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Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Does he agree that we require from the Government some practical reassurances in the Bill on the subject of the composition of the authority, in order to dispel any notion that either the present, or a subsequent, Home Secretary might try to use the power of appointment to the authority as an opportunity to offer somebody a bauble for loyal service in a wholly unrelated field?
Mr. Luff: As always, my hon. Friend makes an important point. The House is ill advised to give Ministers flexibility unless it is genuinely needed. Whatever Ministers' reasons for trying to distort the purposes for which they were given discretion in the first place, it is helpful if as much detail as possible is included in a Bill. At present, that is an unfashionable view; to be fair,
Group 4's suggestion meets the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend and me. It is that the authority should include two members from the industry's employers; two members from employees in the industry; one member from the police and criminal justice system; one member who represents local authorities; one representing insurance providers--an important group; and one member representing customer groups. The industry has some big customers who could easily supply an individual to fill that role. Finally, there should be a member to represent the public. That is a more difficult challenge--I always worry about the appointment of surrogates for the general public.
Mr. Charles Clarke: I understand the intelligent approach suggested by Group 4 and other companies in the field. However, how would the hon. Gentleman deal with the point that I made about the need to ensure that the authority is an independent organisation and not simply an agglomeration of special interests--however significant?
Mr. Luff: That is a philosophical debate. How can we guarantee independence if a Minister is given complete discretion to make appointments? With all due respect to the Minister, for whom I sincerely have a high personal regard, I do not trust him to behave independently in making appointments to a public body. I do not trust any Minister to do that. If Ministers have a framework in which to operate, the prospects of independence are enhanced. There is a debate to be had on that subject. The Minister smiles benignly; I am not sure whether that is from the knowledge that he has won the argument or because he suspects that there may be something in my argument. He nods to indicate the former. However, he needs to reflect on the matter.
The Minister should reflect especially on Group 4's point that there should be more than one representative from the industry. The industry is diverse, with companies of different sizes and scales of operation. At the very least, the authority should include a big fish and a small fish. It would be good if the Minister were to say that during this debate or in the Standing Committee.
I emphasise Group 4's excellent point about the desirability of including employees on the authority. The voice of employees needs to be heard loud and clear; they have often been the victims of badly run security companies.
The authority's powers are also of some concern. The Bill allows for the authority to establish minimum standards. Group 4's view is that minimum standards of training are needed and that they should be specified in the Bill. I made a similar point earlier, so I shall not labour it. Are Ministers really content that so much discretion should be allowed to them and to the authority in the formulation of proposals?
I hope that Ministers will consider including provisions on in-house staff. The criminal justice White Paper provides for the extension of private sector work in policing; that is a powerful reason for arguing that case. The growing role of the private security industry in many aspects of the lives of local communities means that the industry must keep a watchful eye on the Human Rights Act 1998. We must be certain that the Government are right to exclude provisions on in-house providers.
The burden of the cost of licensing must not fall on employees. I still have reservations about the minimum wage, despite everything that has happened. Recent increases in the rate will pose severe challenges for some businesses--not necessarily because they pay at that rate, but because of differentials. However, in the private security industry, the absence of a minimum wage often led to shabby treatment of employees. There is no doubt that scandalously low rates were paid, so in that particular industry, the minimum wage brought great benefits. The company should meet the cost of the licence and I hope that the Government will keep that firmly in mind.
There is some urgency on these issues, because the Government seem to be planning to make much greater use of the private security industry. Indeed, we seem to be going through privatisation by stealth. I suppose that I should welcome that, but I am somewhat surprised