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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, in spirit, we are there. I do not think that there is much disagreement that volunteering is a jolly good thing. One of the things that I remember most from my time as leader of my local authority is the fact that, if I did not agree with the chap at the end of the table, who was one of our chief officers, he had the opportunity to arrest me at demonstrations on Saturdays. We were all in it together somehow.
The Government are committed to increasing the size of the special constabulary. It has been in decline for some years. We share the aims behind the amendment. However, we believe that we can achieve the objectives more effectively through other means.
We feel that the proposed new clause risks further fragmentation and lack of clarity about the role and conditions of service of Specials at a time when we are working with stakeholders to provide the clarity that is needed and uniformity for the special constabulary in response to feedback from Specials themselves.
Asking individual forces to determine whether and, if so, how much Specials should receive by way of payment will prove divisive. We believe that it would also lead to Specials measuring how much a force valued them in terms of financial rewards rather than in terms of the training and management efforts made. It could also undermine the voluntary status of Specials.
The Government are considering the case for a new allowance for Specials in recognition of the commitment made by them and, more importantly in some ways, by their families. That consideration will be subject to the current spending review that is being undertaken. This allowance, were it to be made, would be uniform and would apply across the country. It could be introduced via an amendment to conditions of service regulations made under Section 51 of the Police Act 1996.
We are working on good practice guidance on the management and deployment of Specials as well as on advising the conditions of service regulations. The regulation-making power in Section 51 of the 1996 Act, together with the new power in Clause 2 of the Bill to issue codes of practice, already give us the necessary means to give statutory underpinning to any elements of good practice should it prove necessary to do so. Accordingly, while I can enthusiastically endorse the spirit behind the amendment, I cannot agree to it because of the difficulties it would cause.
I reiterate: there are many good things going on. We are mounting a national press campaign linked to the "could you?" campaign for regulars which was run in January this year. We are trying to do all that we can to attract special constables back into the service.
It is true that there has been a national decline over the past few years. Part of that is explained by the fact that many people who want to come forward into the police service, instead of using the Specials as an interim route, are going straight into the service itself, recognising that that is a better long-term career prospect.
We want to encourage volunteering. There is agreement across the House on that. However, well intentioned though the amendment is, we do not feel that it is the best way to achieve the objectives sought by the noble Lord, who has so much experience in the area. Those objectives are shared across the three main parties. For those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Unfortunately, volunteering requires some form of payment to turn it into a satisfactory contribution towards policing. Until the issue of payment is addressed, we shall remain short of volunteers. We shall return to the issue at every opportunity until some concession is made. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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