Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks, which are helpful to those involved in the information security sector of the IT industry, but is not he conscious of the fact that the broad wording of paragraph 5 of schedule 2 may accidentally catch some of those people, even if he does not intend that it should? Will he undertake further to consider that wording and whether it might be improved?

Mr. Clarke: I am certainly prepared to look at the wording, but this is a historic Bill for which, as I have said, my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South has pressed for many years, and I am keen for its wording to take account of significant changes in the way in which security is offered. Over the past 20 years, for instance,

28 Mar 2001 : Column 975

there have been considerable changes in the style of security, the approach to security and the technology that is used. That is why we have adopted a flexible stance in the Bill, requiring the Security Industry Authority to review the position and committing ourselves to consulting the industries concerned. I acknowledge that the wording of the Bill should relate to what we know now, in 2001, but in a broadly drafted context. That is our rationale, and that is why I have been able to give the commitments that I have given.

All individual employees, supervisors, managers or directors in the sectors that I have described will be required to have licences. Let me return to the point made by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield. We are aware of the arguments in favour of taking other sectors into this regulatory framework, and particularly aware of the arguments relating to installers of alarm and security equipment. As with in-house manned guards, we were initially attracted to the idea of including them in regulation, but we were persuaded against that by the argument about the regulatory burden and, to a significant extent, by the lack of any substantial evidence of criminality. In the case of some sectors mentioned in the Bill, we have such evidence.

We are not closed to arguments, but the Bill already gives the SIA a major task, and we do not want further to front-load its waiting list of people to license. We prefer to get the authority up and running with the duties given to it by the Bill in its present form, and then to listen to the voice of experience as it emerges. We will, of course, pay close attention to any recommendations from the authority.

It will be an offence for anyone to engage in licensable conduct, as defined in the Bill, without a proper licence. It will also be an offence to employ an unlicensed person providing security services. As a result of a Government amendment in another place, the Bill also makes it an offence for an occupier of premises to permit unlicensed clamping of vehicles on those premises where such activities require a licence.

A licence will be required for each designated security service provided. For example, if someone legitimately works as both a manned guard and a wheelclamper, he or she will need to be licensed for both activities. Exemptions from the need for a licence will be allowed when an individual is already subject to a type of vetting that affords protection for the public that is at least equivalent to that achieved by the criteria imposed by the authority.

The authority will determine the criteria on which it will issue licences. The criteria will be published so that applicants and the public will know what the requirements are. There will be two types of criterion. First, the authority will check an individual's criminal record with the newly established Criminal Records Bureau. In the case of applicants in all but one of the regulated sectors, the authority will obtain a criminal record certificate showing both spent and unspent convictions. Because of particular concerns, door supervisors alone will be the subject of an enhanced criminal record certificate, showing spent and unspent convictions together with convictions for minor offences, and local police intelligence.

28 Mar 2001 : Column 976

The Government believe that those exemptions from the provisions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 are fully justified if private security operatives are to be licensed properly. That belief was shared by those who commented during our consultation period.

It will be for the authority to determine what weight to give any criminal convictions revealed by the checks. It is unreasonable to say that any criminal conviction whatever should automatically prevent the granting of a licence--the authority will consider each application on its merits--but it is likely that certain serious offences relating to violence or drugs will bar an applicant from gaining a licence.

The second type of criterion that the authority will take into account relates to skills and training. The authority will have an important role in setting and raising standards in the industry generally. I should say at this point that both the British Security Industry Association and the main trade union in the sector, the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union, have been active in promoting the case for proper training and development of staff, and the Government associate themselves strongly with those efforts.

The Government will wish the authority to consider carefully how to ratchet up minimum quality thresholds. Any proposals will need to be discussed carefully with the industry.

A number of current training and quality standards are relevant to the private security industry. Some of them are accepted as pretty good, but some are not so good. The SIA will need carefully to examine the range of quality of those standards before deciding on the standards that it wants to see in place. Although the authority will not want to reinvent the wheel, it may also not want to buy one off the shelf.

As the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said, in considering the type of quality standards that it wants to use, the authority will of course have to pay attention to standards in other European countries. I am clear that the authority should be thinking in terms of standards that are challenging for the industry. However, as with all training, it will also have to bear in mind what is practicable and achievable.

The authority will be able to attach conditions to a licence, and it will be an offence to contravene them. The authority will also be able to refuse, modify, suspend or revoke a licence, and the criteria for doing so will be published. There will also be a standardised system of licence applications and procedures, and a standard licence format to help with public recognition and enable the licence holder to work anywhere in the country.

Mr. Bercow: I am, as always, listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman's speech. He will be aware that the Government are furnishing themselves with the power to make regulations on exemptions from the licensing requirement and, for example, on arrangements for the grant of approvals. Detailed policy will be contained in those regulations. He will also know, from previous skirmishes, my interest in that subject. Can he assure me that those regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure, so that the House has a proper opportunity to debate them? If the answer is no and he proposes to opt instead for the negative procedure, will he at least

28 Mar 2001 : Column 977

undertake, in the name of getting it right, to provide a draft of those regulations before the Bill is further considered?

Mr. Clarke: We have discussed those two points at great and entertaining length. The fact is that Oppositions always ask for affirmative orders, whereas Governments are always inclined not to agree them. Occasionally, however, we have agreed them. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath may have been in a Committee that considered other legislation which has been passed when I accepted from Conservative Members an amendment for the affirmative procedure. Therefore, although our mind is not closed to proposals, we shall make practical decisions in each case.

I am not sure that I can give the assurance that the hon. Member for Buckingham seeks that we shall be able to publish detailed draft regulations during the Bill's passage. I can, however, assure him that we shall do that as soon as we are able to do so.

I also have an answer to the question on small companies that the hon. Member for Buckingham asked earlier. It is apparently the case that of 2,000 manned guarding companies in the United Kingdom, 1,600--four fifths, or 80 per cent.--had 50 or fewer employees.

The authority will be able to charge a fee for licence applications. The fee should be the minimum necessary to allow the authority to be self-financing. I make it absolutely clear that it is not our intention to erect artificial financial barriers to employment in the industry. The exact fee will be determined by several factors, but we expect it to be about £35 to £40 for a licence that usually will last for three years. That is not a commitment to a specific figure, but an indication of the scale of charges that we envisage. We do not believe that that sum is extortionate. A fee of £40 for a three-year licence is equivalent to 25p a week. We do not believe that that should be a barrier to employment in the industry.

We would hope that employers will want to reimburse employees for the cost of a licence. However, we do not believe that it is appropriate to shift the onus for payment from the individual to the employer, as the Bill correctly places responsibility for licensing at the level of the individual security operative. We believe that the fee must follow that responsibility. However, the indications that I have had are that, in many industries, employers will reimburse employees for the cost. We hope that that will be general practice.

There will be an avenue of appeal to the magistrates courts against a decision by the authority to refuse, modify or revoke a licence or a decision to impose conditions on a licence. That avenue of appeal reflects concerns expressed in another place and is a welcome improvement.

Earlier, I mentioned delegation to local authorities. Although the Bill vests licensing powers centrally with the security industry authority, the Government are of course aware that many local authorities operate schemes to register door supervisors and wish to continue to have a role in licensing them.

It is important that setting the licence criteria will remain the responsibility of the SIA, as we do not want to move away from a national standard in terms of licensing criteria. The Bill therefore makes no provision for local authorities to apply criteria other than those set out by the

28 Mar 2001 : Column 978

authority. However, it envisages the possibility of local authorities undertaking the processes for the grant of licences to door supervisors--that is to say, receiving the applications, conducting the necessary checks, and deciding the eligibility for licences. As with decisions of the SIA, there are avenues of appeal to the magistrates courts against a local authority decision.

Given local authorities' familiarity with the local scene, allowing them to conduct the necessary checks will clearly have some potential advantages. However, I should emphasise that delegation will take place only with the consent of the local authorities. There is no intention of simply foisting these duties on them against their will. We shall hold detailed discussions with the local authorities about the practicalities of delegation well in advance.

Next Section

IndexHome Page