HC Deb 26 April 1961 vol 639 cc433-6

3.59 p.m.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require railway authorities to give greater protection to the carrying of Her Majesty's mail. I ask for leave to bring in this modest Bill because I believe that in the last few years public confidence in this essential service has been badly shaken, Indeed, my own confidence—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Would hon. Members give to the hon. Member who is asking leave to bring in this Bill such a hearing as they would like to be given themselves in similar circumstances?

Mr. Jones

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I believe that I had reached the point where I was saying that my confidence as well as the confidence of the public had been shaken because of my experience with certain railway guards.

I should like to tell the House that on coming from Manchester to London, and going from my compartment to the luncheon car, I passed the grilles where mailbags are kept and I found that a child could open them without difficulty. There was no guard there. On my return the guard was there, and I asked him what would prevent me from taking the bags while he was away. The man, who was rather shaken by my frank approach, admitted that the position was not satisfactory. I asked him what he would suggest, from his experience, to remedy this quite unsatisfactory state of affairs, He told me that, in his opinion, the grilles should be padlocked.

As a consequence, and because I am apprehensive of these continuing robberies, I put a Question to the Minister in December, 1960. It was along the lines that I have already indicated, and the Minister, in reply, said that provisions would be made that would incorporate these ideas. I have to say, with a real sense of dismay, that about four months later, in, I believe, March or April of this year, a further robbery was perpetrated and that in the process one of the railway guards was subjected to injury. I believe that I can deduce from that that the suggestions that I made in December, which were accepted by the Minister, had not been put into force. Therefore, I feel that something practical should be done about it.

I should like to bring to the attention of the House statistics which, I am sure, will convey to the House and to the public the concern that is properly felt. In the fourteen years from 1947–48 to 1960–61, mail bags lost numbered 8,090 and the money involved in the loss amounted to the very appreciable total of £287,071. In addition, there have been 10 further mailbag robberies where the total losses, for some reason or another, are not available. I should make it quite clear that the amount that I have mentioned could be very much greater.

I think that I should bring to the attention of the House that the number of staff injured during those years totalled 33. While this state of affairs is allowed to continue, I would suggest most emphatically that railway guards are subjected to unnecessary danger. The entry of robbers into a mail van is prevented only by the presence of the guard. Consequently, they conclude that if they can remove the guard their entry will be uninterrupted. I would emphasise that, apart from the sanctity of Her Majesty's mail, there is the question of the prevention of injury to people who, I believe, are performing a very fine service. Also, the inconvenience and annoyance to the public by virtue of these losses must be quite incalculable. I would not care to say to what extent, but I am sure that this loss of mail causes interruption of business and a great deal of inconvenience and annoyance.

The purpose of my very modest Bill—and I use the word "modest" quite meaningfully—is to tighten up the present unsatisfactory position. That, I believe, can be done by the provision at railway stations of unloading and loading areas which have definitely restricted access, and by better security procedure, with a sensible multiplicity of trained personnel.

With regard to the provisions inside the train and on the grilles in question, I suggest, and I make this a provision in the Bill, that there shall be containers which will resist attack to the locks, walls, floor and roof. They must be robust enough to present a real safe-breaking problem and anchored securely to the floor. Additional safeguards would be advisable, such as a warning device, visible and audible, when unauthorised interference with the container was made and that it should operate inside the train and externally. An alternative to conventional locking could be achieved by electro-magnetic means. I am reliably informed by trained technicians that the moment these locks are interfered with by unauthorised persons the alarm would be raised.

I am not pretending for a moment that this modest Bill would effect 100 per cent. cure. I do, however, suggest, notwithstanding the need for secrecy in these matters—I say that because when the Minister replied to Questions which I put on this point last week he said that there was a need for secrecy—that, who-ever knows about these measures, it cannot alter the fact that they would provide a most powerful deterrent. I believe that my Bill could hope to achieve, notwithstanding knowledge made public, a greater sense of security to the Royal Mail and to the staff of both British Railways and the Post Office.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. D. Jones, Mr. Iorwerth Thomas, and Mr. G. Elfed Davies.