HC Deb 25 June 1984 vol 62 cc762-75

Lords amendment: No. 26, after clause 52 insert the following new Clause— .—(1) This section and the three next following sections have effect in relation to—

  1. (a) travel on a bus service to which this section applies; and
  2. (b) travel on a train service to which this section applies; if an order under section (Operation of the penalty fares provisions) of this Act is for the time being in force with respect to the service in question.

(2) Subject to subsection (4) below, if at any time during his journey on any bus service to which this section applies on which fare tickets are issued in return for fares paid by persons travelling on that service a person so travelling fails, on being required to do so by an authorised person, to produce any necessary fare ticket for his journey on that service, he shall be liable to pay a penalty fare in respect of that journey.

(3) Subject to subsection (4) below, if a person travels on any such bus service on which fare tickets are not so issued without paying the fare (if any) properly payable for his journey on that service, or for any part of his journey on that service, he shall be liable to pay a penalty fare in respect of that journey.

(4) A person shall not be liable to pay a penalty fare—

  1. (a) in a case within subsection (2) above, if he had no reasonable opportunity to obtain any necessary fare ticket before the time when he was required to produce such a ticket;
  2. (b) in a case within subsection (3) above, if he had no reasonable opportunity to pay the fare in question before the time when he was found to have failed to pay it.

(5) Subject to subsection (6) below, if at any time during his journey on any train service to which this section applies a person travelling on that service fails, on being required to do so by an authorised person, to produce any necessary fare ticket for his journey on that service, he shall be liable to pay a penalty fare in respect of that journey.

(6) A person shall not be liable to pay a penalty fare by virtue of subsection (5) above if he had no reasonable opportunity to obtain any necessary fare ticket, or a deferred fare authority applicable to his journey or to any relevant part of his journey, at the time when he started to travel.

(7) A penalty fare payable by any person under this section in respect of any journey shall be an amount equal to—

  1. (a) the minimum penalty; or
  2. (b) the default fare for the journey multiplied by the multiplier; whichever is the greater; and any such penalty fare shall be payable to the person providing the service in question within the period of twenty-one days beginning with the day following the date on which the journey was completed.

(8) In subsection (7) above—

  1. (a) "the minimum penalty" means or such other (lower or higher) sum as the Secretary of State may by order prescribe; and
  2. (b) "the multiplier" means ten or such other (lower or higher) figure as the Secretary of State may by order prescribe.

(9) In any case within subsection (2) or (5) above the default fare for the journey mentioned in subsection (7)(b) above is—

  1. (a) where the whole of the distance travelled on that journey was not covered by any fare ticket produced by the person in question or by any deferred fare authority or other valid authority to travel, an amount equal to the full fare for the whole of that distance;
  2. (b) where any (but not the whole) of the distance so travelled was not so covered, an amount equal to the full fare for that part of that distance;
  3. (c) where the whole or any part of the distance so travelled was covered by a fare ticket so produced showing payment of a fare appropriate in the case of another category of traveller but lower than the fare properly payable by the person in question for that journey or for the relevant part of that journey, an amount equal to the difference between the fare shown on the ticket and the full fare for that distance or (as the case may be) for that part of that distance; and
  4. (d) where both paragraphs (b) and (c) above apply, the aggregate of the amounts applicable under each of those paragraphs.

(10) In any case within subsection (3) above the default fare for the journey mentioned in subsection (7)(b) above is an amount determined by applying subsection (9) above, taking references (however expressed) to a fare ticket produced by the person in question and the fare shown on any such ticket as references to a fare paid by that person.

(11) In this section "full fare" means, in relation to the whole or any part of the distance travelled by any person on a journey on any bus or train service to which this section applies, the single ordinary fare payable by an adult for travelling on that service for that distance or (as the case may be) for that part of that distance on a journey corresponding to the one actually taken (but treated, where it covers part only of the distance travelled on that journey, and also where the whole of the distance so travelled formed part of a journey made partly by way of another service, as a separate journey).

(12) The liability of any person under this section to pay a penalty fare in respect of any journey is subject to section (Exclusion of double liability) of this Act."

Mrs. Chalker

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 27, 28, 29 and 30.

Mrs. Chalker

These five clauses were introduced as Government amendments, following representations in another place that action should be taken to reduce the current level of fraud by the introduction of penalty fares. Fare evasion on London Transport is a severe problem. Every effort has been made to reduce its effects by normal means, but in 1983 the total loss from fraud, mostly in the form of fare dodging, was £25 million. That represents about a 5 per cent. loss of revenue, and effectively adds 6 per cent. to the fares which would otherwise have to be paid.

There is a further important consideration. It is well known that the Government's aim is to ensure that LRT reduces its costs, improves its efficiency and generally provides better value for money. London transport is already in the process of introducing automated fares collection and ticket issue. When the new underground ticketing system is fully operational there will be automatic gates at central stations and open barriers at surbaban stations. It does not take much imagination to recognise the opportunities that the new system would afford to the determined fare dodger unless steps are taken to impose an appropriate penalty if the proper fare is not paid. Without such measures it would be impossible to achieve the savings that we want in this area, which will benefit travellers and ratepayers alike.

9.15 pm

Although there are sound reasons for introducing the measures, the Government have been conscious of another important consideration—the need to protect the rights of the individual. Therefore, the measures include several safeguards for travellers, and improvements in this respect were made during consideration of the clauses in another place. It is important to place on record at the outset the fact that the measures do not represent an on-the-spot: fine. As part of the conditions of travelling on LRT services, travellers will be liable to a surcharge or penalty fare if they do not pay the proper fare.

What is involved is not the creation of a new criminal offence, with the fine being exacted outside normal court procedures. It is simply the creation of a new civil liability. Although it will be possible for the traveller to pay the surcharge on the spot, he will have 21 days in which to pay. If he chooses not to pay, LRT's redress for the recovery of the penalty fare lies only in a civil action in the county courts. The new conditions will be displayed prominently at stations, on trains and on buses to ensure that travellers are fully aware of their liabilities. In addition, an undertaking was given in another place that the notice issued to someone liable to a penalty fare will contain information as to his rights and obligations, and that the form of the notice will be subject to approval by the Secretary of State.

My second point—I apologise for taking a long time, but the measures are new to the House and I should discuss them in detail—is that the measures ensure that travellers will not be liable to pay a penalty fare if they had no reasonable opportunity to pay the proper fare or to obtain a ticket. In this context we have given an undertaking, which I am happy to repeat now, that the measures will not be introduced on the underground until we are satisfied that appropriate equipment is in place to ensure that a reasonable opportunity exists to obtain an appropriate ticket or authority to travel.

The measures create a new civil liability for nonpayment of the proper fare. They will apply to those who travel with intent to avoid payment and who will remain liable, if they do not pay the penalty fare, to prosecution. They will also apply to those who override with every intention of paying. The Government are aware that extending sanctions into new areas almost inevitably restricts the freedoms of some innocent people. We have considered that aspect carefully, but we can see no alternative to the approach embodied in the clauses if the provisions are to be effective in their purpose, which is to help to eradicate the high level of fraudulent travel on London's public transport.

I shall say a few words about how the system will work. The first new clause, in amendment No. 26, provides that if a person does not pay the proper fare for the whole or any part of his journey he will be liable to a penalty fare of either £5 or 10 times the amount of the unpaid fare, whichever is the greater. There will be no liability to a penalty fare if the traveller had no reasonable opportunity to pay the proper fare or to obtain a fare ticket for the journey in question. The clause also defines the terms and method of calculation for a penalty fare.

The second new clause, in amendment No. 27, provides that the penalty fares system will apply on all LRT bus and train services, on the services of any subsidiary of LRT, and on the services of any person operating under agreement with LRT, where the agreement states that the penalty fares provisions are to apply. That is a section 3(2) agreement. The clause also sets out definitions of terms used concerning fares, tickets, journeys, and so on.

The third new clause, amendment No. 28, places a duty on LRT to ensure that warning notices about liability for penalty fares and about the minimum amount are displayed at every station, in every train and on every deck of every bus. Any order varying the penalty fare will be subject to the negative resolution procedure in Parliament.

The fourth new clause, amendment No. 29, provides that a traveller will not have a double liability for an offence relating to fares. If he is liable for a penalty fare, no proceedings can be brought within a period of 21 days. Any liability to prosecution will be discharged by payment of the penalty fare. On the other hand, if proceedings are brought after the 21-day period against a person of offences related to non-payment of fares, he will not be liable to pay the penalty fare.

The final new clause, amendment No. 30, provides for the Secretary of State to bring the penalty fares provisions into effect by order at the request of LRT for bus and train services separately. The clause also sets out provisions relating to revocation of the orders and the suspension of similar provisions in local Acts which appear to the Secretary of State to be unnecessary when the new provisions are brought into effect.

As I mentioned earlier, the clauses have been inserted specifically at the request of another place where they received all-party support. Some improvements were made during their passage but I am happy to repeat an assurance that was given in another place that if further improvements can be identified before the provisions come into effect, we shall be prepared to implement them in amending legislation.

While those measures may be new to London they are not new to other areas which have their own schemes. There are schemes in Manchester, Tyne and Wear and Cardiff, and they are used in those areas. Therefore, although they are not common and new to the House, because they have come up—I think I am right in saying—under local provisions, another place thought that they were extremely worthwhile, indeed necessary, to make the whole business of fare-dodging a thing of the past. I commend the new clauses to the House and hope that the House will agree with the Lords in the said amendments.

Mr. Snape

I hope that my hon. Friends will agree that to make such a drastic change and to tack it on to the end of a 66-clause Bill which took up a considerable proportion of three months in Committee is not a particularly satisfactory procedure. This detailed series of serious clauses has been added on to the Bill only after it disappeared to the other place and it is unsatisfactory for the Government to adopt such a procedure. Had this succession of clauses appeared in the Bill originally, we could have had a fairly full and comprehensive debate in Committee on the whole issue of the principle of the levying of fines and the quasi-judicial role which those responsible for the checking of tickets will adopt under these clauses. However, we have had no such opportunity.

I must start by referring to something that the Minister said towards the close of her speech. She talked about the powers being available in other parts of the country. To the best of my knowledge—I stress that because I have not been directly involved in those areas—neither Greater Manchester nor Tyne and Wear has made wide use of those powers since they were adopted. I shall come back to why I believe that the powers should not be widely used.

I remind the Minister that from a reply to me in an earlier debate to some questions about some other matters which do not concern us on these new clauses I understood that she was to withdraw certain things that she said at that time, and she has not yet done so. I hope that she will not have to withdraw two separate matters as a result of the brief that she has had before her tonight. I repeat that I do not know of any widespread use of the power in other parts of the country. It would be helpful if the Minister detailed to the House where and when these powers have been used.

We are equally concerned about fraudulent travel. The Government, after all, say time and again that the provision of public passenger transport in the City is uneconomic, so we have no interest in defending those who seek to travel fraudulently. I observe no examples of proof that this series of amendments which the other place has seen fit to adopt is necessary. It is easy for the Minister to say that the Government desire to save £25 million a year. Forgive my cynicism, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but fare evasion, by its nature, is difficult to prove. It is remarkable that the Minister should come to the House and say that £25 million revenue is being lost by London Transport and that, for that reason, these clauses should be accepted undebated, despite our comprehensive procedures.

The Minister said that the clauses would not be needed until a change had been instituted in the system of ticket issue and collection on London Transport, particularly on the underground. She mentioned the necessity for gates at stations in the central area and referred to open barriers in other parts of the system. There is a long way to go before we arrive at that stage. Given the amount of money that it would be necessary to spend to arrive at what is, to the Minister, that happy position and the amount of time that it would take for London Transport to spend that money and thus effect these so-called "improvements", there is surely plenty of time, when these matters have been completed, for the introduction of such clauses after adequate debate in the House. I am a daily traveller on the underground system, and I think that there is a long way to go before we arrive at the happy position outlined by the Minister.

I appreciate at the outset that these bright ideas—and there are reasonable assumptions behind them—normally emanate from the management of concerns such as London Transport at 55 Broadway. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) on inadvertently referring to the Secretary of State's new headquarters, after the Bill becomes law, as 55 Marsham street, but I think that that is the perfect description of the role that he will adopt as Secretary of State and as the supremo of London transport. Some bright boy at 55 Broadway has decided to put forward the figure of £25 million as the amount resulting from evasion by passengers who do not purchase a ticket or who purchase a ticket for a station short of their destination. Although it has been said that there will not be on-the-spot fines, there is some on-the-spot fining in the legislation. If the passenger so agrees, he can pay a fine on the spot. That provision, which is fairly odious to us, exists. Some of us use London Transport daily, in particularly the underground system, unlike the Secretary of State or any other Minister in the Department of Transport.

Mrs. Chalker

That is not true.

Mr. Snape

The Minister says that that is not true. She is a little touchy tonight. She would be the first to concede that, like every other Minister, she has a car and a chauffeur who is allocated to her. Fairly recently she was photographed riding to work on a bicycle. That is a very healthy pursuit, although perhaps not one that should be debated now. By coincidence, the day that she decided to ride her bike to work, London Transport's employees were on strike. Perhaps it is a double coincidence that on the day that she forsook her chauffeur-driven car and biked to work a photographer was present from the Fleet street newspapers.

I am sure that the Minister usually rides to work in that state-provided chauffeur-driven car, just as I would do—I shall be quite open about it—if I were in that position. The Parliamentary Private Secretary seems to fulfil a valuable function in racing between the Front Bench and the Government's advisers. I am sure that if she had the opportunity she would ride to work on a bike, but more probably would travel in a chauffeur-driven car.

9.30 pm

Therefore, I do not accept that Ministers, particularly in this Government, are well qualified to work out the best way to pursue fare dodgers. I say that because they lack experience of the public transport for which they are responsible—[Interruption.] It would be very difficult to imagine the Secretary of State riding to work by tube without a ticket. If he ever had to drag his languid way to Marsham street by public transport, one of his faithful civil servants would no doubt be assigned the odious task of buying his ticket. So we need no comments or hand waving from the right hon. Gentleman when it comes to fare dodging. He is an obvious public transport dodger in the first place.

If these provisions are implemented, those responsible for pursuing people who travel without tickets will probably have an onerous task. It would be a fairly daunting prospect to have to walk through a train on a Saturday evening on some of our tube lines, demanding to look at the tickets of those who have purchased them, let alone imposing on-the-spot fines or interrogating those who are fare dodging. Can the Minister tell us what consultation has taken place between her Department, London Transport and the trade unions responsible for organising those who will have that job if we accept what the Minister so blandly described as a fairly minor alteration to the existing procedures? I should like to see the Secretary of State walk through a Piccadilly line train near King's Cross at about 11.20 pm on a Saturday night, just after closing time, demanding that passengers produce their tickets. I should have thought that there would be a dramatic confrontation, although, given his size, I might put my money on the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Mikardo

What proportion of those found without tickets would readily give their right names and addresses so that they could be the defendants in a civil action?

Mr. Snape

As usual, my hon. Friend illustrates the nub of the problem. He should address his comment, perhaps through me, to the Minister. There is not much point in asking the Secretary of State about such matters. Traditionally, he has left the more difficult, nasty and occasionally squalid provisions to the Minister of State. She has learnt to take that job on board. At the risk of further prejudicing her glittering career, I admit that normally she does that well, although she has not done too well in relation to the current group of amendments.

Those of us who use the London underground system know that it is often impossible to purchase a ticket before commencing a journey. The Minister says that machines will be installed at every station so that if it is impossible to purchase a ticket one can obtain authority to travel. I presume that that will be free of charge, although we have not yet gone into the details.

Such a machine would be useful today. I am a regular traveller on the last District line train from Westminster, which leaves at 12.18. I cannot remember the last time that I was able to purchase a ticket at Westminster station. I am a law-abiding citizen. If I were challenged for having boarded the train without a ticket, I would readily cooperate and point out that it was impossible to purchase a ticket. Others on that last train might not be so cooperative. I am referring to the present system, without the fancy machines which the Minister of State so blithely promises.

The Secretary of State says that once he dons his peaked cap and takes over as supremo things will change, but it is impossible to purchase a ticket late at night at some stations. That is because the system is dependent on overtime. If no one is available to issue a ticket, people have to ride without one.

I travel from Nine Elms in the morning, and normally only one ticket window is operative. This morning, for example, at 9.20, knowing that we were to discuss this bright new idea——

Mr. Dicks

I was travelling earlier than that.

Mr. Snape

The hon. Gentleman says that he was out earlier than 9.20, but he arrived here seven hours later than me. I cannot imagine which train he travels on from Hayes and Harlington, but I hope that LRT will improve the service.

At 9.20 this morning I made a point of counting the people queueing for a ticket. I counted 42. Three or four of the people, younger and fitter than I, got fed up with waiting and hopped over the barrier to catch the train. If they had waited another 15 minutes queueing for a tickets their jobs might have been prejudiced—and jobs are precious these days. Should the finger be pointed at them for travelling on the tube without a ticket? It costs 80p from Nine Elms to the centre of London, and there is at that station one 80p ticket machine, though it is frequently out of order.

Regular daily travellers on London's underground system will be menaced by this legislation. The fare dodger and Saturday night drunk—the latter being the type who is likely to take a swing at anybody challenging him and asking him from where he came or at what station he bought a ticket—will not be the hardest hit. The Minister should wait until the system has been properly overhauled before introducing proposals of this type. When the stations have been properly staffed or when new automatic collecting and issuing machines have been installed, such changes could then be introduced. We are light years away from having such a mechanised system, given even the enlightened investment policies of the GLC.

If the Minister of State believes that her right hon. Friend, the latter-day Will Hay seated beside her, the station master of the future, will provide millions of pounds for sophisticated and expensive ticket machines at every station throughout the London underground system, the world in which she lives is unknown to my hon. Friends and me.

Some bright boy came up with this idea, which was leaked comprehensively to The Standard a few weeks ago, when, as ever, the right hon. Gentleman was quoted. He likes to have his name in the newspapers as being a Secretary of State who is doing something. The fact that he is not strongly behind what he is doing and is even less behind what he is saying at the time will not, he hopes, be noticed until after that day's editions of the papers are out.

The right hon. Gentleman's ideas as embodied in the amendment are as daft as most of the ideas that emanate from him. In addition to withdrawing certain remarks that she made about an earlier debate, I hope that the Minister of State will provide some facts to back up the preposterous proposals in this series of amendments, instead of making only unprovable assertions.

Mr. Dobson

We need to look further afield to discover why there is so much fare evasion on London Transport and on public transport in general. The extent of fare evasion, vandalism and violence in London has progressively increased in proportion to the number of staff laid off. In other words, to achieve a system which is safe for passengers, all of whom pay fares, the system must be staffed adequately with men and women.

The greater the introduction of automatic equipment, the greater the level of evasion, vandalism and personal violence against passengers and the remaining staff. The travelling public need a safe ride in decent rolling stock for reasonable fares.

If they get those things, they will be, for a start, more likely to pay their fares anyway.

The only way to make sure that we crack down on the increase in fare evasion is to get more human beings involved. The Minister may not be happy with my next conclusion, but I do not think that the proposed involvement of human beings that she is accepting in these amendments is the way to go about it. We need a heavy level of staffing on the underground system if that system is to remain safe and if people are to be expected to pay their fares. Instead, we are seeing an effort by a few smartypants people who probably never travel on London Transport from one year to the next, and who are suggesting a flippant, ill-considered way to deal with this important problem.

9.45 pm

As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) said that, if the people who are suggesting this had travelled on London Transport and looked at the practicalities of stopping people on Saturday night when they are drunk, or on the Monday morning, when on certain lines they are surly, and demanding of them that they accept liability and even pay a fine there and then, they would have seen clearly that this suggestion has not the faintest connection with reality. Already, far too many of the limited staff of London Transport who have to face the public have to suffer violence from difficult passengers. We have to come up with a system that provides for them an adequate protection when they are going about their jobs. This daft solution that the House of Lords has typically come up with exposes such people to further opportunities for being violently dealt with by obstreperous members of the public.

I suspect that we shall not manage to vote down this proposition, but I believe, not just on behalf of those who staff London Transport and who face many difficulties, but from the point of view of the travelling public, that we need to look at how we provide a decent, safe transport system safe for both passengers and staff. We can then move from that to see how we further reduce the level of fare evasion. I am convinced that if we had the necessary staffing levels on the stations, on the buses and on the tubes trains, the level of fare evasion would automatically fall without any gimmickry from the Secretary of State and his hon. Friends. The proposition before us tonight is trivial, ill-thought-out, and likely to do more harm than good.

Mr. Spearing

In previous debates on this Bill, the Minister, the Secretary of State and any casual reader may have thought that I have been defending the status quo and that I believe that the GLC and London Transport are an ideal organisation, working in their wonderful mutual harness to provide transport for people in London. That would not be true. Over the years, I have been constructively critical of the management at 55 Broadway and will continue to be so, irrespective of who is in government or who is in the seat at Marsham street. Therefore, what I have to say has nothing to do with party politics and everything to do with good public administration.

This scheme has been the aim of 55 Broadway for a number of years. Just over 10 years ago, the then chairman of London Transport attempted to put a provision such as this in one of the regular private Bills coming before the House—I think that it was a GLC (General Powers) Bill. The result was that a meeting of London Labour Members with the said chairman led to bitter comments and remarks, there was a disinclination of Labour Members to support it, and the proposal fell. At that time I was in possession of a season ticket, which was provided by the authorities of the House and which took me to my home. I did not have the excellent rail and travel pass which is now provided. My constituency was on the same underground line, but two stations further on from my home station. My frequent practice was to use my season ticket to take me to my constituency. I would leave the train two stations on from where the ticket took me and pay the excess fare. Under the proposals that are now being made by those at No. 55 Broadway, I can be fined whenever I travel on my lawful business from the House to my constituency and remain on the train beyond my home station.

I am not sure whether the six pages of complicated legislation that we have before us would put any season ticket holder in the same position but I suspect that they might. I suspect that they would give that option. I am not asking the Minister to say whether they would because they might not. Even if they would not provide that option, I am suggesting that the proposals are not necessarily well thought-out. They are impractical and they are liable to give a great deal of trouble. I am not sure that they are treating either House with the respect that any Government should show.

Any ticket-fine system must be based upon the system of ticketing that is envisaged or in practice. London Transport is a past master in producing plans for electronic ticketing which later bite the dust because they are found to be too expensve, impractical or not capable of working. One has only to travel on the late but not lamented DMS buses to see the extraordinary amount of turnstile equipment that was never used. I recall, in my capacity within the GLC, and subsequently, when reading minutes of the London Transport committee of the council, that there has been plan after plan for the installation of sophisticated ticketing machines by London Transport with contracts with those who supply and manufacture expensive electronic equipment. London Transport at 55 Broadway is electronic-gadget-mad and it will provide any form of guarantee that any Secretary of State wants.

We must remember that the ticketing system might well go beyond London Transport. We have talked about the need to integrate British Rail services with those of London Transport and, ideally, their ticketing systems should have some compatibility. I am not suggesting that they should be the same, because both authorities provide different sorts of service. There have been conversations, investigations, memoranda and meetings galore over the past three or four years on this topic and the bureaucracies of both places have seemed not to be especially practical. Unless future ticketing arrangements between British Rail and London Transport are clear and pilot schemes have been shown to work, the future ticket regime of the system cannot be said to be clear and settled.

I should be more impressed with the proposals if the attitude of London Transport to current fare evasion were rather more practical than it clearly is. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) has spoken about the arrangements on our local underground system. Any Londoner is able to speak about the extent to which passengers go past the barrier at the end of their journey and pay a notional or claimed sum to the ticket collector. It is wrong and bad that no receipts are given. That appears to be a major fault in the existing system. In addition, many booking offices are not manned. Perhaps the offices should not necessarily be manned at times when there are only a few passengers. [t might cost more to pay the booking clerk than not to collect the money that he would take. I accept that, but there has been no facility for taking a journey of origin ticket, for example. Lads are given every encouragement to vault over the bars, and not only when there is no ticket collector. At the end of pop concerts or football matches, or at closing time, there may be a long queue for the single booking office and there is every temptation to vault over the barrier. The hon. Lady should be much more careful about taking such matters on board, particularly at this stage.

It is clear that, in the past few years, London Transport has been very worried about fare evasion. It has made claims about the millions of pounds that are lost through fare evasion, and I believe that those claims have been accepted at county hall. London Transport has put large numbers of ticket inspectors on the trains. We ought to know whether that policy has worked. At present, we do not know. When people are apprehended, especially during the day, London Transport is very concerned. We should know what justification there is for that concern.

This is a national Parliament, but we are legislating on a London matter and the Londoners who will use the services wish to feel confident about travelling late at night. London Transport has been very inefficient about late-night violence. There were some serious incidents at Neasden five or six years ago which were due to lack of action on reported difficulties. Not long ago, the District line trains were withdrawn after 10 o'clock east of Whitechapel. The Newham constituencies, Barking and the line all the way to Upminster were affected because the crews did not believe that they had sufficient protection. The management was grossly inefficient about starting the trains running again, and large numbers of people were inconvenienced. I do not blame the crews. They were only looking after their own well-being. However, I do not believe that their Lordships have thought up six pages of legislation out of the air. The amendments smell to me of No. 55 Broadway. If there were a case for the amendments, they should not be tacked by the Lords on to a Bill which is about what might be said to be more important and wider matters, so that there can be no proper discussion in Committee in this place.

It would be inappropriate for me to divide the House on the amendments, but I may exercise my right to shout no once to the Question, so that it will have to be negatived. Like most of those who use London Transport regularly, I feel strongly about the matter. The right hon. Lady has been somewhat casual in introducing the amendments. Six pages of legislation on offences of this nature will give lawyers much trouble. I do not see why six pages are necessary. If they are, I do not believe that the practical working of the system has been considered carefully enough.

Mrs. Chalker

Before I reply on the amendment, I shall tell the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) something that I conveyed to him as soon as I understood that I had made an error when talking about the amendments grouped with amendment No. 17. We were discussing the retrospective power of the traffic commissioners to amend a picking-up or setting-down place.

I was right in saying that the traffic commissioners will have power to alter an existing licence, but the new power in the Bill, as in the Lords amendment which we were discussing, does not refer to picking-up and setting-down points that have already been made. However, the hon. Gentleman's concern is slightly different, as I have been advised since that part of our debate. The gap of two months which concerned the hon. Gentleman will not cause the problem about which he was worried, because, on safety grounds, the Metropolitan police have said that they will not be prepared to allow anyone to slip through the loophole that the hon. Gentleman felt might exist. I apologise for inadvertently misleading the hon. Gentleman. I wanted to put the matter right before we went any further with our deliberations.

When the hon. Gentleman began his remarks on the amendment, he said that it was being introduced at a late stage and in an unsatisfactory manner. I have considerable sympathy with that, but the other place——

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Consideration of Lords Amendments to the London Regional Transport Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Lang]

Question again proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mrs. Chalker

I share a little of the feeling expressed by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East that the amendment has come about in an unsatisfactory way. However, great concern has been expressed by many hon. Members on both sides of the House—although, perhaps, rather more on the Government Benches—about fraud on London transport. That concern was raised many, many times in another place. On reflection, it may be right for another place to come forward, even at this late stage, with amendments introducing a penalty fares scheme. The amendments have the support of all parties in another place. Therefore, I was a little surprised by some of the comments from Opposition Members, but I suppose that I should not be surprised at anything coming from the Opposition.

The hon. Gentleman challenged me on where the other penalty fare schemes were operating. No other area is comparable with London, which has British Rail, Underground and bus systems. But for buses alone, the Greater Manchester county council, in the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Act 1980 has a scheme where, if an inspector finds a passenger travelling without a valid ticket, he issues an excess fares notice. That inspector has no discretion whether or not to issue that notice. The passenger is not required to pay on the spot, but is allowed 21 days to pay the excess fare, which is set at a penalty level. After 21 days the authority can prosecute, as is proposed in the amendment.

Tyne and Wear PTE has a non-statutory scheme for standard fare, started in 1979. I understand that it is now running at about £3, which is charged for passengers on buses and the metro found to be travelling without a valid ticket. The concept is that this is the standard fare, but all those who behave themselves pay the lesser fare; in other words, they have a discount. The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) can confirm that I have that just about right. I hope that everyone pays the discount fare rather than the penalty fare.

Cardiff and Merseyside have introduced penalty fares at a modest level of premium, under authority from the traffic commissioners who authorise what is now known as an unsubsidised fare. As we all know, BR relies on ticket inspectors to take the names and addresses of those without valid tickets, who are then prosecuted. Obviously, in certain cases, people seek to mislead.

The House is concerned to know what is wrong with the current system and why we should introduce penalty fares. Over the years, substantial efforts have been made to reduce the losses through fare evasion. However, the scope for reducing them further, even if there were to be a vast increase in staff, is limited and would not be cost effective. The system is demanding and places a considerable burden on the courts. We should heed that point. We need to impose a much clearer obligation on the traveller to pay the proper fare or obtain the correct ticket matched by the introduction of Underground equipment to ensure that every reasonable opportunity for doing so is taken. If the traveller does not carry that through, he should become liable for a surcharge or a penalty fare.

Savings are to be made from the modern equipment that is now available but was not available 10 years ago. There is a great deal more expertise in the use of this equipment because of experience abroad. I hope that we can reduce the awful level of fare evasion on London Transport. Until we do, those of us who pay our fares—admittedly, as has been said, at the end of the journey when the blackboard is up, as it was the other night at Westminster tube station——

Mr. Snape

Where was the car?

Mrs. Chalker

I was travelling by tube, as I usually do. I do not always use the car. If the hon. Gentleman wants to refuse any lift that I offer him, I shall understand that he prefers to walk in the middle of the night or from inaccessible places.

All fare-paying passengers know that it is in their interest for us to have a proper system of combating fraud and the loss of fares by those who seek to evade the system. I know that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East agrees with that point, despite what he said at the beginning of his remarks.

Mr. Snape

That is what I said during my remarks. I wish that the hon. Lady would not always adopt the guise of the defender of the righteous. Opposition Members have no interest in defending those who seek to defraud London Transport. We fail to see the point behind the system that has been introduced hurriedly in another place.

Mrs. Chalker

I do not believe that the system was introduced hurriedly. Their Lordships were talking about it at the beginning of their deliberations on the Bill and, after several weeks, they came to the amendments which have come to the House tonight. I am in no sense seeking to be righteous. I want a system that will work and stop the type of fraud—it cost about £25 million last year—that is continuing to occur. Without the new equipment that is available and a new manner of deterring those who would evade fares, that system will not be possible.

One hon. Member commented about bringing the measures into effect. They will be brought into effect by order of the Secretary of State only at LRT's request. It would be possible to introduce penalty fares on buses sooner than on the Underground. I agree that an authority-to-travel ticket from a machine is a good idea and, as the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East said, would be welcomed by all those who are unable to pay their fare because the booking office is closed. I assure the House that my right hon. Friend will not approve such an order until he is satisfied that the machines and equipment are in reasonable order and that all the conditions for the penalty fares scheme can be brought into effect.

Other hon. Members asked about other ways of curbing fare evasion. I point out to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) that the idea of issuing receipts at the barrier which, I understand, was tried experimentally once or twice, has not worked successfully. It would certainly not eliminate the present level of evasion.

The hon. Gentleman asked about those with season tickets who need to go one or two stations further than their season ticket permits. In the short term, as it will not be possible for season ticket holders to pay for the excess portion of their journey in advance, they will be able to do so on completion of their journey without incurring liability to a penalty fare as at present. In the longer term, with the new underground ticketing system, it will be possible for season ticket holders to purchase a pre-excess ticket at the start of their journey to cover their intended over-riding. That possibility exists in other cities around the world at the moment.

Mr. Spearing

I thank the Minister for that answer. I did not suggest the receipt idea as a way to prevent fraud, which is what we all want to achieve, it was illustrative of LT's apparently casual attitude to this difficult problem.

Mrs. Chalker

I am grateful for the fact that the hon. Gentleman accepts that it is a difficult problem. Fare evasion must be curbed. If the House agrees with their Lordships' amendments it will be assisting in curbing it. Until there is the deterrent of a penalty fare, whatever will LRT may have in the future, it would not be able successfully to curb the amount of fraud that is now occurring.

I believe that there has been a great deal of thought about these amendments by their Lordships in another place. I believe that inspection on the trains and the other plans that will go hand in hand with the schemes that LT officers have been thinking about for some time but unable to carry through, will mean that we can start to combat the wasteful £25 million, as it was last year, lost through fraud. That will mean a far better deal for the travelling public and the ratepayer. I commend the amendments to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 27 to 34 agreed to.

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