HC Deb 06 March 1995 vol 256 cc6-8
6. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to improve the safety provisions for women on London Transport.

9. Mrs. Anne Campbell

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to assess the specific needs of women with regard to public transport.

Mr. Norris

Identifying and meeting the specific needs of women passengers is a priority for my Department. Key issues are personal safety and physical access in terms of the design and planning of transport systems.

Mr. Banks

We all know that the Minister does not like travelling with weirdos on public transport in London, although he has no great problem about sitting with them on the Front Bench. Is he aware that many women in London find travelling on the underground and on buses physically threatening? The latest opinion poll has shown that 73 per cent. of women questioned felt that staffing and safety were big issues in terms of their travelling decisions. In view of the fact that it is International Women's Week, can we have a series of initiatives aimed positively at making travel for women much safer and more comfortable?

Mr. Norris

The hon. Gentleman is very good at sniping from the Back Benches, but remarkably short of any actual good ideas. The reality is that crime on London Underground has fallen for six years in succession. That extraordinarily good achievement has been brought about because London Transport takes the issue seriously and recognises that many passengers feel vulnerable, particularly if they have to travel on a relatively isolated part of the system. It has therefore recognised that special needs must be met. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the help points that have been installed throughout the system and the other safety measures that have been introduced. They are all designed to try to reassure passengers that they are significantly safer travelling on the underground—as indeed they are—than they are in any other normal environment.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

Although the Minister continues to promote the convenience of the private motor car, he must be aware that the needs of public transport users, particularly women, go largely unmet. I wonder whether he would like to ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to join me in a journey across either Peterborough or Cambridge with two children, a push chair and a heavy bag of shopping. He would then see how difficult it is for many women who use public transport.

Mr. Norris

The hon. Lady cannot have it both ways: either she agrees with me or she does not. She seemed to suggest that she did not agree with me, but promptly went on to demonstrate that she did agree with me. The points that the hon. Lady has made are perfectly straightforward; that is why we are looking, for example, at introducing low floor buses, to ensure that buses are accessible not just to disabled people, but people travelling with young children or heavy bags of shopping. The measures are designed to make the transport system more efficient, effective and accessible both to vulnerable passengers and passengers generally.

Mr. John Marshall

Can my hon. Friend confirm that there has been a reduction of no less than 40 per cent. in the number of violent crimes committed on London Underground in the past five years? Does he expect the safety and comfort of passengers to benefit from the investment in new trains on the Northern line and from the extension of the Jubilee line?

Mr. Norris

I guarantee to my hon. Friend that, tomorrow, none of his comments will appear in any report of our proceedings despite the fact that they represent the kernel of the matter: the system is significantly safer than it has been for years. My hon. Friend is right to say that the new train stock to be deployed on the Northern line will offer us further opportunities to make the system even more secure and reliable in the future.

Dr. Spink

Does my hon. Friend accept that the safety of women travelling on London Underground, particularly those of my constituents who must travel up the Fenchurch Street line to get on to London Underground, is an important issue? Will my hon. Friend ensure that the criteria considered to determine who will get the franchise for the London-Tilbury-Southend line will include the safety of women?

Mr. Norris

One of the most encouraging features of the forthcoming privatisation of train operators is the private sector's instant recognition that the security of potential passengers is absolutely paramount. It has recognised that passengers will not travel if they do not believe that they are safe. One of the most encouraging features of the discussions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and others are having with train operators is those operators' recognition of the importance of the precise point that my hon. Friend has raised.

Ms Walley

Does the Minister agree with the Opposition that as we celebrate International Women's Week, he should do more with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to put women's transport issues at the top of the agenda? The Minister has said an awful lot about his view of travelling with other people, commuters, in the middle of London. Would he like to feel what it is like to be a woman, concerned because many private hire vehicles are not yet properly regulated? Will he particularly explain why he has refused to look at the proposal from the all-party Select Committee on Transport that people guilty of sex offences should be banned from driving either taxis or private hire vehicles?

Mr. Norris

I shall pass over the first part of the hon. Lady's invitation for reasons of which I hope that you, Madam Speaker, would thoroughly approve. On the second half of the hon. Lady's question, I hope that she will tell her friends in the Transport and General Workers Union—who have incited taxi drivers to oppose the checking of minicab drivers for suitability on the ground that that somehow offers a spurious legitimacy to their activities—that they are wrong? I am grateful to her for her endorsement of our response to the Select Committee on Transport, when we recommended the very measures that she has outlined.