We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Queen’s Speech — Debate (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:48 pm on 9th May 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Henig Baroness Henig Labour 1:48 pm, 9th May 2013

My Lords, I will speak on an issue that I very much hope we will see included in the coming Session’s legislative programme. In doing so, I declare my interests as recorded in the Register of Lords’ Interests, my chairmanship of the Security Industry Authority until January of this year, and my membership of the Independent Police Commission.

The measure I wish to raise relates to the way in which the private security sector, which is increasingly important in policing and safeguarding considerable amounts of public and private space, is regulated in the future. Regulation of the private security industry over the past eight years has been very successful. Do not take my word for it; ask those who work in the industry. That is why there was such an uproar in 2010 when, as part of the now infamous bonfire of the quangos, the coalition Government proposed to deregulate the sector and abolish the regulator. This was fiercely opposed, not just by most of the industry through its major professional bodies but by the Scottish Government and by the Northern Ireland Office. In the end, the Government agreed that although they would abolish the Security Industry Authority in its current form, this would be as part of a transition to a new regulatory regime in which businesses would play a more active role. This was something I had been advocating for some time.

We were told that this would be a speedy transition. Indeed, I was told in no uncertain terms by the Home Secretary herself in early 2011 that this change was regarded by the Government as urgent and had to be completed by the end of 2013 at the latest. When I protested that this was a very demanding and possibly unrealistic time scale, I was firmly told that completion by the end of 2013 had to be the target. Now here we are in May 2013, and how far have we got in the transition process? We have seen no legislation thus far, and nothing definite has been promised in the Queen’s Speech. Not surprisingly, private security companies are clamouring for progress, particularly in regard to what they and the Security Industry Authority wanted in 2010—namely, a move to licensing businesses rather than individuals. It has repeatedly been promised by the Home Office, and may indeed be brought about through secondary legislation in the autumn, but the problem is that secondary legislation would not enable a new regulatory body to be established or allow for a full and effective range of sanctions and penalties to enforce the move to business licensing.

I fear that the Government have impaled themselves on a hook of their own making. There is an obsession with deregulation, and we are promised a Bill to reduce what is perceived to be the excessive regulation on businesses. This is no doubt making it extremely difficult for the Home Office to sell the move from individual to business licensing to the Cabinet Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, since this could be seen as increasing the regulatory burden on industry rather than reducing it. But to move to business licensing in the private security industry through secondary legislation without the capacity for enforcement of the new regime through appropriate penalties and sanctions will not be effective, which is why private security businesses are so anxious to see primary legislation deliver the transition to the regime that was promised in 2010. Recent research reveals why they see this as so important. A group of businesses that were surveyed about regulation, including small private security companies, said that they wanted not less but better regulation, to ensure that higher quality, compliant firms were not undercut by cheaper, unscrupulous operators. Business licensing without proper sanctions to enforce the regime will not avoid this danger, so instead of obsessing about deregulation, the Government should commit themselves to introduce the necessary primary legislation to underpin the licensing of private security businesses. In addition to an appropriate and effective range of penalties and sanctions, the new regulatory body that is established will also need to be equipped with effective gateways to national bodies, such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the National Crime Agency and the Home Office with regard to the right to work, to enable it to work effectively with major partners in the fight against fraud and crime. I hope that the Minister will be able to give an indication at the end of the debate as to how soon such primary legislation can be introduced.

Another casualty of the new coalition Government in 2010 was the regulation of private investigators. This was ready to be brought in in the spring of 2010, but the incoming coalition Government immediately halted the work. Before too long, of course, the Leveson inquiry showed the folly of the delay. Private security industry regulation was introduced in 2001 to protect the public, and it must be extended to include private investigators as a matter of urgency. The relevant professional bodies want it, the regulator is ready to work on it, and I would be most grateful if the Minister could tell me when this urgent measure will be introduced.

The private security industry clearly recognises the need to raise standards across the industry and has worked hard in recent years to introduce more professionalisation and chartered status for industry bodies and individuals. There are now over 750 approved contractor companies, covering around two-thirds of the workforce in the private security industry. What have the Government done to encourage this trend? In Scotland, to win a contract funded by the public sector, a company has to have approved contractor status. The Scottish Government have insisted on it, but no such provision exists in England. Yet it is absolutely essential that the Government work with the industry to raise standards, because the public increasingly rely for their safety in public places on private security. Whether in shopping precincts, on industrial estates or university campuses, at sports grounds or large outdoor festivals and concerts, or around night clubs and bars, private security companies police and secure the space. What is often an ill informed debate about outsourcing police activities misses the point that significant partnerships between the police and the private security sector already exist, and they already operate effectively in protecting the public. One outstanding example of such collaboration is Project Griffin, pioneered in the City of London but now rolled out nationwide, in which security guards working in urban centres and around sensitive sites are specially trained and briefed by the police on a regular basis to alert them to ongoing security and other threats. This partnership worked extremely effectively during the Olympic Games, and it continues to underpin public safety across the country.

It is because the private security industry already plays such a major role in protecting the public that the Government must play their part by ensuring that the industry is effectively regulated and that public contracts are awarded to high-quality providers and not to those companies that put in the cheapest tenders by making their employees work excessively long hours at minimum rates. We also need an effective complaints mechanism where private security companies are operating in the public arena alongside the police. I was very pleased to hear the Minister, in opening the debate, outline that one provision in the forthcoming crime and anti-social behaviour legislation will extend the remit of the IPCC to deal with complaints relating to private security personnel operating in the public arena alongside the police. It is very important that the public know how they can register a complaint if they feel the need, and I shall certainly be supportive of that change.

In conclusion, I would be most grateful to hear from the Minister at the end of the debate when and how the transition to a new regulatory regime for the private security industry, considered so urgent in 2010, will be completed; when regulation of private investigators will be introduced; and in what ways the Government will work with the private security industry to continue to raise standards and further enhance public safety.