HC Deb 16 June 2004 vol 422 cc881-90

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Jim Fitzpatrick]

7 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

The debate is about door staff, door stewards, doorkeepers or bouncers, as they are variously called. It is a great pleasure to see the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety in her place, and I thank her.

On 21 October I attended a meeting at Temptations nightclub at Newport, where I was told of concerns that doorkeepers on the island have about the doorkeeper registration scheme, which must be implemented under the Private Security Industry Act 2001. Before I go into the details, I shall headline some of the questions that I hope the Minister will answer during the debate or shortly afterwards.

First, did the Minister know when she signed the commencement order how damaging it would be to small businesses in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight if it were enforced, or was she not told of the shortage of registered doorkeepers at the time that she signed the commencement order in the middle of May? Secondly, will she encourage the police and local councils to take a light touch approach to enforcement, and in particular not to threaten people's licences while there are not enough doorkeepers? Thirdly, does she think the registration costs are affordable to part-time and casual doorkeepers?

Fourthly, will the Minister obtain an urgent report from the Security Industry Authority on registration, to see how well the SIA is responding and how quickly it is responding to the challenge of registering people when they apply? Fifthly, why were the Isle of Wight and Hampshire selected as a pilot area without doorkeepers being consulted? Who agreed to that? Sixthly, who took the decision to introduce the scheme area by area? Was it the SIA or was it Ministers? A as that envisaged in debate on the Bill? I believe not. I f not, when was that determined?

Seventhly, will anyone be put out of work if they have not received a doorkeeper's badge? Eighthly, is enforcement the SIA's responsibility or that of the police or the licensing authority? At present, I can only say thank goodness that in my constituency there appears to be no authority able and willing to enforce this ill-thought-out and hastily implemented scheme.

After the meeting to which I referred, I had a letter from Zoe Mitchell, who is the secretary of the Isle of Wight Association of Professional Door Stewards. Among other things she asked: If a majority of Stewards refuse to undergo the course or apply for the licence, what are your"— this is a letter sent to the SIA— procedures to protect the pubs and clues from closure? She went on to tell Mr. Drane of the SIA that during the previous week she had found it impossible to find anyone who can and/or will answer her questions. She had, she said, been pushed from pillar to post.

That was on 30 November. On 22 October, the day after the meeting, Sarah Hunnybun, who is a licensing enforcement officer at the Isle of Wight council, told me that proposals by the SIA are flawed and will be seriously detrimental to crime and disorder on a local level. She continued: I am representing the Isle of Wight on a small working party with the SIA, and we have discussed these issues with them at various levels during the past year, but have reached a point where the SIA is either unwilling or unable to address our concerns. She mentioned a number of concerns, including the low pay of door staff, which makes it impossible for them to afford the high cost of training and registration. She pointed out that training requirements were unlikely to be finally confirmed until November or December 2003 and that, as a result, training courses were unlikely to commence until January 2004. In conclusion, she said:

the costs of registration and training of the individuals involved will inevitably lead to a scarcity of licensed door supervisors, leading to premises possibly having to close down". The reply that I received with regard to that matter was pretty inadequate. The chief executive of the SIA referred to a policy of full consultation and collaboration with key stakeholder groups within all sectors of the Private Security Industry". I ask now whether that included doorkeepers and those who employ them. He pointed out that the SIA was instrumental in setting up a liaison group with licensing officers and the police in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight", and said that assurances had been received that training would be available to meet anticipated demand. He stated that the SIA had anticipated a possible shortage and had put in place contingency plans which have been drawn up with the intention of minimising disruption. The reply failed to justify the level of the fee or to answer the points about grandfather rights. I wrote back to the chief executive and pointed out my dissatisfaction with his reply.

Subsequently, I had a meeting with Mr. Drane and his deputy head of compliance, Dianne Tranmer. He was unable to explain whether doorkeepers or their employers had been consulted. He said that he felt that the level of fee was not an issue for doorkeepers and acknowledged that the training required to bring those with grandfather rights, which he had now sorted out, up to the new standard was not yet available in my constituency. Of course, the cost of travelling from my constituency to Hampshire for four days is significant, especially for part-timers who may have another job and may lose work. Finally, Mr. Drane said that it was his intention that the scheme would come on track on 4 June.

On 30 March, the SIA said that the Isle Wight school of food and wine currently estimate to have 48 door supervisors trained in the coming weeks. Mr. Drane said that he was informed that Ministers would be laying the commencement order before Parliament mid to late April. Miss Hunnybun wrote to me saying some of their replies to your questions…directly conflict with what I know to be the case in certain areas, for example, that they felt the licence fee of £190 was not an issue for doorpersons. She said that the fee has been set to cover the cost of the SIA. (It is interesting to note that when members of the SIA visit the Island, they stay at a well-known 4-star hotel as opposed to somewhere cheaper like the Travel Inn!!) That is the sort of thing that pushes up the cost of the licences for doorkeepers. She added: Our primary concern still remains that, after the 4th June, there will be a shortage of licensed door supervisors for the amount of premises that will require them, particularly the IW Pop Festival and Cowes Week"— the former took place last weekend, while Cowes week will be in the first full week of August— whose security staff will all need to be SIA licensed. That shows that there was ample warning to the SIA, but it was immobile.

On 10 May, I wrote to the Home Secretary. I understand that the letter did not arrive, but I e-mailed it and sent hard copy. I told him that only 14 doorkeepers had been registered in the two counties out of an estimated 2,000 that were currently employed. I said: More doorkeepers' applications are in train, but nothing like sufficient to meet the two counties' needs. In other words, for whatever reason, it is impossible for businesses to comply with the legislation if it takes effect on 4th June. I was not the only person saying that. Mr. J.U. Burke, a licensing officer for the city of Southampton—the lead authority in the two counties in dealing with the SIA on this matter—wrote a lengthy letter on 12 May to the chairman of the SIA. It listed a host of problems, some of which I have mentioned, but included the proposal by the police and local authority representatives who attended the 4 May meeting with the SIA to consider postponing the implementation date. I, too, had requested that. The letter also said that the closure of premises as a result of the shortage of door staff would be a front-page media story and bad publicity for all concerned.

I understand that the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) have also written to the Home Office on the subject. My hon. Friend—I cannot speak for the others—has yet to receive a reply.

Mr. Burke also drew attention to the problem of who is responsible for enforcement. He said that enforcement of the law in relation to door supervisors is clearly the role of the SIA and not that of the Local Authority. It was presumably envisaged that the substantial licence fees paid to the SIA would cover enforcement… In addition the SIA representatives have been unable to indicate any statutory authority for local authority officers to demand proof of SIA licence. He reminded the chairman of the SIA: At the meeting in May, we learnt that enforcement is not now proposed to take place until the end of June or early July and such enforcement is anticipated to be in the form of a warning. That may have been true as far as Mr. Burke was concerned, but on the same day the SIA issued a press release that was entitled: Inaction by door supervisors could force pubs and clubs to close". It stated that all eligible applications received by 7 May"— the press release war; written five days later—would be processed

in time for the start of licensing on 4 June, but Hampshire and the Isle of Wight will still be left with a significant shortage of licensed door supervisors. The SIA accepted that the scheme was under pressure and threatening the livelihoods of doorkeepers and proprietors. However, it went on to blame those doorkeepers and proprietors by saying that inaction by individual door supervisors and venue operators can only be through deliberate means or neglect. They threatened proprietors by stating: If licensees use unlicensed door staff after 4 June, they could put their premises licence at risk. That is not an appropriate way in which to deal with small businesses and individuals who have taken on a part-time or casual job and cannot afford to invest the money in the training.

On 28 May, the assistant chief constable of Hampshire police wrote to licensees stating: From that date"— 4 June it will be an offence to work as a door supervisor without a licence or to employ unlicensed door supervisors…those found committing these offences will be liable for prosecution at any time…a very limited policy of discretion will be adopted by the Hampshire Constabulary until the 4th September 2004. Individuals who have submitted their applications too late to be processed by the 4th June will be issued with a letter from the SIA informing the individual that their application is being processed. Between the 4th June and 4th September officers will have the discretion to issue such individuals working without a licence a formal warning. I take that to mean something akin to a police caution. The police have a licence to prosecute and they will issue a formal warning. The letter says nothing about what would happen to licensees. Of course, a caution against licensees could have damaging implications for the future of their licence.

Mark Watson, the general manager of Colonel Bogey's in Sandown, wrote to me on 28 May. He stated: As previously discussed with you, it has once again been proved that the system is letting us down badly and will create a problem. My doorman"— I think that he meant "doormen" but perhaps he means one doorman— took their exam on 28th April. After daily telephone calls to the British Institute of Innkeeping to 'chase' the doorman's certificates (you are not able to apply to the SIA without these certificates) they were delivered…on 26th May. That is a delay of a month. The letter continues:

We are now in the process of applying for the SIA licence and this, as quoted by the SIA, will take 4 to 6 weeks. On 3 June, I eventually established that the relevant legislation would take effect on the following day because the Minister had signed the order in the previous week. I thank the Library for that information and I am also grateful for the help that I obtained from Bridget Brooks, a Home Office official. I immediately made representations to the Isle of Wight council and Hampshire constabulary to adopt a light-touch enforcement regime. However, on 5 June, Mark Watson told me that the police had threatened a pub for which he has responsibility, The Redan in Ryde, with closure on the first night of the scheme's operation because he was employing an unregistered doorkeeper.

On 7 June, in the periodical The Publican, Colin Pollard, the licensee at The Hobbit in Southampton said: It has been a nightmare trying to get the forms in. We've had a number returned and it's not clear why. It's a relief that the police are taking this into consideration but whether they prosecute is still at their discretion. John Burke, the licensing officer for Southampton to whom I referred earlier, said:

We are frustrated, this could have been done a lot better. We were running a good operation with our door supervisors already, so why try to reinvent the wheel? Mark Watson told me on 11 June: All my staff's applications have been sent. Most of them have been returned as marked either incomplete or not enough documentation. Firstly, the SIA application clearly states on several fields 'Country (Leave blank if in the UK)'. So this field has been left blank, but the forms have been returned to me as 'this field is incomplete because it has been left blank'. One of my staff supplied a passport, a plastic and paper driving licence, a birth certificate and two household bills. This form was returned as 'insufficient identity'. He wrote to me again on 16 June to say that more of his door staff had had their applications returned, and he complained that important documents were being sent second class rather than by recorded delivery. He said: To describe the system as a fiasco is an understatement. The cost for each of my staff including application fee, training, wages and travel (as we had to train off the Isle of Wight) is in the region of £750 per door person. I have 14 door staff. £10,5000 of our profits down the drain. Yet another stealth tax. I resent the intimidatory stance offered by the SIA in recent press releases and emails received. He went on to say that it was easier to obtain a shotgun licence than SIA registration.

What happened at the Isle of Wight music festival? I mean the Nokia Isle of Wight music festival, forgive me. A senior representative called Jill—she would not give her surname—of Rock Stead, the organisation responsible for security at the festival told a constituent of mine that she was not SIA registered. Actually, she thought that the authority in question was called the CIA. She said that the laws were different in England from those on the Isle of Wight and that there was no requirement for an SIA-registered person. She would not say whether anyone on site was SIA registered. She also said that the festival had been given an exemption from the relevant legislation by the Isle of Wight council. The Minister will know, as will the council, that it has no power to exempt anyone from that legislation. Jill also claimed to be qualified to teach doorkeepers to SIA registration standard.

I have received the impression of arrogant, uncaring and out-of-touch officials in the SIA who are either ignoring advice or have been told to drive a policy through, regardless of the consequences. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that the latter is not the case, and I hope that she will be able to answer some of my questions tonight.

7.18 pm
The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to put on record the work that has been undertaken by the Security Industry Authority in implementing the Private Security Industry Act 2001, and to describe its progress to date. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) has done us all a favour by raising these important issues, which will be of widespread interest.

The decision to set up the SIA and to regulate the private security industry enjoyed the support of the whole House. Many Members had campaigned for a number of years to raise standards in the industry and to use regulation to drive out what was seen as the criminal or rogue element within it. It is clear that the industry will play an increasingly important role in our extended police family, so it is vital that we raise the standards and skills of the people employed in it and that we reach a point at which the public can rely on those people having had good training and been properly vetted, and on their being fit and competent to do their job.

The regulation of the industry has the support of virtually all the organisations and companies involved. I do not think that a single legitimate operator opposes the principle of regulation. The industry views this as a positive move forward, and thinks that it will be a tool for increasing both police and public confidence and that that, in turn, could lead to increased business opportunities for the industry as a whole. Where it is well respected, it should be able to expand its operation.

The aims of the SIA are: to increase public trust and confidence in the industry; to increase professionalism and standards; to encourage businesses to improve their standards by creating a framework for developing and promoting best practice across the industry; to create a security industry centre of knowledge and expertise, so that the best people in the industry can lead the development of the rest; and to try to strengthen the extended police family, which we hope to develop.

As for the sectors that we want to be licensed by the SIA, it started with door supervisors, and it will move on to wheel clampers, security guards, personal protection guards, key holders, private investigators and security consultants. The industry that we seek to regulate is wide ranging, and it is a complex task.

The authority has tried to estimate accurately the size of the task that it is undertaking, to set up a proper organisation. The estimate is that about 500,000 people in this country are employed in this sector, and that the industry has an annual turnover of about £3 billion. As the hon. Gentleman says, because much of the work is part time, it is difficult to draw strict boundaries in relation to the exact number of people who are employed. Nationally, it is estimated that about 95,000 people are employed as door supervisors. In the pilot area, the initial estimate was that about 2,000 people were likely to be employed in the industry. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, because of the nature of the industry, it is difficult to pin down exactly the number of people who are employed.

The starting position for the SIA was an almost completely unregulated sector of our economy. It has therefore had to start from scratch to set up a system that would work and be effective. It decided that a number of things were required: a disclosure through the Criminal Records Bureau to make sure that those employed were fit and proper people to do the job; training to make sure that their skills were up to date and appropriate for the job that they had to carry out, taking into account the fact that the night-time economy has become increasingly important and complex, and that new skills are sometimes required to deal with the difficult and sometimes confrontational situations in which some individuals will find themselves; identification of training providers, which, as they had not been in the field previously, would require a new start; processing of applications quickly and efficiently; and communication of all these issues to businesses and individuals to get the message across that it was an entirely new world of operation.

Given the size of the industry, it was decided properly that a "big bang" approach to regulation was not possible or feasible. A decision was therefore taken to divide the sector into three tranches for regulation: the first is door supervisors and vehicle immobilisers or wheel clampers; the second is manned guarding and key holders; and the third is private investigators and security consultants. The step-by-step, incremental approach of dividing the industry into sectors is absolutely right, to make sure that we learn from our initial roll-out and from the pilots, and that we strengthen the process as we proceed.

The hon. Gentleman is right that although the SIA is starting virtually from scratch, a number of local authorities and police forces have been operating their own local schemes for door supervisor registration. Some of them are of a high standard, but the schemes are patchy across the country, and widely differing criteria operate for the award of a licence. They have not succeeded in raising standards generally, which is a key aim of the authority, and local schemes have not got across to the public the message that standards have been raised and that the minority criminal element has been removed from the industry. A national scheme was therefore needed to give the public confidence that national standards would be developed. There are now three main criteria for giving a licence: an identity check; a fit and proper person check; and a check on professional competence to do the job. If we get those three things right, we will drive up standards.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of specific issues about the roll-out in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. It was absolutely right to choose a pilot area to see what happened when this system was introduced. The SIA decided the pilot area, taking into account the fact that it was a good area in which to start. It has a range of urban and rural areas. We have heard about Temptations club, and various other clubs and pubs mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

There was a comprehensive communications strategy, targeted at employers as well as individuals working in the licensed trade. The message has been pretty consistent: both the SIA and Hampshire police have tried to ensure that people are fully aware of the need to acquire a licence. Research has also been commissioned recently to assess the level of awareness. It established that 100 per cent. of door supervisors knew that they would have to be licensed—they had not gone to get their licences, but they knew that they would have to do so—and that 86 per cent. of employers were aware of the requirement.

In Hampshire there has been delay, delay, delay until the very last minute,which has put us in a difficult position. Between 1 March—when supervisors were eligible to apply for packs—and 4 June, the SIA issued 2,128 application packs, 1,186 from the pilot area. However, despite that high level of interest and the almost universal awareness, take-up has been pretty slow. Only 722 applications had been returned by the week ending 4 June, and the vast majority were submitted after the last safe application date. There were some minor administrative teething problems in the case of a few applications, but the vast majority of those were delivered within the four to six weeks specified in the SIA's standards.

The necessary Criminal Records Bureau check takes some time. It is also necessary to establish that the people applying are competent. I think that individuals, including employers, have failed t o convey the message that supervisors mutt be licensed. Without licensing, following the introduction of regulations people would be vulnerable to prosecution. The alternative is delay, delay and more delay. That would mean no incentive for anyone to go out and get a licence and training.

I knew of the difficulties before I signed the commencement order for 4 June, and I considered it very carefully. In the knowledge that there had been 11 months' notice of the enforcement of the legislation, however, I decided that we should press on and encourage as many people as possible to obtain licences. I was also aware that a pragmatic approach to enforcement would be required. It was clear that not enough applications were being received to meet the potential need. Hampshire police and the SIA have agreed to an element of discretion in the enforcement policy, relative to the level of compliance shown. When it is clear that people are willing to apply, are getting on with their training and are complying with the regime, discretion will be shown; when they refuse or are unwilling to comply with what I consider to be an entirely appropriate regulatory regime, that too will be taken into account.

The hon. Gentleman made a number of points about the lack, or alleged lack, of training facilities in Hampshire and on the Isle of Wight. Many training providers were more than willing to arrange training, but because of a lack of interest and a failure to perceive any urgency, Farnborough college had to cancel no fewer than six flexible courses.

Mr. Andrew Turner


Ms Blears

Will the hon. Gentleman wait for a moment?

As a result of that cancellation, Isle of Wight college, which had planned to provide training, decided that there was no point in its going ahead, because no one would take up the courses on offer. People seem to have closed their eyes to the fact that enforcement of the legislation was on the horizon and they needed to get their act together—to get their training done, their applications in and their CRB checks carried out, and to obtain their licences.

The regulations will act as an extra impetus, encouraging people to ensure that they get on track, comply with the law and make things happen. I am told that there are 13 training providers in the area. It is vital that the sector is properly licensed I think that if that happens, it will make a major contribution to our strategies to tackle the harm caused by alcohol misuse, to continue the fight against drugs, to protect the safety of city centres and to ensure that our night-time economy does not operate at the expense of the decent, law-abiding majority of citizens.

It is vital for the SIA to press ahead with its approach as a modern regulator working with the local authority, the police, training providers, the door supervisors and the industry. Time and again we see that what works in these circumstances is a good partnership approach, and I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will persuade people in his area to comply.

The motion having been made after Seven o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Seven o'clock.