§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
I beg to move, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was wondering whether the hon. Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson) will delay his comments so that he can reply to questions from Opposition Members. Of course it is in his hands.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
That seems to have been accepted by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
In many respects the Bill is similar to the London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill that we debated last night. The statement produced by the promoters refers to the working party report that we discussed last night. That report made it clear that British Rail was working on a scheme for penalty fares based on the report. Therefore, some of the ground that we cover will be identical.
It is important to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the report which forms the basis of the legislation was drawn-up by people who may not meet the difficulties that a penalty fares scheme may produce. It was extremely difficult to get hold of a copy of the report as no copies are available in the Vote Office—although I have ordered one—and there are only two copies in the Library. That seems to be less than adequate when the Bill being debated by the House is based on that report.
The report deals with the terms of reference to examine London Regional Transport's concerns about penalty fares provisions. The working party consisted of four members of the Department of Transport, one representative from the Home Office, a representative of the Lord Chancellor's Department—curiously enough from the private and international law division—and two representatives of London Regional Transport, the solicitor and the group planning manager. It would be interesting to know whether the members of that committee travel on British Rail because the report was the basis of British Rail's calculations in making its proposals, so it is a very important document for us to consider.
One of my deep regrets is that the Department of Transport did not think it fit to include in that working party any representatives of the trade unions involved. The Minister might argue that it is not usual for outsiders to be included in departmental or interdepartmental working parties. It may not be usual, but it has occurred. When the previous Labour Government were establishing the Co-operative Development Agency Act 1978, they established a departmental working party which included members from various strands of the co-operative movement, including representatives from working co-operatives organised through the industrial common ownership movement, and from the Co-operative Union. It included a very good cross-section of experience and ability.
1167 As it was done on that occasion, I see no reason why the working party that produced the report on penalty fares could not have been similarly extended to include representatives of the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association to represent the people who will administer the scheme, the NUR to represent the people in the ticket offices who will he made redundant, and ASLEF as train drivers will also be involved. If disputes occur on driver-only trains, when the travelling inspector gets on a train to check whether people have paid their fares, inevitably the communication cord may be pulled and the driver may be drawn into the argument.
It would have been useful for the working party to have included all the trade unions representing those who work for British Rail. The fact that the Government did not take the trouble to do that and chose instead to use a group of civil servants and some representatives of the management of London Regional Transport points to the deficiency in the basis of the legislation. It is also a pointer to the Government's heavy-handed attitude in imposing a scheme on British Rail.
It is a sad reflection on the managements of British Rail and London Regional Transport, who are so subservient that they cannot set their faces against those badly thought-out and designed proposals. It is an example of the way in which such schemes are imposed, just as British Rail management is attempting to impose the removal of the national negotiating rights that the NUR and ASLEF have built up over many years. The workers do not want to accept that. That is the kernel of the present dispute, which has been created entirely by the intransigence, obduracy and arrogance of the management of British Rail. Passengers who are inconvenienced should remember that it takes two sides to make a dispute, and although the weight of the press is heavily aimed against the ordinary workers on the railway system, it is the people in the offices and in the executive suites who have chauffeur-driven cars and who seldom use the railways who are creating the difficulties, the confrontation and the strike action.
That brings me back to the membership of the working party and the people who produced the scheme which has been so eagerly taken up by the British Rail management. The people who have taken up the scheme sometimes do not appear to care very much for railways. The management elite of British Rail are provided with chauffeur-driven cars, although I do not know why they should be when they are running a transport system. I suspect that they rarely travel on the system as ordinary fare-paying passengers and that they use only main-line services and the first-class section of trains when they travel on the railways, which is rare. They do not seem to be the best persons to judge what is best for the travelling passenger.
The reason for this proposal is that when the report was produced in May 1986 it was claimed that £19.5 million was lost in fare revenue, and the figure has now increased to £26 million. The promoters of the Bill will be only too keen to provide the House with information about how the calculations were made. As I understand it, the calculations relate to London Regional Transport, because the report was based on London Regional Transport. but I have no doubt that British Rail will be anxious to provide figures and the basis of the calculations of the amount lost through fare dodgers.
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
If I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly, he used the figure of £26 million. I must correct him and point out that the figure was £36 million for Network SouthEast alone.
§ Mr. Cryer
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have made a note that the figure is £36 million for Network SouthEast alone. But where has the figure come from? I used the figure of £26 million for London Regional Transport, although, as I said, I recognise that that figure does not apply to British Rail, which covers a larger area than London Regional Transport. I am concerned about the basis on which this legislation, which will make a massive change, is put forward. We have not so far had an explanation about either London Regional Transport or British Rail. If the figure for Network SouthEast is £36 million, we should know the basis on which that figure was calculated.
The hundreds of millions of pounds of investment nationwide, the redundancies and the difficulties in collecting the penalty fares are all connected with the amount that is being dodged. I hold no brief for people who evade fares. Clearly, we want to maximise the revenue of all public passenger services to provide a better service. That means that everyone is contributing and Labour Members believe strongly in collective provision. However, having identified the problem, the Bill is not necessarily the correct solution; it may be the worst because it gives rise to a number of problems.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
I agree with my hon. Friend. No Labour Member favours fare evasion and we want to see firm action taken against it. My hon. Friend is also right to say that British Rail has produced no proof for the figure of £36 million lost on Network SouthEast alone. Has my hon. Friend any information about that figure? Does he not think that British Rail should have substantiated it? The figure is big for so small an area. British Rail is almost accusing many people in the south-east of being crooks. That is an appalling insult and a slur on people in the south-east for which British Rail has provided no detailed information.
§ Mr. Cryer
I refer my hon. Friend to clause 7 of the statement on behalf of the promoters in support of consideration of the Bill, as amended in Committee. The figure quoted is £36 million, to which the hon. Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson) drew attention. The figure refers to Network SouthEast alone. Unfortunately, it is given no credence and seems to have been plucked from the air by British Rail officials, who are keen that this legislation should go through so that British Rail can dispense with the services of a number of employees. British Rail management sees employment not as a valuable asset, but as a nuisance to be dispensed with at every conceivable opportunity. For several years, its policy has been to introduce driver-only trains—and it has removed signal boxes and installed automatic crossings. In every case where that has been done there have been problems, and in some cases lives have been lost.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
Is not British Rail making it increasingly difficult to pay one's fare because of reductions in manning? My hon. Friend knows well the East Lancashire line and the Roses line, where most of the stations are unmanned. If one is catching a train to London, it is difficult to pay for a ticket and one often finds 1169 that one does not have enough time at Preston to pay for a long-distance fare. British Rail has also reduced manning on many trains, so one often does not have one's ticket checked. People who have no tickets do not have to pay. I have a handful of tickets that have not been clipped either because there has been no ticket collecter on the train or because he has not reached me as there are too many passengers on the train.
§ Mr. Cryer
As my hon. Friend knows, my wife comes from Darwen in Lancashire, so we frequently make visits across the Pennines. Colne station, which used to be staffed, has been reduced by some high-quality decision of British Rail management to a pile of rubble with a bus shelter in the middle of the platform as the only sign that there is a railway there. There are no staff to sell tickets and people have to buy their tickets on the train. That is often difficult because on crowded trains the ticket dispenser, checker and collecter cannot always get round all the coaches.
Quite apart from the basis of this legislation and the dubious claims put forward, I should have thought that if there was a national scandal of people avoiding fares, the promoters would have made available details of the number of people chased, where they came from and where they were going and the number of prosecutions for the amount of money lost. All that information should have been provided to substantiate British Rail's claims. However, we have been provided with nothing but a bald figure. That shows a certain contempt for the House because the promoters seem to assume that the Bill will be passed as a matter of course so they need not take too much trouble to delve out the information. It is possible, of course, that the promoters do not have that information and are trying, metaphorically, to bluster their way through.
§ Mr. Cohen
I bring my hon. Friend back to the point about the £36 million a year that British Rail claims is lost through fare evasion on Network SouthEast alone. The hon. Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson) represents a constituency that is in Network SouthEast, but right at the edge. Is British Rail saying that there are many crooks and thieves in the New Forest who refuse to pay their fares? Perhaps they voted for the hon. Member for New Forest. Should not the hon. Gentleman put his house in order in terms of his constituents? That appalling slur on those people has meant that it has fallen to the Opposition to defend them and say that they are basically honest.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) will bear it in mind that the debate is on the motion, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered. His remarks must relate to that motion.
§ Mr. Cryer
Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am keen to consider the Bill.
British Rail should provide figures for our consideration. I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for pointing out that we are considering the Bill. British Rail has employed sponsors—who, no doubt, are more generously provided for than British Rail employees—to 1170 promote the Bill for our consideration. The sponsors and British Rail have not put the necessary information before us. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) has made a good point, which no doubt the hon. Member for New Forest is bearing in mind so that he can give us information about the basis for the £36 million loss.
Labour Members believe in collective provision. We want to ensure that everyone contributes and that there are no fare dodgers. They place a bigger burden on other users of the railway service and the reduction in revenue diminishes the opportunity for investment. Naturally, we are keen that fare dodgers are caught, but is this the right way to go about it? It is not.
I do not want to go too much into the details of the King's Cross disaster because we dealt with that last night in the debate on the London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill. King's Cross was an example of how fire can rapidly take hold, causing loss of life and scarring. It stunned even the most experienced and hardened fire officers. I am sure that there are British Rail stations with similar characteristics—underground passages which can act as chimneys, causing draughts that lead to potential dangers for passengers.
§ Mr. Cryer
My hon. Friend is right to draw the attention of the House to that line. Wherever there are large passageways rising at an angle potential fire traps are created.
We are talking about the installation of automatic ticket barriers. If they cannot be opened immediately fire breaks out, will passengers be in danger? British Rail may say, "That is unlikely. We have heeded all the warnings after King's Cross." No one expected the King's Cross disaster. Health and safety reports on London Underground had been ignored. ASLEF members who drew attention in a leaflet to the danger of underground fires and the hazards of travel were threatened with the sack by British Rail management. That management has introduced a new rule under which any BR employee who publicly criticises BR faces the penalty of sacking. If all those circumstances are compounded, we may find that fires start because of defective machinery and dangers arise because passengers are impeded when leaving railway premises.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend at an early stage in his interesting analysis of this measure. Is he aware that the circumstances surrounding disciplinary action may soon be worse than he envisaged? Under the proposals, in the brave new Britain of 1989, to abolish national negotiations in the railway industry, an employee who has the temerity to speak to the press about safety or any other matter could face dismissal by his area manager and have no right of appeal.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I again remind the House that the debate is on the motion, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered. If it is decided in the affirmative, the House will go on to consider the amendments. I remind the House that we cannot have a broad debate on railway policy. Hon. Members can discuss whether we should debate what is in the Bill and the amendments that are to come. A broad debate would be out of order.
§ Mr. Cryer
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are debating whether the Bill should be further considered and in deploying those arguments we must consider, to some extent, the Bill's contents. I was making the point that the Bill's contents are so important that they should be further considered.
One characteristic of the Bill is the installation of automatic machinery that may impede the egress of passengers in a period of potential danger. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) said that British Rail employees could not draw to the public's attention information about dangerous circumstances, even though they might have drawn it to the attention of various layers of British Rail management. An employee would be sacked it he said to a local newspaper, "This escalator is dangerous. It smokes every now and then. We have put the fires out four or five times. Something should be done about it."
In debating the motion, we should consider whether British Rail management would attempt to interfere if a British Rail employee wanted to raise these issues with his or her Member of Parliament. We must send a clear message that British Rail employee's rights should in no way be curtailed by British Rail management. They should not be prevented from going to their Member of Parliament with information about potentially dangerous circumstances placing passengers in jeopardy or about any other railway matter. Hon. Members will agree that if British Rail management attempted to intimidate employees it would be a potentially serious breach of privilege, and the House would deal with it accordingly.
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend has made a good point about safety on the railways. There are differences between the London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill, which we considered yesterday, and this motion. I remind my hon. Friend of Mersey Rail, which is a British Rail system. It has a tunnel going right round Liverpool, escalators going up to ground level and gates. I do not think that automatic gates will be installed there. Does my hon. Friend accept that penalty fares introduce a greater risk to safety, because of the associated hassles and controls? Does he agree that, when debating whether we should consider the Bill, one important question is whether under the Bill's provisions the railways will be safe? Will my hon. Friend address himself to that point in due course?
§ Mr. Cryer
The ramifications of the Bill are enormous. I wonder why the working party produced a solution for our national railway system when we have a well-tried system, to which people are accustomed, that has stood the test of time.
British Rail is using the Bill as an opportunity to get rid of employees. People are our greatest asset. We should have people on platforms checking tickets rather than automatic ticket machines. We are unclear to what extent British Rail will use the powers in the Bill, but once the legislation has been passed the necessary powers will be handed to it. We should therefore be provided with more detailed information than is contained in this sheet and a half of nine scant clauses.
We cannot leave the application of the Bill's powers to the vagaries of British Rail management, which has not always made the right decisions. I recall the introduction of automatic lights on level crossings without barriers. For 1172 many years previously, the system was to have manned barriers at level crossings, which physically kept traffic off railways. An early consequence of the introduction of automatic lights was the Hixson level crossing disaster, which occurred because the instructions for the operation of the barriers were defective. A large transformer was caught on the level crossing by a diesel-electric locomotive, thereby causing a serious accident. I use that example to show that, when we are deciding whether the Bill should be considered further, its safety ramifications are enormous and cannot be dismissed lightly.
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend is on to an extremely good point. When deciding whether the Bill should be further considered, we must be guided by experience. Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that the Government relaxed restrictions on level crossings about 10 years ago? That did not lead to the Hixson disaster, but it led to a disaster at Lockington. Through their policies, the Government were responsible for the deaths of innocent people. Only recently have they realised the follies of their policy and introduced more barriers. We should know why the Government support the Bill. Do they believe that it will lead to public expenditure savings?
§ Mr. Cryer
In deciding whether we should further consider the Bill, such safety considerations must be paramount.
The policy of successive British Rail managements has been to get rid of employees. British Rail is now introducing rigid, anti-democratic rules to prevent employees from becoming involved in developing the railways. The Bill is based on the 1986 report of the working party. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East has much experience of working on the railways and is a railway enthusiast. If he were still a British Rail employee, he could not have access to the press without being threatened with dismissal. That British Rail management would not be seeking his advice and experience of many years in different operating capacities is scandalous. Thousands of British Rail employees want to provide a proper public service. They want adequate and improving standards on the railways, yet they are riot being consulted.
We must consider the people who will operate under the Bill. The trains on which inspectors will be checking tickets will often be crowded. Inspectors will be involved in heated arguments and there will be difficulties and divisions. Far from improving the image of the railway network, inspectors will be facing enormous difficulties. In my area, trains on the service between Bradford interchange and Leeds and Shipley and Leeds—a station that I frequently use—are always crowded at busy times. People stand in aisles, yet British Rail is seeking powers to employ inspectors to argue with people about whether they have tickets.
The annex to the working party's report gives guidance to inspectors about how to deal with such difficulties. It is nonsense for half a dozen people in a lush room of the bureaucracy in Whitehall to discuss academically how railmen will deal amiably with fraught, anxious passengers. It does not reflect well on British Rail that it is seeking such powers.
I should like to mention how some stations are laid out. One of the platforms at Shipley, which is a triangular 1173 station, is a considerable distance from the ticket office. Will machines be placed on all platforms or at a central booking office, such as at Shipley? If people cannot obtain a ticket because the machine is broken or because they do not have the right change, will they miss the train because they are frightened that they may be interrogated by an inspector for not having a ticket? Will British Rail operate a fairly liberal policy and readily accept people's excuses? Will it impose on passengers the same arrogant restrictive nonsense that it imposes on its employees by not allowing them to talk to local newspapers?
It is important that staff are encouraged to take a pride in the railway, and a majority of them do. I speak not as a casual observer but as the founder of the Keighley and Worth Valley railway in Yorkshire. I called its first meeting and did every aspect of work on it from plate laying to firing engines, driving engines and maintenance. I did that from 1961 and negotiated with British Rail until 1982 when pressure of public duties—alack, alas—forced me off the footplate.
I know the details involved in operating railways. I have come across many hundreds and probably thousands of railwaymen and women who exhibit enthusiasm for their network. However, under the terms of this Bill, they would be removed from stations and replaced by ticket machines. It would be preferable if we put all the ticket machines in British Rail's boardroom and got the board of British Rail out on to the stations to deal with the public. Then we might get better decisions from management.
§ Mr. Cryer
Yes. The National Union of Railwaymen might be able to negotiate a decent agreement which, after all, is all that it is trying to do.
In considering whether we should give further consideration to the Bill, we must bear in mind the removal of staff from stations. In our further consideration of the Bill, we cannot exclude other legislation because all this links together. For example, the Social Security Bill contains new regulations requiring people to show that they are actively seeking work. The Opposition argued against that and said it would be difficult to show that someone was actively seeking work. We thought that the proposal was unreasonable and that the test of availability for work, which has operated for many years, was entirely adequate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman once more that the Bill has had its Second Reading. It has been amended in Committee and we are now discussing whether it should be further considered. The hon. Gentleman's points about the Social Security Bill do not arise on this Bill and he would be out of order if he were to discuss them now.
§ Mr. Cryer
My point is related directly to the Bill. This Bill allows penalties to be imposed on passengers who do not have tickets. I understand that British Rail will introduce automatic ticket machines throughout the length and breadth of the land and will have more open stations. Passengers will be obliged to obtain tickets.
In discussing whether the Bill should have further consideration, we must bear in mind a woman who is offered a night job which she cannot refuse because of the 1174 legislation to which I have just referred, but which I will not mention again. It would be dangerous for a woman to work at night if she had to travel on British Rail. The recent employment legislation has removed the protection that prevented women from being employed at night.
I understand why you objected to my previous line of argument, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At first sight, the legislation to which I referred and this Bill do not appear to be linked. However, further consideration of the Bill must involve other legislation because its effects might mean that a woman who had finished night work might require assistance on a station platform late at night. She might hear footfalls in the dark and be afraid. I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are as concerned as I am about the increase in violence since the Government came to office in 1979. Many women are worried about it. A woman coming off night duty might seek assistance and could expect help in a staffed station. However, this Bill will remove staff from stations.
Occasionally staff are not helpful. However, in the main, 99–9 per cent. of staff will help passengers. They help women with prams. They help passengers on to and off trains and they open gates. They also help disabled people. But they are going to be replaced by ticket machines.
I believe that the Bill should be deferred. Having been over the pros and cons of the Bill for only a relatively brief time, I believe that it would probably be better if the sponsor went back to British Rail and said, "I do not think the time is right for a wholesale change in the operation of British Rail."
The Bill gives powers to British Rail management. However, that management has been inconsistent in its operation and has shown itself—even before the present dispute—to be arrogant and prepared to impose its views, whatever their merits, on the rank and file staff—the train drivers, cleaners and station operators. The management's attitude has resulted in the present confrontation and strike action and I lay the responsibility for that entirely at the door of BR management—[Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East has just said from a sedentary position, the Government are leaning on the management. I am always worried by the way in which BR management gives in so easily to the Government and does not exercise its independent—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member. We want to get the debate off to a good start. I remind him and the House again that the Bill is concerned solely with penalty fares for people without a valid ticket. We are now considering whether this comparatively narrow Bill should be considered and whether we should get on to the amendments that have been tabled mostly by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is quite out of order to extend the debate beyond those comparatively narrow issues.
§ Mr. Cohen
Does my hon. Friend accept that one reason why the Bill should not be considered tonight is that British Rail is out of date in respect of modern 1175 management trends? I draw my hon. Friend's attention to British Telecom, which has recently adopted a scheme whereby if it does not provide a service, its customers can claim a refund. In effect, that is a penalty fare in the opposite direction. Should that not apply to British Rail management? Should it not be in the Bill? Should not the sponsor take the Bill back? If British Rail wants to impose penalty fares on people who avoid buying tickets, the management should pay a penalty to the customer when it is wrong.
§ Mr. Cryer
My hon. Friend's argument boils down to the idea that we should give further consideration to the Bill because he suggests an amendment to reverse the concept of penalty fares so that if trains do not arrive a bonus voucher should be given to passengers. That is a very good idea. However, having considered the pros and cons of whether we should further examine the Bill, and bearing in mind my hon. Friend's ingenious proposal, I believe that it may be better if the promoter took the Bill back and suggested that my hon. Friend's ideas would be useful in highlighting the unfair burden which the Bill proposes for passengers. On those grounds, I would have reservations about giving the Bill further consideration.
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) made another good point about the negative penalty fare that could be imposed upon management. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) take that idea on board? A few years ago, I travelled on the TGV between Paris and Lyon. A striking steward blocked the line, and the train had to be diverted. When that happened, the conductor came around handing the equivalent of a fiver back to everybody on the train because of the delay. Such things can be done. Penalty fares should be considered with that in mind.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
There is nothing about penalty fares for management in the Bill. The Bill deals with penalty fares for passengers. The hon. Gentleman's remark would have been perfectly in order on Second Reading, but it is not in order in this debate. We must deal with the Bill as it is, as amended, whether it should be further considered and whether we should discuss the amendments.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Cryer
On whether the Bill should be further considered, which is what we are debating—it is an important item—the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) is outside the terms of the Bill, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as helpfully as always, have pointed out. That reinforces my belief that we should give the Bill further consideration. My hon. Friend's point about refunds to passengers on the TGV should be incorporated in the Bill so that we can give it proper consideration. The Bill is stunted. Unfortunately, no amendment has been tabled to cover that point. That demonstrates the advantages of discussing such issues and of several minds coming together.
Second Reading is some time away, and the Bill will go to a private Bill Committee which, as we know, is not like a Committee that deals with a public Bill where Bills are scrutinised by, perhaps, 20 or 30 hon. Members in Committees that are open to the public. Private Bill 1176 Committees consist of a handful of people—say four or five—so we do not get the same sort of input as we do with public Bills.
Although I cannot discuss the details of the TGV experience, when the conductor handed out refunds. I believe that we should incorporate an amendment to balance the Bill so that passengers have some quid pro quo for the additional difficulties. We accept that the penalties should be imposed; the question is how. Additional penalties are being faced by passengers in difficult circumstances. Innocent people are harassed if they do not have a ticket. Additional powers will be given. M} hon. Friends argue that the Bill should not be given further consideration. British Rail is seeking these powers too early and without proper consideration. It should be able to take advantage of our debates, and, one would hope, reintroduce the Bill in a new form. Therefore, it might be better if we did not give the Bill further consideration at this stage.
§ Dr. Marek
There may be something in that.
There are mitigating circumstances in the Bill. By and large, there are no automatic barriers at British Rail stations—or, rather, I cannot remember whether there are any. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) will contradict me if I am wrong. British Rail may want to introduce automatic barriers at some stage, and it may be possible to do so without further legislation—London Regional Transport was able to introduce automatic barriers without legislation—and most people would then consider this Bill as bad as the one that we considered yesterday.
§ Mr. Cohen
My hon. Friend will know that I have strongly objected to automatic ticket barriers for several reasons, some of which I explained yesterday. I should be greatly concerned if, as my hon. Friend said, British Rail is considering such barriers. Has he heard any hint that that is the case? Many people have said that such barriers do not work and are a waste of money. The public deplore them. On behalf of the House, will my hon. Friend say to British Rail management, "No barriers"?
§ Dr. Marek
We do not want barriers on British Rail. I assure my hon. Friend that we do not need them. British Rail tickets now pass through London Regional Transport barriers. This matter is directly related to penalty fares, safety and whether the installation of barriers is a proper provision of service. Would barriers make British Rail—whether it is underground, as in Merseyside, or above ground, as in most other parts of the country—safer or less safe? That is the central question that we should address.
As I said, British Rail tickets now go through London Regional Transport barriers. If those tickets have a magnetic strip, they will open the gates. It is not inconceivable that, in three or four years, tickets may have an implanted code on the back, showing whether they are blue saver tickets, white saver tickets, first-class tickets, or single or return tickets. All sorts of information could be implanted on the back of a ticket. There may be proposals 1177 for ticket collecting at King's Cross, Euston, Paddington, Waterloo and other major stations to be done by automatic ticket machines. I would not expect the sponsor of the Bill, the hon. Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson), to have an answer to that at his fingertips, but the matter must be considered. I fear that, if that procedure is introduced, it will place this Bill on a par with the one that we considered yesterday.
I compliment the hon. Member for New Forest on being assiduous in his duty and, on more than one occasion, going to his advisers outside the House. Of course we cannot take any notice of them inside the House. I hope that he will reply to the debate before time runs out in a couple of hours. If he can do that, it would compare favourably with the performance of the sponsor of yesterday's Bill, who did not consult his advisers. Perhaps he knew all the answers anyway. He moved the closure of the debate to which he did not reply. This Bill is on a happier path than the Bill that we discussed last night.
Several amendments have been tabled. If we decide to consider the Bill, we will be able to consider them. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South talked about the impact of one or two amendments. I thoroughly approve of the amendment to be moved by the Bill's promoters. If permission is given to go into a restricted area or not to have a current ticket, it should be given not by the person providing the service, but by the person "controlling". That is the word used in the amendment, which is extremely sensible and would enable the Bill to work that little bit better if the House decides to give it its blessing and send it on its way.
Unfortunately, my favourable comments cannot be directed towards the Minister's performance. He is writing and I hope that he is writing something suitable about the Bill and about the debate that has taken place so far. I hope that he will be able to respond positively, or even negatively, this evening. Whether or not he agrees with us is a different matter. What is important is that he should give a constructive response. Certainly, he did not do that yesterday and I would hate him to repeat his performance tonight. I think that he spoke for one minute—
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo)
I want to be entirely sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that I am not the Bill's sponsor. I have already expressed the Government's general support for the Bill and I said that the matters raised during last night's debate were matters for the Bill's sponsor, not the Minister. The Minister had little to add on whether the Bill should be considered further.
§ Dr. Marek
I welcome that response, for which I am grateful. It may be that the point that I wish to raise this evening and which I raised last night will be answered. It 1178 certainly was not answered yesterday. The Minister, perhaps quite rightly, did not answer it and the Bill's sponsor did not seek to speak.
I wish to take up the issue of the level of fare evasion. If the level is not great, it is hardly worth considering the Bill any further. Equally, if the level of evasion is such that considerable extra expenditure would be incurred in combating it and bringing it down to what the sponsor would deem an acceptable level, it would not make economic or any other sense for the promoters to pursue the Bill. The costs involved would exceed the likely return and it would not be worth our while to give further consideration to the Bill. I hope that the hon. Member for New Forest will reply, and that when he does he will address this matter.
How were the figures showing the level of evasion arrived at? What sampling techniques were used? These questions must be answered so that the House is able to make a judgment. It was on this point that I criticised the Minister. I apologise if my criticism was wrongly directed and should have been aimed at the sponsor, whose duty it was to respond. The Minister said:Both London Regional Transport and British Rail lose considerable amounts of money from people travelling on their services without having paid the correct fare or any fare at all"—[Official Report, 28 June 1989; Vol. 155, c. 1057.] However, he did not amplify that statement.
§ Mr. Cohen
It is not just the amounts, and the proof of how they were arrived at, which we need to know before we can give consideration to the Bill; we also need to know the reasons for the evasion. The promoters' statement contains no attempt to consider the possible reasons for the amounts, let alone proof of whether they are correct. Does my hon. Friend consider that we should have received more information before considering the matter in a more detailed way?
§ Dr. Marek
Yes, my hon. Friend is right. I was going to address this issue later in my remarks. There is a lack of information. The promoters' statement gives a background to the Bill and we have received the working party's reports. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South has left his report here for the rest of us to consider. I should certainly like to see it at some stage, although I have a rough idea of what it contains.
We must consider whether the House is able to give a judgment on the Bill which is good enough for the average man in the street to rely on. At the end of the day, we are here to represent our constituents and the public who must be able to rely on us and to know that we have the information on which to base our judgment, and then be able to use our judgment in the most constructive way.
I shall return to the central issue of evasion. The Minister did not spend much time justifying the need for the Bill on the grounds of the amount of evasion. I hope that either the Minister or the hon. Member for New Forest will spend more time tonight giving us the statistics on which the Bill is founded.
Yesterday, I said that one problem of this form of Government was that it was oppositional, in that we face each other and have to try to score points off each other. It would be a great advantage to the country if, instead of doing that at the consideration stage of a private Bill, which is not a completely political measure—I can think of 1179 other measures which are more political—the Minister could ask British Rail and London Regional Transport for the statistics. We must satisfy ourselves about the statistics before we support the Bill and ensure that there is nothing secret about them. I would have been delighted if the Minister had invited us or our agents to come to the Department of Transport, where we would be given every opportunity to see the figures. We would then have been able to exercise our judgment when we spoke in the House.
Unfortunately, the Minister did not take up my request, and did not even reply to it. It may be, as the Minister said, that I should have asked the sponsor of the Bill. It would be useful if the hon. Member for New Forest could persuade British Rail to open the books and show us the sampling techniques used, how the statistics were acquired, over how many days, on which lines and how accurate the estimate was. I think that it was estimated that £36 million was lost in revenue every year. That is a lot of money and if it is the correct estimate it shows that we have a society that we would not wish for. It would be far better for everyone to be honest and to get into the habit of being honest. One way of getting into that habit is to realise that if we are dishonest we are likely to be caught and will have to pay a penalty fare. Bearing that in mind, it would seem that we would all want to speed the Bill on its way. However, it is not as simple as that, because there are disadvantages to it.
§ Mr. Cohen
Advertisements put out regularly by British Rail refer to fare evaders getting a criminal record. Would someone who paid a penalty fare automatically gain such a record? Is there not a danger of information going awry, and would not the possibility of a court appearance be a more effective deterrent than on-the-spot penalties?
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, but I am not sure that I am able to answer it with authority. A system of prosecution might be more effective, but I saw the penalty-fare system working on the excellent Tyne and Wear Metro when I was in Newcastle upon Tyne earlier this week, with spot checks being made on the trains. Although the system is called the Metro, the trains travel overground and the system, which is run by the local authority, is to all intents and purposes a railway system.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt from Newcastle. The carriages of the Metro trains contained large notices saying that anyone caught by an inspector without having paid the proper fare would face a penalty of, I believe, £5 if the fare was paid within seven days and £10 if it was not. No doubt offenders could subsequently be prosecuted; they were certainly asked for their names and addresses. I have not enough experience to know whether the system works: perhaps the Minister knows, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who is an expert in such matters, may also be able to help.
There are ticket machines on the Tyne and Wear Metro, and passengers are, to an extent, honour bound to travel with a valid ticket. There is, of course, a limit to how far the system could be translated to British Rail. The maximum fare on the Tyne and Wear Metro is £1 or £2, and there are ample opportunities for the purchase of day tickets and, no doubt, tickets for a longer period. The fare structure on British Rail is a different matter: a single first-class ticket from Newcastle to London, for instance, 1180 costs nearly £70, and a second-class ticket nearly £50. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that the penalty-fare system is working on the Tyne and Wear Metro.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South said that the working party had not consulted the railway unions. It is sad that those who control the service should have felt that they could decide on the best way of introducing a penalty-fare system without consulting those who would have to operate it. That is one of the faults of British industry in general—but I am sure that I should be ruled out of order if I dwelt on any other aspect of British industry. It is a pity that the consultative document did not benefit from the experience and active participation of employees. I should add that I speak as a Member sponsored by the National Union of Railwaymen.
The difference between this Bill and the London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill is that in the last month or so there has been some consultation—late in the day, but none the less welcome—between British Rail management and the unions. I have a copy of a letter written a few days ago to the general secretary of the NUR by the director of Network SouthEast. As it is not confidential, I may read extracts from it to help hon. Members make up their minds about the Bill. It shows that there has been an attempt at consultation, although it may be too little too late. Other matters, of course, are currently worrying the NUR and British Rail management—but I shall not stray on to that ground either.
If employees can be brought into the consultation—even at this late stage—if an undertaking can be given that the system will operate in a certain way, although there is no such undertaking in the Bill, and if in the end the NUR is satisfied, I am sure that it will say the same as us: "If the Bill cuts down on evasion and leads to a better society, we are for it."
§ Mr. Cohen
I am sure that the railwaymen would say that, but would they not also say that if they are to be responsible for the collection of penalty fares they will expect to be paid for that responsibility, and also that they do not want any redundancies? Is that, perhaps, one of the reasons why British Rail embarked on consultation so late in the day—because it would have to give a commitment on both counts? Does my hon. Friend think that that is why London Regional Transport and London Underground did not consult at all—because they are even meaner in those respects?
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend may well be right; I do not know. I am not saying that I expect the hon. Member for New Forest to be able to answer such questions, but if he happens to know the answer it would be useful to hear it.
It may not be just management that is meaner. There is a paymaster whose representatives sit on the Conservative Benches. They may say that the 7 per cent. is not a magic figure that has come out of a hat, but has been arrived at independently by various bodies. Many hon. Members, however, believe the facts to be slightly different from those presented by the Government or in the faithful press, which renders whatever the Government may say as absolute truth. We are a little cleverer than that in the House.
I am placing the most favourable possible construction on recent events. If the consultation is successful, I shall be happy to withdraw even amendments that I feel, with good 1181 reason, should be made. I shall do so later rather than now, because I hope that we shall consider the Bill and that in time I shall be able to speak to my amendments.
I must, however, get some points straight if the Bill is to be considered. Not only London Underground but British Rail has automatic ticket machines. We must consider the whole issue of the reliability of equipment provided in the past by British Rail and assess whether—should the Bill be passed and an activating order made by the Minister for certain lines—the automatic ticket machines that are to be installed will be maintained to the high degree promised by BR. If they fail to work, will maintenance staff be on hand within a few minutes, failing which will automatic "permission to travel" machines be on hand?
§ Mr. Pike
My hon. Friend will be aware of the number of occasions on the Underground and at other LRT facilities when machines display "No change given" signs. That often puts all the machines out of use, unless the traveller is prepared to pay well in excess of the fare for the journey. Frequently the offices at BR stations will not be open to enable the traveller to buy a ticket.
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend makes an important point. LRT might say that the ticket office will always be open, and that might be the case. Unfortunately, however, one could find Murphy's law in operation, and at the very time when the machines break down, the official in the ticket office has three or four Americans and one or two Japanese visitors wishing to purchase tourist cards for the week, and the traveller knows that there will be no chance for perhaps 15 minutes of his obtaining a ticket. There are usually several ticket machines in operation in LRT locations. With BR, on the other hand—my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East will correct me if I am wrong—there will be only one machine at a station vending tickets automatically.
I appreciate that BR sets service standards. BR says that ticket offices must be open and that people should be able to buy tickets within a few minutes. Can we, using our judgment, say that British Rail will—if the Bill becomes law—service and maintain the machines to a standard which will ensure that any departure from total availability will be so rare that not I nor my hon. Friends the Members for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) will have reason to complain?
I fear that LRT and BR would fail that test now. Certainly the Underground ticket machines would fail the test because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley pointed out, "Exact fare only" is a sign which the machines display all too frequently. That means that they have not been serviced properly in that they do not have sufficient change in them.
§ Mr. Cohen
The Government insist that the lowest tender for maintenance must be accepted. BR might find itself, in this privatised world, with a cowboy contractor servicing and maintaining its machines. In those circumstances, the automatic machines could not possibly be in operation for 99 per cent., let alone 100 per cent., of the time.
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, even if it does not apply to BR's willingness to maintain 1182 the ticket machines so that they are available all the time. If the machines are not working, the passenger who turns up at a station with only a few minutes to spare before his train is due to depart will face a dilemma. If the machine is not working and the authority to travel machine has not been installed or has run out of paper, he must consider whether to board the train and risk having to convince an authorised person—with an explanation that he must deliver within 10 or 20 days, as the Bill lays down—that he had no alternative, with the possibility of being landed with a penalty fare and, even worse, a criminal record.
§ Mr. Cohen
A person in that position might decide to jump on the train because he has a pressing appointment. With the cuts in service that are being made, there could be a long delay before his next train. That passenger may have the intention of paying at the other end. He may have no intention of evading the fare. That raises a whole new implication for the penalty fare concept because it implies an assumption on the part of the traveller to pay at the other end. Should that not be recognised in the Bill?
§ Dr. Marek
I tabled an amendment to that effect, but because it would have involved BR proving an intention it was not selected for debate. I was not surprised at that, because it is difficult to prove an intention. Usually such an issue has to be decided by the Court of Appeal. At the lower level with which we are concerned, the traveller is in a dilemma. He may be in a hurry—in the south-east people are, generally speaking, in more of a hurry than they are elsewhere—and he is faced with the awful decision whether or not to get on the train.
Let us not forget that with InterCity trains the guard will have an awful job trying to get through the whole train to check tickets. If one has jumped on to an InterCity train and is at the back end of a second class, or in a first class compartment—depending, of course, on which way through the train the guard is going—one may get away without paying any fare.
But suppose one has an authority-to-travel ticket or, even worse, no ticket and one must provide an explanation to an authorised person, the guard in the case I am citing. The job of the guard going through a crowded train to check tickets will be almost impossible. On occasions it is impossible already. I cannot imagine how, on crowded trains, that type of situation can be avoided.
Deadlock will occur if there are, say, half a dozen people with authority-to-travel tickets and other people explaining how there were numbers of people at the ticket office or that the automatic machine did not work, or that there was some emergency involving the staff, so that they simply got on the train. Some travellers might want blue saver return tickets, others might want executive tickets, while others might want tickets to proceed to the continent. I do not see how a guard, faced with his other duties, will be able to cope with all that ticket writing and explanation assessing.
How will these issues be addressed by BR on crowded InterCity services, let alone if there has been a breakdown at some starter stations where there have been a dozen or more people wanting tickets and they have been unable to obtain them before commencing their journeys?
§ Mr. Pike
Another problem with the Bill is the increasing use by British Rail of what it calls open stations. I believe that Preston station is to be made open. British Rail is gradually removing ticket barriers, opening up 1183 shopping areas and encouraging people to use the refreshment facilities on the station. Will not such open stations encourage people to get on trains without tickets?
§ Dr. Marek
I cannot see that, although it is another difficult point. It is possible to have open stations. Germany has many open stations so that one can get on any train without a ticket. My hon Friend may view that with dismay, but within three or four minutes a guard comes along asking for a ticket. He is not left by himself—I have seen four guards on some of these trains, and they provide a proper service. However, if there are to be open stations—I am aghast by what my hon. Friend has just said—will the trains be properly staffed and serviced by British Rail employees? I need a lot of convincing.
§ Mr. Cohen
My hon. Friend spoke about the various types of ticket and 1 can see the problems involved in that. Did my hon. Friend see the article by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), the deputy leader of the Opposition, in The Guardian last weekend'? My right hon. Friend asked for toast and was told by a British Rail employee, "Sorry, sir, you are not a first-class passenger." My right hon. Friend replied, "Actually I am." The British Rail employee said, "You still can't have toast because you are not having the full breakfast."
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I find it difficult to see what toast and breakfast have to do with whether the House should consider the Bill.
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend's example shows the inability of the privatised service to provide proper facilities for passengers. Trusthouse Forte now runs the catering service, so questions about that should be addressed to the Minister.
The employees of British Rail must be sure about the ticket machines. Will they be properly serviced? Will they be functioning? Will "permission to travel" machines issue tickets and will tickets, which should be available all the time, be unavailable not less than 0.0001 per cent. of the working year? If we could be satisfied of that, that would overcome the first of the 12 problems that we have to consider before we decide whether to consider the Bill.
Automatic ticket machines are often inoperative. This must happen, because nobody can expect a 100 per cent. operating rate for any ticket machine or "permission to travel" machine or even 100 per cent. availability of booking staff behind the booking window, because emergencies happen. It would be wrong to insist that British Rail has a standard of 100 per cent., although it must have a standard close to that. If something goes wrong, will booking staff be available immediately to be drafted in to where the problem is, to keep the sale of tickets going? It is vital that the answer to that is yes, because if it were not, that would raise many problems and many people would have to make decisions about whether to travel without valid tickets and be liable to penalty fares, or miss their train.
I should like the hon. Member for New Forest to say something about that. What will happen if an emergency affects the availability of booking hall staff'? Many stations have only one person in the booking office. My station of Wrexham has only one little window and usually only one person is there issuing tickets. That employee might not he able to get to the office, perhaps for a silly reason such as 1184 oversleeping—we have all done that. What will happen if he does not open the booking hall and the "permission to travel" machine happens to jam at the same time?
The hon. Member for New Forest must assure me that such problems will occur only 0.0001 per cent. of the time, and justify that record. One needs a bit more than just an assurance. Too often British Rail has said that it will do certain things, or the Secretary of State for Transport has said that he is setting passenger service standards for British Rail, but years go by and they are not achieved. That is not necessarily because British Rail does not want to achieve them, but it is under the constraints of finance. Therefore, we need a commitment that booking staff will be drafted in and people will not have to make such difficult decisions.
The phrase "authorised person" is dotted about throughout the Bill and it would be interesting to know who an authorised person is. Is it a guard, a booking clerk, an inspector, or anybody else working on the railway? All could be an authorised person, but they will need extra training. When staff have to deal with the public, training is important, and British Rail must realise that. The authorised person must have on-the-job training to help him to decide how to handle these issues. British Rail will give him authority, but training is another important aspect.
Let us take the example of a person waiting, with only three or four minutes left before his train is due and the ticket machine is not working and the booking clerk is not available. That person has to decide whether to risk a penalty fare. However, if an authorised person were available he could make the decision. He could say, "Hang on, you've got three minutes before the train goes and the booking clerk will be back in one minute and will be able to give you a ticket, and I shall make sure that the train does not go." On the other hand, the authorised person should also have the power and authority to say, "Four or five people are waiting and the platform is over the bridge and 50 yards down the track so you'd better go now because I can't guarantee that you'll get a ticket. However, you've been here for a few minutes and in those circumstances, it is reasonable to say that it is our failure and I give you authorisation to go. I will make sure that the authorisation I've given is logged properly at the station so that if you are asked by another authorised person why you do not have a 'permission to travel ticket' you can make the relevant statement and it will be backed up by the log that I shall make and the permission that I am giving you." If the Bill is passed an amendment to allow that will have to be made to it.
Not every railway employee is trained to deal with members of the public. Some stations have only a few railway employees and they have to deal with many things. I should like an assurance from the hon. Member for New Forest that on-the-job training will be given so that staff are taught how to handle the public and to minimise aggravating circumstances.
It is also important that a different type of on-the-job training is given to authorised persons who control tickets on trains or in restricted areas to make sure that they know how to minimise violence should a person be found not to be travelling with valid authority to travel. It is not unknown for people who have had too much to drink to be on certain trains on certain lines at certain times of the 1185 week. Guards need training to cope with such people. If any British Rail employee thinks that there is even a remote risk of violence as a result of asking for a ticket, I would advise that employee not to ask for the ticket but to leave it to the British Transport police to sort out the matter at the next station
If a guard asks a person for his authority to travel, if it is not produced and if the guard has to levy a penalty fare, he must be trained on the best way to do it. I think that the guards should work in pairs rather than singly. I am not sure that I am competent at this stage of the debate to judge the issue. I should be grateful if the hon. Member for New Forest could tell us something about that.
If the Bill goes through and penalty fares are to be charged, there should be radio communication between guards or authorised persons who have to exact the penalty fares. There will be a real threat to British Rail employees. There should be a panic button so that British Rail employees would be assured that the train would stop at the next station where there would be an adequate complement of British Transport police to deal with trouble. I am not saying that we are a violent nation and that there will be trouble all the time, but if people who may be violent, perhaps because of alcohol addiction, do not have at the back of their minds the knowledge that they will be caught, put in a cell overnight and perhaps charged, they will take liberties with British Rail staff. No one wants that to happen. An important way of ensuring that it does not happen is to have radio-controlled equipment, panic buttons and a proper complement of British Transport police available to go to stations where trouble may occur. If publicity were given to such incidents, the number would decline.
At this stage I need to have confidence that British Rail would have the equipment and the people available. I do not have that confidence. We need more than an assurance. We need to know the detailed plans that British Rail has for the employment of extra British Transport police, for on-the-job training and for radios and panic buttons to be provided. I welcome the fact that such equipment is being introduced, but more detail is needed.
Wages and salaries are also important. I am not referring to the 7 per cent. pay dispute, but if staff are to be given extra duties they will expect to be remunerated accordingly. I am not asking staff to hold British Rail or the travelling public to ransom by saying that they will not operate the penalty fare scheme unless they get an astronomical amount for doing so. The staff are not asking for that, but they are asking for a little more simply because the job will result in more hassle since people do not like paying penalty fares.
Staff will have to do more on trains in checking tickets and authorities to travel, and in issuing tickets if passengers have a valid explanation. Depending on which side of the bed people get out of in the morning, they are more likely to argue the toss. That will put an extra burden on staff. I shall not dwell too long on the need for extra remuneration. No doubt the hon. Member for New Forest cannot say that everything has been agreed, but I hope that he will go back to British Rail management to point out that that is another central issue which has to be solved. The staff must have confidence that if the Bill becomes an 1186 Act they will get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. No one can ask for more. That is all that the railway employees are asking for.
The next point has already been partly covered. I do not want to delay the House too long, but authorised persons should be conversant with the full range of operating duties. As time goes on there are fewer and fewer employees on British Rail. Because of that, the job that any person has to do multiplies. Any person on a station will have to understand and cope with the new scheme. This fits in with the requirement for on-the-job training. I do not want to repeat what I have said, but British Rail staff will have to be conversant with many more things.
A person who works on the platform of a station may not know all the intricacies of tickets; he may not know whether a ticket machine has broken down or why the booking office is not manned. The ticket office is not always near the gate to the area where a person will be liable to a penalty fare if he is found without valid authority to travel. A lot of education and training will be necessary. I hope that British Rail will make sure that its staff know exactly what they are doing.
We need more British Transport police. I suspect that over the years the number of British Transport police has been reduced. It is only recently that the number has increased. The number of British Transport police in Holyhead has been cut, yet those men serve the line all the way to Crewe. That cannot be right. The certainty or the near-certainty of transgressors being caught—those who are anti-social, violent or who cheat—is the best deterrent. I should like to have some assurances from the hon. Member for New Forest that British Rail takes that matter seriously.
§ Mr. Cohen
This is an important point. The public's perception of safety and fare evasion is bad. Is my hon. Friend aware that the British Transport police undertook a survey at Fenchurch street of the public's perception of those matters, but that has been covered up. The British Rail board has refused to publish that information. Is not that a scandal? Unless that information comes out into the open, such matters cannot be dealt with, and we will not be able to take the necessary steps, such as having more police, to make sure that the system is safer. That has repercussions for the Bill. If the British Rail board is so secretive on such an important matter, how do we know that its figures and its rationale are right in relation to penalty fares?
§ 9 pm
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend is right. I criticised the Government earlier for not being open about their statistics, and British Rail falls into the same category. There is nothing to hide. The British travelling public are not second-class passengers. British voters are not second-class citizens until the day comes to vote. They should be treated with respect and given the information. There should be nothing secret. The hon. Member for New Forest has heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton has said. I hope that such information will be released in the interests of better discussion and a better judgment of the Bill.
Another matter that should be in the Bill but is not is a provision for the review of penalties for fare evasion. I am no expert on Home Office matters, but violent members of the public who assault someone often seem to 1187 receive only a minor penalty. In contrast, a person who fraudulently fiddles I million from the City of London usually gets off and goes to Majorca or the Bahamas. I had better not insult any country, so I withdraw those names. Some—not any of us—may say, "If you can get away with it, good luck to you." We should try to inculcate into people the belief that they should be social and not try to get away with it.
Extra staff would mean a greater certainty of detection. But it is no good if, at the end of the day, those who are caught only get a scolding from the judge or magistrate who says, "Naughty lad, go away and don't come back again." They will know that they can do the same again with impunity. Such a sentence does not deter a certain type of person. It may be that I am wrong about that. I shall take advice to see whether anybody has any experience of that, but it will he useful to consider that when we debate the amendments.
Another important matter is publicity. Many members of the public will not know about the Bill, despite our having considered it in Committee and its having passed all its stages in the House, perhaps leaving this Chamber with one small amendment to go to the other place.
The Bill says something about notices being prominently displayed. I should like an assurance that such notices will not only be displayed and be visible to the public but be comprehensible. In the past, private railway companies and even British Rail were very good at producing notices packed with small print about rules and regulations affecting people intending to travel on the railway, and nobody ever read them. Nevertheless, if anyone transgressed, the rules and regulations were pointed out—but by then it was too late, because ignorance is no defence in law.
If the Bill is to make progress, it must provide for such notices to be easily understood not only by the public at large but by those who are not as conversant with reading as others, or the traveller in a hurry who only has time to glance at the information once or twice. The promoters of the Bill should explain what types of notices will be produced, how many will be displayed, and where, so that we may be convinced that no one can truthfully say, "I did not know the rules. I did not see any notice. I am innocent. How dare you ask me for a penalty fare." I can imagine such arguments being made, but we should try to avoid that likelihood. The promoters should say something about the publicity that will be given at every station to which an activating order will apply.
I suggest to the promoters that any person convicted of assault should be banned from travelling on the railways for five years or some other appropriate period. Such a provision might cut down the number of assaults, particularly if convictions are given widespread publicity. If that is done, I suspect that we shall have a better Bill, a better railway system, and a better society.
I turn to the positive aspects of the Bill, and quote from a letter from Mr. Chris Green, director of Network SouthEast, to Mr. Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen:As you may know, this Bill comes up for consideration in the House of Commons on Thursday evening this week, 29 June. The Bill was reported from the Unopposed Bills Committee on 19 April with a few minor amendments to the drafting, following points made earlier in the Commons debate.1188Dr. Marek has tabled a number of further amendments to the Bill, with the likely effect of delaying or blocking its progress, or disabling its provisions.I certainly do not wish to do that. I hope that I have made my position clear.
Although we may not have time tonight to consider the Bill, I hope that my remarks will be taken seriously. As we all know, private Bills can be considered at 2.30 pm in the afternoon very expeditiously. I hope that my points will be satisfactorily dealt with, so that British Rail's employees will not be confronted by any problems. If so, I shall do my utmost to ensure that the Bill gets a fair wind, even if it cannot be entirely dealt with tonight.
The letter continues:I recognise that this reflects the concerns of your Union about the possible implications for the legislation on members engaged in revenue protection work.That is right, but I have tabled amendments because I believe that they should be made. The letter then says:We have had earlier discussions on the Network SouthEast strategy for revenue protection, in which Penalty Fares form an essential part, and I regret that it has not, in present circumstances, been possible to resume or conclude such discussions, but it would be our intention to do so as soon as the climate is favourable.I welcome unreservedly that statement. It is generous. All hon. Members want the Bill to become law. Nobody should be able to evade paying the proper fare. Mr. Chris Green then says:I should like to reemphasise the purpose of the legislation as we see it. The aims are i) to recover a significant proportion of the revenue currently lost through fare evasion for lack of a proper ticketing discipline.
If that is one of the purposes of the Bill, that is right. We ought to be told how much money is being lost, whether the estimates we have heard about tonight are accurate and whether there will be a proper ticketing discipline. Many of the points that both I and my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South have made are directed at that point. However, to put it bluntly, can we trust British Rail to do it properly, if the Bill becomes law? The letter continues:ii) to undertake ticket checks in a more effective manner and one that allows customer service and access to stations to be improved.The word "effective" can hide many evils. The word means different things to different people. The Government would think it effective to close down the whole railway system and spend no public money on it at all. That is one example of an effective policy from the Government's point of view.
Ticket checks have to be made properly. I have drawn attention to the problems that ticket collectors will have to cope with on crowded InterCity trains. Ticket collectors may have a multiplicity of jobs to do, simply because tickets are not available at certain stations. What will be done to make ticket checks effective? I understand the spirit of the letter, but I need to be convinced that action will follow if the Bill becomes law. Ticket checks must also be in a mannerthat allows customer service and access to stations to be improved.The same comments apply to that statement. I understand the spirit that lies behind it, but does it mean that customers will suffer no traumatic experiences at barriers or with guards when they try to explain why they could not obtain a ticket for their journey? If I could be convinced of that, it would remove one of the important mental obstacles that I have to the Bill. The letter continues: 1189iii) to create conditions in which ticket examining staff have a realistic and more rewarding task, and with their security improved.Again I agree with the spirit that lies behind that statement. Everybody wants the morale of British Rail staff to be high, but it is necessary for the staff to have a fair wage if their morale is to be high. That is a basic necessity. To improve their morale, an agreement has to be reached under which British Rail staff feel that they will receive the right remuneration for the additional jobs that they will have to do.
Of course, conditions will be created whereby ticket examining staff will have a realistic and more rewarding task but it must not be a more harassed and harrowing task in which they are liable to be assaulted. That means that those possibilities must not be in the forefront of the minds of those staff when they check tickets or permissions to travel. We need to be satisfied about that.
I absolutely agree with what the director of Network SouthEast said in his letter, but we need to put a bit of flesh on the bones. The letter continued:You will know that we are already embarking on a substantial investment in improved ticketing facilities. We are also giving a great deal of thought to the staffing aspects of revenue protection, particularly in terms of staff training.That is an important point which I have mentioned, and I am extremely pleased that it is included in the letter.
The letter continued:Staffing levels and remuneration will also be an important matter for further consideration prior to implementation of any Penalty Fares scheme. We also take most seriously the problem of staff security. It is accepted that there are conditions in which it is undesirable for ticket examining staff to work on their own. Penalty fares, by operating on a 'spot check' basis for shorter journeys (and it is only these journeys to which Penalty Fares in effect apply), will allow us to organise our ticket examiners in teams.That is absolutely vital. I tabled an amendment providing that penalty fares can be levied only by an authorised person in the presence of another authorised person. If ticket examiners are to be organised in teams, I shall be very happy to accept that undertaking and, subject to what the hon. Member for New Forest says, I shall withdraw my amendment forthwith on that assurance.
The letter went on:This will enhance both their effectiveness"—that is the ticket examiners—and their own security. There is an opportunity here to improve on the present arrangements in this respect, and it is one that will be lost if the Penalty Fares Bill were to fail.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton will see any other intention in the letter, and I hope that he will give it careful consideration, but, as far as I can see, there is an entirely laudable intention to carry out the aims set out in the letter.
§ Mr. Cohen
Many of the elements in that letter are laudable, particularly the suggestion that ticket examiners should work in teams because of the risks involved. After yesterday's debate when an assurance that we had been given earlier was suddenly limited so that only women in prams could go through the manual gate, when previously we had been assured that anybody would have the freedom to choose, I am worried that we will get an assurance from the sponsor of the Bill that what is in the letter stands, and 1190 there will be teams of collectors, but later that suggestion will be thrown out the window and become worthless and staff will have to work alone in dangerous circumstances.
§ Dr. Marek
I agree with my hon. Friend. I very much hope that the attitude taken by the promoters of the LRT Bill is not the same as that taken by British Rail on this Bill. I have no letter or copy of a letter, and I do not think that any other hon. Member received an equivalent letter from London Regional Transport. I understand that no consultation took place between London Regional Transport and its employees, through the unions that represent them. But some consultation has taken place on this Bill. I shall finish discussing the letter and then I shall conclude my remarks as I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.
The letter continues:We appreciate that there are a number of practical matters to be resolved with staff before any Penalty Fares scheme can be introduced, but the concept is one that is, we believe, in interests of the staff, our customers and the industry. This is a view supported by the users groups.This may be a slight question, but it would be useful if the hon. Member for New Forest could tell us which users' groups support this scheme and whether they have caveats about any aspects of it. That will probably help the House.
The last paragraph of the letter says:In summary, I believe Penalty Fares legislation will enable us to recover significant revenue which would otherwise be lost, to improve security for both customers and staff, and potentially offer more rewarding work. We would wish to arrange formal consultation as soon as we are able, but in the meantime I believe the possible failure of the current legislation would present a significant lost opportunity both for the industry and its staff.Under ideal conditions, I should like to see a Bill on penalty fares introduced, but at this stage there are great hurdles to be overcome before that could be done.
Although I may have sounded a bit optimistic in the past 10 minutes, I will now bring myself down to reality. The omens are not good. Although consultation took place, it did not take place when the original consultation document was drawn up. In other areas, consultation between British Rail and its staff is perfunctory. The system of consultation between British Rail and its staff was good in the past, but it has not been used recently by British Rail management. That has been the problem. It is a great pity that the employees were not brought into the consultation from its inception so that a proper Bill could have been fashioned. After all, it is the employees who will have to operate the system and understand it. They could forewarn management of any problems.
I have already referred to the other omens that are not so good, so I shall mention them only briefly now. British Rail has much to do to convince me that it will maintain the machines properly and that the authority-to-travel machines will always be working. It has much to do to convince me that there will always be someone in the booking office and that people will always be able to buy tickets. All that requires money. In the past 10 years, finance has always been in short supply because the Government do not believe in spending money on public services. British Rail is an agent of the Government in that respect.
As a legislature, we are debating whether to give consideration to the Bill, so British Rail has a different duty. It can say that it cannot give such assurances because it has to cut down on the maintenance of machines, 1191 escalators and other areas. If it does that, the outlook will be extremely bleak. I hope that British Rail will say that it wants the Bill because it believes that the gains in terms of lower fare evasion would be worth the running costs of having proper machines in order, making arrangements for them to be properly maintained and ensuring that booking clerks were in place. British Rail could say to us, who are the legislature, that it guarantees that maintenance will be tip-top and that tickets will be available at all stations. I hope that British Rail will explain the parameters of the scheme and the way in which it will set about introducing it. It is no good British Rail saying merely that it will introduce the scheme and hope that we will be satisfied. Previous experiences have always led to disappointment. British Rail needs to say how it will carry out the scheme and what resources it will spend on the system to ensure that it will be carried out properly.
British Rail must ensure that staff have high morale, which means that they must have a fair day's pay for a fair day's work in the operation of the system. I want to be satisfied on that point. We cannot negotiate the matter here, because it is the wrong place, but I want to be satisfied on that before the Bill receives its Third Reading. There must be adequate safeguards for staff and the number of assaults should decrease. Enough equipment should be supplied and the necessary action must be taken to reduce the number of assaults.
I hope that the hon. Member for New Forest understands the apprehension that I and others feel. We would basically like the Bill if all the conditions were right. I am a little pessimistic about achieving that and I wait with interest to hear the hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
I have listened with interest to hon. Members' speeches.
I remind the House that the Bill has been before Parliament for more than 18 months. It had an unopposed Second Reading in the other place on 2 March 1988. No petitions were deposited against it in the House of Commons and on 6 February this year it was given its Second Reading in this place. The Bill, as amended, was reported from the Unopposed Bills Committee on 19 April. It has the support of the Department of Transport. As the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) pointed out from a letter that he read out, consultations are taking place with the general secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen. The Bill is not new. It has been discussed over a long period. At its heart lies this simple question: do fare-paying passengers want to pay for those who cheat and go without tickets? That question must be resolved.
The hon. Member for Wrexham pointed out in the early part of his remarks that he welcomed the idea that the Bill should be considered, but he was more realistic in his closing remarks when he pointed out that that consideration would not take place this evening. I have a nasty feeling that, regardless of what I say, that will not happen.
Two options are available. One is that British Rail should collect the correct fare from fare-paying passengers. The other is that it should institute criminal proceedings against those who try to avoid payment. Those proceedings can be brought, as was made clear on Second Reading, under the Regulation of Railways Act 1889 and the attendant section 67 of the Transport Act 1962. The purpose of the Bill is to move away from those cumbersome criminal proceedings towards a penalty fare 1192 scheme which can be much quicker and avoid the time-wasting and costs of pursuing matters through the courts.
The questions which were posed tonight on the extent of fare avoidance were dealt with in detail on Second Reading in February. I remind the House of the skeleton of those figures. I corrected the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), who is not in his place now, and said that the figures for Network SouthEast alone were estimated at £36 million. There is probably a short fall of about £50 million over the whole railway network. As has been shown, much of the avoidance takes place over comparatively short journeys. The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) pointed out that my constituency of New Forest comes within the scope of Network SouthEast. I assure him that my honest constituents are only too delighted to see action being taken against those who ride for nothing on the railway system.
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
The figures were givers to me by British Rail. May I carry the figures a little further before answering the hon. Gentleman's question? We may be talking about annual fare evasion on 20 million journeys. We are discussing short journeys, for which I have given a global figure for evasion of £50 million. Hon. Members have asked how those figures are calculated. On instruction from British Rail, inspectors take part in regular sampling. That procedure is statistically sound, but I entirely recognise the point made by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) that the figures are not detailed and therefore cannot be absolutely correct. Inevitably, they are round figures, but they are causing sufficient concern for British Rail's management to believe that action must be taken.
§ Mr. Cohen
What evidence has the hon. Gentleman or British Rail to show that this fraudulent behaviour occurs on short journeys? Often when people get to their destination they say, "I got on at the previous stop." That would imply longer journeys. Indeed, the huge figure for fare evasion would imply longer journeys. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's stout defence of the honesty of his constituents, but the implication of his remarks is that they are dishonest.
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
The hon. Gentleman correctly asks how we know that evasion takes place on short journeys. Longer journeys allow more time for ticket inspection, and the trains used have corridor facilities. I well remember when I had the privilege of representing the constituency of Lewisham, West from 1964 to 1966. At that time, trains consisted of single units with no connecting corridors, so obviously there was difficulty in inspecting tickets on the train.
Over the past 12 months, there have been between 3,000 and 4,000 prosecutions for fare evasion under the 1962 Act. We are dealing with a considerable problem, but the many court cases that are necessary to deal with those prosecutions, with all the work that is required to bring them to a conclusion, could be avoided by the penalty fares scheme.
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. Gentleman referred to "statistically sound" figures. Without wishing to impugn his straightforwardness in putting forward these matters, will he accept that those "statistically sound" figures perhaps were prepared by people within British Rail whose track record for preparing statistics is not the best? I am thinking of those who prepared the statistics for the estimated cost of repairing the Ribblehead viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle line, or those who prepared the figures that British Rail used to justify branch line closures in the 1960s and 1970s. Is it not a fact that all too often British Rail provides figures that are mainly invented and designed only to reinforce its somewhat specious case?
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
I listened to the hon. Gentleman's comments with interest. We are discussing one of the last of the great nationalised industries. An outside spectator might be concerned that the industry has been given a rough evening of criticism and comment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's comments are not true. The management of British Rail is doing a good job in difficult circumstances and it is now providing an excellent service for the travelling public. However, there is always room for improvement.
I want now to consider some of the points raised by the hon. Members for Wrexham and for Bradford, South. Several of those points revolved around concerns about the facilities which will be provided to ensure that the scheme works effectively. I want to make it perfectly clear that the passage of this Bill into law will not automatically bring the scheme into operation. The scheme must be activated and British Rail has made it clear that no such activation would be requested until it was totally convinced that the right equipment and the right publicity had been provided to ensure that the travelling public understood the scheme and that the problems that have been referred to of the difficulty in obtaining tickets had been dealt with.
As I explained on Second Reading, there will inevitably be occasions when the travelling public will have difficulty in obtaining tickets. That is why new automatic machines—of which 1,000 are on order—will be brought into play and why the new deferred ticket machine which will accept all coins from 5p to £1 will also be available on station concourses. Therefore, passengers who have not been able to obtain a full ticket, perhaps because of queues, will be absolved from blame if they possess a deferred payment ticket. They will be able to pay the remainder of the ticket price later.
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. Gentleman has just raised a very important point. When we debated this on Second Reading I understood that the deferred payment machine would not be activated unless it was impossible for passengers to buy tickets at the booking office. Is that wrong, or has there been a change since Second Reading?
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
Those machines will be available for use all the time.
Safeguards for passengers who are concerned about whether they are guilty of misdemeanours are contained in clause 4. Those are far-reaching safeguards. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East will recall that I read out a list of possible situations in which a passenger might find himself and it would be wrong of me to read it out again. However, it is important to point out that detailed training will be required of those who will be responsible 1194 for carrying out the ticket checks. People checking tickets must listen to the passenger's explanation. They will not automatically say, "You're guilty." There may be reasons why the passenger had difficulty in obtaining a ticket and there may be a sensible explanation. If it is immediately obvious that British Rail is at fault at the ticket office—and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East has just raised this point—that will be taken into consideration before a penalty notice is issued.
If a passenger's explanation is suspect, the authorised person will begin to press for details, including the passenger's address. If he is not satisfied, he or she will report the matter to the penalty fares office with a brief statement from the passenger—the passenger still has an opportunity to make his excuse available to the final arbiter. The name and address and other details of the passenger will be checked and only then will a penalty fare notice be issued. The passenger will then be told that he has 21 days to pay. That is another safeguard. Had we had time to consider the amendments, we would have considered one tabled by the hon. Member for Wrexham on that point. It is important to make it crystal clear that no penalty fare notice will be issued until it is found that the circumstances are correct. I would not want any prospective, law-abiding British Rail traveller to feel that he was risking being forced to pay a fine.
§ Mr. Pike
There is a fear that the genuine passenger who wants to pay the fare will be worried about incurring the penalty fare. The hon. Gentleman said that the scheme cannot be activated until British Rail is satisfied that the ticket machines and staffing systems are correct. Who must the board of British Rail satisfy? Must it satisfy the Secretary of State or the House? It is important to know that.
§ Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) has made an important point. I direct his attention to clause 8(2), which states:It shall be the duty of the Board to secure that the requirements of subsection (3) below with respect to warning notices are met in the case of a train service in relation to travel on which the penalty fare provisions have effect.Clause 8(3) states:A warning notice stating the amount of the penalty fare shall be posted at every station at which persons may start to travel on a train service, in such a position as to be readily visible to prospective passengers and shall (however expressed) indicate the circumstances (as provided in section 4(1) or, as the case may be, 5 of this Act) in which they may be liable to pay a penalty fare.
Until those provisions are satisfied, the Secretary of State will not activate the scheme. It is certain that British Rail will not enter into a penalty fare scheme unless the board is satisfied that its passengers—its customers; those who make its profit—are sure that the scheme will work. It is important to assure the travelling public that the scheme is designed to help them and to make sure that, when they buy a ticket, they do not pay for those who travel without one.
Reference has been made to the use of automatic gates. There was a danger of comparing British Rail's automatic gates with the barriers that were discussed in last night's debate about LRT. British Rail has no plans to install automatic gates at its stations. Obviously, at a small number of stations they are in joint operational ownership with the tube service, but, as a general rule, British Rail does not intend to install them.
1195 British Rail is opting for the type of open station that is common on the continent of Europe, both east and west. Britain remains almost the only country in Europe, east or west, with the manned barriers to which we have become accustomed. There is no danger of the travelling public being trapped in the way that the hon. Member for Bradford, South suggested.
Unfortunately, we are not likely to complete our consideration of the Bill this evening. I recognise that Opposition Members have reservations about the consultation that has taken place. The letter from the board to the general secretary which the hon. Member for Wrexham read contains answers to many of the questions that have been posed during this debate. I should like to believe that, even if we cannot complete consideration of the Bill this evening, it will he possible to do so swiftly at some other time.
It is in the interests of British Rail and the travelling public to clear up what has frankly become a millstone around the financial management of the hoard. It really cannot be right for those who honestly purchase a ticket for a journey to have in the back of their mind the knowledge that many of those travelling with them are doing so for nothing, and that, as a result, fares will rise and the service will become less than adequate.
I urge the House to allow the Bill to proceed and for it to pass to the statute book as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
As usual, the House will be grateful to the hon. Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson) for the able and courteous way in which he has dealt with the Bill and the other matters for which he is responsible. I would have risen before him had I realised that he was going to speak when he did. I make no complaint about that, but there are one or two points that I wish to make which have either not been dealt with or have been dealt with inadequately during this debate.
I do not wish to labour the point about statistics and how soundly based they may be, but I repeat, without criticising the principle of nationalised industries—which the hon. Member for New Forest artfully suggested I had done—that the invention of statistics to prove a case is not confined exclusively to the public sector. I am sure that he will agree with that. Many hon. Members, probably from both sides of the House, must be suspicious of the enormous sums which it is regularly alleged are being lost to British Rail through fare evasion.
The fact that fare evasion takes place is unchallengeable. Many hon. Members believe that British Rail assists the fraudulent traveller by its staffing policies and philosophies, particularly on many branch lines.
During last night's debate on London Regional Transport's equivalent of this measure, I put forward some fairly strong views about the management's attempts to justify its consistent policy of demanning the system to save money and please its political masters. The side effects of that demanning, which also apply to British Rail, actively assist those who wish to travel fraudulently. The Bill is supposed to provide a solution to the problem.
The West Midlands passenger transport authority is responsible for operating stopping trains throughout a fairly wide area, from Coventry in the south to Wolverhampton in the north, as well as the branch lines in between. The passenger transport authority was recently 1196 concerned about fare evasion and fraudulent travel and, to demonstrate its concern, had considerable and protracted correspondence with British Rail. It frequently requested British Rail to do something about the large number of stations in that area with which, for various reasons—normally staff sickness and inability to provide cover—British Rail seemed unable to deal.
So concerned was the passenger transport authority that it provided specific funds to try to rectify the problem. The funds are to provide not only extra British Transport police officers to patrol each line in the area for which it is responsible, but a squad of seven additional travelling ticket inspectors. The authority has given me some statistics demonstrating British Rail's lack of action to combat fraudulent travel.
A letter from the office of councillor Phil Bateman, chairman of the West Midlands passenger transport authority, to British Rail quotes paragraph 3 of a report which, under the headingStations not staffed to schedule: 6 weeks 27 March to 7 May 1989",lists 13 instances of unscheduled stations covering a total of 62 hours. It states:West Midlands stations are open for approximately 40,000 hours over a 6-week period. All instances were due to staff sickness exceeding relief cover.The worst cases mentioned are Northfield and Perry Barr, two surburban stations in the Birmingham area.
The study undertaken by British Rail into the amount of fraudulent travel in the region came up with an estimate—accepted by the passenger transport executive—of £550,000 per annum. That is a considerable sum and many of us would wish such a large amount of fraud to be stopped, but it is nothing like the multi-million pound estimate that has been presented as a justification for the Bill.
§ Mr. Cohen
My hon. Friend has mentioned a number of stations in his patch in the west midlands. The Government have raised the spectre of privatisation out of spite, because they are trying to attack the trade unions. Would not a number of the stations to which my hon. Friend has referred be threatened with closure, and others suffer reduced services, under privatisation? Rural lines would also be affected, as would some of the less fashionable lines in London, such as the Gospel to Barking Oak line, which runs through my constituency and provides a valuable service. Would not privatisation have implications for penalty fares? Presumably it would mean higher prices and a private police force to collect the fares.
§ Mr. Snape
My hon. Friend paints a lurid scenario. I may have misheard him—I think that it is Gospel Oak to Barking rather than Barking Oak to Gospel—but, not being an expert on the North London line, I can only surmise that he may be correct.
The West Midlands passenger transport authority is paying a considerable amount to keep open the stations that I mentioned, because of the contribution that local rail services make both to the economic well-being of the west midlands and to alleviating road congestion in the region. If the PTA's contribution was withdrawn and responsibility for the stations became once more that of British Rail—as was the case before the Transport Act 1968—I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's scenario would become reality.
1197 The hon. Member for New Forest will accept that I have cited some figures provided by British Rail and accepted on this occasion by those responsible for paying BR to operate those services. Although the sums are considerable, and we deplore the amount of fraud that takes place in the west midlands, they are not the multi-million pound sums that have been mentioned to justify the Bill.
Like their managerial counterparts in London Transport as was and London Underground Limited as it is now known, British Rail management has contributed towards the whole business of fare evasion. Indeed, when one reads the report entitled "Penalty Fares on Public Transport," to which reference has been made on numerous occasions in these debates, it is difficult to find much reference to BR.
The report, detailed though it is, was compiled almost exclusively as the result of an investigation into London Transport, although some reference is made in the report to other self-contained railways—if I might refer to them in that way—such as the Docklands light railway and the Tyne and Wear Metro. The only reference that I can find to BR to justify this amendment measure appears in paragraph 43, which says:In addition—that is in addition to the other railway routes to which I have referred, such as the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority routes, the South Yorkshire light railway and the Docklands light railwayBritish Rail are looking into the possibility of a penalty fares scheme. They are aware of the Working Group's deliberations and will be preparing their proposals in the light of this Report.It is worrying to think that the people responsible for compiling that report evidently carried out little, if any, investigation into its impact on BR. Hon. Members who take an interest in these issues will concur with the belief of my hon. Friends and I that there is a big difference between the heavy rail system, as it is known, operated by BR and the small self-contained systems such as the Docklands light railway or the other proposed developments in Yorkshire and Manchester which, desirable though they may be, have not yet come to fruition.
The trouble with BR arises from the long-term and chronic problem of underinvestment at many railway stations. They are, because they were built a long time ago, often dingy, Victorian structures. Although creditable efforts have been made to tidy, clean up and modernise many of them, many of them remain in that dingy state.
The fact that the underlying theme of the Bill, like its London Transport counterpart, is designed to justify a further reduction in staff will mean that those dingy, dark, ill lit stations will be even less likely to be properly manned in the future. The onus and burden of proof for those who travel without tickets will fall particularly on those who decline to loiter for a moment longer than necessary on station platforms when it is necessary to purchase tickets.
Assurances were given by the hon. Member for New Forest that where a permit to travel or authority-to-travel ticket is purchased from a machine—
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 104, Noes 14.
|Division No. 269]||[10 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Amess, David||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Lightbown, David|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Lilley, Peter|
|Atkins, Robert||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Atkinson, David||Lord, Michael|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Lyell, Sir Nicholas|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Macfarlane, Sir Neil|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Maclean, David|
|Boswell, Tim||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Bowis, John||Mans, Keith|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Bright, Graham||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Butler, Chris||Mitchell, Sir David|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Moate, Roger|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Moss, Malcolm|
|Carrington, Matthew||Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|Carttiss, Michael||Neubert, Michael|
|Chapman, Sydney||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Chope, Christopher||Norris, Steve|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Devlin, Tim||Portillo, Michael|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Rattan, Keith|
|Dover, Den||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Dykes, Hugh||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Fallon, Michael||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Forth, Eric||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Franks, Cecil||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Freeman, Roger||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Shersby, Michael|
|Gill, Christopher||Sims, Roger|
|Gow, Ian||Stevens, Lewis|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Ground, Patrick||Summerson, Hugo|
|Hague, William||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Harris, David||Thorne, Neil|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Thurnham, Peter|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Tredinnick, David|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Wood, Timothy|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)|
|Irvine, Michael||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Janman, Tim||Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||and|
|Jones, Robert B (Herts W)||Sir Michael McNair-Wilson.|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Randall, Stuart|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Foster, Derek||Snape, Peter|
|Haynes, Frank||Wareing, Robert N.|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Mallon, Seamus||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Marek, Dr John||Mr. Peter L. Pike and|
|Nellist, Dave||Mr. Harry Cohen.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.1199
§ Question, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered, put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ It being after Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.
§ Bill to be further considered on Thursday 6 July.