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Private Security Industry

Volume 264: debated on Thursday 19 October 1995

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8.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce statutory regulation of the private security industry. [36513]

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce statutory regulation of the private security industry. [36514]

The case for regulation is currently being considered. The Home Affairs Select Committee report on that issue made a number of very helpful recommendations and we shall respond to it as soon as possible.

Given that the respectable part of the industry is keen to have proper regulation and given that it is now more than four months since the Home Affairs Select Committee gave its report and the Government are supposed to reply after two months, is it not high time that there were some proposals for proper regulation or is the Deputy Prime Minister vetoing that?

The private security industry has grown up in the past 20 or 25 years and the bulk of the industry works perfectly well without any need for regulation. The Home Affairs Select Committee identified one sector with potential problems. In view of the time span of the growth of the industry, I think that it is quite legitimate for the Government to take the time that they have since the Home Affairs Select Committee reported to consider the matters carefully before rushing into implementing any proposals. Of course, we shall want to respond to the Select Committee as soon as we can and we shall want to give a detailed and considered reply to the main points in its recommendations.

We all know that the Government have no standards whatsoever as to their normal conduct, but what about people's concerns about low wages, no regulation and no guarantee of public safety in the private security industry? Does the Minister rule out entirely any form of regulation in that industry?

If the hon. Gentleman were to read my evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, he would know the answer to that question. We are considering carefully all options for that sector.

As to the hon. Gentleman's jibe about standards, if he wants to root out criminals and fraudsters, perhaps he should go to Hackney council and sort out the corruption in its housing department. Perhaps he could then pop into Labour-controlled Islington, with its crazy policy of employing paedophiles, pimps and perverts to work with children.

There is concern about the issue on Conservative Benches as well as on Opposition Benches. I know of many examples of people having to work ridiculously long hours for exceedingly low pay, which raises many questions about how secure the security companies really are. When the Minister replies to the Select Committee's report, I hope that he will put forward some concrete proposals to strengthen the position and to drive the cowboys out of that very important industry.

As someone who used to undertake such work 15 or 20 years ago, I am of course aware that part of the security industry is low paid. However, I think that my hon. Friend would be the first to acknowledge that self-regulation works perfectly well in the bulk of the security industry—particularly on the technological and electronic alarm sides. The Home Affairs Select Committee identified only one sector where there was a potential problem. Nevertheless, that sector deserves careful consideration and we are considering it at the moment.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the difficulties that security companies face in trying to employ people without criminal records? Will he ensure that that issue is examined so that the security companies may be certain that their employees do not have criminal records?

My hon. Friend is right to draw my attention to that aspect of the policy. In considering the Home Affairs Select Committee report, we must examine whether changes to the present rules for vetting potential employees are necessary. That requires careful consideration of the impact of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and we are looking at whether it will be possible to gather more information about prospective employees in order to prevent the employment of people with criminal records, without undermining the principles of the Act.

Until we have a proper system of regulation that will stop criminals moving into the industry—as some have done already—will the Minister give an assurance that neither the Home Office nor any of its agencies employ any security firms that do not belong to the industry's self-regulating organisation? But perhaps that is an operational detail of the kind that the Minister does not like to be involved in.

No. It would be contrary to European regulations to exclude companies automatically on the basis that they do not belong to a trade organisation. Government Departments operate a quality threshold policy and if any company meets the quality standards of a contract, that company can be given the business, irrespective of whether it belongs to a trade union or a trade association.

Is the Minister aware, not least from the concerns expressed by the hon. Members for Wellingborough (Sir P. Fry) and for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), of the mounting concern that, in many parts of the country, the private security industry does indeed employ criminals, who are organised into companies to continue their criminal activities under the guise of providing private security? Is he aware that the Home Affairs Select Committee concluded that there was a growing problem of totally unregistered private locally patrolling operations, often preying on the fears of vulnerable people? Given the intense concern on both sides of the House, does the Minister accept that he really should show much more than the complacency that he has demonstrated to the House today and move swiftly ahead with the proper regulation of that sector of the industry?

We all know that when the Opposition study an opinion poll and find that people dislike noisy neighbours, they rush into promises of draconian legislation to deal with that week's problem. The private security industry is very important. It is also a large industry which is important to Britain's export needs. The first point to acknowledge is that the bulk of the industry has been given a clean bill of health. The fact that the Home Office and the Home Affairs Select Committee have been reviewing it means that we take the potential problem very seriously. When we have reached our conclusions, we shall announce them in due course.