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25 Apr 2007 : Column 341WH—continued

The civilian police advisers and mentors who use their skills to carry out that essential work on the ground in Iraq are recruited in two ways. Many, including the chief police adviser, are recruited on secondment from their police forces and then continue
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as serving or retired British police officers. Others such as Mr. John Braithwaite are recruited through a contract with ArmorGroup Services Ltd, a company registered in the UK and elsewhere, including Jersey. Since June 2004, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has had a contract with ArmorGroup to provide police trainers and mentors to assist the Iraqi police service in southern Iraq and Baghdad. A similar contract for Afghanistan has been in place with ArmorGroup since late 2006.

The information that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West gave about the FCO’s contract with ArmorGroup in Iraq is accurate. I would only point out that in May 2006 the company’s contract with the FCO in respect of Iraq was due to run to September 2006, and that the company formerly held a separate contract with the FCO to guard embassy premises in Iraq.

As a provider of security services, ArmorGroup works with several national Governments, international peace and security agencies and private sector organisations. It was formed through the acquisition of Defence Systems Ltd by Armor Holdings Inc., a New York stock exchange listed company, and a subsequent management buy-out by ArmorGroup. In 2005, the company had a turnover of $233 million, and it has been listed on the London stock exchange since 2004. It is led by chief executive officer Mr. David Seaton, and the company’s non-executive chairman is the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) who, as my hon. Friend will be aware, served as Foreign Secretary from 1995 until 1997. He became non-executive chairman of the group in 2004.

There is a role to be played by the private sector in the provision of security services in third countries. The FCO recognises that and in line with certain other Government Departments uses private military and security companies to provide security to staff working in difficult locations overseas, including Iraq and Afghanistan, or, as in this case, to provide expert advice to local agencies.

Possible options for regulation were explored in the Green Paper on private military companies, which was published in February 2002. Since then, the industry has expanded considerably. In late 2004, the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), therefore requested a further review of the options for regulation of the private military and security company industry. It was completed in mid-2005 and its findings are currently being discussed by Ministers and officials. If it is agreed that regulation is appropriate, the Government will introduce proposals for public and parliamentary consultation. I will ensure that the details of that debate and the correspondence that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West has sent to the Department on the matter are made available to the Ministers who are involved in the review.

I make a point of historical fact. In opposition as a shadow Minister and in government as a Minister, I worked on ensuring that legislation was introduced to regulate the private security industry in Britain, so I am very much aware of the points that my hon. Friend made.

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There are already several tools available to counter potentially illegal or unethical activity. They include export controls, legislation on arms brokering, UN and EU arms embargoes and the national law of the countries in which companies operate. We work with the British Association of Private Security Companies, private military and security company representatives and the Security Industry Authority to encourage best practice and adherence to standards.

My Department has been in regular contact with my hon. Friend regarding Mr. Braithwaite’s case, including through parliamentary questions and written correspondence. I understand that following the end of his employment with ArmorGroup, Mr. Braithwaite has sought compensation from the company and pursued his case through relevant channels. For our part, we raised Mr. Braithwaite’s concerns about his contract directly with ArmorGroup and asked questions to which the company responded.

I have read the correspondence—that is to say the correspondence that we have been given; there will be other correspondence that we have not seen. It appears from the correspondence that has been revealed to the FCO through letters and e-mails between Mr. Braithwaite and ArmorGroup that there are several potential discrepancies and issues that clearly need to be resolved. The first is the extent to which ArmorGroup does or does not practise a duty of care in employing its employees, wherever they may be based. The second, more specific issue is the inconsistency between the accounts given by Mr. Braithwaite and ArmorGroup regarding the offer of a 12-month contract, which was set out in an e-mail to Mr. Braithwaite from Lucy Bampoe-Parry on behalf of the group on 23 March 2006. The third matter is the need for the FCO to protect its reputation by ensuring that those through whom it procures services operate consistently with best practice.

I have read the correspondence that Mr. Braithwaite sent to the non-executive chairman of the group, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea, which was passed to ArmorGroup’s chief administrator Christopher Beese for reply. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West may wish to seek a meeting with the chairman to raise
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her concerns with him, given his responsibility as chairman of the organisation.

We would like to discuss with my hon. Friend what more we may be able to do to satisfy her and her constituent Mr. Braithwaite that the Government have done their utmost to ensure that any legitimate concerns have been addressed by the company in an appropriate way. I would be happy to offer my hon. Friend a ministerial meeting at the FCO at a convenient time to discuss the matter further, and the hon. Member for Lagan Valley may come to that meeting as well, if he wishes.

In cases where individuals are employed by companies overseas, it is for the relevant courts rather than the contracting authority to determine on a case-by-case basis whether either UK or EU employment law applies. As my hon. Friend knows, the branch of ArmorGroup with which Mr. Braithwaite signed a contract is registered in Jersey. Although I am not aware of the particular circumstances in which the case was dismissed, I can give a response to her question on the applicability of EU employment law in Jersey.

Jersey’s employment laws are not exactly the same as the UK’s laws, but there is a significant degree of commonality in the level of protection available to employees, including the right to a minimum wage, the right to a minimum period of paid leave, the right not to be unfairly dismissed and the right to a minimum period of notice. In that regard, one of the interesting factors in this case is that the job was advertised and then offered as a job with a UK company based in the UK, but on departure Mr. Braithwaite learned that he had actually been employed by a company based in Jersey. The point that my hon. Friend made about that was well made.

The FCO expects its contractors to meet high standards in their employment relations practices. We very much hope that Mr. Braithwaite and ArmorGroup will be able to reach a satisfactory conclusion to the matter, and I hope that the company takes seriously the comments made by my hon. Friend and by me after having reviewed the papers. I thank hon. Members for listening to my response.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes to Five o’clock.

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