Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Bercow: I beg to move amendment No. 43, in page 2, line 31, at end insert—

    `(1A) For the purposes of subsection (2), ``licensable conduct'' includes only conduct which is carried out in return for payment.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 44, in page 2, line 31, at end insert—

    `(1A) For the purposes of subsection (2), ``licensable conduct'' includes only conduct which is carried out in return for payment in excess of such amount as may be specified by order made by the Secretary of State.'.

Mr. Bercow: Amendment No. 43 is designed to clarify the clause and to demonstrate beyond doubt that licensable conduct is conduct that is carried out in return for payment. Amendment No. 44 is a little more explicit. Both amendments concern issues that were raised in another place on 30 January by my noble Friends at columns 604-609 of the Official Report. We are anxious to probe a legitimate issue. How far down the scale is it intended that the Bill should reach in terms of licensable conduct? Obviously, it will include firms that supply security guards on contract in return for payment. We come again to the issue of whether something is permissive but broad, or explicit and limited. As the unamended clause stands, we do not know how tightly drawn the proposal is, which is why the amendments are designed to establish beyond doubt that what is involved is conduct that is carried out in return for payment.

I think that the Government are inclined to argue that that is what they have in mind, but it is not clear from the Bill that that is what is permitted. Firms that provide security guards on contract in return for payment are covered, but how far will the clause extend into the grey areas of licensable conduct? Let us consider, for example, someone who is unpaid or someone who is paid a small sum to look after the door at a local event, perhaps in extremis; in circumstances that could not have been envisaged beforehand. The sum involved might be small—£5, for example—but would such a circumstance be covered? That is not entirely clear.

How will the Bill affect people who may perform security-related activities on a one-off basis and without payment. In another place, my noble Friend Lord Cope of Berkeley cited the example of someone acting as a door supervisor at a charity jumble sale. Would such a person be caught by the provisions of the Bill? I want to establish not Ministers' personal preference as to the interpretation of the clause, but what, on legal advice and justification, they are at liberty to say that the Bill allows.

How will churchwardens and other volunteers who might have a security role be affected? It may be that, at the event in question, their exclusive duty—not even their main one—is to act in a security capacity, even though their normal role is that of churchwarden or another similar, or dissimilar, function. In such circumstances, would the exemptions in schedule 2 be sufficient to stop them being affected?

How would the provisions of schedule 2—which, clearly, is inextricably bound up with the consideration of this clause and amendments thereto—relate to someone who held his or her neighbour's house keys and otherwise looked after his or her neighbour's house while that neighbour went on holiday? Would such a person be covered by the existing wording? The answer is probably that the Government would not want that, but how can we be sure beyond doubt that the provisions of the Bill could not be so extended, for example, if the house were especially large, and the burden of responsibility were considered especially great, not least if the property in question had been subject to professional criminal invasion on previous occasions? We need to be sure that such a person would not be caught by the provision, because that person might have a primary and even exclusive responsibility for guarding that property for the period in question. Would he or she be covered? If not, how can we be certain?

I am aware that Lord Bassam of Brighton went some way towards seeking to assuage those concerns on 13 January. Will the Minister not only assure us that the Bill is not intended to catch the sorts of activities that I have described, but, as Minister of State at the Home Office, assure us unequivocally that its scope could not, under any circumstances, be so extended? It is not yet clear that we have received an assurance of that kind.

The Minister, characteristically but equally unfairly, accused me earlier of making a mountain out of a molehill. I was doing nothing of the kind; as he knows, I will never be dissuaded from exploring legitimate issues on behalf of my hon. Friends simply because of such downmarket, low, music hall abuse. However, the point can be made, and has been made, simply. I hope that the Minister can provide the reassurance sought. On the strength of that explanation, I rest content that I have made the point that I wish to make.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): I want to speak briefly on the matter, because I fear that my constituents, who have suffered at the hands of wheelclampers, would be distressed by the amendment. Indeed, they would be so distressed that I am not sure that they should be told about it, but I fear that I may have to inform them of the actions of the Conservative party. They would be distressed because the amendment would allow wheelclamping to continue as at present, as many wheelclampers are not paid by the landowners from whose property they operate.

12.45 pm

On Second Reading, Opposition Members expressed concerns about the activities of wheelclampers and I thought that they understood why it was necessary to license them. I also thought that they were aware that, frequently, landowners allow wheelclampers to operate on their land but do not employ or pay them, and they make it clear that that is the case. I fear that wheelclampers give under-the-counter money to landowners in return for being allowed to operate on their land, which is why the amendment was tabled in the other place. Landowners must take responsibility for what happens on their land.

I fear that the amendment will give wheelclampers free rein to carry on as before. As they are not paid for the hours that they work, they must collect fees and fines from the drivers of the cars that they clamp.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I hope that I will be able to give reassurances concerning wheelclamping that my hon. Friend will find useful with regard to the arguments in her constituency. She has long campaigned about the problem, and she is right to point out that the Opposition's amendment could inhibit our ability to deal with it.

The amendment would build into the definition of ``licensable conduct'' the condition that it must be undertaken in return for payment in excess of a sum that the Secretary of State would prescribe by secondary legislation. That is intended to protect volunteers and others from regulations, and to protect small businesses from disproportionately costly legislation. I applaud that aim. Such concerns were key reasons why so many consultations were held concerning the Bill and the preceding White Paper.

First, I will deal with people who might undertake relevant activities but are not remunerated, such as churchwardens—an example that the hon. Member for Buckingham mentioned—someone who is working unpaid for a school, or the neighbour who is a key holder. Such people will not be regulated. The Bill is directed at people who provide services under contract, or who are employed in-house, such as door supervisors and wheelclampers. Such matters are covered in clause 3 and schedule 2.

The licensing arrangements do not apply to the majority of people who undertake the activities of a security operative on a no-contract or reward-free basis: the main exception is wheelclampers, and I will deal with that issue later. I hope that the hon. Member for Buckingham will accept my assurance that the kinds of people about whom he was expressing concern are not covered by the Bill.

To refer to a previous discussion about an earlier clause, the Bill also does not apply to people who carry out security-related activities that are incidental to their main employment, such as people who work with schools, churches or registered charities. However, if a school, church or charity were to hire security operatives under contract, it is right that it should expect the company contracted to have been vetted to a national standard, and licensed. If the security operatives used were employed in-house, they would be exempted from the licensing requirement and it would be the organisation's responsibility to vet its own staff.

One may imagine a school fete, which would be a substantial event with many people attending during a weekend. The school may decide that the best way to police such an event would be to bring in a company under contract for the afternoon. We believe that such a company should be covered so that the school may know that the company is reputable. I recall a St. Trinian's film about a school fete in which the contractors brought in were criminals—the hon. Member for Buckingham will know of the St. Trinian's types—and worked with the girls at the school to engage in illicit activities. I think that St. Trinian's school would have been much happier if the security company had been properly regulated.

Mr. Bercow: With respect to the Minister's slightly unnecessary aside, my experience of such matters is confined to Finchley Manorhill comprehensive school in Finchley. I cannot comment on his public school experiences.

I took on board the Minister's comments about charitable functions. Can I establish that he is not arguing—or, if he is, that he can justify it himself—that a contract always either implies or presupposes remuneration? Is he not prepared to admit that there are circumstances in which a contractual arrangement may not involve payment?

 
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