HC Deb 21 May 1980 vol 985 cc496-8
18. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement on his recent discussions concerning violence on transport undertakings.

Mr. Fowler

The conference on violence on public transport, which was held on 6 May, was attended by representatives of a wide range of interested organisations. A number of areas were identified for future action, including strengthening of the British Transport police, the setting up of mobile police units, stiffer penalties for offenders, the greater use of close circuit television and two-way radios, and action to ban alcohol on certain trains.

The Government are now giving urgent consideration to all those points.

Mr. McCrindle

Although I welcome the conference's decision, particularly that part of it which related to increasing the number and effectiveness of police on London Transport, will the Minister confirm that that can be achieved only by expenditure that is beyond the existing budget of the British Transport police? Bearing in mind that the issue concerns law and order—supposedly exempt from public expenditure cutbacks—will he confirm that a lack of finance will not cause a major hold-up in achieving that objective?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, Sir. We are studying British Rail's proposal for mobile units in respect of the British Transport police. Those units will not be hindered by a lack of resources. I reaffirm that the Government will give priority to law and order.

Mr. Snape

Will not the Minister concede that the British Transport police have outlived their usefulness? Is not there a good case for arguing that the ordinary police force should be responsible for law and order on public transport? Next time he meets his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will he tell him that many of those who have worked, or who are working in the transport business feel that it is about time that the Home Secretary issued an edict to magistrates to the effect that assaults on public transport staff should result in custodial sentences?

Mr. Fowler

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The British Transport police are continuing to do a good job in exceptionally difficult circumstances. His proposal will not receive much support. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Home Secretary proposes to increase the maximum prescribed penalty for the offence of assault to £1,000 and six months in gaol. I agree that sentencing policy will affect the problem.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is the Minister in favour of a separate police force for London Transport? Is it not a fact that there was a delay in dealing with the Neasden disturbances because a report had to be made first to the London Transport police before the Metropolitan Police could be brought in?

Mr. Fowler

I do not think that that is a fair interpretation of the facts. Virtually all the people who were at the conference agreed that the British Transport police had a good role which should not be disturbed.

Mr. James A. Dunn

Will the Minister make it obligatory for all transport operators to have two-way radio installed in all passenger-carrying vehicles? Will he encourage the use of two-way radios at railway stations where communications are so important?

Mr. Fowler

Certainly we are looking at the possibilities of two-way radios. They are already used in some areas and we shall study the case for extending that use.

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