Special Constables

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 22 October 2001.

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Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield 2:30, 22 October 2001

If he will make a statement on the number of special constables available for duty in England and Wales.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The number of serving specials was 12,738 at 31 March 2001. The Government are committed to increasing the special constabulary, and we are currently carefully considering improvements in support services and the recruitment and retention of specials.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his answer. As he will know from the response to Question 6, there are more than 1,600 fewer police officers than there were in 1997—but is it not also the case that there are 7,136 fewer special constables now than there were then? Does he recall the Prime Minister's pledge to put

"thousands more police officers on the beat"?

That clearly has not happened. Is not the pledge—like all pledges given by the Prime Minister on matters domestic—just a load of hot air?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

There is no hot air in the commitment that we have given to raise 130,000 full-time equivalent officers over the next two years. By next summer, we will have a record number of officers, and we will complement that with a recruitment and retention drive for specials. That will form part of our development of the role of the community and of active citizenship in tackling crime and disorder and, in particular, antisocial behaviour.

Yes, I am aware of the figures relating to specials. They were given to me, specially and privately, by Miss Widdecombe, then the main Conservative party spokesman, at the last Home Office Question Time just before the summer recess.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Labour, Normanton

I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about the increase in the number of special constables. Does he agree that it would be a great advantage if specially trained special constables worked with community groups on such issues as antisocial behaviour orders and matters dealt with by Crimewatch groups? Might that not help to reduce crime and bring some satisfaction to our communities?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I entirely agree. That would be an excellent way not just to mobilise the community to tackle crime and disorder, but to ensure that members of the community constitute an in-depth part of the solution and can reach out, having been trained, authorised and regulated by the police service. It would also be an excellent way of using the time and talent of people who may have retired early, and of making the community feel that it is indeed part of the solution. We are currently having constructive dialogue about resources, and I hope that we shall be able to recruit a large number of specials who will fulfil exactly the role that my hon. Friend has outlined.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I know how much specials are appreciated throughout the country, just as full-time officers are. At times of increased tension such as this, the more visible policing that can be provided through the use of both specials and regular officers is hugely appreciated, not least in areas where there could be a threat to minority communities, or where there are very mixed communities.

How does the Home Secretary plan to respond to the suggestion by police authorities and chief constables that extra policing requires additional resources from the Government? Given that the extra cost of policing in the Metropolitan police area is estimated to be £1 million a week, what will the Government do for this year's budget? How will they ensure that we continue to recruit both full-time and special constables in greater numbers, and are able to pay for them?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I, too, have read the figures that keep emerging from either the Metropolitan police or the Metropolitan Police Authority showing how much costs are escalating. I would never wish to intervene in the operational freedom of a chief constable or commissioner, but we must retain some sort of balance in what is spent by the Metropolitan police and the 43 authorities across England and Wales.

I am discussing with colleagues the amount that can be allocated not just to police forces but to security generally, including provision for civil contingencies. We will ensure that resources are made available both to do that job and to ensure that alternatives, such as specials or their equivalent, are available. That will enable us better to provide facilities as well as guaranteeing the safety and security of people in their own homes and streets, which remain an absolute priority.