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Standing Committee Debates
Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 24 April 2001


[Mr Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

4.30 pm

The Chairman: I understand from the Clerk that modest progress was made this morning, but I am sure that, under my expert Chairmanship, greater progress will be made this afternoon.

Clause 3

Conduct prohibited without a licence

Amendment moved [this day]: No. 20, in page 2, line 40, leave out from `activities' to end of line 42.— [Mr. Fearn.]

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking amendment No. 21, in page 2, line 42, at end insert

    `or as required for the purpose of, or in connection with, any contract he has with his employer.'.

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport): You referred to modest progress, Mr. Winterton, but I was not guilty of contributing to that. Too many words were, perhaps, spoken before I rose to speak to my two amendments, but they were dealt with in four minutes, which is more than modest progress.

The amendments question the wording of lines 40 to 42 of page 2. I was asking for more information about the loophole created by excluding in-house operatives, and I look forward to the Minister's reply to that.

The Chairman: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his succinctness.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Winterton. My only concern about what you said is whether ``modest'' is too mild a term to describe what happened this morning, although the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) spoke to his amendment in an admirably succinct manner.

This is an important amendment. The point that it raises was debated at length on Second Reading, and in the other place. The hon. Gentleman has raised a series of serious points with regard to the judgments that are made about what to include in the Bill. Many Members of all parties have concerns about the matter. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends spoke about it on Second Reading, and I am delighted to have an opportunity to return to it.

The White Paper envisaged that in-house manned guards would be included in the licensing regime but, after lengthy and detailed consideration, we decided not to do that at this stage. We concluded that to require all in-house manned guards to undergo two vetting processes—by the employer and by the authority—could add a further burden of bureaucracy on to businesses. It would also have the effect of adding enormously to the already large number of people whom the authority will need to licence when it is up and running—the estimates range from between 300,000 and 350,000 people—and we felt that it was important to establish the authority and to clarify its aims without giving it such an enormous amount to bite off that it might make its task more daunting.

The Bill regulates some in-house staff, particularly door supervisors and wheel clampers. We focused on those particular groups because they can exercise considerable influence and power over people who might be young or vulnerable, or both. However, the White Paper generated substantial representations that led us to conclude that it was reasonable, at least for the time being, for companies to continue to satisfy themselves about the probity of their employees and potential employees. A distinction must be drawn between such situations and those in which services are provided under contract and the person hiring the services must place a greater degree of trust in the probity of the hired staff.

The hon. Gentleman raised questions about lines 40 to 42 of page 2. They are intended to refer to people who have engaged in contracts in the way that I have indicated. We are aware of arguments for their inclusion in the regulatory regime established by the Bill. As I noted earlier, we shared those views at the time of our White Paper. We understand the argument that has been advanced to the effect that not licensing in-house manned guards could lead to companies switching from contract staff to in-house staff because it will be cheaper and that that will, in turn, lead to deteriorating standards in those companies. That is a serious argument for including in-house staff.

I have no doubt that the Security Industry Authority will be receiving such arguments and that it will pay close attention to them as part of its general duty to keep the industry and the operation of legislation under review. The Government will listen carefully to arguments from the authority, and that is one of the reasons why we have structured the first part of the Bill as we have. It will ensure that such issues are kept under review. That is the reason for our balanced judgment. I acknowledge directly that real arguments are being advanced by the hon. Gentleman. It is not a specious point. It is a serious issue, as we said on Second Reading. Our judgment is that we should start the authority's operation by biting off what we can chew most effectively and then examine the situation as it moves forward to see how the operation needs to be developed. That is the reason for such a formulation.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): The Minister is giving a serious response to the hon. Member for Southport. I agree that such issues are important. They took up some time both on Second Reading and in another place. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the issue in relation to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, which was raised in another place by Lord Gladwin of Clee. As the Minister knows, whether in-house guards should be covered by the new authority has been very much a live issue because the Government changed their mind between the White Paper and the Bill. Is he willing to say a little about TUPE, so that we can have his comments on the record to assist those in the industry who are interested in such issues?

Mr. Clarke: I was not intending to say anything specific at this stage about TUPE, except that I know Lord Gladwin of Clee very well. As the hon. Gentleman may know, he was a distinguished trade union official for a long time and the regional organiser for the GMB. He also served under the Labour party before he became a Member of the other place. In that capacity, he worked closely with my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Stewart) and the Transport and General Workers Union. He spoke with great authority and we listened carefully to his views. He came to the judgment that we arrived at.

TUPE does apply. I do not think that I can add anything further at this stage. I had not intended to say anything about the matter and I am loth to go beyond that simple statement.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): No brief.

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I do not have a brief on such matters. As I have said before in Committee, given the choice of answering in an informed way or an ill-informed way, I prefer to answer questions in an informed way. Indeed, I was criticised by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) this morning for responding in an ill-informed way to some of the debate. I shall think about whether there is further information about TUPE that might help the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins).

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister has been forthright and open in saying that he does not have a brief on such matters. I am slightly surprised at that because when the matter was dealt with in another place, in response to Lord Gladwin of Clee, Lord Bassam said:

    ``If he has further questions, we shall try to deal with them during the Bill's passage through the House.'' —[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 March 2001; Vol. 623, c. 14.]

It seems odd that the Minister has not received that brief by now.

Mr. Clarke: I have a substantial brief. My noble Friend in the other place is quicker on his feet than I am in dealing with such matters. However, I had not prepared myself to respond in detail to such points that were raised in an intervention. If the hon. Gentleman, or other members of the Committee, wishes to raise further points on the matter, I shall be happy to deal with them.

I urge the hon. Member for Southport to withdraw his amendment on the basis of our assurance that such a process will move the operation of the authority into an effective regime.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): Despite what you might think, Mr. Winterton, I was not responsible for the delays this morning. I read my contributions, was profoundly embarrassed, and determined to be briefer. If the Minister is not able to make his speech, it provides me with the opportunity of making it for him.

We recognised, in the production of the consultative paper, that the inclusion of in-house security alongside contract security was correct, and in response to a written question from that brilliant Member of Parliament, the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Minister, stated:

    ``Around 180 responses were received to the White Paper `The Government's proposals for Regulation of the Private Security Industry in England and Wales' (CM 4254) published in March 1999. Those respondents opposed to the regulation of in-house employees were:

    Theatrical management association and Society of London Theatre

    Museums and Galleries Commission

    The National Trust

    Association of Leading Visitor Attractions

    A member of the public.''—[Official Report, 28 March 2001; Vol. 365, c. 709W.]

In the light of the fact that 175 out of the 180 organisations and individuals said that they were in favour of in-house security being included, the arguments were so overwhelming that we were prepared to carry on with the proposals in the consultative paper for including in-house security. I thank hon. Members for persuading me likewise. The logic of hon. Members' arguments was so overwhelming that I am going to tell the better regulation task force to worry about aspects of regulation other than the private security industry.

If the Minister would accept my speech as his, it would save us from dealing with a more protracted speech later, when we consider in more detail the appalling omission of in-house security from this legislation.


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