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Special Constables

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

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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.

Closed-circuit Television

7. Mr. Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the impact of CCTV in Newcastle as operated by Northumbria police. [19788]

Mr. Sackville: I understand from the Northumbria police that recorded crime in Newcastle city centre has more than halved since the introduction of closed-circuit television in 1992. There were 15,000 incidents in 1991, and fewer than 7,000 in 1996. The neighbourhood CCTV system in the west end of Newcastle also produced a 23 per cent. reduction of crime in 1996.

Mr. Cousins: Does the Minister recognise that neighbourhood CCTV security schemes were pioneered in Newcastle, by a partnership between the best-led and most effective police force in Britain and people in some of the toughest and least well-off communities and neighbourhoods? Given that record of success, why does the Minister not offer Newcastle more support? Why does he keep refusing it new CCTV schemes, given that it pioneered their development?

Mr. Sackville: Two hundred schemes were funded in the last round. We reckon that the total programme over four years will lead to the installation of 10,000 more cameras throughout the country.

CCTV is one of the Government's major law-and-order achievements, and has led to a reduction in crime everywhere. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this year violent crime fell by 9 per cent. in Northumbria, robberies by 11 per cent., burglaries by 19 per cent., theft by 13 per cent., vehicle crime by 12 per cent. and thefts of motor vehicles by 16 per cent. All that leads to a greater feeling of well-being among residents who are protected by CCTV.


8. Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what new initiatives he plans to introduce to combat vandalism against property. [19789]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Timothy Kirkhope): The fight against vandalism is part of the Government's overall fight against crime. We recognise that the best initiatives against this particular crime are co-ordinated at local level, and we have made available £50 million for the introduction of closed circuit television systems which, wherever they are installed, can be effective in the detection and reduction of vandalism.

Mr. Winterton: Is my hon. Friend aware that the majority of incidents of vandalism against property in my constituency are carried out by juveniles? Does he accept that the best way to deal with them is to encourage greater

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parental responsibility, to bring more secure training centres or units into operation sooner, and to make greater use of closed circuit television? I am pleased to report that Macclesfield has been successful in the third round of bidding for CCTV for the town centre.

Mr. Kirkhope: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his activity in connection with the successful Macclesfield town centre bid. The Government provided more than £92,000 to assist with 11 cameras, which I am sure will have a strong effect on crime in my hon. Friend's area. We should like to have secure training centres in place as soon as possible. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said, we have signed the first contract, for Cookham Wood, which should be operational early next year. It would have been helpful if Labour, where it is entrusted with power at local level, had been more supportive of our planning applications for secure training centres. If Labour really wants to attack crime and criminals, why does it not take actions that are consistent with that?

Mr. Henderson: The local authority in Newcastle upon Tyne has been co-operative, and vandalism has still soared. Is the Minister aware that criminal damage crimes have increased by 197 per cent. since 1979? What does he say to people who have suffered from the damage that soaring vandalism has caused in their communities? Does he admit responsibility?

Mr. Kirkhope: I say to those people, "Beware of a party which has never supported the Government's attacks on criminals, vandals and all such people." People should beware of that, not of a Government who have done so much to attack crime.

Prisons (Ministerial Visits)

9. Lady Olga Maitland: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when the Minister responsible for prisons most recently visited a prison, and what was the purpose of the visit. [19790]

Miss Widdecombe: Earlier this week I visited HM prison ship Weare, and before that I visited Spring Hill prison Buckinghamshire, on 11 March. That completed my tour of all prisons in England and Wales. I visit prisons to see for myself what is happening at individual establishments and to talk to staff, prisoners and members of boards of visitors about matters of concern to them. It is a particularly important part of my role as prisons Minister.

Lady Olga Maitland: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her commitment to the Prison Service. She is the first Minister to visit all the prisons in England and Wales. Does she agree that, since the Prison Service became an agency, there have been considerable improvements? For example, the degrading exercise of slopping out has been abolished. There is now a much more constructive, but austere, regime. In short, prisons should not be hotels in which prisoners relax.

Miss Widdecombe: I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks. I can confirm that, since achieving agency status, the Prison Service has made remarkable strides.

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Not only has it achieved that which my hon. Friend has outlined, but there has been a reduction in the escape rate of some 80 per cent., a rise in purposeful activity of some 7 per cent., an increase in education, and elimination of the practice of placing three prisoners in a cell designed for one. Those achievements have been brought about because the Prison Service, its management and staff and the Government have been committed to such improvements despite the endless catalogue of damnation by the Opposition, who do nothing but point to the bad news. They demoralise the service with their constant criticism. They never acknowledge and praise the service for its achievements. I am pleased to do that and I suggest that Opposition Members join me in so doing.

Mr. Skinner: When the Minister was visiting the prisons in Britain, did she take her handcuffs with her, and how many times did she bump into that well-known recidivist the Home Secretary?

Miss Widdecombe: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on what I am sure will be his forthcoming retirement--[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]--in keeping with his own policy, and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on turning round our attitudes towards public protection, again in the teeth not only of ignorant opposition from Labour Members, but of nothing from them but concern for the criminal and for being soft on those who repeatedly prey on the public. When my right hon. and learned Friend returns on May 2, he will carry on that programme to the shame of Opposition Members and to the great benefit of the people of this country.

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