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Lord Bradshaw (Liberal Democrat)

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider paying members of the Special Constabulary.

My Lords, before beginning this debate about the Special Constabulary I want to declare two interests. I am a member of Oxfordshire County Council and of the Thames Valley Police Authority. However, I do not speak on behalf of the police authority or the Thames Valley Police, but I shall draw on my six years' association with police authorities and some of the issues that have come to my attention during that time.

I do not want to enter into any arguments about the numbers of police officers, or where the political responsibility may lie for that, although it is interesting to note that since 1992 police numbers in England and Wales have remained reasonably constant at between 126,000 and 128,000. However, there is now great difficulty in recruitment and retention of officers, particularly in those parts of the country where housing costs are high. That problem appears to have been made a great deal worse by the loss of the housing allowance following the implementation of the Sheehy report, which was implemented at a time of industrial recession and lower housing costs. The plain fact is that there are not enough police officers and I believe that present and planned recruitment, taking into account wastage, will not bridge that gap.

Wastage of full-time police officers and the reasons for it are not part of this short debate, but they need to be dealt with. I argue that when the Government agree new pay and allowances for the police, as I am sure they will have to do in the not too distant future, they should also seek to revitalise the Special Constabulary in any deal that is made.

The number of special constables is falling. Between March 1997 and March 1999 there was a net loss of 3,380 which is 17 per cent of the total strength. Interestingly, the number of retained fire fighters is not falling, although the police and the fire service have been the subject of much more stringent training requirements and health and safety requirements in the past few years. Retained fire fighters receive some payment in return for their commitment to weekly training sessions and to answering fire calls. That amounts to around £3,000 a year, and includes a compulsory two-hour training session each week, a call-out fee of £11.42p and £5.80p an hour after they have been on duty for an hour and a quarter.

The police service is subject to great "peakiness" in demand. There is a big demand on Friday evenings and Saturdays, but there are also special events such as football matches, race meetings and pop concerts. It is my experience of many other industries that large peaks in demand are best met by part-time labour, rather than the present practice which takes place in many police services of denuding whole areas of policemen in order to provide men to cover special events, such as Royal Ascot. It would seem to me to be desirable in many cases to have more specials to draft in to cover some of those events.

A paper presented by Ian Blair, then Chief Constable of Surrey, to the ACPO conference in 1998, addressed the future of police patrol. He suggested that the staff of other agencies, suitably accredited and trained, might be used more in a policing role, particularly in extending the scope of patrolling. My colleague, Susan Kramer, at present campaigning to be elected as mayor of London, has proposals in her manifesto for a community safety constabulary to work in partnership with the police. I believe the Government have ideas about neighbourhood wardens.

A community safety constabulary, or whatever we call it, would go beyond what I am advocating in terms of a revived Special Constabulary. But we should be aiming, as part of the community safety strategies which local authorities are developing, to bring together the efforts of many people like traffic wardens, park rangers, estate wardens and street inspectors. They could have a much greater impact on vandalism, graffiti, broken street lights, blocked bus lanes, anti-social behaviour and abandoned cars. A common uniform and radio contact with the police, which is in prospect with the new radio systems becoming available, would enhance the effectiveness of such people. I believe that the police should remain in the lead in law enforcement and my proposals seek to reinforce their efforts.

There is a traditional argument that Specials value their volunteer status. Many existing Specials do and we should be grateful for their voluntary, public-spirited service, and I do not in any way wish to devalue that. However, we need to go out to a much wider catchment of potential recruits and some payment may be an effective incentive. The sums offered to retain fire fighters are not large, but they are sufficient in the town where I live to have 10 people ready to staff the local fire engine when called and in many of the towns in Oxfordshire there are 20 people who are willing to turn out when required. I believe that sort of payment might encourage people to volunteer to be special constables. I know that in the past a small bounty was offered, I believe in Dorset, without any great effect. But I am calling for a much more widely-publicised and radical initiative.

The retained fire service is also a valuable way of recruiting to the full-time service. A revived and relaunched Special Constabulary might help full-time police recruitment. It may also help in the vital area of attracting ethnic minority recruits who would be able to sample police life before entering into a career commitment.

In some businesses, such as the railways, London Underground, and so forth, employers might encourage and even be prepared to pay staff to join up as Specials. In fact the British Transport Police, with its heavy commitment on football days, would seem to be the ideal place to step up recruitment of Specials familiar with the technicalities of the railway system. Accredited football stewards and other properly trained security staff may also be potential recruits.

I realise that such proposals are not likely to be welcomed by the Police Federation. It will argue for an overhaul of wages and conditions. I accept that that is necessary and I am not, in raising the subject of the Special Constabulary, seeking to distract attention from the legitimate views of the federation in relation to pay and conditions. But we cannot wait for that.

It seems unlikely, with wastage running at current rates, particularly in London and surrounding areas, that the much-heralded increase in police numbers will be achieved. I will go so far as to say that the increases will not be achieved and that in 18 months time we will have fewer officers in many areas than we have at present. In Thames Valley, transfers out--officers going away to forces in other areas--have grown from 10 officers a year two years ago to an anticipated 30 officers this year and the figure is rising sharply. However, a radical approach to revitalising the Special Constabulary, including payment, could see 10,000 more people in uniform within 18 months at times and in places where an additional police presence is vitally necessary. I hope that the Minister tonight will be able to tell us that the Government will give this matter serious consideration.

7:45 pm
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Lord Luke (Conservative)

My Lords, your Lordships may wonder why I decided to put my name down to speak in this debate, for which we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. I congratulate him on his most interesting speech, though I do not necessarily agree with some of his conclusions.

The reason for my speaking in this debate is that for some 12 years I was a member of the City of London Special Constabulary. I served mainly as a mobile special, using my own car with another special and, most importantly, with a regular constable on board. Among other things, I remember acting as a guinea pig for the new hand-held radio, which did not work very well at the start. I helped to line the streets when President De Gaulle came to lunch at the Guildhall. I helped to get Princess Margaret's car through the crowds to Tower Pier on the occasion of her marriage to Lord Snowdon. I even participated in the arrest of some men in a stolen car (it was broken down at the time).

So my knowledge is a bit rusty; in fact, some 40 years old. But at that time, as is the case now, special constables were never used as substitutes for full-time and, most importantly, fully-trained members of the police. The Special Constabulary is, was, and should remain, a means for public-spirited people to offer their services to help police forces to carry out their duties in whatever way may be appropriate to each force while at the same time contributing to the welfare of their own communities.

The number of special constables appears, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, from the statistics that I have been given, to be falling at an alarming rate. That is particularly marked in the metropolitan area. What is the reason for that? Several probable reasons have been advanced. One is difficulty in getting time off work. I find that odd. Surely most duties for specials are likely to commence after six o'clock at night.

Another reason is the length of time spent training. That is interesting because 22 weekends, either Saturday or Sunday, are spent by the new special in training. In my day, I spent about five evenings of two hours each. No doubt I was poorly trained by current standards, but at least some of that time was spent in learning first aid and becoming qualified. Incidentally, that no longer seems to be a requirement. If my briefing on this matter is wrong, which I hope it is, I apologise. But if not, then can the Minister say why that is? I am sure that a basic knowledge of first aid is essential for a special constable.

Another reason advanced for the alarming drop is the inadequate level of expenses. However true that may be--I believe it is the case--that is not a reason for poor recruiting or retention. However, a poor level of morale in all police forces, due to poor funding, a lack of respect for the police generally, due, not least, to the Macpherson report and the way it was received by the Government, colours the general public's view of the police. There is also the almost universal portrayal of police on television as often brutal, often bent and sometimes both. In my view, that is not the main reason for such a fall in the recruitment and numbers of special constables.

There is also the seemingly inexorable rise in the national crime rate, which has been particularly noticeable this past year. However, I believe that the report of the working group on the Special Constabulary of April 1996 had it about right when it said that,

"the voluntary nature of the Specials' contribution is important, not because it saves taxpayers' money, but because the Special is a prime example of the partnership between the public and the police which underlies policing by consent"--

and that is so important. This is the only way forward. Whereas I believe that more could be done to improve the level of expenses paid to Specials, to my mind their voluntary nature is priceless and should be preserved at all costs; that means, I am afraid, no pay.

7:50 pm
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Baroness Harris of Richmond (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, before I begin, I should make your Lordships aware of my interest in policing matters. I chair a police authority and am a member of the Association of Police Authorities, as well as being a member of the National Crime Squad Service Authority, the Police Advisory Board and the Police Negotiating Board.

When we look at the question of whether special constables should be paid, we need to look at some of the conclusions and recommendations found in two reports to which I should now like to refer. The first is the Home Office Working Group on the Special Constabulary in England and Wales, which reported in 1995-96. This document defined the role of the special constable, and I should like to quote briefly from it:

"The Special Constabulary is a voluntary body designed to assist the regular Police, drawn mainly from the communities served by each local Force. Special Constables perform constabulary duties and exercise constabulary powers under the supervision of, and supported by, regular Police Officers. They are expected to achieve and maintain a level of proficiency which will enable them to assist regular officers in solving local policing problems, and thereby to enhance the overall contribution and effectiveness of their local Police Force. They are a manifest sign of the partnership between the Police and the public".

However, the thorny question of payment for the Special Constabulary has from time to time been addressed. The Home Office working group concluded that, having had a number of representations from the special constables on the topic of payment--the overwhelming majority valued their voluntary status highly--and did not want it to be changed. As my noble friend Lord Bradshaw said, Dorset piloted a scheme in 1993--a sort of bounty payment--with no conclusive results. The recommendation of the working group was simply that the regulation that prohibits payment should be repealed in order to allow forces the discretion to make payment, if they so wished. It was thought that a payment might aid retention of the Specials, but this did not seem to be the case. The current national "loss" is approximately 20 per cent, which is interesting if you compare that with the Territorial Army, which does receive an annual bounty, whose "loss" is approximately 80 per cent. I am not at all sure whether or not that is a fair comparison; it is simply an interesting one.

The second report to which I should like to refer is from Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary's thematic document, A Special Relationship, which was published in 1997 and complemented the Home Office report to which I previously referred. This report, looking into the payment of special constables, concluded that,

"there was no need to introduce such schemes at present",

but that,

"it would be remiss not to report that the issue still remains active in the minds of many younger special constables in particular".

When I used to swear in special constables--not too long ago--not one of them ever said to me, "I joined because I hope you'll pay me". Indeed, payment was never the motivator. It may be interesting to your Lordships to learn of the sort of person who joins as a special constable. Their ages range between 18½ and 55 years. In North Yorkshire, we have bankers; civil servants; local government officers; teachers; nurses; shopkeepers and shopworkers; students; young--and older--mothers (and sometimes grandmothers!); all sorts of tradesmen and women; and former members of her Majesty's forces (quite a lot of those). I could go on. I simply wanted to demonstrate the great wealth of talent among members of the special constabulary. I know that North Yorkshire is not alone in having many who hold managerial positions in commerce, industry and the public sector. Nevertheless, we have a duty to ensure that we address the problem of shortage of numbers of police officers generally, as my noble friend Lord Bradshaw rightly reminded us. The plain truth is that most police forces now rely heavily on their special constables to help to deliver policing services in the fight against crime.

It is immaterial to the officer (and the public) on the street who might be faced with an incident, whether he works 40 or 4 hours per week; whether he has a pension, sickness or disability benefits, and so on. Members of the public expect that officer dealing with that incident to do so to the best of his ability. However, in reality, the special constable might think twice before doing so because he might be faced with injury, loss of earnings or litigation; and would find himself in a very different situation from that of his regular colleagues. That is totally unacceptable. The Home Office is currently addressing this complex issue. I trust that those who have the rank and "clout" within the service will actively lobby for some form of insurance scheme for our special constables sooner rather than later.

In conclusion, I should like to share with noble Lords what happened to one special constable in North Yorkshire in 1992. Glenn Goodman had hoped to join the regular police and had served with the Specials for only a few months. On the evening of 6th June, he went out on one of his first patrols with a regular officer. Glenn was a lorry driver--a husband to Fiona; a father to young Thomas. Glenn was a happy, likeable, enthusiastic 37 year-old. He put in extra hours that night and it was almost 4 o'clock in the morning of 7th June when the two officers made a routine check on a car on the A64 near Tadcaster. Shots were fired and both men were badly wounded. The regular officer spent many weeks in hospital and has since retired from the force. Glenn died later on that Sunday evening.

I tell noble Lords this story because it helps to illustrate the selflessness and dedication that our special constables bring to their duties. No payment, no bounty, no insurance policy would have saved Glenn Goodman that night. But a recognition that we must care for and treat our special constables properly and guard their welfare thoroughly is an absolute necessity, and one that I trust your Lordships will support wholeheartedly.

7:57 pm
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The Earl of Rosslyn (Crossbench)

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for tabling this Question tonight. I should also like to declare an interest as a serving police officer with Thames Valley Police.

The Police Act states that,

"a Special Constable enjoys all the powers, privileges and protections of a Constable in the police area for which he or she has been appointed".

They also face the same dangers and challenges and their families the same anxieties and pressures. We have every reason to be grateful to them.

Demands for police services are rising and, if our strategic aims and performance targets are to be met, we need to develop a culture that engages with the members of the volunteer force and the community at large. Volunteers not only reinforce the links between the service and the public but also allow communities to develop their capabilities within the framework of policy authority.

In 1962 the Royal Commission on the Police remarked that,

"the recruitment of special constables is of great value in promoting relations between the police and the public".

That is no less true today, though the context of policing is somewhat different. In recent years, the duties of special constables have become more varied and more demanding. Traditionally viewed as a reserve to augment police strength, today they undertake general patrol, police special events, work alongside neighbourhood watch schemes and act as neighbourhood special constables working in defined geographic areas.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, in recent years their numbers have fallen from over 20,000 in 1995 to a little under l6,500 in 1999. During that period, only six out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales recorded a net increase in numbers. One force recorded a reduction of 45 per cent, while at the other end of the scale increases of 38 per cent were achieved in Dorset and North Wales.

In 1994 the Home Office research and planning unit found that the turnover of special constables was in the order of one in five per year. For those not joining the regular force or moving out of the area completely, the average length of service was about four years. The majority gave "personal commitments" as the reason for leaving, but in interview it emerged that resignations were in fact linked to some aspect of the work itself. Based on calculations made in 1995 the estimated costs of training, recruiting and equipping a special constable are about £1,500. Such levels of wastage are therefore damaging in more than one sense.

It seems to me that the first step in achieving a committed, motivated Special Constabulary with low wastage rates is to ensure that the right recruitment decisions are made both by the applicant and by the force. Thereafter, integrating new recruits, managing and deploying them effectively and ensuring that they feel appreciated are critical. These are, after all, volunteers who on average contribute more hours per week for a longer period of service than those undertaking other forms of voluntary activity.

However, it is also clear that the number volunteering purely as a community service is falling, with a proportionate increase in those expecting at least a mutual benefit to themselves and the force. Research on volunteering for the 1995 Make a Difference report suggested that this is a common trend in the voluntary sector. Volunteers, especially the young, who are, after all, the most significant source of new recruits, increasingly expect to benefit from their voluntary service in terms of their own personal development. The police have much to offer here both to the special constables and to their employers, although I wonder whether we have done enough to market those latter benefits and to seek reciprocal support from employers themselves.

Adequate training and resources are also necessary to an effective Special Constabulary but they are not in themselves sufficient to make it flourish. The attitudes of regular officers are fundamental. Specials value feeling part of the police team and this can best be achieved by integrating them fully into the operational effort of the service. This can often be realised by attaching them to a specific team of regular officers. There is evidence from the Metropolitan Police that where volunteers feel valued and see themselves as part of the local policing effort wastage is reduced.

Many volunteers will have times when the demands of paid employment or domestic circumstances prevent them reporting for duty. Increased flexibility over working patterns may help to retain valuable Specials who feel under pressure from the demands of their other lives.

A report by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary in 1997, to which the noble Baroness referred, found that successful performance was directly and consistently related to the involvement of regular officers in leading these volunteers and to the participation of Special Constabulary staff in decisions about deployment and tasking. The 1996 Home Office working group on the Special Constabulary, which has also been referred to, remarked on the need for new regular constables to be taught adequately about the Special Constabulary and to begin working alongside it with an understanding of its voluntary nature and role.

In all of this it has been found that volunteers respond to effective leadership and good management which, with sensitivity, exploits what they have to offer. But would payment also help? The overwhelming majority of Specials who responded to the 1996 working group valued their voluntary status highly and did not want that to be changed. This has already been mentioned. The voluntary nature of the Specials' contribution is important because it exemplifies the partnership between police and public that underlines the principle of policing by consent. That point was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Luke. I believe that volunteering should be acknowledged as having its own intrinsic value. It seems to me important that a special constable joins with that as his or her primary motivation, not personal financial gain.

In conclusion, the oft repeated accusation that the Special Constabulary provides policing on the cheap is, I believe, ill conceived. It fails to take account of the positive links created between police service and public as a result. We should be open-minded about all recruitment strategies but perhaps as much can be achieved by valuing and supporting our special constable colleagues as by paying them.

8:04 pm
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Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate (Labour)

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former president of the Police Superintendents' Association. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for tabling this timely Unstarred Question this evening. The police service is going through a difficult period. That is a cyclical process. In my 35 years in the police force I have experienced difficult and good times.

It may surprise noble Lords to hear that I acquired my first knowledge of the Special Constabulary after I joined the police service when I was working in Jarrow on Tyneside. I had completed about six months' service at that time. I had not really concerned myself with the Specials as I was too busy getting to know the regulars. One night I was assaulted in the bus station at Jarrow. I lay in the gutter and I was in some difficulty until a bus driver jumped out of his cab and came to my assistance. He was like the cavalry as far as I was concerned in that he rescued me. I always remember that incident as it was the first major assault to which I was subjected. I suffered one or two subsequent assaults, but that first assault stuck in my mind. I discovered that the bus driver was a special constable.

The numbers in the Special Constabulary appear to fluctuate between about 16,000 and 20,000 officers at any one time. They constitute a tremendous fund of allies in the field. Specials have families and they are good ambassadors for the police service. I am sure that police officers are aware of the value of the Special Constabulary.

This evening we are discussing whether we should pay Specials for their service. I used to be an instructor at a police training school where Specials were trained. The quality of those Specials was extremely high, certainly in Durham where I began my service. I have a high regard for the people who provide that service. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, has stolen my thunder as I had intended to speak at some length about special constable Glenn Goodman. However, she has already done so and has paid tribute to that officer. I, too, pay tribute to him. That is the serious side of the service. On Friday and Saturday nights many Specials suffer the kind of assault that I suffered and give selfless service. We should pay tribute to that.

The important point to note is that Specials give their time to the police service. I have spoken to many Specials over the years and my impression is that they do not do the job for money. The last thing they want is payment. They simply want to provide a service and to help out where they can. As has been said, many people join the Specials simply to get a flavour of policing before they join the regular force. There is nothing wrong with that, but it results in a certain amount of wastage in that the regular service benefits from the Specials' loss. However, I must emphasise the important point that Specials are allies in the community. They should quite rightly be distinguished from the regulars. Understandably, regular officers feel in some respects slightly threatened in the sense that they are fully trained while Specials are not trained to the same extent. However, I believe that the vast majority of policemen value the service that the Specials provide.

How can we retain the Specials? The big problem is not so much recruiting as trying to ensure that they do not leave once they have been recruited. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, that the way to prevent that wastage and to ensure that they do not leave is to make them feel valued and part of the team. That requires the establishment of a good relationship with them, both on and off duty.

The cost of a Special is fairly minimal; it costs about £1,800 to recruit and train a Special, and thereafter the cost is about £600 or £700 per annum. They provide an extremely useful service, particularly in policing special events. As a divisional commander I would have been lost without the help and partnership of the Special Constabulary which turns out in force and does an excellent job. Unlike the duties of the fire service and the Army, policing constitutes a constant battle, a constant war. The members of the fire service and the Army can stand down while waiting for the next fire or the next war. Policing is not like that; it is different. We need people to come into the service for the right reasons.

I remember talking to someone in the street and trying to recruit him, for whatever reason. I said, "Why don't you join the Specials?" He said, "Half the police force are bare-faced liars"--I was quite taken aback--and then he said, "And the rest of them have moustaches or beards". I gave up the task of trying to recruit him.

What has been said is important: we need to value special constables and we need to encourage them to join for the right reasons. I do not think that payment plays a part in that.

8:10 pm
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Lord Dholakia (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Bradshaw for introducing the debate. What he said made a lot of sense. How else would we have discovered the hidden qualities of the noble Lord, Lord Luke, in his role as a special constable? I envy some of the very exciting tasks he has performed. The only area where I disagree concerns the matter of payment. If I were a chief constable, I would certainly have handed him a brown envelope if he had refused any kind of payment.

I served as a member of the Sussex Police Authority for a number of years. It became clear to me that many chief constables concentrate their operations in urban areas where problems are acute. Much of the policing strategies were demand based, almost always reactive and had considerable resource implications.

Over the years, the policing of our towns and cities has changed immensely. Fewer police officers are now to be seen in our rural areas. According to Home Office figures, the shire counties have some of the lowest numbers of officers per 100,000 people. The Government have a high profile strategy in fighting crime. Unfortunately this is not reflected in the number of police officers required for the purpose. But that is not the subject of the debate.

We have a great tradition that in many areas of our public life we rely on those who are prepared to offer their services for the cause they believe in. Many of our voluntary organisations, including charities, depend on volunteers, who provide specialist knowledge and help. The police constabularies are no exception. The Special Constabulary is a voluntary body designed to assist the regular force. It reflects a cross-section of the community because its members are drawn from local areas.

My noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond has rightly pointed out the nature of our Specials, who perform police duties and exercise police powers under the guidance and supervision of regular officers.

Over the years, recruitment to our police service has seen dramatic changes. Many of the cadet schemes, which were the backbone of recruitment and training, have disappeared. However, it has remained a feature of our policing that special constables have retained their status and identity. They are a partnership between the police and the public. More importantly, they are a feature that reinforces our belief that independence and public consent is more evident when we see volunteers as special constables providing valuable service to the community.

But recent trends in recruitment and retention of police officers is a cause for concern. This is more so in relation to special constables. In a Commons Written Answer in Hansard on 28th February 2000, it was stated that the number of special constables who were recruited between September 1998 and September 1999 was 2,341. However, the number who left the constabulary totalled 3,386. The public has a legitimate concern about the falling numbers. In September 1999, there was 1,694 fewer police officers than at the last general election.

Even more worrying is the trend in relation to the fall in the number of front-line police constables. The Audit Commission report stated that for the first time in five years there was a decrease in the overall average number of police constables available for ordinary duties. The low level of police recruitment is making it harder for the police to meet the Government's 10-year target for increasing recruitment and retention of officers from ethnic minority communities. The British Crime Survey 1998 revealed that knowledge about special constables was particularly low among these communities.

Of course I welcome the initiatives taken to increase the number of Specials. In an increasingly competitive world, where contract culture is an important element, volunteers find it difficult to take time off work. Employers need to be convinced about the value of the work done by Specials and to recognise that such staff should be released.

I was able to study the HMIC report of 1997 about police forces, the Special Constabulary and the Neighbourhood Watch. The importance of the Special Constabulary is highlighted. It states:

"Demand for police services is rising faster than the available resources. If strategic aims and performance targets are to be achieved, the service needs to develop a performance culture which will take advantage of the potential not only of regular officers and civilian support staff employees but also members of the volunteer force and the community at large. It is the view of HMI that force performance is enhanced by harnessing the support of and working with the community in partnership".

I wholly commend this statement; it goes to the core of our policing matters. I scanned the report to see whether there was any mention that payment of a kind would assist recruitment and, above all, assist retention. Unfortunately, there was no such mention.

I then turned to the report of the working group on the Special Constabulary published by the Home Office, which has been quoted in the debate by many noble Lords. It gave some attention to the basic question of remunerative payment to Specials in recognition of their services. I think that we all subscribe to the view of the working party--endorsed by the noble Lord, Lord Luke--that the voluntary nature of the Specials' contribution is profoundly important, not because it saves expenditure by the taxpayer but because the Special is a prime example of the partnership between the public and the police.

In a response to this report, the Police Federation also concluded that it is strongly opposed to the payment of a bounty. The point at issue is that police and policing issues are very much in the public eye. My noble friend Lord Bradshaw is right; the issue of paying members of the Special Constabulary will not go away. Is it not time that we revisited the whole matter relating to payments to special constables? It is also important that the matter is not left simply to the constabulary and the federation, but that the public has a say. The independence of and public consent for our police is the envy of the world. Let us ensure that by adequate rewards, the special constables continue this noble tradition. Receiving a payment is a small part of this equation.

8:17 pm
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Viscount Bridgeman (Conservative)

My Lords, I am sure that we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for initiating the debate. It is a tribute to the composition of this House that it can attract to this kind of debate a former special constable, a serving police officer and a former president of the Police Superintendents' Association.

There is agreement from all sides of the House on the invaluable role which special constables play, not least in the interface which they form between public and police. A superficial comment might be, "Why can't a job well done be recognised in its remuneration?" But of course the answer is not as simple as that, as has been shown today. The case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, deserves a great deal of respect.

But there are some considerations as to why this should not come about. There has, for instance, historically been a rivalry between Regulars and Specials, greater in some forces than in others, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie. I understand that there is a feeling among some Regulars that if Specials are paid, they will divert work which would otherwise be done by Regulars who would earn overtime.

But the overwhelming consideration--it is a gratifying one--that has come through in so many speeches is that there still exists in the community the concept of service to the community. Specials are proud of the job they do and they appreciate the dignity, if one can put it like that, of being truly volunteers and of doing the job for no reward, other than a very limited reimbursement of expenses.

It is noteworthy that the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents' Association, together with the special constables' own body, are all opposed not only to pay but to the bounty system. Special constables seek training and equipment on a par with regular forces, and recognition of this in the uniform, which is now identical to that of regular police officers. I gather that the only differentiation is in the numbering.

We are having this debate against a background of seriously falling numbers among special constables. The figure of 17.3 per cent between 1995 and 1999 has been mentioned. I am proud that my own county of Hampshire is one of the half a dozen or so referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn. It has spectacularly bucked the trend and shows an increase in special constables from 698 to 760 over the same period--an increase of 8.5 per cent--and that, it should be noted, is after a series of forced redundancies, common to a good many forces, due to existing members failing fitness tests.

This success is attributed by the force to an intensive recruitment drive, to the provision of good information packs, to obtaining favourable coverage in local newspapers and on radio and television, and to--the most recent innovation--an imaginatively produced website. Added to that is close liaison with the employers of recruits. A full-time inspector is assigned to the special constable force. But at the end of the day, the special constables have the assurance that they have the same training, including training in the use of CS gas and the long baton, the same equipment, the same fitness requirements and the same uniform. They are integrated into the Regulars' duties and they have identical powers of arrest. Most significantly, they are also aware that they can perform some duties--for instance, in the case of Hampshire, in under-cover drugs enforcement--which at the end of the day simply would not be covered owing to lack of resources. So this is a force which shows what can be done with recruitment if the problem is addressed with vigour and imagination.

This is not a party political matter--the noble Lord, Lord Bach, will be particularly pleased to hear that--and we congratulate the Government on the recent recruiting initiatives which have been launched and which are being taken up by local forces. I took the opportunity to look at websites relating to special constables. There are several very good ones; Suffolk and West Yorkshire being two examples. The West Yorkshire website showed a day in the life of a special constable. If that does not turn on an adventurous recruit, I do not know what will.

If there is a point which we would make from these Benches it is about the conclusions arising from the Home Office review conducted during 1995 and 1996 under the initiative of my right honourable friend Mr David Maclean. That made a number of recommendations, including a uniform system of allowances, improved personnel administration, and attention to special constables' welfare, such as arrangements for sick pay and a system of uprating of allowances in line with that for regular officers. A number of consultation papers have been issued and we from these Benches urge that those should be given high priority.

Perhaps I may sound a note of caution. The Government have recently announced a £12 million grant for rural neighbourhood watch. We suggest that serious consideration should be given if special constables are to be incorporated into that scheme. There are hazards and dangers. The matter should be considered very carefully.

The institution of special constables, with its ethos of voluntary service to the community, is a particularly British concept. We are on these Benches are not in favour of payment to special constables. We look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

8:23 pm
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Lord Bach (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)

My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for initiating this important debate. As the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, said, seldom can there have been such a distinguished group of speakers--perhaps apart from the noble Viscount and myself--who have had such involvement with special constables. There were three members--a past member in one case--of police authorities. If I mention in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, I know that the other two will understand. The noble Baroness's reputation goes before her as far as concerns this matter. We heard from two senior police officers--one still serving, one not serving, but both equally distinguished. First and foremost is the former special constable himself, the noble Lord, Lord Luke, whose story about stopping the stolen car that had broken down has, I am sure, had many an outing on many an occasion. I look forward to hearing the full story at some time in the future.

The Special Constabulary is made up of more than 15,000 men and women in England and Wales who give up their spare time to help police their local communities for the benefit of the residents. They provide an excellent example of the police and the public working together to tackle crime. Special constables are fully trained to assist the work of regular officers and are able to carry out many of the police officer's duties, providing a high level of support. This requires a significant commitment from volunteers, yet they offer their services free, despite the inherent dangers associated with police work. The tragic case of special constable Glenn Goodman, referred to by two of the speakers in the debate, proves that beyond doubt.

In return I can say that the Government value that commitment and are themselves totally committed to maintaining the Special Constabulary as an important part of the police service. An example of that is the Government's Ferrers Trophy, which is awarded annually to the special constable of the year from nominations submitted by the police forces in England and Wales. I am sure that nearly all Members of the House will know why it is called the Ferrers Trophy. For those who do not, it is named after the very distinguished Member of this House, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who was a Home Office Minister in 1993 when the trophy was inaugurated. Noble Lords will be pleased to know that the competition for that prestigious award is as strong as ever.

No one is prepared to put up with unlawful and anti-social behaviour. People should be able to walk down the street with their children without having to fear for their safety. Special constables play a vital role in making the whole country a safer place in which to live and work. The Government have huge admiration for the work of special constables. They demonstrate in a practical way the part citizens can play in maintaining law and order. This debate gives me the opportunity to express the Government's gratitude to those volunteers whose service is so selfless, a word that has already been used in this debate. Every special constable should be proud of his or her contribution.

The question of whether special constables should be paid has been an issue for a number of years. We have heard about the Dorset experiment. A bounty was paid from existing police funds to see whether it would improve recruitment, retention and morale. The results were inconclusive. I shall not say more about that. A working group was set up by the previous Government in 1995-96. It reviewed the Special Constabulary and, as part of its remit, considered the arguments for and against a bounty. The then Minister wrote an open letter to all special constables whose names were on the data base inviting comments for the group's consideration.

As we have already heard, of the special constables who made representations about payment, the overwhelming majority valued their voluntary status highly and did not want it to be changed. The working group's conclusion was that the voluntary nature of the special constable's contribution is profoundly important, not because it saves expenditure by the taxpayer, but because the special constable is a prime example of the partnership between the public and the police which underlies policing by consent. The group thought it essential that a special constable joins with that as his or her primary motivation, and not for personal financial gain. After considering the group's report, Ministers decided not to reintroduce the bounty.

That view has been supported by recent research conducted on behalf of the Home Office. Special constables who were interviewed did not consider that payment was an important issue. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the development of the Special Constabulary is kept under constant review by a standing committee. It has developed from the working group and is made up of representatives from the appropriate associations. It meets every six months to monitor developments. The payment of special constables is an issue that is reviewed from time to time. However, the Government are of the view that there is insufficient evidence to show that paying special constables for their service would have any effect on recruitment or retention, and we have no plans to do so at the present time.

I have listened carefully to the arguments put forward this evening. They have been moderate and sensible, whatever their point of view. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for having had the courtesy to send me six or seven days ago a full summary of what he intended to say in opening the debate.

We remain convinced that paying special constables would not have any real effect on recruitment or retention. Comparisons have been made with the role of a retained fire-fighter who receives payment. I make two distinctions. The first is that a special constable is part of a day-to-day resource in which the volunteer generally agrees his or her times for duty, often on a Friday or Saturday night when a more visible police presence is required, while retained fire-fighters make up a reserve force with its members waiting on-call. Another distinction, perhaps, is that the Special Constabulary is an additional resource over and above the establishment of a police force, while retained fire-fighters are part of a fire brigade's establishment.

The Special Constabulary is already being used by many applicants as a taster for the regular force, and we are not convinced that payment would see increased numbers come forward. We can see the attraction of encouraging ethnic minority recruits to join the regulars via the Special Constabulary but there is no evidence to suggest that paying special constables would achieve this.

It is true that the number of special constables has fallen in recent years. All noble Lords have spoken about that. One of the reasons is that police forces have raised their standards of recruitment generally. To reflect that, special constables are now used on a wider range of duties, many similar to those performed by regular officers. It was true sometimes in the past that special constables would be equipped with a regular officer's cast-offs and would receive not as much training as they do now. While their contribution was significant then, the Special Constabulary was nevertheless considered by too many to be something of a second-class force. Today's Specials are much more professional, with the latest personal protective equipment and much better training.

To reflect the higher standards, the entry criteria have been strengthened, so a somewhat higher proportion of applicants fail to meet the standards than was the case a few years ago. In recent years there have also been open evenings at which the full details of being a special constable have been explained. That may have to some extent put off some would-be applicants. As the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, said, it may just not have suited them or the constabulary that they sought to join.

The police forces in England and Wales have improved their management of special constables in recent years. I am glad to be able to tell the House that later this year the Government will bring in regulations for special constables which, among other things, will improve entitlement to out-of-pocket expenses and provide better sick leave pay to reimburse loss of remuneration following an injury on duty. We shall also provide a free legal advice and representation scheme for specials who are the subject of complaints, disciplinary action or civil or criminal proceedings. We believe that those measures will help to address any dissatisfaction that some special constables may have with their conditions of service rather than the payment of a bounty.

The noble Lord, Lord Luke, raised a question about first aid. I do not want to be absolutely firm about this, but my understanding is that special constables still receive a basic first aid training. I promise to find out the details and write to the noble Lord. I do not want to be too dogmatic.

The Special Constabulary has seen radical change in recent years. It provides its regular colleagues with a high level of vital support. The vast majority of special constables want to put something back into society without reward, and in return they expect the time that they give to the police to be valued and used to good effect. I hope that some of them at least will hear about this debate and will not be able to go away with any impression other than that they are highly valued by Members on all sides of this House who have spoken. The Government, in their turn, and the police service have the utmost respect for the volunteers and fully value their contribution. We are continually looking to improve their conditions of service.

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Lord Burlison (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure for five minutes.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.35 to 8.40 p.m.]