HC Deb 08 February 1977 vol 925 cc1249-52

4.26 p.m.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the registration of private security firms; and for purposes connected therewith. The private security industry has mushroomed at a phenomenal rate in the last decade. It has been said that the only industry more profitable is crime itself, and as long as crime flourishes the security industry will flourish. It is enormous if one takes in every aspect of it—the guarding of property—either static like offices or mobile in armoured vehicles or vans—alarms and locks, industrial security, private detectives, store detectives, and so on. The number of personnel employed is way in excess of 100,000, but I have seen estimates suggesting that the figure is actually approaching 200,000, which is infinitely more than we have in the police or in any one of the Armed Services.

This very sizeable industry is made up of large companies, such as Securicor, Group 4, and Security Express, and an overwhelming number of small and medium-size companies that are outside the umbrella association of the larger companies, the British Security Industry Association. I am not concerned so much with the larger companies as with sections of the smaller companies which make up the industry. The industry is by and large reputable, but in my view and in the arguments of so many others the need for a system of licensing or registration is overwhelming f or a number of reasons.

In introducing a Bill to provide for such a registration system I am concerned about the ease with which people with serious criminal records can enter the industry, either as directors or as guards. This ease is alarming. It is no exaggeration to say that all one requires is an entry in the Yellow Pages, a guard dog, some old uniforms and headed notepaper, and one is in business as a private security firm. I am compiling a dossier to present to the Home Office listing a number of people in the industry who have serious criminal records which, in my opinion, should disqualify them.

I am not pursuing people who have committed crimes years ago, or people who have not committed serious crimes. I support the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. But there are certain crimes which should be regarded as incompatible with membership of a security company guarding people's lives and property. One has only to talk to retired and serving police officers to discover their anxiety about the number of criminals in this work. One should not over-exaggerate, but the danger is there.

The second argument for a registration system is that surely a private industry like a security industry, with between 100,000 and 200,000 personnel, dependent on one's estimate, should be brought out into the open. It is remarkable how little literature exists on the industry. I should like some form of working party in the Home Office to investigate the size and scope of the industry as a prelude to taking a decision as to the form of licensing or registration which should take place.

Basically, there are two types of registration feasible. One would be a public board, which I should favour and which would be self-financing. Anyone seeking to enter the industry would have to pay a fee to cover the cost of operating the board. The other form would be self-regulation. The British Security Industry Association feels that it is competent, given assistance from the House and the Government, to establish a system of self-regulation. Although I would prefer the former system, I am open to persuasion about the ultimate form of registration.

It is ironic to reflect that anyone who wants to run a pub or a driving school or to enter a host of professions must satisfy rigid criteria first, yet one can enter the security industry almost straight from Pentonville or Wormwood Scrubs. Licensing will help to keep the rogues out of the industry. Regrettably, there are far too many in it at the moment. Second, it will improve efficiency. In a robbery in my own town the two security men who were attacked while driving a car were aged 69 and 73. A licensing system would encourage better methods of recruitment and training.

The main purpose of registration would be to allow the industry to discharge its duties against a background of public trust. Support for my Bill comes from many quarters in the House, from all parties and shades of political opinion. I have the support of, among other organisations, the British Security Industry Association, the Police Federation and the Association of British Investigators, the journal Top Security, as well as of major companies and small companies in the security industry. The principle of registration also has the support of the insurance industry and the academic world. Support is overwhelming.

It is paradoxical that normally in these circumstances the Government say to an industry that they want to establish rules for it and the industry wants to stay free. In this case it is the industry itself that is crying out for Government intervention and regulation, while the Home Office is resisting the idea. For a variety of reasons the Home Office is obdurate. It says that there is no evidence to show that the number of criminals poses a serious concern. However, in my researches and consultations I have yet to come across any individual or group, other than the criminals in the industry who have most to lose and parts of the Home Office, who is not absolutely certain that registration is the only, as well as a desirable, way of dealing with this problem.

If I convince the House today, it will then be necessary also to convince the Home Office, which will be very difficult. If I am given permission to introduce the Bill I shall be campaigning until the Home Office provides a licensing system, which will be to the advantage of the industry and, more important, of society as a whole.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bruce George, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. Norman Fowler, Dr. Keith Hampson, Mr. Robert Hughes, Mr. John Lee, Mr. J. W. Rooker, Mr. Paul B. Rose and Mr. Michael Neubert.