Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 20th January 2005.
Amendment made: No. 48, in clause 147, page 112, line 41, at end insert—
'( ) In Schedule 2 to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002 (asp 11) (persons liable to investigation) after paragraph 90 add—
''91 The Security Industry Authority.'''.—[Ms Blears.]
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
The clause is small, but it is significant for my constituency, as it extends the Private Security Industry Act 2001, which currently applies only to England and Wales, to Scotland. It shows the maturity of the devolution set-up that the Bill can be used as a vehicle to extend those important provisions to Scotland, but it puts the onus on those of us who represent Scottish constituencies to ask a few questions of the Minister and probe her on exactly what it will mean.
I understand that the Scottish Executive has been consulting on the possibility of having similar provisions in Scotland to those in the 2001 Act but that it has not yet had time to legislate. It is a testimony to the relationship between the Executive and the Government that an agreement has been reached that allows the Bill to be used as a means of achieving that.
We have been doing that since 1707; it is nothing novel for us.
The hon. Gentleman might have noticed that, since 1707, the Scottish Parliament has been re-established, and we do not generally have bolt-on legislation that applies only in Scotland. He may have been dozing when we passed the Scotland Act.
The concerns about the behaviour of bouncers, private security firms, wheel clampers and so on that gave rise to the 2001 Act in England and Wales obviously do not stop at the border. Those concerns are as valid in my constituency as they are in every part of the kingdom. I know of a constituent whose son—an off-duty police officer—was seriously assaulted by a bouncer in a club. Perhaps he should have known better, but, under severe provocation, he fought back, and lost his job as a result. I suspect every hon. Member will know of an instance of behaviour by bouncers or private security firms that goes well beyond the law as it would apply to any ordinary citizen regarding affray, breach of the peace or assault.
Too many bouncers and private security firms operate as pseudo-gangster operations. Presumably that is why the 2001 Act was brought in. In some of the major cities in Scotland, in Glasgow and particularly in Edinburgh, there is a great deal of concern about the operation of such firms, so the provisions are timely. I do not wish to detain the Committee unduly, because the Private Security Act will have received a great deal of scrutiny, and I am sure it is an appropriate legislative vehicle if it is applying in England and Wales. However, given that the Act has been in operation for three years now, will the Minister tell us her assessment of its impact? How many prosecutions there have been? How many licences have been revoked? Does she believe that there has been a marked improvement in the behaviour of private security firms and bouncers as a result of the legislation being in place? Since the authorities in Scotland will be implementing that legislation upon Royal Assent to the Bill, what lessons have been learnt from its implementation in England and Wales?
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) raises some important matters. There has been excellent co-operation between us and the Scottish Executive. I understand regulation of the private security sector is supported not just by the public in Scotland but also by many people in the decent parts of the industry who desperately want to raise standards and get rid of the criminal element that is sometimes present in the security sector.
Our provisions provide for consultation between us and Scottish Ministers to ensure that, when we make decisions, they take into account the situation in Scotland. Although the Security Industry Authority has been established for a couple of years now, it started issuing licences only last June, so it is fairly early days. It expects to license about 40,000 door supervisors, and we have been rolling that out on a regional basis across the country. I have no doubt that the experience of the SIA as it has carried out the licensing process will inform its operation in Scotland and it will have learned lessons.
The SIA is not simply about the administrative process of licensing. It is also designed to raise standards in the industry and ensure that it becomes a respectable part of the security field. That is a difficult task. It is about major cultural and transformational change in the industry, but the decent firms want to do that. It is important that we drive out the poor firms.
There is one interesting difference regarding the provisions in Scotland: apparently vehicle immobilisers, or wheel clampers, will not be licensed in Scotland because that is already illegal—it is classed as ''extortion'' north of the border.
We have tried to ensure that all the appeal provisions are correct in relation to the Scottish legal system, so the appeal in the first instance is to the sheriff. I hope my hon. Friend is reassured that the SIA will take its duties in relation to Scotland very seriously. Over the next few years, I hope to see a transformation of the private security industry, with decent terms and conditions for the employees within it and real integrity and probity in the firms that undertake security work, not just in England, but in Scotland.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 147, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.