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House of Commons

Thursday 6 June 1996

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]


King's College London Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 13 June.

Oral Answers to Questions


Private Security Industry

1. Mr. Barry Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make it his policy to implement the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee in its first report of Session 1994-95, HC17, regarding regulation of the private security industry. [30261]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): The details of our proposed scheme for access to the criminal records of potential employees in the private security industry are well advanced and I hope to announce the details shortly.

Mr. Jones: Why has the Minister taken so long on this important matter to respond to the excellent report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs? Does he agree that, alongside many excellent companies, there are charlatans who give bad advice for a fee? Why can we not have quality personnel, vetting procedures and statutory regulations?

Mr. Maclean: This is an important matter and it is vital that we get it right. We must bear it in mind that, although the hon. Gentleman can put up a fairly honest plea for the controls that he wants, many Labour Members have consistently opposed the private security industry, do not like it and would like to regulate it out of existence. Some of the controls for which they call would enormously damage the industry. We want to ensure that it can continue the generally excellent service that it provides, with the proper safeguards.

Sir Ivan Lawrence: Although Conservative Members are whole-heartedly behind the Government's deregulation policy and a first glance might show that the recommendations of the Select Committee on Home Affairs went in the opposite direction, is not the strength of our report this: that this regulation is being called for

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by the industry itself and that, far from expecting that it will be a burden on the taxpayer, the industry is prepared to pay for it?

Mr. Maclean: My hon. and learned Friend's report from the Select Committee was a valuable contribution to the debate on regulation and control of the industry--there is no doubt about that--but he would be the first to admit that his report, although it made some valid suggestions, did not provide the detailed blueprint that one would require if one were to have proper safeguards in place without damaging the industry, and without heading down the road that many Opposition Members call for, which involves excessive regulation, training, hours of work and every single iota of the private security industry's work.

Mr. Michael: The Minister did not answer the question and he ignored the recommendations of the Select Committee, whose Chairman has just questioned him. The Minister tells us about plans to vet staff, but runs away from the need to regulate the private security industry as a whole, despite the calls of the Labour party, the Select Committee, the police and the private security industry itself. Why will the Home Secretary not face up to the fact that the Government's refusal to legislate is allowing his friends, the crooks, to masquerade as private security firms?

Mr. Maclean: That carefully rehearsed harangue would be much more believable if it came from someone with a credible record on voting on law and order issues, but this is the hon. Gentleman who argued that someone should be given bail if locking him up was bad for his health, and who voted against giving courts powers to impose longer sentences on violent and sexual offenders. He voted against reforming the right of silence, against increasing penalties for people who are cruel to children, against life imprisonment for hard drug dealers and for people who take guns to crime, and, seven times in a row, against the prevention of terrorism Act. If the House had agreed with him and had implemented the policies for which the Labour party voted, serious criminals would be walking the streets today instead of languishing in gaol. No wonder Labour's own Front Benchers described their policies as absolutely ridiculous and complete and utter nonsense. The fact is that one cannot trust Labour on crime.

Metropolitan Police

2. Mr. Carrington: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what additional resources he is planning to give to the Metropolitan police in 1996-97. [30262]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): I have approved a budget for 1996-97 that will allow the Metropolitan police to spend £29.2 million more this year than last--an increase of almost 2 per cent. and some 90 per cent. more in real terms than in 1979.

Mr. Carrington: Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time to visit Fulham and Hammersmith police stations, both of which have been rebuilt at a cost close to

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£10 million? Does that not show the Government's strong commitment to the Metropolitan police, whose 90 per cent. increase in spending in real terms is starting to pay off in the increasingly successful war against drugs, muggings, burglaries and auto crime?

Mr. Howard: I would like to visit my hon. Friend's constituency, and I shall do so when a suitable opportunity arises. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to be as pleased as I am with the performance of the police in the Fulham division, where there has been not only a fall in overall crime but a substantial increase in the clear-up rate, and a fall in auto crime--the theft of and from vehicles--on the most recent figures of no less than 20 per cent. year on year. I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the police in Fulham division on their excellent performance in fighting crime.

Mr. Tony Banks: What additional support and resources are being made available to the Metropolitan police in connection with Euro 96? Our police, unfortunately, have acquired the best expertise in dealing with hooliganism and one wants to see them given all necessary support. Have any additional resources been requested, and what steps has the Home Secretary taken to make sure that the police have adequate support?

Mr. Howard: Again, as so often happens, we see Labour Back Bencher after Labour Back Bencher getting up to ask for more money to be spent. We have made generous provision for the Metropolitan police, and out of it they are making available resources to deal with Euro 96--as are other forces throughout the country. Only the antediluvian Opposition Back Benchers think that more money is the answer to everything.


3. Mr. Congdon: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the response by the police and courts to those possessing and using drugs. [30263]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Tom Sackville): All police forces have specific drugs strategies covering rigid enforcement, with co-operation on rehabilitation and the reduction in demand for drugs. The courts have a wide range of discretion, from fines to life imprisonment.

Mr. Congdon: Given the real dangers of drug taking, does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that the police and courts continue to take a tough line with people who take drugs? Is it not important to get across the message to all young people that taking drugs is wrong and will seriously damage their health?

Mr. Sackville: I can reassure my hon. Friend that this Government will have nothing to do with calls for going soft on drugs, legalisation, decriminalisation or anything else. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that the prison population of persons convicted of drug offences has increased from 3,500 to 5,500 in two years. He may be interested to know also that I recently spent a day and an evening with Amsterdam police, when I witnessed the full absurdity of drugs being delivered to the back of

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so-called coffee shops illegally, then being supplied legally to customers inside. Because the socialists in the coalition that is in power in Holland have absurd policies, that country's police and customs have been undermined and Holland has been turned into the distribution centre for Europe of cocaine and heroin and the source of almost all the amphetamines and Ecstasy that comes into this country. We will not see such policies from this Government, but we would see them from the woolly liberals on the Labour Front Bench.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell: I congratulate the Northumberland police on their work on drug trafficking in our area. Is the Minister aware that my local authority in Blyth Valley has implemented a policy according to which anyone caught trafficking drugs from a council house will be evicted? I understand that the first case under that policy will go to the High Court.

Mr. Sackville: On the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, I visited his local authority, and I congratulated it on bringing that case. I commend this tough line on drug dealers in council estates to all other local authorities.

Mr. Allason: Is my hon. Friend aware that the eight years' sentence on a convicted drug dealer in Torquay has sent a chill through the illicit underworld in that town? Is he also aware that the police have welcomed this stiff sentencing? It is perfectly clear from events after the conviction of that woman that drug dealing has become very limited in Torbay, forcing drug dealers to go elsewhere.

Mr. Sackville: I congratulate the local police on what they have achieved. There is concern about sentencing drug offenders, which is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has introduced proposals under which all persistent drug dealers will go to prison for a very long time, and they know they will.

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