The Government has accepted an amendment in the House of Lords to drop the Security Industry Authority from the list of Quangos to be abolished by the Public Bodies Bill.
However, Baroness Neville-Jones, Minister of State for the Home Office, vowed to abolish the SIA “in its present form” and fundamentally change the way the industry is regulated.
Baroness Neville-Jones said: “Our willingness to accept the amendment does not represent a change of policy; it remains the Government’s intention to abolish the SIA in its present form. We have, however, decided that this will be best achieved through a different piece of primary legislation. As noble Lords know, it was announced on 14 October as part of the public bodies review that the SIA would no longer be a non-departmental public body and that we would take forward a phased transition to a new regulatory regime.”
The Government wants to abolish licensing for security officers and switch to a system of regulating companies rather than individuals.
She added: “The key points that emerge from the proposals are that: regulation will shift from licensing individuals to registering businesses, which will have to meet a comprehensive set of conditions set by the new regulator; the regulation of individuals will become the responsibility of registered businesses, which is an important point; the new regulator will have the power to impose sanctions, including removing the right to trade in the private security industry on the part of businesses that fail to comply with the conditions that it sets for registration; and the Government’s aim is for the new regulatory regime to be in place by the end of 2013, using a phased approach to ensure a smooth transition.”
Below is an excerpt of the debate in the Lords last night which culminates in the acceptance of Amendment 19 to “leave out ‘Security Industry Authority’” from the list of quangos to be abolished.
- The industry has been quick to respond: IPSA welcomes Government’s recognition of clearer legislative path for the SIA transition
Amendment 19: Moved by Lord Kennedy of Southwark
19: Schedule 1, page 16, line 20, leave out “Security Industry Authority.”
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, has come in behind an amendment that I put down. I hope that this is one of many occasions when the noble Lord will come in behind amendments that I put down in this House.
I am very interested to hear from the Minister-the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones-why the Government have decided to join the Opposition on this amendment. Both at Second Reading and in Committee, I raised concerns that there are real risks of allowing criminality to return to an industry that has cleaned up its act dramatically in recent years. I have always felt it to be reassuring when you go into a venue and meet security personnel with credentials on display that show that the individual has reached a certain standard, had a Criminal Records Bureau check and is deemed to be a fit and proper person to undertake this kind of work.
Maybe the Minister will tell us that the Government are prepared to delete this body from the Bill, but will work behind the scenes and bring something back in the future. If that happens, I am sure that this House will give it the line-by-line scrutiny it deserves. It is important to ensure that we take the industry with us; the industry does not want to see the criminals return. Security checks on individuals who want to join the industry remain. A common approach to a problem that has largely been solved, but may need to be reviewed and updated as things change, could command support across the House if handled properly and built on what has been achieved in recent years.
I will leave it there; I do not wish to detain the House longer than necessary. I am eager to hear from the Minister.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, the amendment removes the Security Industry Authority from the list of public bodies that the Minister can abolish by secondary legislation. Some noble Lords may wonder why the Government are supporting an amendment which is the same as one which the Opposition put forward a few weeks ago and which we then resisted. If I go into the Government’s reasoning behind our approach to the Bill, it will then become clear why we are now supporting this amendment.
First, our willingness to accept the amendment does not represent a change of policy; it remains the Government’s intention to abolish the SIA in its present form. We have, however, decided that this will be best achieved through a different piece of primary legislation. As noble Lords know, it was announced on 14 October as part of the public bodies review that the SIA would no longer be a non-departmental public body and that we would take forward a phased transition to a new regulatory regime. I went through the reasons for that during the Committee debate on 28 February, and I do not intend to detain the House at this hour by going over that ground again. I am sure that noble Lords will welcome that.
Home Office Ministers asked the SIA last October to consult key stakeholders, including the industry, and to produce a detailed plan of how the phased transition to the new regulatory regime could be achieved. As the House will know, the chair of the SIA, the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and its chief executive, Bill Butler, presented their plan to the department on 16 February and there has been a subsequent meeting with the Home Secretary on 14 March, so there has been close dialogue between the SIA and the department.
The key points that emerge from the proposals are that: regulation will shift from licensing individuals to registering businesses, which will have to meet a comprehensive set of conditions set by the new regulator; the regulation of individuals will become the responsibility of registered businesses, which is an important point; the new regulator will have the power to impose sanctions, including removing the right to trade in the private security industry on the part of businesses that fail to comply with the conditions that it sets for registration; and the Government’s aim is for the new regulatory regime to be in place by the end of 2013, using a phased approach to ensure a smooth transition.
We have decided to support the amendment to remove the SIA from the Bill because Clause 1 includes only powers to abolish bodies and transfer functions via secondary legislation. It does not include powers to set up new regulatory bodies, and it has become clear that primary legislation will be required to establish a successor self-regulatory body that will have the power to impose sanctions on businesses that do not comply with set standards. If I understood the noble Lord’s point, he attaches importance to the idea that the regulatory body should have teeth. The Government agree-in other words, it must have powers that will enable it to enforce sanctions against companies that breach standards.
We have therefore taken the opportunity to review, and decided that references to the SIA should be removed from the Bill. The same primary legislative vehicle that will establish the successor regulatory body will also be used to abolish the SIA, so we will put it all in another Bill. I am sure that noble Lords will understand that I cannot give further detail on that legislation today, except to say that we will bring it forward when parliamentary time allows.
A final point: the Home Secretary has also written to Ministers in the Scottish Government and in the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland to advise them of this amendment. Regulation of the private security industry in their nations is a policy decision for the devolved Administrations to make. We are working with them to ensure that transitional and subsequent arrangements meet the needs of all UK Administrations.
Accepting the amendment does not constitute a change in policy; it is a change to the vehicle that the Government will use to deliver that policy. There is wide agreement between the Government and what I understand to be the points made on the opposition Benches regarding the substance. It is still the Government’s intention to abolish the existing body and replace it with another body for the private security industry that is self-regulatory. I therefore support the amendment.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I apologise that I did not stand up before. As the name of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is on the amendment, I wanted to see what the noble Baroness was going to say in response before I could intervene. I have a couple of questions further to her speech.
The Minister suggested that we are thinking very much along the same lines; I think that that was what she said towards the end of her speech. Let me be clear that we do not agree with the Government about the future of the SIA because we believe that it is essentially doing a good job as it is. As we understand it, the industry itself is content with the present situation and willing to pay for the present system.
I return to two issues that were raised in the debate that we had in Committee. One was the attitude of the police. As all noble Lords will know, when we brought forward the primary legislation, one of the main bodies in favour of primary legislation being introduced were the police themselves, who felt that the security industry when unregulated was rather a dangerous industry, not just for the people working in the industry themselves but also for the wider society. It was as a means of protecting wider society that the legislation was introduced.
I will be grateful if the noble Baroness can tell us whether or not a consultation with the police and other concerned bodies will take place before a Bill is introduced. I will also be grateful if she can tell the House when a Bill is likely to be introduced. One of the issues that concerns these Benches is the fact that, in future, it is hoped by the Government that the regulation of individuals working within the security industry should become the responsibility of the security businesses themselves. That is precisely why primary legislation was introduced in the first place. The industry was not properly investigating or in charge of the individuals who were working in the industry and this led to endangering some of the people who depended on the security industry-for example, the young in nightclubs.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, raised a question about prisoners in the last debate on the subject. At the moment where prisoners are moved from prison to prison, the wherewithal to do it is provided by the security industry. That is an extremely important part of the industry that needs to be properly regulated. Will the Government consult with the Ministry of Justice and everybody else who has anything to do with the movement of prisoners and the wider care of prisoners? As I understand it, people who work within the security industry are sometimes employed within private prisons. It does not seem a sensible move or good idea to reintroduce some form of self-regulation rather than to have proper regulation for an industry that is extremely important for the well-being of our society.
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I am slightly puzzled that the noble Baroness says that the opposition Benches do not agree with the approach that I have just outlined. Before the Government came to office, the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, herself was moving towards a more self-regulatory regime. She has seen the Home Secretary and other Ministers and is working with the Government on a transitional regime to a new body. I find it difficult to see why there should be such a problem for the opposition Benches.
On the question of the attitude of the police, we are consulting ACPO, which supports the approach. The police attach importance to effective regulation. That is precisely why I made my third point, in relation to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in the previous debate. This body will have power to impose sanctions on businesses that do not comply with set standards. There will be set standards in a number of areas. Certainly, the whole question of custody will be one of those areas of set standards. I have to say that the differences are more synthetic than real. I hope that in due course, when we introduce and come to debate the legislation-I am not, unfortunately, able to give the noble Baroness a date for that because it depends on the crush of parliamentary business-there will be cross-party agreement.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, my name is also on this amendment. Indeed, it was my amendment in Committee to which the noble Baroness responded. The Government, understandably, are a little diffident towards the Opposition tonight. The fact is that there has been, if not quite a U-turn, definitely a bit of a C-turn on this-quite rightly, too. Under the Bill as printed, the Government were going to abolish this body. They were not going to substitute statutorily backed self-regulation. What existed in the SIA was going disappear. The regulation of the industry and the personnel within it, and the standards and the great improvement in those standards that we have seen since the SIA was set up, could have been seriously endangered.
Just before the previous vote, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, met a certain degree of scepticism from these Benches when he said that the Government were a listening Government. At least on this amendment the Government have listened to some degree.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, on Report there is time for a noble Lord to ask just one question after the Minister has spoken.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Minister was not replying to the debate. The amendment was moved by my noble friend Lord Kennedy. I put my name to it, as did the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, so I think I am in order.
The Deputy Speaker (Lord Brougham and Vaux): I remind the noble Lord that the Companion says:
“Only the mover of an amendment … speaks after the minister … except for short questions … or where the minister speaks early to assist the House”.
The noble Lord should have spoken before the Minister. He is out of order, I am afraid.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response to my amendment. As I have said on several occasions, whatever happens we need to ensure that criminality does not return to the industry and that the public are able to remain confident that the people employed in the industry are fit and proper. The overwhelming majority of the industry acts responsibly and supports retention of the SIA. If the Government bring forward a Bill for consideration, it will be important to give it detailed line-by-line scrutiny. In particular, I concur with the comments of my noble friends Lady Royall and Lord Whitty.
Amendment 19 agreed.