HC Deb 13 February 1996 vol 271 cc869-916
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Before I call the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) to move the motion on the private security industry, I must inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.15 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

I beg to move,

That this House requires Her Majesty's Government to implement the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee contained in its First Report of Session 1994–95 (House of Commons Paper No. 17) on the private security industry.

More people now work in the private security industry than in the police. The phenomenal growth in the industry is a direct result of one world record that the Government could fairly claim: the doubling of recorded crime in England and Wales since 1979.

As crime and the fear of crime have increased, so there has been a huge expansion in the number of firms and employees in the private security sector and, more critically, a major change in the character of the work that the industry undertakes. Once, the industry was principally concerned with the relatively passive guarding of property, where in practice there was little contact with law-abiding members of the public. Today, the work of the industry brings it into far greater and more active contact with the public. In shopping centres, housing estates and parks, the public are more likely to see a private security guard than they are to see a police officer on the beat. Increasingly, private security guards are used where police officers would previously have been deployed. Today, security guards are used in sensitive public order situations, for example, to help to police protests against the building of major road schemes. Indeed, such is the extension in the role of the industry that in Her Majesty's criminal courts private security guards are now replacing police officers.

In consequence, as the Home Affairs Committee indicated in its report, the dividing line between the activities undertaken by the private security industry and by the police is shifting and becoming "increasingly blurred".

While the police are subject to the most detailed statutory regulation and accountability, the private security industry is subject to none. When a police officer is dishonest, uses unreasonable force or is just uncivil, he or she will run the gauntlet of a tough disciplinary process. But if a security guard is employed by a firm that is not a member of one of the national associations, he or she may be dishonest, violent and uncivil, but there need be no sanction whatever against the employing firm, and only the sanction of the criminal law against the individual. We are left with the extraordinary irony that an industry that exists to enforce certain minimum standards of behaviour of the public has no enforceable standards set for itself, that an industry that is there to catch thieves employs thieves, that an industry that is there to prevent drug dealing, employs drug dealers, and that an industry that is there to reduce the threat of violence to the public may use such violence in an unlawful way.

In its evidence to the Select Committee, the Association of Chief Police Officers said that it believed that the case for the continued self-regulation of the industry is untenable, and called for the regulation of the industry by statute.

Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the vast majority of people employed in the security industry are respectable, law-abiding, upstanding members of the community? Will he accept that perhaps his words on drug abusers and criminals in the security industry might be taken as an insult by the vast majority who are honourable members of society?

Mr. Straw

I agree with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. It is those responsible, decent people in the industry, and their decent. respectable firms, who are the first to call for effective external statutory regulation of the industry.

The evidence of the Association of Chief Police Officers about the current unregulated state of the industry was damning. The association presented nine case studies. As the Select Committee commented, the studies need only to be recited to indicate how serious the issue is. I shall take only three of ACPO's studies. The first is headed "Escapee Murder". It reads: A manned guarding system was subject to a routine police enquiry. During the course of this enquiry it became apparent that one of the employees used a false name. When his correct identity became known, it transpired that not only was the man an escapee from HM Prison, but that the offence for which he had been sentenced to his term of imprisonment was one of murder. Case study 8 is headed "Application for Shotgun Certificate". It reads: An employee of a security company recently applied for a shotgun certificate. This application was endorsed by his managing director, who said of the applicant: 'I have known X for one year … He has worked for X (private security company) this length of time. X has a sociable nature and a good even temperament. I recommend him as an honest and a very reliable person who can be trusted.' The police enquiries into X revealed"— this was to the contrary— that he had at least fifteen previous convictions for dishonesty and violence. One of these was for a burglary of a non-dwelling involving the use of explosives, even more disturbingly, the employee had a conviction for the manslaughter of his wife. I move on to case study 9, which is headed "Prevalence of Criminality". ACPO reported: During a police investigation conducted into a theft believed to involve an employee of a security company, a full check of every employee was conducted. This company is involved in the manned guarding of sites and buildings. Of the 26 employees in the company, eleven had previous convictions. The…offences committed by the employees and their scope…include a total of 74 offences ranging from convictions for rape, threats to kill and firearms offences, to burglary … assault, vehicle theft and damage. The directors of the firm are not aware of their employees' previous convictions. ACPO's evidence was the most powerful of that calling for proper statutory regulation. The association was joined, however, by almost every group or individual that or who gave evidence, including all the trade associations.

As I said in response to an intervention, there are many firms and individuals in the private security sector that set good standards for themselves and seek to meet them.

They have been in the forefront of calls for effective regulation because they are the first to recognise that in an unregulated market the strongest forces are those that pull operators down to the level of the lowest common denominator—in other words, to the cheapest, to those firms that are most ready to cut corners.

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the three examples that he quoted involved employees who had previous convictions? Does he accept that the way to deal with that problem is not necessarily regulation but to give employers a much easier right to obtain details about the possible criminal history of would-be employees?

Mr. Straw

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Select Committee examined that issue carefully. There is a need for employers to have more access indirectly to the criminal records of employees. The Committee reported powerfully, however, that if only that is done there will be a perversely dangerous situation, because there will be no check on employers. In other words, there is no check on crooked employers who are pretending that their employees are honest. It is then implied by partial regulation that private security firms have been regulated and have proper probity when in fact they have not and do not.

The Select Committee commented that support for regulation grew as its inquiry progressed, including support from the British Retail Consortium, which changed its position following a survey of its members. By the end of its evidence taking, the Committee reported that backing for the introduction of compulsory regulation of the manned guarding sector…was almost universal. The trade associations…individual companies (large and small), customer and user groups all called for statutory regulation". The Select Committee spent six months studying the industry and considering whether it needed external regulation. I believe that its report is one of the best examples of a Select Committee report—it is short, well argued and unanimous. Moreover, members of the Committee were obviously at pains to put aside partisan issues on which they were unlikely to agree, and concentrate instead on making recommendations where they believed that there was a clear consensus for doing so.

The Committee's conclusions were categorical. It stated that the growth of the industry, and the expansion of its work into areas previously the domain of the police, gave rise to increasing concerns about the industry's relationship with the public, and about standards within the industry. It stated also that external intervention in the industry would be justified in the public interest if it could be demonstrated that other mechanisms were unable to deliver an acceptable level of performance. It concluded that current standards … in much of the…industry are unsatisfactory and below the level the public need and have a right to expect. The Committee agreed its report last May and published it in early June. The Chairman, the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), complained during an Adjournment debate that he initiated that normally, we could have expected the Government to reply in about two months. Four months later, they have not yet replied, and I am not over-optimistic that we will have a response today."—[Official Report, 1 November 1995; Vol. 265, c. 215.] The hon. and learned Gentleman's pessimism was not misplaced. Three months later, there is still no proper, considered response. We have had only a two-page letter from the Home Secretary, which was forced from him last night in anticipation of the debate. It takes the issue scarcely an inch further forward, save in respect of only one of the Committee's 24 recommendations, concerning guidance on best practice on the employment of "door supervisors", who are better known as bouncers.

On the key recommendation of the Select Committee, however, the Home Secretary's letter is vintage Whitehall waffle. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to savour an especially bizarre passage. The letter reads: I know that the industry and police see a need for additional regulatory measures, but I can speak less confidently about the general public, who in my experience rarely buy or complain about guarding services. First, because the sector is unregulated, no one knows or can know about the level of public complaint. I can tell the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues, however, that in my constituency I have received many complaints about a private security firm, Pendle Clamping, that operates what it describes as a wheel-clamping service. Some of my constituents think that it is more akin to an extortion racket. There is nowhere, however, that I can send my constituents' complaints with any chance of action.

The Secretary of State wrote that in his experience members of the public "rarely buy…guarding services." I do not think that any member of the general public has had any experience of buying in guarding services. The idea is risible. The public may be directly affected by the service provided but they have no say over the terms on which it is provided, which blows apart the claim that standards can be set and maintained in the public interest by market forces alone.

By definition the private sector industry operates within a market where firms compete for business on the basis of price, quality and suitability. Therefore, the inclusion of the industry within a market is not in issue. What is at issue is whether market forces, left to their own devices, can ensure that the public's interest in the good operation of the industry is safeguarded. The evidence gathered by the Select Committee points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that market forces alone cannot do the job.

It is often asserted that the fundamental divide is between self-regulation and statutory regulation. In my view, it is not. The key divide is surely between self-regulation and external regulation. The question whether external regulation should be statutory or non-statutory is important but subsidiary.

There are examples of where market forces external to a particular industry may provide sufficient regulation. The Select Committee report identifies some of those. For example, the systems installation sector, which puts in burglar alarms and the like, is the subject of external regulation imposed by insurance companies, which have an obvious interest in ensuring efficiency and the maintenance of proper standards, and which appear for the moment to have market clout to achieve that.

The Committee came to a provisional conclusion that the regulation of "door supervisors" might be achieved by external but non-statutory means. I hope that its optimism about that is justified. It was plain to the Committee that the external market forces that operate in the manned guarding sector are wholly inadequate to secure effective, non-statutory regulation of the sector.

Voluntary self-regulation has palpably not worked because, as the Committee made clear, companies operating at low standards have chosen not to join the system. Moreover, those companies then drag down others with them. The absence of any enforceable standards across the industry means that companies that provide no training and bother least about the personal capabilities, not to say the criminal records, of their employees can offer the lowest price. Wage rates in the industry are notoriously low, with one third of firms paying between £2.31 and £2.60 per hour. Those depressed wage levels lead to inordinate working hours and, in some cases, as the Committee heard, to systematic fraud of the Department of Social Security, in which employers take the lead.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

The other day, I received a letter from a security guard who said he had been turned down for a security job, during the interview. The manager told him that it was not because he was not suited to the job, but because he would not be able to live on the wage he was paying. The manager told him that if he had had a family, he would be able to claim family credit and would therefore be worth employing.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is right. That is a perfect example of where the state and public are subsidising the worst firms with the lowest standards and lowest wages.

For all those reasons, the Select Committee recommended that there should be a statutory regulation system for both companies and their employees in the contract guarding sector. It accepted, as do we, that there would have to be transitional arrangements, with a phasing-in of the regulatory requirements. The Committee made it clear—I know that this was disappointing to some hon. Members—that, initially, the statutory scheme should be limited to the contract guarding sector alone, but that the statutory framework should be sufficiently adaptable to allow other sectors of the industry to be included at a later date should that become desirable.

Anyone who reads the Select Committee's report will be struck by the fact that its recommendations are sensible, based on the evidence and proportionate to the problem. So the question before the House is why, given the agreement on all sides to the recommendations, the Government continue to drag their feet and to stand back while unregulated cowboy firms run by criminals, employing criminals and using unacceptable methods, put the public at risk. Why are Ministers acting as those villains' friends?

We received our answer this morning. There are six Home Office Ministers. I am glad to see four of them on the Front Bench. None of them is exactly shy and retiring when it comes to seeking publicity—I say that as a compliment—but, astonishingly, no Home Office Minister was put up by the Government this morning to answer the case for the regulation of the private security industry. Instead, and most revealingly, it was left to a former Minister and failed Member of Parliament, Mr. Francis Maude, now special adviser on deregulation

to the Deputy Prime Minister. Mr. Maude confirmed what we have long suspected—that policy in this sector is led no longer by Home Office Ministers on the basis of public safety, but by that man, who is obsessed with deregulation to the point where he is ready to put the public's safety at risk, and I say that advisedly.

When Mr. Maude was Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs before the 1992 general election, he resisted for as long as he could all calls for effective regulation against unsafe inflammable foam mattresses. I do not know how many people were burnt to death or badly injured while he resisted what was plain common sense. I do know that it was only after a number of fatal fires and mounting adverse publicity that Mr. Maude was forced to perform a complete U-turn and to introduce better regulation.

This morning—Conservative Select Committee members may wish to bear this in mind—on the radio Mr. Maude derided all the people who sought proper regulation of the private security industry as having a "knee jerk" reaction to the issue. He implied that the only part of the industry that was a problem involved door supervisors, when manifestly it is not. He suggested that much of the anxiety about the industry would be solved if there were better access to individuals' criminal records. when, as the Committee makes clear, doing that could create as many problems as it would solve.

There are hundreds of decent firms and thousands of decent employees in the private security industry. They want it to be regulated by statute, as do the police, the British Retail Consortium, local authorities and every Select Committee member. Against that weight of opinion and weight of evidence, the Government's failure to act to regulate the industry and their willingness to allow some villainous firms to continue their criminal ways is nothing short of irresponsible.

The Government talk tough on law and order, but act soft on crime. They say one thing and do another and are putting their dogma about deregulation above the safety of the public. The Select Committee report is sensible and comprehensive. If the Government will not act promptly on it, the House should require them to do so.

7.36 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: `recognises the valuable work done by the Home Affairs Committee in its First Report, Session 1994–95, on the private security industry (House of Commons Paper No. 17), welcomes the Government's plans to introduce the White Paper which will allow greater access to criminal records; and congratulates the Government on its firm and positive commitment to ensuring that standards throughout the industry are raised to the level of the best.'. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department explained to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) that he was addressing a major conference today.

I had hoped that, in the hon. Gentleman's speech, we would receive an answer to the question that has been intriguing colleagues, especially Labour Members, since last Thursday: why on earth has he selected this subject for debate? We know that Oppositions value their Opposition days and that they normally use them to discuss the burning issues of the day. Law and order is of course a key issue but, when I checked with the Library, I discovered that, of more than 50 subjects tabled for debate by the Opposition in the past two years, never once have they asked to debate law and order issues. This is the first Opposition day debate on law and order that they have requested and what have they selected—the private security industry. No wonder Opposition Members have been asking me: what on earth is going on and what is our Front-Bench team up to?

I have been defending the hon. Gentleman and have asked his colleagues to appreciate his predicament. [Interruption.] I would not dream of naming friends of mine in the Glasgow Labour party. I know that he really wanted to debate the issues that are at the forefront of our constituents' minds, but picture the scene with the hon. Gentleman and his advisers. They tell him that he must go on the attack against the Tories to recover his position. "Good idea," he says. "We will attack them on the police." "Oh, better keep off that," they say. "The Tories will remind people that, when Labour left office, we were 7,500 police short. With record funding for the police, that is not a strong issue."

Mr. Straw

The Minister is not discussing the subject of the debate.

Mr. Maclean

I shall come to that.

"Right," says the hon. Gentleman, "what about drugs? That is better surely." "Oh, keep off drugs too," say the advisers. [Interruption.] I have much to say, but it is interesting that the hon. Gentleman had little to say in the time he took. This subject is obviously the most important to Her Majesty's loyal Opposition in the law and order arena. By selecting it, they show their sense of priorities. The hon. Gentleman has not taken the chance to debate the subjects that are of concern to our constituents.

What about crime? The Opposition have not picked crime as the subject of the debate. We know why: crime has fallen by a record amount in the past two years—the biggest drop for 40 years. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is to make a big splash tomorrow about sentencing, and that he hopes to debate the subject with me on Radio Cumbria. I am intrigued by the publicity avenues that he chooses. Of course, Opposition Members do not want to discuss such topics on the Floor of the House because they are aware that they voted against all our major law and order measures.

The hon. Gentleman is clearly becoming desperate for a subject on which to attack the Government. His advisers point out that the Home Office is still thinking about the Select Committee report on the private security industry—"so you can talk tough on that one." I suspect that that is the reason for today's debate. As the Daily Mail put it so sadly last week, few spectacles are more inherently improbable than that of the Shadow Home Secretary periodically pumping himself up to talk tough on crime". It said that the hon. Gentleman's words were ludicrously out of sync with both his own political nature and the instincts of his party. The editorial went on to list all the measures against which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends had voted, and the crucial issues on which they had refused to give an opinion. It ended by saying that, "without impugning his motives", the newspaper "remained unconvinced that" the hon. Gentleman or new Labour really believes that prison works and that more of the vicious criminals who plague society should spend longer behind bars. This Home Secretary is implementing the toughest anti-crime agenda in modern times. And his Shadow is—well, just shadow-boxing. That is what we have seen today.

We are grateful to the Home Affairs Committee for its report. The Committee wanted more access to criminal records, and an exception from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 for a widely defined private security industry. It was particularly concerned about certain parts of the industry, and proposed a number of solutions. We replied yesterday to many of the report's points, and a copy of that reply is in the Library.

Today, the hon. Gentleman called for more regulation, more controls and more bureaucracy—I suspect that we shall hear a good deal more about that in the next two hours—but we have yet to hear a detailed and workable blueprint that identifies the benefits that would flow, at what cost and to whom. I do not want some vast bureaucracy to stifle a burgeoning industry, driving the smaller companies out of the market, and I question the need for it; but that is not to say that the Government have ruled out additional measures to tackle the alleged problems in the contract manned guarding sector.

We have heard proposals from the Select Committee, as well as ideas from the police and the British Security Industry Association. Only this morning, the right hon. Francis Maude mentioned a solution that he favours. I happen to disagree with his suggestion, however, and I would point out that Francis Maude does not make Government policy. The deregulation unit makes suggestions and advises, but it is for the Government to make decisions on policy.

As far as I know, no one in my office was asked by the media to speak this morning. I was ready to speak on Radio 4, along with the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), about the Security Service Bill, which we shall discuss tomorrow. I should have been delighted to speak on the subject if the media had contacted my office. The hon. Member for Blackburn himself complained that Home Office Ministers were always speaking on the wireless.

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I have been asked to speak to the media about almost every other subject that has been raised this week. The private security industry is the one issue on which I have not been asked to represent the view of the Government or anyone else.

Mr. Maclean

My hon. and learned Friend makes a valid point. I have run a check, and to my knowledge—I shall apologise to the House if I am wrong—no media outlet asked a Home Office Minister to talk about the security industry on the wireless this morning. I should have been delighted to do so, but no bid was received by any Home Office Minister.

Mr. Straw

Of course I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but does he not think it improper for a special adviser in the position of a temporary civil servant to put himself in the position of a Minister and speak for the Government, as Mr. Francis Maude did this morning?

Mr. Maclean

Not the way I heard it. The deregulation unit has a point of view; so has the Select Committee; so has the BSIA; so have the police. In that sense, they are all legitimate pressure groups with a legitimate point of view. There is no question of Francis Maude's having pretended that he spoke for the Government. The Government will make their views clear in due course. [Interruption.] Of course Mr. Maude does not speak for the Government.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

Who does he speak for, then?

Mr. Maclean

He speaks for the deregulation unit, and for his point of view. We shall listen to his suggestions, as we shall listen to all other suggestions.

Mr. Straw

The Minister has come out with a very bizarre comment. He said that Mr. Maude spoke for the deregulation unit. Is the deregulation unit part of the Government?

Mr. Maclean


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Before we continue, let me point out that this is a relatively short debate. It would be interesting for the Chair if hon. Members debated the subject in hand.

Mr. Maclean

I have made it clear that various organisations have views about what should be done about the private security industry, or the manned guarding sector. I have also made it clear that the Government will reveal their view in due course. Let me explain what we propose to do.

The private security industry is a large, diverse industry encompassing a wide range of activities. In most of it, there is not the slightest suggestion of a problem. For example, the alarms sector, accounting for a large part of the market turnover and employing some 33,000 people, has no problems. The big sectors comprising locksmiths, safe manufacturers and cash in transit have no problems either, and the in-house sector—estimated to outnumber the contract sector by more than two to one—is sound. We are left with the contract manned guarding sector, comprising some 24 per cent. of the industry's employees, as the only part of the industry that may merit special attention. None of those employees has the powers that a police constable has, and none can carry out what we have identified as core policing functions.

Calling for a bit of regulation and a bit of control, as the hon. Gentleman has just done, is very easy, but we must consider the machinery that is required for regulation. The Select Committee identified problems of standards, training and criminality within the contract manned guarding sector which it considered to require Government intervention. It proposed an agency to run new arrangements both for licensing individuals and for ensuring that companies fulfilled certain minimum criteria.

Licensing would involve the checking of criminal record information, and the exercise—presumably by an independent body—of an element of discretion to ensure that there was no unfairness. For companies, common minimum standards would have to be laid down, minimum levels of training specified and arrangements made for its provision. There would then have to be regular inspections to check compliance, and recourse to the criminal justice system in the event of non-compliance. All that could have a considerable impact on smaller companies. As paragraph 86 of the report acknowledged, the pattern of the impact within the industry must also be considered if regulation is successfully to target weak companies rather than small companies. What is the justification for all that change? First, it is claimed that standards are low; but low in comparison to what? Is there some objective standard? The majority of buyers of private security guarding services are other companies, and it is for them as customers to weigh the relative cost and quality of services offered.

Secondly, the commonest argument in favour of regulation is that many of those employed have criminal records. Figures submitted to the Committee following a study by the Association of Chief Police Officers seemed to indicate a high rate of offending among security guards. Further examination of those figures showed that 57 per cent. of the offenders were bouncers, accounting for 68 per cent. of the offences. Night club bouncers are a distinct category, and it is a distortion to include them in the manned guarding sector.

We recognised some time ago that certain parts of the country had experienced problems with bouncers, and discussed with the police and other interested parties how we could work together to combat the problems. Local schemes set up by the police and local authorities were monitored and found to be successful in reducing the number of incidents; we have therefore drawn up and issued best practice guidelines to assist others in setting up schemes. As recommended in the report, we shall—with the help of the police—monitor the effectiveness of existing and new schemes.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

I was a member of the Home Office working party that investigated the industry. I thank the Minister for allowing Opposition Members to be part of that body, which sat for almost four years. Does he realise that the Select Committee report was issued before the working party had considered it? At its final drafting meeting, the working party concluded that the report's recommendations were inadequate to meet the needs of the industry. The private security industry, its associations, chief constables and representatives of the licensing trade and the brewing industry unanimously agreed that the Government's proposals were inadequate. As a result, the working party was not reconstituted. The report has been published without the working party's authority.

Mr. Maclean

The point is that the guidelines are working, they have been welcomed throughout the country and they are dealing with problems associated with night club bouncers. There is little evidence of criminality across the board.

Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)

The right hon. Gentleman may not be aware of the great interest that my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and I take in the matter. Since the town of Wigan, which is in both our constituencies, has more local authority-licensed night clubs than Blackpool, we have had personal experience of the bouncer industry over the past 15 years. I regret that the Minister thinks that the matter is frivolous, since our constituents have been subjected to gratuitous violence by bouncers. The only way to stop such violence is to adopt a scheme such as that introduced by my local authority, under which it is mandatory for bouncers to be registered and licensed. That does not present any problem to decent firms that provide door supervision. The cowboys are the problem. If they are not licensed, they move to St. Helens where such a scheme has not been introduced. That is why we are keen to get the regulation on the statute book.

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman makes the point that the system is working perfectly because of a voluntary scheme in his area. Rather than wanting to duplicate that scheme around the country, he wants compulsory regulation to force it on others. We have developed guidelines to deal with bouncers, and they are working very well. There is no reason why such schemes cannot be spread through the country voluntarily, with the help of police, magistrates and local councillors. If the hon. Gentleman's scheme is so good—I have heard that it is good—it should be a model for others to follow voluntarily. We have issued guidelines and I understand that they are working.

If bouncers are excluded from the manned guarding sector—bearing in mind that we have issued guidelines to deal with them—the number of ex-offenders employed in the industry is considerably lower than is claimed. Nevertheless, the industry is growing and private security guards are increasingly present in areas where they have frequent and close contact with the public. It is vital that public confidence in them should not be misplaced. It is therefore important to ensure that the bad reputations of a few unsuitable individuals or poor companies should not tarnish the reputation of the industry as a whole.

Those calling for action to root out criminals have in mind the removal from the industry of those with past convictions for all or certain offences. To do that, they are seeking access to information about criminal records. Employers and customers in many occupations might envisage benefits for themselves and the public arising from greater access to criminal records. Such checks are, however, not the only way in which to establish the suitability of applicants for jobs. Security companies, like all employers filling positions of trust, should ensure that they check carefully applicants' employment records and references.

At the moment, there is no legitimate method of obtaining information from criminal records other than by putting pressure on individuals to exercise their rights under the Data Protection Act 1988 for access to the information on convictions that is held on police computer systems. The problem is that that circumvents the safeguards available to individuals under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, which aims to strike a balance between giving offenders a chance to re-integrate themselves into society and the need to protect society from those who might offend again. It allows convictions which have become spent through the passage of time and the individual's subsequent good behaviour to remain unknown to prospective employers.

Some groups are exceptions to the Act, but they do not include any part of the private security industry. I know that parts of the industry would like that to be changed. That was also one of the Select Committee report's recommendations.

In deciding whether it is right to accept that recommendation, we need to consider very carefully the safeguards that the Act provides to individuals who, by subsequent good behaviour, have lived down their past errors, against the need of employers to ensure that their employees are fit and proper persons. Designation of jobs in part or all of the industry as exceptions to the Act would mean that those who apply for such jobs could be asked to reveal convictions that were spent under the Act.

A conviction becomes spent only when the rehabilitation period laid down in the Act has passed. That means, for example, that a conviction of more than six months would remain unspent for 10 years, and convictions incurring prison sentences of more than 30 months would never become spent. Few if any serious offenders are therefore likely to slip through the net even without an exception to the Act. The Government believe that a case cannot be made for accepting the recommendation for the vast majority of the industry, and in any event it needs to be put in the context of the more general matter of pre-employment vetting.

The whole subject of pre-employment checks of criminal records has concerned the Government for some time. At present, criminal record checks are carried out by the police only for certain groups of employees. Most checks take place to protect vulnerable people such as children, while others are necessary for the purposes of national security or for probity in the administration of the law. The number of checks has grown over the years. Now, more than 1 million checks take place each year and significantly more than 600,000 are made on people seeking to work with children under the age of 18. That work places a considerable demand on the police, diverting resources from other tasks.

The Government have therefore been reviewing very carefully the current arrangements for vetting. Towards the end of 1993, we issued a Green Paper "The Disclosure of Criminal Records for Employment Vetting Purposes", which posed 12 questions that had arisen from the Home Affairs Committee's deliberations on vetting. For example, what should be the broad criteria for authorising criminal record checks and what level of checks would be appropriate in each case? Who should handle the checks? Is there a role for a central agency and, if so, what should its functions be? What are the implications of the checks for the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act?

More than 180 responses were received. They confirmed that there was a wide demand for checks not only from the private security industry but from financial organisations and those who work with vulnerable people other than children, such as elderly and disabled adults. The Government have therefore been considering a new approach to vetting. In doing so, we have taken into account the Home Affairs Committee's report on the private security industry.

We intend to publish a White Paper on the subject very shortly and I cannot go into detail about its contents now. However, I can say that a more accessible and open system of pre-employment checks of criminal records, which will meet the needs of employers and other organisations who need to employ people in positions of trust, is needed. We will discuss ways in which to enable a much wider range of employers to obtain relevant information about criminal records. The system should therefore meet the Home Affairs Committee's main recommendations for greater access to national criminal record checks.

As I said when giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in December last year, one way in which to implement such a system would be to introduce an easily obtainable criminal conviction certificate. Such developments will largely be possible because of improvements in technology, particularly the development of a comprehensive criminal record database on the police national computer, which will provide access to a much wider range of information than was once available.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The Minister used the phrase "employees who are in a position of trust" as if that were a good guide. Surely most employees are placed by their employers in a position of trust. Would it not be better to rely on his earlier expression, when he said that the provisions related to people who were vulnerable, such as children? Many of the public are vulnerable when the security industry, where power, and to some extent coercion, is exercised, where trust is placed in a uniformed official and where security staff have access to premises on such a basis that the lives and safety of people could easily be threatened by criminal intent.

Mr. Maclean

I shall certainly reflect on the right hon. Gentleman's point. Whatever definition he uses, he will find that organisations will claim that they meet that definition and therefore want access to criminal records. There is no clearly logical place to draw a line between those who we think should have access and those who we think should not, but I shall reflect carefully on what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

I believe that our proposals on vetting will go a considerable way towards meeting the concerns of the police, the private security industry and others. I listened carefully to the case studies produced by the hon. Member for Blackburn in his opening remarks, and I think that, in every case that he quoted, those firms would be caught by our plans on vetting. However, it is also fair to point out that criminal record checks on their own will not be enough. They are not, in themselves, a substitute for employers taking other steps, such as taking up references to ensure the exclusion of people whose previous conduct would make them unsuitable for employment.

I should like to endorse the Select Committee's recommendation that each case should be considered on its merits, and that there should not be a blanket ban on employing people with criminal convictions irrespective of how long ago and irrelevant the convictions may have been. Not everyone with a criminal record is necessarily unsuited to all jobs, and not all of those who are unsuitable for employment in the private security industry will necessarily have a criminal record.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

Since 1 November, the Minister has had plenty of time to answer the question: what about the criminal employers?

Mr. Maclean

I shall address that point in my concluding remarks.

We have heard many calls for regulation, but, as I said earlier, the proponents of regulation have been rather less keen to produce detailed plans for how it should be done. Now that our plans to give the security industry greater access to criminal records will do so much, we are considering whether anything else must be done.

Mr. Mullin

I hope that the Minister will at least make the point that we are not dealing only with criminal records. There are other factors to consider, such as minimum standards of training, the quality of service offered to the public by the companies, and—although I know that Minister will not be very keen on it—the way in which companies treat their employees.

Mr. Maclean

I am delighted that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. He has revealed that, while the hon. Member for Blackburn is, in some ways, calling for less regulation, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South is willing to get into training regimes. I know that he is keen on a minimum wage. The hon. Gentleman would like to see the largest, most bureaucratic, all-singing, all-dancing regulatory regime possible. While one certainly does not want to go down the route proposed by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South—

Mr. Mullin

Why not?

Mr. Maclean

Because, in the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South was obsessed with trying to get a minimum wage for security operatives. I read all of his questions and all of the evidence to the Committee.

Mr. Mullin

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Maclean

No. The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to speak later. I have given way to him once already, and I want to push on. He has already stated that he is a believer in the minimum wage and, if he is consistent, he would want it for the security industry as well.

Security industry regulation is a complex area, and we want to get it right. We have to weigh the views, problems and usefulness of various possible arrangements as accurately as we can to arrive at the simplest and most effective solution. That is why we are giving such detailed consideration to the central issue. The security industry has expanded enormously in the past 25 years. It has had 25 years of success and achievement, which has been brought about because Governments did not interfere with it.

The Select Committee report is receiving careful attention and, while I hope to make a decision fairly soon on its proposals for regulation, I reject the accusation that we should have rushed a decision—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Rushed?"] Yes. In the 25-year history of the private security industry, we would have been rushing a decision if we came to conclusions in the past few months. If we want another 25 years of success, a few months more to get the right answers is entirely justified.

The Home Affairs Committee recommended that we should issue guidance on door supervisors. We have done that. It recommended that we should provide access to criminal records, and we shall publish soon a White Paper that sets out our proposals on that subject. Collectively, all of our actions will ensure that the minority of crooks and con men who currently inveigle their way into the security industry will not be able to do so in future.

Several hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. It is clear that many hon. Members wish to speak. I ask, therefore, that hon. Members who are called make their speeches as concise as possible.

8.4 pm

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Madam Deputy Speaker, my contribution will be brief and to the point. I was surprised at the complacency which the Minister expressed in his contribution. I developed an interest in this subject when I spoke for the Opposition on the Committee that considered the Criminal Justice Bill, before the 1992 election. We spent a great deal of time considering these very matters, and we consistently argued with the private security industry, many chief constables and other people who knew about the dangers that were presented by the burgeoning private security industry. We argued about regulation with the Government—a Government who had had many years to consider the matter, not just the few months since the production of this most recent Home Affairs Select Committee report.

The debate on the private security industry goes back a long way, and it has figured significantly for more than 10 years. I know that some of my hon. Friends and some Liberal Members have had a great interest in the topic. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), in particular, took his devotion to the subject so far that he joined a private security firm to prove how easy it was to do so. He regaled us in Committee with that experience, which gave us food for thought and much amusement when he described it in graphic detail.

The debates in the previous Session were characterised on all sides by clarion calls for proper and effective regulation of the private security industry. That was considered to be in the interest of the public, the police and the responsible companies which understood the damage that was being done—in the words of the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee—by cowboys, villains and rip-off merchants. More sanguinely, I would say that disreputable elements were doing harm to the industry's reputation.

Today, the tremendous growth of the industry means that private security firms and their personnel touch the lives of most of our citizens during most days. In my book, that is enough justification for the important debate which the Opposition has initiated. Every hon. Member has had complaints about private security firms. To take one recent glaring example, a security guard, who had an Alsatian dog, not only arrested but handcuffed to the railings an innocent citizen who happened to be pounced on at the local bus depot. What kind of society allows small companies, without controls, to do that to the individual citizen?

A cursory examination of any Yellow Pages will illustrate the extent and influence of the private security industry in a myriad of spheres. We are not speaking merely of bouncers, of a tiny part of the industry or of the vetting question, and the Minister does this debate no good by refusing to examine the issue in its entirety. The private security industry advertises the following wares in the Yellow Pages: property protection, store detection, insurance investigation, surveillance services, alarm systems, bodyguarding, security marking, bomb threat advice, escorting cash and valuables, key holding, dog handling, spy catching, anti-vandal patrols—the list of its activities is almost endless.

The industry has grown like wildfire. It is regularly estimated to be at least the size of the entire police force of this country, and many experts and chief constables believe that it is twice the size the regular police force. That gives Labour Members some cause for concern. Eight thousand private security companies are operating in the United Kingdom, and only 280 are represented by the British Security Industry Association. There are other members of professional associations, but a minimum of 1,000 belong to no regulatory, or even voluntary, regime. The codes that the industry has introduced are sometimes used as an excuse by the Government for not introducing a regulatory regime.

I pay tribute to the work that has been done by professional organisations, and congratulate them on their attempt to ensure high standards among their members. Even so, much still needs to be done in terms of vetting, training, managing and controlling staff. As in so many spheres, voluntary codes are no substitute for a proper regulatory framework from which reputable and responsible companies have nothing to fear and which provides the public with the protection from rogues in the industry which they deserve.

Regulation is not about inhibiting just a few rogues; it is about securing peace of mind for the individual. Sadly, I am sure that many hon. Members will have had the same experience as my hon. Friends the Members for Wigan (Mr. Stott) and for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and I of the way in which some small—and some large—companies act irresponsibly.

Calls for a proper regulatory regime do not necessarily have to lead to a vast bureaucracy. That is simply one of the excuses that the Government give. They say that there is not enough evidence of criminals in the industry, but, at the same time, they say that regulation would be a restraint on the industry and would create bureaucracy.

I have spoken to many people in the industry and they do not believe that there needs to be a massive bureaucracy. They believe that regulation can be imposed with a light touch and a small administration. Indeed, if the newspapers are to be believed, the Home Secretary himself believed that that was the way ahead, until he came into contact with the President of the Board of Trade and lost the argument. In his innermost thoughts, the Home Secretary understands the need for a regulatory framework but cannot get past the more ideological members of the deregulation group within the Cabinet. They are the reasons the Government have failed to act.

Often, the Government's pat response is that there is little evidence of criminality in the industry. We have already heard good examples this evening of the extent of criminality in the industry, but that could be a red herring. The Government prefer to ignore the evidence and the informed opinion of the industry in favour of their own narrow, ideological preoccupation with the free market.

For them, registration always equals regulation, and regulation is bad because it damages business—never mind the fact that regulation is the obvious way to improve standards in the industry and eliminate the numerous abuses of the system which, at the end of the day, harm the industry itself.

Intelligent voices within this burgeoning industry will tell the Minister that if regulation is not introduced soon, the industry will get a bad name. As the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath)— a former Prime Minister—said in the House last week, the Government have an unhealthy obsession with privatisation. Surely it is impossible to ignore those voices which the Minister knows exist, especially in view of the Government's experience of sections of the private security industry which fail to uphold the standards of conduct that we expect from organisations that are increasingly taking on the peculiarly sensitive roles that were once the preserve of our police forces.

Another matter of great concern to me and many other Opposition Members is the nature of the society that we are creating, a society in which people no longer feel secure in their own homes, on their neighbourhood streets or in their own communities but feel obliged to resort to private security firms for peace of mind and protection. Is it not a fact that the private security industry has grown so fast under this Government because law and order have not been upheld? The two are equal and apposite. I am afraid that it is symptomatic of the state of our nation that, after 17 years of Conservative rule, crime and the fear of crime preoccupy millions of our citizens and small businesses.

The Minister did nothing but attempt to score points and present statistics in a ridiculous way. I heard him repeat yet again the nonsense that this country has just experienced the biggest fall in crime for 40 years. How many experts do we have to hear denounce that statistic as nonsense? The Minister knows that it is nonsense—it must have been minted at Conservative central office. If they really want to reduce the levels of crime that plague our towns, cities and villages, the Government must act on the root causes of the problem, causes which have been identified countless times and which lie in poverty, deprivation and unemployment.

There may be a role for the private security industry, but there are serious questions to be answered about the worrying growth of private police forces. The Government have singularly failed to deal with the fundamental concerns about the legitimacy of commercial companies and policies that affect private citizens and impinge on them to an ever greater extent. They are impinging on the traditional rights of English people and their liberties. That is the real worry about the tenor of the Government's remarks.

The Government always look to the short term; they are always picking up the superficial. The fact is that we have not had a debate about the real concerns expressed by Opposition, and some Conservative, Members about private police forces which are now, according to some estimates, twice the size of the regular police force. They can increasingly control and affect the lives of individuals without any input from the state or the approval of the House.

Those of us who are interested in the subject have been disappointed by the Minister's remarks this evening. Our concerns have been brushed aside. Indeed, they have been swept under the carpet, because the market rather than any higher concern is always the first priority of this sad Administration.

8.16 pm
Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I shall be brief. Between 1990 and 1993, I was a director of the security firm, Group 4. I am no longer a director of that firm. However, as the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) will recall, my interest in the subject of this debate goes back much further.

In July 1973, I introduced the Security Industry Licensing Bill—a ten-minute Bill—which, although not opposed, did not reach the statute book. When introducing the Bill, I cited the case of a company run by a man who admitted that he had twice been convicted of grievous bodily harm and who employed four or five staff with criminal records".—[Official Report, 4 July 1973; Vol. 859, c. 538.] It would be comforting to believe that, in the intervening 22 years, action had been taken to prevent anything of that kind from happening again. It would be comforting but, sadly, inaccurate, because men with criminal records are still employed by some security companies.

I mention 1973 for two reasons. In spite of the slightly self-righteous speech made by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), it has to be pointed out that the problem of private security firms is not a new one that has emerged suddenly. The same problem existed in the 1970s, and the Labour party certainly had the opportunity to legislate to deal with it between 1974 and 1979. I am bound to say that I was underwhelmed by what the Opposition spokesman had to say, including on wage control, a matter that has nothing to do with security licensing but on which the House should concentrate.

Mr. Mullin

My hon. Friend did not mention it.

Sir Norman Fowler

The hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening; if he consults Hansard, he will find that the hon. Member for Blackburn did mention it.

Why has action not been taken? What are the reasons for what I shall, with the greatest respect, call the slow bicycle race between hon. Members on the two Front Benches? I suggest that both parties have tended to approach the issue of licensing the security industry from preconceived positions. The Labour party has traditionally been opposed to the private security industry and the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) has given a flavour of that underlying opposition. The Labour party has opposed new roles for the security industry and it has feared in the past that licensing would give an unjustified degree of respectability to the security industry.

The Conservative party's reluctance to act is a reluctance to impose new regulation. I understand that and I understand also—although I do not agree with it—the party's faith in self-regulation. As it happens, I believe that both parties' arguments are wrong.

Mr. Michael

For the sake of accuracy and although I understand the right hon. Gentleman's description of ancient history, I should like to say that the Labour party has found that companies in the private security industry understand our position and support our plea for regulation. Firms in the private security industry want regulation as much as we do.

Sir Norman Fowler

I hear that point, but my description of the hon. Gentleman's party was entirely right, as hon. Members who know the subject better than he does will confirm. I have heard the hon. Gentleman's attacks on the private security industry over the past two or three years, so he should not make too much of an issue of my point.

The aim of public policy should be not simply to curb the private security industry—as the hon. Member for Huddersfield implied—but to recognise that the industry has a legitimate role in the public interest. The aim should be to ensure high standards and, above all, to protect the public. Public policy should recognise that the private security industry is here for good and the only sensible question is how it can be best regulated. If the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) wishes to endorse those words in his winding-up speech, I shall be very glad to hear him.

The police must work to priorities when they face the challenge of crime and, of course, they have done so for as long as I can remember. The hon. Members for Huddersfield and for Blackburn tried to pretend that the problem of crime had suddenly emerged in the past five or 10 years, but that is simply crass. If that were the case, we would not have had similar debates 25 years ago. My point is that crimes of violence, such as armed robbery, will inevitably come higher in the list of priorities than, say, burglary. However, that is not to say that burglary is unimportant, because obviously it is extremely important to the individual.

The implication for the public is that there will never be, under any Government in any circumstances, enough regular police to investigate every burglary and house break-in that takes place in our great cities, such as London or Birmingham. That has not happened in the past and there is no reason to believe that it will happen in the future. We may regret that, but we should learn a lesson from it. The public, business and industry must take the best possible care of their property. We must all learn to take crime prevention seriously; if we do that, good private security firms have a vital part to play. We should recognise that part, and good firms—there are some very good firms employing dedicated people—should be encouraged.

I was encouraged to note what the Police Federation said in evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Significantly, the Police Federation's view has changed drastically over the years, and it said: It needs to be said that the vast majority of established firms conform to excellent standards of commercial probity and make an important contribution to the prevention of crime. Regulation should deal with the cowboy firms, not the firms that the Police Federation mentioned.

Too often in the past 20 years, policy makers have not recognised what the private security industry can and should do in a modern society. It can help the citizen and the company to prevent crime by guarding premises, by supplying alarms and by handling cash in transit. But the private security industry's role goes beyond that and it is equally sensible to consider the duties carried out by the police and prison officers and ask whether those roles can be performed by the private security industry. We do not necessarily have to conclude that the duties should be transferred, but we should ask the question. For example, the Government were right to extend the work of the private security industry to escort duties and taking prisoners from prison to court. If the police are taken away from that job, they can concentrate on the more important crime fighting for which they are trained. It is also sensible to have an alternative provider to the Prison Service, because we can then discover other ways in which prisons can be organised.

I speak as a great supporter of the extension of the private security industry's work, but if that is to happen, the public should be protected by some guarantee that the firms meet certain standards and, especially, that the people who work for them do not have criminal records. That is the case that other hon. Members and I have been making over the years.

I see the attraction of self-regulation, but I am more persuaded by the argument of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) in the Select Committee's consideration of self-regulation. I have some personal experience of self-regulation because I am chairman of the National House Building Council. That organisation grew out of concern about jerry-building in the 1930s. It has been working for 60 years and the problem has been tackled and largely eradicated.

Self-regulation in the building industry is one thing, but self-regulation in the security industry is quite another. Different issues are involved. The access to criminal records involved puts the security industry in a class alone. Other issues which dominate relations between the police and the public include the inevitable conflicts that can arise between the demands of security and the demands of personal freedom. It is difficult to see how those issues can be dealt with entirely by a system of self-regulation.

The Home Affairs Select Committee's proposals were helpful. I do not think that the security industry and others, who have been advocating some kind of licensing system for years, have been doing it to drive small security firms out of business or to prevent them from coming into the business. With great respect to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, I think that it is more accurate to say that those people are dedicated to the security industry and want the highest possible standards to be maintained.

The private security industry is not the police, but it helps the police by helping the citizen to guard his property. However, some of the issues that the security industry faces are the same. No one needs to be persuaded how difficult it is to reconcile the issues of police and public relations.

I hope that the end of this long debate—I mean not today's debate but the debate that has been going on for the past 20 years—is not caused by a scandal somewhere in the industry, with the result that legislation is rapidly produced as an emergency measure. Dare I say that we have seen one or two examples of that practice under Governments of both parties.

I therefore hope that the White Paper that we are promised is the prelude to effective and well-thought-out action that will encourage, promote and ensure high standards in the security industry. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary sets out that White Paper, I hope that he will take the widest possible advice from colleagues on both sides of the House of Commons.

8.29 pm
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) made a persuasive speech. He demonstrated that this is an important issue and that successive Governments have had plenty of time to think about it, as the right hon. Gentleman brought the matter before the House before I was even elected to it—albeit only a matter of months before I was elected, but nevertheless 23 years ago. So the issue has been with us for a considerable time.

One has only to consider relatively recent times to find that in 1990 the Select Committee on Defence examined the service that the Ministry of Defence was receiving from commercial security firms and recommended that no new sites be guarded by private security firms until such time as there is legislation regulating commercial security firms and laying down minimum standards—which we would welcome. The report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs set out the issues well and clearly. The Liberal Democrats party conference passed a resolution in favour of a system of licensing in September 1994. There was a further debate in November that year. So there has been plenty of time to reach some conclusions on the subject.

Part of the background to the concern involves the growing prevalence of the private security industry in all its forms. People are much more aware of it as we have had to become more security conscious. Uniformed security officers are to be seen in various places, from the test match to the social security office, and there is a concern that in some areas such firms may be taking over responsibilities and duties which should be left to the police.

The job of maintaining law and order should be a job for accountable, trained and disciplined police officers. There have been instances when communities have felt compelled to use private security, not for its proper role, but to provide services that they believe that the police cannot currently supply due to problems with resources. I do not want us to pursue such practices. There is plenty of work for the security industry to do without becoming involved in areas which require the accountability, discipline and skills that characterise the police service.

The industry has a large role to play and a wide range of work to do, and it involves many responsible firms and people. The leaders of the industry, most of its major firms and many of the smaller firms want a regulatory system. It is too easy for criminals to be employed—or, indeed, to be employers—in the industry. It is absurd that there is nothing to stop someone walking out of gaol, hiring or even stealing a van, buying a dog and setting up a private security firm. We cannot persist with a system which makes that possible. It poses a threat to the reputation and credibility of responsible firms in the industry. The evidence that the Home Affairs Select Committee gathered—much of it was quoted in the body of the report—showed how damaging that can be.

The report of the Association of Chief Police Officers, in which the chief constable of Northumbria took the lead, cited many incidents of criminal infiltration. Thousands of crimes are committed by employees of security firms, and many employees and proprietors of such firms have criminal offences on their records.

In addition, parts of the industry have appallingly low rates of pay. This is not an argument about the merits or otherwise of a national minimum wage, but an illustration of a problem. Rates of pay are so appallingly low in some parts of the industry that they cannot be associated with high standards of recruitment or with a responsible attitude of employer to employee. In an unregulated industry in such a sphere, the cowboys undercut the reputable operators. In parts of the industry there is too little training and many people in the industry have no training at all.

The public are being deluded into thinking that because someone is in a smart uniform, he is therefore part of a trained, disciplined and accountable service, but that is not necessarily the case. The industry has worked hard to build up its various systems of self-regulation, but in the guarding sector of the industry it has been repeatedly proved that self-regulation does not extend far enough and does not give reputable firms the protection to which they are entitled.

I remain concerned that the Home Office itself employs companies which do not belong to a self-regulating system. I am not satisfied with the excuse that it would be unreasonable to impose such a condition because it would require membership of a trade organisation. Given that there is more than one such body, the Home Office can surely require that any security firm that it employs should subscribe to one of the recognised self-regulating organisations until something better is produced.

There was recently an outcry at the misuse and sale of closed circuit television tapes. Much of the monitoring of CCTV is carried out by private security firms, some of them at the doubtful end of the industry. CCTV is a valuable tool in fighting crime, but there is no control over what happens to video tapes produced by it. The video that was produced for sale before Christmas was one example of the way in which CCTV can be abused. I participated in a radio debate with the man who was hoping to make a lot of money out of sales of footage over Christmas, and I am glad to say that the video was ultimately withdrawn, but the incident provided a vivid illustration of what can happen.

New schemes supported by the Home Office for CCTV have to be subject to guidelines—to a code of practice—but that limitation does not cover existing schemes that the Home Office supports, let alone those which, although they exist in public places, are not funded by the Home Office. There is no adequate system of sanctions. I would expect any system for the regulation of security companies to cover their conduct in that sphere. It is also necessary to have specific limitations on the misuse of CCTV tapes. If that is not done, sooner or later people will start switching off the systems because they are being abused and public co-operation will be undermined. CCTV is a valuable tool to fight crime, but if it is used as a source of intrusive, salacious or violent videos, the exercise in crime prevention will be fatally damaged. We should not allow that to happen.

On the wider issue of the regulation of the industry, particularly the manned guarding sector, the Government's response has been inadequate. It is not satisfactory that we should have to wait even longer for a full Government response to the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. The Government should get on with it. Issues remain to be resolved, but we need an agency to carry out the licensing system. There must be provision for access to criminal records, there must be some provision for exemption from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and there must be action to monitor CCTV.

The private security industry needs regulation to carry out its job properly, and the public need the assurance that when they see a uniformed security guard they are seeing someone who has been subjected to a proper system of regulation and control. It was therefore right for the motion to be cast in terms that require the Government to get on and do the job. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I will support the motion and I invite other right hon. and hon. Members to do the same.

8.37 pm
Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

This is a short debate and other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall not repeat the speech that I made on 1 November last year when I introduced to the House the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs on the private security industry. I intend today to speak as briefly as possible of the Government's reactions so far.

The Government have been a little slow in coming forward. The Select Committee reported in May 1995, we had our press conference in June—the Government usually reply to Select Committees within two months, although in this case we were approaching the long vacation—but I have only just received a letter from my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, dated yesterday, with responses which are not yet the full and final Government reaction, although it is now nine months since the Select Committee reported.

I should be reluctant to blame the Government because the question of whether—and, if so, how—we regulate the private security industry, is complicated and involved. Although we tried to narrow its scope considerably by excluding many areas that we thought might eventually have to be addressed, we were unable to give the Government any help with the draft Bill or very much detail. I believe that we all appreciated that, and we did not expect the Government to make a speedy and detailed response to the report. But I do not completely excuse the Government for the delay because I suspect that part, if not much, of the reason was a conflict within the Government as to whether to regulate, which may not have been resolved. Perhaps the Minister of State, Home Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), will be able to throw some light on that.

I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to the many good firms in the industry which behave reputably and go out of their way to try to ensure that everything is carried out properly in their part of the industry. Nevertheless, despite all the good voluntary regulation carried out by responsible and reputable companies and institutions recently, there is an urgent need for statutory regulation.

We conducted our inquiry precisely because evidence was growing that there were too many cowboy companies in what was a fast-growing industry. Too many firms were outside the scope of voluntary controls. Too many disreputable people worked in the industry. Too many offered a low standard of service. Too many were a danger to the public, and to themselves, as working conditions, quality of training and pay were unacceptably low.

Some people consider that the industry should therefore be regulated, but a conflict exists because others say, "We are a deregulating Government; we are trying to get the Government off the backs of industry and business. Our deregulation drive not only distinguishes us from paternalistic Governments in other countries, but has been a principal reason for the success of British industry as we emerge foremost among our competitors from the last world economic recession".

I agree with that, but I believe that that conflict within the Government machine has slowed down the decision-making process and that there may be a danger of its stopping altogether. That would be too bad for those suffering from the inadequacies of the 80 per cent. of the industry which does not subject itself to voluntary regulation and controls. A great many people in Britain are at the mercy of cowboys, crooks, incompetence and low standards.

I, too, listened to Francis Maude—a former distinguished and able parliamentary colleague—who chairs the Government's deregulation task force, stating his reasons why statutory regulation was not necessary in a discussion on "Today" this morning in which I had not been invited to participate. Impressed as I usually am by my former right hon. Friend's wisdom and judgment, I was not overly impressed this morning, although I certainly do not share the personal strictures that were passed on him by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).

Francis Maude said, if I heard him aright, that only "one bit" of the private security industry needed attention—the manned guarding sector, as the Select Committee recommended. That "bit"—on the assumption that the private security industry would soon be, if it was not yet, double the size of the police force in this country, at 300,000—must be approaching the size of the entire police force. Some bit!

According to Francis Maude, most of the trouble comes from bouncers, but I do not believe that that is the case. There must be more security guards guarding businesses, industries, factories, stores, private estates and building sites and patrolling the streets than there are bouncers in the entire country.

I believe that Francis Maude said that it was unnecessary to make it a criminal offence for an unregulated company to offer guarding services without a licence or for companies to employ people who did not have a licence; all that was needed was for the individual to be prevented from offering himself for employment if he had certain convictions. That will not stop the cowboys or the crooks; still less will it stop those who employ cowboys and crooks in the knowledge that they are employing cowboys and crooks. That is why the police so strongly support statutory regulation.

Francis Maude said that our proposals would mean more bureaucracy and more pressure on small business and would give false comfort to the public. He said that the police always want licensing systems and that they do not care about spending more of the public's money.

Frankly, I believe that Francis Maude has elevated deregulation to an exaggerated level. I am as deregulating a Conservative as anyone can be, but there is regulation and regulation: some regulation is necessary and some is not.

In the opinion of the all-party Select Committee, this type of regulation is necessary. Some regulation is not wanted by industry and some regulation is—and this regulation is wanted by the private security industry. Some regulation is unnecessarily costly to the Government and to the people, and some regulation is not. The proposed regulation would be paid for by the industry: that alone makes it different. The industry is not complaining about regulation, licensing or statutory controls: it wants all those things so much that it is actually prepared to pay for them.

I make the following plea to the Government. Let them consider more realistically the fact that the private security industry is growing fast and is reaching into areas which have hitherto been the province of police forces in Britain—the prisons, private escort services and street patrols. Let them consider the fact that public anxiety is growing, which is why the police are anxious for a more regulated—not less regulated—industry. Let them consider the fact that, uncharacteristically, the industry wants statutory regulation because it cannot cope itself.

This morning, the Select Committee received a letter from the British Security Industry Association—one of the most responsible organisations in the industry. It says: The issue has gained momentum in recent months"—since our report— with the growth in companies offering residential street patrol services and the imminent review of police core activities, which is likely to have a major impact on the industry". The association concludes, as a representation to us: BSIA will continue to work to persuade Government to introduce statutory regulation of the manned guarding industry". I ask the Government to consider that something positive must be done to stop crooks, or even people with previous relevant convictions who might be placed in positions of temptation and become crooks again, from taking up those positions. I ask them to consider, please, the deplorable level of training, of pay, of social security abuse, which exist in the industry and which cannot improve without statutory regulation. I ask them to consider that we are one of the few countries in western Europe in which the private security industry is not regulated, and to consider the commercial disadvantage to which our industry might be subjected if we do not statutorily regulate.

I ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to consider how greatly public confidence in the Government's approach to law and order and crime reduction would be increased if we controlled what is wrong in the industry in a clearly regulated way.

Having said all that, if there is a Division today I shall not go into the Lobby with the Labour party, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, the debate was made party political by the hon. Member for Blackburn, with strictures against the Government far wider than the single issue that we are debating requires. The tabling of the motion in prime time is itself a party political matter.

I was not elected to vote against the Government on law and order, of all issues, and my constituents would rightly be astonished and unhappy if I did.

I deplore the political nature of what is, fortunately, only part of the debate, because I believe that more would have been achieved if we had not been party political.

Mr. Michael

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman note that we stood back and allowed the opportunity for a non-partisan debate as long ago as 1 November 1995, when the hon. and learned Gentleman first drew attention to the issue, and that it might have been a non-partisan debate if Ministers had chosen to make it so?

Sir Ivan Lawrence

That is not how it worked out today, when the hon. Member for Blackburn and his team made it a party political debate. The debate on 1 November was very good, but unfortunately it was too short and I am pleased that we are taking the matter up again today. However, I deplore the fact that, for a number of reasons, it has acquired a party political aspect—even though an all-party Committee released the report that we are discussing.

If the Government were ignoring our report, I should be constrained—even in the face of my constituents' expectations—to vote with the Opposition in their Lobby. However, from my close association with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and with the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Maclean), I know that they are treating the subject very seriously and I believe that the door supervisor guidelines are a very sensible and strong indication of that fact.

We have raised complicated matters and I agree with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State that we cannot expect the Bill to contain detailed provisions about the licensing authority, its size, functions, powers and scope, about licensing individuals, rights of appeal, disclosure of criminal records, the relevance of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and much else—even after a few months.

My right hon. Friend has convincingly addressed the problems of vetting, which the Government are examining, and the work being done to produce a White Paper on such matters. I accept that the Government intend to ensure that the White Paper meets our concerns about the employment of dishonest and violent people in the private security industry.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary says in his letter, it is extremely important to get the solutions right. As I see it, the Government are endorsing the principal recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee in important areas. I accept also that our report is receiving careful consideration. I regret that the letter does not go as far as I would like, but I believe that it is constructive—as were the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State today. So long as the Government are not diverted by those who believe that statutory regulation is out of place in this area—where the public are increasingly closely, and sometimes frighteningly, affected—I shall certainly give the Government the benefit of any doubts that I may have about their determination to adopt the Committee's recommendations.

Interestingly, the Home Affairs Select Committee report concludes: We have…been impressed by the fact that the Government—once resolutely opposed to regulation in this sector, and even now going through a process of comprehensive deregulation—has an open mind about regulation in this field". That is what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State told us when he gave evidence before the Select Committee. I hope that we can rely utterly upon that statement and that my colleagues on the Home Affairs Select Committee were not too easily or wrongly impressed by my right hon. Friend's reassurance.

8.52 pm
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

The private security industry cannot and should not be the subject of partisan debate. People's safety and security should be more important than the Minister conveyed to the House this evening. His barnstorming speech failed to convince the Liberal party; the Opposition; the former chairman of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler); and the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), who is a recidivist right winger. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield received the Adam Smith award for services to economics and politics.

Apart from the Home Office and, dare I suggest, some of the criminal classes, no one—including the right and the centre moderate wings of the Conservative party, almost all of the security industry, the Police Federation and the Association of Chief Police Officers—is unanimously in favour of the Government's response. I have also been approached by those in the criminal classes whose houses were burgled while they were supposedly being guarded by security firms, so not even all the crooks favour the Government's response.

The Minister said that those who argue the case for regulation have not put forward alternative detailed proposals. I have introduced five Bills in the House of Commons and the last of them—which I introduced only a year ago—ran to 29 clauses. With that challenge in mind, I shall shortly introduce my next Bill which will make the Scott report look like a pamphlet. It will contain enormous detail about what I believe regulation should involve. My latest Bill was supported by six Conservative Members, all of whom were members of the Defence Select Committee. That clearly shows that the subject cuts across party political boundaries.

I fear that the Minister's speech was misconceived. He criticised the Opposition for daring to raise an issue that was not "one of the burning issues of the day". I shall ask him afterwards why those remarks were, unwittingly, probably the sickest that have been uttered for some time. If the Minister watches the 9 o'clock news this evening, he will see the funeral of a young lady who it is alleged was burned as a result of a security guard's actions. The matter is yet to be decided by the courts.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. I must remind the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) that the whole of the case is sub judice.

Mr. George

I will not pursue the matter further and I said that it is yet to be proved in the courts. I know of three cases—I know that there are many more—involving pyromaniac security guards who set fire to the factories that they were employed to guard and caused enormous damage. I have details of those cases and, if pressed, I shall present them to the House.

I very much welcome the debate, which, unfortunately, is about 15 years too late. My interest in the industry dates back only to 1977—that of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield goes back almost a quarter of a century. No one who has taken an interest in the industry is remotely satisfied with the way in which it has been conducted. When I talk to senior figures in the private security industry abroad, they are bemused to learn that there is no regulatory system of the industry in Britain. Some 42 states of the United States, Hong Kong and Singapore—those bastions of socialism—are regulated. All the states of Australia, the provinces of Canada, New Zealand, Japan, the Philippines, Turkey, Israel, Argentina, Chile, South Africa and even Trinidad and Tobago have regulated security industries.

Is there something about our approach to industry that reflects a British genius that allows us to do things without regulation which less competent mortals and political systems must do with regulation? The club of countries with no regulation is diminishing as a number are working to produce regulatory regimes, and we shall soon be isolated. The Confederation of European Security Services—an employers' organisation—compiled a league table of European security industries based upon average working hours, wage levels, the number of hours' training that a guard received, industrial relations and the regulatory system. The United Kingdom came joint 13th with Ireland in the table for Europe alone. There is little of which to be proud. The Government's response to regulation has been total indifference. They are wedded to the philosophy of deregulation and letting the free market reign. Apparently, they oppose setting up a quango, although they have contributed significantly to the increase in the number of quangos.

In 1991, a Home Office report on the security industry stated: Inevitably, users of the industry get what they pay for. The Government considers that issues such as training and wages are fundamentally matters for the industry and its customers. It is ultimately for users to ensure that the company they choose is competent and reliable and to include strict requirement for employee vetting, training, supervision and performance in their contracts.". The private security industry must not be perceived in the same way as the purchase of a washing machine or a visit to the hairdresser. It is far too important to be left to market forces, which drive down wages and performance in the industry. The Government must do what almost every other Government does—they must not take over the security industry, but merely set the parameters within which it operates.

Most purchasers of security, including the Government, buy the cheapest. One gentleman who gave evidence to the Defence Select Committee said that he would not put in a bid for a contract from the Ministry of Defence because the MOD would not like his prices. He could not run a competent security operation on the money that the Government were prepared to pay. I have here details of a job in security offered by the security department of the British Library paying a basic salary of less than £9,000, rising to about £11,000. Can we protect the nation's heritage for some £10,000 a year?

Many purchasers of security—regrettably, even the Government—fail to set minimum standards. In Newbury, 700 security guards were chasing their tails pursuing people who were infinitely more competent than themselves. They received minimal or no training. There were 700 guards, yet they could not provide the service for which their employers were paying.

Poor security can have serious implications. The Deputy Prime Minister, the arch-deregulator, helped to create an amusing piece of history, although it is a serious matter. It concerned one of the first people to be gaoled after the ceasefire with the IRA. It was reported that the younger of the pair, had worked as a security guard in London, his postings taking him to both Capital Radio and the Independent Television Commission where one of his tasks had been to escort Michael Heseltine, the Trade and Industry Secretary around the premises.". Should the right hon. Gentleman read that, perhaps he would review his opinion on regulation and licensing.

The industry has appallingly low standards, low pay and long hours. One job that was advertised offered no pay but free access to a mobile phone. A survey by the Low Pay Unit in the west midlands identified salaries of £2.69 per hour for a 67-hour week. There are poor wages and low levels of training. The Government amendment wishes the House to congratulate the Government on raising standards. The Blue Ribbon security company offered only two days of formal training. What industry requires only two days' training? Some 555 guards in England and Wales and only 15 in Scotland have passed the NVQ level 2 in security guarding. Only about one in 10 guards has passed the professional guard part 1 qualification, which does not require the brains of a rocket scientist. Quality in the guarding industry is low and the Government are prepared to tolerate it.

There is evidence of poor standards of performance throughout the guarding industry. There is a notable lack of accountability and self-regulation has been a dismal failure. Companies that do not wish to participate in the self-regulatory system do not put forward their names, so only a fraction of the companies in the private security industry are subject to what is often weak self-regulation. I could provide more details. The regulators themselves are not independent. The British Security Industry Association has a regulatory regime, but it is a trade association and it remains rather too closely connected with the inspectorate that it set up.

In conclusion, the Government took nine months to reply to a report. The Select Committee on Defence, of which I am a member, would not accept a reply more than three months after the publication of the report. That demonstrates the Government's confusion. What the Minister said was appalling. It is a travesty that employers are denied access to criminal records. Many right hon. and hon. Members travel by air. How many of them are aware that the employers of UK airport security personnel do not have access to criminal records? That should be a salutary reminder to those of us who fly. Employers are refused the benefit of such access because the Government have not seen fit to bestow it upon them. Wide-ranging regulations should cover the industry progressively over time, and they should include background checks and beyond. There should also be minimum training standards and insurance, and the industry's regulation should be independent.

I want the security industry to be respected. At the moment, it is seen as a bad joke. In a recent television programme, one character asked another, who was a policeman, "Does he have form?" The reply was, "Of course he does—he is a security guard." How long can that situation be tolerated? I want a private security industry that is healthy and profitable, provides excellent services, and is efficient, accountable and honest. I want the people who work in the industry to be proud of doing so. Regulation is not a panacea—it must be the proper type of regulation.

When the House has passed regulation of that sort—and clearly that will not be done by the present Government—the security industry can develop. It has not done so other than in numbers because the Government have not been prepared to lay down minimum standards. Self-regulation has exhausted itself. Even security firms that operate in a self-regulatory environment are pleading for statutory control. Regrettably, the present Government will not deliver that control, but perhaps another Government will.

9.6 pm

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

The interesting contributions to this debate and to that of last November, which I had the pleasure of attending, do not in any sense convey an impression of unanimity, because different views and shades of opinion exist in the House. The fine balance of arguments is illustrated by the excellent Select Committee report.

The House has often rightly been condemned for rushing too quickly into legislation without proper thought—and if we acted on the speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), we would be doing that. Although the hon. Gentleman hid behind the Select Committee report, he failed to make a convincing argument for regulation. He rightly referred to statistics indicating problems in the industry, which are not denied. Nor do I deny the need to address those problems. However, the hon. Member for Blackburn failed to make a strong case for tackling them solely by regulation. He was extremely thin on detail, failing to address any of the anomalies among the possibilities for regulation.

There are two distinct parts to the argument for dealing with the problems that exist in the private security industry. One part relies on non-statutory methods to improve standards; the other relies on some degree of statutory or state regulation. I have no difficulty with the former. There is a way of considerably improving standards, by enhancing the ability of employers to consult national criminal records. It is entirely right that the law should be amended so that employers in the security industry can check on employees and prospective employees, to vet them far more thoroughly and ensure that persons with unsatisfactory criminal records are not employed.

I was pleased to hear the Minister hint that there may be some hope of extending the law in this regard after the White Paper is published. The Government closely studied this issue following the Green Paper, and it would fit in very nicely with some of the recommendations in the Select Committee's report. All the examples that the hon. Member for Blackburn quoted referred to employees who have criminal records, and that issue could be dealt with via this mechanism. It would also deal with the majority of examples in the Select Committee's report.

If employers are given access to Phoenix when it is fully on stream and to national records it would, to a large extent, deal with the problem of people with criminal records being employed. I should like to find a way to deal with employers who have criminal records—an issue that the hon. Member for Blackburn was correct to raise.

I wonder whether a mechanism could be found to allow those who sign contracts with manned guard companies either to examine the records of the employer or directors of the company or to find an alternative means to assure themselves that not only those who represent the contract company but those who run it have clean records.

I support the extension of the exemptions under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 to this area of employment. The correct extension of exemptions in other forms of sensitive employment would rightly rest with an extension to this area as well.

Another area of non-statutory regulation is self-regulation. The hon. Member for Blackburn was far too ready to dismiss self-regulation as a useful tool. He made a distinction between self-regulation and external regulation, but there is a role for both, as both have good track records in many other industries. For example, I refer to the advertising industry and to the security alarm sector of the security industry. The National Approved Council for Security Systems, the trade organisation involved, has worked to regulate that sector.

I encourage further steps to achieve higher training standards and other standards within the industry. However, it must be borne in mind that this industry is diverse. For example, the following activities are quite different: guarding gold bullion; guarding a shop—a small newsagent, for example—against shoplifting, normally via presence; and guarding materials on a small building site.

It would be virtually impossible to define in statute standards that should apply in all those cases. The simple solution would be to allow the industry, in its various forms, to promote high standards and internal regulation. That can be an effective way of dealing with potential problems.

I am not against statutory regulation as such—it has a role in many industries—but I am simply lukewarm about it for this industry. There are always arguments in favour of it—although those arguments can be applied to almost every industry. One could make a very good case for statutory regulation of window cleaners as they enter private premises and have unparalleled opportunities to commit crime if they so wish. Other issues have been used as an argument for regulation, such as low wages. However, that does not mean that as a matter of course regulation is a good thing.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Can my hon. Friend think of any other industry that wants more regulation and is prepared to pay for it?

Mr. Merchant

The House should not make a decision purely on the basis of what an industry wants or argues for. Of course, it is not the whole industry that wants statutory regulation; for that matter, there is no consensus on where the borderline should be drawn. As my hon. and learned Friend will know, one of the major trade organisations—it is mentioned in the Select Committee report—has criticised the recommendation in the report and has said that licensing should be put into effect right across the manned guarding sector, not just the contract part of the industry. In other words, it should apply to direct employment as well. There is thus no clear consensus on the exact form that regulation should take.

It is possible to argue in favour of regulation in an industry, but the arguments do not end there. We have to decide exactly what we intend to regulate, how to regulate it and where to draw the line. There is no consensus on that, either. No clear argument to explain where the line should be drawn has been advanced.

The fact is that this is a very large industry. To be sure, it should behave properly and it should have high standards, but I am not convinced that introducing statutory regulations would achieve them. Would regulation automatically improve the industry? Would it avoid the possibility of criminals subverting parts of the industry? Would it stop crime altogether? I think not.

Unfortunately, regulation is no guarantee that an employee will not use his position to commit a crime. After all, the police are heavily regulated. They are part of the state system, yet there are, unfortunately, quite a number of policemen and women who commit crimes. Regulation is therefore by no means a panacea.

I am not at all clear where the manned guarding contract sector begins and ends. Should we, for instance, include commissionaires? They are employed to guard and are often part of a contract arrangement. Quite often, however, their sole duty is to sit at the entrance of a building and issue people with permits to enter or leave. Should we include caretakers? A major part of the role of some caretakers is to guard buildings. When other staff leave, they are responsible for ensuring security. All these problems must be dealt with.

It is no use people like the hon. Member for Blackburn saying that the problem can be easily solved by producing regulations and by stipulating who can be employed. We must also define exactly which activities we are talking about. I fear that new Labour sees regulation not as a way of dealing with abuse in an industry but as a way of controlling it. It sees regulation as a way of reintroducing the state to an industry. Once Labour had opened the door to regulation of this sector, it would wish to use the opportunity to push the door completely open and control every aspect of the industry. The industry is certainly not calling for that, yet a number of speeches today seemed to show that that is what the Opposition want.

Of course we want high standards in the industry. The question is: how to achieve them? The Minister is quite right to be cautious. He should take some time before grasping some of the superficially attractive solutions that might in the end do little to alleviate the problem. Instead, he should look in depth at every aspect of the industry before reaching a final decision on whether regulation is appropriate—and, if it is, on what form of regulation to introduce.

9.19 pm
Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)

Only the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) has argued in favour of continued self-regulation of the private security industry. I am sure that he would want, in normal circumstances, to place proper emphasis on the views of the Police Federation and the Association of Chief Police Officers when forming his views, so I respectfully ask him to look once again at the evidence that the Select Committee took on self-regulation. The evidence against it is convincing.

The Police Federation, for example, told the Committee that the whole system had broken down. There is little support across the industry for continued reliance on self-regulation, which would not restore or maintain public confidence in the industry. Nor would it address some of the wider concerns that were argued before the Committee.

The hon. Gentleman also made a rather unfortunate mistake in suggesting that the Committee's report was a Trojan horse that was engineered by Labour Members of Parliament, and that it was designed somehow to re-regulate whole sectors of the industry. I remind him that the Committee has a majority of Conservative Members and that its report was unanimous. The report was compelling because the arguments in favour of statutory regulation are overwhelming. Everyone who gave evidence supported the arguments in favour of regulation. To summarise for the hon. Gentleman's benefit, they included the police, the industry itself and all the main consumers of security services.

When the Minister of State gave evidence to the Committee in December 1994, he told us that he was coming to the Committee with an open mind. He used that expression again tonight. I was rather disappointed with his speech tonight because I did not see any evidence of an open mind on statutory regulation—far from it; he tried to parody the arguments in the Committee's report and present them as some back-door red tape and bureaucracy that would stifle an important industry. All the members of the Committee were conscious of that argument. We do not want to adopt a system that would in any way act as a brake on the industry or bury it in red tape. We have had enough red tape from the Government in many other sectors—the health service and elsewhere—to know the problems. We do not want those problems to recur in the private security industry.

That was not the model that we presented in our report, and the Minister did the Committee a disservice—and gave the game away to a large extent—by trying to pretend that it was. We are conscious of those arguments. We do not want to repeat the mistakes. We want an effective system of statutory regulation, as called for by the industry and the police, which will address some of the concerns that we heard about the operation of the industry.

There are three specific arguments in favour of regulation of the industry. First, we want to deal with standards. Secondly, we want to deal with the chronic abuses in the industry: low pay, appalling working practices and conditions, and poor training. It is an abusive industry in many respects. Many of the small employers—the cowboy employers—abuse their staff and require them to work long hours. There is no holiday provision. It is a disgrace. That is not an argument for old-style regulation. The Committee examined the matter and felt that the evidence of abuse and of low standards was sufficiently compelling to warrant consideration by the agency that we propose to regulate the industry.

Thirdly, we are extremely concerned about criminality in the industry. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and others some pretty grim examples. I do not want to repeat the arguments—anyone who wants to see the catalogue of miserable events should simply read the evidence that we published at the same time as our report. It is important to deal with some of the arguments raised by the hon. Member for Beckenham, and by the Minister of State, who suggested that the issue of criminality in the industry could be dealt with solely by improving access to criminal records. I do not believe that to be the case, and nor, I believe, do my colleagues on the Committee, because there are well-documented examples of one-person businesses being set up by people with serious convictions for offences that make them unsuitable to provide private security services. We would not deal with the issue by disclosing or requiring greater access to criminal records.

The evidence of criminality that was presented to the Select Committee came in part from the Lancashire constabulary, which undertook some research of its own. It revealed that criminality in the private security industry was 21 times higher than we would expect in the police service. That is the important comparison that we should be making. It is false to compare levels of criminality in the private security industry with those in the general population. The private security industry is moving into territory that has hitherto been the sole responsibility of the police, which have their own legal, ethical and moral code, backed by statutory force.

I know that there are some methodological difficulties with the research undertaken by the Lancashire constabulary, but the results give us a pretty good background against which we can measure the performance of the private security industry. There is plenty of evidence that should give rise to real concern. Unlike the hon. Member for Beckenham, I do not believe that we can rely on self-regulation to deal with the problems.

Perhaps there is a wider issue of public confidence that we should consider. The Association of Chief Police Officers, for example. was extremely articulate in presenting evidence to the Select Committee. It drew attention to the fact that there has been a shift in some of the roles and relationships between the private industry and the police.

One example is the prison escort service. We see the private industry involved in the prison service. Such responsibilities have always rested in the public sector, but no longer. In any main shopping centre anywhere in the country we see uniformed patrols of staff employed in the private security industry. They are on the streets, they are visible and all our constituents come into contact with them. The need philosophically and jurisprudentially for a proper statutory context in which the private industry can function is overwhelming and compelling.

I am sad to say that the Library told me today that the average time taken by all Government Departments to deal with Select Committee reports is 3.4 months. The Home Office takes an average of seven months to reply to such reports. That is not good enough. I know that the issues raised in this instance are extremely complicated—

Sir Ivan Lawrence

And there are many of them.

Mr. Hutton

My hon. and learned Friend says—well, I do not want to embarrass him. The distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), mentions that the Committee made many recommendations. In fact, that is not so. It is not the case either that our reports are so uniquely complex that the Home Office needs twice as long to respond to them as other Departments need to respond to other Select Committee reports. The problem is that it is inefficient and involved in a battle with the Department of Trade and Industry, which is apparent to anyone who has been involved in the debate about the private security industry.

The Home Office cannot make up its mind. It is torn between the need to do something to deal with a problem that it recognises and its ideological obsession to deregulate at every opportunity. It is increasingly the Government's trademark to pursue ideology at the expense of common sense. Before us is a classic example of the need for less ideology and more common sense, plus a commitment to do something sensible to tackle problems.

If the Government continue to delay and to obfuscate the argument, they will damage the industry. Maintaining the status quo and tampering with or accepting, perhaps, some of the more marginal recommendations is not the best way in which to proceed. The Government should accept the main thrust of the Committee's recommendations. Only if they do that will they convince the House—that certainly applies to my right hon. and hon. Friends—that they have the best interests of the private security industry at heart.

9.28 pm
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

We have heard little so far about the victims—those who have been let down by an industry that has been infiltrated in certain key sectors by the criminal classes. I have in mind companies that have been set up as front organisations for organised crime. They sell their wares to unsuspecting licensees of public houses or the managers of hotel catering establishments. During the 1980s, such infiltration increased enormously, with the result that there was a huge increase in criminal activities. Such organisations realised from the outset that, if they controlled the door security industry, they would control access to clubs and leisure areas, the selling and distribution of drugs there, prostitution, and other key intimidation and protection rackets. As a consequence, they use violence against the companies who own the clubs and pubs and their customers.

I could not believe it when the Minister of State made light of the issue and claimed that it was not one of law and order or of crime prevention, but of some obscure issue of regulation. In the past eight years, I have provided the Home Office with a dossier of violence, murder, grievous bodily harm and intimidation, leading to people having to give up their licence because of their refusal to allow these companies into their premises. There have been arson attacks, physical violence against people and their families and racketeering leading to companies' losing control of their premises.

The dossier includes examples of constituents of mine who have been visited at home because they were witnesses in court cases against bouncer companies that had been violent. On two occasions, for example, they have been told that, if they proceeded as witnesses, their child would end up in a coffin with them. The dossier also includes examples of constituents who have been beaten up with baseball bats in mistaken revenge attacks against an enemy of a company and of rice flails being used against licensees who objected simply to the use of violence in their premises by the companies.

During the campaign, we have had the support of the security and leisure industries and the police. There is a strongly held view that, unless we register and regulate the industry, the expansion of criminal activities will continue.

I say without exaggeration that the companies and criminals are ruthless. They will stop at nothing. They threaten the people who stand against them. For example, I gave evidence to the Home Office about personal threats to kill me and my family. My children were threatened and a wreath was nailed to my door by a company. My wife has received condolence cards about my death and I have received such cards about my wife's death. We have had telephone calls threatening that, if we continue the campaign in the local community, violence will be inflicted on me or any individual who associated with us in that campaign. Despite that, the Home Office has taken no action. It must do so not because of the threats against me—I am only one individual—but because thousands of people are experiencing daily attacks by these companies.

I shall conclude soon because some of my hon. Friends want to speak. The Home Secretary has a full dossier of evidence about the extent of infiltration of this sector of the industry by organised crime. I raise one issue contained in the dossier that he has not yet revealed and refused to reveal in the debate. In Merseyside, a detailed report was supplied revealing widespread criminality, including drug dealing, organised violence and extortion, among door supervisors. A survey of 476 door supervisors found that three had convictions for murder and manslaughter, that another two were on bail charged with murder, that 25 had weapon convictions, that seven had firearm convictions, that 18 had drug convictions, that 101 had assault convictions and that 97 were claiming unemployment benefit while working as regular door supervisors. Those figures do not include the people who employ the door supervisors. A survey of the employers found that they had a similar record. The companies were just front organisations for organised crime.

The Home Secretary should take action urgently. During Home Department questions, I asked the Minister of State if he would bring forward proposals for statutory regulation of the security industry. He said that the Government had no plans to do so. In response, I said: Was it not extraordinary that just before Christmas Conservative central office, through its security company, recruited one Bob King who had just served 15 years for armed robbery to work as a security guard at central office? Does that not prove that infiltration of the industry has gone right to the top, including the Government?"—[Official Report, 12 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 263–64.] Having listened to the Minister and the complacency of his speech today, I believe that that just about got it right.

9.34 pm
Ms Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen)

What has been most striking about the Government's utterances about the need to regulate the private security industry, and their inadequate and long-delayed response to the Select Committee's report—forced on them by this Opposition day debate—is the sheer complacency of Ministers. Despite statistics that occasionally suggest otherwise, the growth of fear of crime is now a disturbing social phenomenon. Since the Government came to office, recorded crime has more than doubled. What the Government fail to recognise is that the expansion of private security is a direct reflection of that trend, and society's response to it.

There is considerable public unease about the intrusion of the private security industry into areas that were previously the domain of the police. As a report in the Independent on Sunday in June last year pointed out, Already, security firms have fingers in a staggering number of pies. Once it was exclusively the task of the police to keep the unruly at bay, marshal parades and check shop doors after dark. On rare occasions, special constables were sworn in to subdue riots. That is no longer true. Privateers escort prisoners to gaol, run prisons and guard installations; they repel anti-road protesters, and defend construction sites. They kept mourners in line at, for example, Ronnie Kray's gangster funeral. There are now at least as many people employed by private security firms as there are uniformed police. According to one estimate, the former—162,000—outnumber the latter by 4,000. According to another, there are as many as 250,000 privateers.

Last year's Police Federation conference was warned by David French, chairman of the constables' central committee: The growth in private security services means that those who can afford it are looking to hired hands to protect them. There is no plan behind it, no legislation. They're leaving it to market forces. The chief constable of Northumbria told police staff college recruits: The private security industry has begun to enter areas of public life which, until recently, have been seen as the sole preserve of statutory regulated bodies such as the police and prison services. As the Independent on Sunday report also pointed out, A glance in the Yellow Pages shows the extent to which unregulated private security firms have invaded aspects of our daily lives. The list of those aspects is almost endless. It ranges from property protection to surveillance services, from bodyguarding to dog handling, from investigations of theft, from fraud and product piracy to airport, bank and embassy security. Security firms' advertisements reveal men in police-like uniforms with German shepherd dogs, or on horseback, or at control desks. They wear shields and crests with lions rampant.

Nearly 8,000 private security companies now operate in Britain, making the British industry the second largest in Europe, behind Germany's. It is a £3 billion industry, accountable to no one but itself. Counting the firms—never mind regulating them—is a problem. As BSIA spokesman Andrew Mackay has said, There could be hundreds if not thousands of firms in London. Anyone can set up a security company using a mobile phone. In the face of all that evidence of the need to regulate the industry properly, the complacency of the Minister—who, as we know, has direct experience of the industry through Securicor—and, indeed, that of the Home Secretary is staggering. The Home Office has been presiding incompetently over an industry that is 30 years old. Every witness interviewed by the Select Committee called for statutory regulation at least of the manned guarding sector, making it plain that such a system could be self-financing, at no cost to the public purse. The Committee unanimously agreed with the overwhelming majority of the evidence we received that the advantages of regulation of the manned guarding sector … in terms of quality of service and protection of the public, of the industry's customers, and of its workforce, outweigh the loss of commercial freedoms which would be involved. Finally, let me tell the House which Conservative Members signed that unanimous Select Committee report. They are the hon. Members for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Ashby), for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler), for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney), and of course the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), the Chairman. We shall see tonight whether those Conservative Members are willing to vote with their principles and support the Opposition motion or whether, yet again, we shall witness them saying one thing and doing another.

9.39 pm
Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn)

I should like to declare an interest. Since the beginning of this month, I have been a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation, although I do not intend to refer to it in this debate.

Over the past decade, the private security industry has expanded rapidly. Private security guards have become part of everyday life across Britain in shopping centres, business districts, hospitals and entertainment complexes. Indeed, as the Home Affairs Select Committee report noted, increasingly the private security industry is expanding into areas that were previously in the domain of the police. Although it is important to ask whether that development is to be welcomed, that is for another debate.

The private security industry is becoming more and more involved in protecting people and property, patrolling and guarding and, because of that expansion, we must be concerned about the industry's relationship with the public. Security guards are protecting people's lives and guarding people's property. That task should be undertaken by people who have been properly vetted, trained and paid. Some security companies address those issues thoroughly and act responsibly; however, many private security firms do not, and that must concern us all.

Self-regulation has not worked. The industry is dogged by cowboy firms that continue to damage the reputation of responsible companies. There is no legal requirement to comply with minimum standards or join professional associations. The lack of vetting procedures, which lead to the kind of incidents that hon. Members have cited, must cause considerable concern.

Until the Government are prepared to legislate on regulation in the security industry, I commend to the House the Public Interest Disclosure Bill, which I shall introduce on 1 March. It will go some way towards protecting those who discover malpractice, especially in the private security industry, from being penalised.

9.42 pm
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

We have heard it all tonight. The Home Secretary is not willing to listen. He is not willing to listen to decent employers, chief constables, the Opposition or the Home Affairs Select Committee, and he is not willing to act to protect the public.

Last night, we received a pathetic so-called interim response addressed to the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence). The Opposition have not chosen to divide the House; the Home Secretary's reply has caused that to happen. It is an insult to the Home Affairs Select Committee and the House.

It is almost two years since I commented that, sadly, it was difficult to find opponents of statutory regulation apart from Home Office Ministers and criminals who might be deprived of their jobs. Yet, since then, more examples of private security have arisen in different parts of the country. People have been approached by individuals who say that they operate a security system and look after homes in the area for a weekly payment. Such an approach is sometimes close to operating a protection racket and it is wholly unacceptable.

There have been examples of people developing a security system on an estate, telling the police of their plans, then telling local people that they have the approval of the police when that was not the case. One group's circular offered patrols by staff free of criminal convictions, yet bore the name of a director who had several convictions for dishonesty and violence. Another firm was run by two men—one had a record for violence and the other for embezzlement. Perhaps in Conservative Britain that is regarded as a good partnership.

A senior police officer told me: I personally find it monstrous that people with convictions for burglary in dwelling houses are being allowed to run businesses and work for such companies whilst having strings of convictions for the offence for which they are purporting to protect the public". We have heard such comments from police officers in various parts of the country, and the Home Affairs Select Committee received specific evidence from the Association of Chief Police Officers which made exactly the same point.

It is outrageous that no action has been taken and that the Government have failed to respond to the Select Committee's report. Indeed, the Chairman of the Select Committee has tried to persuade and cajole Ministers to act, but they have refused to do so, thus insulting him. He is handling that insult with great restraint, but members of all parties who worked to produce a coherent report calling for action by the House have the right to ask better from Ministers.

The public have every right to ask why Ministers are not answering questions. To whom does a dissatisfied customer complain if there is no statutory body to monitor and regulate private security firms? What criteria are used to decide whether people are suitable for employment if there is no enforcement in the industry? How can we ensure that all employees are trained to an acceptable level if there is no power of oversight?

The Minister always forgets that there is no point in allowing employers access to criminal records if the employers themselves are criminals. Such employers may be in the minority in the private security industry, but it is decent employers who are supporting us whole-heartedly in calling for sensible regulation. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) was right to say that decent companies in the industry would be seriously damaged if the Government failed to join the search for proper regulation.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) referred to staff with criminal records employed by someone with a criminal record for grievous bodily harm. He was right to say that this is not a new problem and that the only question to be asked is, how do we achieve sensible regulation? I happily agree with his comments, but who is missing from the search for proper regulation? Only Ministers at the Home Office.

The answer to the question how to find proper regulation was given in the unanimous cross-party report of the Home Affairs Select Committee. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield was right to say that the private security industry is totally different from, for example, the housebuilding industry, where self-regulatory systems can work and be comprehensive. That is not so in the private security industry, which is why the Home Affairs Select Committee was so persuasive and why we have sought the sensible minimum in the debate—that we should unite behind the Select Committee's report.

The unanimous report proposed proper regulation of the private security industry, but that regulation is obstructed by dogma and the obsession for deregulation displayed by Francis Maude and his like, even though it is obvious to the police, the public, the British Retail Consortium and decent companies in the industry that regulation on a statutory footing is urgent and essential.

The Minister chose to ramble on about crime, the police, law and order and a series of issues on which the Conservatives are floundering and inept. He did so to avoid debating the issue before the House. He told us that he wanted to get any regulation of the private security industry right. He said that he had not rushed to make a decision, but, in truth, his contribution was pathetic. I know that the Home Secretary had a prior engagement but, by gosh, he must have been delighted and relieved to have missed such an embarrassing effort.

The Minister tried to ridicule the serious commitment shown by my hon. Friends the Members for Wigan (Mr. Stott) and for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), but he must take seriously the experience of those who have taken action in the interests of their constituents, as my hon. Friends have done at a local level. Tonight, the Government have struggled to appear serious.

Why did a Home Office Minister respond to the debate when it is dogmatic Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry who are blocking regulation that is in the public interest? Why is dogma standing in the way of protecting the public interest? That question was answered on the "Today" programme by a failed Conservative candidate who has been given a job by Ministers.

More than a quarter of a century ago, Philip Sorenson, who was then the chairman of Group 4, said: It is the responsibility of the security industry to work towards statutory backing for a system of control. That system should allay any fears about the role of private security companies in our society. Twenty-five years later, the Government offer only prevarication and delay.

There are decent employers and decent employees in the private security industry. Their friends are on the Labour Benches. We are their friends, as we are the friends of the police and the public. There are also crooked employers and crooks employed in the private security industry. By Conservative Ministers' pathetic response to this debate, they have shown themselves to be the villains' friends.

9.49 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Tom Sackville)

I wish to make it clear that the Government have great respect for the private security industry, which employs some 160,000 people and conducts the vast majority of its business without any problems. For example, the alarms sector, locksmiths, and cash-in-transit companies all operate well. The in-house part of the guarding sector is generally recognised to be sound. The one group that raises real concerns is the contract guarding sector.

Legitimate concerns arise about the contract guarding sector, but no one should exaggerate the degree of criminality or security industry-related crime. A number of Opposition Members were guilty of that. Among other things, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) accused Mr. Francis Maude of speaking for the Government. Although Mr. Maude probably will speak for the Government again, he is what one might call a resting Minister, to borrow a phrase from another profession. He spoke as an independent business man on a panel that advises the Government. This morning, I was waiting by my telephone to be asked to appear on the "Today" programme, as were all my colleagues and the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. It was entirely the BBC's decision to ask Mr. Maude to speak and I hope that that is not a habit to which they will become accustomed.

The hon. Members for Wigan (Mr. Stott) and for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) mentioned the problems of bouncers in their area.

Ms Janet Anderson

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Sackville

I will not give way because I have very little time.

I think that the hon. Members for Wigan and for Makerfield exaggerated somewhat. I do not think that thousands of people are threatened by bouncers.

Mr. Ian McCartney

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Sackville

I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman himself mentioned that there is an excellent voluntary scheme in Wigan, which makes my case that deregulation can work.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) demonstrated his long interest in this subject. He lamented the lack of regulation during the Labour Government and his interest goes back before the last Labour Government. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend did not manage, in one of the many seats that he occupied in the Cabinet in the past 15 years, to bring forward the regulatory measures that he suggested. Ireassure him that the Government are considering the Home Affairs Select Committee report carefully and we shall shortly produce proposals on vetting that may address his concerns. I certainly echo my right hon. Friend's call to avoid rushed legislation. He always showed remarkable prudence in introducing legislation in the many posts that he occupied in the Government.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) produced the old chestnut about the danger that closed circuit television video might be abused for commercial purposes. We had an isolated case, but that did not happen. That case demonstrates that it is possible for the CCTV industry, which makes a huge contribution to crime prevention, to regulate itself. We should be careful about restricting CCTV unnecessarily.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) made a characteristically wise speech. He chided us for being slow in replying to the report, but he conceded that he did not expect a speedy response given that the issue is complex and that any action we take has many ramifications. I can reassure my hon. and learned Friend that his report has been carefully studied. We need to do further work on a number of issues, but we shall introduce proposals soon. I noted the point that he made so vividly: the industry is growing and public concern is growing. Those matters need to be addressed.

The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) also showed a long-held interest and expertise in the subject, which we greatly respect. He warned us about the position of airline employees, the probity that is needed and the respect for the security industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) made an interesting point when he said that we cannot be too prescriptive about training, because there are many different sorts of jobs in the security industry. [Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) warned us against red tape. His was a timely warning. We may need to ensure that there is access to records for employers, but without unnecessary burdens—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The House should listen to the winding-up speech and I should be grateful if hon. Ladies who want to have a giggle would have it outside the Chamber.

Mr. Sackville

I shall not enter into that discussion, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Makerfield mentioned violence. He made an interesting point, but we must be careful to keep it in context.

The report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs covered the ground expertly and the Committee has done some excellent work in identifying the problems. However, we need to do more detailed work on tackling the problem, which is why we are considering some aspects of the report. As my right hon. Friend the Minister has said, we shall shortly be publishing our proposals on vetting, which should go a long way towards resolving the difficulties.

The net effect of the contract guarding sector—even though there may be problems—is to deter crime. It reassures the public in many different ways. It has grown partly because of the lack of intrusive legislation. The vast majority of firms do a good job and add to the community's safety. They give businesses peace of mind and allow people to leave their premises at night; they do much to reassure vulnerable people in the high street.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) accused us of complacency. The Labour party's new-found interest in crime is hardly convincing. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made some remarks the other day about Labour and criminals. Some of us were disappointed by his remarks, as we felt they were far too restrained. The gulf between what Labour says about crime and what it does about crime is striking.

When we raised the maximum penalty for dealing in hard drugs to life, what did the Labour party do? It voted against it.

Mr. Michael

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Sackville

No, I will not give way.

When we raised the maximum penalty for taking guns to a crime, the Labour party voted against that measure. We gave the Attorney-General the power to appeal against lenient sentences; the Labour party voted against that. We gave the courts the power to make the parents of 16 and 17-year-olds pay their children's fines; the Labour party voted against that. We reformed the right of silence; the Labour party voted against that. We gave the police powers to take DNA samples; the Labour party voted against that. Where were Labour Members? Perhaps most significantly, every year that we renewed the prevention of terrorism Act, the Labour party voted against it. Labour Members voted to weaken our controls against terrorism and against the bombers.

The debate is not about security; it is a piece of Labour party opportunism. Labour Members are trying to combine their new-found display of interest in crime with an attack on the thing that they hate most—an unregulated private sector industry.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 263, Noes 294.

Division No. 53] [9.59 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Callaghan, Jim
Ainger, Nick Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Allen, Graham Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Campbell-Savours, D N
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Canavan, Dennis
Armstrong, Hilary Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)
Ashton, Joe Chidgey, David
Austin-Walker, John Chisholm, Malcolm
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Church, Judith
Barnes, Harry Clapham, Michael
Barron, Kevin Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Battle, John Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Bayley, Hugh Clelland, David
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Beggs, Roy Coffey, Ann
Beith, Rt Hon A J Cohen, Harry
Bell, Stuart Connarty, Michael
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bennett, Andrew F Corbett, Robin
Benton, Joe Corbyn, Jeremy
Bermingham, Gerald Corston, Jean
Berry, Roger Cousins, Jim
Betts, Clive Cox, Tom
Blunkett, David Cummings, John
Boateng, Paul Cunliffe, Laurence
Bradley, Keith Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dafis, Cynog
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Dalyell, Tam
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Darling, Alistair
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Davidson, Ian
Burden, Richard Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Byers, Stephen Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth)
Caborn, Richard Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Litheriand, Robert
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge HY) Livingstone, Ken
Denham, John Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dewar, Donald Loyden, Eddie
Dixon, Don Lynne, Ms Liz
Dobson, Frank McAllion, John
Dowd, Jim McAvoy, Thomas
Eagle, Ms Angela McCartney, Ian
Eastham, Ken McCartney, Robert
Etherington, Bill McFall, John
Evans, John (St Helens N) McLeish, Henry
Fatchett, Derek McMaster, Gordon
Faulds, Andrew McNamara, Kevin
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) MacShane, Denis
Fisher, Mark McWilliam, John
Flynn, Paul Madden, Max
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim) Maddock, Diana
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Mahon, Alice
Foster, Don (Bath) Mandelson, Peter
Fyfe, Maria Marek, Dr John
Galloway, George Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Gapes, Mike Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Garrett, John Martin, Michael J (Springburn)
George, Bruce Martlew, Eric
Gerrard, Neil Maxton, John
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Meacher, Michael
Godman, Dr Norman A Meale, Alan
Godsiff, Roger Michael, Alun
Golding, Mrs Llin Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Gordon, Mildred Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Milburn, Alan
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Miller, Andrew
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Grocott, Bruce Moonie, Dr Lewis
Gunnell, John Morgan, Rhodri
Hain, Peter Morley, Elliot
Hall, Mike Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hanson, David Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Hardy, Peter Mullin, Chris
Harman, Ms Harriet Murphy, Paul
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Henderson, Doug O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)
Heppell, John O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hinchliffe, David O'Hara, Edward
Hodge, Margaret Olner, Bill
Hoey, Kate O'Neill, Martin
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Home Robertson, John Parry, Robert
Hood, Jimmy Pearson, Ian
Hoon, Geoffrey Pendry, Tom
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Pickthall, Colin
Howarth, George (Knowsley North) Pike, Peter L
Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd) Pope, Greg
Hoyle, Doug Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Primarolo, Dawn
Hutton, John Purchase, Ken
Illsley, Eric Quin, Ms Joyce
Ingram, Adam Radice, Giles
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Randall, Stuart
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Raynsford, Nick
Jamieson, David Reid, Dr John
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Rendel, David
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys MÔn) Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Roche, Mrs Barbara
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Rogers, Allan
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Rooker, Jeff
Jowell, Tessa Rooney, Terry
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Rowlands, Ted
Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n) Ruddock, Joan
Khabra, Piara Salmond, Alex
S Kilfoyle, Peter Sedgemore, Brian
Kirkwood, Archy Sheerman, Barry
Liddell, Mrs Helen Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Trickett, Jon
Short, Clare Tyler, Paul
Simpson, Alan Vaz, Keith
Skinner, Dennis Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Wallace, James
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Walley, Joan
Snape, Peter Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Soley, Clive Wareing, Robert N
Spearing, Nigel Watson, Mike
Spellar, John Wicks, Malcolm
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W) Wigley, Dafydd
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Steinberg, Gerry Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Stevenson, George Wilson, Brian
Stott, Roger Winnick, David
Strang, Dr. Gavin Wise, Audrey
Straw, Jack Worthington, Tony
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wray, Jimmy
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Wright, Dr Tony
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Timms, Stephen Tellers for the Ayes:
Tipping, Paddy Mr. Eric Clarke and
Touhig, Don Mr. Dennis Turner.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Clappison, James
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Alexander, Richard Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Coe, Sebastian
Amess, David Colvin, Michael
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Congdon, David
Arbuthnot, James Conway, Derek
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Ashby, David Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Cormack, Sir Patrick
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Couchman, James
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V) Cran, James
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Baldry, Tony Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Day, Stephen
Bates, Michael Deva, Nirj Joseph
Bellingham, Henry Devlin, Tim
Bendall, Vivian Dicks, Terry
Beresford, Sir Paul Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Biffen, Rt Hon John Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Dover, Den
Booth, Hartley Duncan, Alan
Boswell, Tim Duncan-Smith, Iain
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Dunn, Bob
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Durant, Sir Anthony
Bowden, Sir Andrew Eggar, Rt Hon Tim
Bowis, John Elletson, Harold
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Brandreth, Gyles Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Brazier, Julian Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Bright, Sir Graham Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Brown, Michael Evennett, David
Browning, Mrs Angela Faber, David
Bruce, Ian (Dorset) Fabricant, Michael
Budgen, Nicholas Fenner, Dame Peggy
Burt, Alistair Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Butcher, John Fishburn, Dudley
Butler, Peter Forman, Nigel
Butterfill, John Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Forth, Eric
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Carrington, Matthew Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Carttiss, Michael Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Cash, William Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Chapman, Sir Sydney French, Douglas
Churchill, Mr Fry, Sir Peter
Gale, Roger Major, Rt Hon John
Gardiner, Sir George Malone, Gerald
Garnier, Edward Mans, Keith
Gill, Christopher Marland, Paul
Gillan, Cheryl Marlow, Tony
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gorst, Sir John Mates, Michael
Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs) Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Mellor, Rt Hon David
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Merchant, Piers
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Mills, Iain
Grylls, Sir Michael Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Hague, Rt Hon William Moate, Sir Roger
Hamilton, Neil Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector
Hampson, Dr Keith Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy Needham, Rt Hon Richard
Hannam, Sir John Nelson, Anthony
Hargreaves, Andrew Neubert, Sir Michael
Harris, David Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Haselhurst, Sir Alan Nicholls, Patrick
Hawkins, Nick Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hawksley, Warren Norris, Steve
Hayes, Jerry Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Heald, Oliver Oppenheim, Phillip
Heathcoat-Amory, David Ottaway, Richard
Hendry, Charles Page, Richard
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Paice, James
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence Patnick, Sir Irvine
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Patten, Rt Hon John
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Horam, John Pawsey, James
Hordem, Rt Hon Sir Peter Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Porter, David (Waveney)
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Powell, William (Corby)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Rathbone, Tim
Hunter, Andrew Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Richards, Rod
Jack, Michael Riddick, Graham
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Robathan, Andrew
Jenkin, Bernard Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Key, Robert Sackville, Tom
King, Rt Hon Tom Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Kirkhope, Timothy Shaw, David (Dover)
Knapman, Roger Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N) Shepherd, Sir Colin (Hereford)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Knox, Sir David Shersby, Sir Michael
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Sims, Roger
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Legg, Barry Soames, Nicholas
Leigh, Edward Speed, Sir Keith
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Spencer, Sir Derek
Lester, Sir James (Broxtowe) Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lidington, David Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Spink, Dr Robert
Lord, Michael Spring, Richard
Luff, Peter Sproat, Iain
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
MacKay, Andrew Steen, Anthony
Maclean, Rt Hon David Stern, Michael
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Streeter, Gary
Maitland, Lady Olga Sumberg, David
Sweeney, Walter Ward, John
Sykes, John Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Tapsell, Sir Peter Waterson, Nigel
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Watts, John
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Wells, Bowen
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E) Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Temple-Morris, Peter Whitney, Ray
Thomason, Roy Whittingdale, John
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V) Widdecombe, Ann
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Thornton, Sir Malcolm Wilkinson, John
Townend, John (Bridlington) Willetts, David
Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th) Wilshire, David
Tracey, Richard Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Tredinnick, David Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Trend, Michael Wolfson, Mark
Trotter, Neville Wood, Timothy
Twinn, Dr Ian Yeo, Tim
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Viggers, Peter
Walden, George Tellers for the Noes:
Walker, Bill (N Tayside) Mr. Simon Burns and
Waller, Gary Mr. Patrick McLoughlin.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House recognises the valuable work done by the Home Affairs Committee in its First Report, Session 1994–95, on the private security industry (House of Commons Paper No. 17), welcomes the Government's plans to introduce the White Paper which will allow greater access to criminal records; and congratulates the Government on its firm and positive commitment to ensuring that standards throughout the industry are raised to the level of the best.