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Column 211effect operationally to the policing objectives or duties that have been set by chief constables. It is recognised that that position or role, where it has been established and exercised, is an important one.
The Government appear to be trying to foist upon the 43 police forces a pattern that is not apt in each police force area. I do not take a dogmatic view. I am not arguing that an exactly similar structure is required throughout the country. I do not say dogmatically that the rank of chief superintendent should be used in all 43 forces. I merely say that the usefulness or otherwise of the rank should not have been determined in the way that the Government deemed appropriate.
The nine police ranks are rather few when a comparison is made with numbers of ranks in the armed services. Evidence has been drawn most effectively from the New Zealand experience to suggest that a contraction of the numbers of ranks leads to serious problems of inflexibility, resulting in a need to create ranks within ranks. That is to be avoided.
The arguments that have been deployed by the Association of Chief Superintendents are manifold, careful and serious, and they deserve consideration. I shall not repeat them all, because I deployed some of them at an earlier stage in our consideration of the Bill. I know that they have been put directly to Ministers and I think that Ministers should respond to them. They have been deployed without rancour. They have been advanced fairly and considerately. Recognition would not amount to a significant backdown by the Government. No one would claim it to be a backdown. That view would not be taken if the Minister conducted a review, recognised the force of the argument and said to the chief superintendents, and the chief constables for that matter, "Yes, you are talking sense." I hope that the Minister will not argue that when given the choice between chief inspectors or chief superintendents, the Association of Chief Police Officers said, "Well, if we had to choose, we would call for the retention of the rank of chief inspector." It would be unfortunate if he adopted that argument, because the association was given an unacceptable choice. The reality is that ACPO wanted both ranks, and the Minister knows that. I hope that he will not regard a change of mind as a loss of face.
Ministers gain a reputation for strength when they listen to good arguments and respond positively to them. That is what the debate is all about. If the Minister is able to accept that, he will have made the entire exercise worth while.
The arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth about performance-related pay were sound, and were adduced in Committee. The Government have produced no evidence in support of the importation of their proposals into policing. I do not propose to rehearse the arguments. I simply use this opportunity to say that my party and I entirely endorse the comments made from the Opposition Front Bench on that issue and will support whatever steps the Labour party may take to press the matter.
Mr. Charles Wardle : I want first to consider the new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant). As he has explained, the effect of the new clauses would be to require consultation at both national and local level on any severance provisions that might be introduced for the police service and to make such provisions subject to arbitration.
Column 212I have some sympathy with the thinking behind the new clauses. Although I cannot accept them as they stand, I should like to explain the way in which the Government propose to involve the police service before making regulations relating to severance schemes for police officers.
When my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced last October the Government's decisions on the recommendations made by the inquiry into police responsibilities and rewards, he said that we intended to make provision for voluntary and compulsory severance schemes for police officers. He made it clear that the use of those provisions by individual forces would, none the less, require the approval of the Secretary of State, which would be given for a limited period only.
The regulations providing for severance schemes will be made under legislation that does not attract the statutory requirements for consultation with the Police Negotiating Board that apply to regulations governing other aspects of police pay and conditions of service. However, the Government do not intend to lay any such regulations before Parliament without giving the police staff associations and police authority representatives the opportunity to comment on them in draft. We therefore propose to operate, on a non-statutory basis, precisely the same consultation arrangements that are required by statute to be applied in respect of regulations dealing with police pensions.
Those arrangements, which were in place before the PNB was established in 1980, have worked well in respect of police pensions regulations. They seem to provide the correct balance between consulting the police service interests about pensions arrangements and having regard to the important wider public sector implications. What we propose will provide a structured means of consulting police service interests about draft regulations dealing with severance on precisely the same basis as applies to pension arrangements, with Parliament's having the final say about the form of regulations. In view of that assurance, I do not think that there is any need to provide for consultation at local as well as national level on severance provisions. Police regulations are made on a national basis and consultation on them takes place properly at the national level. Our undertaking to consult the relevant interests through the PNB machinery provides all the safeguards that are needed. On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West will feel able to withdraw his new clauses.
The arguments in amendment No. 21 are based on the mistaken premise that, in all forces, it is the deputy chief constable who is in effective charge of complaints and discipline issues. That is not the case. In some forces, those matters are not even nominally the responsibility of the deputy chief constable. In others, while the deputy chief constable may have the nominal responsibility, all decision making takes place at a lower level. It is, and should remain, a matter for the chief constable to decide how to organise his force.
Amendment No. 21 would impose a rigidity on police management structures by requiring the chief constable to nominate one of his assistant chief constables to have responsibility for complaints and disciplinary matters and to consult the police authority as to his choice before implementing it. Such an arrangement would damage flexibility and impinge on the chief constable's operational control.
Column 213No doubt the amendment is related to the proposed abolition of the role of deputy chief constable. In many forces, the deputy chief constable handles complaints and disciplinary matters prior to a hearing because, under the present system, the chief constable must remain separate and aloof from them in order to be unbiased when he hears disciplinary cases. However, there is no statutory provision requiring those matters to be under the oversight of a deputy chief constable and, as I have already said, in many forces that is not what happens.
What of amendment No. 23 ? The essential quality of a deputy is that he or she carries out the full range of duties in the absence of the chief constable. The Bill currently provides for all the powers and duties of a chief constable to be exercised by a designated assistant chief constable in the absence of the chief constable or while the chief constable post is vacant. While the chief constable is available, there is no need for anyone else to exercise his powers or duties. That point was made time and again in Committee. The chief constable is able to delegate to his assistant chief constable whatever tasks he thinks appropriate, and that is thoroughly sensible. Amendment No. 23 adds nothing to the provision already contained in clause 6.
With regard to amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 66, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary explained on Second Reading the reasons for the Government's decision to reduce the number of police ranks. There are obviously benefits to the police service in having a less top-heavy management structure. There would be clearer and more direct communication, more officers available for front-line duties and swifter progression for officers through the management hierarchy. All those points must be important. That is why the ranks of chief superintendent and deputy chief constable are to be abolished.
Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Federation accept the need for reform of the police rank structure. The issue has already been discussed at great length and the overwhelming opinion is that all the responsibilities currently discharged by superintendents and chief superintendents can be managed more efficiently and effectively within a restructured single superintendent rank.
Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 relate to performance related pay. Bearing in mind the time and the fullness of debate in Committee, if the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) is short of interesting breakfast reading tomorrow, he can revisit columns 194 to 199 of our Committee proceedings. I suspect that he would find that reading stimulating--at least the part when I was expanding on the very subject on which he now claims that I was somewhat Trappist.
Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 would introduce unnecessary bureaucracy. They would require approval of regulations by each House of Parliament rather than their being subject to the negative resolution procedure, as at present. They would mean that only one police authority could be covered by one set of regulations. Imagine the
Column 214weight and pressure on parliamentary business! They would require the Secretary of State to lay police authority and chief constable representations before Parliament.
Although I know it will disappoint the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, and in spite of the alluring nature of the entreaties made by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan)
Sir Anthony Durant : With regard to the severance matter, the Metropolitan police have introduced some severance arrangements. Where will those arrangements stand when the statutory instrument is produced ?
Mr. Wardle : As I have explained, the undertaking that I have given is that there will be consultation, but there will not be a statutory provision for that consultation. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept the undertaking that I have provided.
In spite of the entreaties of Opposition Members, I urge the House to reject the new clauses and the amendments.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) : I will be brief, and concentrate on the issue as it affects Scotland. I lament the fact that, again, the Government have not rethought this matter. Two ranks have been abolished simply because of the revolt in the other place. There has been no consultation in Scotland with the Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland) or other police ranks. The decision was dogmatic and has meant the flattening of the police structure for its own sake.
When we consider that the police have nine ranks compared with 12 in the civil service and 11 in the Army, it is clear that efficiency in terms of police ranks exists in Scotland. In addition, the Scottish Office has already admitted to the police that no money will be saved through this flattening of the ranks. The police will still be required to do the job. What will happen is that a superintendent will be appointed ; he will be labelled a senior superintendent, and the extra money will go to him.
If no money is saved, what are the advantages that the Government seek ? Sadly, there will be no advantages, but there will be many disadvantages. Taken together with performance-related pay and fixed-term contracts, what will happen is that ambitious young officers will be content to stay below the rank of chief superintendent and not proceed to those levels where they will be subject to four or five renewals of fixed-term contracts. Every police force in Scotland is below the median for the United Kingdom in terms of promoted ranks. If the Government think that too many officers are being promoted, they can introduce the on-cost formula and prohibit all police forces from having more than a certain percentage in promoted posts, in terms of either cost or the number of individuals. That would stop forces promoting more individuals than the formula allowed and it would give chief constables the flexibility which they so desperately require and which the Government say they wish to provide. By abolishing those ranks, the Government will interfere with the command structure and introduce a rigidity into operational duties.
For example, the Strathclyde and Grampian regions in Scotland are different by nature. The Strathclyde region has 15 divisional command structures, and each division is larger than the entire size of Dumfries and Galloway. The Grampian region is very much rural-based. I have spoken to the chief constables of both areas. The chief constable in Strathclyde told me that he would like the post of chief
Column 215superintendent retained, whereas the chief constable in Grampian would like the post of chief inspector retained for operational flexibility. The Government are precluding that by abolishing the two ranks. They should consider that we have had two emergencies in Scotland in the past few years. The first was the Lockerbie disaster
Mr. McFall : I am talking about flexibility for the Strathclyde region, which wants the rank of chief superintendent retained, and the Grampian region, which wants its chief inspectors retained. My point is that the chief constables want that operational flexibility, but the Government are denying them that. The emergencies which occurred, sadly, a few years ago with Lockerbie and only about a month ago with the Chinook helicopter in the Mull of Kintyre, have shown that flexibility is necessary. The Government's proposals will not give that flexibility or operational command structure. In terms of flexibility, efficiency and decentralised management, I ask the Government to consider what the chief constables have said and allow them the flexibility which these forces of disparate nature require.
Sir Anthony Durant : As I have received reassurances from the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion. I do not know what Labour will do with regard to the rank of superintendent, but I wish to withdraw the new clause relating to severance provisions. Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
-- After section 5 of the 1964 Act there shall be inserted
"Private security services : licensing
5A.--(1) There shall be established a special police authority for the licensing and regulation of organisations or individuals purporting to offer crime prevention or detection services. (2) The membership of the authority shall be comprised of such number of persons as the Secretary of State may specify from among members of police authorities established under section 3 of this Act.
(3) In carrying out its functions under this section, the authority shall
(a) consult and have regard to the views of persons representative of chief officers of police ; and
(b) have regard to any guidelines issued by the Secretary of State.
(4) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument establish arrangements under which the authority may recover the costs of carrying out any duties under this section. (5) It shall be unlawful for any person to advertise or purport to offer crime prevention or detection services unless they are licensed by the authority established under this section.
(6) It shall be the duty of any person licensed under this section
(a) to ensure that they have sufficient available funds or are bonded to cover any tort in respect of which they might reasonably become liable ; and
(b) to provide evidence of this on request to the authority or to the chief constable or the police authority of any area in which they operate.
(7) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (5) of this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.".'. -- [Mr. Michael.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
In Committee, we had quite a debate about the current problems of the private security industry. I hasten to add that the problems relate not to the more established and responsible part of the industry but to the less responsible part--that which is outside the regulation of the voluntary organisations dealing with the industry. In Committee, we sought to have a system which would put some power into the hands of chief constables to enable them to deal with problems when they arise. Our amendments were rejected by the Minister.
In the new clause, we seek to have a national system of licensing and regulating the private security industry, but making it responsible and accountable to local police forces which, of course, deal with issues that arise on a local basis. The system would have a nice symmetry in that it would be local in terms of accountability, using the professionalism of the police service, but would provide the national structure which is necessary if we are to deal with the issue properly. In Committee, several references were made to ways of dealing with those issues on a voluntary basis.
The private security industry recognises the need for proper regulation. I have had comments from the industry which suggest that there is a welcome for the coming together of the two major associations in the United Kingdom, which between them govern some 74 per cent. of private security provision. Obviously, it is beneficial for industry members to belong to a merged association. From the same source, I heard the comment that the ultimate goal must be statutory regulation, and that any such accommodation would leave out the 25 per cent. of the industry which causes the greatest concern not only to the public and to the Labour party but to the security industry itself.
I make it clear that the need for statutory regulation of the private security industry is well recognised in the industry. It is not good enough simply to leave it to voluntary regulation because voluntary regulations regulate only those who volunteer.
In Committee, I warned the Minister that we have seen the rise of vigilantes and people coming into areas to improve the security of people's homes. Some of my constituents have been approached by individuals who say that they operate a security system and will look after homes in an area for a weekly payment. They sometimes hint that homes might not be so secure if money is not paid. I am not suggesting that those people always intend to break the law, but their hints are interpreted by residents as a form of threat. Such behaviour is close to operating a protection system, or at least being perceived to be so. That must be unacceptable to hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I have come across an incident in which those who were proposing a security system on a small estate had told the police of their plans and then told local people that they had the support and approval of the police, which was not the case. Such developments are worrying to the private security industry as well as to the public and ourselves, and underline the need for proper statutory regulation.
The police in my area are concerned that they do not have powers to move in and nip such problems in the bud. That is a general problem which is reflected by many constituents up and down the country. The new clause would provide a tidy way of approaching the problem
Column 217without forming a great new bureaucracy. It would regulate the industry in a way which is now urgent. I commend the new clause to the House.
Mr. Shersby : I support the concept that the private security industry should be properly regulated by statute--and I am on the record as having said that on a number of occasions. Indeed, I have supported proposals put forward by the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) for that purpose.
Today, a number of private security organisations of one sort or another provide quasi police and security services, often on private premises. A good example is the sort of shopping mall which is becoming increasingly prevalent, where it is not unusual to find an individual dressed in a fancy uniform who has the role of private security officer.
At a recent election campaign, one of the candidates--this will be of interest to a number of my colleagues in the House--was told : "You cannot come in here to conduct your campaign. I am in charge of what goes on here. I am a private security officer. You cannot come into the shopping precinct."
Other private security services are being offered to my constituents. For example, some individuals offer to keep a special watch on a house for 20p a day. They have a van and a video camera, and they will ensure that people have the extra security that will put their minds at rest. It is unsatisfactory that private individuals who are not screened in any way can offer such a service. They may well be driving round the streets with video cameras recording the goings-on of private citizens because they have been paid to do so by other private citizens in the same street. That raises several issues, some of which have been in the news during the past day or two.
There is therefore a need for private security to be properly regulated and for all of us to know to whom private security forces are accountable. If a Member of Parliament is prevented from entering any premises by a private security officer, or if an individual suffers some personal restraint or even assault at the hands of a private security officer, does that person have the same recourse to the police complaints procedures as if the officer involved was a member of a regular, properly established police force ? I think that the answer to that question is no.
There is a proliferation of private security organisations. Some of them are perfectly reputable and are well known. I have no criticism of any particular force, but more and more of them are coming into existence. The time has come when people should be clearly aware of their rights and of the protection that is available to the individual under the law if an officer of a private security force takes action which would lead to an appeal if it was taken by an officer in a regular police force.
Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be sympathetic to the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). Even if my hon. Friend feels unable to accept the new clause this evening, I hope that he will give the House an assurance that the matter is at the forefront of the minds of
Column 218Home Office Ministers and that the necessary action will be taken to deal with it. The matter deserves the serious consideration of the Home Office at an early date.
Mr. Maclennan : I wholly agree with the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) that regulation of the security industry merits careful thought by Ministers. The growth of vigilantism and organisations which come pretty close to offering protection rackets rather than security services must be watched. Regulation and licensing may prove to be necessary to protect the public.
Certain problems with new clause 8 lead me to doubt whether the Government are likely to accept it. New clause 8 seems to be widely cast in recommending
"the licensing and regulation of organisations or individuals purporting to offer crime prevention".
That would seem almost to require the regulation and licensing of locksmiths. I do not believe that that was in the mind of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth. The new clause also implies that, if there is no cash nexus between the member of the public and the organisation, it is questionable whether there is a need for regulation. That is perhaps a slight defect of drafting.
Putting aside matters of drafting, the purpose of new clause 8 is sound. We have to watch the growth of private security organisations. In a society in which there is an alarming breakdown of law and order in some communities which almost stretches police resources beyond their easy limits, the temptation to rely on such organisations is great.
There are undoubtedly some perfectly reputable companies which contract to offer services which, on the face of it, look very much like private policing. Such developments are mushrooming. I should like to hear from the Minister tonight exactly what consideration the Government have given to the problems. I do not want to hear merely a dismissal of the new clause as untimely, ill-thought-out or whatever. What thought are the Government giving to the protection of the public ?
Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North) : I support new clause 8 and remind the House that I am a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. The central concern of new clause 8 is that a burglar can be in prison, come out of prison, buy himself a dog, deliver leaflets through people's letter boxes or to shops saying that he is a security guard, wear a uniform and pass himself off as one. There are no regulations to stop him doing that. Therefore, it is essential that we have a decent and proper regulation of an expanding industry.
Much of the industry is entirely reputable. Several companies adopt the highest standards. However, there is also in the industry a group of organisations and individuals which are less than reputable and regulation is desperately needed. It is a growing industry. In 1987 the private security sector was worth approximately £800 million. By 1992--the latest year for which figures are available--it was worth more than £2 billion. The figure is rising. The industry employs about 250,000 people. They are involved in patrolling housing estates, shopping centres and factories as well as working as store detectives and private investigators. Yet the Government seem not to be prepared to display any interest in proper regulation of the sector to protect the public.
We need to regulate training, ensure that companies are properly insured for civil torts and prevent criminals from operating in private security. It is nonsense to suggest, as
Column 219I suspect the Government may, that professional bodies in the industry can regulate the sector effectively. The main reason why they cannot is that many small businesses are not members of the professional bodies. Where the professional bodies have membership, they are struggling valiantly and doing good work to regulate the industry, but so long as people who enter the industry do not need to become members of the professional bodies, those bodies can in no way ensure reasonable and reputable standards. Companies are under no obligation to join.
In my county of Warwickshire and in my constituency, private security companies are knocking on people's doors offering to patrol areas or villages for £2 or £1.50 per week per household. The chief constable of Warwickshire estimates that, if he had that extra income from each household in Warwickshire, he could put an extra 2,000 fully trained, properly regulated and properly vetted police officers on the streets to reduce crime.
Some private security organisations may be reputable, but the public do not know whether they are. They do not know whether the people who knock on their doors are criminals or honest business men. They do not know whether the companies are insured for civil torts or uninsured. They do not know whether they are commercially viable and reputable or not. The industry cries out for regulation and for basic standards to be enforced. If the Government will not accept the detail of new clause 8, let them at least show that they recognise the need for urgent regulation. The police want it and the public want it. Let the Government recognise that and say so.
Mr. Charles Wardle : This has been an interesting debate. No hon. Member on either side of the House would deny that there are some cowboys operating in the private security industry. The question that matters is whether a system of statutory regulation would prevent the cowboys from doing what they do now. I do not believe that that would be the case, as I shall show in a moment.
There is no evidence that there is a greater level of criminality in the private security industry than generally in Britain. That is not to deny that there are cowboys at work, but new clause 8 does not provide the remedy that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth has recommended. The Government are determined in any case to lift unnecessary controls on business and to avoid adding new ones. Of course, we would be ready to consider legislation if there was a clear and demonstrable need for statutory control. Such a need simply does not exist. Regulation would add nothing of benefit to the industry. Some disreputable individuals undoubtedly operate on the fringes of the industry and give it a bad name. No one denies that they exist, but it is unworldly to assume that they would just vanish as soon as the House introduced statutory controls.
The supporters of statutory regulation believe that its introduction would somehow raise standards straight away, but the industry is increasingly mature and professional, and it is doing a great deal to improve standards. Self-regulation is the way forward. The industry has accepted the discipline of that and made a great deal of progress. It already provides better training for its staff, and individual employees may study for national vocational qualifications and Scottish vocational qualifications.
Column 220These days, the well-established British standards are more relevant to the companies and their products. In the past few years, the industry has increasingly come to believe that it is not enough to say that certain standards are maintained, but that companies' adherence to those standards must be independently demonstrated. For that purpose, the industry has established the inspectorate of the security industry and the National Approval Council for Security Systems. Both those organisations perform independent and reliable inspections of companies and of their products or services.
Mr. Shersby : I was not talking about the companies that my hon. Friend is describing, which belong to an organisation which is quite capable of self-regulation, but about the kind of one-man bands that go around our constituencies. Surely our local chief superintendents should have some discretion to decide whether such people are able to offer their quasi-police services to private individuals. That is what the argument is about.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) also spoke of recourse to the police complaints procedure, but there is no such recourse. As I said earlier, there is recourse under the law, however, because the employees of private security firms have no powers other than those of the private citizen. The police would bear that in mind.
My hon. Friend also spoke about vetting personnel who may be considered for jobs with security firms. That matter is currently being considered in a consultation document entitled "The Access to Criminal Records for Employment Vetting Purposes". It would be inappropriate for me to pre-empt the conclusions of that consultation exercise, but my hon. Friend has made an interesting point. For the reasons that I have cited, there is no evidence to suggest that such a deep-rooted problem exists in the industry as to require the heavy-handed approach of statutory regulation. I therefore urge the House to reject the new clause.
Question put , That the clause be read a Second time :
The House divided : Ayes 258, Noes 280.
Division No. 284] [7.42 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F.
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)