Parish councils and other groups are being asked to submit ideas for duties, powers, method of selection, title and uniform - but not for salaries, since the job will carry none.
Mr Howard announced the plan during the Christchurch by-election campaign. Fears that it was just an election gimmick were alleviated when the organisations representing all police ranks gave tacit approval, by agreeing that their members will join the panel of competition judges.
Also on the panel will be Clive Aslet, the editor of Country Life magazine, whose campaign against rural crime - which in recent years has risen more steeply than urban crime, in some areas by as much as 700 per cent - included the proposal for the reintroduction of the parish bobby.
The office of parish constable virtually died with the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829, which laid the groundwork for the the modern police force. The Home Secretary believes it could be useful again, to deter vigilante groups.
Mr Howard said yesterday: 'We need to do all we can to strengthen the partnership against crime.' The parish constable would 'act as a new channel of communication between the public and the police, and would help organise local crime prevention initiatives, such as neighbourhood watch and farm watch'. Ideas culled from winning entries will be used in pilot schemes. Alan Eastwood, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents 120,000 junior ranks, is a panel member. He said: 'The fight against crime is not solely down to the police; it is society's problem.' He thinks the parish constable can be part of the solution.
A MORI survey, published today, shows that most people support the principle of reinforcing police presence with local security patrols. The survey, commissioned by the BBC's Panorama programme, shows that many people live in fear of crime; 54 per cent of the sample believing they are likely to fall victim to burglars, and 60 per cent to car thieves. More than half said they would support private patrols, 27 per cent saying they would participate.
Entries for the parish constable competition should be sent to room 624, Home Office, 50 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AT.
Leading article, page 17