Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Ian Stewart: To help the hon. Gentleman out, I repeat the Minister's question. Would the measure be in the Conservative programme?

Mr. Hawkins: I indicated in my response to the Minister that, as an Opposition spokesman, it is not for me to commit to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks would regard as a priority. We are talking in the abstract. The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Stewart) knows perfectly well that we do not know for certain the date of the general election. Who knows how much debate we shall have on aspects of the Bill?

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): Better ask Rupert Murdoch.

Mr. Hawkins: Yes.

Matters were raised in another place—particularly by my noble Friend Lord Cope of Berkeley—about the security industry and aspects of it that are better described as security activities. On 30 January, my noble Friend moved an amendment to suggest that the new authority should be called the security activities authority. He said:

    ``this authority will regulate a good many activities that are not generally considered part of the security industry. So far ''the security industry'' has not been a very carefully defined and understood term and many people would not know what the definition covers.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 January 2001; Vol. 621, c. 563.]

Two major trade bodies cover the industry. I have met both of them, and I am sure that the Minister and his advisers have had many such meetings, as, no doubt, has the right hon. Member for Walsall, South. The British Security Industry Association's membership includes large and small firms, which cover many activities that are regulated by the Bill, such as wheelclamping. As it stands, the Bill will cover wheelclamping by private individuals who are not part of what one would consider the security industry to be.

The hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), who spoke on Second Reading, has taken a particular interest in the activities of so-called cowboy clampers and will no doubt want to discuss in Committee at some length the provisions that relate to wheelclamping, which I mentioned on Second Reading.

The Bill covers activities such as wheelclamping, and many of those who carry out wheelclamping could not be regarded as part of a security industry. The Bill also covers private detectives. In some senses, private detectives belong to the security industry, but ``security industry'' must be defined extremely widely for it to be regarded as covering private detectives.

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The Bill also covers keyholders, and some of those covered are door bouncers. Again, those who patrol the doors at pubs and clubs are not necessarily regarded as part of the security industry, but bouncers and wheelclampers are covered by the Bill, regardless of whether they are under contract to a large firm.

The Bill is extremely wide in terms of the coverage for the new authority. My noble Friend Lord Cope of Berkeley suggested in another place that the security activities authority might be a better name.

Amendments considered in another place also related to people employed wholly or predominantly as security operatives. Extensive debates were held on amendments to clause 1—some of which we tabled, although they have not been selected for discussion today—that relate to the insertion of skills in addition to training. I was grateful to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South for suggesting in a previous debate that the Minister should either accept our amendment or table a Government amendment along similar lines so that the standards of not only training but skills are considered by the Security Industry Authority.

The right hon. Member for Walsall, South also tabled amendment No. 12, which suggests that he feels that additional duties should be placed on the authority

    ``to carry out regular consultation with the industry and its stakeholders''

    ``to promote best practice within the industry''.

Those matters seem important. Although the amendment is starred, it is relevant to touch on the matter in discussing the clause.

One of the most important issues debated at length in another place was whether the authority should be tasked with investigating not only those who are clearly employed by security companies but those who seem to be or are suspected of being involved in security. It was rightly said in another place that if the authority has the power to institute searches and investigations, it should consider not only people employed by major security companies. It should have the power to investigate those who operate in an unauthorised way in trying to carry out security duties.

If the authority were to consider only the reputable side of the business and if major reputable companies were constantly to face inspections and searches, that would be putting the cart before the horse. The authority should spend much more of its time considering those who constitute the dark side of the industry. The Bill should provide investigatory powers so that anyone who seems to operate as a security guard or purports to behave as a security guard or bouncer should be capable of being investigated. That was the feeling in another place and I feel that that point has not been dealt with.

It would be helpful to specify in the Bill that the new authority has the power to investigate anyone who looks as though he is behaving in a security capacity or purports to be a security man. It is precisely that dark side of the trade—those who work as nightclub bouncers, but might also be involved in the sale and supply of illegal drugs—about which we are most concerned. As the Bill stands, however, the authority's powers seem to be directed far more towards the reputable side of the industry rather than at those who are merely pretending to be involved in the industry.

I want to consider in detail some of the precise terms of the clause. When one considers subsection (2) on the functions of the authority in relation to licensing and approvals, several issues arise. These were also debated in another place. Those issues relate to how the licensing aspects of the new authority will overlap with the work of local magistrates and local authorities. The noble Lord Bassam, speaking for the Government in another place, said that they intended drinks and dancing licences, for instance, to be transferred from the purview of local magistrates to local authorities. That was hugely controversial, and all of my hon. Friends have said that they are strongly in favour of a continuing role for the lay magistracy.

The Government's intention to move licensing matters away from local magistrates and towards local authorities is not only malign, but leads to the danger of a great deal more corruption. Sadly, over the past few years, many concerns have been expressed about corruption in local government—for example, the Donnygate scandal in Doncaster. Moving drinks and dancing licenses and, potentially, security to local authorities would be a matter of grave concern because of the dangers of corruption.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): The hon. Gentleman makes a serious allegation against local authorities. Does he have chapter and verse about a local authority that has been involved in corruption in relation to, for example, the licensing of door supervisors?

Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Lady misunderstands me. Local authority cases, such as that in Doncaster, where corruption was rife in the hon. Lady's party—about which acres and acres of newsprint have been written—have led to the Opposition's concern that a move to give local authorities greater power over matters in which organised crime might have an interest would be a dangerous precedent.

Mr. Clarke: Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to condemn the activities of Westminster city council under the leadership of Baroness Porter? Will he make it clear that his party utterly condemns the kind of gerrymandering in which that leadership was involved?

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister tries to tempt me to discuss history. If he wants my hon. Friends or I to list all the local authorities under Labour control—

The Chairman: Order. I must bring the Committee back to the business under consideration. The question of whether there has been corruption in local government has no direct bearing on what we are discussing.

Mr. Hawkins: I want to refer back to an important and serious debate in another place. As the Minister knows, his noble Friend Lord Bassam of Brighton conceded that there was a serious debate to be had on the question of whether the Bill, and especially clause 1(2)(a) constituted a further move away from the functions of the lay magistracy. Clearly, the Opposition are seriously concerned that the aspect of the authority's work under discussion would further undermine the lay magistracy. We would greatly regret that. Lord Bassam rightly said that it was important to consider whether there might be scope for the same body—be it a local magistrates court, as we would suggest, or, as the Government suggest, a local authority—to look at aspects of liquor licensing, dance licensing and security approvals at one and the same time. If the same body is not looking at one and the same time—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

        Adjourned till Tuesday 24 April at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Winterton, Mr. Nicholas (Chairman)
Bercow, Mr.
Clarke, Mr. Charles
George, Mr. Bruce
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hawkins, Mr.
Hughes, Mr. Simon
Lilley, Mr.
Miller, Mr.
Prentice, Bridget
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Starkey, Dr.
Stewart, Mr. Ian
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.
Turner, Mr. Neil
Winterton, Ms Rosie

 
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Prepared 10 April 2001