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Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): Does my right hon. Friend agree that many members of the wheelclamping industry believe that the time is now right for regulation, to ensure that people will not suffer as they have in the past?
Mr. George: I know that my hon. Friend has fought hard to have wheelclamping regulated. I did not mention it because I have never considered the wheelclamping industry to be part of the private security industry. However, the more the merrier: people who want to join the regulation regime should write to my hon. Friend the Minister of State before he leaves office.
It is ironic that wheelclamping should be regarded as part of the private security industry, many members of which will stay on the outside, looking in. That will remain the case until subordinate legislation is introduced.
I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Minister of State, with whom I have had many constructive meetings. My thanks go also to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who in the past has had to sit through many lectures on the subject. Opposition Members are lucky to have come to the debate rather late in the day. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary sat through my endless and futile attempts to convince the previous Government's Home Office Ministers and officials of the need to regulate the private security industry. I am deeply grateful to everyone who has contributed.
The hon. Members for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) have said some kind things, and I thank them. The Standing Committee was useful, and I am indebted to the hon. Gentlemen for their willingness to tolerate long speeches and to join in the spirit of near consensus on the Bill. That spirit is not unique, but it is fairly rare. That is particularly the case in the matter of crime and policing, which, at a public level, is divisive.
The passing of the Bill will be greeted by me and the industry with satisfaction, but it is not the end of the matter. Should the Minister of State be transferred to the Ministry of Defence, I warn him that, like Hannibal
The security industry is being transformed. Many bad companies will get out now and take their money and run, as those involved--who have serious criminal records--will never get past the regulatory authority. Their companies will not be able to meet the standards. I have mentioned the growth in technology, and it is an exciting time for the industry. The future is not just in the hands of the Home Office and the SIA, but in the hands of the industry. My interest in the matter will survive.
There has been talk of football teams, and Coventry City has had a bad time. Among Coventry's famous sons are the group, the Police; I think they were from Coventry. To paraphrase one of their famous songs--which I did not realise until years later was about stalking--"Every move you make, every step you take, we'll be watching you." That applies to whoever will be sitting in the Minister's place one month from now.
I am delighted that we have reached this point and I hope that the security industry will feel reasonably satisfied with our work. Finally, I thank my research collaborator, Mark Button, for all his work in bringing the interests of the private security industry before a wider audience. We have done a pretty good job of work and I look forward to the years ahead.
Jackie Ballard: The right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) is right to be proud of the role that he has played in bringing regulation to the private security industry. The House and the public will be grateful to him for not throwing in the towel over the many years that he has been involved.
Many hon. Members have spoken about football teams; I do not see the reason for that, but I do not want to be left out. That gives me a good excuse--in what will probably be my last speech of this Parliament--to congratulate the players of Taunton Town, who won the FA Vase on Sunday, playing at Aston Villa. I was there to watch them win it; the first live football match I have ever watched. They lost the trophy when the town had a Conservative Member, so it is a good omen that they have won it now.
Congratulations have been given to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South and the Government on the Bill, which has been in gestation for more than 20 years. There seems to be a greater need for security measures and operatives in all our lives, whether it is CCTV, burglar alarms, clubs and shop door staff or security patrols on housing estates. I have grave doubts about some of those roles--which should be matters for police forces--being taken over by the private security industry.
As has been said, the Liberal Democrats broadly welcome the Bill, although we have some lingering dismay that not all our helpful amendments were accepted by the Minister. They were helpful, particularly the proposal to include in-house operatives within the regulations--a matter to which the right hon. Member for Walsall, South drew attention. I suspect that that may find its way into the Bill at some point.
Mr. Bercow: Others have kept their contributions short; so will I. I congratulated the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) earlier, and having extended a bouquet to him I will spare him the embarrassment or indignity of further unwarranted and excessive effusions from me. Suffice it to say that everybody is aware of his expertise on the subject and everybody respects the dedication with which he has pursued issues and causes that are dear to his heart. The right hon. Gentleman is pleased with the Bill, and I hope that his expectation of its efficacy will be justified. If it is, it will be in the interests of the sector as a whole and of those who have reason to have contact or interaction with the private security industry.
In essence, a number of key areas are relevant to the sector that is covered by the Bill and of concern to those who scrutinise its contents. First, there is the key issue--what might be described as the macro-subject--of the Security Industry Authority; not only the powers and functions that are conferred upon it, but the way in which it is composed. We discussed these matters in reasonable detail on Second Reading and in Committee. The jury is out to an extent on whether--and, if so, to what extent--Government thinking and decisions on the matters reflect the spirit and content of our exchanges. Suffice it to say that there is a recognition that the authority needs to draw on the experience of the private security industry itself. If it were to fail to do so, it would not be adequately informed in the exercise of its powers.
On the other hand, it is important that people of ability and good intent who do not have a background in the private security industry but might have a capacity to offer an alternative view should have the chance to do so. One does not want the functions of the authority to suffer, however inadvertently, from the existence of what might be considered to be a parallax view; that is to say, the domination or exclusivity of a view that is drawn only from those who work in the industry. The Minister assured us in Committee that it was the intention to have a broad range of people. I hope that people will not be appointed to the authority by way of the offer of a bauble, but because they have ability, competence and good will. I am happy to give the Government the benefit of the doubt on that point and I hope that our best expectations and justified hopes for the composition of the authority will be reflected in due course.
A second important issue is the licensing and approval regime, including the provision for appeals and representations in relation thereto. We knocked these issues around by way of a game of legislative table tennis. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath
The fact that the Government and Opposition differ in their opinions serves only to underline the importance of the publication of findings and the opportunity for all Members of Parliament to come to a conclusion about whether the authority and the Bill have been effective in the first year. I hope that such opportunities will arise in the months ahead. The efficacy and transparency of the licensing regime will be important.
A third consideration is equally important--that of equity. We do not want the legislation to be a blunt instrument that over-eggs the pudding. It should not trample over the legitimate rights of people employed in the industry, or those who deal with them, in order to achieve its objectives. The legislation must be proportionate at the same time as being effective.
There is a legitimate debate about who should be included under the rubric of the Bill, and the right hon. Member for Walsall, South--we defer to the strength of his long experience--believes that other sectors should be subject to the Bill's provisions in future. We shall wait and see. I do not necessarily disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, nor with the present stance of the Government, but in practice the hopes held out for a measure and the words the Government use to justify their position often differ from the evidence of the practical impact of the legislation.
The Government have made a case for regulation of the private security industry. They are also able to invoke as ballast in support of their case the fact that most of the sector wants some regulation. However, I hope that the Minister will accept that just as not all of the large employers in that 350,000-employee industry are good, not all the small operators are bad. Some of the small operators would like to grow and it is therefore important to keep a proper focus on the balance between efficacy and zeal. Small companies should not be so smothered in excessive regulation that they do not have an opportunity to develop their legitimate commercial activities.
My final concern is the way in which the powers of entry and inspection will be implemented. Without those powers, the Bill would not have any practical effect if people could not inspect on behalf of the authority to discover whether companies were respecting its provisions. However, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) observed earlier, it is important that the powers are equitably enforced. People should not be intimidated by excessive inquiry or over-zealous interference by public authorities. Defences should be built and protection provided. The guilty should be apprehended and punished, but the innocent should be left to go about their lawful business, consistent with the principles of a liberal and pluralist democracy.
My concerns are reflected in the 25-odd clauses of the Bill, and the jury is out on how effective those provisions will be. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden wish the Bill well. We have a duty to maintain a certain critical and dispassionate distance from the