HL Deb 10 March 1988 vol 494 cc797-800

3.5 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to take following the recent increase in the level of serious crime on the London Underground.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, the Government have given London Underground Limited £15 million over three years to implement a range of measures to enhance the security of passengers. These include improving police radio communications at key deep level stations and establishing pilot projects at a number of stations involving staffed focal points, safe waiting areas, closed-circuit television and passenger alarms with talk-back facilities. If these measures prove successful they will be extended to other stations on the network.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I wish to ask him two questions. First, is the Minister aware that in the first few weeks of this year the number of robberies on the London Underground increased by over 100 per cent.? Secondly, what is the Minister doing to enhance the establishment capacity of the railway police? Is he aware that many of us take the view that the present establishment is pitiably inadequate given the dangerous level of serious crime in London?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am aware of the figures for the first six weeks of the year, to which the noble Lord refers. While not meaning to sound at all complacent about those figures, one needs to put them a little into perspective. One needs to look at the figures over a longer period of time before identifying trends. The establishment of the British Transport Police Underground Division has risen by 25 per cent. since 1986, from 280 to 350, although not all of the posts are filled at the moment.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, arising from the reply that he has already given, I have two questions to ask the Minister. First, does the Minister recall that in the Department of Transport report Crime on the London Underground issued by the department in November 1986, the following sentence appeared: The Report found problems of morale, motivation and training to be overcome if staff are to play a more effective role in preventing and dealing with crime."? In the light of the fact that it is admitted that crime on the underground has increased—that was admitted in the recent consultative document—can I be assured that there is always the closest consultation with the unions concerned? What are the results of those consultations in effecting improvements?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, of course consultations with the unions concerned are important and those have taken place. The introduction of automatic ticketing will of course mean that staff no longer have to check tickets at station exits, and that therefore they can be redeployed to improve visibility and availability to passengers. That is one of the ideas behind focal points at stations.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, in the light of the reply which the Minister made to my noble friend as regards the police establishment on the underground, can he tell the House how far below the establishment figure they are at the moment?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the latest figures are that, of an establishment of 350, 314 posts are currently filled.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, perhaps the Minister will explain to the House a matter which many of us find bewildering, particularly after the terrible fire at King's Cross. It would appear that the Government are spending more money on the underground but that the numbers of staff are diminishing. The diminution of staff is seriously impeding all forms of security on the underground.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I do not entirely accept that suggestion. However, staffing at stations is a matter for consideration in the investigation into the King's Cross disaster. That inquiry may make observations on that point.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that one of the problems on the London Underground is that, given the fact that there has been some degree of success so far as the Metropolitan Police are concerned in dealing with street crime in London, there is now a fair amount of evidence that a number of criminals are using the underground system to carry out attacks on members of the travelling public? In that situation, does he consider it desirable to look again at the establishment of London Transport Police? An establishment of 350 officers, not all of whom have been recruited, seems to be a small number.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. Another important matter is that liason with the Metropolitan Police should be improved. That matter is being looked into at the moment, together with the other measures which I mentioned in my original Answer, including improved communications on the underground. Together with liaison with the Metropolitan Police, that should prove to be of great help.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the improved lighting and decoration of the London underground has greatly improved its whole atmosphere and makes a valuable contribution to greater security?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, it is certainly true that improved lighting in stations can be of great help. That is one of the matters that is being considered.

Lord Parry

My Lords, will the Minister accept that the underground system in London is much used by tourists and is an economic lifeline? Does he accept that the Government should make absolutely certain that the high standards of safety which have been advertised in the past are maintained in the present and the future?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

Yes, my Lords. That is one of the reasons for the investment which we are making in security on the London underground at the moment. In my Answer I dealt only with crime on the underground. However, looking at overall Government investment or authorisation for investment, that is running at £1 million per day at the present time.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I believe that the Minister mentioned an establishment for transport police of 315 officers in post. Is that on a three-shift basis? If so, that means that there are only 100 officers on duty at any one time for the whole of the underground network. Is that the position?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I gave a figure for a total complement and 314 people are currently in post. I imagine that, as the noble Baroness says, that number would have to be divided up into shifts.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, the Minister agreed that better lighting helps in the reduction of crime in the underground. However, will he agree that the current wave of disfigurement of rolling stock, while not directly causing crime, creates an atmosphere that is conducive to crime on the evidence which we have from the situation both on some of our housing estates and on the New York underground?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, that is one of the reasons why the Government have authorised such a large increase in investment in the underground system. As I said earlier, the investment is running at £1 million per day at the moment.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the most frequent crime on the London Underground is robbery with violence and that victims are often physically injured? Is he also aware that those of us who travel on the tube late at night can clearly observe that the number of people using the tube trains is diminishing because it has become a risky way to travel about London? Perhaps I may urge all Members of your Lordships' House to do everything they can to restore the good name of the London public transport system.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, it is a matter of concern to the Government that people may be afraid of using the underground system late at night. That is the reason why we have embarked on the programme of improvements which I have mentioned. However, we must get those matters into perspective. Last year, 769 million people made passenger journeys and only one assault occurred for every half-million passenger journeys.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the Minister give the House figures for public investment and numbers of police on underground systems in comparable cities on the Continent, such as Paris and Brussels?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

Not without notice, my Lords.