Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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The Chairman: Order. Let me offer the right hon. Gentleman a word of advice. If the matter is sub judice, it should not be referred to.

Mr. George: The case was heard in the early 1990s, so it has been well and truly resolved by now, but I am none the less grateful for the advice.

Far better qualifications than there are at present will be available as a result of the Bill and secondary legislation. The quality of training will improve. It is important that the Home Office, in devising standards of training, should take into account European developments. I hope that the regulatory authority can examine in some detail how to exchange qualifications. Qualifications in some European countries are sufficiently impressive and they should be recognised in Britain.

Mr. Bercow: The right hon. Gentleman stated that we will take European practice into account, rather than be compelled by it. However, I am mildly worried by his reference to subsidiarity—with regard, I assume, to the treaty of Amsterdam. I am sure that he is aware that the treaty's protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality states that

    ``The application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality shall respect the general provisions and the objectives of the Treaty, particularly as regards the maintaining in full of the acquis communautaire and the institutional balance; it shall not affect the principles developed by the Court of Justice regarding the relationship between national and Community law, and it should take into account Article F(4) of the Treaty on European Union, according to which `the Union shall provide itself with the means necessary to attain its objectives and carry through its policies'.''

It is perhaps not the decentralising mechanism that he thinks and wishes it to be.

Mr. George: If the hon. Gentleman were to give that advice to outside clients, I am sure that it would cost them at least £5,000. The Committee is grateful to him for that display of his phenomenal memory. With regard to the qualifications, training and other standards that have been discussed, some of them would fall within the definition of the treaty of Amsterdam, but many would not.

I do not seek to solve all the problems that the regulatory authority will face over the coming years, but merely to flag up that our country is not an island, even though some people might wish that it was. We operate in a European and global environment. The security industry will shortly become a proper profession with qualifications. A spirit of reciprocity should be encouraged with regard to the recognition of qualifications across the industry and, where necessary, outside the sector. Qualifications should also be recognised across national borders. The amendment is intended to prompt the regulatory authority to bear such matters in mind when it administers the Act.

Mr. Miller: My right hon. Friend will recall that, in the sitting before last, I referred to some of the international agreements that had been struck between major security providers and large multinational companies. As he has extensive knowledge of the security industry, I wonder whether he knows of any such agreements that contractually require security operatives to work in the United Kingdom and in other countries. If he does, that would illustrate the logic of introducing commonality of training and licence provision.

Mr. George: Despite the lack of regulations in the UK, airport security is a heavily regulated sector of the industry. It is covered by international conventions, and there is a greater tendency in that sector for qualifications to be recognised across national borders. After all, every country operates in an international environment that is governed by United Nations laws.

However, the harmonisation of regulations between countries will produce great problems. If a vehicle is carrying bullion from France to Belgium, when it crosses the border it will become subject to a different set of regulations, and certain weapons, for instance, might have to be hidden or removed. Such illogicality should be addressed. If a British private investigator needed to undertake work in, say, South Africa, the United States of America, or Belgium, it would be convenient if those countries accepted his UK licence. Such a reciprocal international arrangement would mean that he would not need to operate under cover while working abroad, or apply for another licence, which might be a lengthy and difficult process. I hope that we can approach the matter without prejudice and note that we are legislating about an increasingly international profession, in which the ownership of companies in this country is in the hands of Swedes, Danes and Americans, and in return, British companies have substantial holdings elsewhere.

There are problems of criminals who forge licences rather than applying for them, and move with impunity by operating a computer or jumping on an aircraft. We are slowly starting to co-operate more successfully on a police level, and as a result of the Bill and the growing legitimacy of the private security industry, I hope that there will be more co-operation between our industry and others, and the industry and the police both domestically and internationally. Whether they are publicly or privately funded, all are engaged in a common task of protecting individuals and organisations and putting their hand on the collar of criminals, bringing them to justice or investigating them. All are engaged in similar tasks, although their relationship with the taxpayer may be different from their relationship with the person who hires them.

I know that the Minister is aware of the matter, but I am not sure whether prospective members of the regulatory authority will see matters as clearly as he and the Home Office do.

Mr. Hawkins: Once again, the Committee owes the right hon. Gentleman a great debt for raising his concerns and introducing the matter of mandatory requirements across the EU.

I address an important point that was drawn to my attention and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and is linked to a matter that I raised on Second Reading about an accidental bind that I think that the Government have got into. I do not suggest that there is anything sinister happening, but rather that one arm of Government did not appreciate what another was up to. Nevertheless, it is a matter that many people in the industry wish to be resolved, and I shall listen carefully to the Minister's response to the debate.

The Government have signed the United Kingdom up to the European electronic commerce directive. That does not fall under the Minister's responsibility because it is a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry. It is understandable—as has been suggested to me by senior civil servants who have been seconded to industry—that the Home Office may not have realised the precise terms of chapter II, article 4 of that directive, which is due to come into effect as soon as February 2002. The specific wording, which conflicts with what is in the Bill, is:

    ``Member states shall ensure that the taking up and pursuit of the activity of an information society service provider may not be made subject to prior authorisation or any other requirement having equivalent effect.''

``May not'', means that the article is mandatory throughout Europe.

I have some expertise from my career prior to coming to the House, although it is nothing compared with the long experience of the right hon. Member for Walsall, South. I was a corporate barrister and worked in financial services and banking, and I had many links with those involved in IT security. The matter that I raised on Second Reading was that the Government—accidentally, because the White Paper did not anticipate it—ended up with the Bill catching those who provide IT security operations, which they did not intend to do because the Bill was to be largely about people such as wheelclampers and bouncers.

On Second Reading, we raised the concern expressed by the IT security industry that it had been caught by a side wind by the drafting. At that stage, those in the industry did not realise that there was an additional point, about which my hon. Friend and I have now been briefed, in relation to the conflict with the directive. I realise that the Minister will not be able to respond on the hoof this afternoon, but I hope that he will be able to respond in some detail next week.

3.45 pm

No less an organisation than the Confederation of British Industry—which includes people who have been seconded to the CBI from the Department of Trade and Industry and whose salary is no doubt still paid by the Government—believes that licensing of the information security industry, which is a key information society service, would be contrary to the electronic commerce directive. The amendment is helpful in that regard, as it introduces the subject of mandatory conditions being set across the EU. A requirement for members of the IT security industry to obtain licences from a regulatory authority in order to operate would, in the CBI's view, constitute prior authorisation, which would directly contravene the directive.

The relevant article of the directive is intended to prevent member states from introducing regulation that stems the much-needed supply of IT professionals. IT professionals, especially those with security credentials, are in short supply. Indeed, the Minister may be aware that the Prime Minister's great friend, Chancellor Schroder of Germany, ran into huge problems last year with an attempt to introduce what was referred to in Germany as a green card system. It was nothing like the American green card system—it was designed specifically to import IT professionals from the Indian sub-continent. When I made a political visit to Bavaria almost exactly a year ago, there were posters on almost every bus shelter and billboard attacking Chancellor Schroder over that system. My hosts from our sister party pointed out that it had become a huge issue and was undermining the Government's sister party in Germany. The issue became especially sensitive because of the shortage of IT professionals, and the directive was the result.

We, and the CBI, feel that consideration must be given to article 3 of the directive, which aims to free up the internal market for information society services by requiring member states to avoid measures that might restrict the freedom to supply such services from another member state. The right hon. Member for Walsall, South rightly made the point that a considerable amount of cross-border recruitment will take place. People who have such much-needed and highly prized skills will be able to command very high salaries.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, one of the most difficult areas of recruitment in the banking industry in this country is of the right kind of high-level IT security staff. Such people can almost name their own price if they are at the top of their field. Because of the amount of hacking that goes on and the huge amounts of money at stake, the need to protect banking and other financial institutions in a highly IT-sensitive world—

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