HC Deb 10 May 1994 vol 243 cc159-60 3.40 pm
Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the licensing of the security industry; and for connected purposes. There is a growing perceived need for the work of private security firms, but at present there is no apparent check on their operations and no apparent way in which their work with members of the public and small businesses can be certified, registered or inspected to protect those same members of the public. Their work, principally in residential areas, involves not policing but an operation of merely maintaining a presence to protect the security of householders. As such, it is being welcomed increasingly in many areas of different types, not least in my constituency.

In the absence of any licensing or security procedures for such firms, there is a fear that villains will masquerade as honest men and, in doing so, provide not security but an opportunity for further crime. Similarly, in the absence of any provision for a check on the financing of such firms, there is the risk that ordinary members of the public will find themselves paying for the additional security that such firms offer only to discover that the organisers of the firms are men of straw, as appears to have happened, for example, with a firm known as Town and Country which was operating in my constituency recently.

Therefore, a measure to introduce regulation, licensing and inspection for private security firms is overdue. Indeed, it appears to have the support not only of large sections of the police, including the expressed support of the chief constable in my area, but the full support of the British security industry.

The Bill provides for the licensing of the security industry. I must underline that it merely provides powers which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary can choose whether to use and to what extent. It would in no sense force him to go down a road that he did not wish to follow. It merely gives him a suggestion of a road that he might usefully follow in order to provide greater reassurance to my constituents and others.

The Bill would cover security services provided by personnel whose main or only function was the protection of premises, property and persons. It would cover personnel whose main or only function was the prevention and detection of theft from retail premises. It would cover personnel and vehicles for the secure transport of cash and other items of value. However, it would not cover, nor would it seek to impinge in any way on, the work of a police force maintained under the Police Act 1964 or any other Act or any directly managed or contracted out prison or any prisoner escort arrangements within the meaning of the Criminal Justice Act 1991.

The Bill would not impinge in any way on the legitimate, valued and valuable work of our police and prison services. It is designed merely to act as a proper adjunct to the existing work of those services and any necessary expansion of it. The Bill would empower the Home Secretary to license security firms attempting to provide a service to members of the public and to withdraw any firm's licence. It would empower my right hon. and learned Friend to impose fees for such licensing and regulation procedures so that no charge would fall on the public sector. It would empower my right hon. and learned Friend to decide a commencement date for any or all of the provisions. In other words, the powers that it contains could be brought in at the convenience of the Home Secretary and of the prison and police services and as was generally deemed appropriate. For obvious reasons, the Bill would not apply to Northern Ireland.

Like many other people, I am always wary about the introduction of additional enforcement licensing and regulation, which is often unnecessary. However, I suggest that in this case it is necessary not only to provide for the proper expansion of an industry already seen by many people as a necessary part of life but also to deal with a number of deficiencies and dangers in the industry.

At present, no training policy is applied across the industry as a whole. Under the Bill the Home Secretary would have power to bring in, or to empower others to bring in, a training policy regarded as appropriate to the work that the industry is peculiarly capable of doing. At present there is nothing to prevent criminals or ex-criminals from setting up security firms and selling their services to the public. Under the Bill, the Home Secretary would be empowered to stop just this sort of practice.

There is a fear among many people that if we do not allow the security industry to grow naturally, as appropriate, under suitable regulation we shall open the door to something that I am sure that no hon. Member wishes to see on our streets—the growth of vigilante groups, people's armies and workers' militias and of all the other things that we have seen in many other countries. We do not want to see such things imported into the United Kingdom.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Michael Stern, Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Mr. Alex Carlile, Sir Jerry Wiggin, Mr. Michael Mates, Mr. Michael Spicer, Mr. Don Foster, Mr. Charles Hendry, Mr. Harold Elletson and Mr. Toby Jessel.