Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Hawkins: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in the light of the transferability of qualifications, it is important to establish how the existing training standards in the UK will be used by the new authority? The hon. Gentleman had other duties during a previous sitting—when his colleague, the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) was here—so he did not hear the concerns that I ventilated on behalf of a lady from Staffordshire, who wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). The lady specifically asked whether the new authority would use the current training standards that she operates through the Security Industry Training Organisation and the International Professional Security Association. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be helpful to hear from the Minister about that?

Mr. Hughes: I read the record of that sitting and I agree that it would be helpful to hear the Minister's comments. I have read an article in one of Southwark's local papers about a similar issue. The appropriate committee of the local authority granted a planning application last week for a nightclub on the site of a former cinema in the Elephant and Castle, on the Old Kent road in my constituency. One of the conditions imposed was that those in charge of security for the venue should be men and women; it should not be a male-only regime. I understand the reason for that. Would that be an appropriate set of criteria?

The issue is not about training and skills; these are separate matters. It is about ensuring that the people who are employed are appropriate for the culture of the venue. The criteria should not be overly prescriptive, so that intelligence can be used to decide what is likely to work and to produce a positive public response.

Mr. Hawkins: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman, or any other Committee member, saw the BBC's excellent ``Crimewatch'' programme last night, which showed a reconstruction of an unpleasant attack on a woman shortly after she had left a nightclub. The story provided a good example of how staff could behave appropriately by allowing the victim to re-enter the club to be cared for following the attack. It occurred to me that it was apposite that the reconstruction of that horrifying incident was broadcast while the Committee was still sitting, because it highlighted the task facing the new authority.

10.30 am

Mr. Hughes: I did not see the programme. However, the police are the official security industry, and they have adapted considerably in that regard. They try to use officers who are appropriate in terms of both gender and ethnic mix to reduce tensions and defuse situations, and they increasingly act in ways that are more likely to be effective in managing a mixed male and female clientele. Similarly, well-managed pubs and clubs tend no longer to employ merely a bunch of traditional male heavyweight bouncers who may not always respond appropriately to customers.

Will the Minister deal with the points that have been raised? His reply will determine my attitude to the amendment.

Mr. Bruce George: I shall not reply at length with regard to the matter, as I will also address it when subsequent clauses are discussed. However, the amendment is probing, and it addresses an important issue. The significant point is that the industry employs 350,000 people, many of whom are neither fit nor proper to operate either at managerial level or in less glamorous roles, such as security guard or bouncer.

I have faith that the Home Office will draw up the right set of criteria. That faith is based on my experience of how the Department has drawn up legislation over the past few decades. I sought advice from the House of Commons Library, which produced an excellent brief for me about licensing criteria and the meaning of the term ``fit and proper''. I will willingly circulate that brief to hon. Members. It shows that the Home Office has laid down clear criteria for issuing licences in the legal profession—for barristers and solicitors—and in various areas of gambling, such as bookmaking, casinos and gaming.

The brief also contains an excellent section that addresses how various Departments have laid down the necessary criteria for operating within the financial services sector. Strict criteria have also been laid down, within the framework of the term ``fit and proper'', with regard to jobs that are more closely related to the matter under discussion, such as debt collector, insolvency practitioner, peddler and firework retailer.

Mr. Hawkins: Before the right hon. Gentleman concludes his remarks, will he express his opinion, based on his expertise and his many years of studying the security industry, of the current SITO and IPSA standards of training? Michelle Mackleston, a former warrant officer, wrote about the matter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald.

Mr. George: If I were capable of being succinct, I would say that existing training requirements are inadequate. Under pressure, and with a gin and tonic, I would say that they were grossly inadequate and, on occasion, I would be even more critical than that. Good standards are purely optional for those companies that wish to be subjected to them. SITO is a fine organisation and is linked to the British Security Industry Association. Its standards—and those of the city and guilds—are better than standards that are adhered to by most companies.

However, if we want a viable, accountable, professional private security industry, the licensing authority must simply thank all those good bodies for what they have done so far and say that their standards can be used as a form of guidance. It must say that the purpose of the new legislation is to lift the industry by the scruff of the neck—it will be struggling, in some cases—and lay down standards of training that are so different from those adhered to by even the allegedly good companies that belong to the BSIA and have a standard two days' formal training and one day on the job training.

Not all such companies adhere even to those rather pathetic standards. Some areas of private security demand far higher standards; for example, a long apprenticeship is required to be a locksmith. There are different standards. It would be ludicrous to apply a set of uniform standards for an industry that is so fragmented and diverse that it can hardly be contained within a definition of private security.

The Government have said the licensing authority will lay down the standards. We do not know what the standards will be, but I urge the Minister to move towards a professional industry that does not have an optional two days' training, with no examination at the end of it, and which employs people at the bottom end of the employment market. All that is required of them is to sit through two days of lectures, trying to stay awake for much of the time. If they can get away with an alternative, they will; after which time they will be given jobs. Most companies do not even have those minimalist standards.

It is important for the industry to employ not only people who can meet whatever criteria are laid down, but those who consider that the security industry is sufficiently worthwhile to join for a career. It is not equal to the police, although some segments of private security are similar to the police. In fact, many ex-policemen go into the private security industry. Some do so for noble motives, because they want a retirement job, although Robert Mark chased many security staff out of their jobs in the 1970s in his anti-corruption investigation. That happened in my area.

In other countries, security guards are respected. They do not seem bored while guarding; they are vigilant. They are well trained. In Hungary, their training lasts for 300 hours. I am not saying that the industry will want to cope with 300 hours of training, but it is essential to move it up to that level. It is good to debate fit and proper persons and the criteria to be laid down for them. Later we shall be discussing appeals mechanisms—about which I have tabled an amendment—vetting and the standards that would apply. Should a person be told that just because he pinched apples when he was aged 13 he should be barred from working in the security industry? Of course not. However, activities such as arson, rape, murder, fraud and armed robbery should bar such criminals from working in the industry in perpetuity.

Mr. Hughes: The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Some past activities should probably disqualify people. Does he agree that other matters—people should know what they are in advance—should bar people for a period but then become spent if there is no recurrence? Taxi drivers go through the same sort of process. There must be a clear system so that people know exactly where they stand—what is mandatory, what happens automatically and where there is the discretion to argue mitigating circumstances.

Mr. George: An enormous amount of consultation will be necessary to get it right—to bear in mind the needs of efficiency and of a society that wants professional and honest personnel guarding property and installing alarms, and looking after children on occasions. There are civil liberties and human rights factors to be taken into account and it will be difficult to achieve a balance. It is ironic that someone who has served time for theft or fraud can become a Member of Parliament but, I suspect, would find it far more difficult to get a job in the security industry. One must be sensitive. I believe—the Home Secretary would know—that many people in the police force now have criminal records. A high percentage of the population has a criminal record of one form or another. The idea that we can look forward to a utopian future in which we appoint only those who have gone through 40 or 50 years with unblemished records is impractical.

The Home Office has ducked out of most of the serious problems in this legislation because it realises that they are far too complicated to make rushed decisions about. Although I do not like the fact that so much will depend on delegated legislation, the virtue of that is that a good Home Secretary will have ample opportunity to say, ``Let's get this right. Let's consult widely on all the different sections that have gone through the Committee stage, through the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Now we get down to serious detail.'' I am sufficiently confident in the Minister to believe that the instructions given to the SIA will be clear enough to provide the right criteria for employment, not only for the poor bloody infantry down the bottom, but for management and senior management. One cannot impose standards on security guards to ensure that they are fit and proper persons if the managers and owners of companies are crooked. They must all be subject to the same, or in the case of senior management, even more rigorous standards. I am delighted that we have had this opportunity to discuss the matter, but I shall allude to the greater detail of what criteria should be taken into account in debates on later clauses.

 
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