Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does not the Minister accept that Northern Ireland is a specific case, where it might not be advisable to publish even the names, because punishment beatings are continuing just as much as they did even before the Belfast agreement?

Mr. Clarke: I accept that Northern Ireland may be a specific case where that issue might be directly relevant,

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1058

and we are certainly prepared to consider it in that context. Precisely that issue was considered in detail when we discussed the addresses of the directors of animal research companies during recent debates on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill.

The hon. Member for Taunton referred to the exemption from licensing for accountancy firms. She expressed concern about whether that exemption would lead to an uneven playing field. The Government accepted arguments in the other place that members of accountancy bodies, such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants, may be exempted from licensing. The relevant accountancy bodies are listed in clause 25. The Government did not, however, accept the arguments that employees of those accountancy companies should be exempt. The companies might be exempt, but not their employees, because we fully accept that that would lead to an uneven playing field, about which she expressed concern, where large accountancy firms have diversified into designated activities under the Bill. That provides the reassurance that she seeks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South referred to child protection and amusement arcades, and he gave other reasonable examples. Under the Bill, anyone providing security services who is licensable will be given a Criminal Records Bureau check. Therefore, those who act as security guards in areas open to children will be checked. Outwith the Bill, any member of staff with access to children is eligible for CRB checks as set out under the various processes that have been discussed.

On wheelclamping, in-house employees or people providing the service will need to be licensed, but not volunteers. If the dentist to whom reference was made were to engage in do-it-yourself wheelclamping, he would need to qualify for a licence.

I shall not embark on the police numbers debate. We have been right around the houses about that in the debate, but we have just announced the largest increase in police numbers for 12 years, and they are increasing across the country.

A serious point was made, first, by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, and then by other hon. Members. He asked whether we intended to replace police with private security guards. We had an exchange on that, but I want to take this opportunity to say as clearly as I can that that is not the Government's policy. The Government's policy is, first, to increase police numbers in the way that we have set out, so that we shall have a record number of police in the history of this country by March 2003.

Secondly, our policy is to ensure that the office of constable, which police officers hold, is respected and operated throughout. Thirdly, it is to develop not competition but partnerships between the police and the private security industry so that they work together in all the ways that we have described. Absolutely no part of our policy involves replacing the police with private security companies, but we can argue about how such partnerships can be implemented.

Finally, in a spirit of inquiry, I asked the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield why he thought that previous Conservative Governments had not regulated the industry during their 18 years in power. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire put his finger on it when he said there was an issue about the merits of regulation versus

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1059

the merits of deregulation. He implied that, on balance, previous Conservative Governments had decided that they would not introduce a regulatory burden of any kind.

The hon. Member for Buckingham said very honestly at the end of his speech that that burden was right at the top of his concerns and doubts. I tell the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield in particular that if the Conservatives were to form a Government after the general election, there is absolutely no guarantee that they would put such legislation into effect. That did not happen for 18 years, and it would not happen now. That is why the Bill deserves its Second Reading, and I hope that the House will agree to it tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1060

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords] (Programme)

9.59 pm

Mr. Charles Clarke: I beg to move,

The motion proposes that the Committee stage should conclude by 1 May at the latest, with four days of double sittings. That seems to be an ample amount of time-- eight sittings in all--to debate a medium-sized and uncontentious Bill such as this. Of course, the Programming Sub-Committee may decide that it is necessary for the Committee to sit more frequently than usual. Therefore, I give the assurance that I have given on previous occasions: if there is a need for more time, we are prepared to consider it through the process of the Programming Sub-Committee.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford): The Minister is a thoughtful and sensible Member of the House, but does he not think that it is a little pretentious of him to speak on behalf of the Government in presenting a Bill to the House and then presume to decide for himself how long the House of Commons may choose to take to consider his proposed legislation?

Mr. Clarke: The short answer is no, I do not think that. The procedure whereby the Government table a programme motion for debate is the right process. I know that the Programming Sub-Committee procedures are controversial and I know that there are arguments about them--I am sure that we shall have the familiar debate again--but all Members can participate in the process.

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1061

I have been through the process on several occasions this Session and I emphasise that the order of business to be debated by the Committee is, in the Government's view, in the gift of the Opposition. If the Opposition want to order the debates in a certain way because they think that certain subjects deserve priority, we are open to their suggestions, and our inclination will be to agree to their propositions.

On the amount of time for the Bill's consideration, we are prepared to extend the time available when that becomes necessary. However, as we have seen from the arguments on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill--I will not repeat them now--we are not sympathetic to those who wish to delay discussion rather than debate the substantive issues.

Mr. Luff: The Minister said that the programme motion allows for four days of double sittings. By my reckoning, he must mean the sittings on 10 April, 24 April, 26 April and 1 May. Are those dates correct?

Mr. Clarke: I think that those are the dates that we are thinking of, but I shall double check before I confirm that.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Is the Minister absolutely confident that we will be sitting on those dates and does he genuinely believe that the Committee will complete its consideration on 1 May? Will he give the House a straight answer?

Mr. Clarke: Earlier, I had an entertaining exchange with the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) about this very matter. He thought that he had set a bait that I had eaten. However, I am not responsible for determining the date of the general election; I am not privy to the Prime Minister's thoughts on that. I read the newspapers and, like the whole House, I am aware that there is massive speculation about the possibility of a general election on 3 May. Massive issues surround the date--the Conservatives are afraid of it and we are keen on it--and many arguments are being made. The Prime Minister will decide, as has been the case throughout our history. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) is a great constitutional expert and he knows that that is the case. I cannot prejudge what will happen, but I am confident that the House will give the Bill the full consideration that it deserves.

The Bill has already received full scrutiny in the other place, as the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) generously acknowledged on Second Reading. The Government made 23 amendments to the Bill in 13 hours of full debate. He will correct me if I am being unfair, but I think that all the parties in the other place thought that the Bill had been scrutinised well and that the arguments had been fully heard. The Bill was improved by its passage through the other place. That is an important point.

The disagreement over the Bill's provisions generally relate to matters of comparative detail, and that became clear in the Second Reading debate. I do not suggest that they are unimportant points of detail, because it is appropriate to consider them. However, they are matters of comparative detail.

Next Section

IndexHome Page