specified under subsection (1) a licence holder will not be disadvantaged by reason of the prescribed conditions in seeking to gain recognition in another member state of the European Union.'.

I have something of a difficulty, as clause 8 overlaps considerably with clause 9. I shall therefore keep strictly to my amendment, rather than dealing with the clause.

I have lost my thread.

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

My right hon. Friend will be thinking about the exchange that we had in relation to a previous clause, about mutual recognition in the single market and the European Union, and I know that he will want to reflect on that in his comments.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I am eternally grateful to my hon. Friend.

I hope that my hon. Friend will accept the amendment, as it states the obvious. If it has a deficiency, it is that it should be superfluous. However, I am moving it anyway, to ensure that the regulatory authority will bear the matter in mind.

I know that if anyone mentions Europe, Opposition Members sometimes descend to a different plane. However, whether we like it or not, we operate in a European-administrated political environment. The decision to endorse the Single European Act 1985 clearly had an effect on how we operate. Globalisation is a reality and the multiplicity of global initiatives to deal with crime has led to great co-operation between the intelligence services, the police services and Customs and Excise.

When it comes to co-operation in respect of security, however, we should bear it in mind that home affairs and justice fall within a pillar. They are exclusively a national responsibility, and the principle of subsidiarity applies. As for policing, there are many examples of European directions and regulations having had an effect on British regulations, such as the Firearms Acts (Amendment) Regulations 1992. The single European market opened up scope for co-operation and, although once again justice and home affairs would be a national responsibility, there has been some collaboration and co-operation with regard to private security.

I referred earlier to DG5 in the Commission, which brings together experts from Europe to discuss with trade unions and employers issues that affect trading standards, common procurement and so on. It is important to recognise the areas in which there is European co-operation. Common standards cover equipment, which unfortunately is outside the scope of the Bill. Such standards have certainly been imposed as a result of the Data Protection Act 1998, the Human Rights Act 1998, the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, the working time directive and the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, all of which emanated in full or in part from the European Union.

Standards of training and of selection are infinitely superior in some European countries. Under the amendment, the regulatory authority and the Home Office would be obliged to take into account conditions that have passed into law within Europe, including the ability of a qualification in one country to be recognised in another. I was reminded by my friend, Peter Jones, who has been helping me over the past 25 years in the regulation of private security, of the case in which one Amos took the Italian Government to court—a risky undertaking in the circumstances—and obliged them to recognise his private investigation qualification.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle 3:30 pm, 26th April 2001

Order. Let me offer the right hon. Gentleman a word of advice. If the matter is sub judice, it should not be referred to.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

The case was heard in the early 1990s, so it has been well and truly resolved by now, but I am none the less grateful for the advice.

Far better qualifications than there are at present will be available as a result of the Bill and secondary legislation. The quality of training will improve. It is important that the Home Office, in devising standards of training, should take into account European developments. I hope that the regulatory authority can examine in some detail how to exchange qualifications. Qualifications in some European countries are sufficiently impressive and they should be recognised in Britain.

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

The right hon. Gentleman stated that we will take European practice into account, rather than be compelled by it. However, I am mildly worried by his reference to subsidiarity—with regard, I assume, to the treaty of Amsterdam. I am sure that he is aware that the treaty's protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality states that

``The application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality shall respect the general provisions and the objectives of the Treaty, particularly as regards the maintaining in full of the acquis communautaire and the institutional balance; it shall not affect the principles developed by the Court of Justice regarding the relationship between national and Community law, and it should take into account Article F(4) of the Treaty on European Union, according to which `the Union shall provide itself with the means necessary to attain its objectives and carry through its policies'.''

It is perhaps not the decentralising mechanism that he thinks and wishes it to be.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

If the hon. Gentleman were to give that advice to outside clients, I am sure that it would cost them at least £5,000. The Committee is grateful to him for that display of his phenomenal memory. With regard to the qualifications, training and other standards that have been discussed, some of them would fall within the definition of the treaty of Amsterdam, but many would not.

I do not seek to solve all the problems that the regulatory authority will face over the coming years, but merely to flag up that our country is not an island, even though some people might wish that it was. We operate in a European and global environment. The security industry will shortly become a proper profession with qualifications. A spirit of reciprocity should be encouraged with regard to the recognition of qualifications across the industry and, where necessary, outside the sector. Qualifications should also be recognised across national borders. The amendment is intended to prompt the regulatory authority to bear such matters in mind when it administers the Act.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

My right hon. Friend will recall that, in the sitting before last, I referred to some of the international agreements that had been struck between major security providers and large multinational companies. As he has extensive knowledge of the security industry, I wonder whether he knows of any such agreements that contractually require security operatives to work in the United Kingdom and in other countries. If he does, that would illustrate the logic of introducing commonality of training and licence provision.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

Despite the lack of regulations in the UK, airport security is a heavily regulated sector of the industry. It is covered by international conventions, and there is a greater tendency in that sector for qualifications to be recognised across national borders. After all, every country operates in an international environment that is governed by United Nations laws.

However, the harmonisation of regulations between countries will produce great problems. If a vehicle is carrying bullion from France to Belgium, when it crosses the border it will become subject to a different set of regulations, and certain weapons, for instance, might have to be hidden or removed. Such illogicality should be addressed. If a British private investigator needed to undertake work in, say, South Africa, the United States of America, or Belgium, it would be convenient if those countries accepted his UK licence. Such a reciprocal international arrangement would mean that he would not need to operate under cover while working abroad, or apply for another licence, which might be a lengthy and difficult process. I hope that we can approach the matter without prejudice and note that we are legislating about an increasingly international profession, in which the ownership of companies in this country is in the hands of Swedes, Danes and Americans, and in return, British companies have substantial holdings elsewhere.

There are problems of criminals who forge licences rather than applying for them, and move with impunity by operating a computer or jumping on an aircraft. We are slowly starting to co-operate more successfully on a police level, and as a result of the Bill and the growing legitimacy of the private security industry, I hope that there will be more co-operation between our industry and others, and the industry and the police both domestically and internationally. Whether they are publicly or privately funded, all are engaged in a common task of protecting individuals and organisations and putting their hand on the collar of criminals, bringing them to justice or investigating them. All are engaged in similar tasks, although their relationship with the taxpayer may be different from their relationship with the person who hires them.

I know that the Minister is aware of the matter, but I am not sure whether prospective members of the regulatory authority will see matters as clearly as he and the Home Office do.

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

Once again, the Committee owes the right hon. Gentleman a great debt for raising his concerns and introducing the matter of mandatory requirements across the EU.

I address an important point that was drawn to my attention and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and is linked to a matter that I raised on Second Reading about an accidental bind that I think that the Government have got into. I do not suggest that there is anything sinister happening, but rather that one arm of Government did not appreciate what another was up to. Nevertheless, it is a matter that many people in the industry wish to be resolved, and I shall listen carefully to the Minister's response to the debate.

The Government have signed the United Kingdom up to the European electronic commerce directive. That does not fall under the Minister's responsibility because it is a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry. It is understandable—as has been suggested to me by senior civil servants who have been seconded to industry—that the Home Office may not have realised the precise terms of chapter II, article 4 of that directive, which is due to come into effect as soon as February 2002. The specific wording, which conflicts with what is in the Bill, is:

``Member states shall ensure that the taking up and pursuit of the activity of an information society service provider may not be made subject to prior authorisation or any other requirement having equivalent effect.''

``May not'', means that the article is mandatory throughout Europe.

I have some expertise from my career prior to coming to the House, although it is nothing compared with the long experience of the right hon. Member for Walsall, South. I was a corporate barrister and worked in financial services and banking, and I had many links with those involved in IT security. The matter that I raised on Second Reading was that the Government—accidentally, because the White Paper did not anticipate it—ended up with the Bill catching those who provide IT security operations, which they did not intend to do because the Bill was to be largely about people such as wheelclampers and bouncers.

On Second Reading, we raised the concern expressed by the IT security industry that it had been caught by a side wind by the drafting. At that stage, those in the industry did not realise that there was an additional point, about which my hon. Friend and I have now been briefed, in relation to the conflict with the directive. I realise that the Minister will not be able to respond on the hoof this afternoon, but I hope that he will be able to respond in some detail next week.

No less an organisation than the Confederation of British Industry—which includes people who have been seconded to the CBI from the Department of Trade and Industry and whose salary is no doubt still paid by the Government—believes that licensing of the information security industry, which is a key information society service, would be contrary to the electronic commerce directive. The amendment is helpful in that regard, as it introduces the subject of mandatory conditions being set across the EU. A requirement for members of the IT security industry to obtain licences from a regulatory authority in order to operate would, in the CBI's view, constitute prior authorisation, which would directly contravene the directive.

The relevant article of the directive is intended to prevent member states from introducing regulation that stems the much-needed supply of IT professionals. IT professionals, especially those with security credentials, are in short supply. Indeed, the Minister may be aware that the Prime Minister's great friend, Chancellor Schroder of Germany, ran into huge problems last year with an attempt to introduce what was referred to in Germany as a green card system. It was nothing like the American green card system—it was designed specifically to import IT professionals from the Indian sub-continent. When I made a political visit to Bavaria almost exactly a year ago, there were posters on almost every bus shelter and billboard attacking Chancellor Schroder over that system. My hosts from our sister party pointed out that it had become a huge issue and was undermining the Government's sister party in Germany. The issue became especially sensitive because of the shortage of IT professionals, and the directive was the result.

We, and the CBI, feel that consideration must be given to article 3 of the directive, which aims to free up the internal market for information society services by requiring member states to avoid measures that might restrict the freedom to supply such services from another member state. The right hon. Member for Walsall, South rightly made the point that a considerable amount of cross-border recruitment will take place. People who have such much-needed and highly prized skills will be able to command very high salaries.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, one of the most difficult areas of recruitment in the banking industry in this country is of the right kind of high-level IT security staff. Such people can almost name their own price if they are at the top of their field. Because of the amount of hacking that goes on and the huge amounts of money at stake, the need to protect banking and other financial institutions in a highly IT-sensitive world—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:45 pm, 26th April 2001

I do not want to spoil my hon. Friend's argument, as he is making an extremely important point, but would he not agree that it is important not to over-egg the pudding as far as such high salaries are concerned, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House would not want to tempt the right hon. Gentleman away from his current profession towards an alternative?

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

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would ever be prepared to sacrifice his chairmanship of such a distinguished Select Committee to be tempted by the high salaries on offer. As always, however, my hon. Friend makes a good and entertaining point.

I do not want to detain the Committee for long on this important matter, because the Minister will have to respond, and he may need to take further advice and respond in detail next week. The issue has been taken up not only by the CBI and its experts but by journalists covering the IT field. As recently as lunchtime today, journalists from the distinguished magazine Computer Weekly got in touch with me to find out more about how we would pursue that important issue. [Laughter.] It may be a matter of amusement to the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice), but in my constituency and many others where the information technology business is a huge employer, such issues are of enormous significance.

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

Perhaps someone else should have been in my hon. Friend's gun sights. Does he accept that many of us indeed regard Computer Weekly as an excellent journal, consulting it regularly, and that it is profoundly offensive for it to be made the subject of immature skits by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey)?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. Perhaps we can return to the amendment.

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

My hon. Friend has once again made an effective point. [Interruption.]

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. The sound level is a little high. Will hon. Members please extend some courtesy to the hon. Gentleman who is speaking. It is difficult to hear sometimes.

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

Thank you, Mr. Benton. Labour Members are perhaps a little demob happy.

We shall return to the effect of the provisions as a whole on IT security people, which I raised on Second Reading. However, it is particularly important to alert the Government to the clear conflict that arises, and the CBI's concerns about that. I anticipate that the right hon. Member for Walsall, South will tell the Committee that the amendment is a probing one, but he has done the Committee some service in providing an opportunity for this debate. I look forward to the Minister's response.

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

I said earlier that I thought it important to recognise the international nature of the industry, including international aspects of domestic parts of the industry, which are called on, sometimes at short notice, to work abroad. Unless the amendment is unnecessary by virtue of the fact that its provisions are covered by other legislation and practice, I hope that the response will be positive. I should like it to be made clear in the Bill or in the rules governing its implementation that compliance with minimum standards across the EU must be dealt with and, ideally—because there is sometimes intergovernmental collaboration as well—that any intergovernmental agreements should be complied with, whether the context is the Council of Europe or another forum.

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

This has been a helpful debate and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing it.

In establishing its principles and drawing up the licence criteria, the authority must have due regard to all existing British standards. However, in the same way it must have due regard in particular to the situation in other European Union member states, but also, to take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), to other international agreements as they arise. It must take into account any requirements relating to the single market and the free movement of services. The authority will be able to endorse British or European standards or codes of practice and to draw up new ones.

My right hon. Friend and I differed over amendment No. 13, but there is no such difference of opinion between us on the present question. He is right to raise it. Arising from the Tampere summit, which dealt with police co-operation and law and order, and the current discussions about, for example, the establishment of a European police college—which it is to be hoped will be located in the United Kingdom—increasing collaboration, as my right hon. Friend describes it, is a critical issue. Police collaboration is important in contesting international organised crime, particularly that involving class A drugs and the illegal movement of people, and in those matters co-operation between the private security industry and the police, internationally, is also necessary.

We do not, however, think it necessary to set those requirements out in legislation, as in the amendment, for the reason implied by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, that both practice and law will require the authority to do that.

In response to an earlier intervention, I mentioned that discussions are starting to take place in the European Union on the degree to which barriers may arise to the operation of the single market in the private security industry. I also said that I anticipated initiatives to address the issue in the EU context in the relatively near future. I hope that those will establish a framework within which such matters can be effectively addressed, in the way set out in amendments Nos. 6 and 7. I believe that that will be their effect.

On the points made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, I am aware in general of the directive to which he referred. On Second Reading and in Committee, I have described the consultation that the Department of Trade and Industry will hold with the IT security industry, and that is the right way to tackle the issue: there are compatibilities that can deal with it. By chance, I was informally discussing the matter with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry last night. A consultant in the IT security industry had lobbied him on the matter on a train coming up from Devon. That proves that this is a matter of current debate among politicians travelling among the people.

Mr. Hawkins rose—

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

I am always happy to be called populist. The Minister is describing someone else from the industry who realised, while badgering the Secretary of State, that the Government had once again got something wrong. I appreciate that they did so by inadvertence rather than design, but the Minister has helped to make my point for me.

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

Were they travelling first class?

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

I do not know, but I gather from what has been said about salaries in the industry that that is likely. My right hon. Friend told me that it was a civilised and positive debate.

Seriously, however, we are committed to the process that I set out on Second Reading, and we will debate it further on schedule 2. As I said, I was aware of the directive in general, but not in detail, and if I have any further thoughts on its implications I will comment in the debate on schedule 2.

With that, I hope that my right hon. Friend will withdraw the amendment. We agree completely with the substance of what he is saying, but the issues are taken into account in the existing process.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

That was an encouraging response. Perhaps the Home Office could even draft a clause.

I know that time is short, and I am not one to raise a point of order. No filibustering has gone on—with the exception of our first sitting, when I spoke at too great length, although not by my standards. We have proceeded as swiftly as possible, with no one seeking to be excessively political. When the Committee's progress was discussed a few weeks ago, it was said that an extra sitting might be possible. Could the usual channels give deep consideration to the fact that we are trying to produce a better Bill than the one that we received? Could an additional sitting be introduced or could our final sittings be slightly longer than initially envisaged?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

If that is a request for an extension of Committee proceedings, it will have to be made formally when the Programming Sub-Committee reconvenes. I will leave the right hon. Gentleman to pursue that in other quarters.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

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 Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 4:00 pm, 26th April 2001

Following the Minister's humorous intervention, I should say that no one is suggesting branding people on the forehead. However, he will know from visiting clubs, bars and other establishments that it is increasingly common for people to be branded with luminous identification, which can be seen not only then and in the dark, but for some days afterwards. We should not forget modern technology and street practice, which work much more effectively than some of the old techniques.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

Ironically, there is a great deal of debate about the conditions for issuing licences. There is much evidence in the Bill that the Government have given considerable thought to the necessary standards to which the companies must be subjected. That is very good. However, those clauses imply that the scheme is voluntary and that only good companies will adhere to those standards.

On the matter of licences applied for by individuals, the application form that will eventually be drawn up by the regulatory authority should contain the name and address of the applicant and evidence that the person whose name is on the form is exactly who he or she purports to be. A birth certificate, passport or other proof of identity should be required. Letters of support, letters from previous employers and signed photographs taken within the six months before the date of the application may be necessary.

Fingerprints may be necessary, verified by the police according to proper principles. A medical certificate may be necessary. Will there be an age restriction on the form? Will it be between 18 and 55 or 16 and 65? That would depend on the nature of the task being undertaken. The person should put down on the form whether he or she has any criminal convictions. He or she should also put down his or her employment record and details, so that the authority can examine any gaps to see whether that person spent some time in incarceration.

Will there be any restrictions on height, weight or eyesight? Would one need to be a 25-stone obese security guard in order to qualify? These and other factors should be borne in mind.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

I am concerned by the extreme length of the list that my right hon. Friend is producing. Does he accept that it is important that no unnecessary criteria be included, and that the criteria should not in any way infringe good equal opportunities practice?

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

My hon. Friend must have had some very easy forms to fill in. She should consider what is required of somebody applying for a social security benefit. Such forms are, of necessity, complicated. I cannot see anything in my abbreviated list that would not be necessary for the regulatory authority and the police to be able to ascertain that the applicant is a fit and proper person to undertake the task.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

What do height and weight have to do with whether anybody is a fit and proper person?

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I do not know what my hon. Friend had for breakfast this morning, but I did not say that there should be a limit on the height or the weight, I merely said that such factors should be taken into account. If a person wants to be a factory guard and he or she is 25 stone and 5 ft 3, I would suggest that it would be difficult for that person to undertake the task. My hon. Friend looks dubious. I do not know what kind of security company she would like to hire, or what kind of bouncers she would wish to have, but is necessary for certain physical attributes to be taken into consideration.

I mentioned fingerprinting. In 1977, when I approached the then general secretary of the National Council for Civil Liberties, I was amazed to hear that she did not object to fingerprinting, if organisations had to do it, as long as it was in compliance with the law.

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

The right hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly sound point and should not be deflected from it. He might remind the Committee that such considerations, notably relating to height, for example, apply in the case of the police force, a basic fact of which the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West is obviously woefully ignorant.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

A 6 ft minimum used to apply to men joining the police. We are now far more egalitarian. Why should we not—

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

The hon. Member for Buckingham makes a completely inaccurate allegation against me. I am perfectly aware that the police—

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

On a point of order, Mr. Benton. I did not believe that it was proper for hon. Members to accuse other hon. Members of being ignorant. If I am wrong, I do not understand how parliamentary conventions are intended to distance individuals from personal abuse by other hon. Members.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

The use of the word ``ignorant'', in its true context, is not unparliamentary, but I appeal to hon. Members not to be contentious. This is an important Committee, and we need to make progress. I remind the Committee that we are discussing whether clause 9 should stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I know that hon. Members wanted to get away earlier, and I am sorry if the extra time that I have taken has caused any dissension.

I have now disposed with the point about the questions that should be answered by an applicant prior to an application being accepted by the company and the company forwarding the application with a fee, regrettably paid by the applicant, to the regulatory authority in order to verify whether that person is equipped to undertake the task. I did not say that there should be psychometric or DNA testing, which are far more contentious. If we want competent people in the industry, strict criteria must be specified.

I promise to spend no more than five minutes on my next point. It is important under the clause that standards of training and education are strictly laid down. The Bill provides scope for attaching training and competence standards to licensing conditions, which the Minister said would challenge the industry. We need to send the board and chief executive the message that current industry norms and BS 7499, the standard advocated by the British Standards Institution, for two days off the job and one day on, are not enough.

The clause will make it clearer to the SIA that minimum training standards will have to be much higher. In Belgium, security officers have 120 hours' training in eight months and must pass a test, 40 hours initial specialist training in handling weapons—which would not apply in this country—75 hours' additional training for those engaged in the protection of people, 16 hours' additional training in handling guard dogs, 65 hours' additional training for cash-in-transit security officers, 70 hours' additional training for managers, and 45 hours' additional training for those engaged in installation companies.

In Denmark, the figure is 120 hours. In Finland, operatives have 40 hours' basic training and additional special training. In Germany, which is more like us, they have 24 hours of basic training and 40 hours for managers. In the Netherlands, they have three weeks of basic training, and in Spain they have 200 hours of training and must pass an examination—80 of the 200 hours are spent in class, and 120 on the job—and up to 75 hours a year thereafter. In Sweden, they have 217 hours of training—97 hours in class, 120 hours on the job, 25 hours' additional specialist training for security officers in public areas, 40 hours for cash in transit, 40 hours for additional guard dog services, 21 hours and additional tests, with a further four hours for armed guards and an additional 80 hours for bodyguards. I sent that information to the Minister. The mother of all training systems is in Hungary, with 350 hours. For that, people could obtain a masters degree in most British universities.

The current situation is grossly inadequate. We need trained officers to undertake a difficult job professionally. They are there to assist people in a crisis. If they are not trained, they can be a menace to themselves and to the people whom they are supposed to be protecting. They are subject to dangerous situations and they must know how to handle themselves. They require a range of skills for those companies that regard themselves as blue riband companies, the training for which cannot be imparted in two days. Given that the industry is engaged in retail security, airport security, investigations, security shredding and safe deposit centres, each sector requires different standards of training.

At present, many voluntary training schemes are offered by organisations such as the British Security Industry Association, the Security Industry Training Organisation, the National Approval Council for Security Systems, the International Professional Security Association, the Joint Security Industry Council, the Loss Prevention Council, the National Association for Information Destruction and the Association of Security Consultants. Qualifications are certainly demanded by the Association of British Investigators, which runs an excellent course.

I come now to my last point and thank members of the Committee for their indulgence. The regulatory authority must engage in discussions with the whole industry and work out different forms of training for each sector. Having devised that, it must bear it in mind that qualifications and training for a man guard or someone engaged at the coal face should be different from those demanded of managers and directors.

The regulatory authority should bear in mind existing schemes, such those operated by City and Guilds and SITO. Courses are available for managers at universities such as Portsmouth, Leicester, Loughborough and Cranfield. Managers should ultimately undertake such courses. The authority should lay down syllabuses that are based on existing standards and, bearing in mind the European standards, set out details of courses for operatives, managers and directors. It should then instruct that the trainers be subject to approval, because it would be wrong to inflict on prospective employees trainers who themselves had not been trained. There should also be an examination at the end of the training.

If training is taken up in sufficient detail, professional people will be able to operate in all the dimensions of the industry. We must achieve greater professionalism. It will not happen overnight, but the Bill and the orders consequent on it will lay the firm foundation for an ethical, responsible, accountable and professional private security industry. I do not expect such recommendations to be contained in the primary legislation. I am merely illustrating some of matters that must be taken into account when the orders are drafted after considerable national and international consultation. That said, I shall not inflict any more lectures on members of the Committee until our next sitting.

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

I assure my right hon. Friend that I shall pass his remarks to the authority for its consideration. I urge that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned—[Mr. Mike Hall.]

Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes past Four o'clock till Tuesday 1 May at half-past Ten o'clock.