HC Deb 20 March 1997 vol 292 cc1064-5
6. Mr. Sheerman

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made in attracting new recruits for the position of special constable. [19787]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

Between 1991 and 1995, the special constabulary increased from 15,000 to 20,000. A total of £10 million of central Government grant has been made available to help police forces to improve their training, equipment and recruitment of special constables.

Mr. Sheerman

The Minister knows that the Opposition believe that special constables play a special part in bringing law and order to our streets. We want the number of special constables to be increased. In 1992, the Government promised to recruit more special constables. In the past year, they have thrown £4 million at advertising, but have ended up with fewer special constables than they started with.

Instead of paying for glitzy advertising, is it not time that we put money into people's pockets to give them a reasonable return for being a special constable and working for their community? A better recruitment drive would be to spend less on advertising and to put a bit of money in a special constable's pocket.

Mr. Maclean

That shows that the hon. Gentleman is not in touch with the special constabulary, whose cause he claims to espouse. Every time we ask special constables whether they want any form of payment, reward or bounty for what they do, the answer is an almost unanimous no. That view was expressed when we carried out an exercise to boost all aspects of the training and recruitment of special constables last year.

Expenditure on the regular police force is now a record £7.3 billion. The amounts that we have spent on recruiting officers for the specials are modest in comparison. If we had not spent that money, the strength of the special constabulary would have dropped, which is not what we want. Through our advertising campaign, we have managed to maintain numbers in the specials—although 13 per cent. join the regular force each year, which is also good news.

Mrs. Peacock

Can my right hon. Friend say how much is now available for the recruitment and training of special constables throughout the United Kingdom, and how much has recently been allocated to West Yorkshire?

Mr. Maclean

I am delighted to say that we have recently made available £10 million specifically to aid recruitment of special constables, and to improve training and equipment. We recognise that those who volunteer for the special constabulary are making one of the greatest potential sacrifices that any volunteer can make in this country. It is a noble calling. The money that we have allocated is improving the special constabulary, and all forces are grateful for it.

West Yorkshire received nearly £130,000 last year, and last week I was pleased to be able to allocate a further £127,000 to it. That will build on the considerable success that West Yorkshire has had with its specials—along with the increased number of regulars that it has had since 1979—and on its success over the past few years in lowering the level of all kinds of crime in the area, including violent crime.