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Mr. Clifton-Brown: I have spoken to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) and discussed with him the points that he made. I do not think that he made the points that I have already made, and I believe that in the rest of my speech I shall not make precisely the same points as he made. Again, the Minister of State's intervention has been churlish and not very constructive, so I shall now continue with my speech and hope not to have to give way to him too many more times. However, I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes).
Mr. Hayes: I simply wanted to say that the Minister is doing his reputation no good with those foolish interventions. He would do well to remember the words of Mark Twain, who said that it was better to remain seated in silence and be suspected of being stupid than to rise to one's feet and speak, and remove all doubt.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I shall not pursue my hon. Friend's line. He has made his point in his own way. Suffice it to say that the Minister is extremely able on occasion, and he demeans himself when he makes the sort of intervention that he has made during my speech. I hope that we can now proceed in a constructive manner.
The Bill has had a quite a long genesis. I do not want to go into its full history; suffice it to say that much of that genesis occurred under the previous Conservative Government. A consultation paper was issued in
I made a few points in response to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South, including the fact that it is essential--this should be covered in primary legislation--that the public have legitimate means of knowing who security guards are and whether they are licensed by the Security Industry Authority or are employed by firms licensed by the SIA. I hope that the Minister will deal with that in his winding-up speech.
The British Security Industry Association is the main professional trade association for the security industry. As I said in an intervention on the right hon. Member for Walsall, South, 70 per cent. of the security business in the United Kingdom is covered by its members. Although it has largely welcomed the Bill, in line with the right hon. Gentleman's criticisms it has issued a number of strictures and reservations about it. It is worth briefly going through the aspects with which it is unhappy, including the lack of mandatory inspection for security companies. We would probably all like that to be covered by the Bill. If there is no mandatory inspection, how can we be sure that the inspection regime is operating properly?
The association has reservations about the absence of licensing for in-house officers. If officers running such firms are not properly licensed, how do we know that they are running them properly? The association also mentions in-house CCTV monitoring personnel and alarm installers. There is a very good CCTV scheme in Cirencester in my constituency. It was one of the first in the country, was grant-aided by the previous Conservative Government and works incredibly effectively, covering the centre of Cirencester and a wider area--some security cameras are on a high building and can scan a long way. When it was first introduced, there were civil liberties concerns but, as time has passed, people have got used to it and feel safer in the centre of Cirencester. A number of serious criminals have been apprehended through the CCTV scheme. Although it is often manned by civilians, there are strict rules on how long the pictures can be stored for recall. Basically, they can be stored for more than 24 hours if there is a suspicion of a crime. It is precisely those issues that need to be discussed; the private security industry must follow similarly strict guidelines.
The association also says that a fair and efficient system of retrospective licensing is needed so that companies are not disadvantaged. Clearly, there needs to be a reasonable period after the Bill comes into operation to allow security firms--not just the big two or three firms, but the little firms that want to do a good job--to meet its requirements. Little firms are not all cowboys. Many of them want to do a decent job and to be employed by bigger companies to carry out guarding activities. We should allow them to come up to the standards of training and efficiency that the Bill requires, so there should be a reasonable phase-in period.
The BSIA seeks clarification as to whether cash-in-transit personnel are included in the provisions. I endorse that. Operations involving cash in transit run by Group 4 have been well run, but there is scope for all sorts of things to go wrong for firms that are not quite up to the mark in this respect.
Finally, there is the high estimated cost of the licence--an old theme of mine. When a non-departmental public body is created, it should be cost-effective. It should charge the minimum necessary to cover its costs, and it should not be riddled with excessive bureaucracy.
I know that others want to speak, so I shall deal with just one or two of the more important matters that I intended to discuss tonight. Training is an important aspect of the Bill. As I mentioned to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South in an intervention, the BSIA carries out training, and has long experience of doing that. By training up to the standard of ISO 9000 and co-operating with and consulting various European security organisations, it has acquired huge knowledge of the subject. Although it should not be the sole provider of training, that bank of knowledge about how to train security guards and firms should be used. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.
On the licensing regime, I have said that it should not cost any more or be more bureaucratic than is strictly necessary. As a non-departmental body, it will still be subject to ministerial direction and subject to audit, as though it were a Government Department. I urge the Minister to ensure that it is not excessively expensive or bureaucratic.
It is important that there is a proper appeals mechanism for firms and individuals who are not granted a licence. No one wants to allow cowboys to operate, but regulation could become draconian. We could end up with a cosy little club, with only the elite in the security industry getting a licence. We need to be fair to smaller operations.
A licence will be required for a firm to engage in manned guarding, including overseeing property and premises. That impinges on the wheelclamping issue. We have all heard horror stories about innocent people being beaten up after straying on to private premises. We have heard of cowboys wheelclamping cars that were parked on private premises by mistake, not releasing those cars for several days and demanding huge ransoms before the wheelclamps are removed. Such activity should not be tolerated in a free society. Yes, under proper licence, wheelclamping is an effective deterrent to illegal parking on private property, but there should be good reason for it.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I can confirm that absolutely. Not only does wheelclamping not take place, but I have never employed a wheelclamper, be he cowboy or any other type, in my life. I hope that I shall never need to do so. In Norfolk, we are a relatively law-abiding community. Although fly tipping and the dumping of old cars are an increasing local menace, I hope that they will never necessitate wheelclamping.
The House of Lords agreed to an amendment that exempted all private domestic dwellings from the remit of security firms operating under the terms of the Bill. That must be right. Nobody wants to encourage anybody, whether or not he or she is a private investigator, to break into a private dwelling without the permission of its owner or occupier. Of course, the giving of advice about security devices and precautions will also have to be subject to licensing. Many people use bugging and surveillance devices, especially when they work in investigation, but such devices should be covered by strict rules and a licensing procedure.
Finally, in respect of keyholders, I assume that the Bill covers only professional firms. I have a private friend who acts as a keyholder for the alarm system on my house, so I hope that he will not be categorised as doing the job specified in the Bill. The Bill should, however, cover the professional security firm that installed and maintained my alarm, as it is also a keyholder.
Other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall conclude my remarks. I broadly welcome the Bill and I hope that the Government will give it the serious consideration that it deserves. If they call a premature election on 3 May, it might be one of the casualties of the final sort-out. I have no idea whether that will happen, as I will not be a party to the relevant negotiations. If the Bill is dropped, however, it will have to be reintroduced in the next Parliament. If that happens, I hope that the Government will think carefully about what has been said tonight. I hope especially that they will take the advice of the right hon. Member for Walsall, South, but I ask them to listen also to all the other comments that have been made. For once, let us see whether we can produce through genuine parliamentary debate a better Bill than the one first published by the Government.