§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Major.]10.36 pm
§ Mr. Warren Hawksley (The Wrekin)
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this evening the future development of the special constabulary. When the Government were elected in 1979 it was very much on a policy of law and order. The special constabulary can play a large part in winning the battle that is going on to ensure that this is a safer country in which to live.
The greatest deterrent that Britain can have is a policeman on the beat, whether in our villages or towns. It makes no difference whether that policeman is a regular or a special officer. To be honest, in many cases our constituents would not know whether it was a special or a regular officer. In the old days we were used to village policemen who basically worked a 24-hour shift and 'were always available. Today, rightly, we have the eight-hour shift and we do not have policemen in every village and community.
To a great extent, that problem can be answered by an increased use of the special constable. The specials have a great advantage because they are usually available when the regular police force is under its greatest pressure. One thinks of nights or weekends when there are football matches. Those are the occasions on which the special constable is readily available. Special constables are not only useful as a way of bolstering and supporting our police force, but I believe and hope that the use and encouragement of such a voluntary force would fall in line with the Government's philosophy.
Another reason why we must look carefully at the roles of special constables and encourage them is the regrettable decision to give in to the pressures of the civil liberties lobby last week, in particular that of the National Council for Civil Liberties, and the orchestrated attacks of the British Medical Association and the churches on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. We shall have to give further powers to the police, because, as we said, it was a finely balanced piece of legislation.
If we have to give the police more help and support to balance that decision, I hope that we shall consider the support of and the increase in the special constabulary to be a way of doing that. In particular, it would put policemen back on the beat. Our policy to reverse the movement of putting policemen into panda cars which was started by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) was right. We should openly claim responsibility for and pride in that. That reversal could be speeded by the greater use of special constables.
Since the Government came to office, there has been a great increase in the number of police officers—there are about 9,000 more in England and Wales — and policemen are better paid. For that reason, I believe that there can be no objection now, as there has been in the past, by regular officers to the involvement of more special constables. I have had the pleasure of being a member of the local police authority in my area for four years. In my area we see the regulars and specials working well together. We can be proud of that.
Let us look at what has happened over the years to the numbers of special constables and why we need action at this time. Just before the war, in 1938, there were 118,000 263 special constables. In 1960 the figure had gone down to just over 48,000. By 1975, when we had the first report of the working party, the figure was 21,500. By 1981, it had dropped to 14,978. Although I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State will say that there was an increase last year, it was only 182. We ought to be pleased that it was the first increase for 30 years, but it was still inadequate. In my police authority area, against a possible approved establishment of about 1,348, we have 334 special constables in post. That is a tragic story.
The second working party on special constables was set up in November 1979. It was a working party of the police advisory board and was constituted of representatives from the Home Office, the Association of County Councils, metropolitan authorities, the Metropolitan police, the City of London police, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, the Police Federation and four special constables. A broad body of men and women considered the needs of the special constabulary for the future.
I shall pick out three points that arose from the report, which are important recommendations. The first was about training, and the use to which that training could be put to make sure that a special constable was most useful and able to carry out more advanced police work. That was desirable. I support the recommendation. I welcome the fact that the report went into as much detail as to give a recommended training schedule. The report was published in 1981, but I wonder how much of that recommendation has been implemented by all the forces.
I expect that when my hon. and learned Friend replies he will suggest that it is up to each chief constable how he individually controls his force. That would be a disappointing answer. The Home Office should monitor what the authorities are doing in response to the working party's proposals. I hope also that, possibly tonight, we shall hear from the Home Office encouraging sounds about persuading and pressurising the local police authorities throughout the country to respond with greater urgency.
In the other two areas that I shall consider, the working party report is both revealing and at the same time disappointing: first, the name of the force, and, secondly, whether a bounty in the form that it is paid to the Territorial Army would be appropriate for the service.
The suggested change of name was "Reserve Police". It was supported by the representative group that submitted its views to the working party, yet unfortunately the working party rejected it. There is confusion among many of the public about what a special constable is and whether he is the same as a special branch officer or a member of the Special Patrol Group. There is genuine concern about that confusion. If, as the working party suggested, we use the name "Reserve Police", we shall do a lot better.
With regard to the bounty, I accept that the representative group decided against the proposal that was discussed by the working party. It is interesting that, in the report, the working party clearly states that it was the younger acting special constables who supported the idea. That is significant because it is they who, I believe, represent the people who do not join but would do so if a bounty were offered. I hope that we shall enrol the young as special constables to increase their numbers.
The present system provides a meagre allowance. I checked with my police authority today to find out exactly 264 what it is. If an officer does four hours duty a week, he is entitled to a show allowance which works out at 38p a week. If he works less than four hours a week, he is entitled to 19p a week. Many specials tell me that they do not bother to claim that allowance.
A bounty of £200 a year, which is payable on proficiency, attendance and training, as in the TA, would cost only £3 million. That should be compared with the £20 million or so which is being given as the cost of the youth training in the armed forces which was announced last week and it is equally good value for money. We should examine the bounty and a change of name. I hope that the Government will think again.
I also hope that my hon. and learned Friend will offer more hope that the training programme for which the working party report calls will be implemented by all chief constables and that the Home Office will keep a close eye on things and ensure that that happens.
There is no better time than today for the Government to start a campaign to increase our specials. Last month, Sir Kenneth Newman gave a large amount of space in his force's newspaper to a great boost for specials. Last week, the Bow Group publication by Tony Paterson and Roger Axworthy dealt with special constables. I do not agree with everything that they say, but the personal knowledge that they bring to the subject as former specials in the Metropolitan police commands respect for that publication. I am pleased that they support me with regard to a name, although the reserve force that they discuss is an elite. That is not necessarily the way in which to go about it. Having considered the problems deeply, they conclude that a bounty would help increase the numbers. I agree with them that we should set a target to double the number of special constables in, say, three years.
I hope that the Government will use the debate as a launching pad for a campaign to increase the number of specials, to train them better and to make more use of them, as the working party has urged.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) on his good fortune and discrimination in securing this debate to discuss the important subject of the special constabulary. We attach great importance to it and, as he rightly said, last year was the first in 30 years for which it has been possible to report an increase in their numbers, albeit an extremely modest one. It is, nevertheless, the first time for 30 years that the trend has been upwards rather than downwards. We welcome that and want to build upon and improve it.
Nobody doubts that the existence of an organised uniformed body of volunteers to augment the regular police is invaluable. The specials provide our police reserve and play an important part in building up good relations between the police and the public. My hon. Friend wishes to see more recruits joining the special constabulary. The Government wholeheartedly endorse what my hon. Friend said about that. Chief officers would welcome more volunteers coming forward, and in several areas they have tried imaginative ideas to encourage recruitment and to enhance the role of the specials. Constructive ideas are always welcome, especially local initiatives, because our police service and special 265 constabulary are locally based. To provide effective support to the regular force, the work of the specials must be geared to local needs.
I have read with interest the Bow Group paper to which my hon. Friend referred entitled "Extra Specials", and the Government will give further careful consideration to its recommendations. Action has already been taken on some points in the paper, such as recruitment and making more imaginative use of specials, as a result of the two recent studies of the role of the special constabulary to which my hon. Friend referred.
Two working parties were set up by the police advisory board. Both included representatives of the police staff associations and the special constabulary, as well as the local authority associations, the Home Office and Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. Both were assisted by a representative group of special constables drawn from all parts of Britain. The first working party, which reported in 1976, recommended that the special constabulary should 'continue to be organised on a local basis, but proposed changes in rank structure and uniforms and recommended that the normal retiring age for special constables should be 55.
The second working party reported in July 1981. My hon. Friend mentioned proposals for changing the name of the specials. The working party considered the suggestion that the title should be changed to police reserve. Some specials believed that that title would more clearly illustrate their role to the public and would he an aid to recruitment. Others were opposed to change, believing that the present name was well known and a source of pride. As a change of name would require legislation, the working party concluded, on balance, that there was not a strong enough case for recommending a change of name at that time, but it saw an advantage in "police reserve" being used descriptively in explaining specials' work to the public, especially in recruitment literature. I can tell my hon. Friend that the term "special constabulary—the police reserve" is reflected in the new recruitment literature that has been prepared by the Home Office and made available to forces.
The second working party concluded that there should be no major change in the role of the special constabulary. It confirmed that special constables should, after suitable training, be able to perform police duties and to exercise police powers under the supervision of regular police officers, so as to enable those officers to concentrate their experience and skill where it is most needed. Specials should also be ready to take over routine policing functions so as to free regular police officers in the event of an emergency calling for large-scale police deployment. Specials provided valuable support during the civil disturbances in the summer of 1981 when they turned out to man police stations and to carry out routine duties so that regular officers could deal with the disorder on the streets.
Clearly, there are limits to the range of duties that specials can be asked to undertake. Chief constables would not deploy them to deal with serious disorder. Much work has been done during the past three years to improve the readiness, and the ability, of the police to respond to serious disorder where it occurs. The House would agree that this work today calls for the services of highly skilled and trained regular officers.
However, to say that there are limits to what the specials can do does not suggest that their present role 266 cannot be developed. The working party encouraged more imaginative use of specials. My hon. Friend referred especially to the training of the special constabulary, and I agree that it is important. There is no longer hostility between the regular forces and the specials. Those days are, happily, over. We have been assured by the Police Federation on many occasions that that is so, and we have no reason to doubt it. The federation says that where friction occurs it is often because regular officers lack confidence in the ability or training of specials to undertake some duties.
That is why the working party emphasised practical training and offered guidance to forces in formulating training programmes for both new recruits and serving specials. It also reminded chief officers of the need to ensure that regular recruits are familiar with the role of the specials. If the special constabulary is to carry out its role effectively, there must be proper understanding between both forces of the responsibilities and the abilities of each.
The working party recommended that chief constables should exercise discretion about the normal retirement age of 55 and keep fit and able specials beyond that age. I can assure my hon. Friend that there is nothing to prevent retired regular policemen from joining the specials if they wish to do so, unless they take up a new job on retirement from the police that would make them ineligible. To prevent conflicts of interest, there is a long-standing policy that people engaged in some occupations or holders of some offices should not be eligible to join the special constabulary. These include members of the armed forces, reserves, or serving members of the Territorial Army, members of private security organisations and holders of liquor licences among others. Those who are about to retire from the police force should consider whether they might still be able to offer their policing skill in the ranks of the specials.
My hon. Friend paid some attention to the idea of a bounty. I know from his earlier concern in these matters that he attaches considerable importance to the payment of a bounty, and we have discussed this before. The working party considered this carefully and noted that the problems of recruitment and wastage that faced the special constabulary are to be found in many other voluntary organisations. Payments were not necessarily a significant factor in maintaining membership. There was evidence that some younger members of the specials would support the idea of an allowance linked with proficiency. On the other hand, the longer serving specials were generally opposed to it. They wished to maintain the entirely voluntary nature of the service and they doubted whether a proficiency allowance 'would help in improving recruitment or reducing wastage. The payment of £200 a year to each special constable — the suggestion considered—would cost £3 million. As my hon. Friend knows better than many, in the current economic climate many police budgets are tightly drawn and the working party concluded that this was not the time to introduce some form of bounty or payment. Nor would it be right to depart from the principle of shared financial responsibility, between central and local government, and make some exceptional arrangements for the payment of a bounty for special constables. I note that the authors of the Bow Group paper estimate that, under their proposals, a bounty of £250 a year would cost £25 million to £30 267 million. That would be about equivalent to the cost of an additional 1,500 regular police officers and their equipment.
I am grateful for the tribute that my hon. Friend paid to the achievement of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in increasing the regular forces in England and Wales by over 9,000 officers since May 1979. I agree that the increase in the number of regular officers has meant a great increase in the ability of police officers to deal with street crime, and to win back some of the confidence of the public in the ability of the police to protect them, that has recently been lost.
I agree with my hon. Friend that a special constable is virtually, if not entirely, as welcome on the beat to our constituents as a regular. I am certain that policing on the beat is of major importance in the fight against street crime. It is a proper use of special constables. The Government do not believe that the payment of a bounty would be the most economical use of the resources that it would take up.
My hon. Friend asked for assurances about progress in implementing working party recommendations and for a statement of the Government's attitude towards further progress. I assure him that chief officers of police are fully committed to strengthening the number of specials and making good use of them. At the end of 1982 the police advisory board reviewed the progress made in implementing the recommendations in its working party reports. The general picture that emerged was encouraging.
The majority of forces are obtaining results from their efforts to recruit more specials. Active steps are being taken by forces to bring the special constabulary to the notice of applicants for the regular police who are marginally below the standard for regular appointment. Nearly all forces now accept applicants at 18½ years of age and generally chief officers are exercising their discretion in suitable cases to retain specials beyond the normal retirement age.
The majority of forces have introduced or are considering introducing recruitment tests based on the regular police initial entrance test, but usually with a lower pass mark. A few forces feel that formal entrance tests can place otherwise suitable older applicants at a disadvantage and are using other ways to assess applicants' ability. All forces have introduced a formal 12-month probation period for new recruits or are continuing as before with regular assessments of specials throughout their service.
Many forces are now placing greater emphasis on ensuring that specials are capable of performing a wider range of duties—including, for example, the manning of casualty inquiry bureaux and the performance of station duties. The personal skills and experience of specials are being used when possible and most forces are keeping records of such skills and experience that are available to them, even though it may not be possible to use them at present. Skills reported to be especially useful have been in languages, first aid instruction and the use of communication equipment.
All forces are already using or will soon be using a training programme devised on the lines of the guidance 268 of the 1981 working party report—an example of the guidance from the centre for which my hon. Friend asked —and forces report that the introduction of more varied training has been generally welcomed by longer-serving members, who are especially pleased with the emphasis given to practical exercises.
Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary look at the special constabulary in the course of force inspections. They examine how the specials are being used and the training that they receive. The inspectorate can point out to the chief constable ways in which better use could be made of special constables or more positive efforts could be made in recruiting them, as well as advising on modernisation and diversification of the training given to them. That is an important part of the valuable job carried out by the inspectorate in assisting chief constables to achieve a relatively uniform standard of training, among other things, throughout England and Wales.
Some particular developments are worth mentioning. The home beat specials initiative in Northumbria is an imaginative way of strengthening the specials and involving communities in efforts to prevent crime and to solve local problems. There has also been emphasis on recruitment from the ethnic minority communities in the west midlands where about 100 out of a force of 800 specials are from such minorities. In general, members of the minority communities seem more willing to join the specials than the regulars, and a Home Office study group last summer encouraged forces to take positive steps to encourage further recruitment of specials from the minority communities.
As my hon. Friend said, Sir Kenneth Newman has made clear his intention to boost the number of specials and to involve them in local projects such as neighbourhood watch. It is not only in city areas that the specials can make a contribution. They can be just as important in rural areas where they live among and are in touch with the local communities. Some forces are initiating recruitment drives in co-operation with parish councils. My hon. Friend will be interested to know that the chief constable of his own area is at present considering this with the local authorities. The inspectorate keeps in touch with developments in recruitment and in the use of specials through the forces inspections to which I have referred.
I believe that all this demonstrates a real change of climate in the past few years. I know that my hon. Friend, with his experience of serving on a police authority for many years, will welcome that. There is now a great awareness of the role that the specials can play both in supporting the regular force and in harnessing community support. They are invaluable in an emergency, they share the day-to-day routine, they are out in numbers every Saturday at football grounds and they were out in strength for the marathon on Sunday in London.
The Government will continue to support and encourage the recruitment, training and imaginative use of that very valuable and dedicated force, the special constabulary.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at four minutes past Eleven o' clock.