Select Committee on Home Affairs Third Report


Report



Background

Licensing of private security workers

1. The Security Industry Authority (SIA) was established in 2003 as an independent body reporting to the Home Secretary to regulate the private security industry. Its role includes the compulsory licensing of individuals undertaking specific licensable activities within the private security industry. Checks on the immigration status of security workers are the legal responsibility of their employer under section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996.[1]

2. In November 2007 it emerged in the press that immigration status checks were not being carried out on persons applying for licences to work in the private security industry, with the result that an unspecified number of security industry workers were working illegally.[2]

RETROSPECTIVE CHECKS ON LICENCE HOLDERS

3. The Home Secretary subsequently advised the House on 13 November that retrospective checks carried out from July 2007 had identified that as of that date:

This meant that potentially up to 10,000 non-EU nationals licensed to work in the security industry could be working illegally.

PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE

4. Subsequent debate in the House focused on the number of illegal immigrants working in the security industry, the employment of illegal workers at high security locations, and the fact that Parliament was not informed of the issue until November.[4]

Oral evidence

5. On 27 November 2007 we took oral evidence on this matter from the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration at the Home Office, Mr Liam Byrne MP, and the Chief Executive of the Border and Immigration Agency, Ms Lin Homer. On 4 December 2007 we took oral evidence on this matter from the Permanent Secretary to the Home Office, Sir David Normington, and the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the SIA, Mr Andy Drane. We wish to draw the attention of the House to the following points raised in evidence.

CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS

April 2005

6. The SIA reserves the right to carry out right-to-work checks as part of the licence application process and begins a limited right-to-work check on 10% of licence applicants. Approximately 1.4% of the 3,000 people checked between April 2005 and December 2006 do not produce evidence of the right to work.[5]

April 2007

7. The Minister of State for Borders and Immigration is made aware that a Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) enforcement operation has identified 44 people employed by a security company who do not have the right to work in the UK. The Permanent Secretary is also made aware.[6] At the same time, the SIA receives anecdotal intelligence of a problem in this area.[7]

June 2007

8. BIA and SIA agree to instigate a more intensive check for 10% of licence applicants, meaning that the BIA now checks applicants against their database rather than requesting documentary evidence of their right to work from the applicants themselves.

July 2007

9. The Home Secretary is made aware of the issue when the results of these checks indicate a greater prevalence of illegal immigrants amongst SIA applicants—approximately 10%—than previously indicated.[8] From 2 July 2007 every non-EU applicant has their immigration status checked.[9]

August 2007

10. The Home Secretary commissions restrospective checks on 100% of applicants who have been granted a licence and agrees to report back to the House once these checks have been completed in December. The SIA is able to complete this work "within existing resources and within existing budgets".[10]

11. The Home Secretary also authorises a letter from SIA to senior managers in the security industry, reminding them of their legal obligations to undertake right-to-work checks; and writes to HR directors across government reminding them that anybody with access to government assets needs to pass the baseline personnel security standard.[11]

THE DECISION NOT TO INFORM PARLIAMENT

12. In response to the claim that Parliament should have been told about the situation straight away, the Minister of State argued for the need to balance keeping the public abreast of the matter against ensuring effective enforcement action.[12] The Permanent Secretary explained that "I do not think we thought it was necessary, I'm afraid, to inform Parliament straight away because we did not have all the facts".[13]

PROSECUTIONS

13. Between January and October 2006, 7 employers were prosecuted for employing people without the right to work in the UK, 4 of whom were found guilty.[14] The Minister of State acknowledged that the number of prosecutions "is too low."[15] The Government announced on 22 November that it is introducing £10,000 on-the-spot fines for those caught employing people illegally.[16]

14. So far just under 150 licences have been revoked and the process is ongoing; the licensing revocation process takes a minimum of 42 days.[17]

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE SIA AND THE BIA

15. The Permanent Secretary told us that a good relationship between the SIA and BIA had developed out of a Home Office review of inter-agency working about 18 months ago, which also concluded that the level of checks on licence applicants was appropriate at that time. There are structured means of communication and increasing data-sharing.[18]

FUTURE ARRANGEMENTS

16. Those applying for a licence from the Security Industry Authority are not asked to confirm their right to work in the UK on the application form. The SIA's Deputy Chief Executive Officer considered the current form to be sufficient as applicants are asked to specify their nationality and must sign to confirm they have read the licensing criteria, which include a statement that the Security Industry Authority may investigate an applicant's right to work.[19] We have written to the Home Secretary to express our concern on this point..

17. The SIA's Deputy Chief Executive Officer believed there to be sufficient guidance for the private security industry on their legal obligations with regard to right-to-work checks.

I cannot speak for employers. What I can say is that there is sufficient guidance which makes it clear that this is the employer's responsibility. We have also always made it clear. I guess it is possible that some employers do not understand their responsibility, but part of the reason for reinforcing that in my communication of August was intended to remove that ambiguity once and for all.[20]

18. The Permanent Secretary considered that the SIA should continue to undertake 100% checks until they can be satisfied that the sitation has been resolved. He did not support a review of the SIA's remit at this time.[21]

Further developments

19. The Home Secretary announced to the House on 13 December 2007 that the BIA had completed retrospective checks on all 39,885 non-EU nationals licensed by the SIA prior to 2 July 2007, with the following results:

20. She also confirmed that she had noted the Committee's letter regarding the application form, and has "asked the SIA to review the application form to ensure that it contains all the information both the SIA and BIA may need, with a view to making changes as soon as possible".[23]

Conclusion

21. We are concerned that the current process for licensing and employing security workers gives rise to a situation in which illegal immigrants are gaining employment in the security industry. In our opinion, the licence application form would be an expedient means of ensuring consideration of the immigration status of security industry workers. We therefore welcome the announcement from the Home Secretary that she is encouraging the Security Industry Authority to amend its licence application form to include a declaration from applicants that they have the right to work in the UK.

22. We recommend the Home Secretary provides us with further updates on the licensing of private security workers in March 2008 and again in June 2008.


1   HC Deb, 13 November 2007, cols 531-533 [Commons Chamber] Back

2   "Government accused of cover-up over immigrant security staff", Guardian, 12 November 2007 Back

3   HC Deb, 13 November 2007, cols 531-533 [Commons Chamber] Back

4   HC Deb, 13 November 2007, cols 533-534 [Commons Chamber] Back

5   Q 13  Back

6   Q 29 Back

7   "Smith denies 'blunder' on checks", BBC News Online, 13 November 2007; Q 59 Back

8   Qq 15  Back

9   HC Deb, 13 November 2007, cols 531-533 [Commons Chamber] Back

10   Q 62  Back

11   HC Deb, 13 November 2007, cols 531-533 [Commons Chamber] Back

12   Q 17 Back

13   Q 35 Back

14   These figures are the most recently available and are provisional. Full data for 1998-2006 is appended at Ev 15 Back

15   Q 21 Back

16   "Employers face new fines for illegal working", Home Office press release, 181/2007, 22 November 2007 Back

17   Qq 74-75 Back

18   Q 38 Back

19   Qq 50-56 Back

20   Q 82 Back

21   Qq 44-45 Back

22   HC Deb, 13 December 2007, col 481 [Commons Chamber]. The balance of 48 represents duplicate records. Back

23   HC Deb, 13 December 2007, cols 482, 487 [Commons Chamber] Back


 
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Prepared 17 January 2008