Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Hawkins: The right hon. Gentleman is on to a good point. As he and others may remember, we expressed concern on Second Reading that there might be too great a role for local authorities. The dangers of corruption—people being ``got at''—to which he referred are clear. We had a different solution. Rather than the Government's proposed new authority doing more nationally, we suggested that the system should be much more like that for liquor licensing, with more of the duties and powers exercised by magistrates.

Magistrates have successfully exercised such powers over many years in relation to liquor licensing, because it is far more difficult for them to be ``got at''. In this country, there is no history of corruption by magistrates, whereas sadly, in some cases, there has been such a history in local authorities.

I recognise that there are many success stories for local licensing schemes. I referred to one in a local authority in my constituency: Surrey Heath has had a successful nightclub bouncer registration scheme. Nevertheless, the Government have decided to go down a certain route, and we felt that it would be better to introduce a consultation element, which we suggested in amendment No. 29. We withdrew that following the Minister's helpful remarks, but I want to put on record our concern that the Government are making too great a move in the direction of local authorities, which can, as the right hon. Gentleman said, be ``got at'' in some areas. The Government have been persuaded to take the appeal mechanism to the magistrates court, but not to remove the power to delegate to local authorities.

I hope that the Minister recognises that the matter must be kept under review. If the right hon. Gentleman's fears, which we in Opposition tend to share, are borne out in reality, we hope that the Government—or a future Conservative Government—can reconsider the matter and, if necessary, decide that it might be better to have it dealt with by local licensing benches and lay magistrates, as happens with liquor licensing.

Mr. Stewart: Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that his over-emphasis on what can happen in terms of corruption at local government level could lead to an anti-democratic position? Such matters must be kept in balance. From time to time, there is a small amount of jiggery-pokery at local government level, but it is dangerous to argue that that could a be reason for not allowing local government a role in this issue.

Mr. Hawkins: There is an issue of judgment. The hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he is on one side of the divide, but we are on the other because a history of what he delicately referred to as ``jiggery-pokery'' does not exist for lay magistrates. When talking about having things done effectively and properly, we have always supported the independent role of the lay magistracy. The Government have made their view clear and come to a judgment. We will see what happens if and when the Bill becomes law, and I will listen with interest to the Minister's response.

Mr. Simon Hughes: We have taken a view that I support, which is that the right level for initial decisions is in the local authority. Of course, local authority members and officers may be open to influence and corruption, but there are ways of dealing with that. By and large, their record is good and is getting better. Better scrutiny, auditing and external assessment are taking place, and there is an appeals process. We must remember that the system is about activities going on in different parts of the country. It is better that those elected to represent the community take the initial decision about the appropriateness of a licence. We strongly believe that that should happen at a local level. The authority will exist—we assume—to maintain a consistency of standards, and I hope that other action by the Government and authorities will ensure that.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I begin by paying tribute to Andy Walker, to whom the right hon. Member for Walsall, South referred, who was funded by the Home Office, as police officers sometimes are, to examine particular problems and make proposals. I met him and read his report carefully during the preparation of the Bill.

I will give the assurance that I think is sought that not only we but the new authority will keep the matter under review.

In essence, we were faced with three options, and we carefully considered each of them. The first was to leave the matter entirely to local authorities, and many of them, although not the majority, are working in those areas. The second was to establish an SIA bureaucracy that is able to reach into every community in Britain and license directly. I should add that we considered the magistrates option, but not at length, because it presented similar problems to those that arise in relation to local authorities. The third option—and, as you would expect, Mr. Winterton, we chose the third way—was the approach set out in the Bill, giving the SIA the power to establish the licensing process by dealing with the issues of syllabuses, training and standards.

Mr. Bercow: Syllabi.

Mr. Clarke: I was wondering whether to say syllabi or syllabuses and I decided on the latter to discover whether a pedant would intervene. I am glad to say that the sprat that I laid caught the mackerel—and it must be said that it is a fine mackerel. The syllabi, or syllabuses, the training and the raising of standards will be established by the SIA. The local authority's principal role will be to process and to make certain key judgments.

I agree with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey about the ability to deal with corruption in the local authority context. That problem is getting better, but the local authority should take decisions in that regard on the basis of a national framework. The clause addresses the question of how that will evolve. In practice, precisely the kind of review that my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South has mentioned will take place. Different local authorities will adopt different approaches and methods, but the principle of consistency will be promoted by the proposed approach.

I conclude my commendation of the clause by reinforcing the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central, that the local crime reduction partnerships, in which the local authority, the police and often—although not as often as I would like—the local magistrates are participating, provide the correct framework within which to deal with city centre issues such as those that we have debated.

Mr. George: My opinion of local government is coloured by my experiences of my own local authority. However, in general, it has a good record with regard to regulating door supervisors.

My question—to which an answer might not be available at present—is about local authority regulation of fire safety and security personnel at pop concerts. I have been to many such concerts to look at how local authorities supervise them. Indeed, I had to see Tina Turner twice, just to check whether my initial analysis was correct. Is the Minister satisfied with local authority regulation with regard to security, crowd management and safety at pop concerts that can be staged in venues that range in capacity from 500 to as many as 100,000 people, as was the case at Knebworth, where I suffered by watching Oasis perform? That is not the greatest way to spend one's time. [Interruption.]

Is the Minister satisfied that the regulatory structures for the oversight of the security and stewarding of events that might be attended by as many as 100,000 people are covered adequately by the legislation? Will he need to examine further the question of stewarding to discover the answer to that?

Mr. Clarke: I should point out that my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) wanted to put it on the record that Oasis is a great pop group—or rather was a great pop group. I do not think that my colleagues would like the implications of my right hon. Friend's remarks to go unchallenged.

There are serious issues about the relations between local authorities and the police in stewarding such events. The Association of Chief Police Officers has recently produced new guidelines on dealing with such matters, and it is important to keep the issue under close review, which I assure my right hon. Friend that we will. I cannot give an off-the-cuff answer to how the matter currently operates, but I accept and agree with his point that it is problematic. I hope that the Committee will accept the clause.

The Chairman: Before I put the question, I always seek to help the Committee. I did O-level Greek and A-level Latin, and I can tell the Committee that ``syllabuses'' is the English word. I am sure that Hansard will minute that.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14

Register of approved contractors

12 noon

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful for the ruling and explanation that you have just given, Mr. Winterton. I am not a classicist and I am happy to defer to your superior knowledge, and that of those who advise you.

The clause is part of an important set of clauses relating to the approved contractors register. Subsection (3)(e) contains a reference to

    ``the conditions of the approval.''

Will the Minister confirm that, in cases in which individuals are registered to provide the same services, there will be no difference in the treatment of such individuals? It will help the Committee if he describes the types of conditions that he envisages, and how they may vary from one case to another. For example, if an individual is registered to provide only some of the services that fall within the rubric of the Bill, what form will the conditions take? Will he give examples of other instances in which a person is registered for the provision of a wider range of services? An explanation or enlargement on subsection (3)(e) would be useful.

The Minister will be aware that subsection (4)(b) states:

    ``securing that such publicity is given to any modification or withdrawal of an approval as will bring it to the attention of person likely to be interested in it.''

That is probably an innocuous provision, but will he explain the types of circumstances that he envisages? Is the significance of the subsection that people who ordinarily use the services of a person who is registered under the terms of the clause would be such individuals who would be notified of a withdrawal or modification? Precisely how would the individuals or groups of people who were to be so informed be decided, and what form would the publicity take? Will it be standard, has it been decided, does it await decision, when would notification occur, and in what form would it be learned?

Subsection (5) refers to the imposition of a fee that the authority considers appropriate. What do the Government have in mind?

On the strength of my brief inquiries, I am happy to rest my case, and I look forward to the Minister's response.

 
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