Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Bruce George: I beg to move Amendment No. 26, in page 21, line 26, at end insert—

    `(c) powers to appoint directly members of its staff to be inspectors for such period and subject to such terms and conditions as the authority may determine.'.

As I have discussed the inspectorate—although not in detail—I shall not repeat my remarks, except for one point. There is a plethora of inspectorates operating within the private security industry, all of which are self-regulatory. Most are linked to business interests in the security industry: the large employers to BSIA Ltd and the insurance industry to the National Approval Council for Security Systems. NACOSS and the inspectorate of the security industry, which is derived from BSIA, have formed a joint inspectorate that would be keen to be appointed as the inspectorate. Indeed, I have no objection to the expertise in those organisations being incorporated in the inspectorate. However, I am delighted by the Minister's comments that whoever is appointed to the inspectorate will be employed, pensioned and under the control of the SIA. That will give the inspectorate the legitimacy and independence that is an essential pre-condition for its success.

The inspectorate will be crucial. It needs competent, enthusiastic and qualified personnel who know the wiles of the security industry. Such people cannot be plucked out of other industries. It takes a long time to get to know policing and security; it is not something that can be learned quickly. There should be a regional inspectorate attached to Government offices such as the Government office for the west midlands. As I have said, such an inspectorate should not employ 10 people; the figure should be nearer to 100. We should not worry if the work force is that large because the more, better-trained employees there are, the better job they will do, in which case the inspectorate would be serving the SIA, and the public interest would also be served.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I want to make two or three points in response to my right hon. Friend. First, the Bill already takes account of the aim of the amendment, which is to allow the authority to appoint its own staff as inspectors. I draw the Committee's attention to paragraph (9)(1), which states:

    ``The Authority may, to such extent as it may determine, delegate any''—

I emphasise ``any''—

    ``of its functions to any committee of the Authority or to any employee of the Authority.''

The relevant functions are established in clause 19(1), which we discussed earlier. It states that

    ``a person authorised in writing for the purpose by the Authority may enter any premises owned or occupied by any person appearing to him to be a regulated person''.

The authorised persons will be the inspectors who enforce the licensing and approval regimes. The current legislation makes it clear that the authority can decide to appoint and use its own employees as inspectors, should it choose to do so.

The second point, which I made during our discussion of clause 19, is that the new authority must have inspection arrangements that are independent of the industry that it is inspecting. However, as my right hon. Friend said, the authority must have the knowledge and understanding of the industry to be able to inspect it effectively. It is a matter for the authority to establish an inspectorate that is fully under its control, but it is also for the authority to decide how to do that. It may create its own in-house inspection regime or it may try to work with one or more of the existing industry inspectorates. Indeed, it may try a combination of the two or a variety of different approaches.

The key point, which my right hon. Friend made, is that the inspection process must be under the specific control of the authority in order to achieve independence. It might be of interest to the Committee to recall paragraph 74 of the explanatory notes, which states:

    ``The public service manpower necessary to staff the Authority is estimated at between 90 and 110 persons.''

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not saying that the authority will employ every inspector, but it will have control and will be empowered to take such a route if it wishes to do so. However, we are not trying to pre-judge those relationships. I hope that that is clear, and I am happy to give way to my right hon. Friend if necessary.

Mr. George: I shall need to consider the Minister's arguments carefully. At the moment, I am not entirely convinced that an inspectorate from the private sector could be brought under the control of the SIA. Personnel who are part of an existing inspectorate should be chosen for their expertise and brought directly within the employ of the SIA. As a result, one could be certain that their bosses—those who determine their activities—were the regulators.

I am concerned about the prospect of a hybrid. The question of control might arise, even though a fee was paid to an employer, which might be a self-regulatory body. That would certainly not be popular, but inspectors should be seen to come from the industry, notwithstanding the question of hybridity. Until I have a good deal more evidence to the contrary, I shall remain convinced that this provision is a worrying prospect. I look forward to the Minister's clarification.

Mr. Clarke: I can indeed offer some clarification. First, the option that my right hon. Friend describes is entirely possible, and I can envisage its taking place. Secondly, the Bill as drafted allows for it unequivocally and directly, even without his amendment. He said that an arrangement involving those employed directly and others from existing associations is not desirable, and although I hear what he says, that, too, is a possibility. However, the authority will resolve matters at the relevant time. I accept the force of his argument, but at this stage we do not think that his is the only approach. I accept the aim behind his amendment, and nothing in the Bill should make that less possible to achieve. Indeed, we believe that the Bill is consistent with that aim.

In the light of those comments, I hope that my right hon. Friend will withdraw his amendment. If he will not, I hope that he will consider my arguments carefully, and I am happy to continue the discussion at a later date.

Mr. George: I am not entirely reassured, and I shall talk to the Minister and others, but I do not want to press the amendment to a vote at this stage. I hope that the Minister, or his successor, will realise that my approach is the better one. Sucking up to the industry will make some very happy, but it will make me and others very unhappy. None the less, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman: We come to amendment No. 11, which is also in the name of the right hon. Member for Walsall, South.

Mr. George: I do not want to move amendment No. 11.

The Chairman: The right hon. Gentleman does not wish to move his amendment, so amendment No. 11 is not moved.

Mr. George: I am in no way questioning your authority, Mr. Winterton, even though I might wish to do so. However, given that the best amendment that I tabled—on the complaints committee—has bitten the dust, may I make a four-paragraph contribution on the schedule?

The Chairman: That particular amendment was not selected because it was not considered appropriate. If the right hon. Gentleman briefly refers to what he would have said had the amendment been selected, I will not have time to rule him out of order.

Question proposed, That this schedule be the First schedule to the Bill.

6 pm

Mr. George: Thank you, Mr Winterton. My point is a matter of detail: at the moment, who does one complain to about a misdemeanour or crime against the private security industry? It is important to address that in the Bill and, if the Minister is interested, perhaps he will table an amendment on the complaints committee—which is not an appeals committee. I have gone into considerable detail on the matter, which should make further explanations superfluous.

The Chairman: I am sure that the Minister has heard what the right hon. Gentleman said and that he will respond.

Mr. Simon Hughes: Will the Minister set out the Government's latest thinking on the timetable for the recruitment, the composition, the work and the full functioning of the security industry authority?

Mr. Charles Clarke: I assure my right hon. Friend that I will carefully consider what he has said and whether it might be appropriate to table an amendment later.

I am in no position to give further information on the timetable. I can only say that, assuming the Bill receives Royal Assent, we intend to move as rapidly as possible in establishing the authority. There is no motive for delay. The whole industry and other interested parties want to see action on this matter. I will be happy to write to the Committee on that matter before Report.

Mr. Bercow: How many potential candidates for membership of the authority have thus far been earmarked?

Mr. Clarke: None. As I indicated, the Nolan process will be in operation, and we shall go through the normal process of advertising in that context. No one has been earmarked, or even considered, as far as I know.

Mr. Simon Hughes: I am grateful to the Minister for giving a half-helpful answer. Given the practicalities, what is the earliest time by which he would expect the authority to be functioning? I understand all the constraints, but will he also give us the latest date by which the industry can expect the authority to be up and running and the process of registration to be in place.

Mr. Clarke: It is difficult to be precise but the fairest thing to say is that it will be difficult to establish the authority, get it going, and have it functioning effectively before the middle or end of 2002. Practically, it may even be later. I assure the Committee that we will be moving with maximum expedition. The process of establishing a new organisation and appointing a new authority takes time, and there is no way around that, as the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge.

 
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