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Sexual Assaults: Railways

Volume 647: debated on Thursday 11 October 2018

12. What recent steps he has taken to reduce the number of sexual assaults and public order offences on the railways. (906926)

The Department and the British Transport police are committed to tackling crime and antisocial behaviour. The BTP takes sexual offences exceptionally seriously and has been encouraging people who experience harassment or assault of a sexual nature to report their experiences under the Project Guardian programme and the “Report it to stop it” campaign.

My constituent’s son was travelling down from school on the Wrexham to Bidston line, and was waiting at Upton station when he was attacked by a group of youths. The station is unmanned, and my constituent was horrified to find out that there is no CCTV. What can be done to ensure better security at unmanned stations?

The son of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent clearly had a terrible experience, and our sympathies go out to him. The Department is working closely with train operating companies on the Secure Stations Scheme, to give more stations across the network accredited status. CCTV will have an important role to play in stations, just as it does in the new rolling stock that we are introducing across the country. I remind Opposition Members that we want more staff working on our railways, not fewer, and for operators where there have been disputes relating to staffing levels, such as Southern and South Western Railway, that is indeed the case.

Every day, women make choices on the basis of their safety, continually planning, checking and trying to read situations. Since 2012, sexual crime has seen a staggering 167% increase on our railways, to a record 2,472 cases last year. Women are 13 times more affected than men and the highest increases are in areas where trains operate without guards. What strategy are the Government deploying to ensure that all women feel, and are, safe?

All passengers and all women must feel safe when travelling on our trains. The Department takes this issue exceptionally seriously, as do all train operators and the British Transport police. In concrete terms, Project Guardian is ensuring that the reporting of sexual offences becomes easier than ever before. We have introduced a new discreet safe texting service, 61016, which has encouraged much greater reporting of sexual harassment on trains or assaults of a sexual nature—[Interruption.] Guards and conductors have not been removed from trains, as Opposition Members are suggesting. It is very frustrating that that line is being propagated in this misleading way. Driver-controlled operation means tasks such as closing doors can now be performed safely by the train driver, freeing up more time for guards to look after passengers, including women.

Public order offences also rose by 116% over the same time period. A staggering 11,711 violent crime offences were committed just last year, with a total of 61,159 criminal offences in 2017-18, again hitting record highs. As we know, the presence of people in authority reduces the prevalence of crime, so can the Minister tell the House why he supports removing guards from trains—the very people who are passenger safety champions?

We want the railways to be safe. In terms of crimes per million passenger journeys, they are safer than they were a decade ago. There are 19 crimes per million passenger journeys today, and a decade ago there were 30 crimes per million passenger journeys, but that is still too many and we want crime levels to come down. That is why the British Transport police are focusing on this very carefully. We have better reporting schemes, such as 61016, which I mentioned. As I said, we want more staff working on our railways, not fewer. That is the case for operators such as Southern and SWR, where there have recently been disputes.