§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill had its Second Reading in the other place nearly a year ago, on 21 March 1988. Its progress through Parliament has been delayed not because of any special difficulties with the Bill, but through circumstances that could not have been foreseen by its promoters.
As the House will recall, the Transport Act 1962 places a duty on the board to provide rail services havingdue regard … to efficiency, economy and safety".Sad to say, over many years that aspect has been seriously undermined by those who travel on the system without paying fares. The figure currently estimated for Network SouthEast—the area within which my constituency falls—is now losing some £36 million a year, with an overall figure that could be far in excess of £50 million. That is a substantial sum, representing an enormous number of journeys on which travel is enjoyed without payment being made. It could be as many as 20 million journeys.
Research has shown that much of the evasion takes place partly as a result of failure to find proper places to buy tickets and partly as a result of opportunism by young people on short journeys. The present position cannot be allowed to continue, if it can be changed satisfactorily. It is both archaic and inefficient. It is based on the visible check of tickets at the barrier which is at best perfunctory and at worst does not take place at all. Staffed barriers are inevitably expensive. They cause queuing and problems for those with luggage, pushchairs and other encumbrances. It is worth pointing out that this is the only country in either eastern or western Europe that still uses staffed barriers to check tickets. The penalty fare, of the type that I shall explain in a moment, is becoming increasingly commonplace.
705 The board's plan, as outlined in the Bill, is aimed at recovering about £9 million a year as an opening, realistic objective. It is hoped that that figure will be substantially increased, but the board has that in mind as a starting figure. The requirements of the scheme, as set down by the board, are, first, that it presents an effective incentive to people to purchase tickets, secondly, that it is relatively easy to operate and, thirdly, that it will cease to be, as it is at present, a substantial burden on the courts. It is worth remembering that between 3,000 and 4,000 cases a year still come before the courts. Although this is to be not a criminal but a civil penalty, it must also be remembered that the board retains the right, in the case of serious fraud, to prosecute under the terms of the Regulation of Railways Act 1889 and its byelaw under section 67 of the 1962 Act.
The penalty will be a simple, flat rate figure. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) was correct when he said that a common feature of this Bill and that which London Regional Transport has in mind is a flat rate sum of £10. That is not in addition to the normal fare; it is instead of the fare. However, when the cost of the journey is higher than £10, the standard full, single fare would be recovered.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that in that instance no additional penalty will be imposed on any passenger?
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
The difficulty, as the hon. Gentleman with his experience knows, is that under the 1889 Act—the principal Act that governs this problem—fraud has to be proved. That is a lengthy and, needless to say, expensive process. This is not a criminal penalty. It is a civil penalty. As I hope to explain in a moment, anybody who is confronted with it will have a number of options before him. Under the 1889 Act there would be a straightforward criminal prosecution under which the board would quite properly have to prove fraudulent intent.
The new scheme would transfer ticket examination from the station to the train. On long journeys that is a common procedure. That is why I said at the beginning that the problem tends to be at its worst on shorter journeys. With ticket inspection on trains, an additional benefit is that more staff would be travelling on the trains to carry out that duty, thereby enhancing passenger security on trains. I hope that that will reassure women and elderly people and make them feel safer. In some areas tickets are already issued on trains. The West Yorkshire passenger transport executive area is one of them. In such an area it is unlikely that any major changes will be necessary.
The system is designed primarily as part of a package of measures. I pointed out earlier that opportunistic people arrive at the station, find that the ticket office is closed and rush for the train. Despite the fact that they may say to somebody that they will pay at the other end, they get off the train and, finding the ticket barrier unmanned, walk off. That can be understood, but there is another type of person who deliberately tries to avoid paying.
This package of measures, of which the Bill is but a part, will include more and better ticket issuing machines. The board's objective is that people who require tickets should not have to wait more than three minutes in the off-peak period and five minutes in the peak period to 706 purchase them. That would provide an incentive for people to purchase tickets. They would not then encounter the problem that I have just described.
In addition to the ticket machines, there would also be the deferred fare authority machine. It would accept any coin between 5p and £1. If purchased, that ticket would mean that no penalty fare would have to be paid. It would provide people with the opportunity to pay the rest of the fare to a properly authorised railway official. The scheme would receive full publicity. If the new scheme were properly publicised by means of notices posted throughout the railway network, it would be thoroughly advantageous.
Penalty fares will be collected by fully trained and competent "authorised persons", as they are referred to in the Bill. I make it clear on behalf of the board that this will not be just another responsibility that is to be dumped on to ticket collectors. Training does not mean training only in the general law relating to passenger travel. A special course will enable authorised persons to deal with interpersonal relationships, violence and other problems. It is hoped that the teams who will undertake these checks will consist of no fewer than two people. Perhaps small groups of people will carry out the checks.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Is the hon. Gentleman able to tell us how many people will be around?
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the information that he requires. More staff of a different type will be required. We are moving away from the barrier check to the on-train check. I am not aware that those who are currently carrying out this work will be put at a disadvantage. However, new and better trained teams of people will be required.
What is more important, the trained, authorised personnel will be given discretion. If a person says, "I have lost my ticket"—not a completely unknown predicament, in which some of us may have found ourselves—it will be possible for the official to say, "That is all right, you can go." There will also be a 21-day discretionary period. If a notice is issued to a passenger, he will be able to put his case in writing. The matter will then be examined by the appropriate authorities at head office. There will be no attempt to bulldoze or bully passengers. If a reasonable excuse is given, discretion can be exercised by those in authority.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
Will the hon. Gentleman assure us that there is no provision for the British Railways board to insist that fares are collected—that is, to reduce the discretion that fare collectors exercise? As the hon. Gentleman knows, British Rail introduced a number of disciplinary rules recently, and I dare say that there is a fear that the board will tend to set targets for collecting money, which will, of necessity, reduce discretion.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
Happily, I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that such targets are not in board members' minds. The board is anxious to create an incentive for ticket purchasing. Not everyone fails to buy a ticket for fraudulent reasons. However, at the same time, there should be a back-up penalty for people who are deliberately trying to evade the system. I hope that those 707 words will reassure the hon. Gentleman who, I know, is an expert on railways. I assure him that the board is not attempting to bully the travelling public.
The penalty, as I have said, will be a flat rate of £10. As I also pointed out, there will be an excess penalty for longer journeys. I wish to make it clear that no penalty fare will be issued to a passenger who has a ticket or some other authority to travel, or who found the ticket office was closed and no machines were available at the start of his journey—it is true that booking offices are often unavailable—or who has been told by a member of British Rail's staff to join the train.
Some form of penalty fare is necessary. To activate the penalty fare system it will be necessary for the Secretary of State for Transport to issue an order to that effect. The only way in which the system can be activated is by British Rail. None of the elements of the scheme can be introduced without the Secretary of State and British Rail being satisfied that the ticket machines, the deferred-payment machines and the rest are already in place. I hope that the system will be introduced not in a half-hearted, incompetent way but on the basis of providing every opportunity for those who wish to buy a ticket.
Providing that the Bill proceeds through the House, British Rail would like to start the scheme fairly swiftly. It is thinking of starting it on the Southend-Tilbury-London line and has also considered the possibility of the London to Reading line. A substantial number of the machines to which I referred are already in place. Training of the appropriate personnel is going ahead. In order to ensure that British Rail does not introduce a blanket scheme that breaks down through incompetence or inefficiency, the scheme will be introduced in places where the proper machinery is already in place.
I hope that the Bill, having received an unopposed Second Reading in the other place and having satisfactorily undergone the various relevant procedures before it came before us, will now command the support of the House.
No one who has paid to travel on the railway system, be it London Underground or the wider British Rail network—the two are interconnected—can ever feel entirely happy that a number of other people are travelling for nothing. If we want to hold down the cost of rail travel, it is essential to try to recover, as far as possible, all the moneys owing to the system.
I hope that the House will feel able to give the Bill a Second Reading and allow it to go into Committee.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
I am sure that there is no disagreement about wishing to stop people cheating when they travel. The disagreement will be about whether this measure, and that relating to the London Underground, will achieve that end.
The motion in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), that the Bill should be read a Second time six months hence, is particularly appropriate. Anyone who examines the problems currently facing the railways, and studies this measure, will think it far better if British Rail and London Underground were to come forward with their proposals in six months' time rather than now.
708 I understand that consultations with the unions have been fairly perfunctory so far, and it would seem better for British Rail to give us assurances that the unions—whose members, both men and women, will have to operate the scheme—have been fully consulted before the scheme is introduced.
London Underground's automatic ticket barriers cause a fair amount of chaos and we should see what happens with those before the measure is enacted. In the north-west, in Greater Manchester, my constituents are certainly not in favour of any form of penalty fares: they would be more in favour of penalty refunds because of the appalling service provided by British Rail for people in south-east Manchester. There is concern about the safety of passengers on the Underground and British Rail, and there are many questions about whether these measures will improve safety.
A fundamental principle of civil rights is involved. Does the Bill transfer the onus of proof from the railway authorities, who must prove that someone set out to defraud them, to the individual, who must prove that he did not set out to defraud the railway authorities? That is an unfortunate erosion of civil rights. There is also a lack of logic in a measure which seeks to make what was a criminal offence into merely a civil one. That may encourage the gambler in many people, who may feel that it is worth trying to avoid paying the full fare, because though they risk having to pay £10 if they are caught, they will not have committed a criminal offence.
The House ought to know more about deferred-payment ticket machines. They seem a good idea but I have yet to see one in operation.
Like so many other measures, the Bill is not very powerful on its own. The key lies with the Secretary of State's powers to implement it. I hope that tonight the Secretary of State or his representative will be able to give us some idea of how the Department envisages the implementation of the scheme, and of what checks it will make before it is convinced that an area is ready for the introduction of the scheme. We should also notice that, by order, the penalty can be increased from its present £10 and £5 to whatever the Minister or anyone else thinks appropriate.
British Rail has opted for a "no ticket barrier" philosophy. As I understand the documents that I have received, it wants to get rid of the barriers and ticket checking as passengers get on and off trains. On the other hand, London Underground is in favour of ticket barriers—one might say ticket barricades—so that people are checked on and off the platform. There is a fundamental difference between the two schemes.
It seems to me that in some parts of the country it will be extremely difficult for British Rail to check passengers on trains. In the north-west of England there are certain commuter lines into Manchester on which many people travel relatively short distances. It will be extremely difficult for British Rail to conduct on-train inspections of tickets because it still has so much archaic rolling stock on which it is absolutely impossible for anyone to move from carriage to carriage to check tickets. Certainly we desperately need to replace some of that old rolling stock from the north-west, and if this measure were to speed that up, I might be sympathetic.
§ Mr. Cryer
Does my hon. Friend accept that there are diesel multiple units that do not have sufficient personnel 709 to provide ticket conductors? I am thinking, for instance, of two two-carriage units that are not connected by a corridor. Because there are not sufficient personnel to operate in both two-car units trains often run with two cars empty. We have not received any assurance that British Rail's policy will be reversed so that we can ensure that all the DMUs are properly staffed.
§ Mr. Bennett
That is an important point. Certainly I would argue very strongly in support of on-train ticket checking, provided that the trains are suitable and that there are sufficient staff to carry it out. However, it is interesting—and this is a total contradiction of philosophy—that London Transport wants to go for barriers.
I am particularly concerned about the question of consultation with the unions. It seems to me that it is particularly important that both British Rail and London Transport are able to give assurances to the unions that these proposals will not involve any redundancies. If, as has been claimed, the main aim is to improve the service by having, in the case of the London Underground, more people to issue tickets and, in the case of British Rail, more people to check them, it ought to be possible to give the unions an assurance about redundancies.
I believe also that there should he assurances for the staff about safety. If it becomes known that travelling conductors or guards, or the staff doing the checks on the London Underground, are likely to be carrying substantial sums of money there will be a further risk to those people who already place themselves at some risk in that they deal at night with people who may have had something to drink or who may not be particularly amenable. The promoters of the Bills should have talked to the staff and given them assurances about safety.
They must also give the general public assurances about safety. First, they have to deal with the question of bogus collectors. Many people in the House were quite sympathetic to the idea of giving the police powers to collect penalty fines for motoring offences, particularly speeding, and to the idea that this could be done very quickly. But we are aware of the nasty experience arising from one or two bogus policemen operating on motorways, and, indeed, we have heard one or two instances of people assuming wrongly that officers were bogus.
We have to look into the question of the authority that the individuals collecting the penalties will have, so that it can be made absolutely clear to passengers that they are genuine collectors. This is particularly important in the case of British Rail because if the scheme is introduced in a piecemeal way many people will not be certain whether it operates in their area. I hope there can be some clarification and that there will be discussions with the unions about the safety of those individuals.
My argument for deferring the scheme for six months relates very much to the question of the Underground and the automatic ticket barriers. I notice that there have already been criticisms of the automatic ticket barriers. The fire brigade has suggested that it is not really safe if large numbers of people have to get off the platform. It may be a bit of brilliant timing by the Underground that it put the fares up in January, just as it was introducing many more machines. It seems that at the same time people are having considerable difficulty in having the right money for the machines. Every machine that I come across demands the exact money rather than offering 710 change. In addition, many people are finding it difficult to put the tickets into the automatic barriers. Certainly my experience is that most people go for the open gate rather than put their ticket though the machine. Surely it would have been far better for the London Underground to wait until its barriers were working and seen their effect.
Apart from anything else, I believe that if the machines work effectively they will cut fraud significantly, and there may therefore be no need at all for this measure. If the machines do not cut fraud significantly, what is the point of introducing them? I shall not say any more now about the automatic barriers; it may be more appropriate to come back to the question later.
My constituents in Greater Manchester are very disgruntled and upset about British Rail spending so much time trying, supposedly, to improve inter-city trains through Manchester. They have had a winter of total and incomprehensible muddle so far as the local commuter trains are concerned. A constituent of mine regularly writes to me to tell me which trains are late on his journey to work. I get a letter at least every day. It would be simpler for him, and for me, if he were to write and tell me when the trains are on time. I realise that British Rail has been doing a great deal of work at Piccadilly south, but certainly the service is appalling.
As I said earlier, my constituents would like penalty refunds. I do not think that they would mind if they got a pound for every 10 minutes the trains were late. British Rail would have been bankrupt a long time ago if it had had to pay out that sort of money.
It is very sad that British Rail has put so much effort into the inter-city services so that it can run trains from Blackpool to Harwich—only one little Sprinter carriage, but it goes—and from Newcastle to Liverpool via Piccadilly—yet it has not been able to maintain a commuter service through that area.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
My hon. Friend is labouring under the same misapprehension that I laboured under until recently. Those trains from Harwich to Blackpool, and indeed the ones between the cities of Newcastle and Liverpool, are not part of the inter-city network. If my hon. Friend can tell me why, he is a wiser man than I.
§ Mr. Bennett
I thank my hon. Friend. Certainly they are appropriate to some very sleepy provinces; they do not provide a very speedy service.
What is particularly worrying is that British Rail seems to have felt that, in order to squeeze those trains through Piccadilly south, it was possible to squeeze out the commuter service into Manchester. I understand that the Manchester transport executive has been considering taking British Rail to court over its failure to provide the service for which it gets a subsidy. Certainly, the first thing that the people coming into that area want is trains that are reliable and efficient, and they would be much happier to pay for that service by buying tickets than to see British Rail spending its time introducing a measure like this, which will do nothing to improve public morale. I should think that anyone trying to collect tickets on those trains would spend a great deal of time getting a great deal of 711 earache about the unreliability of the service and would find it extremely difficult to move from one part of the train to another, even if there were corridors—and many carriages still do not have corridors.
Let me turn now to the question of safety. British Rail in particular says that if there are far more people on the trains checking tickets there will be improved safety. To a certain extent London Underground makes the same case. I am sure that we are all very concerned about the safety of passengers, but I suggest that there is not an overwhelming case for saying that people are worried about their safety on the trains as opposed to their safety on the stations. It seems that British Rail is aiming to reduce substantially the number of people on the stations. I must say that at more than one station where I wait late at night I would much prefer to know that there was someone in the booking office who, if I were attacked, would have a chance of doing something about it. He might pick up the telephone, though I would not expect him to come to my assistance in any other way. But if I knew that the ticket office was not manned, that there was merely a machine, my unease would be increased. At one or two stations in the Greater Manchester area, passengers have to go down a couple of steps and around one or two awkward corners, where somebody could lurk, before they get to the platform. The idea that such stations will not be manned increases my anxiety, especially if the automatic ticket machines are liable to attempts by people up to mischief to take money out of them. That does not increase safety.
With London Underground, if staff are on the platform and are clearly visible at barriers, their presence is an effective deterrent. I would like more staff to travel on trains to reduce violence. I do not accept the promoters' claim that the Bills will increase passenger safety. For British Rail, it would be much preferable to have more effectively manned stations and travelling ticket collectors. With London Underground, the problem with fare default increased substantially when staff levels were reduced. The problems of violence on the tube and on stations has also increased as a result of reduced staffing.
The promoters claim that making what was previously a criminal charge a civil charge is a significant step in terms of civil rights, but it is not really all that significant for most people because most people do not want to break the law, civil or criminal—they want to be law abiding. The change, which is fairly minor in their eyes, does not justify changing the onus of proof. I understand that at the moment, London Underground and British Rail have to prove that an individual got on a train without trying to buy a ticket and intended to travel without paying. If that were difficult to prove, one would expect there to be few court cases, but the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said that there are a substantial number of prosecutions each year.
It is extremely difficult, however, for a traveller to prove that he intended to pay. Deferred payment machines might be installed at all stations. If that is so, life will be easier for somebody who arrives at a station without an open window at which to pay to get a ticket out of the machine. I suspect that people will occasionally have only more than 712 a £1 coin, especially if they have travelled some distance. They can reasonably expect there to be somebody at a window to take their fare.
The presence and working conditions of a deferred payments machine must be guaranteed if the scheme is to have any justification. My experience is of going to Westminster tube station after about 11 pm and finding nobody to take the money for a ticket. A 50p machine sometimes worked before Christmas, but often there was no machine and somebody in a little wooden office counting money. I could not be certain whether he was supposed to be counting money because he had finished his shift or whether he was trying to finish early and ought to have had the window open. At the other end, there was sometimes somebody to collect the money, but sometimes there was not.
If I were stopped on the train, I doubt whether I could satisfy the inspector that there was nobody at Westminster station. Indeed, I suspect that if that somebody was supposed to be at the window at Westminster station and supposed to be collecting money, he would insist firmly that he was doing just that. It would simply be my word against his. In my position, and in view of the fuss that I would make, it might not be all that difficult for me to get away with it, but a 13 or 14-year-old, or somebody who was not prepared to make a fuss, would probably find that London Underground tends to believe the person in the office rather than the individual. That gives rise to considerable difficulty.
Many people would be pressurised into paying because they would be unable to prove that, when they went to the ticket office, nobody was in it. People can also claim that they have been authorised by somebody in British Rail or London Underground uniform that they are entitled to travel without making a payment at the start of the journey. When challenged, or at an inquiry, it is extremely difficult to say who authorised the travel. There must be a much more efficient way of issuing tickets or some other authorisation for travel before the Bill is introduced.
Anyone who knows London Underground will say that the present system has broken down. If it needs the new machines and they work, very few people will defraud it. That being so, it would be no hardship to London Underground—indeed, it would be an advantage—to charge people who defraud the system with a criminal offence and make a fuss about the fact that they have been apprehended and punished. The only argument in favour of penalty fares arises when a large number of people do not pay and the burden of taking them through the courts becomes too great.
If the new barriers are worth all the fuss, they must cut the amount of fare dodging. If British Rail has efficient ticket issuing machines on the Southend line, there should be a major reduction in the number of fare dodgers. If there is, there is no hardship in treating fare dodging as a criminal offence, on which basis the fine could be much more than £10—and much more of a deterrent.
The £10 penalty fare might be considered a gambler's charter. People who have to pay £1.50 or £3.00 may think that, if they get away with it, it will have cost them nothing and that, if they are caught, the most that they will have to pay is £10. On some British Rail routes into London, people have to pay £7 or £8 for a ticket. Gambling for £10 in those circumstances becomes quite attractive. There does not seem to be much logic in that.
713 I would much rather have the new and supposedly efficient ticket checking and collecting systems and no resort to penalty fares. I should like a more detailed description of the deferred payment ticket machines. I would like to know how soon London Underground will add them to its exising machines. Will it be possible to say, "I got a deferred ticket because I read, 'Exact money' on the machine and I cannot see a space for that on the machine below the 60p"?
I hope that the Minister can tell us what guarantees he wants about the sections of line to which the new arrangements will apply. With British Rail, the scheme will be phased in on the Southend line first. What guarantees will the Minister want about orders? What publicity for the new arrangements will be provided? Can the Minister assure us that he will not increase the £10 and £5 penalty fares?
What will happen with the rolling stock? I hope that we shall have a guarantee that none of the new arrangements will apply when people cannot move from one carriage to the next to check fares.
I have expressed most of my fears. There should certainly be some amendments on Report. I shall also be looking with considerable interest at the operation of the present London Underground system. I shall be looking for dramatic improvements in reliability and punctuality in Manchester when the new timetable is brought out. In the light of all that, I reserve my final attitude to penalty fares, although I am concerned about the principle of changing the onus of proof so that instead of someone having to prove that an individual has committed a crime the individual will have to prove that he has not committed an offence.
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo)
It may be for the convenience of the House if I set out the Government's attitude to the Bill. First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) on making so clear the purposes of the Bill. I hope that my remarks will help the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) with some of the points that he raised.
In May 1986 the Government set up a working group to look into arrangements for charging penalty fares on public transport. We accepted its recommendations that changes in the law were needed to tackle the problem of fare evasion and we gave our consent to BR and LRT to deposit the Penalty Fares Bills which we are discussing tonight.
The Government strongly support the Bill. British Rail loses large amounts of revenue every year through fraudulent travel. The new Bill is designed to deter people from embarking on a journey without a valid ticket or "deferred fare authority" which allows them to travel to their destination and then pay an excess fare.
§ Dr. Marek
Before the Minister continues reading his speech, may I ask him why he sought to intervene and make his speech after only one Opposition Member has been allowed to speak? My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) also wishes to make a speech. I hope that the Minister will not simply plough through his prepared speech and then take no further part in the debate or answer any questions from Opposition Members?
§ Mr. Portillo
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that this is a private Bill and not a Government Bill. I am not here to wind up the discussion or reply to points. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish has raised some points about an order that the Government might make, but those points are best addressed when the Government may or may not make that order. For the moment we are dealing with private legislation.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Although I did not develop that argument in my speech, there is a great deal of worry about the order-making procedure. The orders are subject to annulment, which does not encourage debate in the House, and the best we can get is a debate for one and a half hours. That is not satisfactory. Surely it is far better for the issues to be argued in the House before we give the Minister the powers to make the orders rather than when he has those powers.
§ Mr. Portillo
I am trying to address the hon. Gentleman's worries by making a speech now, if I am allowed to continue. It may be that annulment does not encourage debate, but it certainly allows debate. In any case we are now debating the Second Reading of the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman feels that that part of the Bill is objectionable to him doubtless he will seek to amend it during the further stages of the Bill.
§ Mr. Portillo
The recovery of lost revenue through the operation of the Bill will benefit not only British Rail but both the honest passenger and the taxpayer. It should be a significant help to BR in achieving the objectives we have set—to reduce the amount of support it receives from the public purse, while improving quality of service.
Passengers will also benefit from unrestricted access to and from trains through the use of "open stations", since on-train ticket checks will allow more ticket barriers to be removed. In addition, more automatic ticket-vending machines and the introduction of deferred fare authority machines will reduce queues at ticket offices.
Many parts of the country outside London and the south-east already have open-station systems and on the whole they have been successful. On-train ticket checks are common in Europe and Britain is the only country which still relies heavily on barrier controls.
Under existing law, if a passenger is found travelling without a valid ticket, BR can charge him the full single fare to his destination. However, research has shown that most fare evasion takes place over short distances and therefore that is not an effective deterrent. The payment of a flat-rate penalty of £10—which is the same as that proposed by LRT—or the full single fare, if it is greater, will encourage people to buy a ticket before travelling. As my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest made clear, the penalty fare will be a civil penalty, not a criminal one, and that will mean that most offences for non-payment of fares will no longer be heard at magistrates' courts. But BR would still have the right to prosecute in serious cases of fraud.
Of course, the powers which I have just described cannot be applied to any service or group of services until my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made an activating order. Before any such order is made the Secretary of State will need to be satisfied that all the necessary arrangements are in place to operate the system 715 and that they include safeguards to ensure that honest passengers are not penalised if no opportunity to buy a ticket has been provided. He will therefore need to be satisfied that ticket offices are properly staffed; that the necessary ticket and deferred authority machines are in place; that there are satisfactory arrangements for monitoring and repairing machines; that there are adequate publicity arrangements to inform passengers about the new system; that ticket inspectors are properly trained to operate the system and are deployed appropriately and that they have adequate identification. We must also be assured that procedures for disputes and appeals are in place.
We believe that the introduction of penalty fares legislation will bring many benefits to passengers as well as helping to recover some of the revenue which BR is losing through fare evasion. We will need to be assured that preparations have been made to ensure that the system is operated properly and that adequate safeguards are in place to protect the honest fare-paying passengers.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
The House is grateful to the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) for the customary courteous and lucid way in which he introduced the Bill. However, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) shows that we should not allow the elaborate cloak so cleverly spun by the hon. Member for New Forest to disguise the somewhat shabby figure underneath. A number of legitimate points should be raised before the House allows the Bill to proceed.
The hon. Member for New Forest referred to the need, indeed the desire, of British Rail for more and better ticket-issuing machines. So say all of us. Those of us who have travelled on, have had any dealings with or have worked on British Rail, as I have, will be aware that not so many years ago—at least it does not feel too many years ago—one went to a ticket office window, handed over the cash and very quickly was presented with a piece of cardboard on which was written the originating station and in larger letters the destination. The price on it was inevitably out of date, but the whole transaction was fairly speedy and simple.
That is not the case now. By the nature of their job, Ministers are cosseted from the realities of daily life that are faced by millions of ordinary people, but a quick visit to any mainline railway station will demonstrate that these days the system of purchasing and selling a railway ticket is much more complicated. First, the little pieces of cardboard to which I referred so fondly have all disappeared. I understand that that was known as the Edmonson system after its inventor, just to tip off the Minister in passing. Particularly at mainline terminals, the ticket issuing machines look like extras from "Doctor Who". They are enormously complex. The mere issuing of a ticket leads to an interrogation from the clerk which is understandable, given the multiplicity of tickets that BR now sells—blue savers, white savers, singles, returns, first class, standard class—
§ Mr. Snape
—and silver service, as my hon. Friend reminds me. It is immensely more complicated than it used to be.
The House will not be surprised, although the Minister might be, to find that queues at mainline stations are considerably longer than they used to be. The temptation for passengers in a hurry is to leave the queue and board the train, particularly at an open station with no barrier check. They will then pay the conductor-guard, the senior ticket examiner—I understand that that will be the new grade—or the station staff at their destination, depending on who approaches the passengers first. At the risk of the hon. Member for New Forest branding me as a potential criminal, I must confess I have acted in that way when I have seen a long ticket queue. Therefore, we need more assurances that the new and better ticket-issuing machines are on the way, because there appears to be no sign of them so far.
The hon. Member for New Forest said that the British Railways board intends to try to ensure that the maximum wait at a ticket window will be between three and five minutes. That time, so optimistically referred to, is considerably exceeded for most parts of the day at, for example, Birmingham New Street which is my closest InterCity station. Despite there being up to five ticket windows open, there is often a considerable queue at each. Many passengers, including hon. Members, no longer use the outmoded system of purchasing with cash. They use credit cards or, in our fortunate case, railway warrants. Transactions involving credit cards or railway warrants take a little longer than the simple cash transactions of the past. Also, many of us seek reassurance from the person from whom we purchase the ticket that the train we want is running, that it is on time and often from which platform it departs. That causes increased congestion and delay for those in the queue. Someone whose patience expires or whose time of departure gets ever closer while complex transactions take place would be likely to head for the train and hope for the best.
Under the proposed system, such a passenger would, according to the hon. Member for New Forest, have an opportunity to purchase a permit-to-travel ticket for what he describes as a "nominal fee". British Rail's idea of a nominal fee often does not coincide with the thinking of the rest of us. The hon. Member for New Forest—or more likely the person who drafted the Bill and certainly the organisation for which it was drafted—takes an optimistic view of the efficacy of the machines that accept money. The hon. Gentleman did not give the figure that British Rail has in mind, but it will probably be up to £1. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and the House will be aware that some machines accept coins and then reject coins of the same denomination within seconds. We need an assurance that the machines that British Rail has in mind will be more foolproof than any we have yet seen on British Rail or London Underground such as those at, for example, Westminster tube station.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The deferred payments machines are supposed to accept any coin up to £1. It will be interesting to see whether they can cope with any coin. I am sure that my hon. Friend will realise that such machines cannot provide essential information such as whether the train is still at the station and other information that one can obtain from an individual.
§ Mr. Snape
That amply illustrates the lack of concern for the travelling public so often demonstrated by those in charge of our, fortunately, still publicly owned railway and underground system. Such people are almost exclusively male. For some reason, the concept of manoevring a pram, trolley, shopping bag or a couple of recalcitrant toddlers around a railway station never impinges on their thinking because they never do it themselves. Yet, to add an additional complication to a journey is not, to put it at its mildest, likely to benefit customer relations. We will be told that it is more efficient. More efficient for whom? Is it more efficient for the accountants who run our public transport system or for those who travel on it?
The hon. Member for New Forest said that no penalty fare would be payable if no machine were available. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) pointed out the difficulty involved in proving that no machine was available or that a machine was not in proper working order. How does one prove that one has been told, in the words of the hon. Member for New Forest, by a member of British Rail staff to join the train without a ticket? British Rail has a multiplicity of staff. Some are involved directly in ticket sales, but the majority are not. Does a member of British Rail staff include a driver leaning out of a cab of a diesel multiple unit or one of the new fangled sprinters to which my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish referred? Such trains meander from Blackpool to Harwich and are staffed, at least on part of the journey, by only one person. If that one person—the driver—leans out of his cab at a station and says to a passenger staring in bewilderment at one of the ticket machines, "Will you be there all day because the train will not?", does that constitute permission to travel without a ticket or do we have to wait for my learned friends to make a bob or two in some court while deciding whether it is permission to travel without a ticket?
Most laughably of all, the Minister referred to the fact that the Secretary of State would have to give his consent before any route could switch to the penalty fares system. How many times have those who take an interest in such matters heard that said in recent years? When responsibility for public transport was taken away from the Greater London council, I remember the then Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), assuring us that he would be responsible for the safe running of the system and that any complaints about tickets or trains could be directed to him in the House. He and his successor were quiet after the King's Cross disaster. There was not a collection of Ministers at the Dispatch Box, beating their breasts and crying "Mea culpa" after that incident.
Therefore, I cannot believe that, given the complicated life that the Secretary of State for Transport leads and given his wide responsibilities and some of the events that have impinged on them in recent months, he can call in a group of British Rail managers, perhaps from the London-Tilbury-Southend route, and say, "Now chaps, what have you done to enable me to consent to your proceeding with the penalty fares system on your route?" We all know what will happen. He will receive a letter from British Rail saying that everything is in place for the great scheme to be implemented and he will give his consent without knowing personally what British Rail has done.
Of course, there is a lack of logic about the penalty fare system, because both the Minister and the hon. Member 718 for New Forest referred to the loss to British Rail and London Underground from fare evasion. I am sure that the amount is considerable and all of us, whatever our connections have been with British Rail or London Underground Limited, would deplore that. It is said that Network SouthEast is losing about £36 million from fare evasion. That is a remarkably precise figure for an imprecise science. I do not believe that anyone can know how many fares are evaded.
The Minister and the hon. Gentleman made the point that much of the evasion took place on short journeys, which was the thinking behind the £10 penalty fare. The way the system works is that, if one evades a £1 fare—not that there have been many of those since this Government came to power—one is fined 10 times the amount of the fare that one has evaded. If, for example, one tries to evade the fare between Euston and Manchester—to use the route referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett)—presumably one is not fined at all, because that £10 has long since been swallowed up in the exorbitant price of the ticket.
The Bill says, in effect that, if one is going to fiddle, one should do it in a big way. One should fiddle not on short distance journeys, because there is a severe financial penalty, but on the long journeys—the very journeys from which British Rail are anxious to safeguard its revenue—because under the Bill there will be no penalty.
Of course, the hon. Member for New Forest might say that there are existing statutes that would take care of such matters. That might be right, but I believe that there is an enormously illogical flaw in a scheme that can fine someone for evading a small fare, but does no such thing when there has been large-scale fare evasion.
The Minister said that there would be good publicity to explain the proposed changes to the travelling public. However, many members of the public—especially women—might catch trains only occasionally. How and where would this publicity, which will tell people that the scheme is in operation, be exhibited? We all know that the scheme will be used to reduce staff on railway stations even further. I do not want to see British Rail staff on wayside railway stations on quiet branch lines—those that are still left—sitting around doing nothing. That would be a fairly frustrating business and would not lead to any great job satisfaction. However, what we envisage here is a scheme planned by men for men. The man carrying only a briefcase will have no great difficulty. He will not have shopping or toddlers to worry about. For thousands, if not millions, of women who travel alone or with children, the introduction of this scheme and the consequent reduction of staff will mean even less security on their journeys than before.
My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish pointed out the problems that have already been experienced by people using London Underground in the short time that automatic barriers have been installed at many stations. Like him, and no doubt other hon. Members, I can recount many occasions when making late night journeys from Westminster tube station has meant travelling for nothing, because the ticket office at Westminster has not been manned. Unaccountably, all the machines have been switched off, although sometimes there is a 50p machine. I used to live in north London and the fare before the latest round of fare increases was about £1.60. It was quite possible to get on a train through an unmanned barrier at Westminster. One would have 719 thought that that was the one station on the system where there should be proper staffing. The failings at Westminster station illustrate amply the sort of contempt that past London Underground management—I do not know about the present management had for this place and for the Secretary of State, who was supposedly in charge of its day-to-day operations, or so we were told at the time—
§ Mr. Snape
I shall give way in a moment. Just let me finish the journey that I used to take last November.
When I left the train at my destination, either on the Victoria or the Piccadilly line, depending on which train came along first, regularly late at night there was no one manning my terminal station, and therefore, of course, my £1.60 journey cost me nothing. Yet we are told that under this marvellous new system it is the dishonest passenger who will be caught. The management of London Underground Limited will need to be more efficient before we bite on this particular cherry.
§ Mr. Banks
I have felt very much the same as my hon. Friend about the staffing at Westminster station. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has noticed how good it is at St. James's Park. Staff seem to polish everything there including the passengers. That might have something to do with the location of the headquarters of London Regional Transport.
I came from East Ham station this morning and the ticket office was closed. I saw the train coming, there was a queue waiting at the ticket machine, so I sprinted down and jumped on the train. Obviously, being a very honest person I paid the full fare when I arrived at Westminster. I was told there was no one at East Ham station because the staff were training. There is an awful lot of temptation put in the way of the potential fare evader and I find it unacceptable that it can be said that there are not sufficient staff to man the ticket offices. That is an open invitation to ticket fraud.
§ Mr. Snape
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that his experience is mirrored by every one of us. I can quote no recent example to show that things are getting any better.
I have recently been travelling by London Underground from Notting Hill. Waiting for a Circle line train from Notting Hill enables one to watch operating practices. Unaccountably, Circle line trains appear to be few and far between. At Notting Hill there is a whole battery of those fancy new ticket machines in the booking hall. When they were installed, virtually all of them said in bright red letters "Change Given". They were very modern looking machines and one expected them to do everything, including drive the trains. They were complex to use but, once one got the hang of them, it could be said that the modernisation of LRT had actually arrived. However, now most of those machines, instead of saying "Change Given", say "Correct Change Only". To use one example, 720 this morning I counted about 14 people waiting at one open ticket window and others were looking plaintively at those machines and fiddling through purses and handbags trying to find the correct change.
There is a problem, too, with the new barriers at Westminster. One of them refuses to accept a 60p ticket from Notting Hill. I hope that I am paying the right fare. The barrier shows a green arrow, but the gates do not open. One could well envisage another King's Cross situation, and the carnage that would ensue from half a dozen people trying to get out through the barrier.
We are told that the introduction of barriers and the penalty fare scheme are designed to bring greater efficiency and benefit to the travelling public. With your kind acquiescence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have embraced what I wanted to say about the second Bill. There are important and substantial differences between the two systems. Travelling on the London Underground system at night is more difficult sometimes than travelling on the surface railway. All the points that I have made about the women travelling on British Rail once the Bill is implemented are even more relevant to London Underground because, by its nature, there are steps, subways, escalators—do you remember those, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and when it was possible to get on a moving one? In the new modern system it is only possible to walk up and down escalators; they do not carry passengers.
I can only suggest to my hon. Friends that we wait for the hon. Member for New Forest to sum up. I am sure that his contribution will be as lucid and courteous as his opening speech, but I hope it will be more satisfying and enlightening.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
There are similarities between the Bill and the London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill. I hope to make another contribution when we discuss the latter. Those who give a cursory glance at the two Bills may assume that they are different because the British Railways (Penalty Fares) Bill, if enacted, would allow open stations. Staff would not control any gates and passengers could walk straight on or off trains. The Bill for London Underground proposes a closed system. There will be gates at stations and passengers will be held within the system unless they have a ticket to pass through the gates to enter or leave the system.
The Bills are similar because the aim of both systems is to cut down staff and to make people redundant. Eventually they will generate a second-class system for what the Government plainly believe are the second-class public who use the systems. It is certainly true that, by and large, Ministers and Conservative Back Benchers do not use the London Underground or British Rail.
The Minister spoke about what is happening on the continent, as though whatever happens there should also happen here. On the continent it is possible to get on a train without passing through a control, but equally on the continent there is not one pair of guards on a 12-carriage train, but two pairs. Those guards will pass through the train between one station and another. In this country there is no way in which a pair of guards or three guards could travel along a 12-carriage train during the rush hour between Newington and Sittingbourne on the north Kent route. If someone gets on at Newington and gets off at 721 Sittingbourne he may not have to pass through any controls. The system incorporated in the Bill will encourage evasion.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) spoke about the unsuitability of the barriers used on the London Underground. Those barriers also exist in the underground systems of Germany and France, but most of those systems have been rebuilt with wide, palatial concourses. A fire such as that at King's Cross could probably never happen in Europe because of the immense amount of space incorporated in the new underground systems. In comparison, the plans for our underground system are pokey, small, claustrophobic and liable to suffer similar fires to that at King's Cross because of the introduction of tight gates and automatic barriers. It is clear that either the Government have not thought it out or—
§ Mr. Banks
It is worthy of comment that the Prime Minister has not travelled on a British Rail train since February 1987. I am damned sure that she has never travelled on the London Underground during the rush hour. If some Ministers, particularly the Prime Minister, travelled on the Underground or on Network SouthEast during the rush hour, I am sure that something would be done about the appalling travelling conditions that Londoners must face.
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend is right. I suspect that a lot of people are grateful that she does not travel on the trains or on the Underground, but perhaps that is somewhat facetious. Perhaps the Minister should report our comments back to his mistress and tell her that she should go down to Oxford Circus station at 5.15 on a Thursday afternoon. I regularly used to ask the Prime Minister if she travelled by train on official business, but for three or four years the answer was always no.
§ Dr. Marek
We must not be uncharitable. We would like her to travel on the Underground—incognito if possible—so that she can experience the difficulties that the public face.
I am not in favour of anyone evading payment of the proper fare. The National Union of Railwaymen is not in favour of that. I should declare that I am sponsored by that union. I do not believe that any reasonable person could condone fare evasion, but the problem is whether the Bill has got it right. The Bill, rather than closing off the avenues for evasion, will encourage them. Society will become worse because temptation will be put in people's way. Such temptation should, of course, be avoided but, life is not like that. It will be much better if we had a system where evasion was not presented as a temptation.
Assaults on passengers and staff on British Rail are increasing. In 1984 there were 309 assaults on passengers—such attacks cover murder, attempted murder, 722 manslaughter, malicious wounding, grievous bodily harm, robbery and assault with intent to rob. In 1985 there were 374 assaults on passengers; in 1986 there were 448 and in 1987 there were 508. The equivalent figures for assaults on staff, although not rising monotonically as with passenger assaults, have also risen in the same period. In 1984 there were 88 assaults on staff; in 1985 there were 79 assaults; in 1986 there were 69 and in 1987 there were 102. That represents a fairly large increase and it is something that concerns employees of British Rail.
If the Bill gets on to the statute book staff will be expected to collect penalty fares in difficult circumstances. Late at night the staff, if they expect to do their job properly, honestly and without failure, will have to try to collect penalty fares from people who will have had too much to drink and who could easily be in an argumentative mood. There is no question of people being able to say that they were not absolutely sure that they wanted that particular train or that they were unsure if they could travel by bus if there was no convenient train. According to the Bill once the person has got on a train he has committed himself to an illegal position. Unless that person provides a satisfactory explanation for being without a ticket he will have committed a civil offence, which will necessitate the payment of the penalty fare. I am sure that a number of people will be unreasonable and irrational when asked to pay such a fare. It will increase the number of incidents on the railway and that is regrettable. We all seek a system to stop evasion but we should try to find one that will not lead to incidents, arguments and perhaps violence.
The Bill does not make me feel very easy. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East said, the penalty only applies if the fare is under £10. The fare from Dover to Victoria must be about £10.50 or £11 and that would encourage a traveller to chance his arm because if he were caught he would have to pay only £10.50 or £11.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
It will be necessary to take a person's name and address and to make certain that the details are correct. What questions will the guard or ticket collector be entitled to ask about whether he has the correct name and address?
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend raises an important matter. There will be a temptation to avoid paying a fare because it will be easy for a traveller to say that he is Mr. Jones of 4 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam and then go on his way. What is the ticket collector supposed to do in such a case? He can do nothing other than accept that the name and address are correct and that means that the person who has been caught will get away without having to pay his fare.
I shall develop the argument that I advanced earlier. A fare dodger travelling between two stations that are close together—from New Cross to St. John's, for example, for which a single fare is perhaps 60p—and who was caught and decided to make a clean breast of it would have to pay 723 £10. I see no harm in a system that catches people trying to avoid paying fares but in future many people will be on trains without a ticket simply because the permission-to-travel machine did not work, the booking office was closed or there were too many people in the queue at the booking office and people had to jump on a train that was about to leave. In such cases the argument raised with the penalty fare collector will always be about whether there was a reasonable excuse. Anyone who is challenged by British Rail about why he did not go to the booking office will say that he did. I would say that and so would the Minister. There is a wide area for argument.
People who have to pay a penalty fare of £10 for travelling without a 60p ticket will feel resentful, especially if they think that they are being treated unfairly vis-a-vis a traveller from Dover to Victoria or to London bridge who will have to pay only the single fare.
I have spoken about the reliability of permission-to-travel machines. The hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said that there will be new and better ticket machines. It would be better if the Bill were withdrawn for six months so that we could be satisfied that there were not just new and better ticket machines but new and guaranteed systems with fail-safe devices. When they are working the new London Underground ticket machines are good. That is a personal view. However, they will often accept only the exact money. I do not know why that should be, but I suspect that when the machines run out of change they automatically display a sign saying "Exact money only". Part of the problem is that London Underground is not prepared to service those machines so that they will always give change. It is no good the Minister saying that we will have an assurance on this or that. The public are far too cynical, and so am I, to believe such assurances.
I have long experience of London Underground and British Rail and I know that we need to see the system in action first. It must be proved that the new ticket machines on the Underground are reliable 99.99 per cent. of the time. I think that there are about three or four machines in Westminster tube station and in such stations it will be necessary for, say, two of those machines to work 99.99 per cent. of the time. If that could be guaranteed I might lend a more sympathetic ear to assurances by the Government.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
My hon. Friend has said that he has had no trouble with these machines. Could he tell us the correct way to push a child in a pram through one of the exit machines so that the passenger can insert the ticket and get the pram through without being chopped in half?
§ Dr. Marek
My hon. Friend misunderstands. I was talking about the machines that supply tickets and not about the barriers and how one should go through them. Perhaps we could talk about that later. I accept the problem mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) about coins being accepted while a few seconds later identical coins are rejected. In my short personal experience of these machines I have not encountered that problem. That reinforces the point that we need to be satisfied that the machines will work, and that calls for proper servicing by 724 London Underground. If a machine runs out of change somebody should be there within 10 or 15 minutes to replenish it.
British Rail machines will not be enclosed in underground stations but will probably be on open, windswept platforms where, late at night, anybody can have access to them. The whole point of the Bill is to ensure that there will be fewer staff and that people will be able to go in and out of stations and get on and off trains. Vandals will have access to the machines. As I say, I am cynical about the Bill. I do not think that British Rail will be able to provide a permission-to-travel machine that is vandal-proof and that will provide a valid ticket for a specific coin,. If the machines will accept any coin, what else will they take in the course of their working day?
There is a serious problem here. The London underground system is locked up at night and so is vandal-proof, but British Rail has the opposite system. It is planning to open stations but to withdraw staff from platforms and have inspections on the trains. That will be a temptation to vandals, and vandalism leads to a worse society.
The hon. Member for New Forest said that the inspection teams would have two or perhaps three conductors for 12-carriage sets, or even longer sets in suburban areas. The Bill basically affects Network SouthEast, in which many people get on and off at intermediate stations—for example, on a suburban train going from Charing Cross to Bromley and stopping every two or three minutes. At the peak rush hour, many people will get on at the terminus, but many will get off at the intermediate stations. It would be impossible for one team of conductors to go through the whole train between one station and another. I suspect that even two teams of conductors would not be able to do so.
This must invite evasion of fares. Passengers can easily find out where the conductors are and I suspect that it would be relatively easy to travel two or three stations without being inspected. Even those passengers who are not minded to evade fares will quite often find that their tickets are not controlled on such journeys. At the moment, such tickets are controlled because at the main stations there is a ticket barrier before a passenger gets on the train, and the guard looks at the ticket. When the passenger alights he has either to give in his ordinary ticket or show his season ticket to the guard at the barrier. If that changes, evasion will increase rather than decrease.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East said that £36 million was lost through fare evasion on Network SouthEast. That is a large sum, and I reiterate the point that he made that, if this is the official figure, the chances are that the real figure is even bigger. Why cannot British Rail go the other way and, instead of having an unsatisfactory method of trying to stop evasion and a way that will not work, employ 2,000 more staff?
The National Economic Research Association in its report as part of the "Better Rail" campaign suggested that 2,000 extra staff, costing £20 million, would pay for themselves by cutting fare evasion. The hon. Member for New Forest did not address that point, and he must do so. It would have obvious benefits in that not only would there be employment for 2,000 people, but those people would be on the platforms and would be able to help mothers with children and make sure that vandalism on the platforms did not occur, that stations were cleaner and that evasion was decreased. That is the nub of the 725 argument. The Bill is going in the wrong direction and it is the wrong Bill at the wrong time. British Rail should have come to a different conclusion and started to employ more staff instead.
I hope that there will be a vote on Second Reading so that I can express my displeasure about the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish says, if the Bill does not receive a Second Reading, I hope that British Rail will think about the suggestions that have been made this evening. I hope that the Government Lobby fodder will not come in when the Division Bells go.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
The best system for issuing tickets is that which uses human beings. The notion that many of them should be replaced by machines, with all the difficulties that have been described tonight, is a clear prelude to privatisation of British Rail—to increase profits, to inconvenience passengers and to give the putative privatised sector more powers, through orders issued by the Secretary of State, to impose the new system on passengers.
Nobody would quibble with the Minister's view that we should curtail fare dodging to benefit honest passengers. That was qualified by his claim that he wants to reduce public revenue support. Several people have quoted continental practice. For example, the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) spoke about the continental practice of train inspection. However, the Minister did not invoke the continental practice of support for railway transport, in working hours or in the rate of wages. If we are to have continental practice, then we should have continental standards on safety and wage awards.
The Minister and the hon. Member for New Forest are highly selective in what they say. They talk about on-train inspection—a new jargon phrase like "feedback" or "ongoing situation"—but fail to inform the House that, while continental railways have the same basic gauge between the rails, they have larger loading gauges. Continental wagons and railway coaches, for example, cannot easily be transported over the whole of British railways, but over selected routes that have been specially widened for the purpose. Such coaches have more room on them for people to move around and are more substantial, so on-train inspection is more easy.
All in all, the continental example—invoked by the hon. Member for New Forest as though it were some sort of magical formula; because it comes from somewhere else, it must be good—has no substance in it. British Rail has a system of barriers for entry on to the railway system because when the railways were built in the 19th century it was decided that the railway system should be safe and that people should be kept in a regulated fashion from approaching what is essentially a dangerous movement of heavy vehicles at high speeds on a railway track. Therefore, we have a statutory obligation to fence the 726 track on both sides to prevent access by both human beings and animals. On the continent, there is an open system because they decided that that was suitable, and they are more used to it. There is no reason or justification for us to shrug our shoulders and say, "Ah, it is the continental system. Therefore it must be good."
Human beings working at barriers can not only check tickets but give help, advice and guidance. They can help women who are experiencing difficulties with their toddlers or the elderly person with parcels who is confused by the station's set-up because changes have occurred. Such changes baffle people. My mother has never been into Bradford interchange, built in 1974, because they changed all the bus stops and she was sure that it would confuse her. She is now 92, and it is pretty certain that she will not be catching buses to Bradford interchange. The elderly are confused when things are changed. If they have to go to public stations, they find it helpful to have staff at barriers to guide and inform them.
British Rail management always manages to provide an adequate number of personnel for occasions such as this. It does not abandon the box under the Strangers Gallery because it has to abandon involvement in the Bill. Indeed, it has sent along what appears to be a handsome contingent. I wish that it would apply the same standards to stations. At the inquiry into the proposed closure of the Settle-Carlisle line, four representatives of British Rail's management were present. One of them presented a statement and explained that he and his colleagues could not take part in the discussion because they were not to be subjected to debate. What a splendid example to set! Would it not be better if they were all busy working on the Settle-Carlisle line to promote it and thereby to attract more passengers? That argument seemed to go down extremely well with all the objectors to the proposed closure, but it did not bring much of a gleam to the eyes of the British Rail representatives.
§ Mr. Cryer
My hon. Friend is right. We remember the various dodges that were used to enable British Rail to present a case for the closure of certain lines, when that action was entirely unjustified.
We are told in the summary that it is estimated that Network SouthEast is losing £36 million a year in fare evasion. That sounds grandiose, but that statement amounts to a guess. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) has said, there is no certainty as British Rail cannot know about successful fare evasion. I am sure that if it did know about evasion it would consider prosecution or publishing the names of evaders, for example. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), I think that it is a guess that has been put on the top side, as it were. After all, it would be human to present a figure that is on the high side so as to frighten a few hon. Members into providing their assistance in getting the Bill through the House.
British Rail has produced a figure for the cost of vandalism that is more quantifiable. It estimates that each year the bill is £20 million. If British Rail is each year to 727 shed more staff and introduce machines, vandalism will increase. That must be a major cause of concern for all hon. Members. If more stations are to be devoid of human activity in the form of British Rail employees, there is a potential danger for passengers both in stations and as travellers on trains. For example, things can be thrown on to railway tracks that may endanger lives because they affect the smooth and safe running of the trains.
What will British Rail do about that? The Minister will know that British Rail has a statutory duty to protect trains from people by means of fencing. The Bill does not provide for any sections of any existing Acts to be repealed, so is British Rail embarking on a criminal activity by introducing the Bill? By removing barriers it will be failing in its obligation to prevent the public from getting to its trains. It is proposed that there shall be open stations. It is urged upon us that we should adopt the wonderful continental system in which people can have free access to trains. That will mean that toddlers will have access to them at a time when there is more electrification. Is British Rail telling us that it will provide more access to trains for toddlers, teenagers and the elderly, for example, when there is third-rail DC electrification at 500 volts? The management's justification for this approach is, to say the least, somewhat suspect.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Has my hon. Friend received a letter from British Rail in which it makes a virtue of the fact that it will provide far more points of access to stations so that it will be possible for the public to get on to trains at all convenient points? That reinforces the argument that my hon. Friend is advancing.
§ Mr. Cryer
My comments are derived precisely from that claim by British Rail. It is clear that it wishes to make stations much more open. I am probably the only hon. Member who has accompanied a member of the railway inspectorate along a line with the man who became the chief railway inspecting officer. When he inspected the Worth valley branch line to ensure that it was safe, he said that fences had to be in place. We had to provide the inspecting officer with a certificate that stated that the faulty fencing to which he had drawn attention had been repaired to stop the very access that British Rail is now saying is one of the continental delights that we must adopt.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we are not dealing with level crossings. We should be debating penalties for fare evasion. That has nothing to do with level crossings at this stage.
§ Mr. Cryer
That is right. We are dealing with access and the removal of barriers at stations. We are saying that it is better to have British Rail staff at stations to prevent 728 people running on to the platforms if, for example, they are drunk. The same applies to young children and others. In other words, the consideration applies to all those who may suffer injury by falling off the edge of the platform. The same argument applies to level crossings, but I shall not cross that path again.
The Minister was gloating when he spoke of less public money, but surely it is a good thing to have a good public service. There should be staff at stations to help and guide and to maintain property in good order. There should be staff to look after our public service and to protect facilities from vandalism. That is where British Rail should be making the savings that it and we want to be made.
I am not advancing an argument on behalf of those who seek to dodge fares. Instead, I am saying that we should maintain and improve the good safety system that British Rail has been operating. By historical development, the system that British Rail has maintained—it is required to do so by law—depends on a closed system. It seems that we are being asked to take a step that is very much in the wrong direction.
I urge British Rail to reconsider its policy. It should leave the Bill for six months and start to employ people at stations instead of removing them and leaving a bare platform with a bus shelter. We are all aware that such shelters are often damaged. We condemn vandalism, but it happens.
My hon. Friends the Members for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and for West Bromwich, East have referred to abandoned stations. If staff are taken from stations, the risks increase, particularly for women. The Employment Bill is in Committee and that will remove protection for women. Under that Bill, women will either have to do night work or face losing unemployment benefit if they refuse to take that job.
Stations which should have barriers and a staff presence will not be staffed because, as the hon. Member for New Forest said, the Bill will mean that more stations will be unstaffed. Therefore, thanks to the Employment Bill, more women will visit stations late at night and will not see a friendly face and receive help from station staff. They would need such assistance in the early evening in winter or late at night in summer when station lamps might not be working as well as they should. Mobile maintenance teams carry out maintenance work at the moment. However, as stations are inspected only at intervals, repairs are carried out infrequently and at times the lamps are out of action.
There is Government pressure to make cuts and we are witnessing the all-too-willing acquiescence of British Rail senior management. It would have been helpful if British Rail management had the co-operation and help of the unions because union members will have to carry out the work. The board members endorsed and dreamed up the proposal in their executive suites. They have chauffeurs waiting at their doors, but those chauffeurs have not been sacked. Similarly, the executive cook in the executive suite still has a job.
British Rail senior management will not be travelling on the trains. It would be good if Robert Reid left his executive suite, gathered the lads and lasses around him and said, "I'm going to do the Leeds Pullman express today and I want you all to come with me because I'm going to demonstrate how to deal with difficult passengers." That would lift morale on British Rail. However, he is not going to do that and nor is anyone else 729 in the executive suites. They will stick tight to their Italian leather chairs and send out the orders. They will not travel on the trains because they would meet too many people who would like to take up complaints directly with them. If those passengers discovered who they were, the executives would never get off some of the trains, particularly those on the overused, generally run-down urban services.
Trade unions members will have to impose the fare penalties. As my hon. Friends have already said, there may be drunks on platforms late at night. People might become intoxicated because they have been encouraged to drink by the advertising in this enterprise culture, for example, on ITV, and of course Sky television will be beaming around its adverts to booze more. I will not follow those electronic beams. I will refer to the Bill. It will be very difficult for station staff to impose penalties on drunks. Railway staff have already called repeatedly for more late-night protection.
There will be other difficulties. While the hon. Member for New Forest has assured us that there will be no targets for collecting penalty fares from fare dodgers, or alleged fare dodgers, we must remember that British rail personnel are subject to an intransigent and unco-operative management which has imposed on them the most remarkable rule—if staff criticise British Rail publicly, they can he sacked. It should be made clear that if anyone in British Rail has a complaint, he should go to his Member of Parliament, because it will be a breach of privilege for British Rail management, or anyone else, to deny a person the right of consulting his elected representative. There is the onus and constant pressure on British Rail staff to collect fares. At the same time, they cannot grumble or complain about it being a bad system. Therefore, it seems that this is not the time to introduce the Bill.
My third point concerns the deterrent to travel—although I make no defence for the fare dodger. At present, the system is that the fare can be paid on checking. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East pointed out that in the 1960s the Government were busy eroding British Rail's network. More closures are in the pipeline.
The question of the Settle to Carlisle line has been raised in the House on several occasions, with 29 petitions against its closure presented over the past 12 months. I am not happy with the powers envisaged being granted to British Rail management, because they will provide another technique for justifying a railway's closure. A set, group or gang of ticket inspectors could act as a potential deterrent to travel.
I should not like to see that happening on a line such as the Settle-Carlisle. That line belies the need for the Bill. Its passenger revenue has increased from £1 million to £1.7 million. There is already fares collection by guards on the train, but not the imposition of fare penalties. That system has, by and large, worked extremely well, with increased revenue to the extent I have described. One asks why the Bill is necessary when a line that was making a loss five years ago is now making a healthy profit—and with expenditure on the Ribblehead viaduct reducing from £4.5 million to £900,000, it is paying its way. If the Minister intervenes again, I hope that it will be to make the short, dramatic statement that he will make British Rail keep open the Settle to Carlisle line—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must return to the Bill before the House, and not discuss the Settle to Carlisle line.
§ Dr. Marek
I wish to mention the Settle to Carlisle, but in connection with the Bill. Is it not true to say that the Bill is unnecessary in respect of that line, because the two or three-car sets that it uses enables guards or ticket collectors to walk through the whole train between each station, thereby controlling the travel of every passenger arid making fare evasion impossible? Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no need for the Bill's provisions on the Settle to Carlisle line?
§ Mr. Cryer
I agree with my hon. Friend. The record is there to see. The Settle to Carlisle line is a friendly line, and the imposition of fare penalties will breed a great deal of antagonism. The Settle to Carlisle line has developed an enormous amount of goodwill and friendliness over the years that it has been rescued from the clutches of closure by British Rail's management.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Does my hon. Friend agree that on a line such as the Settle to Carlisle, which is used a great deal by walkers and climbers, an unsatisfactory aspect of unmanned stations, and of unreliable train services on occasions, is that a traveller can arrive at the station and not be sure whether the train he wants has arrived and departed? That is important in respect not only of the Settle to Carlisle line but of others. If deferred ticket machines are to be installed, there must also be a system that will make clear whether trains have yet passed through a station.
§ Mr. Cryer
I entirely endorse my hon. Friend's point. I shall deal with a few of the Bill's details in a moment, but first I wish to emphasise that the Settle to Carlisle line offers a good example of why the Bill is not necessary.
Clause 4(3)(a)(ii) provides an exemption, for a passenger will not be able to pay a penalty fare if,when he transferred from another train service … there were no facilities for either the sale of the necessary fare ticket for his journey or the sale of deferred fare authorities.Where I now live I have the opportunity of going either to Bradford interchange or to Shipley station. The status of Shipley station has recently been enhanced. To avoid responsibility for closing the Wortley curve—another argument that I shall not go into now—British Rail has transferred London trains from Bradford interchange to Bradford Forster Square.
None the less, Shipley station is at present open only in the morning. If trains are leaving at about the moment of closure and someone has to run to catch his train, he may be confronted with a ticket collector saying, "You have no ticket. You could have bought one at Shipley station.." Instead of just handing over the fare, as would normally happen, that person must write within 21 days an explanation giving the station's opening and closing times. the time of the train and the time of arrival, as outlined in clause 4(7). Surely that will encourage antagonism and make it more difficult for the traveller to decide whether to 731 sprint for a train. As it happens, the booking office at Shipley station is probably 120 yd from the main platform for the Keighley-Shipley-Leeds trains.
Moreover, a person is not liable for a penalty if he has no opportunity to obtain a ticket on a conductor-train service. Many of the urban services around Bradford are crowded, particularly at peak times. It will be extremely difficult for the conductor to get around to people who get on at, say, Bramley on the way to Leeds or uphill into Bradford, where no ticket collection service is available. Again, if they are sitting in a corner with others standing, the ticket collector may go past them. They will then become engaged in an argument about whether it was possible for them to obtain tickets on a conductor-train service.
That has occurred to me because I have travelled on a train and bought a ticket at the end of my journey, but have been ignored by the conductor—who has been involved in giving out tickets—in the press of people. On the short journeys for which the Bill is supposed to be designed, it is possible to reach one's destination before the conductor has had time to go round.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
May I raise a similar point? Clause 5 provides that the penaltyshall not apply to a person travelling on a conductor train service whose journey begins at a non-ticket station".There is then the problem of deciding what constitutes a conductor train and a non-ticket station, which is dealt with in clause 2.
At Dronfield station, where I alight for my constituency, there is someone selling tickets on the platform. That would seem to make Dronfield a non-ticket station, when that person is not there. Clause 2, however, states that'non-ticket station' means a station on a conductor train service at which there is no provision at any time for the sale of tickets".There is a possiblilty of fare tickets being available at Dronfield station, but it is an open station: people can come in at the last moment and jump on to a train on which a conductor or inspector is going round with his machine. Will the Bill catch those who run to get on a train at the last minute because at the other end of the platform there may be someone with a machine issuing tickets?
§ Mr. Cryer
My hon. Friend has illustrated the point that I made about Shipley station. He has demonstrated that Shipley is not unique. I also know Dronfield station, which was reopened through the efforts of a Labour-controlled local authority, and very welcome it is, too. However, the provisions will create difficulties.
The Bill provides for the Secretary of State to change the penalty fare. Every Government Department has introduced orders under which penalties or charges have soared. Increases by order of 30, 40, 50 or 60 per cent. are not unknown. On occasion the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has been advised by our counsel that some of the increases in charges are so great that they can be regarded as an unusual use of the power.
One of my reservations about the measure is that powers are to be given to the Secretary of State to make orders that would change the penalty fares as he chooses.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
My hon. Friend will have seen the Minister give us a nod and a wink, suggesting that he 732 would have been happier if provision had been made for the affirmative rather than the negative procedure. Does my hon. Friend believe that the promoters ought to give an undertaking to make that change in Committee?
§ Mr. Cryer
I agree entirely. An undertaking ought to be given to amend the Bill to provide for the affirmative procedure. The Minister—as Ministers are wont to do—gave the usual smug assurance that statutory instruments can be debated, but he did not say that they cannot be amended. They have to be either agreed to or rejected. Our examination of statutory instruments is shockingly inadequate. There ought to be more than an hour and a half in which to debate them. Some statutory instruments are more comprehensive and detailed than many major Acts, and more time ought to be spent on examining them.
I hope that the promoter will give us an assurance that in Committee he will seek to change the Bill to provide for the affirmative procedure. He knows that under the negative procedure the possibility of time being given to debate a prayer depends on who signs it and on whether the Government are in a generous mood and award an hour and a half for debate. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that a prayer can be debated for an hour and a half from 10 o'clock. If there is a Division at 10 o'clock, debating time is automatically cut by 15 or 20 minutes. The time for debate is limited. Important powers are to be given to the Secretary of State, so the affirmative procedure would be better.
A safeguard is provided in clause 8(3). It says: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 … in which they may be liable to pay a penalty fare.That is an absolute, not a qualified, obligation. It does not say.so far as reasonably practicable.No penalties are to be imposed if notices are not provided. If somebody is made the subject of a penalty fare and says, "I did not know about it", no provision is made for him to say that at Shipley or Dronfield station, or wherever it may be, a notice had not been posted. As it is to be an absolute obligation, it might help if the Bill were changed to provide for the members of the British Railways board to be prosecuted for breach of statutory duty if warning notices are not provided. No such provision is made in the Bill because members of British Railways board do not intend to lay themselves open to action if they fail to carry out their duty. The honest passenger will find, when circumstances conspire against him, that a penalty is imposed on him or her.
The Bill represents another step backwards by British Rail. More stations that look ugly and abandoned will still be open to the public. I would not like to catch a train from Forster Square station at night. There is no sign of any human presence. The huge, formerly magnificent midland railway terminus in Bradford is now a gaunt, empty shell with two railway tracks running into it. Late at night it presents a daunting prospect for me, but for many women and more slightly-built people it must seem considerably more daunting.
I do not want a British Rail of this character, but one which is well served, and which provides passengers with an excellent service from good staff who are well trained and committed to serving the people. That is what the staff 733 want to do, but they are inhibited by provisions that seem to say to them: "Brothers and sisters, you are shortly going to be made redundant, with a ticket machine in your place." If hon. Members were told that they were going to be replaced by ticket machines, that would not exactly increase their morale. I sometimes think that if we put the board and the management elite on the platforms and ticket machines in the boardroom, we would probably get a better system.
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson
With the leave of the House, I shall comment on some of the points made in what has been an interesting debate.
It was perhaps inevitable that such a scheme would attract criticism of how it would work. However, I hope that I have also detected in the debate a consensus that something should be done to correct evasion. Hon. Members from all parties no doubt have their own pet schemes for dealing with it.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) talked about the infringement of civil liberties. The same argument could be levelled against the meter maids—the traffic wardens—who presume a person guilty and put a ticket on his car, even though he may have had a valid reason for not paying the meter. If that is regarded as an infringement of civil liberty, I am not aware that the hon. Gentleman has made much fuss about it. We are introducing not a criminal offence but a civil one, which will be a deterrent to people who do not pay their fare.
Concern has been expressed about the authorised personnel. I think that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish referred to people who impersonate driving instructors. He will know that the Bill sets out clear rules about how a person issued with a penalty fare ticket should seek the documentation of the authorised person. Frankly, in written terms, that is as fair as one can he. Inevitably, some people will try to dress up and cheat the passenger, but the passenger has the opportunity to seek the official's identification if he is at all concerned.
Deferred payment machines are already in place on the London-Southend-Tilbury line, though perhaps not in the numbers which we would eventually want. There are 100 automatic ticket machines in place and 1,000 on order. No matter how many are required, they will be provided.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish referred to the large numbers of people already being prosecuted. Earlier, I gave a figure of between 3,000 and 4,000. As the majority of offenders are within the £2 fare bracket, and since the national loss is about £50 million, about 20 million individual journeys may be involved. However, I accept the point made by other hon. Members that those are, inevitably, estimates. I was not trying, at the outset, to present them as hard and fast figures.
Over the years I have discussed a fair number of British Rail Bills with the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape). He raised a number of important issues, many of them referring to the whole question of how a passenger who is challenged, but who might have good reason for not having a ticket, could be dealt with. Since these are important points it might be helpful to the House if I were to take a moment or two to indicate some of the types of discretion that one would expect to see exercised by the authorised person. This will come up in their training.
734 First of all, there are the procedures to be adopted by the authorised person when a passenger refuses or fails to pay. "Listen to the passenger for an explanation" is the very first and, I hope, golden rule. "If it is immediately obvious that British Rail is at fault, issue a ticket at ticket-office price. If there is reason for suspicion, press for details. If not satisfied, report to penalty fares office with brief statement from passenger. Check details given—name and address." I accept the point about the person giving a fake name and address—a matter raised by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). Obviously one cannot guard totally against that. "Issue penalty fares notice and tell the passenger that he has 21 days to pay or to appeal."
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
What guidance is to be given to the inspector in respect of someone whose name coincides with that of a person who is well known? I have a constituent whose name is the same as that of a famous person. Every time my constituent gives his name to the police or to anyone else the first comment is, "Pull the other one." There is great difficulty in insisting that the correct name has been given. Anyone who has a name like Margaret Thatcher and is not the Prime Minister has problems.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I understand that there can be serious problems for some people, but I hope that the discretion to be exercised by the authorised person will take account of that. These are the sorts of questions that would be subject to discretion at the time or after the notice had been issued.
Let me come to some of the explanations that may be given. "Facilities not available." The authorised person's discretion should deal with most of these cases at the time; hopefully they will not go any further. "Waiting time excessive." "I thought the ticket was valid." "Office was closed." "Did not know about the machines." "Did not understand how the machine worked." "The last time I used a machine I lost my money." Since these machines are very reliable that is an excuse which, one hopes, will not he taken too seriously. "I can't read". That is a perfectly reasonable and valid excuse. "Did not know what ticket to get." "I fell asleep." "I did not realise I had got to my destination." "I am foreign." "The machine did not work." "I got on the wrong train." "I am pregnant, under the doctor." "I got on the train to help someone and was carried off." "I have been on the station but have not travelled." "I am disabled and could not get to the office."
If true, these are the sorts of things that the inspector, the authorised person, will clearly exempt.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that all those exemptions, or matters for discretion, are sensible, that these are problems that could genuinely occur. I want to make it crystal clear that the person travelling on the British Rail network who wants to buy a ticket has nothing to fear. A whole lot of people to whom I have just referred have nothing to fear. But when persistent offenders, over the years, undermine the 735 structure of the railway management and, by so doing, cause increases in ticket prices, and so on, the board has a responsibility to do something about it.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
There is no question of unstaffed stations or of a great empty concourse. I remember sponsoring a Bill about 10 years ago which increased the powers of the British Rail police. I also remember the resistance to it in various parts of the House. There is no question of allowing every drunk to wander on the track or on to a train.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Was the hon. Gentleman giving examples of excuses which would be acceptable, or was it an exhaustive list? One could think of others such as "My local Member of Parliament stole my ticket, guv."
When British Rail was adequately staffed—it was known for being labour-intensive and for providing a good service once—was ticket fraud greater or less?
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
Ticket fraud is not new. In the past, the procedure was to use the Act to which I referred earlier. It is still in place. What is proposed is different—these are not criminal penalties. There has always been ticket fraud.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
There has been an increase. Much of it is opportunistic. Even between Second Reading in another place one year ago and now, the figure for Network SouthEast has increased quite steeply. There is a serious problem which needs to be resolved.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I tried to cover that point in my opening speech. The board considers that a realistic figure would be a reduction by £9 million. That is its first objective, but if the scheme goes further, that is in everybody's interests.
Hon. Members spoke about ticket machines. Deferred payment machines take coins between 5p and £1 in value. Ticket machines are currently able to take £5 and £10 notes, but we hope to go up to £20 notes.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
The board regards this as the most efficient way in which to do it, given that the barrier system 736 in some stations leads to great queuing and crowding. I well remember when I was Member of Parliament for West Lewisham in south London, where there is a railway station at Forest Hill. Every hon. Member who represents a London constituency will know what the queuing was like at the various termini during the rush hour. Obviously it is in everyone's interests that people get off trains and reach their destinations as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. Banks
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to come with me on a trip to Stratford station which is part of Network South East, the Central line and the Docklands light railway. The situation is just as he described although all the equipment is modern. Everyone comes up to one barrier, one single turnstile. It is crazy. the queue stretches all the way back towards the platform. What is the point of getting to the station more quickly to wait longer to go through a single turnstile?
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
The hon. Gentleman makes the point better than I could. The new procedure is being adopted precisely to provide better access to and from stations.
The hon. Member for Wrexham referred to violence. The guards or ticket collectors who are responsible for maintaining order on the railway network are aware of the very serious problems that they face. Not too long ago there was an incident in which someone was stabbed in the eye at the end of a journey when a number of vandals got off a train. As I pointed out earlier, that is exactly why it is planned that the people authorised to carry out the scheme should work in pairs, or in larger teams, because such a danger exists. We hope that those who work in those very difficult and responsible positions will recognise that the proposals in the Bill are in their interests just as much as they are in the interests of the travelling public.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the problem of collection on the trains. I wish to make it quite clear that although there can be ticket inspections on the trains there can also be ticket inspections at stations. The Bill does not in any way rule out the fact that the scheme can be operated on the station as well as on the train. However, the objective is that it should take place on trains during shorter journeys. However, I take the point that was made by the hon. Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and for Denton and Reddish that some shorter journeys involve trains where it would be difficult to carry out such checks. The board will not introduce the system on any part of the railway network until it is satisfied that the criteria which I set out originally are in place. That is why the first likely candidate for the system will be the Tilbury-Southend-London route.
Turning to the speech by the hon. Member for Bradford, South, of course I take his point about the loading gauges. I am sufficiently well aware of railway operations to know the difference between what happens here and what happens on the continent, but for whatever reasons, open stations have become commonplace throughout Europe, and Britain is now almost alone in the operation of the barrier system which, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) pointed out, can lead to a great deal of queueing and inconvenience.
§ Mr. Banks
There is a problem at Stratford because British Rail Network SouthEast is trying to operate an open station system and London Regional Transport is installing new barriers. That is the nonsense. The barrier is 737 brand new and has been in place for only about 12 months so there is a total conflict between Network SouthEast and London Regional Transport. Surely that is another good reason for having a strategic transport authority for London.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
That is another matter, but I understand what the hon. Gentleman says. There is an inter-relationship between LRT and British Rail and where there is an interface as has just been described by the hon. Gentleman it is in everyone's interest to have a commonality policy. No doubt his remarks will have been heard by the board.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South referred to the figures. The hon. Member for Wrexham thought that the figures may be too low but the hon. Member for Bradford, South thought that they were too high. I accept that the figures are not precise. They are estimated figures and both the hon. Gentlemen could be correct. However, there have been meetings with the National Union of Railwaymen on that issue. Those meetings will continue and, as the Bill passes through its various stages, there will be opportunities for the discussions to continue.
It saddened me to hear hon. Members criticise the chairman of British Rail. He is very much a railwayman, unlike some chairmen. I was sorry to hear hon. Members attack him as if he knew nothing about the railway system. He started work on the railways as a young lad, much against the wishes of his family. He has been a distinguished chairman and I would like to think that the House believes that he has done a good job for British Rail.
Having sought to clarify many of the questions raised by hon. Members, I reiterate my view that this is a good scheme. Clearly, trial and error will show how good it is but I do not think that any of us would rest easy if we allowed a system to continue in which large sums of money are lost which could be used to the benefit of British Rail, and, more importantly, to the benefit of the travelling public.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 93, Noes 59.738
|Division No. 76]||[9.41 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)|
|Allason, Rupert||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Amess, David||Carrington, Matthew|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Carttiss, Michael|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Chapman, Sydney|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Boswell, Tim||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Bottomley, Peter||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Brazier, Julian||Day, Stephen|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Devlin, Tim|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Burt, Alistair||Durant, Tony|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Fallon, Michael|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Miller, Sir Hal|
|Fookes, Dame Janet||Mills, Iain|
|Forth, Eric||Mitchell, Sir David|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Franks, Cecil||Moss, Malcolm|
|Freeman, Roger||Needham, Richard|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Gill, Christopher||Paice, James|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Patnick, Irvine|
|Gregory, Conal||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Portillo, Michael|
|Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')||Redwood, John|
|Harris, David||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)||Riddick, Graham|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Irvine, Michael||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Jack, Michael||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||:Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||summerson, Hugo|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Knapman, Roger||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Wallace, James|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Lightbown, David||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Maclean, David||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Maclennan, Robert||Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||and Mr. Neil Thorne.|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Loyden, Eddie|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Macdonald, Calum A.|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||McFall, John|
|Buckley, George J.||McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Callaghan, Jim||McLeish, Henry|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Clay, Bob||Marek, Dr John|
|Cohen, Harry||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Meale, Alan|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Michael, Alun|
|Darling, Alistair||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Dewar, Donald||Mullin, Chris|
|Dixon, Don||O'Brien, William|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Parry, Robert|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Patchett, Terry|
|Eadie, Alexander||Pike, Peter L.|
|Eastham, Ken||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)||Ruddock, Joan|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Salmond, Alex|
|Faulds, Andrew||Skinner, Dennis|
|Flynn, Paul||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Foster, Derek||Snape, Peter|
|Galbraith, Sam||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Hardy, Peter||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Home Robertson, John||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Mr. Bob Cryer and|
|Ingram, Adam||Mr. Martin Redmond.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time and committed.