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Public Transport: Alcohol

Volume 711: debated on Monday 15 June 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have to regulate further the sale and consumption of alcohol on public transport.

My Lords, the Government are committed to reducing crime, anti-social behaviour and the fear of crime wherever it occurs in the transport system and whatever the cause. Each transport mode already has robust provisions allowing operators to control the sale and consumption of alcohol. As such, there are no plans to regulate this further.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and congratulate him on his new responsibilities. At the same time, I say a word of appreciation to the many thousands of devoted public employees who work on the transport networks. We particularly congratulate the chief constable of the British Transport Police on his knighthood. Is the Minister aware that at certain times and on certain routes, usually later in the day, many passengers have a very uncomfortable time as a result of a tiny minority who cause disturbances because of alcohol intake? Can he tell us how many alcohol-related incidents are recorded annually by the British Transport Police and what steps he is taking to make our trains less stressful and threatening?

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for his kind opening remarks. When I was introduced into the House four years ago, somebody was heard to mutter, “My God, it’s child labour”. I hope that I have grown up a little since then, although I note that I am among only 18 per cent of the House not eligible for a free bus pass. I echo the congratulations that the noble Lord offered to Ian Johnston, the chief constable of the British Transport Police, who is retiring shortly from that office, having done a superb job. I think that he takes particular pride in the fact that he retires at a time when recorded crime on the rail network is falling sharply; the most recent statistics show that, overall, notifiable crime on Britain’s railways has fallen by 4.5 per cent in 2008-09 over the year before. We cannot break that down into particular categories, but that reflects an improved situation on the railways, including, I hope, in respect of crime related to alcohol.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord on his promotion to Secretary of State. I do not know how long it is since we had a Secretary of State for Transport in the House of Lords—I have not done that research—but it is a most unusual situation. We all share his enthusiasm for high-speed trains; I hope now that as Secretary of State he will be able to find the money to deliver some. We shall look at that with interest. I also hope that, now that he has been elevated to Secretary of State, he will still make himself available to the House and usually be here, so that we can question him about what he is doing. I also congratulate the chief constable of the British Transport Police on his knighthood. The Government have said that they were looking at investment in the transport police. The Olympics are coming up, but we have not heard any more about that. Perhaps the Secretary of State could tell us more about how he sees the increase in support for the transport police.

My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord’s first question, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has suggested that those Peers who head departments might be subjected to dedicated Question Times in this House. I should be delighted to do so; I wish to be as accountable as the House wishes to make me. I know that I also speak on behalf of my noble friend the First Secretary of State, Lord President of the Council and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who is anxious to answer questions on all aspects of his responsibilities. As regards the Olympics, intensive consultations are taking place with the BTP and other police forces on how we will ensure that they are properly policed.

My Lords, I was most relieved to hear the Answer of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to the first Question of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno. Is he aware that any Government who try to prevent us Scots from having a dram in the train or in the aeroplane on the way to or from Scotland are likely to have a rebellion on their hands?

My Lords, last week a new franchise was let for South Central trains and we were very pleased to see that it included provision for the manning of stations. However, what is the person manning a station to do in the event of drunken or rowdy behaviour? Is he isolated by himself? Will he have access to surveillance devices? Will he have contact with the British Transport Police?

My Lords, I very much expect that the additional staffing of stations will reduce crime. It goes hand in hand with another important aspect of the South Central franchise, to which the noble Lord referred: all trains and all stations on the South Central franchise will be equipped with CCTV, which has a big impact in reducing crime levels. At present, 50 per cent of stations and more than 3,000 trains are equipped with CCTV. This will mark a further advance and a benchmark to which I hope all franchises can be brought up in due course.

My Lords, the Question refers to public transport. Is the noble Lord prepared to discuss with the airlines their practice of serving free alcohol on aircraft, which is both dangerous and bad for the health of travelling passengers?