Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. George: I do not need any prodding to filibuster. It is you, Mr. Benton, who intimidate me into not responding to such matters. One of my great fears is that the good companies will be penalised. Not all big companies are good companies. I shall not name names.

Mr. Bercow: And not all small companies are bad.

Mr. George: Absolutely. At present, the good company will be saddled with the cost of a licence fee, not the bad company. Good ones will receive the voluntary registration approval bill, but bad ones will not. All sorts of aspects of the Bill will give poor companies a competitive advantage. In-house security will not be subject to control, as it will be voluntary. Lawyers representing the shady or poor companies will find ways, unless the Home Office can devise watertight legislation, in which a contract security company can hire itself out to become an in-house security company. The hirer will therefore avoid having to pay for a private security company, which of necessity will be saddled with higher bills because of the minimum wage and the additional burdens of voluntarily submitting itself to higher standards than other sections of the industry, which will not do anything unless they are legally compelled and an inspector calls. The smaller good company and the bigger good company will be discriminated against in favour of the less good big company and the appallingly bad medium-sized and small company.

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When companies are all competing for the same job—and a personnel manager, for instance, is choosing between competing bids—the moment that one company obtains a contract, the other side will know the terms and will write to the personnel manager offering to charge less. That puts companies under pressure. Security is a grudge purchase anyway—companies are not interested in it, their insurance company insists that they hire security, so why spend more money than necessary? They can always claim from the insurance company if there is a robbery. All those factors conspire to give unfair advantage to the duff company, and the proposed legislation will help in that process. I am partly reassured by the fact that the SIA will have to think about the matter. It will be one hell of an organisation to be a member of, because we will have bestowed on it an enormous amount of work.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I just want to remind the right hon. Gentleman of the speech that he made on Second Reading. Before he asks the Committee's permission to withdraw the amendment, which raises an important issue on which we have all agreed, will he say what are the minimum additional improvements on which he will insist? What changes does he require before the test that he set—that this is an adequate Bill—is fulfilled? It was not adequate on Second Reading, and we must make changes to make it adequate. If such amendments are to be withdrawn, what will those changes be?

Mr. George: One is to subject companies to compulsory registration and approval, with standards laid down to which they must adhere. Others are that in-house security should be included along with contract security, and that the inspectorate should be independent. Those provisions are not in the Bill. There is an option in relation to the regulatory authority for inclusion in the Bill eventually, but the next Parliament will be overloaded with considering statutory instruments that are 15 ft wide. I hope that secondary legislation can achieve the purpose properly.

I am not prepared to wage the battle any longer. I note the irony of the Conservative party joining me in promoting the cause of the low-paid in the industry against a Government who are preoccupied with raising living standards. Life is filled with irony. I hope that when the Minister goes to sleep tonight, he will recall that irony. When we consider the Bill at a later stage, I hope that he will have had a Pauline conversion. Reluctantly, and without the slightest enthusiasm, I am convinced that I am right and that, as usual, the Home Office is wrong. The amendment would have been sufficient because it would have provided an option whereby the relevant authority could be the company or the individual.

Rejecting the amendment is a clear statement that the company pays, and the Minister's exhortation can be read in Hansard. I suspect that not all the rogue companies or poor companies read more than The Sun. They certainly will not read Hansard or the record of this Committee's deliberations. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Licence conditions

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I beg to move amendment No. 47, in

page 8, line 6, at end insert—

    `(ba) conditions containing requirements for the licensee to make himself easily and clearly identifiable to members of the public as a licensed security operative.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 46, in

page 8, line 8, after `licence', insert—

    `and any other appropriate documentation'.

Mr. Hawkins: I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. Benton. The amendments are extremely important. I imagine that other members of the Committee who have particular interests in wheelclamping, not least the right hon. Member for Walsall, South and the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), may also wish to contribute to our discussions. In an earlier debate, the hon. Lady referred rightly to the good work of the RAC. I am now about to refer to the other leading motoring organisation, the AA, to thank it for the work that it has also done on behalf of motorists.

I make no secret of my welcome for the fact that the AA was able to send us detailed briefings on such matters, but even before we had read them we had intended to table such amendments, because we feel strongly that those who are working for wheelclamping companies should be easily identifiable by motorists. The Government would be wise to write that into the Bill. Security guards and bouncers should also be easily identifiable.

We tabled amendment No. 46 because wheelclampers should show motorists documentary evidence that they have permission to clamp. I make no apology for dwelling on such matters, because motorists throughout the country are a much put-upon species, particularly during the past four years of this openly anti-car Government. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions made great play of his policies that were hitting at motorists when the Government first came into power. Over the years, they have been forced by pressure from the official Opposition and motoring organisations to go back on that. Moreover, the Department's many embarrassments about its policy for motorists were reinforced by the Secretary of State's appointment of Lord Macdonald to the Department, so that he could water down some of the more overtly anti-car policies.

The Chairman: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman to keep to the amendment under discussion.

Mr. Hawkins: I will. We regard ourselves as members of the party that wants to defend the rights of hard-pressed motorists, particularly from the depredations of the Government. We want some protection for motorists written into the Bill.

Mr. Charles Clarke rose—

Mr. Bercow rose—

Mr. Hawkins: I shall give way to my hon. Friend and then to the Minister.

Mr. Bercow: I am exceptionally grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me first. He was wise and discerning to do so, because the Minister of State's intervention is likely to be vexatious and mine assuredly is not. As for the argument about the requirement of proof of identity, there is a parallel or an analogy with the requirement—

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale): Interventions should be brief.

Mr. Bercow: I will develop the point, and the Whip will learn his lesson. There is a parallel or an analogy with the requirement to provide proof of identity in the case of, for example, gas inspectors or other officials of either public companies or privatised utilities where there is an invasion of property rights.

Mr. Hawkins: I agree with my hon. Friend. I want to explain why my party and the Automobile Association believe that such identification is necessary.

Mr. Clarke: I do not want to get embroiled in an argument, but I want briefly to place it on the record that the Government are not anti-car. Organisations such as the AA and the RAC have been more involved in making policy under this Government than under any previous Administration. With regard to wheelclamping, the motorists' forum, chaired by Sir Trevor Chinn, has discussed road penalties and other matters.

Mr. Hawkins: Motorists will have the right to express their views about the Government's record at the general election. Labour Committee members, some of whom may not be here in a month or two, will no doubt reap the whirlwind.

I mentioned on Second Reading, and in various Committee debates, concerns that have been raised in the area of the country that I represent about the misbehaviour of employees of a clamping company that has been hired by South West Trains. The AA has wisely commented that the new system must address motorists' concerns about the honesty, probity and character of wheelclamping operators. With regard to that matter, the AA has rightly criticised the Government's proposals: the Bill does not explain in detail the conditions that should be mandatory for a clamping operative to gain a licence.

The amendments are designed to ensure that motorists who have been clamped will have certain assurances. Licensed clamping operatives should wear approved uniforms so that they are clearly identifiable. That is already a requirement for contractors employed by local authorities to enforce on-street parking regulations: for example, all contractors who enforce restricted parking regulations in London boroughs are required to wear approved uniforms. As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said, that is also the case for many workers in the security industry who have dealings with the public. Clamping operatives should also carry written consent from the landowner to clamp unauthorised vehicles that is available on demand, so that motorists can request to view it before agreeing to pay their release fee. The Bill must refer to that requirement in detail.

It is important that motorists, and in particular those of a nervous disposition, feel secure. That point has been raised with me by many of my constituents—and, as I have mentioned, by the editor of a local paper, who has published a series of articles on the subject. Many single women commute to London and return to station car parks late at night: we must ensure that they feel safer. Some of them have been threatened. For instance, the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central referred to a celebrated case on Second Reading, and I share the views that she expressed about it: an unauthorised clamping operative demanded sexual favours in return for removing a clamp. I hope that Committee members will agree with me that the Bill must include provisions that deter operatives from engaging in such appalling criminal activity.

As the AA have pointed out, if clamping operatives are required to carry written authorisation from the landowner, motorists will be able to discover whether their vehicles have been legally clamped. Motorists often hold understandable suspicions that a clamping operative is not acting with the landowner's authority but merely extorting money.

My party also agrees with the AA's comment that clamping should be practised in private car parks only as a last resort. Landowners should be obliged to demonstrate that all other practical and reasonable means of excluding unauthorised vehicles have already been tried, and that clamping is necessary in terms of parking management. It must be made quite clear to each motorist entering a private car park that only authorised vehicles are welcome, and unauthorised vehicles are likely to be clamped. That can be achieved only with clear and unambiguous signage. Motorists entering the car park must be able to see the signs and be aware of the risk that they run if they leave their vehicles in an unauthorised way.

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There have been many occasions in and around my constituency when inconspicuous signs have been placed where motorists are unlikely to see them, or the signs have not been looked after—the paint has rubbed off. People have had their vehicles clamped without having the opportunity to see a sign. That is why the matter should be dealt with in the Bill.

We feel strongly about the amendments. Even if the Minister cannot accept the precise wording, we hope that he will return to this serious issue on Report. The problem will not go away. Not only do we feel strongly about it, so do the Automobile Association, and other motoring organisations, I am sure. I hope that he will give us some comfort by saying that he will continue to think about the arguments carefully and perhaps table Government amendments on Report.

 
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