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Standing Committee Debates
Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 24 April 2001

(Morning)

[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

Clause 1

The Security Industry Authority

Question proposed [10 April], That the clause stand part of the Bill.

10.30 am

Question again proposed.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Benton. We are confident that we shall prosper under your wise chairmanship as we did under that of your co-Chairman, Mr. Winterton.

Before the Committee adjourned for the short recess, I was describing the concerns of Conservative Members about the future role of the lay magistracy in relation to the Bill. That is an issue to which my noble Friend Lord Cope referred in another place on 30 January and to which we shall return when discussing subsequent clauses. However, we also have other worries about clause 1, such as those to which reference was made at column 564 of the Official Report in another place on 30 January. It concerned whether the Bill would be better if it applied to people who were employed wholly or predominantly as security operatives.

As my noble Friend Viscount Astor said on that occasion, there is still some confusion about the position of people who are working full-time or part-time in the security industry. It should be clear that the new authority is responsible for those who are either full-time or predominantly employed as security operatives. For example, let us consider barmen. They are frequently called on to exclude people from pubs. Some busy pubs in city centres operate as late-night bars and have people who look after security. However, many pubs do not employ full-time security doormen, but use the bar staff when people need to be excluded. It would be excessively burdensome for such barmen to be covered by the authority.

On Second Reading in another place, the Under-Secretary, Lord Bassam, said that the Bill might catch publicans, and we are concerned about how and to what extent that will work. An amendment was tabled to add the words

    ``people employed wholly or predominantly as security operatives''

and to ensure that the Bill would cover only the operation of people who work in security as a principal part of their employment.

As the Minister will be aware, there has been much correspondence from those in the security industry, particularly from the licensed trade. Some people in the industry want to extend as widely as possible the provisions of the new body. Some see it as a wonderful business opportunity. There is always the danger that a regulatory measure can act as a job creation scheme and set up a completely new bureaucracy. We sympathise with those who do not want the industry to be faced with costly over-regulation. We want the new body to work. We do not want it to be heavy-handed. We want any regulation to be a light-touch measure.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): My hon. Friend knows that I share his concern. Does he agree that there would be a greater argument for including the pub trade within the provisions of the clause if there were a demonstrable problem of people in public houses behaving heavy-handedly and abusing their authority? As that would not seem to be the case, does he agree that there is no need to extend the power?

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend is right, but the difficulty lies in the fact that there are different kinds of pubs. As I said earlier, some pubs operate as city-centre late-night bars and have their own security staff, and it is clear that such full-time security staff should be covered by the new agency. However, we do not want pubs that have no need for full-time security staff to be covered as a by-product or side-effect of the provisions.

In my remarks before we adjourned for the Easter recess, I touched on concerns about how training should operate. More information is coming to light as the Bill progresses, and a fascinating letter was passed to me during the short recess. Michelle Mackleston from Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire is a qualified training officer for the Security Industry Training Organisation who works in the security industry and was a warrant officer in the armed forces. She wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) about her concerns, and perhaps the Minister can deal with them in his response to this debate.

Miss Mackleston asks what the word ``training'' means in clause 1. From her experience working at the sharp end, she points out that, while training security staff, she has encountered individuals who have worked in the security industry for years without any basic training. Those people tell her about their experiences. One person who came to her for training told her that on starting work in the security industry

    ``I was told to carry a piece of 2 by 4''

for protection. Some people told her that they thought it appropriate for men to search women—with no regard for the possible later allegations of indecent assault. She had also been asked to train people who, although they had been working in the security industry for years, had not been told anything about the powers of citizen's arrest. She wrote:

    ``When I hear comments like these I begin to worry about not only the security officers safety but also the safety of the people in the areas where the security officers are working.''

She knows that reputable

    ``companies do train their officers (to BS7499) -but what about the ones who do not.''

Miss Mackleston is concerned about the number of people who are unaware of the obligations of criminal law regarding the restraining of individuals and the use of minimum force, and security people who believe that it is legitimate to use handcuffs and batons. Those are the concerns of someone working at the sharp end in the industry, and perhaps they touch on some of the points raised by the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) at an earlier stage of our deliberations.

Conservative Members feel that the remit for the powers of the new authority as drafted in the Bill is too wide. The provisions in subsection (3) are astonishingly wide. It states:

    ``The Authority may do anything that it considers is calculated to facilitate, or is incidental or conducive to, the carrying out of any of its functions.''

That is a wide brief. In the other place, we sought to test the breadth of subsection (3) with an amendment designed to stop the authority borrowing money, and, more importantly, to require annual consultation with the industry to be written into the Bill.

That point is similar to a point raised by one of the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Walsall, South that was starred for our previous sitting. We still feel that such a move would be greatly welcomed by the reputable side of the industry—trade bodies such as the British Security Industry Association and the Joint Security Industry Council. Are the Government prepared at least to contemplate later, perhaps on Report, adding wording to reduce the breadth of the wide words in subsection (3)? We look forward to the Minister's response.

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Benton. It is not the first time that I have sat with you in Parliament, and we sat together on Sefton council many times, you with the Labour group and me with the Liberal Democrats. We got on well together, so I am sure that the Committee will go smoothly.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) touched on the fact that the powers in the Bill are wide. They are not specified anywhere, and I have read the Bill closely. The Secretary of State seems to have overall consent and power. How is the industry being consulted? Will representatives from other sectors, such as the police, be invited to serve on the body? Those important questions should be dealt with.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): I used the recess profitably, visiting Denmark to consider further its excellent regulation. My attempt to consider security legislation in the Ukraine was less successful, as I only reached Heathrow, proffered the wrong passport minus the visa for the Ukraine, and was back in the office at 7 o'clock in the morning. However, having been there twice before for the same purpose, I feel that I have a handle on the system there.

Although I have been critical of aspects of the Bill and its predecessors, I am reasonably satisfied with the clause. In almost all cases, clause 1 is in essence the nub of a Bill, and this one is perfectly okay.

I am especially delighted given the fact that the Government could have used another model of regulation, many of which are available in this country. Another Department or, as in many countries, the police could have been responsible for regulation. In Germany, much is done by an economic, industrial Department. Wisely, however, the Government have chosen the model of a non-departmental public body.

The Bill bears more than a superficial resemblance to my first private Member's Bill on the subject, which was published in 1977 and subsequently disappeared without trace for a quarter of a century. I like the fact that clause 1 shows the symbiotic relationship between the Home Office and the Security Industry Authority: one is dependent on the other. The Bill provides the Home Office with information and consent and decentralises much of the decision making to the regulatory body, while the Home Secretary reserves his or perhaps her rights to instruct, advise and be consulted.

That could be an ideal relationship of neither dependence nor total independence. It establishes some independence from the industry. Although the industry must be seriously consulted, the model will not be the voluntary self-regulatory one that we had before. Responsibility will be divided between the Home Office and the regulatory body. That is the best model because it is the most flexible. It is good that a Department has not been given sole responsibility for regulation, because Departments often fail to develop the necessary expertise and flexibility.

The police feel that, in some ways, the private security industry is a competitor. If they had been given a dominant regulatory role, some people would have cried foul: it would have been thought, erroneously perhaps, that the police were protecting their own interests, rather than those of the public.

10.45 am

Mixed regulatory systems that involve many layers of government frequently breed conflicts over responsibility: problems of jurisdiction might arise as legislation is introduced in Scotland and Wales—and Northern Ireland already has its own rules.

I have studied a wide variety of regulatory systems in countries around the world. Regulation can be categorised as either narrow or broad. Opposition Members have said that they want a light-touch regulatory system. I am in favour not of heavy-touch systems but of broader and deeper modes of regulation. The Home Office has, perhaps, achieved the right balance between those categories.

However, the Bill is narrow: it covers man guarding and the activities of private eyes, with regard largely to their man-guarding functions, but it excludes many other aspects of the security industry that should be included in the regulations. Many security companies engage in a range of activities other than man guarding that involve, for instance, alarms and information technology. A broad regulatory system should therefore be chosen.

A distinction should also be drawn between shallow regulation, which might merely permit access to criminal records, and deep regulation, which lays down standards concerning a range of matters such as education, training and insurance. Regulation should, therefore, be regarded in terms of breadth and depth.

 
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