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Birmingham New Street Station

7. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the likely impact of developing Birmingham New Street station on the transport infrastructure of the west midlands. [51247]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): Proposals for redeveloping the station are being worked up jointly by Birmingham city council and Network Rail.

Richard Burden: I am grateful for that reply. My right hon. Friend will be aware that New Street is the busiest interchange station in the UK, currently running at around twice its designed capacity. Given the fact that that is not only unacceptable from the point of view of its role as a gateway to the west midlands, but a problem for the national rail network, what support will he feel able to give to the scheme to which he has just referred, which involves all the local partners and has been developed in consultation with the Government office?

Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That station carries far more passengers than it was ever designed for, and it is essential not only for Birmingham and the west midlands but for many other routes that run through the area. On any view, there will have to be a substantial public contribution, which may involve the Department for Transport, the Department of Trade and Industry or others. I hope that we will have a proposal in the not-too-distant future, because everybody agrees that we need to spend a considerable sum of money to improve that part of the network.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): As someone who has used New Street station literally thousands of times and who will continue to do so, I fully support the redevelopment of New Street station. However, I urge my right hon. Friend to be careful in
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allocating development moneys to avoid an overblown plan for New Street station that will adversely affect other stations in the west midlands, including Wolverhampton.

Mr. Darling: When we replace stations, it is important that the replacement is sensible, and my hon. Friend is right that many railway proposals include more than is absolutely necessary. The site is complex and New Street station is extremely busy, so the development will almost certainly be tied to other development in Birmingham city centre, but I am confident that we will get something that is good for the railways as well as for Birmingham and the west midlands.

Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con) rose—

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is puzzled that I have not called him, but the west midlands and Reading do not tie in, unless he can find a link.

Mr. Wilson: Does the Secretary of State agree that any developments at Birmingham New Street station will benefit from the unblocking of the current bottleneck in the national network at Reading station? If so, what is he doing to help Reading out of that situation?

Mr. Darling: It is true that a train going to Birmingham that is held up at Reading will arrive in Birmingham later than it should—I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity. Reading is one of a number of stations where there are bottlenecks. Quite a lot of resignalling is needed at Reading, because the bottleneck affects services not only going up to Birmingham, but going down to the west country, and Network Rail is on the case.

Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): May I call a spade a spade: given the hopeless dithering and chaotic failure to take a lead of the Tory-Liberal administration on Birmingham city council, I invite the Secretary of State to take a personal interest on behalf of the Labour Government, to take the matter by the scruff of the neck and to intervene to sort out the disgrace that is Birmingham New Street station? We should have a 21st-century station for a 21st-century city, but we cannot leave it to the Tories and the Liberals, because they cannot do it.

Mr. Darling: I assure my hon. Friend that I take a personal interest in the matter, not least because I am asked about it whenever I go to Birmingham. One big difference between now and the past is that we are prepared to put money into the railways, because many of the problems, whether they involve Birmingham or Reading, exist because the previous Government failed to do that.

British Transport Police

8. James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): if he will make a statement on the proposed reorganisation of the British Transport police. [51248]
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The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): Last October, I told the House that I would review the role of the British Transport police, and I hope to announce the conclusions of that review before too long.

James Brokenshire: The review of the British Transport police comes at a sensitive time. As the Secretary of State knows, violent crime reported on the railways has increased by 40 per cent. in the past five years, and passengers in London are seriously concerned about safety because of unmanned stations and partially manned stations. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that passenger safety will be prioritised as part of the review, rather than the review being used to fit in with the Government's wider regionalisation agenda for police forces up and down the country?

Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman is right that what matters is providing effective police for the railways—despite its name, the British Transport police is essentially a railway police force. He is also right that we must ensure that the safety of passengers is paramount, which is why we have increased funding to the BTP—the number of officers has increased by about 300 in the past year alone, and more than 200 officers are due to be recruited in next three years. We have spent a lot more money on CCTV, and policing on London underground has been increased, too. It is important that the BTP focuses its efforts on tracking down the people who commit such crimes. We must ensure that people have the confidence to use the railways and the underground, and part of our review of the BTP is about making sure that policing is firmly focused on that objective.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people responsible for the smooth running of our stations and trains have grave concerns regarding the possible demise of the British Transport police, with its very specialised experience?

Mr. Darling: Yes, the BTP does a very good job. We are having this review because, given the prospect of reducing the number of police forces in England and Wales, it makes sense to look at how the BTP is structured. It has to work very closely with police forces outside London because BTP officers tend to be more thinly spread in some areas and other forces need to help. In addition, the BTP is being asked to do an increasing amount of sophisticated work in relation to anti-terrorist activities in London, where it works with the Metropolitan police. The question that we are considering is whether it is best that it should remain as   the BTP—[Hon. Members: "Yes"]—or be firmly focused. I hope that the review will be completed fairly quickly. My hon. Friend is right to say that the BTP does a good job in different parts of the country, and its work is appreciated.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): Whichever version of the Government's 10-year transport plan one reads, it states:

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British Transport police statistics show a 43 per cent. increase in violent crime on trains since 1999–2000. Can the Minister confirm exactly when his review will be finished and what steps he will take as a result to ensure that people feel safer when travelling on our railways?

Mr. Darling: We will complete the review as soon as we can, but it is important to carry it out thoroughly to ensure that we get it right.

It is true, as has been said, that the amount of reported crime has gone up. That is partly because all crimes are reported and recorded more accurately, but it is also the case, as the House will know, that there has been an increase in the amount of crime against individuals generally. We have increased the amount of officers and the amount of money available to spend on measures such as CCTV—every single penny of which, I must tell the hon. Gentleman, was opposed by the Conservatives at every opportunity. The House should be in no doubt that we are committed to doing everything that we possibly can to ensure that the railways are safe. The fact that increasing numbers of people are using the railways every year tends to suggest that the vast majority have confidence in the system. That said, there is clearly a lot more to be done in relation to the fight against crime, and we will ensure that British Transport police and other police forces have the resources they need to do that.

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