HL Deb 26 January 1989 vol 503 cc854-66

5.20 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take to deal with the increased level of serious crime on the London Underground.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, a week ago the Recorder of London, Sir James Miskin, sentenced a 31 year-old man to life imprisonment for the murder of a young woman student. He had killed her with a knife during a two-minute journey on the London Underground between Brixton and Stockwell. When passing sentence, Sir James said: The offence is one which forms part of a steadily rising escalation of violence on the Underground. It causes large numbers of people, mainly women, to give up travelling on the system for fear of being sexually attacked, robbed and/or injured

In my judgment that sums up the position with considerable accuracy. The incidence of crime on the Underground system is rising at an alarming rate. The purpose of this debate is to give the Government the opportunity to say what they intend to do about it.

Before coming to the substance of my remarks I should like to make a few comments on statements that have appeared in the press in the past few days about the arrival of the Guardian Angels, as they call themselves. I am bound to say that I do not like vigilantes. I am opposed to the idea of these young men travelling on the Underground to deal directly with crime. I believe that it could lead to an escalation of violence on the Underground system and that it should be opposed with vigour. If people want to help the police they can join the special constabulary, as a large number of people have done. I very much hope that anyone who is considering joining the Guardian Angels will at least think seriously about offering his services instead to the special constabulary of the Metropolitan Police.

I turn now to the substance of what I want to bring to the attention of the House. I propose to divide my short speech into three parts: first, an analysis of the crime figures; next, a few comments on what the Government have done; and finally, my view about the future system of policing on the London Underground system.

As regards the overall level of crime on the Underground, the figures that I shall cite have been extracted from the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, by way of Answers to Written Questions in this House and also from the Annual Report for 1987 of the chief constable of the British Transport Police, whose L Division is responsible for policing of the London Underground. By way of introduction, I must say that I find it surprising that the annual report of the chief constable of the British Transport Police, for some extraordinary reason, appears to be a confidential document. On its front cover there is the statement: "Private and not for publication". Despite that message, copies of this report may be obtained from the Library of this House. The degree of confidentiality cannot therefore be very high. Reading the document, one does not find it any more exciting that the report of any chief constable of an ordinary police force.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, will be able to indicate that the Police Committee of the British Transport Police will forthwith end this rather ill-judged practice and publish an annual report of its chief constable in exactly the same way as any other police force in this country. I also hope that the next annual report of the chief constable will have a self-contained section which deals with the serious crime problems on the London Underground system itself.

The seriousness of crime on the Underground can be gauged from the following figures: in 1986 there were 685 robberies on the Underground; in 1987 there were 883 robberies, and last year there were 1,205. In other words, in a period of only two years there was an increase of almost 100 per cent. in the number of robberies on the Underground system.

The chief constable's report for 1987, which is the latest one available, also discloses some other disturbing matters. In that year just about one out of every six of his officers was a member of the L Division and therefore was working in the London Underground system. But there were almost as many cases of grievous bodily harm and indecent assault on the London Underground as took place on the whole of the rest of the British rail network. In other words, one division of the British Transport Police dealt with almost as many cases of grievous bodily harm and indecent assault as the other seven divisions of the force put together. Incidentally, there was also an altogether disproportionate number of cases of actual bodily harm. In the light of these figures, it is hardly surprising that an increasing number of people decline to use the system at times in the day when they consider that they may be at risk.

I turn now to the Government's response to that situation. First, they established a Department of Transport steering group on the issue. In turn that group supervised the working group set up by London Underground. The report of its study, Crime on the London Underground, was published in November 1986. I thought that it was rather a good document with some sensible, practical proposals about what should be done. By then the Government had decided to make available £15 million to London Regional Transport in order to implement the recommendations of the steering group.

I now ask my first question of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara: how much of that £15 million has actually been committed? Noble Lords should remember that we are speaking about a time nearly two years ago. How much has been committed? There have been some disturbing suggestions in the press that a great deal of that money has not been so committed. No doubt the noble Lord will be able to answer that question.

I welcome the installation of radio facilities at a number of deep level stations, which is an issue that was identified in particular in the report. How many of those facilities are now in service? How many passenger alarms are there? That was another recommendation of the report. How many alarms have now been installed at Underground stations, so that if a person is accosted by violent men he can press an alarm and obtain some immediate assistance? How many of those facilities are available?

How much success does the noble Lord believe there has been in training staff to help the victims of crime? I fear that the anecdotal evidence on that point is not encouraging. I am sure that there are many conscientious members of Underground staff who are anxious to do everything they can to help; but I have been concerned at the number of reports of staff meeting people who have just been attacked and telling them that crime has nothing whatever to do with the staff.

Although we are all aware that a great deal of crime is never reported—the British crime survey suggested that about only 20 per cent. was reported to the police—there was a suggestion, as the noble Lord will be aware, in the document Crime on the Underground that probably a disproportionate number of offences are not reported on the London Underground system for a number of fairly obvious reasons.

Perhaps I may now turn to the question of the establishment of L Division of British Transport Police. In 1985 this was increased from 280 men and women officers to 350. However, the latter figure has never been achieved. I should be grateful to know what is the present figure. I suspect that it is in the region of 330. When I discussed this matter with the former senior management of London Underground I found it preoccupied with what it regarded as the unreasonable costs of extra policing. It thought that the existing burden was unfair and that any increase would be even more unfair. I am bound to say that I did not find this discussion very reassuring. The report of the King's Cross Inquiry found that the organisation had a blind spot concerning safety on the Underground. I fear that it had a similar blind spot on the escalating level of serious crime. Its main concern appeared to be to pass the financial responsibility on to the Home Office which I assured them was unrealistic.

However, following the recent report by Mr. McLachlan, one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary, there has been some improvement in the situation. The establishment of L Divsion is to be increased to 400 officers. Until this new establishment is achieved, a number of officers from the Metropolitan Police and from the City of London force are to be temporarily made available to help L Division to deal with the increasing level of serious crime on the Underground.

On this matter I have given, as the noble Lord will be aware, notice to his private office of a particular assurance that I want to receive from him. It is this. In view of the very severe financial constraints under which the Metropolitan Police is now operating, can he assure me that the full costs of this reinforcement of L Division will be met by London Underground, that the administration overheads will be included, and that in consequence no net burden whatever will be imposed on the Metropolitan Police. I hope that he will be able to indicate that that is indeed the situation.

This brings me to the third and final point that I want to raise this evening. In the present serious situation, I have substantial doubts whether it remains sensible to police the Underground with a division of British Transport Police, even when they are fully up to their new establishment. They will, because of shift working, attendance at court, leave and sickness, have about only 70 officers available at any hour of the day. To police the whole of London Underground system with such a small number of officers available means that they will be heavily dependent on the Metropolitan Police if a serious situation develops.

The young robbers and thieves who have been at work on parts of the Northern Line (and indeed a number of other Underground lines also) have often been driven into the Underground system because of the success of some Metropolitan Police operations designed to deal with street robbery. But of course once they are below ground on what is technically private property, they are the responsibility of an entirely separate police force and one inevitably with limited resources, with a separate chain of command, and so on. It does not in my view make any sense whatever.

I do not say this as criticism of the officers of the British Transport Police—quite the reverse. I am sure that many of them do an admirable job—but the basic situation is entirely unsatisfactory. The Minister will no doubt tell me that there has been, and is, a great deal of day-to-day co-operation between the two forces. However, the central question remains: does it make sense to have the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis responsible for the policing of London above ground with a force of 27,000 officers, and to have a totally separate police force working below ground under an assistant chief constable with a maximum of 400 officers? And at the moment there are not even 400 officers.

The noble Lord will be aware that there is in this matter a helpful precedent in the Policing of Airports Act 1974. Under that Act, a number of police forces were required to take over policing responsibilites at airports from the British Airports Authority Constabulary. The Metropolitan Police took over Heathrow; the Sussex police took over Gatwick; and Essex police took over Stansted.

I am sure that there were some hard feelings among some of the members of the former British Airports Authority Constabulary although a number of them were offered jobs in the regular police forces. But can anyone now-14 years later—seriously doubt that this was not an entirely sensible thing to have done? It may be said that this transfer of responsibility took place entirely because of the threat of terrorism, but that in fact was not true. One of our principal concerns at the Home Office was the very serious level of crime in which I am afraid a number of airport staff were involved and which we did not believe was at that time being dealt satisfactorily with by British Airports Authority Constabularly.

The situation now, as the Minister will he aware, is that British airports have to pay the police for carrying out their responsibility at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, and so on, because they are acting on what is technically private property. Similarly, in the situation that I am outlining London Underground could be required to pay the Receiver of the Metropolitan Police district the full costs of the Metropolitan Police taking over policing responsibility for the Underground system.

I do not suggest for a moment that the transfer of responsibility along the lines that I have suggested would deal overnight with crime on the London Underground system. That would be a ridiculous assertion. However, it would ensure that the power to make the essential decisions on strategy and resources was placed in a single pair of hands.

In conclusion, I should like to say this. There is now, 1 believe, serious public concern about what is going on on the London Underground system. I believe that the changes I have outlined are the minimum required to begin to restore the confidence of the travelling public. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, will be able to respond positively to the debate this evening.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords—

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the noble Lord is out of order. He is not allowed to speak from that Bench.

5.29 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Harris o r Greenwich for asking the Question, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this very grave problem, and for putting so eloquently this depressing picture of rising crime figures on our Underground and the seeming inability of the current police force—the British Transport Police—to cope with the problem.

Whether by accident or design, it is a debate with rather a higher profile than it may have been, for we have visiting London at the moment the volunteer community group which calls itself the Guardian Angels. It has had some success in New York. It is here viewing our problem. I believe that it has been received—and perhaps noble Lords will agree—with some scepticism; because although that group has had some success in New York. that city has a quite different population from our own. It has many more ethnic groups, differently motivated from the criminal groups that we find in London which are not necessarily ethnically divided. In this country we also have a natural repugnance to the public taking the law into its own hand, or indeed to setting thieves to catch thieves, which is often characteristic of this kind of vigilante work. Many of the recruits to these kinds of organisations have criminal records. I am not saying that they will not do a good job and mend their ways, but who is to say in this country what would be the effect of having a volunteer group of this kind picking up its recruits from various groups around the metropolis? I can visualise many undesirable people joining such organisations for one reason or another. I agree with my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich that we could possibly see an escalation of crime or possibly the appearance of different kinds of crimes on the Underground.

How should we seek to find another method of controlling and bringing down crime figures on the Underground when the policing has clearly been inadequate? Surely the right path to follow is to improve the policing. I agree also with my noble friend and support him in his questions to the Minister to find out whether it is the Government's intention to increase the number of trained bodies in the police on the platforms of the London Underground system.

Parts of the London Underground system are very ancient in terms of underground railways. Parts of it have been refurbished and are fairly modern, but the overall impression one gets, as one who lives and works in London, is that it is generally dingy and ill-lit and in many areas is conducive to crimes of the kind that we are seeing escalating day by day. One can only imagine what the impression must be on visitors to this country. Our London Underground system is in many ways inferior to those of other industrialised countries. Indeed, the peak periods of crime, as shown in the figures, tend to be at weekends and late at night. It must be a terrifying ordeal for a foreign visitor, especially one young and female, to travel on these stretches of the 250 miles or so of Underground line that we have in the London area.

Apart from the possibility of increasing the number of trained policemen on the platforms of the system, what is the Government's intention regarding staffing of the Underground and the training of staff? The staffing levels seem to have been decreasing. In travelling on the Underground, particularly late at night, one does not see an identifiable member of the staff on the platforms themselves. Are those few who remain able, trained or motivated to cope with criminal emergencies in the way that they would be to react to operating failures?

It would be interesting to know how the Government intend to encourage better training and better response to crime, particularlay with the increase in technical aids such as radio and closed-circuit television. These developments in themselves are no good unless somebody can physically respond to them. It is no good seeing on a screen a girl having her handbag snatched on an Underground platform unless somebody can reach her to apprehend the miscreant. At the moment it seems that this is a sad gap in the London Underground system.

A noble Lord who sits on these Benches told me that only a few months ago he was on a platform some 50 yards away from an incident in which a girl was being assaulted by two youths who were trying to relieve her of her handbag. She screamed at the top of her voice for something in excess of 25 seconds, which is a long time. Eventually the youths overpowered her and went away with her handbag without being apprehended. Nobody appeared on the platform during that time, neither a member of the staff nor a member of the police, and none of the passengers standing on that platform helped, probably because of fear that the miscreants were carrying knives. Nobody took any notice of the event. That is becoming more and more commonplace on the Underground.

To return to the vigilante groups, I hope that everybody who has influence and knows people who have a gut reaction to favour some kind of voluntary unauthorised system of policing the Underground will encourage those people to resist the idea. It is a simplistic approach to the problem. What are required are more resources, more manpower and more imagination. I look forward to the Minister responding and perhaps giving us an encouraging picture of what can be done.

5.46 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am certain that the

House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for introducing this short debate. I support most of what he said and also the comments of his colleague, the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to the report of the police commissioner and the figures. I have definite figures given by Mr. Michael Portillo, the Minister for Public Transport in a Written Answer on 10th January (col. 622 of Hansard). He said that the number of recorded crimes on London Underground was 16,346. But the significant figure he gave was that the number of arrests for crimes on London Underground was 2,168, which means that for a vast number of recorded crimes there have been no arrests. That will link with what has been said already about staffing and policing, to which I shall refer.

There is also the problem of assaults on staff on London Underground. In 1985 there were 364 assaults; in 1986, 378; in 1987, 409. Those figures were supplied by the operations department of London Underground's traffic division to the trade unions. Figures for the provisional outturn for 1988 of assaults on staff were also given to a meeting of the unions at their consultative committee in March. The provisional figure for 1988 was given as 310. That would be encouraging if it were accurate. I do not know whether the Minister can give that information, but it must be emphasised that assaults constitute a form of occupational injury to staff on London Underground which, except for the problem of buses, which has been referred to in previous debates, is largely non-existent in most industrial occupations. We should keep that point in mind.

Early in 1988, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, reminded us, a security package was announced for London Underground covering some £15 million. In March 1988 London Underground management, in co-operation with the trade unions, initiated a number of pilot schemes involving passenger safety at selected Underground stations. The stations were Oxford Circus, six Central Line stations and the southern end of the Northern Line. The pilot schemes covered a number of different measures in each area and were scheduled to last for some 12 months.

The 12 months are not yet concluded. The pilot schemes include focal points where staff, sometimes in glass enclosures, are in full view of passengers; additional closed circuit TV cameras; improved lighting and mirrors to help passengers see round blind corners; radios for station staff; passenger alarms linked to ticket offices or focal points; and improvements to lighting at station entrances.

I have consulted the union concerned about the matter. It tells me that the effectiveness of the initiatives is still uncertain. Following a 100 per cent. increase in muggings on the Underground an alarming statistic—in the first six weeks of 1988, primarily at Oxford Circus and the southern end of the Northern Line, it was reported in August, 1988, that there had been a 25 per cent. reduction of such offences at the southern end of the Northern Line. The record shows that heightened police activity in one part of the system may simply have had the effect of displacing crime to other parts which do not have the same degree of policing.

If those figures are correct it means that where attention is given, and additional policing and special measures are taken, the level of crime can be reduced. There is not the slightest doubt of the public's desire for the visibility of uniformed staff, preferably police.

In the light of that position I should like to look at the Transport Police section allocated to the London Underground. At the beginning of 1988 the number of officers patrolling the Underground was 314. When the security package was introduced early in 1988 the staff complement was stated to be 350. It was intended to achieve that number by October, 1988. I should like to know whether the figure was achieved by that date.

On 10th January, 1989, in another Written Answer, at col. 626 of the House of Commons Hansard, Mr. Michael Portillo, the Minister concerned, stated that only £3 million of the £15 million grant for security measures on the London Underground had been spent. Why was that so? He also announced that the Transport Police section would be increased beyond 350. We should like to know whether the figure is now moving towards 400. Or is that just another aim?

Another interesting group of figures was given by Mr. Portillo on 20th December. At col. 162 he stated that on an average day 162 of the division's officers were deployed on a three-shift basis on the Underground network. 1 presume that that cannot mean there are 162 officers for each shift. If that number is divided by three, it means 51 officers per shift throughout the London Underground network.

I am reminded by the National Union of Railwaymen that the London Underground has 248 stations and 250 miles of track. With 51 members of the London Underground Transport Police available one can see that it is an almost impossible task to have members on the spot immediately a crime is committed. That may explain why the figure of arrests is alarmingly out of proportion with the number of recorded crimes, which Mr. Portillo has readily admitted.

These factors must be linked with reductions in the number of staff. London Underground has made clear that it is still committed to substantial staff reductions in its determination to cut costs. Cutting costs will be helpful to commuters if it helps to keep down the price of tickets. However, if it is at the risk of the safety of passengers we must consider seriously whether it is a wise policy to follow.

I should like to echo what has been said about the Guardian Angels. As I was driving here this morning I listened to "The Jimmy Young Programme" on which the head of the New York section of Guardian Angels, in a long interview, explained how they worked. I understand that arrangements are already made for training in martial arts. That was stated by Mr. Curtis Sliwa. It makes me more alarmed than ever. I believe that the last thing any Member of this House wishes to see is an increase in private armies provided by security outlets or individuals who set themselves up as a vigilante force trained in martial arts and so forth.

The gentleman made clear the fact that in America the Guardian Angels do not carry revolvers. Nevertheless, they will be trained in the use of martial arts. We must ask the Government what is their attitude to the Guardian Angels. Members are in this country, having been granted admission on the basis that no one can stop them coming here and travelling on London Transport if they so wish.

I should like to echo what has been said. We all believe in voluntary service: it can be unparalleled in this country. Has it been agreed that people can join the special constabulary and be used by the British Transport Police on London Underground'? That is an important question. I do not know of the attitude of the Police Federation about that issue but I believe that if people wish to volunteer they should do so on the basis of joining a uniformed and disciplined force working for the public good.

A number of questions must be asked. How effective have been the new safety measures implemented on London Underground since March, 1988? Why have only £3 million of a £15 million grant for such measures been spent? What is the figure for the complement of the London Underground section of the Transport Police? How is London Underground's commitment to large scale staff reductions consistent with the desire to fight crime on the Underground? What is the Government's attitude towards the Guardian Angels' concept and the possiblility of encouraging additional recruits to join the special constabulary?

5.58 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for providing the House with an opportunity to debate this important subject. I have listened carefully to the many points made tonight. It is a subject of concern to us all. People who live and work in London have an obvious interest in passenger security on the Underground, but it is also important that would-be visitors to the capital should not be deterred by reports of a dangerous public transport system. This concern was highlighted at the end of last year by three appalling incidents: two, including a fatal stabbing, on the Underground, and a murder in the information office of Waterloo station.

London Underground Limited offered a reward of £10,000 for informationleading to an arrest and conviction regarding the murder at Holborn station. I understand that arrests have now been made in connection with both incidents on the Underground.

It must be said that the majority of passengers on the Underground are perfectly safe. In 1988 the total number of reported crimes, excluding fraud, on the Underground was 16,436, against an estimated total number of annual passenger journeys of 814 million. There were 1,205 robberies and 777 assaults on passengers. This means that there is about one passenger assault for every million passenger journeys.

There is however no room for complacency. The Underground environment offers considerable opportunities for the criminal; and I know that many people, particularly women, feel uneasy about travel on the Tube, especially at night. Although the overall level of crime on the Underground in 1988 was in fact less than in 1987, there has been an increasing trend in violent crime. We have seen the advent of a worrying new menace known as steaming. Robberies were 36 per cent. higher for the year as a whole than in 1987 reflecting a very high level in the first part of the year; robberies were some 40 per cent. lower in the final quarter than in the corresponding period of 1987.

The Government therefore take this issue very seriously. Passengers should both feel safe and be safe while travelling on the Underground system. This is why the Government set up a study in 1986 to investigate crime on the London Underground, to which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred. This study involved the Department of Transport, the Home Office, London Underground Limited, the Metropolitan Police and the British Transport Police and its report contained 50 recommendations for tackling crime on the Underground. The Government have given London Underground Limited £15 million specifically to implement these recommendations and I am glad to say that it is undertaking this task with great zeal.

New security measures designed to combat crime such as robberies, theft and assault are being tested in pilot schemes at 13 stations on the Northern and Central Lines and at Oxford Circus. Some noble Lords will probably have seen these measures in operation. They include trained staff at each station equipped with radio; manned help-point booths; safe waiting areas; intercom alarm panels to allow passengers to talk to staff or the police; closed-circuit television with video recorders and mirrors and improved lighting to make public passageways safer. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to some of those measures.

The pilot period has not yet been completed; but if these measures prove successful, they will be extended throughout the Underground network. There are already plans to introduce similar measures at stations on the Metropolitan Line between Hammersmith and Paddington. Further initiatives are also planned, such as a sophisticated closed-circut television system on the Victoria Line to allow the identification of criminals leaving stations. Noble Lords asked how much of the £15 million has been spent so far. I can confirm that £3 million has been spent so far and the remainder will be spent in the next 18 months on programmes which will take account of the pilot scheme to which I have just referred.

Features to improve passenger security have been incorporated in the prototype trains built to evaluate the replacement stock to serve the Central Line in the 1990s. These include alarms which will allow passengers to talk to the driver and greater visibility between carriages. The trains are currently undergoing passenger service trials on the Jubilee Line.

All noble Lords referred to staff training. That has an important role to play in improving passenger security. All staff participating in the pilot station schemes have been trained to use the facilities provided. Training under London Underground Limited's Customer Care Initiative aims to make staff more aware of customers needs and more available to the public. London Underground Limited intend to make specific training in passenger security a feature of courses for new recruits and of refresher courses.

The Underground is policed by a division of the British Transport Police, L Division. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked that the annual report of the Chief Constable to the Police Committee should be published. I should be happy to see that but it is a matter for the Committee itself. I am sure that it will take note of the noble Lord's suggestion and his suggestion regarding a specific section on the Underground.

Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary carried out an inspection of this division last year and London Regional Transport have accepted the inspector's recommendations that the division's complement should be increased from 350 to 400 officers. There are currently 330 L Division officers in post. This represents the second substantial increase since 1986 when the establishment of L Division stood at 280.

It will obviously not be possible to recruit and train all these new officers immediately, and the aim is to bring the division up to the new complement by the end of the 1989-90 financial year. For that reason, following discussions between my right honourable friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport last month, we asked the chief officers of the British Transport Police, the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police to see what temporary measures they could take to boost police presence on the Underground while the recruitment and training of new officers was undertaken.

I am pleased that my honourable friend the Minister of State has been able to announce today that the commissioners of the Metropolitan and City of London forces have agreed to lend officers to make up the shortfall between the existing strength of L Division, and its new establishment. The operational arrangements have been made. Administrative and legal details have been finalised. These officers will begin their duties on Monday, it is hoped. Numbers will vary from day to day but initially there will be a total of about 80 Metropolitan and City officers. Their numbers will decrease as the strength of L Division increases towards its new establishment. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that there will be no cost to the Metropolitan Police fund. London Underground Limited will pay the Metropolitan and City of London forces the costs of the officers, including administrative overheads.

It would be wrong to claim that these additional officers will solve the crime problem on the Underground. But they will be an invaluable supplement to the officers of British Transport Police. With the Transport Police officers, their presence on the Underground system will help to reassure the travelling public, and to detect and deter the criminals.

Increased police manpower will facilitate the use of local area police offices on the model of the successful pilot project in the Stockwell area. The local area police office at Stockwell enables the BTP to operate a "home beat" system. Individual officers can become more familiar with local conditions and with local LUL staff and Metropolitan Police officers. The Inspector in charge can target particular types of crime or stations. Local area policing schemes are now being extended to Finsbury Park, Hammersmith and Wembley. It will increase police presence on the Underground generally. This should greatly improve police response times.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, wondered whether or not it would be sensible to have a separate police force for the Underground. However, as the noble Lord indicated, co-operation between L Division and the Metropolitan Police is excellent. There are frequent meetings to discuss operational matters and Metropolitan police officers regularly meet calls for assistance from the British Transport Police.

The transfer of responsibilities from BTP to the Metropolitan Police would not be simple. Unlike the policing of airports, to which the noble Lord referred, policing of the Underground system is not self-contained. The Underground system shares stations and lines with British Rail so if the Metropolitan Police were to assume responsibility for policing the Underground system, there would be considerable difficulties in separating its policing duties from the remaining duties of the BTP.

Disquiet has been expressed by all noble Lords about the self-appointed policing role of the Guardian Angels. My honourable friend's announcement today demonstrates the Government's commitment to strengthening the size and effectiveness of the police presence on the Underground. We are in favour of active citizens playing a full part in acting as the eyes and ears of the police, and I hope that more will be able to do so in the role of special constables. I would welcome that.

An amendment of the statutory scheme governing the British Transport Police would be necessary to allow the force to recruit special constables. The British Transport Police Committee is actively considering the issue and the Government look forward to its proposals.

We are opposed to private citizens adopting a policing role except as special constables. There can obviously be no objection to any persons travelling on the Underground if they do so in an unprovocative manner as fare-paying and law-abiding citizens. If, however, they act unlawfully or engage in conduct likely to provoke a breach of the peace, their presence will not be welcome and in that event they could not expect to be exempt from the ordinary processes of the law.

The effectiveness of the BTP will he further improved by the installation of new radio facilities for the police at Underground stations. This will enable them to talk to each other below ground using their radio handsets. This has not previously been possible. This new system at 42 key deep-level tube stations was commissioned by LUL in December. It is yet another of the measures to improve passenger security on the Underground which has been financed from the £15 million government grant.

I hope that nothing that I have said tonight suggests that the Government are complacent about the incidence of crime on the Underground, about which noble Lords have expressed concern. Rather, the measures I have described to respond to this problem should demonstrate that we share that concern and are giving every support to the efforts of the police and London Underground Limited to make the Underground a safer place.

House adjourned at ten minutes past six o'clock.