HC Deb 08 May 2001 vol 368 cc77-89
Jackie Ballard

I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 27. line 8, leave out— `purposes of any accountancy practice' and insert— `sole purposes of accountancy activities.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No.12, in page 28, line 9, leave out— 'purposes of any accountancy practice' and insert— `sole purposes of accountancy activities.'.

Jackie Ballard

I suspect that we may not get through these amendments as speedily as we got through amendment No. 10. They raise genuine concerns, and have been the subject of debate in Committee and subsequently. The issue was originally raised in the other place.

The Minister and others will be well acquainted with the arguments that have already been rehearsed. They arise because many accountancy firms have branched out into security consultancy work. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) drew attention to a Financial Times article that described five big accountancy firms as the top players in the intelligence industry. It seems sensible, if such firms engage in the same activities as others in the security industry, to make them subject to the same licensing regimes. The accountancy firms argue that that is not necessary because they are licensed by the Institute of Chartered Accountants and other bodies, but those bodies were not established to regulate security consulting investigations, or the security activities of accountancy firms.

I accept that employees of accountancy firms who are not members of such bodies, but who engage in licensable conduct, will require licences. Our amendment seeks to limit the exemption to what is purely accountancy work, and tries to ensure that accountants who branch out into the security industry fall within the licensing regime if they deliberately engage in activities that are otherwise covered by the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey withdrew his amendment in Committee, because the Minister said that he recognised the seriousness of the issue and would examine it again. My hon. Friend asked me to pass on his gratitude to the Minister for arranging the meeting that they had this morning.

I stress that the issue for professional security firms is not one of cost compliance; they are happy to be regulated, but they want a level playing field. I look forward to hearing the Minister's further thoughts.

Mr. Hawkins

The hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) rightly said that we had discussed these issues in some details in Committee. Moreover, they were raised in amendments proposed by my noble Friend Lord Cope in another place, accepted by the Minister's noble Friends, and introducing some protection for leading accountancy firms.

In Committee, we sought to introduce amendments giving similar protection to those working for law firms. Even at the end of the Committee stage, there was continuing concern among accountants. I have had a submission from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales suggesting that even the amendments that were tabled by my noble Friend Lord Cope—which now form part of the Bill and which the hon. Lady is seeking to water down—do not go far enough. Therefore, as the Institute of Chartered Accountants is saying that it requires more protection for those who are not chartered members of the institute—they may be students or part-time employees—and that the Bill should go further, and as the hon. Member for Taunton is saying that the Bill goes too far, perhaps we have reached a happy medium, thanks to my noble Friend Lord Cope.

Nevertheless, the hon. Member for Taunton has raised an important issue which will no doubt continue to be considered carefully by the members of the new authority. I look forward to hearing the Minister's confirmation that he will again be prepared to instruct his officials to send the members of the authority information about this debate and our debates in Committee, so that these important matters can be kept under review. I see the Minister helpfully nodding.

As with any new authority, we shall not know for certain how the provisions operate until the authority is up and running. Further revision of secondary legislation or the introduction of fresh primary legislation may be necessary to adapt the regime in the light of experience. The way in which law firms or chartered accountants are covered in future clearly will be a matter of continuing scrutiny by the authority and by the new, incoming Conservative Government who will replace the current Labour Government.

As I said, these are important issues. It is important that the hon. Member for Taunton has raised them again, enabling us to debate them briefly on Report. I shall listen with interest to the Minister's reply.

Mr. Charles Clarke

This is an important issue, and it is difficult to find the right way of addressing it. As the hon. Members for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) and for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) both said, the position of accountants and their employees has been discussed at length in our earlier debates and in the other place. The Bill is targeted on selected providers of private security services; the intention has not been to target it on accountants in general. We also recognise that big accountancy firms have diversified into spheres in which they undertake designated services as defined in the Bill, particularly private investigations and security consultancy.

We did respond to strong lobbying in the other place to the effect that members of recognised accountancy bodies should not be caught by the definitions on account of their professional qualifications. It was not only a matter of the self-interest of private firms, as the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Services Authority also had concerns which were reflected in the debate in the other place.

Amendments were duly tabled and approved in the other place, but they were focused on exempting only members of defined accountancy bodies. We recognised that diversified accountancy firms have many employees who are not members of the relevant accountancy bodies but are undertaking designated activities as defined in the Bill. We fully accepted that to exempt them too would create a seriously uneven playing field. We have also accepted that doing so would mean that private investigators and security consultants describing themselves as such would be licensable, whereas employees of accountancy firms who undertake precisely the same type of consultancy would not be licensable. We have therefore resisted calls, particularly in the other place, to extend exemptions to those employees also.

Jackie Ballard

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke

I shall in a moment.

Notwithstanding the arguments made in Committee by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), the complexities of diversified accountancy businesses —although the issues are not dissimilar in relation to IT services—would result in major definitional difficulties in attempting to describe, within the framework of definitions used in the Bill, a clear distinction between accountants acting solely for the purposes of accountancy activities and those undertaking designated activities as defined.

I have some comments to make on my discussion this morning with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, but shall first give way to the hon. Lady.

Jackie Ballard

The Minister's argument seems to hinge on the fact that accountants will gain an exemption because of their professional qualifications and membership of professional bodies. However, can he give any other example in which someone's membership of a body exempts him or her from regulation when performing a task that is not covered by his or her specific qualification?

Mr. Clarke

As I said, we made concessions on accountancy after hearing representations in the other place. However, as I said in relation to our earlier debate, I think that there are similarities in IT services, in relation to which not dissimilar issues arise.

This morning, following the representations of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, I met him and some of the industry bodies concerned to discuss some of the concerns that have been expressed. I was glad to have the opportunity to meet—and my officials had already met—some of the individuals concerned.

I understand the concern of some in the private investigation sector that even the narrow exemption for members of recognised accountancy bodies could have the effect of creating, as the hon. Member for Taunton said, an uneven playing field. An important point to emphasise—it was not clear to me until this morning—is that it did not seem that the cost burden of licensing within the private investigation sector was the prime cause of an uneven playing field. As that point came across strongly this morning, I think that I should place on record my understanding of what was being said.

The concerns as expressed to me were that potential customers for investigation services might be tempted to regard accountants exempted from regulation in the Bill more favourably than regulated private investigators. It was essentially a branding image competition point rather than a cost competition point. Although I could see that the argument had some weight, I was not wholly convinced by it. It seemed to me that potential customers for investigation services are more likely to look in the round at the depth, breadth, quality and cost of potential contractors than at the position under the Bill of senior members of the accountancy and investigations professions.

I have, however, listened to the concerns that were expressed at this morning's meeting and by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. Although I cannot undertake to accept amendment No. 11, or to promise change in the Bill at this late stage, I can give an absolute undertaking to the hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for Taunton that the new authority will keep a very close eye on use of the various exemptions granted in the Bill.

We would positively expect the authority to make recommendations for changes if it became clear that the exemptions are operating in a manner that either distorts the level playing field in the provision of services which we are committed to establishing or allows individuals to practise in the sphere who might otherwise be reprehensible in the way in which they were operating a private security business.

I do not put my hand on my heart and say that the compromise that is before us today is defensible against criticism from any of the parties from whom criticism might come. However, in the spirit of trying to legislate in an evolving manner in this area, as we are attempting to do in the Bill, I believe that the Bill provides a perfectly acceptable way of addressing the issue. With the assurance that I have sought to give the hon. Lady—that the authority will watch the issue extremely carefully in relation to accountants and the other professions involved—I hope that she will be prepared to accept that the amendment was intended to make an advance in the sphere, and to consider withdrawing it.

Jackie Ballard

Before responding directly to the Minister's request at the end of his speech. I should like to deal with the comment made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) to the effect that a proposal that is being attacked from both sides, as going too far or not far enough, must be just about right. I assume that he will not be invoking that maxim in the forthcoming debates in the general election campaign.

Mr. Hawkins

1 was restricting my comments to this particular provision and the hon. Lady should not draw any parallels from them.

Jackie Ballard

I am relieved to hear that.

Mr. Bercow

One is not supporting fence sitting, is one?

Jackie Ballard

I would never expect the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) to support fence sitting. He is probably the least fence-sitting Member of this place.

The Minister said that, earlier today, he met members of the private investigation sector who still have concerns. He was right to say that the key issue is concern not about cost compliance, but about the promotional aspects of the different applicable regimes. He has clearly heard the arguments. He also accepts that a finely balanced decision was required to get it right and that compromise is sometimes, but not always, the right way forward.

The Minister has given the House an assurance about the scrutiny of the operation of exemptions, and on the basis of that assurance I am sure that the private investigation sector will feel happier about that. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

7.30 pm
Mr. Charles Clarke

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

It gives me a good deal of pride to move the Third Reading of this important Bill, which has been awaited for 25 years. It establishes a new authoritative and independent body, the Security Industry Authority, and it gives the SIA the tools to do an important job: to drive out criminals and cowboys through a system of personal licensing; to recognise good companies by encouraging them to become approved contractors; and to improve standards throughout the industry. The Bill has been subject to comprehensive and constructive debate throughout its parliamentary passage, and, indeed, beforehand.

I acknowledge that the Bill is not perfect. Like any Bill, it is based on judgments that not everyone shares. I acknowledge that some would argue that the Bill is, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) said at beginning of our debate, half a loaf rather than the whole loaf that they would have preferred. I hope, however, that my right hon. Friend and others accept that in offering what I think is more than a half loaf—but let us not quibble about fractions—we are laying a path for the regulation of the industry that will achieve the important functions set out in the Bill.

We have listened to arguments on a number of topics. We do not agree with all of them, but we acknowledge them and the effectiveness and constructiveness with which they have been moved. We believe that the Bill is a flexible measure. It contains the ability to address every one of the points that have been the source of criticism during its passage. For example, it can address the criticism that it does not regulate enough sectors as new sectors can be brought into regulation by secondary legislation. The criticism that we are not making the approved contractor scheme compulsory can be addressed by regulation if necessary.

We have accepted some sensible proposals—if this is not an oxymoron—from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. In particular, the Bill has improved provisions relating to appeal procedures from SIA decisions, appeals to magistrates courts and the use of powers of entry and inspection.

I want to pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South, whose contributions in Committee were both knowledgeable and passionate. As he knows, and no doubt will comment on in his speech, we did not agree with everything that he had to say, but I am sure that he will continue to influence the development of the SIA, and that the spirit that he set of an independent authority that regulates the industry in a way that not only improves its standards but drives out criminality will be the central watchword as it develops.

I should also like to thank Opposition spokespersons and right hon. and hon. Members from all parties who served on the Standing Committee. We considered the Bill in a constructive and positive manner. I should also like to thank my officials who have given me such effective advice throughout the passage of the Bill. With that, I commend the Bill to the House.

7.33 pm
Mr. Hawkins

The Minister has been very brief in his summary of the Bill, which, as he rightly says, has been the subject of constructive debate on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report. I agree with the tributes that he paid to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). Everyone who has been involved in the Bill and has heard the detailed speeches that the right hon. Gentleman made on Second Reading, in many of the debates in Committee and once again today on Report pays tribute to his expertise and longevity in dealing with this issue. I think that he said that he has introduced no fewer than seven private Member's Bills on the subject during some 25 years in the House. No doubt the discussions between the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister about whether the Bill is half a loaf, which is better than no bread at all, rather than the full loaf that the right hon. Gentleman was asking for will continue when the right hon. Gentleman contributes to this debate.

I was fascinated by the Minister's description of his fellow Norwich City supporter, Delia Smith, when discussing culinary matters. We all have our favourite football teams and we all have our favourite dishes, but one thing that might unite us all is a great respect for Delia Smith and her skills as a practitioner of the culinary arts. Speaking as someone who cooked one of Delia Smith's recipes as recently as last night, I have particular reason to be grateful for her skilful direction. However, I cannot share her fascination or that of the Minister with that particular football club.

I agree with the Minister that the Bill is not perfect. Opposition Members would say that the Bill is undercooked rather than properly cooked—

Mr. Bercow


Mr. Hawkins

My hon. Friend says that it is half-baked, but that is a little unfair.

There have been constructive debates throughout the passage of the Bill. On Third Reading it is important to recognise that if the new Security Industry Authority works properly it will deal with the serious abuses of the so-called cowboy wheelclampers. I hope that it will also deal with the massive problem that I have highlighted in many debates in the House: the involvement of bouncers on the doors of pubs and clubs in the appalling illicit drug trade. We have all heard of cases where night club bouncers have supplied the most dangerous drugs to young people, with tragic consequences. One remembers the appalling case of Leah Betts with particular poignancy when one considers the number of young people who have died as a result of being supplied with drugs by night club bouncers. I see that the Minister agrees. We all recognise that serious issues are involved.

We have had our reservations about whether the authority will be over-bureaucratic and whether it will work properly in practice. We had particular concerns that were addressed earlier this afternoon, including our fear that the Bill will not operate properly in relation to the IT security industry. Those doubts and concerns remain, but today we are prepared to give the Bill and the potential new authority the benefit of the doubt, although will want to keep it under scrutiny.

I have no doubt that the points that have been made by, among others, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and me about the need for continuing parliamentary scrutiny of the authority's work and for more issues to be dealt with by way of an affirmative resolution will continue to be live issues.

I do not want to detain the House unduly. At this stage we are prepared to give the new authority a fair wind, with the proviso that we will keep the matter carefully under review. We hope that it will work in the way that the Minister and those who advise him believe it will. We have our fears and concerns, but let us see how it works in practice. I will listen with great interest to the other contributions to the debate.

7.38 pm
Mr. Bruce George

This speech will be short, for no other reason than I am due at a dinner at the American embassy to meet the "wise men" who have been sent over to persuade the British Government about national missile defence. I remain to be convinced, but I may just about make it in time for pudding.

Despite being Welsh, I am not a particularly emotional person, but I am very happy because, at long last, the private security industry is about to be regulated. Those in the industry will be the winners. They have not always realised that regulation would make them winners, but it will because it will give them something that they have been denied by their own indifference and hostility to regulation over the years. The Bill will give the industry a reputation that it can be proud of. Its previous bad reputation was deserved, because many of its members did not meet the standards set in countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, which have eagerly embraced regulation.

International companies operating in a regulated environment elsewhere encountered no problems, and I feel rather sorry about their experience in this country, where the prevailing standards are depressing. Here, an absence of training is the norm, and the public's attitude to the security industry is a combination of mirth, hostility and indifference.

That will change, and not only as a result of this long-overdue legislation. The market has changed, technology has moved forward and crime levels have risen. The police realise that they must work with technology produced in the private sector and with an industry to which they can relate. In the past, the police were the professionals and the private security industry, in some sectors, was anti-professional.

This is a good day, and, as no further amendments have been tabled, the House of Lords can do nothing to injure the Bill. 1 do not believe that that would be what the other place would want, but we are at the beginning of a process of metamorphosis.

The process of transformation of the police in this country began in 1829 and it took 40 years before the new police force was in existence throughout the kingdom. I am sure that 2001 will be seen in a comparable light, and considered to be the date which the private security industry began the real process of reform. That process will not be completed overnight. It will not be complete even when the regulatory authority puts in place the new standards envisaged in the subordinate legislation. It will take some time, but the process is seriously beginning.

There has been much use of bread metaphors this afternoon. Having seen the consultative paper and the Bill, I believe that sliced bread is the appropriate term, as some of the contents of the consultative document have been sliced away. The loaf has thereby been diminished, but I hope that it will expand.

I began campaigning on this matter in 1975. My wife compelled me to clear out the garage, which had been unable to accommodate a motor vehicle since 1972. I knew that there was a big sack containing my material on the private security industry. The state of the Labour party in the 1980s, under the previous Government, made me think that it would be some time before regulation on the private security industry was introduced, so the sack was near the back of the garage.

When I opened it, it was like opening a time capsule. There I was—slim, fit and single, with much more hair than I have now. The paper was pink with age and some of it disintegrated in my hands. I looked at the debates from those early years. Had I realised that it would take a quarter of century to introduce measures establishing a regulated, accountable, efficient private security industry—measures that I considered to be inevitable and necessary—I probably would have thrown in the towel a long time ago.

Many private Members' Bills to regulate the industry, in whole or in part, have been introduced over the years. The list of sponsors contains the names of people who are either dead or long forgotten—Gardiner, Walden, Huckfield, Fowler, Fiddler, B. George, Lord Willis, Dixon, D., B. George, J. Wheeler, B. George. Michael Stern, B. George., and my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey).

Many people have been supportive all along, including Group 4 and many medium-sized and small companies in the sector. The International Professional Security Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Institute of Security Management, the regulatory bodies representing the private security industry and the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union have also been positive. Long-standing friends include Peter Heims, Peter Jones and John Smith of the Prudential. They made me realise that some people in the private security industry shared my views.

Many others, however, continued to fight a guerrilla war. Until 1997, they included officials and Ministers at the Home Office, large private security companies whose names I will not mention, and the associations representing them. In recent years, an incredible homogeneity has been evident. Opponents realised that the game was up and that it was in their interests as well as the public's to bring what is an enormous industry into the orbit of a regulatory system.

My hon. Friend the Minister said that the Bill is not the final version of the legislation. That may never be achieved. Instead, the Bill is the start of a rolling programme of improvement. We know what the deficiencies are—the lack of regulation of companies, the absence of regulations covering in-house security, and so on—and we have spoken about them often. However, I share the hope of many hon. Members that, in the course of the next couple of years, more sectors will be added to the regime.

The iron law of bureaucracy should not be imposed, but many bodies want to be regulated. They include the Master Locksmiths Association, the body representing the better end of the alarm system sector, and companies operating security shredding or storage services.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many members of the wheelclamping industry believe that the time is now right for regulation, to ensure that people will not suffer as they have in the past?

Mr. George

I know that my hon. Friend has fought hard to have wheelclamping regulated. I did not mention it because I have never considered the wheelclamping industry to be part of the private security industry. However, the more the merrier: people who want to join the regulation regime should write to my hon. Friend the Minister of State before he leaves office.

It is ironic that wheelclamping should be regarded as part of the private security industry, many members of which will stay on the outside, looking in. That will remain the case until subordinate legislation is introduced.

I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Minister of State, with whom I have had many constructive meetings. My thanks go also to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who in the past has had to sit through many lectures on the subject. Opposition Members are lucky to have come to the debate rather late in the day. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary sat through my endless and futile attempts to convince the previous Government's Home Office Ministers and officials of the need to regulate the private security industry. I am deeply grateful to everyone who has contributed.

The hon. Members for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) have said some kind things, and I thank them. The Standing Committee was useful, and I am indebted to the hon. Gentlemen for their willingness to tolerate long speeches and to join in the spirit of near consensus on the Bill. That spirit is not unique, but it is fairly rare. That is particularly the case in the matter of crime and policing, which, at a public level, is divisive.

The passing of the Bill will be greeted by me and the industry with satisfaction, but it is not the end of the matter. Should the Minister of state be transferred to the Ministry of Defence, I warn him that, like Hannibal Lecter, who pops up in a variety of guises, I will be there to greet him at one of the first inquiries of the Defence Committee, which will be a long one into policing and security in the MOD.

The security industry is being transformed. Many bad companies will get out now and take their money and run, as those involved—who have serious criminal records—will never get past the regulatory authority. Their companies will not be able to meet the standards. I have mentioned the growth in technology, and it is an exciting time for the industry. The future is not just in the hands of the Home Office and the SIA, but in the hands of the industry. My interest in the matter will survive.

There has been talk of football teams, and Coventry City has had a bad time. Among Coventry's famous sons are the group, the Police; I think they were from Coventry. To paraphrase one of their famous songs—which I did not realise until years later was about stalking—"Every move you make, every step you take, we'll be watching you." That applies to whoever will be sitting in the Minister's place one month from now.

I am delighted that we have reached this point and I hope that the security industry will feel reasonably satisfied with our work. Finally, I thank my research collaborator, Mark Button, for all his work in bringing the interests of the private security industry before a wider audience. We have done a pretty good job of work and I look forward to the years ahead.

7.52 pm
Jackie Ballard

The right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) is right to be proud of the role that he has played in bringing regulation to the private security industry. The House and the public will be grateful to him for not throwing in the towel over the many years that he has been involved.

Many hon. Members have spoken about football teams; I do not see the reason for that, but I do not want to be left out. That gives me a good excuse—in what will probably be my last speech of this Parliament—to congratulate the players of Taunton Town, who won the FA Vase on Sunday, playing at Aston Villa. I was there to watch them win it; the first live football match I have ever watched. They lost the trophy when the town had a Conservative Member, so it is a good omen that they have won it now.

Congratulations have been given to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South and the Government on the Bill, which has been in gestation for more than 20 years. There seems to be a greater need for security measures and operatives in all our lives, whether it is CCTV, burglar alarms, clubs and shop door staff or security patrols on housing estates. I have grave doubts about some of those roles—which should be matters for police forces—being taken over by the private security industry.

As has been said, the Liberal Democrats broadly welcome the Bill, although we have some lingering dismay that not all our helpful amendments were accepted by the Minister. They were helpful, particularly the proposal to include in-house operatives within the regulations—a matter to which the right hon. Member for Walsall, South drew attention. I suspect that that may find its way into the Bill at some point.

The Minister said that the Bill was flexible, and it is a framework Bill. We share the view of the official Opposition that it is important that the House is able to scrutinise the application of that flexibility in future. I hope that the SIA will be truly representative of all the legitimate and relevant sectors of the industry and will have the powers and ability to scrutinise effectively an industry that, in the past, has often attracted the wrong sort of people who, far from making people feel more secure, have made them feel very insecure. I suspect that there will not be a vote on the Third Reading of the Bill. If there were, I would urge my colleagues to vote for it.

7.56 pm
Mr. Bercow

Others have kept their contributions short; so will I. I congratulated the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) earlier, and having extended a bouquet to him I will spare him the embarrassment or indignity of further unwarranted and excessive effusions from me. Suffice it to say that everybody is aware of his expertise on the subject and everybody respects the dedication with which he has pursued issues and causes that are dear to his heart. The right hon. Gentleman is pleased with the Bill, and I hope that his expectation of its efficacy will be justified. If it is, it will be in the interests of the sector as a whole and of those who have reason to have contact or interaction with the private security industry.

In essence, a number of key areas are relevant to the sector that is covered by the Bill and of concern to those who scrutinise its contents. First, there is the key issue—what might be described as the macro-subject—of the Security Industry Authority; not only the powers and functions that are conferred upon it, but the way in which it is composed. We discussed these matters in reasonable detail on Second Reading and in Committee. The jury is out to an extent on whether—and, if so, to what extent—Government thinking and decisions on the matters reflect the spirit and content of our exchanges. Suffice it to say that there is a recognition that the authority needs to draw on the experience of the private security industry itself. If it were to fail to do so, it would not be adequately informed in the exercise of its powers.

On the other hand, it is important that people of ability and good intent who do not have a background in the private security industry but might have a capacity to offer an alternative view should have the chance to do so. One does not want the functions of the authority to suffer, however inadvertently, from the existence of what might be considered to be a parallax view; that is to say, the domination or exclusivity of a view that is drawn only from those who work in the industry. The Minister assured us in Committee that it was the intention to have a broad range of people. I hope that people will not be appointed to the authority by way of the offer of a bauble, but because they have ability, competence and good will. I am happy to give the Government the benefit of the doubt on that point and I hope that our best expectations and justified hopes for the composition of the authority will be reflected in due course.

A second important issue is the licensing and approval regime, including the provision for appeals and representations in relation thereto. We knocked these issues around by way of a game of legislative table tennis. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and I—as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), who is not in his place today but who contributed to the Committee—still have concerns about the way in which the Government intend to proceed. Nevertheless, Ministers made their case, and I hope that it will be borne out by the evidence of the efficacy of the Bill.

The fact that the Government and Opposition differ in their opinions serves only to underline the importance of the publication of findings and the opportunity for all Members of Parliament to come to a conclusion about whether the authority and the Bill have been effective in the first year. I hope that such opportunities will arise in the months ahead. The efficacy and transparency of the licensing regime will be important.

A third consideration is equally important—that of equity. We do not want the legislation to be a blunt instrument that over eggs the pudding. It should not trample over the legitimate rights of people employed in the industry, or those who deal with them, in order to achieve its objectives. The legislation must be proportionate at the same time as being effective.

There is a legitimate debate about who should be included under the rubric of the Bill, and the right hon. Member for Walsall, South—we defer to the strength of his long experience—believes that other sectors should be subject to the Bill's provisions in future. We shall wait and see. I do not necessarily disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, nor with the present stance of the Government, but in practice the hopes held out for a measure and the words the Government use to justify their position often differ from the evidence of the practical impact of the legislation.

The Government have made a case for regulation of the private security industry. They are also able to invoke as ballast in support of their case the fact that most of the sector wants some regulation. However, I hope that the Minister will accept that just as not all of the large employers in that 350,000-employee industry are good, not all the small operators are bad. Some of the small operators would like to grow and it is therefore important to keep a proper focus on the balance between efficacy and zeal. Small companies should not be so smothered in excessive regulation that they do not have an opportunity to develop their legitimate commercial activities.

My final concern is the way in which the powers of entry and inspection will be implemented. Without those powers, the Bill would not have any practical effect if people could not inspect on behalf of the authority to discover whether companies were respecting its provisions. However, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) observed earlier, it is important that the powers are equitably enforced. People should not be intimidated by excessive inquiry or over-zealous interference by public authorities. Defences should be built and protection provided. The guilty should be apprehended and punished, but the innocent should be left to go about their lawful business, consistent with the principles of a liberal and pluralist democracy.

My concerns are reflected in the 25-odd clauses of the Bill, and the jury is out on how effective those provisions will be. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden wish the Bill well. We have a duty to maintain a certain critical and dispassionate distance from the Government on the subject and, in a fair spirit, to remind Ministers that, in the end, they will be judged on the evidence. I hope that the Bill will be effective and that people will judge this activity of Parliament as having been worth while.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.