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Violence Against Public Transport Staff

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 25 June 2009

3. What representations he has received on reducing levels of violence against public transport staff; and if he will make a statement. (282100)

I deplore violence against staff. Both my father and father-in-law worked in public transport for more than 40 years, so I well understand the huge impact of physical or verbal violence on working people and their families. If we are to run an effective transport system, it is essential that staff feel safe when carrying out their duties. That is why we are continuing to work with key stakeholders to improve the personal security of transport staff as well as passengers.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer, but does he agree that overcrowding and lack of supervision are part of the problem, particularly on the railways, and that we need longer trains, less overcrowding and more supervisory staff so that the staff themselves can feel safer?

One thing we did in respect of the most recent franchise we awarded was to take the passenger experience into account. We spoke to passengers and asked them what they wanted. The issues my hon. Friend has just raised were the same issues that they raised: they wanted less crowding and they wanted to feel safer on the stations, and that has an impact on both staff and passengers. In awarding this most recent franchise, we took on board some of the passengers’ wishes. I will ensure that we continue to speak not just to Members of Parliament, but to communities, so that when we award franchises, we can take into account the important points that my hon. Friend has raised.

The Minister will be well aware of the slight downward trend in transport crime, so will he acknowledge that the Mayor of London’s ban on alcohol on the London underground was a contributory factor? Will the Minister also consider that as the recession starts to bite and unemployment starts to rise, that trend may well be reversed?

It pains me to do so, but I congratulate the Mayor of London on the alcohol ban. We supported him in doing that and helped with the necessary byelaws to make it work. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that crime has gone down not just on the railways, but on the tube system as well, largely as a result of the investment in more British Transport police and more police and community support officers on the tube as well. The danger is, of course, that with some parties recommending cuts, that could mean cutting those police and PCSOs, which I think would have the impact of making crime go up again.

What support can my right hon. Friend offer to the British Transport police in its work on protecting passengers in normal times as well as in its counter-terrorism work?

In my new role, I am looking forward to working with my hon. Friend in her Select Committee role. She raises a very important issue. As we know, there are record numbers working for the British Transport police and more than 3,000 community support officers. Bearing in mind London and the other potential strategic targets, she is right about the importance of the British Transport police working with the security services. I reassure my hon. Friend that my noble Friend the Secretary of State is committed, as we are in the House of Commons, to ensuring that we have the best possible and safest transport system in the world.