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6.55 pm

Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham): I welcome the proposal to regulate the private security industry to ensure that those employed in it can carry out their jobs professionally. I say that because in the summer of 1991 I was employed as a security guard to patrol a huge building in Fleet street that was to house a large accountancy firm. Therefore, I am delighted that, 10 years later, I have the opportunity to speak in the House on this subject.

I am sure that many Members recognise that the private security industry in London and the major conurbations employs many ethnic minority people. I was a student who needed work during the summer holidays and I know that many young men and women--both black and white--take up such employment primarily so that they can read their law or biology books while they are on night patrol, ensuring that buildings are kept safe and sound.

However, the industry also provides permanent employment because many people in communities such as mine in Tottenham are in lower socio-economic groups and take up much needed work in that sector. I was saddened, therefore, when I heard the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) challenge the minimum wage. Many people in the industry rely on it, and I am glad that the Government have recently increased it.

Many young people and those in lower socio-economic groups will welcome the fact that, to some extent, the industry will be professionalised, regulated and supervised. They do not want to work alongside people

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who have criminal convictions and they do not want to be vulnerable in the workplace. They want to be recognised for the service that they provide and the Bill will, at long last, give them security. I welcome that.

By definition, private security employees are entrusted with protecting people. Whether they are security guards, door supervisors, professional security investigators or, indeed, wheelclampers, it is in everyone's best interest that people employed in positions of such trust should meet required standards and be registered for all to recognise. The Bill will promote standards within the industry and serve the public interest.

I appreciate that the private security industry covers several activities, but the sector that springs to my mind, as the youngest Member of the House, is the door supervision sector, which is made up of people who are readily known as "bouncers". I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends have at one time--perhaps in the not too distant past--been under the so-called protection of bouncers and many will have children who frequent pubs and clubs. Such venues attract a large number of young people, often under the influence of alcohol--legitimate, of course--on a Friday or Saturday night.

Bouncers have unfortunately been a magnet for illegal drug dealing. We had a problem with a small underground club in my constituency. Drug dealing often stems from the people who are meant to protect our younger generation. Unfortunately, many of us have examples of bouncers who engage in criminal activity. In some London clubs, they take drugs off the dealers, kick them out and peddle the drugs themselves. I am delighted that the Bill will at last ensure that drug dealers and criminals will be unable to engage freely in that activity in our clubs. Many bouncers have also been too readily involved in physical assaults on people who have gone out to enjoy themselves on a Friday or Saturday night. There is no justification for that, as I am sure all hon. Members would agree.

Legislation is the only way to ensure that such problems do not occur and that no bouncer has a criminal background. It sends a clear message that inappropriate behaviour by those workers, who are entrusted with the care of the public, will result in their licences being revoked. All aspects of the private security industry will benefit from the promotion of standards that will result in regulation, and I hope that there will be a more creative use of private security workers.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister's announcement about extending neighbourhood warden schemes, especially in deprived areas. It must be clear from the outset that the use of private security guards to patrol housing estates, parks or other public areas should only complement the work of the police. I was saddened, if not surprised, to hear the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire challenge partnership schemes, which I think are the future of crime prevention.

Jackie Ballard: How does the hon. Gentleman envisage preventing private security operatives from substituting for the police rather than complementing their work?

Mr. Lammy: That is not a matter for me. However, partnership must be the way forward. In deprived areas such as mine, the police can never police on their own.

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They rely on the community, neighbourhood wardens, neighbourhood watch schemes and residents associations. All must play their part. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire used the word "partnership", but he talked about privatising the police without recognising that my constituents need that partnership in order to police our estates. I welcome a Government who turn their back on paternalism and a top-down approach to crime. The input must also come from the bottom up.

There is no suggestion that security guards will act as a quasi police force. They will not be given powers of arrest that are any different from those available to the general public. I dare say that people who criticise proposals for neighbourhood wardens do not live on estates with repeated vandalism and aggression, which is often perpetrated by a small minority. A partnership approach is essential. The Bill has a role in the wider issue of crime prevention.

Jackie Ballard: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about partnerships and policing to create safer communities. However, does he not understand that there is a fundamental difference between paid-for private security operatives who are brought into a community and community-based volunteer neighbourhood watch schemes? They are completely different.

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Lady seems to suggest that paid-for private operatives have existed only for the past year. Estates in different parts of the country have for a number of years used private security firms to manage affairs in their buildings. Local authorities, including mine, have employed private companies to do that. If there is proper scrutiny, that sector has a role in working alongside the police and ordinary people in neighbourhoods that are worried about crime.

In my road in Tottenham, the neighbourhood watch scheme works closely with security people on the nearby estate and the police to ensure that our homes are no longer burgled. The number of burglaries is decreasing because of the partnership between the residents in the neighbourhood watch scheme, security on the estate at the top of the road and the police half a mile down the road in their local station. The use of private security firms has not come about in the past year; the arrangement has been in place for some time and the Government seek to cement it.

On wheelclamping, I should say that I do not drive. I believe that I am in good company in this place--my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) are Londoners who also do not drive. I have therefore not been a victim of overzealous clampers, but I rely on other people and friends to drive me. I have been horrified to see friends, many of whom are on low incomes, charged a stack load of money--usually £200-plus--to get their cars back. It is difficult for them to retrieve their cars or get the clamps removed. I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) about the need for greater involvement of local authorities in that exercise. I hope that the Government will consider that further.

I hope also that the Government will consider the position of local authorities that contract out services to private companies and then find that they are not reliable

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or as good at the job as they had expected. A constituent of mine, who had saved for a long time to go on holiday, returned to find that her car, which had been deemed by the private contractor to have been vandalised, had been towed away. Ultimately, it was revealed that wheelclampers had damaged the car, and the outcome was that my constituent was awarded some compensation. I hope that local authorities who contract out services will come under the auspices of the Bill, although I suspect that they do not. The matter needs closer attention.

I welcome the Bill. It will make my constituents very happy because it will help to prevent crime and foster the partnerships that are needed in areas such as mine. In addition, many ethnic minority people are employed in the sector, and they need the security of knowing that they are not joining organisations that employ criminals and that they are recognised by the Government as a professional body of people, with all the rights and obligations that come with that status.

7.12 pm

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): I welcome the Bill, which addresses a number of problems in my constituency and in the neighbouring black country area which have been made known to me. I pay tribute to my neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who, as other Members have said, has done considerable research on this subject and is recognised as an authority on it. He has fought a long and lonely battle for the licensing of security operatives. I believe that he wants to contribute to the debate and I look forward to his comments with interest.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) rather sidetracked the House on policing. If, in their years in power and their subsequent years in opposition, Conservative Members had been as concerned about the security industry as they had been about the police, we might have had an even better record on crime prevention than this Government have managed so far. During their 18 years in power, the Conservatives showed little inclination to tackle security issues, which I know are of considerable significance to the public.

We must be clear that the industry is in many ways complementary to the police and law enforcement. I thought that the industry employed 300,000 people, but it was said earlier that the estimated figure is now 350,000. Many of those people are very underpaid, work extremely long hours and receive poor training. The Government have already tackled the first issue with the minimum wage, which will shortly go up to £4.20 an hour, but there remains a tranche of issues that are addressed in the Bill and on which action is long overdue.

Given that combination of adverse circumstances, it is not surprising that staff turnover in the industry is enormous. Consequently, any training that is given is of little benefit to the industry as a whole. In many areas, security work is regarded as not only low in pay but low in status, and it is unattractive to potential employees. That is ironic when one considers that given the industry's vital role in preventing crime, the level of responsibility is completely unrecognised and inconsistent with the prevailing pay rates, public status and training.

It is hardly surprising that security work is in many ways regarded as a potential employment opportunity for crooks. I make it clear that I am all in favour of the

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rehabilitation of offenders. We want ex-criminals to go into full-time, rewarding employment and to contribute to society. However, I am highly suspicious when people with a track record of abusing the law suddenly demonstrate a totally uncharacteristic enthusiasm for applying for positions that involve upholding the law. In reality, the inside knowledge that many security operatives have when working for companies offers opportunities for rewards that are far greater than those to be gained by any honest employment.

The most conspicuous example that I have come across occurred in my constituency a few years ago, when an ex-criminal got a job as a security guard and was then made a supervisor in the same company. Unfortunately, he had been imprisoned following the murder by strangulation of a young woman in front of her child. Earlier, he had beaten up an old lady who subsequently died in hospital. In case any Conservative Members try to intervene, I might add that his release from jail took place under the previous Government.

The company had employed that man without knowledge of his history. Not surprisingly, when it was exposed the company went bust. One can only imagine the horror felt by other employees following the revelation of the criminal past of the man who had been supervising them as well as dealing with others as part of his work. That underlines the need for change. Under existing legislation, there is no access to criminal records. Happily, the Bill will change that, and it is about time too.

The issue of door supervisors is also of enormous significance in my constituency. We have heard talk about the importance of partnership arrangements between the police, licensees and the security industry in enforcing law and order in that context. I can advocate the benefits of good working partnership practices at local level. I can see those benefits even within my own family because I have an 18-year-old stepson who at weekends likes to go with his mates to a nightclub in West Bromwich, where they enjoy themselves dancing the night away.

When asked why he chose a nightclub in West Bromwich rather than one in a neighbouring police command unit and local authority, my stepson replied that he and his friends went to West Bromwich because they knew that if there was trouble in that nightclub, the bouncers would apprehend the troublemakers and keep hold of them until the local police arrived, arrested them and took them away, whereas troublemakers apprehended inside nightclubs in other areas tended to be thrown out on to the street, where they could continue to fight and engage in fisticuffs with any passers-by who caught their eye. That is a clear example of a company with a good working partnership with the police, benefiting not only the company's clientele, but the neighbourhood and the police. The Bill is designed to facilitate such partnerships.

A concern I share with other hon. Members focuses on the role of bouncers in drug peddling. I especially welcome the provisions that deal with the licensing of doormen and provide for the banning of those with inappropriate criminal convictions. My local police superintendent assures me that where drug problems exist in our area--happily, there are worse parts of the country for drug problems than West Bromwich--they are often

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directly related to door operatives who use the atmosphere generated by alcohol, music or peer group pressure among young people to peddle drugs.

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