Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

The Chairman: From where I am sitting, the right hon. Gentleman is in the shadow of the Minister, but I am happy to call him next.

Mr. Bruce George: A very large figure is on either side.

In the consultative documents, the Government went into some detail about the licence itself and how it was to be obtained. In the past, it was not only feasible but common practice that in the lower end of the market, the guarding side, one could simply turn up at a company, ask for a job and be on site at the factory as soon as a uniform could be fitted—no questions asked. The guards were left to work through the weekend, they would pick up their money, and perhaps come back again a week later. There were miserable standards at the poor end of the market, and in some cases those purporting to be higher up the ladder of respectability adhered to them. The personnel department of a good company without access to criminal records would hire an ex-copper from the local station who would find out whether an applicant had form. For the most part, those days are gone, because the fines for police officers who illegally gain access to criminal records is severe. Several coppers have been sent down for transmitting such information.

Good companies, of which there are many, have an elaborate procedure for evaluating applicants. Those companies no longer simply take a guy off the street. Applicants must fill in forms and provide information, such as driving licences, passports and references. A good company then telephones the referees. It would try to validate the person applying for the job. Is he who he purports to be? A wonderful case in my locality involved a man who had all the evidence necessary to prove who he was. Before he started work, it was discovered that all the data that he presented belonged to his deceased brother-in-law. People who wanted to get a job would duck and dive and trick, often with the collusion of the company, which knew full well that they were on unemployment benefit. It was clear collusion between hirer and jobseeker.

6.30 pm

The position may be magically transformed because it is no longer necessary to find a corrupt copper to provide the information, or to have a nudge, nudge, wink, wink from someone living nearby who is peddling innuendo or malicious lies. If a company suddenly thinks that access to criminal records will remove the responsibility for doing patient searching earlier, it deserves all it gets—and, by God, it will get it.

What has to happen when a company wants to employ someone? The person sees an advertisement, applies for the post and then has to fill in a form in detail. Any good employer would carry out a check. At the end of the process, the documentation—hopefully with fingerprints to prove that the person is who he says he is—should pass to the police and the regulating authority should then confirm the choice of the particular person for the job. If this relatively costly process is short-circuited by removing some stages and relying on the police and the regulatory authority to the job, tough luck—the lads will suffer and might either end up in jail or pay a significant fine.

My serious point is that if people use ``I didn't know, guv'' as a defence, the consequences that follow will serve them right. I hope that that will not be regarded as much of a defence and that any company foolish enough to claim that it was unaware that someone did not have a licence will suffer accordingly. In assessing defences, we should recognise that only a very poor personnel or resources department or a poor employer will be caught—and caught they certainly will be. Many people with forged documentation will purport to be licensed. Perhaps with the aid of this legislation, such people will be able to duck and dive and operate without a licence. The Bill may provide a defence for working as a security guard without a licence on the grounds that an application is pending. The scope for abuse is considerable.

The Minister should pay careful heed to the clause. No one should be foolish enough to have failed to secure the requisite information—proof of identity, eligibility for a job and an appropriate licence—before hiring. Sometimes licences can be transferred, but licensing for Securicor means going through the whole process again. Employers who fall for this one will, as I said, suffer. I hope that the courts will punish them severely.

When I introduced my previous Bill on the subject in 1994, I was rather more ruthless than the Home Secretary, who I suspect is a bit of a softie. He is being too nice to people who do not deserve any charity. Under my Bill,

    ``Any person not registered under this Act who . . . offers private security services or . . . falsely implies that he is so registered, shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £100,000 or to twelve months imprisonment, or to both, or on conviction on indictment to a fine, or to imprisonment for a period of twelve months, or to both.

    Any firm which offers the services for security purposes of an employee not registered under this Act as a private security agent shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £100,000 or to twelve months imprisonment, or to both, or on conviction on indictment to a fine or to imprisonment for a period of twelve months, or to both.

    Any person who knowingly furnishes false information in any application made, or proceedings instigated, under this Act, shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £5,000 or to twelve months imprisonment, or to both, or on conviction on indictment to a fine, or to imprisonment for a period of twelve months, or to both.

The Chairman: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is quoting at great length from his own Bill rather than from the Bill that we are debating. I would be grateful if he would shorten or paraphrase his Bill rather than quoting in extenso from it.

Mr. George: I am so pleased that you interrupted me then, Mr. Winterton, as I had exhausted that clause. I am glad that two good performers like us can feed off one another, and I thank you for giving me further inspiration. Although I was too modest to say so, I feel that my Bill had a far better clause. I am deeply grateful to you for that intervention and will be pleased to accept any other that you care to make.

We are not talking now about Group 4, Securicor, or Reliant Security, those companies that have good departments and reputations to sustain. They will look at the Bill eagerly to see how their existing practices can be adapted. They will apply on behalf of their employees, or their employees will apply themselves, and they will probably pay the fee for them. If one is dealing with people at the bottom end of the employment market £40, £60 or £80 can be pretty hefty. A good firm would pay and it would be fireproof in terms of any failure.

The people at whom the clause should be aimed are the endless fly-by-nights who will duck and dive and use anything they can to slip through any loophole in the Bill. They will forge documents. They will present documents purporting to be a licence. They will perhaps be working in in-house security companies where there is no compulsion and then will try to convince people that their voluntary licence is a proper licence. They will wear uniforms that will confuse the public with more reputable companies and possibly the police. We must be careful that no quarter is given to those who deliberately deceive the person trying to hire them or deliberately deceive the regulatory authority about the persons whom they are hiring.

I know that you will not allow me to go back to a previous clause, Mr. Winterton, but if a good company suddenly requires 50 or 100 operators for a surge job, it will, for example, move people from Yorkshire down to the west midlands. Securicor might take people off one service and move them into another or do a deal with another security company to have those operatives working with them. Therefore, a special licence would be superfluous in most cases. It is crucial that the Home Office establishes with the police and the regulatory authority a sufficiently speedy process. A good company, that is prepared to work according to the rules should be able identify a potential employee, who will fill out the application form, be approved by the company, receive authorisation from the regulatory authority and be able to start work. It will be a disgrace if the guy applying for a job has to sit on his hands for two months before the regulatory authority comes back with the authorisation.

Mr. Hawkins: I have been listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. A thought occurs to me and it comes back to the issue that I raised about the perfectly law-abiding person who is trying to use someone reputable and the point about the two different defences. When I was first studying law at the end of the 1970s, one of the leading cases that we considered in relation to corporate responsibility involved one of the major national names. It would be unfair to name the company, because it was unusual for it to employ a rogue, but on this occasion it had been engaged by a photo-processing laboratory to provide guards and one of the guards turned out to be an arsonist who set fire to the lab and burned it down.

Mr. George: Securicor.

Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Gentleman is ahead of me. He remembers the case.

Mr. George: The company got away with it.

The Chairman: Order.

Mr. Hawkins: I did not want my intervention to be too long, Mr. Winterton, but as the right hon. Gentleman knows the case and has referred to the company's name—

The Chairman: Order. There must be a specific question, not another speech.

Mr. Hawkins: I was simply going to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in the light of such cases, he agrees that the difference between reasonable grounds for suspicion and reasonable grounds for belief is important.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 24 April 2001