HC Deb 12 July 1999 vol 335 cc16-8
12. Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

What measures are being taken to increase recruitment to the special constabulary. [89221]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kate Hoey)

We have supported the police forces' recruitment campaigns by holding a "Specials' Week" during which I and a number of my ministerial colleagues attended events held by forces around the country to highlight and promote the service provided by special constables. To complement the activities, which were held during January, some forces received local press and advertising funded by the Home Office at a cost of £500,000. In addition, the Home Office has produced a recruitment video, a series of posters, and a recruitment brochure for the forces.

Mr. Russell

Does the Minister accept that that support has not been very successful, bearing in mind that the number of specials has fallen by 3,250 since the Government came into office? If that haemorrhaging continues at the same rate, by the end of this Parliament, the reduction will be nearly 40 per cent. Is there a place for the special constabulary in the modern police force? If so, is it not time that the Government did something positive about that?

Kate Hoey

The hon. Gentleman is right in that the specials play a very important role in our police force. We have done as much as possible to ensure that the police are given help to recruit them. Although he is right to say that the number of specials has recently slightly decreased, I should point out that they are now trained to a sophisticated level and are used for a much wider variety of duties. Rather than just, as used to be perceived, helping out at fetes, and so on, they are now used in a variety of expertise policing. They bring their own skills to the job. They are very important indeed. We want people from all walks of life to join the specials, because they are a very good practical example of police and public working together.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman congratulates the chief constable in his area, because, in that area, the specials have continued to do extremely well and are recruiting with increasing success. I hope that he will send out a message to all his constituents, encouraging them to join the specials, because they can give a very good service to the public.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

I agree with what has been said about the excellent work of the specials and the depth of their interest and commitment. However, does my hon. Friend agree that the fundamental problem in becoming a special is the need to take time off work, and that there is a need to mount a proper campaign—perhaps alongside the Territorial Army and school governors—to persuade employers of the value of that activity? That would encourage people to put themselves forward for that interesting and rewarding activity.

Kate Hoey

My hon. Friend is right. We are considering all methods of bringing more people into the specials. We want to work with employers so that they give support by making available the time that is needed for training. We want there to be more specials. If hon. Members have any ideas that might be used to recruit specials, we shall be happy to work with them on those ideas. All of us together can increase not just the number of specials but the important role that they play in the police service.

Mr. Edward Gamier (Harborough)

Can the hon. Lady, for whom I have the highest regard, tell me how many additional special constables will be needed to police hunt saboteurs now that the Prime Minister has made an announcement about the banning of hunting?

Kate Hoey

The hon. and learned Gentleman will know that such matters will be looked into when a Bill—of whatever sort, and whoever it is introduced by—is discussed by the House.