Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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The Chairman: If the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey will withdraw amendment No. 49, I will happily allow a division on amendment No. 48. I shall ask him to move it formally at the appropriate time.

Mr. Clarke: I understand the arguments that have been made, but they do not convince me. I think that the arguments that I made earlier address the issues. There are differences between the various parts of the private security industry, and we must learn and identify the ill at each stage before moving to a compulsory stage.

Mr. Hughes: The Government are obviously trying to concertina the debate. Ministerial conversions happen rarely, and they are even more rare when colleagues have held the line up the road, so I was not entirely expecting one. I do not know whether either the Minister or I will be around to see who is right, but, for the time being, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 48, in page 11, line 27, leave out from ``who'' to end of line 30 and insert—

    ``(a) are providing security industry services in England and Wales and seek approval in respect of any such services that they are providing, or are proposing to provide; or

    (b) are providing security industry services in England and Wales and are deemed to be acting as a public authority under the Human Rights Act 1998.''.—[Mr. S. Hughes.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Division No. 6]

Bercow, Mr. John
Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Hughes, Mr. Simon
Lilley, Mr. Peter
Simpson, Mr. Keith

Clarke, Mr. Charles
George, Mr. Bruce
Hall, Mr. Mike
Kennedy, Jane
Miller, Mr. Andrew
Prentice, Bridget
Stewart, Mr. Ian
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.
Turner, Mr. Neil
Winterton, Ms Rosie

Question accordingly negatived.

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

Mr. Bercow: I should like to put two questions to the Minister in relation to clause 15. First, what is the significance and potential application of the words in brackets in subsection (2)(c)? Secondly, in relation to subsection (4), are the regulations to be determined in accordance with the negative or the affirmative resolution procedure?

Mr. Charles Clarke: On subsection (4), negative resolution procedure is the right answer. On the significance of the words in brackets in subsection (2)(c), which I am carefully studying as I respond, they simply mean that the conditions that are being discussed apply whatever the situation. The wording is clear:

    ``such conditions (whether or not connected with the provision of the services in respect of which the approval is granted)''

The conditions need not be associated with the provision of the service in relation to which the approval is granted; they can be more general in character. In my view it is straightforward, but I may have misunderstood a subtle point with which the hon. Member for Buckingham seeks to transfix me.

Mr. Bercow: What the Minister says is both true and, of itself, not entirely adequate. He is right that the literal meaning of the words in brackets is clear. I also accept that it therefore means conditions other than those that relate specifically to defined services for which approval has been granted. All I am saying to the Minister, in the politest possible way, is that it would be helpful to have some indication of what those conditions might be.

Mr. Clarke: I am glad that I was clear, because I thought that my answer was confused. I am now even clearer that I was clear when I first answered, which is why my natural eloquence, if that is the way to put it, failed me.

The clause is intended to indicate that the conditions that are laid down and contain the approval can deal with any aspect of concerns about a particular organisation. The conditions do not have to be connected with the provision of the services in respect of which the approval is granted. For example, if an approval is being sought to deal in manned guarding, but there are issues concerning the company's dealings in wheelclamping, that could be a consideration in the establishment of such conditions, even if it was not to do with the manned guarding for which the application had been made. I may have misunderstood the point and, as the hon. Gentleman is always so rapier-like, I am concerned not to make a mistake about this, but I think that my remarks are clear.

I was slightly surprised that Opposition Members voted with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey on the last amendment. I was also genuinely interested to see that sea change in Conservative party attitudes, which is important to note. With that in mind, I hope that clause 15 can stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Bercow: I, at 12.43 pm on Tuesday 1 May, am satisfied.

The Chairman: Obviously, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is not.

Mr. Simon Hughes: I do not want to undermine or undervalue the last statement. Tory satisfaction on the eve of the general election is something that we should all note; if only the hon. Gentleman's colleagues would admit to the same.

Obviously, I sought to amend the clause, but I have failed to do so. However, I may return to the matter with my hon. Friends, and I am grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Buckingham and his hon. Friends. It is clearly better to have this clause, which provides for the opportunity for approvals to be granted, than not to have the clause at all. A half loaf is better than no bread, which is why I shall not oppose the clause's standing part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16

Right to use approved status

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

Mr. Bercow: I understand the reason for, and I certainly do not object to, the purpose of clause 16. However, I seek an assurance from the Minister in relation to subsection (1). I understand that the intention is to prevent an individual from misrepresenting his or her entitlements, by which I mean the services that he or she has been approved to provide. Can the Minister explain the basis on which that will be achieved? Can he confirm that subsection (1) will not lead to undue interference in, or a detailed determination of, the way in which an approved individual chooses to advertise his or her services?

12.45 pm

Mr. Hughes: For the hon. Gentleman to go from satisfaction to dissatisfaction so quickly is a matter for severe concern.

Mr. Charles Clarke: That is modern Conservatism.

Mr. Hughes: Yes.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): At least the hon. Gentleman has an opinion.

Mr. Hughes: He is never consistent, from one minute to the next.

Turning to subsection (3)(b), what is the current maximum fine and in what way might it be varied? Clearly, the power to impose a significant fine must exist. I understand how the maximum fine for a summary conviction is fixed, but there seems to be no similar mechanism in respect of conviction on indictment.

Mr. Clarke: On the second point, the fine is unlimited and at the discretion of the court. On the first point, the hon. Member for Buckingham correctly identified the reason for the provision. The aim is to establish a set of criteria for the quality mark, including standards relating to technical and other requirements, the question of whether an applicant is a fit and proper person, and so on. The voluntary quality mark would last for three years. In finalising the criteria, the normal consultations will of course take place. It is a relatively universal charter mark, and is not designed to be intrusive in terms of marketing a particular company. However, it is intended to enable an individual who uses a company to know whether it is approved.

Mr. Bercow: I understand what the Minister is saying, and it is genuinely not my intention to nitpick. However, is he arguing for universality, or that the provision is generally provided for in a number of different sectors? As an intelligent fellow, he will recognise that his phrase ``relatively universal'' is a contradiction in terms.

Mr. Clarke: I was rather hoping that you were a philosopher rather than a classicist, Mr. Winterton, so that you could give a discourse on the precise meaning of the phrase ``relatively universal''. I was trying to say that everyone who is approved will receive a kite mark or clear mark of approval. Of course, that will not extend to those who are not approved. The provision does not deal with establishing different categories within the same mark for different parts of the industry, but the matter could—and certainly would—be decided by the SIA.

The purpose of the provision is to make as clear as possible to the consumer of a service that a contractor is approved for the type of business that we are describing, but in a manner that will not stand in the way of a company's making its own presentation of its services. With respect, that is a relatively bog-standard—to use a phrase that is currently in vogue—approach to such matters. Many organisations adopt it: it is simply a question of empowering the SIA to do so.

Mr. Hughes: The Minister's colleagues mischievously muttered that perhaps the answer is to put the mark on the forehead—an idea to which the Minister was attracted earlier in our debate—or to put a luminous stamp on the back of the hand. Those of us who frequent what are no longer called pop concerts are sometimes required to comply with such requirements. On the relevance of classicism, it is clear that some people need a bit more of it. When answering a question about his new house, an actor said that it was very nice and had 58 rooms, including seven bedrooms and three ``bathra''. That struck me as somewhat pretentious.

I welcome the Minister's answer in respect of fines, but will he point out to the Government that it would be consistent and good if, on indictment, fine levels were to remain unlimited. That has been a matter of controversy before. For example, people often feel that there should be more significant penalties for breaches of Health and Safety Executive licensing regulations, which involve limited fines, especially if there has been a corporate infraction by a company that then pays relatively nothing for a clear breach of building regulations or the like.

I welcome the fact that the higher courts should be able to impose a fine that means something to the person or company that it is fining. I should be grateful if the Minister would pass on that concept to the appropriate authorities and perhaps contemplate the possibility that we could remove at a stroke the barrier to upper levels of fines across the Crown courts and higher courts.

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