Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Hawkins: I know that this has been a subject of special interest for the right hon. Gentleman over many years, as he said on Second Reading. He mentioned that other countries' legislation covering this field is better. Which country's legislation is a paradigm of virtues in that regard?

The Chairman: Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman replies to that, I have been exceedingly generous in allowing comment that has made no reference whatsoever to the amendment that we are supposed to be debating. I have allowed such generosity to prevail because I felt that it was appropriate to set the scene, but I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with the intervention he will refer to the amendment.

Mr. George: I was merely clearing my throat, Mr. Winterton. Not only shall I tell the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, I shall send him the legislation. Briefly—although, as a Welshman, I find it difficult to be brief—having investigated Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, some of the provinces in Canada and Australia and one or two in the United States, South Africa and Russia, which will surprise hon. Members, I learned that there is not much point in having good regulation, which is fairly easy to introduce. What matters is having the means of enforcing it. That is far important to Russia, which has good legislation but not good enforcement.

Thank you, Mr. Winterton, for bringing me back on to the straight and narrow. The clause is the best clause in the Bill. It sets the stall out clearly. I have little difficulty with the rest of the clause, and when we reach clause stand part, my comments will be generally rather eulogistic. Even the amendment is not a fundamental criticism of the clause or the Bill, and would merely add to what is already in the clause. I propose to include in the clause an obligation on the part of the authority to carry out a fundamental review of the practice of the legislation and that a written report should be sent within three years to the Secretary of State, which will be laid before both Houses of Parliament for their consideration.

The reason for the amendment is that I believe that the Bill is rather strange. Despite the fact that we have been waiting a quarter of a century for it and that a consultative paper was issued, some signs suggest that matters proceeded rather swiftly in the Home Office. That might be one reason why so much is to be left to statutory instruments, thereby giving the Security Industry Authority the chance to analyse the Bill, consult industry, decide on statutory instruments and discuss the matter with the Home Secretary. In that respect, I have no difficulties.

However, the Bill will have an enormous impact on the operation of the private security industry. Other legislation will have an impact, too, such as the national minimum wage and legislation emanating from I shall not mention where, for fear of inflaming Opposition Members. If I mention human rights, perhaps they will have a clue what I am talking about. Developing technology and the increasing concentration and internationalisation of the industry will result in enormous changes. Many factors will have a profound effect on the evolution of the private security industry.

The structures that will be required as a result of the Bill will vary in their effectiveness. It is vital that the Bill is reviewed quickly and that recommendations are made for the improvement of the operation of the SIA and of the Bill to establish it, following a suitable period to enable the effectiveness of the structures set up to be evaluated. Sufficient time must be provided to consult outside organisations and the Home Office and to establish whether we and the Home Office have done our collective work effectively and have devised a decent Bill to meet the many problems that the private security industry has faced, is facing and will face. That should be done, so that, in three or four years—and, perhaps, in the lifetime of the next Parliament—sufficient changes can be made either to fine-tune or, in some cases, to substantially alter the Bill.

All Governments, Members of Parliament and Committees are somewhere along a steep learning curve. With no disrespect to the Minister or his able civil servants, I suspect that, over the years, they have not been able or instructed to develop a great interest in the private security industry. The philosophy of the previous Government, with which I disagreed, was to shunt things out to the private sector. That only stiffened the staff in the Home Office because, whenever there was a crisis, people were brought in from other Departments; the excellent inquiry and report by the Home Affairs Committee is an example of that.

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The Home Office will have time to beef up its staff and to realise that there is more to dealing with law and order than the engagement of the police force and more to tackling prevention and detection than the involvement of local authorities. The private security industry is two or even three times larger than the police, depending on how the industry is defined and the Home Office will have a chance to get up to speed. The SIA—half of which, I presume, will not be drawn from the private security industry—will be able to learn about the nature of that incredibly complicated industry. Representatives from the security industry will have ample opportunities to see how the legislation is working and talk to their mates in other companies. Right hon. and hon. Members have not so far displayed great enthusiasm for following the workings of the private security industry unless something big crops up, and there is a nice, easy story to be grasped. We, too, will be able to see what is happening, monitor and offer advice.

Mr. Hawkins: I understand entirely the right hon. Gentleman's suggestions and he makes a good point. However, I am puzzled by one aspect of his argument. If and when the Bill is enacted, a new authority will be set up, and he seems to be saying that he anticipates that there will also be more civil servants within the Home Office dealing with that matter. Clearly, that will have additional cost implications. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that, in addition to the setting up of a new quango, there will be more civil servants?

Mr. George: It would be easy for me to say that I do not anticipate a substantial increase, but the fact is that there will not be a substantial increase. It is right that civil servants in the Home Office who are currently engaged with another form of policing, or non-policing, will be invited to attend courses and bone up on an issue with which they have not been directly involved hitherto in order to provide the Secretary of State and the Minister of State with more information.

I am not criticising existing civil servants, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not suggesting that there will be a recruitment drive for 150 additional staff for the Home Office. I am merely suggesting that there should be a reorientation, because private security is coming out from the shadows and more into the mainstream of policing—in its broadest sense—security and crime prevention. Greater accountability will mean that more Members of Parliament will take an interest, more questions will be asked, there will be more conferences to attend and more liaison will take place with the industry. We will all have to adjust to a situation in which private security becomes more central to the operations of those who are interested in policing and crime prevention.

The clause provides the SIA with powers to review the operation of the Act and recommend modification. However, nothing in the Bill would ensure a public debate on the effectiveness of the Act, which would include those who are directly or indirectly involved in the industry. The chairman of the SIA might ensure that anyway; I am confident that he or she would do so, but the amendment would merely insert into the Bill an obligation to undertake the inquiry, which would show that we were watching what those concerned were doing and bring a greater degree of transparency to the operation.

Mr. Bercow: I am slightly apprehensive in the light of what the right hon. Gentleman said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath. The right hon. Gentleman has raised the spectre of a modest, perhaps necessary but apparently incessant trickle of increasing costs as the Act unfolds. Does he agree that in the review of the practice and operation of the Act for which his amendment calls, there should be proper consideration of the cost-effectiveness of the authority and of how that relates to the prognosis contained in the regulatory impact assessment?

Mr. George: I see no objection whatever, but I must caution the hon. Gentleman in the following terms. I anticipate that 350,000 people in the private security industry may eventually be dependent on reviews and Home Office requirements, and may be subject to some form of licence application. There are thousands of companies operating within the private security industry, as well as in-house operations, which I hope will eventually be incorporated into the legislation. The problem that the SIA will face is not a lack of money. I expect the authority to be awash with money; it will not know what to do with it. The more people who are brought within the regulatory framework, the easier it will be to cover the costs. The authority should not make a profit and the money should be handed back to the Home Office, or the fee structure should be changed. I honestly do not anticipate even remotely the kind of problem to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

As I said earlier, we are all obsessed with the police. If a policeman blows his nose without using his handkerchief, some little old lady will report him. No operation at any police station escapes being subject to persistent, continuous and often erroneous comments by hon. Members, especially as elections approach. There is ample opportunity to complain about the police, but I defy anyone to tell me where one would go to make a complaint against the private security industry.

The industry is enormous, raises vast amounts of revenue and is of great benefit to the economy in terms of export of equipment and personnel. It would be fatal to carry on the tradition of the previous Conservative Government and say, ``Let's wash our hand of this matter because it is not our problem.'' Let us consider all the police structures, all the committees and civil servants and people involved in complaints procedures. An enormous number of men and women, offices and equipment are engaged in directing and monitoring the police force. It would be folly beyond words to impose a minuscule structure to secure accountability and effectiveness in the private security industry and ensure that the number of crooks in the industry is kept to a minimum. A larger structure is required, although it should not be an out-of-touch, out-of-control bureaucracy. Sufficient resources should be devoted to the tasks to meet the many functions that will be imposed on the authority.

 
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