Clause 19 - Powers of entry and inspection

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 1st May 2001.

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Question proposed [this day], That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question again proposed.

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

My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) made two points of substance, and I can reassure him on both of them. He asked whether the purpose of the inspectorate was serious. My categorical and clear answer is that it is designed to enforce the edicts of the SIA. As he said, it will be an independent body that will not owe allegiance to any part of the industry, nor will it have a duty to be courteous or polite in particular situations. It will be rigorous and effective. I hope that I can set his mind at rest on that.

My right hon. Friend also asked about the meaning of ``reasonable''. An amendment to include such wording was accepted in the other place. As I said on Second Reading, what constitutes a reasonable time may vary according to the circumstances. An obvious case is that 2 o'clock on a Friday morning may well be a reasonable time for door supervisors, but for others it may not. The question of reasonableness must be related to the nature of the business and not the regular nine-to-five day, 46-week year, that a normal working life might imply. It will depend on the particular aspects of the industry in question.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Labour, Doncaster Central

To clarify, could a wheelclamping company be inspected at night? For example a wheelclamping company may not provide adequate lighting of notices warning of wheelclamping, which is one of the ways that such companies can entrap people. If an inspection can take place not only in the company's headquarters but in the car parks, could it take place at night?

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

I think that I can satisfy my hon. Friend on that matter. The powers of entry and inspection cover all the powers described, including for wheelclampers. Subsection (3) says that the power shall be operated only at a reasonable hour. The word ``reasonable'' should be defined by the working practices of the industries concerned. I can give an absolute assurance on the example that she gave. Obviously, the person or organisation being inspected can subsequently try to make a case about what is or is not reasonable, but I place it on the record that the Government, in proposing that form of words, intend that the word ``reasonable'' should relate to the working practices of the industries concerned.

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

I know that the Minister accepts that the powers in the clause are quite broad. An authorised person can enter the premises of anyone appearing to be a regulated person. That is a much broader test than merely suspecting that someone might be regulated, and certainly than having reason to believe that he is. What remedy would there be for someone whose premises were entered wrongfully? That is important, because anyone who obstructs an authorised person is guilty of an offence under subsection (5) and could be subject to imprisonment.

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

Clause 20 describes the authority's duty to prepare and publish a document containing its guidance on the use of the powers, which will reflect my comments about the word ``reasonable''.

I think that I am right in saying that the first point of redress for people who believe that the power has been abused is the law of the land and the courts. More profoundly, as we said earlier in relation to the way in which the SIA will operate, the authority will take account of experience in considering and revising its guidance and updating its practices. It will have to take into account the matter to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention when considering its future practices and how to get them right.

I hope that that clarifies those points. With that, I hope that we can agree that clause 19 should stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.