HC Deb 28 March 2001 vol 365 cc967-1003

Order for Second Reading read

3.43 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill forms part of the Government's commitment to reducing crime and disorder. It introduces statutory regulation to the private security industry to drive out criminals and drive up standards. It will assist the building of important crime reduction partnerships between police, the private security industry and others. It is a regulatory Bill, but it makes straightforward and sensible arrangements for the private security industry and is consistent with our general aim of keeping regulation to the minimum necessary.

The private security industry is a thriving, diverse industry that has grown rapidly in recent years and is now part of daily life. We are all used to seeing private security personnel in shopping centres, department stores and office blocks; delivering cash to banks and building societies; and in many of our public service institutions. At present, there is no statutory regulation of the industry. I pay tribute to the industry for taking significant self-regulatory steps in recent years to raise its standards and image through trade associations and its training and inspectorate organisations.

The Government believe, however, that voluntary self-regulation is not enough. It cannot deal with the criminal or unscrupulous elements in the industry. There are no effective controls to prevent such people from leaving one area or firm and setting up again elsewhere, which can seriously hamper the work of the police in dealing with them.

Clients of the private security industry, by definition, give privileged access to those providing their security, and those providers are placed in particular positions of trust, with inside knowledge of their clients' weaknesses. That trust can be abused in ways that have damaging or even tragic consequences.

A recent survey revealed that some 350,000 people were wholly or mainly employed in the private security industry—a large number of people. The industry has a total annual turnover of more than £2 billion, but despite its size and important role in the security of our communities, no proper regulation is in place.

Jackie Ballard (Taunton)

The Minister mentioned the figure of 350,000. I expect that other hon. Members have different figures from other surveys, which suggests that there is some doubt about the number of people employed in the industry. Does the figure that he quoted include people employed, for example, by shops?

Mr. Clarke

The figure that I quoted from the survey includes people employed in-house, which I think is the hon. Lady's point. She is right that the numbers vary between surveys. There is a large number of part-time workers, and there are definitional issues as well. I have previously used the figure of 250,000, but the latest advice that I have is that 350,000 is an appropriate figure. It is not germane to the substance of the Bill, but it indicates the importance of the sector to all our lives. As I said, despite the sector's size and role, no proper regulation is in place.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the public have severe reservations about the activities of those sectors of the industry that are prone to exploitation by rogue elements. That is why both the industry and the police have long sought statutory regulation. We believe that a statutory framework is the most effective way to drive out the undesirable elements and thus increase public confidence in the industry.

Regulation has been long awaited. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), whom I am delighted to see in his place, tabled a private Member's Bill on the subject is long ago as 1977. I pay tribute to him, as he has played a long and distinguished role in trying to ensure that the House gives proper attention to this important issue He has consistently argued for that, and in preparations for the Bill we had a number of discussions about the right way to proceed.

In 1995, the Select Committee on Home Affairs recommended a statutory licensing system. The Government of the day decided that statutory regulation was not the answer and that the industry should regulate itself. At the time, the Labour party said that that response did not go far enough, and we indicated our intention to regulate the industry on our return to office. That is the position that we have reached, and is why the Bill is before the House.

After taking office, we undertook a consultation exercise with those most directly concerned: in particular, the industry, the police service, local authorities and the entertainment industry. As part of the exercise, we met many typical small to medium-sized security firms that saw regulation as a way of promoting confidence in the industry, as well as protecting the public. They were willing to be regulated even if that came at a cost, because they recognised that confidence in their services had to be their paramount concern.

Following the consultations, we published a White Paper in March 1999 outlining our proposals and inviting further comments. The White Paper has been deposited in the Library as a background paper to the Bill. The key aspects of our proposals were, first, that it was essential to vet people working in the industry to exclude criminal elements; secondly, that companies providing a recognised standard of service should be recognised through a voluntary inspection scheme; and, thirdly, that regulation would help to raise standards in the industry, building on progress made through self-regulation. We received about 180 responses to the White Paper from a wide range of bodies, which were generally supportive of the proposals and strongly in favour of regulation.

The Bill essentially reflects the proposals in the White Paper. It was carefully scrutinised in the other place, and a number of details have been improved in the light of the helpful arguments that were advanced, not least by Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members. As the House will know, I always hope to take account of the well-argued and constructive proposals that are made by all hon. Members during the passage of a Bill, in order to achieve as much consensus as possible.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

What assessment has the Minister made of the incidence of crime in the private security industries of European Union member states that have systems of statutory regulation? What assessment has he made of the costs of those systems?

Mr. Clarke

My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South has done the most distinguished work on that subject, on which he has published one of his numerous monographs. I have read the monograph, which deals with the various issues to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We have considered regulatory systems, although the word "assessment" is perhaps too strong. We have not conducted a rigorous assessment of the security systems of every European country. In many countries, practices are entirely different, so it is difficult to achieve a base for international comparison, but we have considered the arrangements in other countries and sought to achieve a progressive element for ourselves. As my right hon. Friend points out in his private arguments and in that learned monograph—

Mr. Bercow

And well thumbed.

Mr. Clarke

Yes, it is well thumbed, and it shows that, in the experience of other countries, a powerful form of regulation can work in driving down a crime levels. The effectiveness of such regulation depends on the country and the culture to which it is applied, but such experience has been gained.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

I think that the success of such measures largely depends on how good the regulatory system is, how much the security industry is respected and the close relationship between private security and the police. If they trust each other, and the public trust those involved in private security, crime prevention is much more successful than when the police and the public are alienated from the industry. We have experienced that recipe for catastrophe for the past 20 or 30 years.

Mr. Clarke

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, he speaks with knowledge that is gained from great experience in the field. The partnership approach that he advocates is precisely that which is set out in the Bill. That is why we welcome the fact that the industry, trade unions and police are all in favour of establishing a regulatory regime that can achieve the public confidence that he describes.

The main proposal to achieve that aim is our over-arching provision to create a non-departmental public body called the Security Industry Authority, whose aim will be to regulate sectors of the industry in respect of which there is genuine public concern about the activities of criminals and cowboys. We do not propose to regulate for the sake of doing so when public concern does not justify action or when the regulatory burden might be disproportionate.

That is why the SIA will be responsible for licensing individuals who are offering services under contract in designated sectors of the industry. It will also be responsible for regulating those involved in door supervision—bouncers—and in wheelclamping services, including people who offer services under contract to others and those who are employed in-house. In addition, it will inspect companies in response to voluntary applications and issue approved contractor status to those meeting an acceptable standard. Finally, it will be responsible for setting and raising professional standards within the industry.

The Bill extends to England and Wales and has been welcomed by the industry and the police service. It does not apply to Scotland, which is considering whether to make proposals to regulate the private security industry.

The functions of the new authority are set out in clause 1. Essentially, it will license individuals and approve companies with the help of an inspections regime; keep the private security industry and the legislative framework within which it operates under general review—I shall return to that point, as a general evolution is needed over time—and set, approve and ratchet up standards. A key feature of the effectiveness of the SIA will be the calibre and independence of its members and senior officials. It will need to establish good working relations with the industry in order to keep itself properly informed of the realities of the sector that it is regulating, for the reasons set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South. There will be a place in its membership for the industry.

The Government's overriding intention, which I want to emphasise, is to ensure that the authority and its officials are properly independent of the industry and are seen to be so. They must carry the confidence of everyone with a stake in the industry—the police, insurers, the public and others. If the Bill becomes law, I assure hon. Members of our determination to secure that independence and integrity, which will be critical to the success of the regime.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

I am sorry for missing the Minister's earlier remarks. Will he ensure that those who serve on the authority not only understand the industry but are independent? That is important.

Mr. Clarke

I apologise if I was not clear about that. At the beginning of my speech, I said that the Security Industry Authority will need to establish good working relations with the industry to keep properly informed of the realities of the sector that it will regulate. It is obviously important for some members of the authority to have direct personal experience of the industry. It is vital to reach a position whereby the independent agency carries such authority that its integrity is generally accepted.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I accept the Minister's comments about the authority, but the Bill will not cover people who install alarms. Why has that change from the proposals in the White Paper been made?

Mr. Clarke

In summary, we made the change because the better regulation taskforce, which considers burdens on industry, examined the extent to which legislation was needed to tackle crime in the alarm installation industry. We concluded that the need to tackle criminality was not clear enough to justify the inclusion of such a provision in the Bill. I shall deal with the point in more detail later, but I emphasise that one of the key functions of the new authority is to keep the legislative framework under general review. Similar issues to that mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman might arise in future.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

The Minister is dealing with specific matters and industries that the Bill may cover. Have he or his officials considered whether paragraph 5 of schedule 2 covers those who are involved in computer programming, and the security aspects of such involvement? If he believes that the provision covers people in that important industry, will he consult more widely with the industry during the Bill's passage?

Mr. Clarke

My officials and I have considered that carefully. I shall address the point in detail later; I believe that I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurances that he seeks. However, I was seduced by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) into going into a specific subject earlier than I intended.

The employment status of the relevant individuals and the type of security services that they provide determine who is affected by the Bill. Clause 3 defines the employment status of those who will be caught by the regulatory framework. All individuals who provide security services directly, their supervisors and managers and the directors or partners of their company or firm will be required to have a licence. That also applies to those who supply services on an agency basis.

Schedule 2 defines the sectors of the industry that are regulated. There are two main groups: first, those providing manned guarding services and, secondly, those engaged in immobilising vehicles—wheelclampers.

Manned guarding is a diverse activity, but it has the common feature of guarding premises, property or people. The Bill proposes that individuals in the manned guarding sector should be licensed if they provide services under contract to a client. We do not generally propose to require them to have licences if they are employed in-house by companies. Those companies will already have satisfied themselves about their employees, and the Government do not intend to add an additional layer of checking where it is not necessary.

The Government are fully aware of arguments in the industry and elsewhere that in-house staff should also be licensed. That relates to a point that the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) made earlier. We appreciate the weight of opinion behind those arguments. We were initially attracted to that idea, but, for the reasons that I gave the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, we decided against it because we believed that it would be an additional bureaucratic burden on business.

The Government are not closed to the arguments that have been made in favour of regulating in-house staff. We will bear them carefully in mind. The authority has a general duty to keep the operation of the industry and its parent legislation under review, and we will also have a formal review of all the arrangements after the authority has operated for three years. The Bill is flexible, and the Government can add or delete sectors of the industry by regulations. We will pay close attention to any recommendation from the authority that in-house manned guards should be brought into regulation.

Mr. Bercow

The hon. Gentleman is right to be cautious about extending the burden of regulation, especially as it could affect large numbers of small businesses. He will be aware that the British Security Industry Association covers 70 per cent. of the sector, including a number of large companies. Will he tell the House what proportion of the companies in the sector are small—that is, employing fewer than 50 people?

Mr. Clarke

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the figure that he requests. The thrust of his point is correct. The BSIA, with which we have worked closely, has been a strong advocate of the Bill. We are glad to have worked closely with it. However, it also has a commercial interest in strengthening the position of its members vis-a-vis some of the smaller operators in the field. That is why we have been concerned to see what the impact would be on those smaller of operators, and why, on the balance of judgment, we finally took the decisions that we have taken about those specific sectors, and about in-house staff.

The provisions for the review and consideration of the process and its application will allow us to see whether we have been too bureaucratically heavy-handed in relation to some parts of the industry, or whether some parts of the industry—such as in-house staff—that are not within the remit of the Bill will need to be regulated. That is the judgment that we have made about the right way to proceed, but I am sorry that I do not have the figure that the hon. Gentleman requested.

Door supervisors, or bouncers, form an important sub-set of the manned guarding sector regulated by the Bill. There are professional, reputable companies and operatives providing door supervisor services; but the fact that door supervisors operate most often at pubs and clubs, particularly at venues where young people are likely to gather, has meant that on too many occasions, disreputable and even criminal elements have infiltrated the sector.

We know that some door supervisors have turned a blind eye to drug dealing on the premises that they are meant to be protecting. Worse still, we know of door supervisors who have used their position to deal in drugs themselves. We are also aware of bouncers committing physical assaults on members of the public. The Bill therefore requires all door supervisors to be licensed, whether they provide their services under contract to a client or are employed in-house by a pub or club. I shall come in a moment to the licensing regime and its relationship to the local authorities.

I mentioned partnerships earlier. This will be an important area in which we can establish good partnerships between the police and local door supervisors in pubs and clubs. For example, in Manchester, 130,000 young people are in the city centre at 2 o'clock on Friday and Saturday mornings. That is an enormous number of people. Even in my own city of Norwich, between 10,000 and 13,000 young people are in the city centre on Friday and Saturday nights.

Mr. Bercow

Not because of the MP?

Mr. Clarke

The MP was out in the centre of Norwich with the police at that time of the morning a couple of weeks ago, and I think that the numbers were about 50 per cent. higher than they would otherwise have been because the word had got around that I was going to be there.

There are serious points relating to this. For example, the city safe scheme in Manchester, which I commend, involves a radio system between all the bouncers and the police to ensure that issues can be dealt with rapidly. That requires mutual confidence. In Norwich, there have recently been two tragic deaths of young people, and the question of how bouncers have operated has been important. We have a compact between the police, the local authority, the clubs and the bouncers to improve professional standards. That will be an important aspect of what we do.

Wheelclampers form a second important sector regulated by the Bill. I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), whom I am delighted to see in her place today. She has been a strong, consistent campaigner for proper regulation of the industry, and, since being elected to the House, has taken an active, positive approach to the issue, which I want to place on record.

We are addressing the issue of wheelclamping on private land—that is, land that is not a road to which the general public has access. Roads are separately regulated under the Road Traffic Acts. In our view, landowners must be able to take action against those who park on private land without permission, and wheelclamping—or at least the threat of it—may be an effective way to deal with irresponsible parking. However, it is crucial that such wheelclamping is carried out in a reasonable manner. To some extent, the law has already enshrined those principles. For example, in 1995, the Court of Appeal adjudged, in the case of Arthur and Arthur v. Anker, that clampers had acted legally as adequate warning signs had been displayed, the release fee was reasonable and there was a reasonable method of payment.

The judgment provided useful guidelines, but only in broad terms, to courts faced with similar cases. The court did not define a general standard for the size of signs or what a "reasonable" release fee might be. That leaves the motorist who is aggrieved at having his or her car clamped on private land with only limited practical means of redress. Unless the behaviour of the clamper is outrageous, the motorist may well be uncertain of his or her rights and may also be dissuaded from going to court by the potential cost of legal fees.

We believe that that gap in the law needs to be filled, which is why the Bill ensures that all wheelclamping on private land carried out as a business or as part of one's employment, or for a release fee, will be regulated by a licensing system. Each individual who provides wheelclamping services to others will therefore need a licence, as will his or her director or manager.

We also considered whether the licensing regime needed to cover the wheelclamping by businesses of cars on their own land using their own employees, or in-house wheelclamping. We concluded that it did. Immobilising a car gives the damper such power over the car owner, with all the inherent danger of that power being abused, that we would leave the public open to the risk of further abuses were we not to legislate.

However, in the example of in-house wheelclamping, the Bill allows the authority to avoid undue regulation by being able to require a licence only of the employer, if it is satisfied that the employer will vet employees to a suitable standard and also ensure their compliance with all the requirements and conditions of the licence.

Finally, the Bill requires a private individual or anyone acting on behalf of that individual to be licensed if he or she wishes to engage in do-it-yourself wheelclamping that involves charging a release fee. It also regulates three other sectors: private investigators, security consultants and keyholders. Those groups are much smaller in number than manned guards and wheelclampers and their activities give significantly less cause for public concern. None the less, such practitioners are in a special relationship of trust with regard to the security of their clients, and our White Paper proposals to take them into a statutory regulatory framework were welcomed.

The Government believe that the public are justified in expecting those who offer such services under contract to be subject to regulation. However, that does not affect operatives in those sectors who are employed in-house by companies. Again, we believe that employers' own screening processes are sufficient.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) asked about IT security consultants. I am happy to clarify a point relating to security consultants that has caused concern in some circles. Paragraph 5 of schedule 2, to which he referred, extends the provisions to security consultants whose activities are broadly defined in terms of giving advice about security precautions against any risk to property or the person.

In keeping with the rest of Bill, that is a broad definition, accompanied by some clarificatory exemptions. Concern has been expressed about the position of the information security industry in relation to those definitions. Just as with tangible assets, there are real threats to the security of information and security advice, and precautions are needed to protect it.

At present, there is no regulation of the information security industry. However, the Government are committed to regulating only where necessary. The Department of Trade and Industry will therefore consult the information security industry on the extent and effectiveness of existing precautions—protected measures—and whether further action is required. In the light of that, I am happy to make it clear that we do not currently intend to bring the information security industry within the scope of the new licensing regime established by the Bill.

The Security Industry Authority, when established, will undertake full and detailed consultations about the discharge of the remits placed on it by the Bill. Nobody will be regulated by the Bill without their full knowledge and understanding. All relevant types of security consultant will be invited to participate in the authority's consultations at the appropriate time. I am happy to make those points clear and I hope that I have dealt with the confusion that arose.

Mr. Hawkins

I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks, which are helpful to those involved in the information security sector of the IT industry, but is not he conscious of the fact that the broad wording of paragraph 5 of schedule 2 may accidentally catch some of those people, even if he does not intend that it should? Will he undertake further to consider that wording and whether it might be improved?

Mr. Clarke

I am certainly prepared to look at the wording, but this is a historic Bill for which, as I have said, my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South has pressed for many years, and I am keen for its wording to take account of significant changes in the way in which security is offered. Over the past 20 years, for instance, there have been considerable changes in the style of security, the approach to security and the technology that is used. That is why we have adopted a flexible stance in the Bill, requiring the Security Industry Authority to review the position and committing ourselves to consulting the industries concerned. I acknowledge that the wording of the Bill should relate to what we know now, in 2001, but in a broadly drafted context. That is our rationale, and that is why I have been able to give the commitments that I have given.

All individual employees, supervisors, managers or directors in the sectors that I have described will be required to have licences. Let me return to the point made by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield. We are aware of the arguments in favour of taking other sectors into this regulatory framework, and particularly aware of the arguments relating to installers of alarm and security equipment. As with in-house manned guards, we were initially attracted to the idea of including them in regulation, but we were persuaded against that by the argument about the regulatory burden and, to a significant extent, by the lack of any substantial evidence of criminality. In the case of some sectors mentioned in the Bill, we have such evidence.

We are not closed to arguments, but the Bill already gives the SIA a major task, and we do not want further to front-load its waiting list of people to license. We prefer to get the authority up and running with the duties given to it by the Bill in its present form, and then to listen to the voice of experience as it emerges. We will, of course, pay close attention to any recommendations from the authority.

It will be an offence for anyone to engage in licensable conduct, as defined in the Bill, without a proper licence. It will also be an offence to employ an unlicensed person providing security services. As a result of a Government amendment in another place, the Bill also makes it an offence for an occupier of premises to permit unlicensed clamping of vehicles on those premises where such activities require a licence.

A licence will be required for each designated security service provided. For example, if someone legitimately works as both a manned guard and a wheelclamper, he or she will need to be licensed for both activities. Exemptions from the need for a licence will be allowed when an individual is already subject to a type of vetting that affords protection for the public that is at least equivalent to that achieved by the criteria imposed by the authority.

The authority will determine the criteria on which it will issue licences. The criteria will be published so that applicants and the public will know what the requirements are. There will be two types of criterion. First, the authority will check an individual's criminal record with the newly established Criminal Records Bureau. In the case of applicants in all but one of the regulated sectors, the authority will obtain a criminal record certificate showing both spent and unspent convictions. Because of particular concerns, door supervisors alone will be the subject of an enhanced criminal record certificate, showing spent and unspent convictions together with convictions for minor offences, and local police intelligence.

The Government believe that those exemptions from the provisions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 are fully justified if private security operatives are to be licensed properly. That belief was shared by those who commented during our consultation period.

It will be for the authority to determine what weight to give any criminal convictions revealed by the checks. It is unreasonable to say that any criminal conviction whatever should automatically prevent the granting of a licence—the authority will consider each application on its merits—but it is likely that certain serious offences relating to violence or drugs will bar an applicant from gaining a licence.

The second type of criterion that the authority will take into account relates to skills and training. The authority will have an important role in setting and raising standards in the industry generally. I should say at this point that both the British Security Industry Association and the main trade union in the sector, the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union, have been active in promoting the case for proper training and development of staff, and the Government associate themselves strongly with those efforts.

The Government will wish the authority to consider carefully how to ratchet up minimum quality thresholds. Any proposals will need to be discussed carefully with the industry.

A number of current training and quality standards are relevant to the private security industry. Some of them are accepted as pretty good, but some are not so good. The SIA will need carefully to examine the range of quality of those standards before deciding on the standards that it wants to see in place. Although the authority will not want to reinvent the wheel, it may also not want to buy one off the shelf.

As the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said, in considering the type of quality standards that it wants to use, the authority will of course have to pay attention to standards in other European countries. I am clear that the authority should be thinking in terms of standards that are challenging for the industry. However, as with all training, it will also have to bear in mind what is practicable and achievable.

The authority will be able to attach conditions to a licence, and it will be an offence to contravene them. The authority will also be able to refuse, modify, suspend or revoke a licence, and the criteria for doing so will be published. There will also be a standardised system of licence applications and procedures, and a standard licence format to help with public recognition and enable the licence holder to work anywhere in the country.

Mr. Bercow

I am, as always, listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman's speech. He will be aware that the Government are furnishing themselves with the power to make regulations on exemptions from the licensing requirement and, for example, on arrangements for the grant of approvals. Detailed policy will be contained in those regulations. He will also know, from previous skirmishes, my interest in that subject. Can he assure me that those regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure, so that the House has a proper opportunity to debate them? If the answer is no and he proposes to opt instead for the negative procedure, will he at least undertake, in the name of getting it right, to provide a draft of those regulations before the Bill is further considered?

Mr. Clarke

We have discussed those two points at great and entertaining length. The fact is that Oppositions always ask for affirmative orders, whereas Governments are always inclined not to agree them. Occasionally, however, we have agreed them. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath may have been in a Committee that considered other legislation which has been passed when I accepted from Conservative Members an amendment for the affirmative procedure. Therefore, although our mind is not closed to proposals, we shall make practical decisions in each case.

I am not sure that I can give the assurance that the hon. Member for Buckingham seeks that we shall be able to publish detailed draft regulations during the Bill's passage. I can, however, assure him that we shall do that as soon as we are able to do so.

I also have an answer to the question on small companies that the hon. Member for Buckingham asked earlier. It is apparently the case that of 2,000 manned guarding companies in the United Kingdom, 1,600—four fifths, or 80 per cent.—had 50 or fewer employees.

The authority will be able to charge a fee for licence applications. The fee should be the minimum necessary to allow the authority to be self-financing. I make it absolutely clear that it is not our intention to erect artificial financial barriers to employment in the industry. The exact fee will be determined by several factors, but we expect it to be about £35 to £40 for a licence that usually will last for three years. That is not a commitment to a specific figure, but an indication of the scale of charges that we envisage. We do not believe that that sum is extortionate. A fee of £40 for a three-year licence is equivalent to 25p a week. We do not believe that that should be a barrier to employment in the industry.

We would hope that employers will want to reimburse employees for the cost of a licence. However, we do not believe that it is appropriate to shift the onus for payment from the individual to the employer, as the Bill correctly places responsibility for licensing at the level of the individual security operative. We believe that the fee must follow that responsibility. However the indications that I have had are that, in many industries, employers will reimburse employees for the cost. We hope that that will be general practice.

There will be an avenue of appeal to the magistrates courts against a decision by the authority to refuse, modify or revoke a licence or a decision to impose conditions on a licence. That avenue of appeal reflects concerns expressed in another place and is a welcome improvement.

Earlier, I mentioned delegation to local authorities. Although the Bill vests licensing powers centrally with the security industry authority, the Government are of course aware that many local author ties operate schemes to register door supervisors and wish to continue to have a role in licensing them.

It is important that setting the licence criteria will remain the responsibility of the SIA, as we do not want to move away from a national standard in terms of licensing criteria. The Bill therefore makes no provision for local authorities to apply criteria other than those set out by the authority. However, it envisages the possibility of local authorities undertaking the processes for the grant of licences to door supervisors—that is to say, receiving the applications, conducting the necessary checks, and deciding the eligibility for licences. As with decisions of the SIA, there are avenues of appeal to the magistrates courts against a local authority decision.

Given local authorities' familiarity with the local scene, allowing them to conduct the necessary checks will clearly have some potential advantages. However, I should emphasise that delegation will take place only with the consent of the local authorities. There is no intention of simply foisting these duties on them against their will. We shall hold detailed discussions with the local authorities about the practicalities of delegation well in advance.

Mr. Hawkins

The Minister will know from other debates of the Opposition's concern about the Government's propensity to place extra burdens on local authorities without providing the necessary funding. Will he undertake to ensure that the Government will provide the appropriate funding to allow local authorities to carry out this additional work?

Mr. Clarke

I said that delegation would take place only with the consent of local authorities, and one consideration for the Government and the authorities would be the financial arrangements involved. I know that the previous Conservative Government at no time placed burdens on local authorities without paying for them, and I am therefore delighted with the integrity of the position adopted by the hon. Gentleman.

The final element of the licensing system will be a public register listing every licensed person and the terms on which they have been licensed. The public and the police will thus be able to establish clearly whether an individual is properly licensed to engage in regulated security activities.

The second main strand of the SIA's functions is the approved contractors scheme. The Bill establishes a system whereby providers of security services who meet certain standards can obtain recognition from the SIA. The Government are aware that some bodies in the industry and elsewhere favour making this a compulsory scheme. However, we have decided against that, at least for the present. We do not believe that a full and comprehensive case for imposing this additional burden across the board on the industry has yet been made. We believe that the majority of reputable companies will want to seek approval under the voluntary system.

We are aware of arguments that the Government should set a lead by requiring that public contracts for security services will not be awarded to companies failing to meet the standards set by the SIA. I cannot give that absolute guarantee, but I can certainly say that we shall draw the virtues of the approved contractors register to the attention of the procurers of public service security contracts, and that we will make it clear to security companies that we are doing so. We believe that that will further increase the attractiveness of the scheme in the eyes of companies.

The Bill contains provisions to convert the voluntary scheme into a compulsory one, if the authority and the Government of the day are convinced that that is the right thing to do. Once again, we will listen very carefully to what the SIA tells us about the operation of the voluntary scheme. Providers of security services will be able to apply to the authority for approval against a set of published criteria. If the standards are met, the company will be able to advertise itself as approved.

The supporting regime is similar to that for the licensing of individuals. The authority will draw up and publish its criteria; it can withhold or delay approval until the criteria are met; it may attach conditions to the grant of an approval; and it may charge a fee for processing the application.

There will also be a right of appeal to the magistrates courts against any decision of the authority in this area, and there will be a public register of approved companies. It will be an offence falsely to claim approval under the scheme.

It is important that the authority can actively police the licensing regimes that it establishes. The authority will therefore have powers of entry and inspection, but the powers contain a number of safeguards. For example, they are restricted to premises other than those solely used as domestic dwellings, and the purpose of the entry and inspection must be stated. These safeguards balance the rights of the individual with the need for the authority to have an effective enforcement mechanism.

These additional safeguards were introduced and welcomed in another place in the light of concerns expressed in debate about the civil liberties implications of the powers.

Sir Norman Fowler

Before the Minister finishes, will he say what he thinks the chances are of the admirable measures in the Bill reaching the statute book by the time the general election is called?

Mr. Clarke

Very high. We shall have to see what Conservative Front-Bench Members and Liberal Democrat Members have to say about the matter, but my impression so far—subject to correction—is that there is a broad consensus, as there certainly was in the other place, as to the approach to be taken. There may be important points of detail to be debated—I do not want to trivialise that fact; but I believe that there is a general desire that we should respond to the wishes of the police and the security industry by getting legislation on to the statute book. I wait with interest to hear what will be said during this debate. I am confident that the Bill will receive Royal Assent by the time a general election is called—whenever that may be during the next year and a month.

As I was saying before I was so politely interrupted, the Government believe that the benefits accruing from the Bill are several. The SIA will, for the first time, introduce a licensing regime that is universal, consistent and transparent. By licensing all door supervisors, the authority will drive down the incidence of violence and drug offences in pubs and clubs. By licensing all wheelclampers, the authority will deter the cowboys who prey on innocent motorists.

The authority will also set about ratcheting up standards across the regulated sectors. It will play a central role in the future relationship between the private security industry, the police and the Government and the public whom we all serve; it will strengthen the partnerships that are so important.

It is important for the authority to work closely with the industry that it will regulate. However, it is also crucial that the authority is wholly independent of that industry. That will enable the public to have increased confidence in the industry, which, in turn, will, we hope and believe, be likely to lead to increased market opportunities for it.

The Bill contains a comprehensive set of proposals and I hope that the House will agree that it deserves a Second Reading. I commend it to the House.

4.26 pm
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Unscrupulous and criminal activity by those who have been employed in the security industry has been of concern to Members on both sides of the House and in another place.

In his opening remarks, the Minister paid tribute to the long-standing interest of the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). Similarly, I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), who has also been interested in the matter for a long time. Sadly, as the Minister and hon. Members know, because foot and mouth is a serious problem in my right hon. Friend's constituency, he is unable to be with us. Had that not been the case, I have no doubt that he would have wanted to participate in the debate. As he was the Minister of State at the Home Office when the Select Committee on Home Affairs investigated the matter in 1994, I am sure that the present Minister will agree that my right hon. Friend's work was extremely useful in preparing the background for the measure.

I pay tribute, too, to the former Member for Burton, Sir Ivan Lawrence, who was the Chairman of the Select Committee in 1994. He made a significant contribution to the Committee's report on the industry—as the Minister will confirm.

The Opposition's Approach to the Bill is that it should not place unnecessary, overly complex, bureaucratic or burdensome regulations on the legitimate sector of the industry. I am sure that the House does not want the Bill to go further than is necessary or desirable. We must be especially careful not to hit the smallest people hardest. We do not want the Bill to impose a huge bureaucratic burden on small businesses; as we know, it is often easier—relatively—for big business to comply with Government regulations.

A large company can afford to employ people in compliance and administrative departments to ensure that regulations are satisfied. However, for people legitimately trying to run a small company, who are working all the hours God sends to build up their business, extra bureaucratic regulation is a huge problem. Thus, in Committee, we shall want to spend a great deal of time considering how the legislation would operate—especially its effects on small companies. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who raised the matter in an earlier intervention, will be as keen as me to probe the Government carefully on that.

The Minister described the proposed new security industry authority and how the Government envisage that it will operate. Conservative Members never feel comfortable with the creation of new quangos.

When the Bill was in another place, it received not only quite a lot of attention from the Lords but a surprising amount of scrutiny from the national press. I was particularly interested to read a description by one of our most distinguished parliamentary reporters of the debate in another place, in which he said that some called the new security industry authority "Ofbounce". He asked where, oh where was the libertarian voice that would scrutinise whether the authority was really necessary. I have a feeling that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and I are in our current positions precisely to provide that libertarian voice and to ensure that there will be proper scrutiny. We do, however, recognise that there have been huge abuses throughout the country by so-called cowboy clampers.

I want to pay personal tribute to Mr. Alan Franklin, editor of The Surrey-Hants Star, which covers not only my constituency but the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who intervened earlier, and my right hon. Friends the Members for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) and for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay). Over a period of not months but years, Mr. Franklin has highlighted many of the problems that my constituents and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends have had with particular clamping companies, especially a company that has been used by South West Trains.

Some clamping companies, even those employed by large public limited companies, have frequently indulged in a thoroughly inappropriate approach to law-abiding members of the public. It is particularly worrying, as the Minister will acknowledge, when single ladies return late at night from their work in central London to a poorly lit station car park, where their car may be a great distance from a well-lit area, only to find that it has been clamped—perhaps because the signs about parking charges were obscured, as they have been in some of the cases that Mr. Franklin has highlighted—and then find it almost impossible to get someone from the clamping company to come out and release the car. Understandably, they then feel frightened and vulnerable.

In those circumstances, it is not surprising that there is huge concern. The editors of local and regional papers, who have taken up this cause and tried to embarrass not only the clamping company but the public limited company that employed it into ensuring proper standards, are doing a very worthwhile job.

Some of the cases that have been highlighted nationally have caused huge worry. In a case that was decided by the Court of Appeal in June 2000, a 61-year-old lady was clamped when driving home from hospital following a chemotherapy session—she had had to park her car in order to be sick. It was an appalling case. The clamping company had been employed by the local authority. I am glad to say that the lady concerned was supported by the Automobile Association, and that when it was explained to the Court of Appeal that the sign warning that illegal parkers would be clamped had been obscured in this instance by another vehicle parked in front of it, it ruled that the lady concerned could not reasonably have been expected to see the sign and ordered repayment of the fine imposed on her.

There were, however, even more significant worries when, in February 2000, the Data Protection Registrar began making inquiries, following suggestions that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency had given motorists' names and addresses to conmen who were posing as prosecuting or police authorities. Several drivers received what appeared to be official police penalty notices, but they were fakes, posted by wheelclamping companies.

In that instance, it was reported in the national press that wheelclamping companies were persuading landowners to let them enforce parking restrictions on private land in return for a cut of the fines improperly collected. Instead of clamping cars, which would deter other drivers from parking, unscrupulous companies were photographing vehicles' registration plates and asking the DVLA to provide the registered keepers' details. Again, that is a matter of huge concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House.

As a result of the wide reporting of such scandalous cases, we all recognise that the House probably needs to act. We shall want assurances from the Government that the provisions that will criminalise those who employ unlicensed operatives will be well publicised. For example, perfectly respectable businesses and individuals may wish to employ wheelclampers to stop the persistent, unauthorised use of their parking spaces.

In another place, my noble Friend Lord Cope cited the example of a dentist who had to employ wheelclampers to deter those who improperly used his surgery car park when visiting nearby shops. He asked whether the dentist would need to be licensed by the new authority. We certainly understand that, under the Bill, the dentist would find himself liable to criminal penalties if he were to employ an unlicensed wheelclamper. However, what would happen if he applied the clamp to an illegally parked car, or instructed one of his employees to do so? We should be interested to hear, in the Minister's winding-up speech, whether in those further circumstances the dentist or a similar professional would be caught by the offence proposed in clause 6.

Despite the limited defence to such a charge provided in clause 6(2), it would be helpful if the Minister could say how the Government intend to publicise the Bill's provisions to law-abiding people, not only those who will need to register with the new authority, but those who will use their services and the individuals who may, even on a limited and irregular basis, carry out such clamping. We want to know how the provisions will apply to people who voluntarily carry out the activities that will be regulated under the Bill. Will they be obliged to be licensed by the new authority?

Under schedule 1, the Secretary of State will have the unfettered power to appoint the new authority's members and chairman. He can appoint as many members as he likes—the Bill contains no lower or upper limit; nor does it state who can be appointed. When challenged in another place, the Minister's noble Friend Lord Bassam let slip that the Home Office expected that the Association of Chief Police Officers would be invited to nominate a representative; but is that all? Will representatives of the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation also be appointed? Will a senior judge or senior magistrate be appointed?

The Opposition think that that provision could be made much more specific. A more specific provision than that exists for, for example, the local probation boards established under the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. I am sure that the debates in Committee will provide an opportunity to explore that important matter in more detail. The Secretary of State should not have an unfettered power to appoint as many or as few people as he likes to the new authority, as well as appointing its chairman, and the Bill should state where those people can come from.

Will the Minister comment on the decision to make the register of licensed persons open to public inspection? Given that the register will hold not only the names of licensed persons but their addresses, what safeguards does the Bill contain to prevent someone from obtaining the home address of a licensed doorman or wheelclamper against whom he or she may bear a grudge? If such a licensed person were self-employed and worked from his or her home address, even allowing that person to specify a business address would not suffice because, in those circumstances, the business and home address would be one and the same.

Even if only work addresses were open to public view, there could be security implications. We are all aware of cases in which, sadly, private revenge attacks involve the arson of business premises—for example, fuel is poured through the letterbox and set on fire. Therefore, we shall wish to explore the need for further safeguards in that context.

The Minister will be aware that concerns were raised about the register of political donations that was set up by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Section 69(4) of the Act specifically provides that home addresses shall not be made available to the public. Conservative Members think that those concerns apply equally powerfully to operatives engaged in what may be sensitive security work.

We are aware of a number of complaints from police officers and others in sensitive positions about the potential for criminals to obtain home addresses from the electoral register. On a recent visit with the Solicitor-General, I was made aware that even senior people in the Crown Prosecution Service have been put at risk by the activities of serious and organised crime. People in the service felt that they and their families were being intimidated and threatened. That is a huge concern to those of us who are interested in the proper implementation of law and order and the administration of justice. The Government failed to act when such concerns were raised during the passage of the Representation of the People Act 2000. In enacting this Bill, it is important that we do not create similar problems, so we shall want to deal with that issue in detail in Committee.

Some people have expressed the concern that the Bill is really an attempt to provide a statutory framework for the kind of private policing arrangements that the Government envisage in their so-called 10-year crime plan, so that they can attempt to minimise any fuss that that might create. I remind the Minister of the Home Secretary's comments to the Police Federation conference back in May 1995, when the right hon. Gentleman was in opposition. He said: There must be restriction in any event on what the private security industry is allowed to do. It must not be allowed to replace our fine and long-established tradition of public service policing by constables, accountable to the community.

Mr. Clarke

The words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary stand today as they did when we were in opposition. I have made it clear in several speeches, including one to the British Security Industry Association, that the office of constable sets a constable apart from the rest of British society. It is an important constitutional role. Nothing that we or any Government do should weaken or diminish the significance of that role. My right hon. Friend and I stick with the words that the hon. Gentleman quoted.

Mr. Hawkins

That is helpful, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Since the Government came to power, many speeches have been made that suggest that the Home Secretary And the Home Office in general are moving towards a blurring of the distinction between police officers and private forces.

Mr. Clarke

I do not want to develop this argument at length, but that is simply not the case. We are not seeking to blur the distinction it is very important. We are in favour of developing partnerships between the police and the private security industry, and the Bill will assist in that.

Mr. Hawkins

I, too, do not want to prolong the debate on this issue unnecessarily, because we shall return to it. However, when Ian Blair, the former chief constable of Surrey, expressed his views about working closely with private uniformed forces, those views were warmly endorsed by the Home Secretary. The Minister knows that the police were greatly concerned about the way in which the distinction was being blurred. Perhaps the Home Secretary has learned better since then. However, we hear the Minister's comments and shall return to them.

One reason we are worried about the Government changing their mind is because of the Bill's timing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) highlighted the concern that the Government might not be seriously planning to enact the Bill before the general election. When the Home Secretary was in opposition, he attached huge importance and urgency to the measure, but he has introduced it late in this Parliament. In September 1996, as the then Opposition's spokesman on home affairs, he told the Police Superintendents Association conference I regard statutory regulation of the industry as a priority.

Indeed, the Official Report is littered with comments by the former Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), who repeatedly told the House throughout 1997 and 1998 that a Bill such as this would be introduced "as soon as possible." Given what the Labour party said before and after it came into government about the urgency of the measure, it is surprising that the Bill has been introduced at such a late stage.

Mr. Clarke

Honestly, after 18 years of Conservative government, during which time no action was taken on the matter, it is a bit steep to be chided for not acting quickly enough.

Mr. Hawkins

The Minister is remarkably sensitive. I have given him many examples of the Home Secretary referring to the matter as urgent. I was in the House several times when the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth said that the Government would act as soon as possible. Yet only at the last moment—if the rumours are to be believed—is legislation being introduced.

The distinguished parliamentary commentator Mr. Quentin Letts covered the proceedings in another place. The Minister rightly paid tribute to my noble Friend Lord Cope and his contribution towards improving the Bill. However, grave concerns were expressed about the Government's approach to the cost of licences. When they originally presented their White Paper, £22 was the best guess for the cost of the licence. By the time the Bill reached the other place, the cost had risen to between £35 and £40, which the Minister repeated today. We are worried that, once we create a quango or new authority with wide powers to increase charges, they will go up and up.

Lord Bassam spoke of his desire to ratchet up standards. We fear a ratcheting up of costs and prices. We shall continue to ensure that there is proper scrutiny. Although the Bill has merits, we hope that the Government will not try to rush it through. We want to ensure that before it becomes law, there is proper protection, analysis and scrutiny, which the Government have denied other Home Office legislation.

4.49 pm
Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

I want first to declare an interest as a member of the GMB union, which has many members in the industry, and as the union official responsible for much of the industry in the early 1980s.

I welcome the Bill. As the Minister recognised, much has been written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and others about the history of the security industry in this country. Originally, it employed many people from a military background and retired police officers. Much of the industry was born in wartime as a result of the need for additional security. During the 1960s and 1970s, the private sector business began to develop, servicing companies that wanted to improve their internal security.

There are a great many reputable companies with which I have had contact over many years. Throughout that time, they have endeavoured to raise the credibility of the industry, to have honest contracts, to provide honest security, to employ honest people, and to do a good job for the people whom they serve. However, they have had difficulties in some sectors. Differentiation of services by reputable companies means that some sectors regulate themselves. I know that the cash-in-transit sector is included in the Bill, but the market has good control over much, although not all, of that sector, which raises standards. That is due to the endeavours of the traditional, larger companies in the industry.

At the other end of the industry— the "man guarding" end—it has been an uphill task for those employers and employees who want to raise standards. There are two reasons for that. The first is the lack of wage regulation. It was difficult for a reputable company such as Securicor, Group 4 or Chubb to try to raise standards if a cowboy company said that instead of wanting £5 an hour as a contract price, it was prepared to do the job for £1.20 an hour. The consequences were that their staff were employed at 50p an hour—that is an accurate figure, as I am sure hon. Members will recognise—when the basic wage paid by a local authority was £1.75 or £1.80 an hour. That differential meant that reputable companies were continually being undercut.

The second reason, which is the corollary of the first, is that companies were employing people so cheaply that their margins were too tight to enable even the reputable ones among them to cover the on-costs of training or of vetting to keep out criminal infiltrators. Some of the companies would use the same uniform for two people on different shifts. At that time, the early 1980s, the reputable companies, the trade unions and the British Security Industry Association decided that something should be done.

We now know that the wage problem has been at least partially resolved by the minimum wage legislation, which I welcome. The biggest impact that the legislation had on male employment was in the security industry, where it has done a great deal to raise wage levels and allow companies to compete on a fairer platform. However, there is still a problem to be solved, and I welcome the Bill because it attempts to lay down rules within which people will have to operate if they want to provide private security. It will hit the cowboy companies, some of whose practices are atrocious. Apart from making employees share uniforms, they intimidate customers into taking their security services to the exclusion of those offered by other companies. They deliberately employ known criminals to case the joint so that others can come in later and make merry. Health and safety considerations are unknown to such companies.

When I was a union official, a shop steward came to me and said, "I really have to complain about this." I told him that I had heard all the complaints before. He told me, "We are trying to provide a decent service, but I've just been along to a site that we cover from Monday to Friday. When I left at 4 o'clock on Friday afternoon, I handed over the keys to a certain face, but when I came back at 6 o'clock on Monday morning, the same guy was still there and asked me 'Can I go home now, mister?' I told him he could." We checked it out and found that a contract security company covered the site at the weekend and that one person had been on duty from Friday afternoon right through to Monday morning.

Incidentally, I do not think that the individual concerned would have been entitled to British citizenship. Some of the companies employing such people exploited the corruption in our immigration rules, and although I would not want to deny anyone employment, people should go through the proper procedures to enable themselves to be employed. That case convinced me that something had to be done about the industry.

The Government are right to regulate. There is no argument to be made that we are intervening unnecessarily in the private sector. I am no believer in unnecessary intervention and regulation: if the market can deal with a situation, it should be left to do so, but if it cannot deal with a situation—I do not think that it can in this case—there is a need for state intervention. Winston Churchill said words to that effect in 1912 and I do not see why I should disagree with them today.

The Government are also right to set up the Security Industry Authority. Again, I am not one to argue in favour of having more quangos if another way of addressing an issue can be found, but we need a body that is at arm's length from the Government. Here, I add my voice to a plea that has already been made to the Minister by constituents and union members to whom I am close. When appointing people to that body, please will he appoint someone who is credible, has experience, is convincing, and will pull the industry forward? There is a fear that others will dance circles around someone who is not so qualified.

Mr. Charles Clarke

I give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks. I tried to emphasise that exceptionally important point in my speech and he is right to raise it again, as are others. Independence and integrity are critical to the whole system.

Mr. Henderson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I shall be happy to give way to him at any time if he wants to comment in a similar vein. His response will be warmly welcomed by those concerned.

The Government are right to concentrate on individual licences, but I am not sure about the cost. We are supposed to be encouraging welfare to work, to use the current phrase, but someone who wants to get off the dole and into a job will regard £40 as a high price to pay for a passport to that desirable end. Can the Minister be a little more innovative: for example, might it be possible to set up a special scheme or training programme—perhaps paid for by the levy—to help those who are out of work, or might the companies be persuaded to make a contribution?

It is important that we reach a clear understanding about training, especially essential training. We are not talking about a four-year apprenticeship, but there is a need to be specific about the sort of training that is required. In addition, skills will have to be updated as conditions in the industry change and new technology is introduced. We all look forward to hearing the Minister's comments in that respect.

The Government must think again about the regulation of companies. I understand the arguments that the key issue is ensuring that the individuals who actually provide the service are properly vetted and trained and that the market mechanism enables clients to decide which company can provide the best and most credible service. However, I think that the industry needs a bit of a fillip, which could be provided by ensuring that companies have to register. If there is a case for voluntary registration, why not go the whole way and have mandatory registration? That is the way to ensure that the high standards to which the Minister and others have referred are adhered to.

If we do not have mandatory registration, criminals may set up a security company, insist that their employees go through a vetting process, and then use that information to conduct criminal activity. I may be wrong, but I do not think that that would be caught by the Bill. It would be better to put extra responsibilities on the directors. If they work as security officers, they are covered by the Bill, but, worryingly, if they are backseat directors running a criminal activity, they are not. I wonder how the police view the matter; I think that they would have reservations about that aspect of the Bill.

We have regulation in the banking industry because the market did not take care of it. Too many people had too much inside information to be able to give objective financial advice, so it was decided that they should state their interests before giving financial advice. Essentially, that is what the regulatory authorities in the finance industry are about. Financial institutions are asked to register so that people know where they are coming from and are aware of their asset bases. There is a parallel in the security industry as it, too, must combat crime. There is a strong argument that security companies should have to demonstrate their credentials and register them with the authority. That would not be a major incumbency on those companies—from the point of view of minimising regulation, one cannot argue that it would be an additional burden. It would be a fairly small administrative task which companies should be well able to undertake, considering that they have to regulate all their contracts with clients and make sure that everyone is in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing. That is a complicated business, but registering the basics would be different.

Others have argued that there is a case for registering in-house security staff. I recognise the argument in favour of that, but, to be honest, I also recognise the argument that it should be left alone as the market can take care of it. People who employ staff directly can make decisions on their quality, how they should be vetted and so on. The jury is out on that one, and I would like to see how things develop before insisting on such registration. However, the question of registering companies needs a rethink, and the Minister may have an opportunity to do that in Committee.

As I said, I very much welcome the Bill, which is long overdue. It addresses the genuine fears of people in all walks of life who are connected with the security industry, including the police, the companies themselves—whatever their size or shape—and, perhaps most importantly, those who work in the industry. Like other Members, I am concerned about the late introduction of the Bill and I am worried that it may not reach the statute book before the next Parliament. If it does not, I hope that it will be reintroduced. After 20 years or more of debate, there is more unity on the issue than there has ever been. I urge the House to agree to the Second Reading today and, if necessary, agree to that again in the next Parliament.

5.3 pm

Jackie Ballard (Taunton)

Unlike the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), I do not have any interests to declare. Touch wood, I have not been wheelclamped yet and have not been bounced out of a nightclub. The Minister will be interested to hear that. In Committee, I usually divulge aspects of my life that engage him, and about which Conservative Members make notes for their leaflets.

Mr. Bercow

Give us the details.

Jackie Ballard

I said that I had not been bounced out of a nightclub. I am not going down that track.

My party does not support unnecessary and over-bureaucratic regulation, but we welcome the Bill, which will regulate an important sector of private industry that directly affects the safety and security of the public. Lord Thomas of Gresford led for us in the other place and set out our generally supportive position on the Bill. However, he also raised several issues of concern, some of which the Government responded to in the other place, and others which we shall seek to address in Committee. As other Members have said, there is a clear need to regulate the private security industry, which is a large, important sector that affects the public, often in their daily lives.

It will come as a surprise to many people that the industry is not already regulated, and as a surprise to others that it has taken so long to regulate it. According to the Library briefing, there have been 17 private Members' Bills on the subject in the past 20 years, so the Opposition cannot claim that they were exactly hyperactive in ensuring that legislation was enacted during their 18 years in government.

As the Minister said, some 350,000 people are employed in the industry, but the total number is not precisely known. That in itself is an argument for regulation. Many of the functions performed by the industry straddle the boundary between the private and the public sectors, so it is important that it is subject to regulation not only to ensure high standards, but that the limits of the powers of private security operators are clearly defined. The public need to have confidence in the system, and it is important that the industry and the people who work for it and with the public are subject to checks and balances.

It has been widely reported, including in Home Office research studies, and as we have heard from other hon. Members, that there has been a relatively high level of criminality in certain sectors of the industry, particularly among door supervisors, or bouncers. That has been reduced considerably in recent years with the introduction of door safe schemes and proper training and supervision, which many local authorities have pioneered. However, as so often happens, it takes only a few rotten apples to give an entire sector a bad name. No doubt that is why so many companies involved in the business have welcomed regulation.

In common with other hon. Members, I have had letters from companies that operate internationally, pointing out that the UK is one of the few countries in which they operate where there is no licensing system, and the only country in the EU other than Greece where the industry is still largely unregulated.

Mr. Bercow

It was estimated in 1996 that approximately 2,600 crimes were being committed each year by people hiding behind the disguise of a security officer's uniform. The hon. Lady said that the position had improved in recent years. Has she any idea of what the figures were for last year?

Jackie Ballard

No, but I am sure that with his encyclopaedic brain, the hon. Gentleman does. I note that in 1996, his party was in government, and I am surprised that it did not do anything to address the number of crimes attributed to the industry.

The Select Committee on Home Affairs 1995 report stated that standards, particularly for training, in much of the sector were unsatisfactory and below the standard that the public needed and had a right to expect. That report was published during the time that the hon. Gentleman's party was in power. The Select Committee's comments applied particularly to the manned guarding sector, and the same sentiments are expressed by a large part of the industry. The Bill is therefore widely welcomed.

The debate so far has concentrated on the personnel employed in the guarding sector. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North gave an example of the exploitation of an employee. I recently spent a day with an inspector of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in my constituency. We were called to a site where a member of the public had reported that a dog was employed, so to speak, as a security guard. The person who made the report was concerned that no one had been seen coming to feed the dog. It was on a long chain, and no suitable shelter had been provided for it. I mention that in passing; the House may wish to take up the matter at a future date.

I come to specific issues in the Bill. We welcome the setting up of the Security Industry Authority, although that entails the creation of another quango. It comes rather rich for the Conservative Opposition to criticise the Government for creating even more quangos, but I can safely criticise them. Both the other parties have created many quangos, but I can claim that my party has not, particularly in the past 90 years. When we are given the chance in a few weeks time, we will not do so either.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West)

Does the hon. Lady concede that virtue comes easy to those with least attractions?

Jackie Ballard

I think that I should be upset about that intervention. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to see me later.

We welcome the establishment of a body that is responsible for regulating the industry through licensing, inspection and setting or approving standards, and for overseeing implementation of the Bill and making representations to the Secretary of State with regard to further legislation. However, we want further to examine the body's composition in Committee, because as the Bill stands, its membership is selected entirely at the discretion of the Home Secretary. There is an argument for its composition to be specified in legislation, in the same way as that of many other quangos. The Minister said that there would be a place on the authority for representatives of the industry. I understand also that the Government gave assurances in the other place that they would consult the industry on other appointments. However, we would like further clarification, so perhaps the Minister can provide that today.

We welcome the introduction of mandatory licensing for people who are involved in the private security industry. That provision lies at the heart of the Bill's intentions, as it seeks to ensure that certain minimum standards are met. We also welcome the Government's clarification in the other place about who is subject to licensing and who is not.

However, if the Bill is to ensure that the whole industry is subject to the same standards, I must reiterate the question that my noble Friend Lord Thomas asked in the other place: why are licences not required for in-house operatives? In reply to my intervention on the matter, the Minister said that the 350,000 figure included in-house operatives. The Government's White Paper said that members of the public should be encouraged to ask to see an individual's licence. How will the public know that they should not do that if the individual in question is an in-house operative? Such a discrepancy will lead to confusion. The White Paper also said that regulation would apply to the whole of the manned guarding sector and that the exclusion of in-house security personnel from the scope of licensing would create an unacceptable loophole and reduce confidence in the system. Notwithstanding the Minister's remarks, we will pursue that issue in Committee.

We also seek clarification on the Secretary of State's power to exempt particular individuals from the licensing requirement. In what circumstances is that power likely to be employed and what criteria will be used? We recognise the need for the authority to set licensing criteria, but there is no indication of what those criteria should be, beyond the requirement that the individual concerned must be a fit and proper person to be engaged in licensable conduct. The definition of that requirement and the specific criteria that stem from it are for the authority to decide. My noble Friend Lord Thomas said that the term "fit and proper" was a "chestnut of a definition". Case law suggests that considerable discretion is used in interpreting the term. According to Lord Thomas, it makes many barristers "happy chappies". Of course, if he wanted to be politically correct, he would have said "happy chappesses".

We welcome the Government's amendment to the appeals provisions, especially with regard to licences. We also welcome the approved contractors scheme, which is an important way of ensuring high standards throughout the industry. However, I repeat the question that we asked in the other place: why is the scheme voluntary and not mandatory? That question is especially important if the Government are seeking to ensure high standards across the industry. We acknowledge their argument that there is provision for the Secretary of State to make the scheme mandatory if the conditions call for that to happen. We also accept that they do not want to overburden the authority or the industry in the early stages of regulation. However, it has been argued that there is a need for a more robust scheme, because that is the best way of ensuring effective regulation of the industry. That argument was well expressed by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North.

We recognise that the powers of inspection and entry are a necessary measure of enforcement. However, I am sure that the Minister will not be surprised to learn that we will be concerned to ensure that those powers are not disproportionate and that individuals' privacy is properly respected, in the spirit as well as the letter of the Human Rights Act 1998. We welcome the amendments made by the Government in the other place to refine the authority's powers of inspection and entry. The amendments were tabled after my noble Friend Lord Thomas expressed concerns about the matter. We will reconsider the provisions, however, to satisfy ourselves that they do not unnecessarily impinge on civil liberties. In particular, we would like to ensure effective scrutiny of the guidelines adopted by the authority with regard to the powers.

Two other issues have caused us some concern. First, I understand that on Report in the other place, the Government tabled amendments that sought to exempt from the licensing requirements accountancy firms that are engaged in activities that are included within the scope of the Bill. I am told that the amendments were tabled because of representations made by the accounting community, but I know that some sectors of the security industry have expressed anxiety that such measures will lead to an uneven playing field between different types of consultancies that offer essentially identical services. Will the exemption give investigative services departments within accountancy firms an unfair competitive advantage over private sector investigation agencies?

Secondly, other hon. Members have mentioned the need to keep an effective check on the operations of the industry, as well as to maintain standards. We are concerned to ensure that the security industry does not assume a more extensive public role. In other words, we should not allow licensed private vigilantes.

The Minister began the debate by setting the Bill in the context of the Government's approach to crime and disorder. In the introduction to the White Paper, the Home Secretary stated that there will be the opportunity for the private security industry to play a wider role in securing community safety. He went on to state: It has also been suggested recently that the private security industry might be able to assist the police by providing a form of complementary patrol service. The Government is considering the issue and welcomes constructive debate in this area.

In response to an intervention by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), the Minister said that the Government were convinced of the importance of the office of constable and would do nothing to diminish it, but he said nothing about limiting or extending the tasks to be carried out exclusively or primarily by people holding that office. We are concerned about that. We believe that the patrol of private property by a private company is one thing, but that private patrolling of public property is quite another.

Although we broadly welcome the Bill and believe that it deserves a Second Reading, I have flagged up a number of issues that we will want to consider very closely. We will seek to make improvements with a view to ensuring that the industry as a whole is required to meet minimum standards, not only some parts of it. We want the Bill to capitalise more fully on the White Paper, and we also see the need for safeguards in respect of the SIA's powers and any unnecessary extension of the Bill's provisions on inspection and entry of premises. We look forward to seeing improvements to the Bill in the weeks ahead and hope that it will be enacted before Parliament dissolves.

5.17 pm
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly. It is an important measure that builds on the Government's policies for security and law and order. The issues that it addresses are of particular importance to our seaside and coastal towns, one of which I represent. The provisions are not narrow, tidying-up measures for places such as Blackpool, as the Bill raises significant public order issues that relate to how seaside and coastal towns should promote a culture of quality and reliability, and an antipathy to the yob culture that too often disfigures them. They relate also to how we should prevent actions that will upset residents and tourists in such towns and damage their tourist image.

My interest in those issues derives not only from a general interest in matters that affect seaside towns—I am president of the British Resorts Association and convenor of a Back-Bench group of MPs who represent seaside and coastal towns—but from the effects on my constituents of many of the issues raised in the Bill, especially in relation to local private security and wheelclamping. In the light of public concern about no-go areas in seaside towns, the Bill provides an important balance and reassurance to people who are concerned that proposed modernisation of the licensing laws—and perhaps, dare I say it, of the casino laws—will have a negative impact on the character of their towns. The reassurance and regulation that the Bill offers are therefore important.

The Bill is about securing comfortable public space and balancing rights. I wrote to the Home Secretary on 19 July and said that the activities of some of the private security and clamping businesses that attracted increasing numbers of local complaints were also beginning to have a negative impact on tourism, which is crucial to the economy of many seaside and coastal towns. Small and medium-sized businesses, which are central to generating prosperity in the leisure and tourism industry, are anxious for the Government's proposals on regulation, as outlined in White Paper, to be implemented as soon as possible.

I was therefore delighted when the White Paper's proposals appeared in the Queen's Speech and later in the Bill. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister and the Home Office team for fighting the cause vigorously with Government business managers and giving us the opportunity to consider the measure today.

I want to concentrate on wheelclamping and security, which the Bill regulates. Wheelclamping has long been a matter of dispute. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who have eloquently and persistently spoken about the issue. The Library research paper reminded us that it has featured in private Members' Bills since 1969. It is therefore important to consider it properly, now that it has the advantage of inclusion in a Government Bill.

It is perhaps instructive to quote the Automobile Association on cowboy clamping. It states: One unsavoury practice of the cowboy clamper is that he will often lie in wait and target his victims—seeking out the elderly, disabled, young mothers with children and people who will pay up with little fuss. That is amply corroborated by examples from my constituency. The AA also states: Cowboy clampers can rarely be traced as they mostly use mobile telephones and work from Post Office box addresses—people lucky enough to track down a clamper, who has acted illegally, can sometimes pursue them through the small claims court. However, they rarely respond to letters and telephone calls. After I sounded off about wheelclamping in the local paper, I received a visit at one of my advice centres from a large and burly representative of such a company. I am still here.

I pay tribute to all those in my constituency who have raised the issue, especially Mr. Alan Smith, trading standards officer for Blackpool borough council. I also pay tribute to the local police, who were sympathetic if often frustrated that current law did not allow them to intervene more vigorously, to my local paper, The Gazette, which has run an effective campaign through detailing some of the activities of wheelclampers, and to my local hotelier group and others who have approached me on the subject.

It is testimony to the continuing, diverse attractions of Blackpool that other hon. Members throughout the country gave me examples of the effects of rogue wheelclampers on their constituents when they visited Blackpool. From memory, I can name my hon. Friends the Members for Wigan (Mr. Turner) and for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna), and the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis).

Perhaps the best example of rogue wheelclamping inflation that I have come across was described in a letter that I received in the first week of January from Mr. and Mrs. Salmon from Guisborough in Yorkshire. They had the misfortune to attend the new year's eve ball at Blackpool tower. I am sure that it was a great and elegant occasion, but when they returned to where they had parked their car—they believed that it was a perfectly proper parking place—it had been towed away by a private firm called Mac Security. In view of the large amounts of money that the gentlemen subsequently pocketed, I am tempted to call it "Big Mac".

Mr. and Mrs. Salmon were given a mobile telephone number to ring, and told that the car would not be released until after 9 am on new year's day. Their letter states: We were told to ring back in the morning and to have two hundred and fifty pounds in cash for the release fee … This resulted in us having to wait outside in the cold till 3 am until we were able to get a taxi (at a cost of twenty pounds) … We then had to pay a further twenty pounds for a taxi to return to Blackpool later that morning with two hundred and fifty pounds cash to get our car back. I could cite several other examples.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) referred to the practice of targeting women. One of my constituents who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant was left in a Blackpool car park after finding that her car had disappeared. She had to pay £205. A deaf and dumb holidaymaker was stranded when his car was towed away. In nine months, police in Blackpool received approximately 131 complaints about clamping. The aforementioned gentleman who visited my surgery finished off his nine months by extracting from an elderly couple from Lytham in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) a sum equivalent to their weekly pension after a late-night confrontation with them.

What do people receive for the money? In the last case that I cited, the people received a squiggly receipt for £250 in cash, written on a torn-out sheet from a plain invoice book. It contained no phone number or details of a registered company. There was no form of redress whatsoever.

The Bill therefore tackles significant abuses, and I am delighted that our Government have picked up the torch. I was surprised that an element of the old Adam remained in some Opposition Members. That was shown by the amendments that Lord Cope tabled in another place to restrict the ability to license wheelclampers. Such a restriction would not have conveyed the right message. Although the matter must be kept under review, I hope that the Government will resist similar amendments.

When, God willing, the Bill receives Royal Assent, it is important that the police use their initiative to pursue and control clampers in the period before the Bill is fully effected. I speak for several hon. Members who have been frustrated by the slow progress of police and local authorities in implementing anti-social behaviour orders. I hope that those problems do not occur when the Bill is enacted.

I want to consider the second aspect that especially interests me and on which the Bill provides particular relief. Licensing security companies is a key issue in Blackpool. We may not be able to compete with the figures that my hon. Friend the Minister provided for Manchester or his triumphant tour through Norwich, but it is not unusual for 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000 mainly young people to be in the pubs and clubs of Blackpool town centre between midnight and 2 am on a Friday or Saturday. As most people know, Blackpool attracts between 6 million and 8 million visitors a year, and there are no fewer than 58 clubs in the town centre. Clearly, in those circumstances, regulation of the behaviour of security staff—bouncers, as they are colloquially known—is of key importance, in terms not only of setting the tone for whether people have a good night out, but of preserving public security and public order.

I pay tribute to the fact that much of the self-regulation in many clubs in my constituency and elsewhere has been proactive and responsible. However, as the Minister and the hon. Member for Surrey Heath made clear, there have, sadly, been too many cases in which it has not. In my constituency, I have been involved in issues that have convinced me of the need for regulation. I was involved in a campaign to get to the bottom of a particular case before I became a Member of Parliament, while I was a prospective parliamentary candidate. The case involved a young man of 17 who died after taking an overdose of ecstasy, having been admitted to a club in a condition that any reputable or sensible bouncer would never have permitted.

On another occasion, I visited Wakefield prison, to talk to one of my constituents who was serving a sentence for murder. I do not want to comment on the specifics of that case, as it is still before the Criminal Cases Review Commission, but my conversations with him—along with other background information—revealed the hidden twilight world of drug dealing in which, all too often, relations between unlicensed bouncers played a significant part. In my constituency last year, there was also very sad case involving a young man—he was a doorman—who was savagely beaten almost to death outside one of our clubs in circumstances that underline the need for proper licensing of doormen.

We need the controls that the Security Industry Authority will provide. It is sensible that there is to be a right of appeal locally, but I want to flag up a concern, which has been referred to already, about clause 4(1). There may be rightful concerns about the weaknesses involved in excluding in-house staff who are not bouncers from the remit of the Bill. In the other place, my noble Friend Lord Bassam, in outlining the reasons for that decision, said: The Bill proposes that individuals in the manned guarding sector should be licensed if they are providing services under contract to a client. We do not propose to require them to have licences if they are employed in-house by companies. These companies will already have satisfied themselves about their employees, and the Government do not wish to foist onto them an additional layer of checking where it is not necessary."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 December 2000; Vol. 620, c. 576.] I applaud that spirit. Speaking as a Member of Parliament with a large number of small and medium-sized businesses in his constituency, I would not want those businesses to be overburdened with regulation.

It is right that we should be concerned about bouncers and that the Government have addressed that issue in the Bill, but there are other security guards, especially in seaside and coastal towns, about whom we should also be concerned. For example, there are security guards in amusement arcades, and in amusement areas where there might be private rides, most of which will be accessible by children not necessarily accompanied by an adult.

In those circumstances, I hope that the Government will take full and considered account, in the review procedure that they have proposed for the operation of the legislation, of the need to protect children from any rogue elements among such security guards. I would like an assurance that any procedures to check whether those guards are registered on the sex offenders' register, or are involved in any other child protection issues, will be properly taken on board if, as the Bill proposes, they are not to be separately licensed and regulated.

I welcome the Bi11 overall. It contains important provisions that will benefit my constituency specifically, and seaside and coastal towns in general. Those towns are doing a great deal to regenerate themselves with single regeneration budget money, town centre partnerships and community building. In a town such as Blackpool, in which history and geography have combined to pepper residents cheek by jowl in unprecedented numbers, it is particularly important that sensitive issues such as wheelclamping and security arrangements at places of leisure and tourism are properly regulated and give a sense of confidence.

It is not only the quality of life inside people's homes that is important in those towns, but the quality of life on the street and in other public places as people go about enjoying the facilities that towns have to offer. That is why the Bill will make such a significant and important contribution to the quality of life in seaside and coastal towns, and why I give it my strongest support.

5.36 pm
Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I agree with the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) about the importance of seaside towns; he made that case extremely well. I also agreed with what he said about wheelclampers and with what the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) said about criminals employed in the security industry. He made the case for licensing in that area, and he was right.

I was once a director of the private security firm Group 4, but I have not been so since 1993 and I have no other connections with the private security industry.

This has been a long journey. In my view, the significant turning point came on 4 July 1973 when the Security Industry Licensing Bill was introduced in the House. I should make it clear that it was my Bill. It was one of the 16 or 17 Bills that have been introduced since 1969 on the subject. I said at that time: My Bill is not a call for licensing for its own sake. It is a recognition that there are important issues at stake, issues involving public policy on crime and individual liberty and privacy. This industry is not one that can go entirely unregulated. The Bill would establish a licensing board on the lines of the Gaming Board. It would aim to ensure minimum standards throughout the industry and to eliminate the criminal element within the industry."— [Official Report, 4 July 1973; Vol. 859, c. 539.] Many of those aims are echoed in the present Bill.

My Bill had the support of four formidable Conservative politicians of the time: Bill Deedes, Edward Gardner, David Walder and Michael McNair-Wilson. Such was the force of our argument that the Bill passed without dissent, and the House moved on to an emergency debate on the railways—nothing changes much in the House. The only trouble was that it was a ten-minute Bill, and it has taken almost 30 years for the Home Office to catch up with the case that I was making.

It would be churlish of me, therefore, not to welcome the Bill that has now been introduced, and I do so gladly. I have, incidentally, a range of other measures that the Government might like to adopt, such as the privatisation of the Post Office; the ending of the £5 billion a year pensions tax; and the cancellation of the absurd rules on annuities. Perhaps when the Minister of State continues his upward climb in the Government he will take that into account.

I am afraid, however, that at this stage I can give the Bill only two cheers, because under the terms of the guillotine—which we call the programme motion and which we shall debate next—it stands a fair chance of going exactly the same way as my ten-minute Bill did in 1973. Under the guillotine, proceedings in the House are not planned to end until 1 May. A general election on 3 May would, therefore, kill the Bill stone dead. There would be no Act of Parliament, and no licensing system.

I should be happy to receive an assurance from the Minister of State that a 3 May election is the very last thing that he or the Government want. I know that he is on the inside track to No. 10, so if he is likely to give me that assurance, I of course give way.

Mr. Charles Clarke

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance because I do not know what is in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. However, if an election were called for 3 May, is it the right hon. Gentleman's view that it would be helpful for the official Opposition to do what they can to secure the passage of the Bill during this Parliament?

Sir Norman Fowler

That is probably the most significant intervention that I have heard from the Government side about a 3 May election. I have not previously heard it put to the Opposition that we should be in the business of co-operating should a 3 May election be called. Those who heard the Minister's intervention may conclude that a 3 May election is becoming more likely, not less, but I leave it to the commentators to think about that.

The Bill is being debated on Second Reading, and although I am not in charge of Opposition affairs I think that it is a bit much to say to us that it should simply be ticked through. However, I listened to what the Minister said. I went on a deliberate fishing expedition, but I did not expect to land such a big catch.

Incidentally, I happen to take the old-fashioned view that Governments are elected to govern. Only when they have got through a crisis should they think about elections, but I am not at all sure that that is entirely their current view. Indeed, the Minister made that clear. Therefore, in such circumstances, my speech is directed as much to my own Front Benchers as it is to the Government, so that they will pick up the Bill after the election.

The case in principle for licensing private security remains the same as that outlined by me and others such as the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). I pay tribute to what he has done over the years in consistently making the case on licensing, which we have put to Governments of both parties, and it is good to see the west midlands mafia working together in such a way.

I was glad to hear the Minister talk about this thriving and successful industry. I welcome the words, but I must observe that they were not the ones that Labour Members used in opposition. The language of the Labour party has changed radically, but I welcome that conversion.

In our crime debates, we tend to concentrate on detection. Obviously, detection rates are vital, but so too, self-evidently, is prevention. The first orders issued to the Metropolitan police said: It should be understood at the outset that the principal object to be attained is the prevention of crime. To this great end every effort of the police is to be directed. As the years have passed, all European police services have been forced to give more priority to detecting crime, preserving public order and handling emergencies. Correspondingly, less police work has been devoted to preventing crime. One example makes the point.

In the late 1950s and the 1960s, the British police were still able to provide police escort services for cash in transit, but by the 1960s the increase in criminal attacks on cash being transported produced a demand for police protection that forces were unable to meet. The result in the 1960s and 1970s and since was the development of cash-in-transit services by private companies.

Such companies already offered guard services to protect offices and factories—the traditional role referred to by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North—but protecting cash in transit brought the private security industry face to face with the public, often for the first time. Not everybody liked what they saw.

The public certainly wanted crime to be prevented. They wanted burglars to be prevented from burgling and robbers to be prevented from robbing and they accepted, I believe, that the private security industry was crucial in that, but they also wanted the confidence that companies and the people they employed were providing such services properly. Furthermore, they needed to have confidence in the integrity and honesty of those companies and employees.

Of course, there is a civil liberties issue here. If we put a person in a uniform, put him in an armoured van and perhaps give him a stave to defend himself, to some extent we give him an authority that the ordinary citizen does not possess. Again, the public need to be reassured that that power, which is implicitly given to such people, will not be abused.

An enormous concern has been that people with criminal records have been employed in the industry. Back in 1973, I gave the example of a Manchester company run by a man who admitted that he had twice been convicted of grievous bodily harm and who employed four or five staff with criminal records, including one who had served sentences of three and five years for burglary and receiving. Over the years, there have been countless examples of that.

It is extraordinarily ironic that we have allowed that position to continue year after year. Given the intense struggle to establish an organised police force in this country, and given the special position that private security companies hold in respect of the public, it is amazing that we have enabled anyone who wants to do so to set up such a company.

The case for licensing has been pressed for many years and I pay tribute to Jorgen Philip Sorensen, head of Group 4, who has worked so hard since the 1960s to achieve licensing. Goodness knows, there are many examples from other European countries to show the way. Most European Union countries have a licensing system. Belgium, for example, issues licences to security companies, which are subject to renewal after two years. Each has to provide a list of shareholders to prevent criminals from controlling security companies while staff are officially checked as being free from criminal conviction. Such systems in Europe have stood for many years as a sensible way forward.

I welcome most of the provisions. We have a private security industry that is probably bigger than the organised police force, so it is sensible to establish the Security Industry Authority, which will administer a compulsory licensing scheme for private security guards, door supervisors and the rest.

Mr. Clarke

In no sense am I making a partisan point and I gladly pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman's efforts over his years in the House, but, given the powerful points that he has made, why did not the Conservative Government of which he was a member legislate on the subject?

Sir Norman Fowler

It is nice of the Minister to say that I was a member of the Government, but I have not been a member of any Government since the 1980s. I was not a member of the previous Government; I was chairman of the Conservative party, outside the Government and a simple Back Bencher. However, it is common knowledge that I have pressed Ministers of both parties to get down to it and introduce a licensing system.

The problem with the licensing system that is being introduced is not what is included, but what is excluded. I raised the issue of the regulation of alarm installers with the Minister and I heard what he said. Such regulation was an aim of my ten-minute Bill and I used the example of an alarm company employed by a firm to fit a window alarm. The alarm was so useless that when the very thing happened that it was supposed to guard against and a window was broken, it was not activated. Later tests showed that a whole troop of burglars could have processed through the window without the alarm system being activated or disturbed in any way whatsoever.

The installation of alarms is a question not only of quality, but of reassuring the public. Furthermore, it is important not only that the quality of the alarm and of the installation are considered, but that the householder is given reassurance that the installer, who, by definition, has to have access to the house, is a man of some integrity.

Burglar alarms no longer constitute an exceptional defence: we need only visit towns and cities to realise that. Years ago, in the 1980s—when I was a Minister—I toured a modest private estate in Liverpool. Every house had a burglar alarm.

I was reassured by what the Minister said. I gather that the Bill takes a first step, and that it will be possible to add to its provisions if problems arise. On that basis too, it deserves support. The "step by step" approach is surely sensible, from everyone's point of view. I have one important concern, however, which may sound strange coming from one who used to be on the board of a major private security company.

I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) said towards the end of his speech. I feel that we should be concerned about the limits of private security. We have seen a massive extension of private security operations over the past 30 or 40 years: we now see private security companies dealing not just with cash in transit, but with prisoners in transit. The Minister challenged me about opposition and government. I recall that, in opposition, the Labour party said that the legislation governing the system of prisoners in transit would be repealed by an incoming Labour Government. I see no sign of that, but I welcome the conversion.

What I do not support is the use of private security to patrol our streets. That I think, is where a line should be drawn. Such a use of private security would take us back to square one: after all, it was the breakdown of private patrols that led to the establishment of an organised police service in the first place. It is crucial to the continuance of good police public relations for the job to be done by trained police officers—trained men and women to whom the public can turn for help, and whom they can trust.

Long ago, when traffic wardens were first introduced, it was optimistically said that they were there to help the motorist and to offer friendly guidance. I am not sure that many members of the public, especially motorists, see traffic wardens in that light today. Local authority parking attendants in particular do not come top of their list of the most helpful put lie servants whom they encounter. If anyone wants to verify that, I suggest that they drive around the streets of Westminster and try to park.

We should bear it in mind that in terms of relations between police and public, Britain is probably better than any other European country. That is not to say that relations cannot be improved. Some of the defects were highlighted in the Macpherson report. The police have to win the respect of ethnic minorities, just as the original police force had to win in the respect of the public. I believe, however, that much of the rapport between police and public results from the fact that we have a largely unarmed police force patrolling the streets. That force is visible and approachable.

I think that it would be fatal for those good relations if we gave such a role to private security—a move at which some have hinted. It is a highly skilled job that needs not just initial training but constant training throughout life, and is basic to the continuance of good relations in this country. I hope that, as well as performing a licensing role, the new authority will keep under review what private security should and should not do. That is surely a legitimate interest for it to have.

While I welcome the Bill, I think it necessary to keep in mind the limits of private security as well as seeking a degree of regulation for its activity. I obviously regret the fact that the Bill has come so late that the prospect of its enactment is remote, but I hope it will be noted that there is now a consensus in the House in favour of proceeding along the lines proposed. It has taken 30 years for us to reach this point; it would be a tragedy were we to let the opportunity slip.

5.55 pm
Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his kind remarks, and congratulate him and his Department on the Bill. It is a credit to the Government that they have found time for it. As has been said, the last Conservative Government presented a Green Paper but failed to introduce any legislation to follow it up, despite pressure from Members of Parliament, motoring organisations such as the Royal Automobile Club and the Automobile Association and, incidentally, the media.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) welcomed the Bill, but was a little less forthcoming about whether he supported any idea of encouraging Front Benchers to co-operate with the Government if a general election were called. Perhaps he might use his influence behind the scenes if necessary.

Mr. Bercow

The hon. Lady is well aware that I am but a humble foot soldier. It is not for me to seek to intervene in these matters, which, of course, fall under the aegis of my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Cran) and others. Will she in passing, however, be as gracious as she ordinarily is and acknowledge that her hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) himself lamented the fact that the Government had been so dilatory in introducing the measure?

Ms Winterton

I would not say that the Government were dilatory. I have campaigned for legislation such as this for a number of years, and I know that it has been important to get it right. There has been further consultation, in addition to that connected with the Green Paper. I also know that the Department has had to deal with other legislation. Let me add that after four years we have legislation, whereas after 18 years of Tory government we had none.

It will come as no surprise to Members that I intend to talk about wheelclamping. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces who is not present: obviously, he has ministerial duties to perform. Under the last Government, when Labour was in opposition, he campaigned vigorously for the outlawing of cowboy wheelclampers, and he was very helpful to me when I took up the issue. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), who not only campaigned for such action in the last Parliament but ensured that it remained high on his agenda when he became a Home Office Minister. He was absolutely right to do so.

The problem of cowboy wheelclampers may be localised, as we have heard today, but when it occurs it causes incredible misery and distress. We all know—motoring organisations, among others, would confirm this—that wheelclamping can be an extremely lucrative business for anyone with a mobile tell phone, a strong arm and £50 for their first clamp.

Six years ago, the wheelclamping industry was estimated to be worth about £150 million annually. Until now, the lack of Government regulation has enabled clampers to make plenty of money but provided clamped motorists with almost no protection. I do not think that anyone would argue that landowners should not have rights over their own property or be able to take action to deal with problem parking. However, we have to make it clear that when we talk about cowboy wheelclampers, we are talking not about proper parking control measures but simply about a money-making venture.

Wheelclampers have little incentive to stop people parking in restricted areas—quite the opposite. They want people to park illegally, as they would see it, because that is precisely how they make their money. They want to get people on to a given piece of land so that they can make money from them. Very many ordinary people have suffered at the hands of cowboy wheelclampers who, with their clamp-and-deliver tactics, have been described as modern-day highway robbers. Actually, I am the one who so described them, but I thought that the description was probably worth repeating. I should like to give a few examples of how they have achieved that reputation.

Only last week, I was contacted by a constituent named Jasmine Steers. She is a disabled woman who had parked outside a restaurant where she had often parked before. She had no idea that dampers were operating in the area, but was approached by some who demanded £70 in cash from her. In her letter to me, she said: I needed to have my car as I am disabled and my children need picking up from school. I got my chequebook out to pay when the man turned around and stated he will only take cash … I had to walk to my bank—remember I am registered disabled and walking causes me great pain—to get the £70 that he demanded. I would have thought that any legitimate company would accept a cheque. When I got the receipt, I noted that the company operates out of a postal box address. This sent more warning flags up to the legitimacy of this firm. I quizzed the man on who his boss was and he still refused to answer my questions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) said, cowboy dampers tend to pick on elderly people, disabled people and women who are on their own or with young children.

Another constituent of mine was clamped when she had her eight-month-old baby with her. She was extremely distressed by the circumstances, and said: In effect I was being asked to hand over £70 to unidentified persons in the street, who got out of a private car and who claimed to be acting for a wheelclamping company on behalf of a property owner who they refused to identify.

Only yesterday, I was contacted by the British Parking Association about a woman in Harrow who had suffered at the hands of wheelclampers. She was fined £240 when her car was towed 20 miles away, to what seemed to her to be a dump. She was asked to meet a man at a railway station to be driven there so that she could collect her car. She was extremely frightened and felt very threatened.

Reputable wheelclamping companies have been pressing for the industry to be cleaned up. As the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) said, a few bad apples can give any industry a bad name, and that applies equally to the wheelclamping industry. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) mentioned the media's role in highlighting wheelclamping problems. I should like to acknowledge the role of the Yorkshire Post, the Doncaster Free Press, the Doncaster Star, the "Ed Doolan Show", BBC and ITV and everyone else who has raised the issue, drawn attention to it and helped in the campaign to get something done about it. I am extremely pleased that the Government tabled and passed an amendment in the other place to ensure that landowners also take responsibility for what happens on their land. Very often, those who are clamped are told by the clampers that the landowner will receive no benefit from the fine. Landowners say that, as they make no money from clamping, they are not responsible for what happens and are simply trying to protect their property. People are, however, very suspicious about such declarations. Occasionally, when people are handing over cash to a clamper, they may feel that landowners sometimes rake off some of that money. It is sometimes difficult to avoid such conclusions.

It is therefore important and welcome that the Government have introduced that amendment, to ensure that landowners have a responsibility for the way in which clampers operate on their land. The fact is that land does not move—unlike dampers, who can operate with nothing more than a mobile telephone and a PO box and who do move. The amendment will make it possible to hold landowners to account. I am grateful to the Government for listening to my concerns and those of the RAC on the issue.

My only real concern with the Bill is that there will be delay in establishing the Security Industry Authority. I wonder whether there is some way to ensure that, once the authority is established, it will be able to consider complaints that are arising now. I know that organisations such as the RAC are keen to play a part in that type of arrangement. We have to send a message now to those people that this Bill will be coming into force and that these are the expectations that the authority will have of landowners and wheelclamping companies. I should like a record to be kept of current incidents involving outrageous behaviour, so that the authority can take those complaints into account when it starts considering to whom to award licences.

My hon. Friend the Minister and his officials have listened very carefully to the concerns of the police and motoring organisations on the issue. I pay special tribute to him because he really has listened. I think that everyone has been incredibly impressed with the way he has responded to concerns and taken them on board. I know that colleagues in those organisations would like to join me in thanking him.

I hope that, regardless of whether there is a general election in the near future, the Bill will be supported by Members on both sides of the House and that we ensure it is passed as quickly as possible. It is extremely important that we have consensus on the issue. Our ultimate aim is to send to cowboy wheelclampers the message that their bully-boy days are over.