HC Deb 24 March 2004 vol 419 cc866-8
2. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con)

What discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on the number of special constables in Wales.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about matters affecting Wales. Together with police officers and community safety officers, special constables play an important part in modern-day policing, and the Government have recently announced plans to increase their numbers.

Mr. Amess

The Minister will know that there is great concern among the public about the lack of visibility of those responsible for law enforcement in this country. In view of that, and the fact that the number of Welsh special constables has been cut by 50 per cent. since 1997, is the Minister content? If he is not, what are he and his Department doing about it?

Mr. Touhig

The Government have launched a national television campaign to recruit extra specials, but in Wales we have a record number of police constables, and we also have 126 community support officers. We are pushing forward with a recruitment drive for specials, as I said, but it ill behoves an Opposition Member to comment on police numbers, because when the leader of his party was Home Secretary, police numbers declined by 1,000.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab)

Representing a Welsh constituency, and knowing what goes on in Wales, may I ask whether my hon. Friend is aware of the successful launch of an initiative by North Wales police to recruit more special constables? Its target is 25 new recruits a year, and is he aware that it is on target to meet that figure?

Mr. Touhig

Yes, I am aware of the efforts made by North Wales police. Specials play a key role in representing their local communities in the police service, gathering important community intelligence to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour. In addition to 588 specials, we now have 7,366 police officers in Wales, together with 125 community safety officers, which is a record.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con)

There are only 588 special constables in the whole of Wales, and I was disappointed by the Minister's rather complacent answer. Is he still prepared to maintain that nobody in his Department did anything to prompt the letter from the chief constable to me from which he quoted last time we had Welsh questions—nobody?

Mr. Touhig

That is a grave and serious allegation, and there is no basis at all for it. I made the point to the hon. Gentleman in the last Welsh questions that my right hon. Friend had nothing to do with the letter from the chief constable, and I reiterate that that letter had nothing to do with the Wales Office. I urge him to withdraw that remark immediately.

Mr. Wiggin

Can I withdraw a question, Mr. Speaker? The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety admitted that the views of the chief constable of North Wales were contrary to Government policy. The wife of the deputy chief constable of North Wales has called for a Home Office inquiry into the way in which the chief constable handled allegations against her husband that may have led to his suicide attempt. Will the Minister support her call—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That has nothing to do with the question before us.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab)

The issue of special constables was raised by a very able young constituent of mine called Alistair during a recent visit by Baroness Scotland to Pencoed school, as part of the big conversation. While I applaud the work that is now going on to recruit special constables, will my hon. Friend join me in stressing the element of partnership? It is not only special constables but community support officers, the increasing numbers of police and the community who have a role in making the sort of communities that we all want.

Mr. Touhig

As I have travelled around Wales, I have been greatly encouraged by community activities involving the police service and other organisations, community groups in particular, aimed at building stronger and better communities and overcoming some of the types of antisocial behaviour that many of our communities face. I pay tribute to the police service for the important part they play in that.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)

Special constables in my area are aware of the greater burden being put on them with very little reward. That is not surprising, considering the appalling financial settlement that Dyfed-Powys police received in the latest police financial settlement. Will the Minister comment on that?

Mr. Touhig

I do not believe that Dyfed-Powys had a bad settlement at all. Funding for the police properly remains a top priority for the Government, and there has been an increase of £403 million, or 4.2 per cent. in cash terms, for 2004–05. The police service faces considerable demands on its work force in terms of the responsibilities they carry out, but the Government, working in partnership with our colleagues in the Assembly and with local authorities, have made sure that the police service is well funded.