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Buses (Antisocial Behaviour)

Volume 465: debated on Tuesday 23 October 2007

The 2004-05 British crime survey showed that around 1 per cent. of regular bus users had been a victim of a crime or antisocial behaviour on a bus. However, any level is too high and we continue to work with operators, local government, trade unions and other agencies to tackle the issue.

Does the Minister agree that the issue is not just about crime? For many people, buses are becoming no-go zones. I was at the launch of the Surrey coalition for disabled people, a group that, among others, has raised with me the fact that buses can feel hostile and unpleasant. There is no point in extending free access to public transport, particularly buses, if people do not feel safe to travel on it. Does the Minister agree that it is a matter of discipline, respect and civil behaviour?

The hon. Lady is right that we must do all that we can to ensure that travelling by bus becomes the first choice, rather than the last resort. As I have said, the percentage of people who have been a victim of crime or antisocial behaviour is quite small. However, it is important that we continue, for example, to install CCTV. In London, every bus has around six cameras, to ensure that the police can take up issues where they are reported, while there are 360 extra police officers in London dealing with antisocial behaviour on buses. In the hon. Lady’s constituency, the safer Guildford partnership is looking at a number of issues, including how to make travelling on public transport safer. There is also the STOP—safer travel on buses and coaches panel—campaign, which is looking at what else we can do to overcome any problems that arise.

My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that the number of attacks on buses is quite small, but that does not stop the public having a genuine apprehension, particularly on late-night services. Is not one solution to bring back the bus conductor, even though that would be at a cost to the bus operators?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. However, we should remember that the role of bus conductors was to allow passengers to buy their tickets, not to act as security guards. We should also remember that when conductors were employed in London they were the most assaulted members of staff, so reintroducing them is not the answer. However, it is important that we should continue to look at what further measures we can take, such as installing CCTV cameras, and ensuring that people report incidents to the police and that the police can follow them up. In that way, we can ensure greater safety.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of a survey conducted by the Birmingham Mail into bus use by passengers in Birmingham, which found a considerable increase in antisocial behaviour where the Tory-Lib Dem council had cut down on routes? Will she point out to the council that its duty is to increase passenger usage, not decrease it?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the role of local authorities in encouraging bus use. One of the things that we are doing through the draft local transport Bill is giving local authorities greater powers, which will make it easier to introduce quality partnerships, for instance, and if necessary, to introduce quality contracts, to ensure that local authorities provide the local transport that local people want, particularly bus services.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when people mention antisocial behaviour on buses they are generally referring to young people, particularly in London, where they enjoy concessionary fares? Although there is no excusing antisocial behaviour wherever it occurs, does she agree that we should avoid demonising young people, because that might result in our restricting access to certain services to which they are entitled like everybody else?

My hon. Friend makes the extremely important point that we should not demonise young people. He might have heard some comments recently about the “scourge” of

“some obstreperous kids…abusing the privilege of free travel”

and using buses as

“glorified getaway cars for their criminal escapades”.

I am afraid that those remarks were made by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson). I hope that that does not mean that the Opposition are now backing, as the hon. Gentleman seems to be doing, the withdrawing of—