Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Bus Services (Provision of Information)

Mr. Bill Rammell accordingly presented a Bill to require operators of bus services to record, compile and publish certain information on the quality of their services; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 15 June, and to be printed [Bill 77].



(1) at the sitting on Thursday 29th March, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Message from the Lords relating to the Election Publications Bill [Lords] shall have been received; and
(2) notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules in respect of the Bill may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.--[Mr. Dowd.]

28 Mar 2001 : Column 965

28 Mar 2001 : Column 967

Orders of the Day

Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

3.43 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill forms part of the Government's commitment to reducing crime and disorder. It introduces statutory regulation to the private security industry to drive out criminals and drive up standards. It will assist the building of important crime reduction partnerships between police, the private security industry and others. It is a regulatory Bill, but it makes straightforward and sensible arrangements for the private security industry and is consistent with our general aim of keeping regulation to the minimum necessary.

The private security industry is a thriving, diverse industry that has grown rapidly in recent years and is now part of daily life. We are all used to seeing private security personnel in shopping centres, department stores and office blocks; delivering cash to banks and building societies; and in many of our public service institutions. At present, there is no statutory regulation of the industry. I pay tribute to the industry for taking significant self-regulatory steps in recent years to raise its standards and image through trade associations and its training and inspectorate organisations.

The Government believe, however, that voluntary self-regulation is not enough. It cannot deal with the criminal or unscrupulous elements in the industry. There are no effective controls to prevent such people from leaving one area or firm and setting up again elsewhere, which can seriously hamper the work of the police in dealing with them.

Clients of the private security industry, by definition, give privileged access to those providing their security, and those providers are placed in particular positions of trust, with inside knowledge of their clients' weaknesses. That trust can be abused in ways that have damaging or even tragic consequences.

A recent survey revealed that some 350,000 people were wholly or mainly employed in the private security industry--a large number of people. The industry has a total annual turnover of more than £2 billion, but despite its size and important role in the security of our communities, no proper regulation is in place.

Jackie Ballard (Taunton): The Minister mentioned the figure of 350,000. I expect that other hon. Members have different figures from other surveys, which suggests that there is some doubt about the number of people employed in the industry. Does the figure that he quoted include people employed, for example, by shops?

Mr. Clarke: The figure that I quoted from the survey includes people employed in-house, which I think is the hon. Lady's point. She is right that the numbers vary between surveys. There is a large number of part-time workers, and there are definitional issues as well. I have previously used the figure of 250,000, but the latest advice

28 Mar 2001 : Column 968

that I have is that 350,000 is an appropriate figure. It is not germane to the substance of the Bill, but it indicates the importance of the sector to all our lives. As I said, despite the sector's size and role, no proper regulation is in place.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the public have severe reservations about the activities of those sectors of the industry that are prone to exploitation by rogue elements. That is why both the industry and the police have long sought statutory regulation. We believe that a statutory framework is the most effective way to drive out the undesirable elements and thus increase public confidence in the industry.

Regulation has been long awaited. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), whom I am delighted to see in his place, tabled a private Member's Bill on the subject as long ago as 1977. I pay tribute to him, as he has played a long and distinguished role in trying to ensure that the House gives proper attention to this important issue. He has consistently argued for that, and in preparations for the Bill we had a number of discussions about the right way to proceed.

In 1995, the Select Committee on Home Affairs recommended a statutory licensing system. The Government of the day decided that statutory regulation was not the answer and that the industry should regulate itself. At the time, the Labour party said that that response did not go far enough, and we indicated our intention to regulate the industry on our return to office. That is the position that we have reached, and is why the Bill is before the House.

After taking office, we undertook a consultation exercise with those most directly concerned: in particular, the industry, the police service, local authorities and the entertainment industry. As part of the exercise, we met many typical small to medium-sized security firms that saw regulation as a way of promoting confidence in the industry, as well as protecting the public. They were willing to be regulated even if that came at a cost, because they recognised that confidence in their services had to be their paramount concern.

Following the consultations, we published a White Paper in March 1999 outlining our proposals and inviting further comments. The White Paper has been deposited in the Library as a background paper to the Bill. The key aspects of our proposals were, first, that it was essential to vet people working in the industry to exclude criminal elements; secondly, that companies providing a recognised standard of service should be recognised through a voluntary inspection scheme; and, thirdly, that regulation would help to raise standards in the industry, building on progress made through self-regulation. We received about 180 responses to the White Paper from a wide range of bodies, which were generally supportive of the proposals and strongly in favour of regulation.

The Bill essentially reflects the proposals in the White Paper. It was carefully scrutinised in the other place, and a number of details have been improved in the light of the helpful arguments that were advanced, not least by Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members. As the House will know, I always hope to take account of the well-argued and constructive proposals that are made by all hon. Members during the passage of a Bill, in order to achieve as much consensus as possible.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): What assessment has the Minister made of the incidence of crime in the

28 Mar 2001 : Column 969

private security industries of European Union member states that have systems of statutory regulation? What assessment has he made of the costs of those systems?

Mr. Clarke: My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South has done the most distinguished work on that subject, on which he has published one of his numerous monographs. I have read the monograph, which deals with the various issues to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We have considered regulatory systems, although the word "assessment" is perhaps too strong. We have not conducted a rigorous assessment of the security systems of every European country. In many countries, practices are entirely different, so it is difficult to achieve a base for international comparison, but we have considered the arrangements in other countries and sought to achieve a progressive element for ourselves. As my right hon. Friend points out in his private arguments and in that learned monograph--

Mr. Bercow: And well thumbed.

Mr. Clarke: Yes, it is well thumbed, and it shows that, in the experience of other countries, a powerful form of regulation can work in driving down crime levels. The effectiveness of such regulation depends on the country and the culture to which it is applied, but such experience has been gained.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): I think that the success of such measures largely depends on how good the regulatory system is, how much the security industry is respected and the close relationship between private security and the police. If they trust each other, and the public trust those involved in private security, crime prevention is much more successful than when the police and the public are alienated from the industry. We have experienced that recipe for catastrophe for the past 20 or 30 years.

Mr. Clarke: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, he speaks with knowledge that is gained from great experience in the field. The partnership approach that he advocates is precisely that which is set out in the Bill. That is why we welcome the fact that the industry, trade unions and police are all in favour of establishing a regulatory regime that can achieve the public confidence that he describes.

The main proposal to achieve that aim is our over-arching provision to create a non-departmental public body called the Security Industry Authority, whose aim will be to regulate sectors of the industry in respect of which there is genuine public concern about the activities of criminals and cowboys. We do not propose to regulate for the sake of doing so when public concern does not justify action or when the regulatory burden might be disproportionate.

That is why the SIA will be responsible for licensing individuals who are offering services under contract in designated sectors of the industry. It will also be responsible for regulating those involved in door supervision--bouncers--and in wheelclamping services, including people who offer services under contract to others and those who are employed in-house. In addition, it will inspect companies in response to voluntary applications and issue approved contractor status to those

28 Mar 2001 : Column 970

meeting an acceptable standard. Finally, it will be responsible for setting and raising professional standards within the industry.

The Bill extends to England and Wales and has been welcomed by the industry and the police service. It does not apply to Scotland, which is considering whether to make proposals to regulate the private security industry.

The functions of the new authority are set out in clause 1. Essentially, it will license individuals and approve companies with the help of an inspections regime; keep the private security industry and the legislative framework within which it operates under general review--I shall return to that point, as a general evolution is needed over time--and set, approve and ratchet up standards. A key feature of the effectiveness of the SIA will be the calibre and independence of its members and senior officials. It will need to establish good working relations with the industry in order to keep itself properly informed of the realities of the sector that it is regulating, for the reasons set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South. There will be a place in its membership for the industry.

The Government's overriding intention, which I want to emphasise, is to ensure that the authority and its officials are properly independent of the industry and are seen to be so. They must carry the confidence of everyone with a stake in the industry--the police, insurers, the public and others. If the Bill becomes law, I assure hon. Members of our determination to secure that independence and integrity, which will be critical to the success of the regime.

Next Section

IndexHome Page