Previous SectionIndexHome Page

9.13 pm

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate. I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who always brings to our deliberations the energy of a terrier and the charm of a spaniel. I am pleased also to follow the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), whose experience in these matters is legendary. Any even cursory examination of the subject with which the Bill deals leaves one with the impression that deliberations on such matters have been peppered for more than 15 years with references to him and to his comments.

The history of private security is a long one. Indeed, it might be said that it extends back into pre history. In bed last night, I was reading "The Golden Bough" by Frazer, and I was reminded of the kingdom in the part of southern Europe that is now Italy where murder was the normal

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1047

means of succession for the monarch, as the person who murdered him took his place. Consequently, monarchs spent most of their time running around a tree, looking for potential murderers and jumping at shadows. I suppose that that was an example of personal private security. If we trace law enforcement and personal security through the ages, we find that it has largely been conducted privately. Public security is a relatively modern phenomenon, and the notion of putting law enforcement into the hands of a publicly funded police force is recent.

Should there be regulation? The case has been well made in tonight's discussions, but it is worth considering the conclusions of the 1995 report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs on the private security industry. Several hon. Members have already referred to it. The right hon. Member for Walsall, South will be familiar with it because he gave evidence to that inquiry. The conclusions did not concur with his recommendations, but they paid tribute to the pertinence of his contribution. The report concluded:

The subject of private patrolling organisations will permeate much of my speech. We must strike a balance between law enforcement in the private and public sectors. The right hon. Member for Walsall, South referred to that. Such a balance is vital to maintain public confidence in the proper enforcement of law; it could be jeopardised unless we take the right action in the Bill and elsewhere.

Because I want to dwell briefly on the constitutional issues that are associated with the relationship between the public and law enforcement, as would be expected, I immediately searched for my copy of "The English Police--A Political and Social History" by Clive Emsley. Chapter 5 refers to a case in 1893 when the Home Secretary was asked about an English woman, a member of the Society of Friends of Russian Freedom, who was allegedly treated with "rudeness and even violence" by a member of the Metropolitan police. The police denied the charge and Mr. Asquith, who was Home Secretary at the time, said:

Mr. Emsley concludes:

The publicly funded police forces of the United Kingdom are indeed perceived as an intrinsic part of the constitution. We need to consider the balance between private and public law enforcement in that context.

I want to refer to a second study, which covers public perception of the constitutional aspect of policing. "The Force Inside the Police", by Robert Chesshyre, firmly makes the case for the positive perception of the police force. The public has a different perception of and relationship with the private security industry. In that

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1048

respect, I slightly disagreed with the right hon. Member for Walsall, South, as he may have inferred from my intervention.

We discussed people who wear badges, uniforms and caps and whether they were the equivalent of policemen. Mr. Robert Chesshyre states in his book that when a policeman turns up, he is merely a policeman and has a degree of anonymity. Chapter 7 states:

That authority vested in the police force is critical to the public perception of the police, and we must tread carefully and warily when we advocate the use of private security forces if we believe that they will in any way jeopardise or impinge on that relationship, that perception and that understanding of the police force by the public.

I would like to speak for a great deal longer, as I have a great deal more to say. However, I shall end by talking about the ethical dimensions of law enforcement. I want to refer to "Power and Restraint, the Moral Dimension of Police Work" by Cohen and Feldberg. I shall list the things that seem important in that respect, and then I shall sit down.

Mr. Cohen and Mr. Feldberg tell us:

I think that, to some degree, this applies also to the private security industry. They go on to list those standards.

That also applies to the private security industry.

this is the partnership that I am talking about--

Those studies are useful and apposite in considering the matters before us tonight. Unless the private security industry can, through the Bill and other measures that the House might introduce, conform to the constitutional role of the police that I have described, maintain the public trust that I have illustrated, and--vitally--ensure that those ethical standards for law enforcement are maintained, I believe that we are heading towards a dangerous abyss, into which no Member of the House, of whatever party, would wish us to tumble.

9.22 pm

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): This has been an excellent debate, to which, thus far, no fewer than 14 right hon. and hon. Members have contributed. The level of interest in the subject reflects its importance.

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1049

The Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), set out the context of our debate on Second Reading at the outset of his speech. There are approximately 8,000 firms in the private security industry sector. Estimates differ as to the number of people whom they employ, but it seems that the most recent is about 350,000. The industry enjoys a turnover of about £2 billion a year.

The Minister was right to say that the industry is, on the whole, successful. It has a good track record and is delivering much that we can celebrate. I could not help but be a trifle amused by the entirely appropriate chiding of the Minister by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who pointed out that the Minister's cheery acknowledgement of the success of the industry was in marked and hasty contrast to what he and his right hon. and hon. Friends had been saying in opposition. At that time, they were happy to conjure up an impression of a largely ineffectual, thoroughly corrupt and almost totally discredited industry. None of those charges is true. I am grateful that the Minister has now experienced an apostolic conversion and is prepared to concede that the sector contributes much that we can welcome.

The Minister was a little weak on some of the facts. I was surprised at that, because I have often drawn attention to his seriousness and, in particular, to the seriousness with which he regards himself. He is an ambitious fellow. He is very busy, very influential, very senior, very respected, and very important. He has many ambitions, many commitments, and certainly a very full diary. I was a little disappointed, in the circumstances, that he did not seem to appreciate the significance of the point about small businesses in the sector, and the proportion of the totality of the sector for which those businesses account.

I think that I am right in saying that approximately 80 per cent. of the sector is represented by companies employing fewer than 50 people. That fact, which is critical to our exchanges, is fundamental to the issue of regulation, the extent of that regulation, the costs that it will necessarily impose and, therefore, the need to be judicious and as restrained as possible in the new but justifiable impositions. At any rate, the Minister believes that we now need a statutory framework. He is able to adduce evidence from the private sector that that is what many companies--probably most--want to achieve. Although he skated over the improvements that have been made thus far through more effective self-regulation, he was entitled to point out that the vast majority of European Union member states have a statutory regulatory system.

I simply make the point that in our perhaps understandable impatience to legislate to remedy or mitigate an identifiable evil, it is important to take care not to over-egg the pudding. I am entitled to say to the Minister, who has an army of civil servants to advise him, that we need to take account of what the record shows in other countries. Okay, they have regulatory systems, and those systems have statutory force. They entail, among other things, imposing charges and levying fees. What, in practical terms, do they achieve to reduce or diminish the incidence of crime, and at what cost?

Of course, there is always a balance to be considered, and an opportunity cost is involved as well. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) referred to small companies and the burdens that they might

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1050

face. It is important to emphasise that not all small companies want permanently to remain small. If they are to have the opportunity to grow legitimately and constructively, it is important that we minimise the legislative and regulatory burden on them.

Next Section

IndexHome Page