Private Security Industry Bill [Lords]

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Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): I am concerned by the extreme length of the list that my right hon. Friend is producing. Does he accept that it is important that no unnecessary criteria be included, and that the criteria should not in any way infringe good equal opportunities practice?

Mr. George: My hon. Friend must have had some very easy forms to fill in. She should consider what is required of somebody applying for a social security benefit. Such forms are, of necessity, complicated. I cannot see anything in my abbreviated list that would not be necessary for the regulatory authority and the police to be able to ascertain that the applicant is a fit and proper person to undertake the task.

Dr. Starkey: What do height and weight have to do with whether anybody is a fit and proper person?

Mr. George: I do not know what my hon. Friend had for breakfast this morning, but I did not say that there should be a limit on the height or the weight, I merely said that such factors should be taken into account. If a person wants to be a factory guard and he or she is 25 stone and 5 ft 3, I would suggest that it would be difficult for that person to undertake the task. My hon. Friend looks dubious. I do not know what kind of security company she would like to hire, or what kind of bouncers she would wish to have, but is necessary for certain physical attributes to be taken into consideration.

I mentioned fingerprinting. In 1977, when I approached the then general secretary of the National Council for Civil Liberties, I was amazed to hear that she did not object to fingerprinting, if organisations had to do it, as long as it was in compliance with the law.

Mr. Bercow: The right hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly sound point and should not be deflected from it. He might remind the Committee that such considerations, notably relating to height, for example, apply in the case of the police force, a basic fact of which the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West is obviously woefully ignorant.

Mr. George: A 6 ft minimum used to apply to men joining the police. We are now far more egalitarian. Why should we not—

Dr. Starkey: The hon. Member for Buckingham makes a completely inaccurate allegation against me. I am perfectly aware that the police—

Mr. Bercow: You are pig ignorant.

Dr. Starkey: On a point of order, Mr. Benton. I did not believe that it was proper for hon. Members to accuse other hon. Members of being ignorant. If I am wrong, I do not understand how parliamentary conventions are intended to distance individuals from personal abuse by other hon. Members.

The Chairman: The use of the word ``ignorant'', in its true context, is not unparliamentary, but I appeal to hon. Members not to be contentious. This is an important Committee, and we need to make progress. I remind the Committee that we are discussing whether clause 9 should stand part of the Bill.

Mr. George: I know that hon. Members wanted to get away earlier, and I am sorry if the extra time that I have taken has caused any dissension.

I have now disposed with the point about the questions that should be answered by an applicant prior to an application being accepted by the company and the company forwarding the application with a fee, regrettably paid by the applicant, to the regulatory authority in order to verify whether that person is equipped to undertake the task. I did not say that there should be psychometric or DNA testing, which are far more contentious. If we want competent people in the industry, strict criteria must be specified.

I promise to spend no more than five minutes on my next point. It is important under the clause that standards of training and education are strictly laid down. The Bill provides scope for attaching training and competence standards to licensing conditions, which the Minister said would challenge the industry. We need to send the board and chief executive the message that current industry norms and BS 7499, the standard advocated by the British Standards Institution, for two days off the job and one day on, are not enough.

The clause will make it clearer to the SIA that minimum training standards will have to be much higher. In Belgium, security officers have 120 hours' training in eight months and must pass a test, 40 hours initial specialist training in handling weapons—which would not apply in this country—75 hours' additional training for those engaged in the protection of people, 16 hours' additional training in handling guard dogs, 65 hours' additional training for cash-in-transit security officers, 70 hours' additional training for managers, and 45 hours' additional training for those engaged in installation companies.

In Denmark, the figure is 120 hours. In Finland, operatives have 40 hours' basic training and additional special training. In Germany, which is more like us, they have 24 hours of basic training and 40 hours for managers. In the Netherlands, they have three weeks of basic training, and in Spain they have 200 hours of training and must pass an examination—80 of the 200 hours are spent in class, and 120 on the job—and up to 75 hours a year thereafter. In Sweden, they have 217 hours of training—97 hours in class, 120 hours on the job, 25 hours' additional specialist training for security officers in public areas, 40 hours for cash in transit, 40 hours for additional guard dog services, 21 hours and additional tests, with a further four hours for armed guards and an additional 80 hours for bodyguards. I sent that information to the Minister. The mother of all training systems is in Hungary, with 350 hours. For that, people could obtain a masters degree in most British universities.

The current situation is grossly inadequate. We need trained officers to undertake a difficult job professionally. They are there to assist people in a crisis. If they are not trained, they can be a menace to themselves and to the people whom they are supposed to be protecting. They are subject to dangerous situations and they must know how to handle themselves. They require a range of skills for those companies that regard themselves as blue riband companies, the training for which cannot be imparted in two days. Given that the industry is engaged in retail security, airport security, investigations, security shredding and safe deposit centres, each sector requires different standards of training.

At present, many voluntary training schemes are offered by organisations such as the British Security Industry Association, the Security Industry Training Organisation, the National Approval Council for Security Systems, the International Professional Security Association, the Joint Security Industry Council, the Loss Prevention Council, the National Association for Information Destruction and the Association of Security Consultants. Qualifications are certainly demanded by the Association of British Investigators, which runs an excellent course.

I come now to my last point and thank members of the Committee for their indulgence. The regulatory authority must engage in discussions with the whole industry and work out different forms of training for each sector. Having devised that, it must bear it in mind that qualifications and training for a man guard or someone engaged at the coal face should be different from those demanded of managers and directors.

The regulatory authority should bear in mind existing schemes, such those operated by City and Guilds and SITO. Courses are available for managers at universities such as Portsmouth, Leicester, Loughborough and Cranfield. Managers should ultimately undertake such courses. The authority should lay down syllabuses that are based on existing standards and, bearing in mind the European standards, set out details of courses for operatives, managers and directors. It should then instruct that the trainers be subject to approval, because it would be wrong to inflict on prospective employees trainers who themselves had not been trained. There should also be an examination at the end of the training.

If training is taken up in sufficient detail, professional people will be able to operate in all the dimensions of the industry. We must achieve greater professionalism. It will not happen overnight, but the Bill and the orders consequent on it will lay the firm foundation for an ethical, responsible, accountable and professional private security industry. I do not expect such recommendations to be contained in the primary legislation. I am merely illustrating some of matters that must be taken into account when the orders are drafted after considerable national and international consultation. That said, I shall not inflict any more lectures on members of the Committee until our next sitting.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I assure my right hon. Friend that I shall pass his remarks to the authority for its consideration. I urge that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

        Further consideration adjourned—[Mr. Mike Hall.]

        Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes past Four o'clock till Tuesday 1 May at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Benton, Mr. (Chairman)
Bercow, Mr.
Clarke, Mr. Charles
George, Mr. Bruce
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hawkins, Mr.
Hughes, Mr. Simon
Miller, Mr.
Pickthall, Mr.
Prentice, Ms Bridget
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Starkey, Dr.
Stewart, Mr. Ian
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.
Turner, Mr. Neil
Winterton, Ms Rosie

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Prepared 26 April 2001