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9.44 pm

Mr. Charles Clarke: Until after the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the debate was first class. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) opened excellently for the Opposition; he set out their position clearly and made a number of points to which I tried to respond. I shall deal with those to which I could not give an adequate response; for example, I shall try to give a constructive reply to his point on the computer industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) made an exceptionally informed speech, based on his experience as a GMB organiser. He knows about the industry and knows what is involved; he enlightened the debate. The hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) put the position of her party clearly and articulately; her contribution added to the debate. She made raised a couple of important points to which I shall respond in a moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) made an excellent speech on a slightly more profound aspect of the Bill--the attempt to change the culture in parts of the country such as his constituency--and noted that a properly regulated industry could lead to a better state of affairs in society. He made an extremely interesting and provocative speech.

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I agree with the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) made an outstanding speech, from his own experience and his campaigns on such matters. I shall address some of his points shortly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) went through the arguments on wheelclamping with tremendous clarity and passion. I hope that the passage of the Bill will be a commendation for and vindication of the personal campaign that she has mounted, along with motoring organisations and others.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) for having had to miss part of his speech. He put an excellent and constructive set of arguments based on his experience in industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) came dangerously close to creeping socialism as he put his argument for greater municipalisation; his remarks were powerful and important. My hon. Friends the Members for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) and for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) spoke extremely appropriately and from some personal experience of the importance of the position of the individual and of what might be done in that regard. They made excellent contributions.

The speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South was an outstanding tour d'horizon. He went through the whole issue. The first of my specific responses will deal with the points that he raised. His outstanding personal experience shone through his contribution and his conduct of the debate.

At the end of the debate, the hon. Member for Buckingham made an excellent statement of his party's position. He participated fully in the debate.

A couple of contributions were made towards the end of the debate by hon. Members who were dragged in to lose time, having missed the first four or five hours of our proceedings. I shall give no time to them.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South referred to the Swedish example--interestingly, as a Swedish manager has just ensured our important 3-1 win in Tirana. I tried to work closely with my right hon. Friend before and during preparations for the Bill, precisely because of his tremendous experience in the field. My opening speech addressed some of the points that he made, although I appreciate that he was unable to hear it because he was chairing the Select Committee on Defence.

I shall go quickly through the points made by my right hon. Friend. He referred to the nature of the Security Industry Authority. As I said earlier, we attach tremendous importance to the independence of the SIA. It must be genuinely independent and strong. That is why--to respond to a point raised by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath--we are not in favour, at present, of specifying exactly the range of interest groups that should be included on the body.

We want a genuinely independent, strong regulatory body--not one that is the lapdog of either the Home Secretary of the day or the industry--that will develop and use the powers set out in the Bill and thereby give my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South the assurance that he seeks: that the SIA will not be a quiet

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body that makes only a small shift from the status quo, but a serious organisation that will drive forward reform of the industry in the various sectors to which he referred. For that reason, its independence is important.

As my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members rightly said, it is also important that the SIA has a strong relationship and links with the industry: it must not be distant. I hope that I have given my right hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks.

On in-house provisions, which were also referred to by other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North, I emphasise my earlier point that our minds are not closed to the arguments in favour of regulating in-house staff; we shall bear them closely in mind. The authority has been given a general duty to keep operation of the industry under full review. We shall hold a formal review of all the arrangements after the authority has been in force for three years. The Bill is flexible, and the Government can add or delete sectors of the industry by regulation. We will pay very close attention to any recommendation from the authority that in-house manned guards should be brought within the scope of regulation. I acknowledge that that argument is being advanced not only by my right hon. Friend but by several organisations in the industry. It is likely, therefore, that that argument could have a good hearing at that point. I believe that the Bill allows for that.

On the "voluntary versus compulsory" point that my right hon. Friend and a number of other hon. Members have made, the Bill contains explicit provisions to convert the voluntary scheme into a compulsory one if the authority and the Government are convinced that that is the right thing to do. Once again, we will listen carefully to what the SIA tells us about the operation of the voluntary schemes and the extent to which they have or have not failed to deal with the issues that my right hon. Friend raised in his intervention. The Government are entirely open to that approach.

There was no conspiracy among the security industry on the "voluntary versus compulsory" point. The better regulation taskforce scrutinised the Bill very closely to check for burdens on industry--a serious issue that we took seriously. There was no plot within part of the security industry; we were concerned with the ideological position, if I may put it like that--the role of regulation in modern society and where it goes.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield raised the issue of width and alarm installers. We are very much open to arguments in that regard. As my right hon. Friend said, 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.

Our aim is to get the authority up and running with the duties set out in the Bill as drafted, and then listen to the voice of experience. That applies very much to alarm installation. The key reason why alarm installers are not covered by the Bill is that when we went into detail about the criminality that could be demonstrated in relation to that industry, as opposed to the criminality that can patently be demonstrated in relation to, for example, the manned guarding industry, the evidence of such criminality from the police and others was significantly less, which was a significant factor. Of course, the evidence may change as new forms of criminality become

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evident, and such evidence would be decisive in getting both the authority and the Secretary of State of the day to address the issue very directly.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South and several of my hon. Friends spoke about the important matter of training; my right hon. Friend did so with particular force. I want to reinforce the provisions of the Bill. Under clause 1(2), it is a function of the authority


those involved in the industry, and


Those are very real statutory functions.

I agree, and have said so publicly many times, that getting the training right--I am not subscribing to a list of particular functions--is a key element in raising the standard of the service. I can confirm that I have talked to many of the private sector industries that we are debating, and the associations, the trade unions and the current educational bodies, all of which are committed to raising training standards. The Government are absolutely committed to raising training standards. We believe that the power that I have set out for the SIA provides the way to address that, and to do so explicitly.

In some of the remarks that I am making, I am repeating what I said in my opening speech. I am now trying to say as strongly as I can that if we have the option of an SIA that is relatively flimsy and does not bring us very far from where we are now, or an SIA that independently and authoritatively goes about the job of driving up standards in the industry, it is the latter that we shall go for.

Many other points were made in interventions. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North mentioned shadowy directors who may not need to be licensed under the Bill but who use employees for criminal purposes. The directors will need licences. If "Mr. Bigs" remain in the shadows, pulling the strings for criminal purposes, that is beyond the SIA's remit; it is a matter for the police. As discussed extensively in the other place, the Department of Trade and Industry has very extensive powers under the Companies Acts to close down companies that act inappropriately. The power to deal with the criminality of the Mr. Bigs that we are discussing lies with the police and company regulation.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire made a point about home addresses being made available on a public register, and it was reaffirmed by the hon. Member for Buckingham. The Bill will require the publication of addresses, but not necessarily home addresses. The publication of business addresses will be useful in regulating the industries. Some home addresses may be published if security operatives choose to operate their businesses from home, but in general the address given will be a matter for the individual concerned.


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