Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Hawkins: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I entirely agree with him about the activities of doormen, but does he not feel somewhat embarrassed that, only about a month ago, in the Committee on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, he allowed himself to be persuaded by his Whips to vote down a Conservative amendment that would have introduced into that Bill provisions that were designed precisely to stop drug dealing by bouncers on nightclub doors?

Mr. Bailey: I am confident that the measures taken by the Government to curb drug dealing mark a considerable improvement on those taken by the previous Government and that they are likely to be more effective. It takes some nerve for a member of a party that had 18 years in government to pass such legislation to talk about embarrassment now.

Much has been said in the debate about wheelclamping, and some of the tales related by other Members make my personal experience pale by comparison. None the less, I shall spend a few minutes describing an experience of friends of mine and exploring the issues that arise from it, which I hope will be addressed by the code of practice for wheelclampers under the Bill.

Two friends of mine--highly respectable, law-abiding school teachers--went on a bank holiday Monday to drop off their daughter at a bus station in the centre of Birmingham. Unable to find a public car park, they saw what they thought was a private car park with no vehicles in it and parked their car there while they saw their daughter off. They returned within 15 minutes to find a white van, a wheelclamp on their car, and two very large and intimidating males demanding £85 for the release of their car. They did not have £85 on them and they were told that a cheque would not suffice, so they had to find a bank cashpoint. It should be borne in mind that that can present difficulties on a bank holiday: not only are banks not open, but sometimes the cash machines run out of cash. Had my friends not been fit, able-bodied people, obtaining that £85 to secure their car's release would have presented considerable difficulties. Afterwards, they described their emotions as suppressed anger, fear and fury at the fact that people could behave in such a manner.

Compared with one or two of the cases about which I have heard today, my friends' experience was not too bad. None the less, their case raises a range of issues that I hope the Bill will address. First, it is obvious that wheelclamping companies must be registered and the areas in which they operate clearly identified. Secondly, there should be a locally determined scale of fines that are considered acceptable and support the logic of the local neighbourhood parking scheme. Thirdly, people who transgress and have their car clamped should have the right to pay in a way that does not compromise their personal safety. Fourthly, they should be given a receipt bearing the company name. Finally, if they are not satisfied with their treatment, there should be a mechanism whereby they can make a formal complaint.

I note that the Bill allows considerable flexibility--some have criticised that--regarding the power given to the Secretary of State and the Security Industry Authority.

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1023

There are many areas in which the Bill lays down no prescriptions, but instead leaves the matters for later prescription. I welcome the Minister's comment that the operation of the legislation will be continuously reviewed with a view to improving aspects that are not felt to be working appropriately. I should like to single out one such aspect: the inspectorate.

If we are to develop an effective licensing process, the inspectorate must carry out its job with appropriate sensitivity. The existing regime of inspectors has been too close to those elements within the security industry that have opposed the regulation of their industry. When the Bill is passed, a new inspectorate must be established with inspectors recruited who are appropriately qualified and directly accountable to the Security Industry Authority.

I conclude with one caveat: we look to the Minister and the authority continuously to review the process, make amendments where necessary and fill in gaps left by the basic legislation. None the less, we welcome the Bill. A properly regulated security industry will enhance the status of the profession, reassure the public and be of enormous benefit in the fight against crime. I am proud that it is a Labour Government who have, at last, acted.

7.29 pm

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): First, I must apologise for my sudden absence from the Chamber, which was not due to a lack of enthusiasm. As Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, I was meeting the Secretary of State for Defence in what may be our very last meeting. I am afraid that the task of juggling two of my major interests in this place could be done only by listening to half of the Minister's speech, rattling through the Defence Committee in an hour and a half--the speediest session we have ever had, despite the complexity and sensitivity of European defence and security--and returning to listen to my colleagues.

I shall save my colleagues from a speech of Brezhnevian proportions, although I could give one. The introduction of the Bill in the Commons makes today memorable. It is perhaps a little premature to express the aspiration that the Bill will soon become law, given the complex political situation that we are in, but we may be close to seeing legislation. I heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), in which he said that he had been a security guard. I was almost a security guard; I introduced my first private Member's Bill in 1977, and sought to show how simple it was to get a job in a security firm. I went to Iver in Buckinghamshire and was asked some penetrating questions by the managing director of the firm, such as "Are you frightened of the dark?", "Can you read?", and "How quickly can you start?" He asked for names of people whom he could contact. I gave the name of my father and my then secretary, neither of whom were approached. Bingo! I was offered the job, as long as the company could get a uniform large enough to fit me, which was probably its biggest task.

It was and is simple to get a job with a security company. When I asked the managing director what training I would get, he almost fell off his chair laughing because there was none. In many ways, our debate is 25 years late. The security industry should have had the

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1024

intelligence--the self-interest even--to realise that going up the blind alley of self-regulation would be a disaster. It chose that course, in collusion with the previous Government, because it fitted in with the Conservatives' anti-bureaucratic activities and their alleged hostility to regulation. Apparently, when the former Deputy Prime Minister was approached to support regulation, he refused, as he was in the business of deregulating, not regulating.

Most other countries in--dare I say it--the advanced world regulate private security and, indeed, are in their third generation of legislation. Having learned the lessons of the past 25 to 30 years, at long last we are doing what others have done. I would have liked more evidence of experience derived from many of those countries, but the Bill is curiously British and suffers as a result. This is an important day both for me and the private security industry, which, at last, is on the verge of a major breakthrough. Along with other factors that I shall mention later, the Bill will provide it, its employees and those who hire security with a very different type of private security industry, which is more professional, competent, accountable and acceptable to the police and the population as the whole.

Perhaps the industry will rue the day when it saw me as the enemy of the private security industry. The position is quite the reverse: with others, including the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler)--who led the way in the House by introducing an early private Member's Bill in 1973--I made helpful suggestions, but I am afraid that the security industry chose to ignore them.

In my home, I have a plaque that says:

That plaque has been hanging on a wall in my house since 1978. When my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham said that he was the youngest Member of the House, I was tempted to say, "I was almost the youngest Member of the House when I first took an interest in the private security industry." One should not draw too many conclusions about the ageing process, but I have waited a long time. A good friend of mine, Peter Heims, once asked at a public meeting whether I was another flash in the pan; he asked whether I was another Member of Parliament getting quick publicity from introducing a ten-minute Bill, then disappearing. Well, Peter Heims, I proved not to be a flash in the pan.

The security industry is enormous, and the number of people it employs goes up almost daily. It has been said that it employs 350,000 people, but I can argue with some justification that it employs even more than that. It depends on how one defines private security. If one defines it in its broadest sense, I am certain that the figure is much higher than 350,000, dwarfing the Home Office and non-Home Office police forces.

The industry comprises manned guarding, both contract and in-house; cash in transit; private investigators, who come in many guises; security consultants; close protection; VIP protection; bodyguards; door supervisors or bouncers; private sector detention services; and manufacturers, designers, installers and maintainers of alarms, locks, safes and security equipment. That equipment includes safes, vaults and security containers; satellite tracking; closed circuit television and other electronic monitoring devices or surveillance equipment;

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1025

intrusion detection; access control; bomb protection; fire detection; metal detection; X-ray detection; telephone security equipment; computer security; security storage; security shredding; barriers, shutters, fences and security glass. The industry also comprises staff at places of entertainment, such as pop concerts--the list goes on indefinitely.

There are also products and services on the margins of private security, such as those in employment agencies that specialise in private security; credit check agencies; porters; receptionists; risk managers; museum curators; park rangers; computer operating staff; caretakers in colleges, schools and universities; car park attendants, who have a security function; managers; gamekeepers; and hospital porters. I could go on.

The industry is extremely large and, for a long time, it has been subject to public criticism. It is not a new industry; it goes back three or four millennia. There were locksmiths in the ancient world, as well as bodyguards, watchmen and craftsmen making security grilles.

According to modern detective writers such as Ellis Peters and Lindsey Davis, most monks were engaged in private investigation in one form or another.

Some people believe that the private security industry is a new industry that has supplanted the police. I shall not bore the House with historical evidence, but for most of the past 1,000 years policing and security work has been done by private individuals, groups engaged in self-protection, vigilantes, posses and amateur constables who usually transferred their responsibilities to others by paying them a fee. The role of the state was very limited. There was no police force in modern guise until the beginning of the 19th century. The process of creating the Peel police--the new police--took place over half a century.

The private security industry that existed previously was not expunged by the emergence of the police--the private security sector increased, along with the growth of the police. In many ways, nothing much has changed. Policing and security have been the responsibility of the state, but not exclusively. Neither the industry nor its relationship with the police is new, but that relationship will be on a much better footing after the passage of the Bill.

The modern contract security industry dates from Allan Pinkerton in the United States and the corps of commissionaires in the 1850s. Although the private security industry in its modern form began in Germany, Austria, the United States and Scandinavia, it developed in the United Kingdom only 50 years later. When it did develop, it was subject to enormous criticism and was alleged to be a private army. The idea of the massed ranks of Securicor or Group 4 marching down Whitehall to capture the seat of government stretches the imagination, but in the 1960s and 1970s there was a fear that a group of self-interested organisations was threatening the security of the state.

The image in the 1960s and 1970s, which has persisted, was of an industry with low pay, poor efficiency, an enormous turnover of staff and low public esteem. The industry was seen as disreputable. It was the object of contempt and derision and the butt of endless jokes. I and others tried hard, working alongside the more far-sighted members of the security industry, to put it on a different footing, but the attitude of the industry and the Government ranged from indifferent to hostile.

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1026

The Government post-1979 were decidedly unhelpful. In 1991 the Home Office produced a document that stated:

I am afraid that that was not the case.

There were several milestones in the progress towards regulation. Eventually, the Select Committee on Home Affairs took an interest in 1995 and produced an excellent report. A document written by the chief constable of north Wales was leaked. There were parliamentary debates. There were those in the industry who struggled hard to swim against the tide. Now we are at the point of regulation.

I am delighted that in 1997 my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced to the British Security Industry Association that regulation was to be introduced. A consultation paper was issued in 1999 and the Bill was introduced in the House of Lords. Sadly, it reached the House of Lords first, but I suppose that that was the decision of the business managers, who had a great deal of legislation to cram into a limited parliamentary timetable.

Many have asked why private security is necessary, and whether it undermines the police. The exponential growth in private security was deliberately fostered by Lady Thatcher for the same reasons as were attributed to the present Government by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff). Lady Thatcher wanted more people engaged in protection in support of the police. Many of the functions performed by the police as a monopoly for a century were taken away from them.

I believe that that was the right decision, although the police did not always like it. The private security industry is the best job creation scheme yet devised for retired military personnel and retired police officers at any level. Although they might whinge about it when they are serving officers or members of the Police Federation, their hostility sometimes changes to enthusiasm when they realise that there is life after leaving the police force. The Police Federation and the police force recognise that a properly regulated private security industry is not a threat, but a complement to the police force.

There is enough crime to go around; one should not try to hog it all. One should try to transfer many of the responsibilities at present held by the police to the private sector, as long as that does not compromise the primacy of the Home Department police forces. Now that the security industry is about to be legitimised by legislation, I expect that the police and the public need have no fears that they are handing over to the private sector tasks for which it is singularly incompetent.

When I was in Sweden a couple of years ago, I was told that the private sector was guarding the king's sons and nuclear establishments. At that time, the idea of some British private security company having bestowed on it tasks for which it was clearly ill-equipped would have been so laughable as to be almost criminal. I recall that the Select Committee on Defence--we took more interest in private security than did the Home Affairs Committee--regularly said that the Ministry of Defence should not give any further contracts to private security unless the industry was regulated. We are approaching a

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1027

period in which the rules of policing and security will have changed while new regulation is being properly implemented. I suspect that most people will say that those changes are for the better.

Next Section

IndexHome Page