asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current strength of the Special Constabulary in England and Wales; and what was the equivalent figure in May 1979.
The strength in May 1979 is not known, but on 31 December 1979 it was 15,960. On 30 June 1982 it was 15,263. That represents an increase of 285 over the previous six months, and 1982 is the first year in the past 30 years in which numbers have gone up rather than down.
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that that slight advance nevertheless represents a significant reversal of previous trends and is to be widely welcomed? As the Special Constabulary is widely acknowledged to be a very useful bridge between the regular police and the communities that they serve, will my hon. and learned Friend continue to take vigorous steps to strengthen and expand the Special Constabulary?
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said. I agree with him. We are anxious to encourage all proper and increased use of special constables. A particularly encouraging scheme is being run by the chief constable of Northumbria, who is recruiting home beat special constables to help police the neighbourhoods in which they live.
Despite that, and although the police establishments are up to the correct size, is it not a fact that during this year serious crime will rise, as has unemployment, above 3 million? What will the Government do to change their policies, which are palpably failing to stop more burglary and other such serious crime?
The Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, which is published today, will be of considerable assistance in that regard. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman's support for that measure.
Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that one of the problems that has affected the Metropolitan Special Constabulary is the historic hostility between the regular force and the Special Constabulary? Will he consider inviting the new Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to act urgently to involve the Special Constabulary with the regular force in its ordinary police functions?
As I would expect, the attitude of the present Commissioner—as it was of the previous Commissioner—is strongly to encourage the Special Constabulary. A long time ago there was hostility in certain quarters, but that is a thing of the past, and a good thing too.