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Jackie Ballard: Before responding directly to the Minister's request at the end of his speech, I should like to deal with the comment made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) to the effect that a proposal that is being attacked from both sides, as going too far or not far enough, must be just about right. I assume that he will not be invoking that maxim in the forthcoming debates in the general election campaign.

Mr. Hawkins: I was restricting my comments to this particular provision and the hon. Lady should not draw any parallels from them.

Jackie Ballard: I am relieved to hear that.

Mr. Bercow: One is not supporting fence sitting, is one?

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Jackie Ballard: I would never expect the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) to support fence sitting. He is probably the least fence-sitting Member of this place.

The Minister said that, earlier today, he met members of the private investigation sector who still have concerns. He was right to say that the key issue is concern not about cost compliance, but about the promotional aspects of the different applicable regimes. He has clearly heard the arguments. He also accepts that a finely balanced decision was required to get it right and that compromise is sometimes, but not always, the right way forward.

The Minister has given the House an assurance about the scrutiny of the operation of exemptions, and on the basis of that assurance I am sure that the private investigation sector will feel happier about that. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

7.30 pm

Mr. Charles Clarke: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

It gives me a good deal of pride to move the Third Reading of this important Bill, which has been awaited for 25 years. It establishes a new authoritative and independent body, the Security Industry Authority, and it gives the SIA the tools to do an important job: to drive out criminals and cowboys through a system of personal licensing; to recognise good companies by encouraging them to become approved contractors; and to improve standards throughout the industry. The Bill has been subject to comprehensive and constructive debate throughout its parliamentary passage, and, indeed, beforehand.

I acknowledge that the Bill is not perfect. Like any Bill, it is based on judgments that not everyone shares. I acknowledge that some would argue that the Bill is, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) said at beginning of our debate, half a loaf rather than the whole loaf that they would have preferred. I hope, however, that my right hon. Friend and others accept that in offering what I think is more than a half loaf--but let us not quibble about fractions--we are laying a path for the regulation of the industry that will achieve the important functions set out in the Bill.

We have listened to arguments on a number of topics. We do not agree with all of them, but we acknowledge them and the effectiveness and constructiveness with which they have been moved. We believe that the Bill is a flexible measure. It contains the ability to address every one of the points that have been the source of criticism during its passage. For example, it can address the criticism that it does not regulate enough sectors as new sectors can be brought into regulation by secondary legislation. The criticism that we are not making the approved contractor scheme compulsory can be addressed by regulation if necessary.

We have accepted some sensible proposals--if this is not an oxymoron--from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. In particular, the Bill has improved provisions relating to appeal procedures from SIA decisions, appeals to magistrates courts and the use of powers of entry and inspection.

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I want to pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South, whose contributions in Committee were both knowledgeable and passionate. As he knows, and no doubt will comment on in his speech, we did not agree with everything that he had to say, but I am sure that he will continue to influence the development of the SIA, and that the spirit that he set of an independent authority that regulates the industry in a way that not only improves its standards but drives out criminality will be the central watchword as it develops.

I should also like to thank Opposition spokespersons and right hon. and hon. Members from all parties who served on the Standing Committee. We considered the Bill in a constructive and positive manner. I should also like to thank my officials who have given me such effective advice throughout the passage of the Bill. With that, I commend the Bill to the House.

7.33 pm

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister has been very brief in his summary of the Bill, which, as he rightly says, has been the subject of constructive debate on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report. I agree with the tributes that he paid to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). Everyone who has been involved in the Bill and has heard the detailed speeches that the right hon. Gentleman made on Second Reading, in many of the debates in Committee and once again today on Report pays tribute to his expertise and longevity in dealing with this issue. I think that he said that he has introduced no fewer than seven private Member's Bills on the subject during some 25 years in the House. No doubt the discussions between the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister about whether the Bill is half a loaf, which is better than no bread at all, rather than the full loaf that the right hon. Gentleman was asking for will continue when the right hon. Gentleman contributes to this debate.

I was fascinated by the Minister's description of his fellow Norwich City supporter, Delia Smith, when discussing culinary matters. We all have our favourite football teams and we all have our favourite dishes, but one thing that might unite us all is a great respect for Delia Smith and her skills as a practitioner of the culinary arts. Speaking as someone who cooked one of Delia Smith's recipes as recently as last night, I have particular reason to be grateful for her skilful direction. However, I cannot share her fascination or that of the Minister with that particular football club.

I agree with the Minister that the Bill is not perfect. Opposition Members would say that the Bill is undercooked rather than properly cooked--

Mr. Bercow: Half-baked.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend says that it is half-baked, but that is a little unfair.

There have been constructive debates throughout the passage of the Bill. On Third Reading it is important to recognise that if the new Security Industry Authority works properly it will deal with the serious abuses of the so-called cowboy wheelclampers. I hope that it will also deal with the massive problem that I have highlighted in many debates in the House: the involvement of bouncers on the doors of pubs and clubs in the appalling illicit drug trade. We have all heard of cases where night club

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bouncers have supplied the most dangerous drugs to young people, with tragic consequences. One remembers the appalling case of Leah Betts with particular poignancy when one considers the number of young people who have died as a result of being supplied with drugs by night club bouncers. I see that the Minister agrees. We all recognise that serious issues are involved.

We have had our reservations about whether the authority will be over-bureaucratic and whether it will work properly in practice. We had particular concerns that were addressed earlier this afternoon, including our fear that the Bill will not operate properly in relation to the IT security industry. Those doubts and concerns remain, but today we are prepared to give the Bill and the potential new authority the benefit of the doubt, although will want to keep it under scrutiny.

I have no doubt that the points that have been made by, among others, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and me about the need for continuing parliamentary scrutiny of the authority's work and for more issues to be dealt with by way of an affirmative resolution will continue to be live issues.

I do not want to detain the House unduly. At this stage we are prepared to give the new authority a fair wind, with the proviso that we will keep the matter carefully under review. We hope that it will work in the way that the Minister and those who advise him believe it will. We have our fears and concerns, but let us see how it works in practice. I will listen with great interest to the other contributions to the debate.

7.38 pm

Mr. Bruce George: This speech will be short, for no other reason than I am due at a dinner at the American embassy to meet the "wise men" who have been sent over to persuade the British Government about national missile defence. I remain to be convinced, but I may just about make it in time for pudding.

Despite being Welsh, I am not a particularly emotional person, but I am very happy because, at long last, the private security industry is about to be regulated. Those in the industry will be the winners. They have not always realised that regulation would make them winners, but it will because it will give them something that they have been denied by their own indifference and hostility to regulation over the years. The Bill will give the industry a reputation that it can be proud of. Its previous bad reputation was deserved, because many of its members did not meet the standards set in countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, which have eagerly embraced regulation.

International companies operating in a regulated environment elsewhere encountered no problems, and I feel rather sorry about their experience in this country, where the prevailing standards are depressing. Here, an absence of training is the norm, and the public's attitude to the security industry is a combination of mirth, hostility and indifference.

That will change, and not only as a result of this long-overdue legislation. The market has changed, technology has moved forward and crime levels have risen. The police realise that they must work with technology produced in the private sector and with an

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industry to which they can relate. In the past, the police were the professionals and the private security industry, in some sectors, was anti-professional.

This is a good day, and, as no further amendments have been tabled, the House of Lords can do nothing to injure the Bill. I do not believe that that would be what the other place would want, but we are at the beginning of a process of metamorphosis.

The process of transformation of the police in this country began in 1829 and it took 40 years before the new police force was in existence throughout the kingdom. I am sure that 2001 will be seen in a comparable light, and considered to be the date which the private security industry began the real process of reform. That process will not be completed overnight. It will not be complete even when the regulatory authority puts in place the new standards envisaged in the subordinate legislation. It will take some time, but the process is seriously beginning.

There has been much use of bread metaphors this afternoon. Having seen the consultative paper and the Bill, I believe that sliced bread is the appropriate term, as some of the contents of the consultative document have been sliced away. The loaf has thereby been diminished, but I hope that it will expand.

I began campaigning on this matter in 1975. My wife compelled me to clear out the garage, which had been unable to accommodate a motor vehicle since 1972. I knew that there was a big sack containing my material on the private security industry. The state of the Labour party in the 1980s, under the previous Government, made me think that it would be some time before regulation on the private security industry was introduced, so the sack was near the back of the garage.

When I opened it, it was like opening a time capsule. There I was--slim, fit and single, with much more hair than I have now. The paper was pink with age and some of it disintegrated in my hands. I looked at the debates from those early years. Had I realised that it would take a quarter of century to introduce measures establishing a regulated, accountable, efficient private security industry--measures that I considered to be inevitable and necessary--I probably would have thrown in the towel a long time ago.

Many private Members' Bills to regulate the industry, in whole or in part, have been introduced over the years. The list of sponsors contains the names of people who are either dead or long forgotten--Gardiner, Walden, Huckfield, Fowler, Fiddler, B. George, Lord Willis, Dixon, D., B. George, J. Wheeler, B. George, Michael Stern, B. George., and my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey).

Many people have been supportive all along, including Group 4 and many medium-sized and small companies in the sector. The International Professional Security Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Institute of Security Management, the regulatory bodies representing the private security industry and the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union have also been positive. Long-standing friends include Peter Heims, Peter Jones and John Smith of the Prudential. They made me realise that some people in the private security industry shared my views.

Many others, however, continued to fight a guerrilla war. Until 1997, they included officials and Ministers at the Home Office, large private security companies whose

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names I will not mention, and the associations representing them. In recent years, an incredible homogeneity has been evident. Opponents realised that the game was up and that it was in their interests as well as the public's to bring what is an enormous industry into the orbit of a regulatory system.

My hon. Friend the Minister said that the Bill is not the final version of the legislation. That may never be achieved. Instead, the Bill is the start of a rolling programme of improvement. We know what the deficiencies are--the lack of regulation of companies, the absence of regulations covering in-house security, and so on--and we have spoken about them often. However, I share the hope of many hon. Members that, in the course of the next couple of years, more sectors will be added to the regime.

The iron law of bureaucracy should not be imposed, but many bodies want to be regulated. They include the Master Locksmiths Association, the body representing the better end of the alarm system sector, and companies operating security shredding or storage services.

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