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Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman has raised that issue in the House before. I believe he initiated an Adjournment debate on the subject fairly recently.

Network Rail's policy is to remove level crossings when that is practical and the right thing to do, but the process is not without difficulty. Throughout the earlier months of this year, in a different part of the world from that represented by the hon. Gentleman—the highlands of Scotland—there was a sustained campaign against Network Rail's attempt to remove a number of unmanned crossings, led by walkers who, for entirely understandable reasons, wanted to be able to cross on foot. A sensible balance is needed. Those who remove crossings should make certain that people will not take matters into their own hands and cross the track by, for instance, climbing over a fence. It is fine if there is a sensible alternative.

A remarkable number of people try to zig-zag through barriers or jump the lights. They must understand that they are putting not just their own lives but those of others at risk. In my opinion, such behaviour should never be tolerated.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): My constituents who use the line regularly—as I do myself—will appreciate the Secretary of State's measured report, and the measured response of other Members. May I, however, encourage the right hon. Gentleman to emphasise that this was a maverick tragedy? Is it not important to convey to the travelling public the figures that he cited earlier, relating to road
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and rail safety respectively? He pointed out that last weekend—tragically—there were 10 fatalities on our roads. May I suggest that the approach he has taken today must be the approach taken by the further inquiry, and that cost-benefit must be part of the balancing act? If we lose our sense of proportion, the travelling public will gain a completely false impression.

Mr. Darling: I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has said. We need to draw our conclusions in a measured way, and decide what is right and appropriate. We should indeed remember that, sadly, every day—not just last weekend—10 people are killed on the roads. Our road safety record is much better than those of many other European countries, but 10 people are still 10 too many. We need to reduce the risk by doing whatever is appropriate. We also need to bear it in mind that the cause of many accidents is not something that the Government of the day did or did not do, but the judgment of some individual. We can all make the wrong judgment when travelling, I suppose. As I have said, however, we must do all that we can to improve the safety of all travellers—those who travel by road, rail or, for that matter, air.

The hon. Gentleman was right to remind us that rail is a safe means of travel, and it is becoming safer each year. Tragically, there are accidents from time to time; but it is still a safe way to travel. I have no doubt that when the line reopens, hopefully in the next week or so, many will continue to use it to travel to the south-west.

Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton) (Con): Many of my constituents use the service, and a friend of mine was trapped and injured on Saturday evening. Mercifully, she is now back at home. I echo the thanks that have been expressed to the emergency services, and especially thank the off-duty firefighter and the off-duty Royal Marine who helped my friend at her moment of need.

We have already heard how safe rail is in comparison with roads. May I have an assurance that any response to this tragic crash will not lead to a lessening of the frequency or speed of the service from the west country to London?

Mr. Darling: I do not want to pre-empt the inquiry, but the tenor of what has been said this afternoon suggests that whatever we do must be proportionate. We want to make the system as safe as we can, but travelling at speed inevitably involves a degree of risk. I think people recognise that. From the moment we set out from our front door we incur an element of risk, and arguably that is the case when we are in our homes.

The hon. Gentleman was right to draw attention, as others have, to the heroism and humanity of a very large number of people on Saturday evening.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I thank the Secretary of State for emphasising that rail is a safe way in which to travel. May I urge him, and his ministerial colleagues, to repeat that message as often as possible? I fear that media coverage has given the impression that rail travel is not safe, but will he confirm that the number of people who die in rail-related incidents each year represents
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about two days of road fatalities? Will he also confirm that in the last year for which figures are available, on 280 days the number of people killed on the roads was seven or more?

Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that far too many people are killed and seriously injured on our roads. He is also right to say that the number of people killed on the railways has been declining over the past 30 years. Thankfully, the number is comparatively small, although it is a tragedy for everyone who is involved.

There has been a measured response from everyone today. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the media. I do not suppose that it will do me any good, but I believe that their response after the accident has, for the most part, been measured. They are saying, "You must learn the lessons of what happened. You must do things, and you should react proportionately." Most commentators, from the moment the accident happened, have taken a sensible and mature line in the face of what is, after all, an extremely tragic accident.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): May I associate myself with the comments of the Secretary of State and of my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State? What is particularly poignant about the timing of the accident is the fact that we had almost had a record period in which there was no rail accident or incident. I have had the honour of spending some time with Network Rail on the Industry and Parliament Trust scheme. I hope that the Secretary of State will take the opportunity to confirm that, with the dent in morale that anyone working in the railway industry will feel at this time, the thoughts of the House are with them.

There is another alarming feature in respect of those who were trapped in the train. The doors on these sophisticated modern trains open only when the train arrives at the scheduled station—they are computer-driven. It was particularly distressing in that many of the injured could not exit through the normal door. Will the inquiry look at that?

Mr. Darling: I am sure that the RSSB will look at the latter point. I am not qualified, and nor is anyone else sitting in the Chamber, to pass judgment on that. It needs to be looked at. The hon. Lady is right. We had a long period without accidents, and everyone in the industry can be extremely proud of that. A lot of attention has been paid to safety.

The hon. Lady has been on the Industry and Parliament Trust scheme. Morale in the industry is slowly but surely improving. For various reasons, it has been through a difficult time—there have been some accidents in the past few years, but there are other reasons, too. People can be proud to work in the industry. I encourage people to do so. Above all, I encourage people to use it because it is pretty good most of the time. Of course, there are problems, which we need to sort out, but it is improving in a way that perhaps people would not have thought possible a few years ago.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was surely right in
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drawing attention to the fact that this may not have been an accident—it may have been deliberate. In a week when the director general of the security services has warned us against complacency, and bearing in mind the train bombings in Spain during the election campaign, does the Secretary of State think that, in considering what level of investment is proportionate, we must take into account the fact that there is at least a possibility that this event will encourage some people who wish to engage in serious terrorist acts to do this sort of thing deliberately?

Mr. Darling: Nothing will be served by such speculation. I repeat what I said earlier: it is for the coroner to determine the cause of death, not just of the car driver but of the other people who died in the accident.

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Alcohol-Related Anti-Social Behaviour and Domestic Violence

1.14 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): I beg to move,

The Bill is designed to prevent violence, especially domestic violence. Alcohol is a key contributor to domestic violence. It increases both the risk of violence and its severity. If we stop excess drinking among men—it is usually men—who, when drunk, are likely to be violent, we can reduce violence. This Bill enables the police to act against such drinkers before they resort to violence.

The relationship between alcohol and domestic violence is stark. The Home Office document, "Alcohol and intimate partner violence: key findings from the research" finds strong links between domestic violence and "problem" drinking. The British crime survey told us in 1999 that 32 per cent. of domestic violence was perpetrated under the influence of alcohol. It estimates that there were around 1.2 million incidents of alcohol-related violence in 1999. Those include all assaults, robberies and snatch thefts in which the victim thought the perpetrator to be under the influence of alcohol. A quarter of those—300,000—were domestic assaults.

The likelihood and severity of violence is linked to the amount drunk. Alcohol is especially important in inflaming existing conflict. Repeat victimhood is common. Forty-five per cent. of victims of domestic violence have suffered before. According to the Home Office's women and equality unit, 35 per cent. of incidents of domestic violence take place within five weeks of an earlier attack. No other type of crime has such a high rate of repeat victimisation.

An article in 2001 in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence tells us:

In a study of 100 "battered women", as they used to be called, published in the British Medical Journal in January 1975, 52 per cent. of offending males were described by their victims as "frequently drunk", and a further 22 per cent. as having

Let me give the House an example. Gabbi Millar, the manager of a women's refuge, was beaten by her alcoholic former husband for four years before she finally plucked up the courage to leave him. She told the BBC in June 2003:

During a period of 18 months, the police were called to the family home 36 times, either by Gabbi, or by worried neighbours who heard her cries for help. During their four years together, her husband was jailed three times
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for the escalating offences of assault, actual bodily harm and grievous bodily harm. Gabbi was in hospital three times after particularly severe beatings and I regret to say that I have observed a similar relationship between alcohol and domestic violence reported in the pages of my own Isle of Wight County Press.

Recently, the law has been tightened significantly to deal with the perpetrators of domestic violence. The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill makes it a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in jail, to breach a non-molestation order. It requires courts to consider making a non-molestation order when they hear an application for an occupation order. Such orders exclude someone from the home and surrounding area, but breach of an occupation order is not a criminal offence. The Bill enables courts to impose restraining orders when sentencing for any offence—at present, they can be imposed only when sentencing for harassment—and common assault will be made an arrestable offence.

Those changes are welcome, but that Bill does not adequately deal with the role of alcohol. It appears to be hoped that its penalty provisions will deter domestic violence, but the deterrent may not work where alcohol is a factor, since deterrence requires an individual to be rational. Not only is alcohol a disinhibitor, but an individual's capacity for reason is greatly reduced when under the influence of alcohol, so any deterrent would also be reduced.

We need to prevent men who might hit their womenfolk from becoming drunk enough to do so. Antisocial behaviour orders could help us. The courts can impose one if persuaded, on a balance of probability, that a person has acted in an antisocial way and that an ASBO is necessary to prevent further antisocial behaviour. Breach of an ASBO is itself a criminal act.

At present, ASBOs cannot be applied to domestic violence because antisocial behaviour is legally defined to affect only

The Metropolitan police, in their December 2001 domestic violence strategy paper, "Enough is Enough", discuss one suggestion for using ASBOs against domestic violence. They say:

In my view, that is too roundabout a route. Of course domestic violence is unwelcome in the community, but it would be absurd to limit what could be an effective preventive measure to households whose neighbours are affected.

ASBOs could certainly help to prevent alcohol-related domestic violence if they could reduce the volatile circumstances in which it flourishes. The trigger of alcohol needs to be effectively removed, so my Bill
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offers a simpler solution than that proposed by the Metropolitan police. It would widen the definition of antisocial behaviour to include the domestic, thus enabling the courts to issue ASBOs in cases of domestic violence. It would allow an ASBO, where appropriate, to require the subject to remain under a set alcohol limit. The court could have discretion to limit an order to certain times, places and circumstances, for instance if previous problem drinking and violence had taken place only at night. Neighbours, if not the victim of violence herself, might call the police when they feared an alcohol-related ASBO was being breached—hopefully, in time to prevent violence.

This alcohol-related ASBO would not only be available in cases of domestic violence but could extend to other alcohol-reduced disorder, such as that which too often takes place after closing time in our urban areas.

The Bill would permit the police to administer a breath test, as in cases of suspected drunken driving, if they believed that the alcohol-related ASBO had been breached in circumstances where the subject was likely to commit another offence.

Too many of those who hit their wives or girlfriends do so under the influence of drink. Too many of those who commit other offences, and disfigure our towns and cities as they do so, are in drink. The forces of law and order have at their disposal many ways of dealing with the guilty, but as a society we have too few means of preventing these crimes. We have successfully reduced drunken driving by use of the breathalyser. Let us do the same with alcohol-related disorder, which probably causes as much, albeit sometimes lower-level, misery.

Prevention is better than cure. Prevention is the objective of the Bill, and it is with pleasure therefore that I commend it to the House.

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