MPs unimpressed by missing mercenary regulation

MPs have branded delays in introducing a regulatory regime for private security companies as “unacceptable”.

Today’s human rights report from the Commons’ foreign affairs committee is highly critical of the government’s failure to pass legislation on the issue.

A green paper was published on the issue in 2002 and since then the number of private firms offering armed security services has proliferated.

According to Amnesty International around 70 to 85 per cent of private security companies are based in either the UK or US and today’s report says regulation is long overdue.

“We are disappointed that there was no mention of legislation on private security companies in the prime minister’s draft legislative programme 2008/09, and we recommend that the government should announce its intention to introduce the relevant legislation in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech,” the report concludes.

“We further recommend that such legislation should impose strict regulation on private security companies, and ensures that these companies can be prosecuted in British courts for serious human rights abuses committed abroad.”

US firm Blackwater attracted negative media coverage in October 2007 when its employees shot and killed at least 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.

Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch Brown, questioned on the issue, told the committee he agreed with the view that the delay “has not been acceptable”.

“I have to say that I do not think that the delay has been because of any aberrant desire to prevent regulation,” he said.

“It has had more to do with the fact that regulation is quite tricky for an international business where most activities take place offshore. There is concern about how we can develop a regulatory structure that is credible and effective enough without just driving companies, if you like, offshore to register somewhere else.”

Lord Malloch Brown said the government was now in the “late stages” of seeking cross-Whitehall agreement on the issue and that “relief is in sight” as a result.