HL Deb 24 January 1980 vol 404 cc548-52

4.6 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [The Police Negotiating Board for the United Kingdom]:

Lord INGLEWOOD moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 12, at end insert ("or special constables").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move this amendment and, with the permission of the House, I shall speak to all three amendments together and so, I hope, save time. In any case, I wish to be brief. I move these amendments with two purposes in mind: the first is to do justice to special constables, the volunteer element in our police force, which at present this Bill does not do. Secondly, to give the Minister a chance of appearing rather less inflexible than he did when this matter was raised last week. There are many stages to come before this Bill reaches the statute book, and if the noble Lord says he will look at the amendment again or if any recommendations of the working party, which is about to sit, come to the same conclusions as these amendments, then I hope that the noble Lord can say that legislation will be introduced without a long waiting period, which could be some years if we have to wait for a general Bill. In those circumstances, I would ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

The instinct of your Lordships' House is to be fair, and after all the efforts made recently in the interests of the guerrillas in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia with blood on their hands (and who can hardly accurately be described as on the side of law and order) it seems strange here that the Government should treat our special constables, whose morale is low at this time, as second class members of the Police Service. They take the same obligations, and accept the same risks, as their regular colleagues; but, under the Bill as now drafted, they are allowed no representation on this board; their interests other than pay are the same as those of their regular colleagues.

Last week the Minister attempted to make out that a special constable was different from other classes of police officers because he volunteered for service with a particular force. I should like to ask: how is this different from regulars who volunteer with a particular force? I could not see his argument. He also said special constables were "under the operational control of their own chief constables, and in sense therefore their interests are looked after". I fail to see why that argument should apply to special constables alone.

In the opinion of some who are knowledgeable, unless something drastic is done quickly, in about four years' time the Special Constabulary in this country will cease to exist as an effective national force. There is one force in this country where 12 or so years ago, the membership strength was something like 3,500; now it is 350. I quote that one example as an illustraton of the decline in numbers which is happening all over the country. I have no personal interest in this matter to declare. I feel that the Government and chief constables together must take their share of the blame for this decline and I will listen with interest to the Minister's reply, I beg to move.


My Lords, although I am not able to support the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, in moving these amendments, he has performed a service, not only today, but on two occasions last week, in raising points concerning special constables, who indeed perform a very valuable service and who form a most useful part of the Police Service as a whole. One certainly hopes that we can look forward to an increase in their numbers in the future.

Is the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, able to help the House by indicating whether any representations have been made recently by special constables themselves in seeking representation? The Minister told us last week about the working party, in reply to a question put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and he explained to your Lordships that it is at this very moment setting about the business of looking at the whole question of the future of special constables.

I suppose we have no means of knowing when that working party will make its report, but if it were to make a recommendation along the lines that special constables should have some special form of representation, either by means of a representative body or in some other way, I wonder whether the Minister might be able to say, even at this juncture, whether he would be able to look at any such recommendation sympathetically with a view to making any appropriate recommendations to Parliament at an early stage. That, I think, would be helpful to your Lordships. It might also be appropriate, if the Minister were able to give such an assurance, for the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, in those circumstances to seek to withdraw his amendment.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Inglewood that justice on all occasions should be done to special constables, who fulfil such a valuable role in helping to keep law and order in this country. I also agree with my noble friend that the situation with regard to the Special Constabulary at the moment gives rise to considerable concern. I think this was very much in the forefront of the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Boston, when he said, quite rightly, that my noble friend had done a service in making some pretty trenchant comments on this subject last week, and again today in moving these amendments. But I do not think that the way to assist the Special Constabulary is to move these amendments into the Bill. I should like to explain very briefly why that is so, and then I should like to respond, if I may, to both noble Lords by trying to make some constructive conclusion.

The police negotiating machinery in this country has been in existence since 1919 but special constables have never been represented on the negotiating machinery. The committee on the Police Service, under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, examined the question of representation on the new negotiating board, which is what this Bill is setting up, with great care. However, the committee did not recommend that provision should be made for the representation of special constables. Moreover, the working party on the Special Constabulary which was appointed by the Police Advisory Board, and which reported in 1976, contained representatives of the Special Constabulary. They specifically considered the question of whether there was any need for special constables to be represented at national level, and decided there was not. In their view any problems were best resolved by consultations at force level. That recommendation, I might make clear, was a unanimous one, and in 1976 there was no question of the Special Constabulary representatives on that working party being outvoted by the representatives of other bodies. When the noble Lord, Lord Boston, asks me the view of the Special Constabulary at the present time, that really is the latest situation as we know it. This is one reason why the Police Advisory Board this year have decided that a new working party ought to be set up.

Having heard my noble friend speak, your Lordships may be rather surprised at these conclusions—the conclusion of the Edmund-Davies Committee and that of the 1976 working party. The reason for those conclusions lies in the terms and conditions of service of special constables. These people make a very valuable contribution to the Police Service as volunteers who give their services part-time and without remuneration and who are not subject to a disciplinary code or to conditions of service, such as hours of duty, leave and overtime, in the same way as police officers and cadets. Such allowances as are made available to special constables are designed to ensure that they are not out of pocket as a result of their duties. I suggest to your Lordships, therefore, that it is not appropriate, and has been seen in the past as being inappropriate, for special constables to be represented on a board which is designed to negotiate pay and conditions of service for people who are making a career in the Police Service.

As I sought to say last week to your Lordships, the Police Advisory Board has now set up another working party on the Special Constabulary. Now my noble friend asks me for a clear indication of what line the Government will take when that working party reports. This is what I should like to say: if the working party recommends, and the Police Advisory Board agrees—because the working party is a working party of the board—that there should be some form of national representation for the Special Constabulary, I can assure the House that we shall look at this again with the greatest care, but I think it would be undesirable to attempt to anticipate the recommendations of the working party. If I have persuaded my noble friend of that line, I would ask that perhaps he would consider withdrawing the amendment.


My Lords, since my noble friend has shown much more understanding of the problem this week, I would not wish to press him at this stage. I would only add one sentence. I wish he would not quote so often that the working party which reported four or so years ago included representatives of the Special Constabulary as if they were on an equal basis with the other members of that working party, because they were not. None the less, I do not wish to pursue this at this time and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment Nos. 2 and 3 not moved.]