HC Deb 28 June 1989 vol 155 cc1031-64

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, he now considered. —[Mr. Thorne.]

7.22 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that towards the end of the Second Reading debate Opposition Members pressed the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), who is responsible for the Bill, for an undertaking that when the new ticket barriers were introduced on London Underground and the penalty fares scheme came into effect, people would not be forced to use the mechanical ticket barriers. The hon. Gentleman gave that undertaking. I asked: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that there will always be an alternative to using the mechanical ticket barriers? He replied: The intention is that there will always be that option available."—[Official Report, 6 February 1989; Vol. 146, c. 762.] That undertaking has not been carried out. That is fairly serious, particularly when private Bills are involved. There is a procedure by means of which undertakings are given, either in writing or orally in Committee or in the House, that something will happen. If that does not happen, the principle of the private Bill procedure is defeated.

About three weeks ago I took up with the hon. Member for Ilford, South the fact that he had given this undertaking. It had become obvious at Westminster Underground station that people were being forced to go through the mechanical barriers. He asked for more information and eventually sent to me a copy of a letter which says: The procedure at all stations where automatic gates are in operation is that a member of staff is available to give assistance if persons have difficulty using those gates and he may invite the passenger to use an alternative gate which he operates manually. It is quite clear from a meeting that I had yesterday morning with the hon. Gentleman that the individual passenger does not have the right, for which I asked and about which I was given an assurance, not to go through the automatic gates. He can ask the London Regional Transport representative at the barrier, but if that individual decides that he must go through the gates he is denied that choice.

It is quite clear that the House was misled. Apart from making that statement, the agents for the Bill had the privilege of being in the Box. I understand that London Regional Transport representatives were also present. They made no attempt between 6 February when the Bill had its Second Reading and the point at which I took it up with them, three weeks ago, to correct that mistake.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. What is the point of order for me?

Mr. Bennett

I am coming to that. The point of order is that since all the rules of procedure have been broken the hon. Gentleman ought to get up and apologise to the House, on his own behalf and on behalf of the agents and London Regional Transport, for misleading the House, or you ought to rule that because there has been a gross breach of procedure we should not proceed with the Bill at this stage. It should be withdrawn and then reintroduced so that, having broken the conventions of the House since they gave an undertaking on a private Bill, the hon. Gentleman and—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am responsible only for what happens in the Chamber. Whatever anyone—be they agents or anybody else—does outside the Chamber is not my responsibility. They do not take part in our proceedings. The hon. Gentleman complains that words were used in the House that constituted an undertaking or an assurance, that it has not been fulfilled and that it shows a lack of credibility or sincerity. The responsibility for that rests not with me but with the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), who gave the undertaking, and the House. The hon. Member for Ilford, South has heard what has been said. He may wish during the debate to comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). They are not, however, matters for me, nor are they matters upon which I can make a judgment or take action.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is a point of order upon which you can give guidance to the House. Hon. Members promote private Bills and we rely on other hon. Members to give assurances. One expects such assurances to be honoured. However, this assurance was given on behalf of an entirely separate organisation that is seeking additional powers. I seek your guidance on whether the House should adjourn for a few minutes while an assurance is sought, or find some means by which clarification can be sought. If that does not happen, there is no opportunity for the hon. Member to seek guidance from the agents or the promoters, who are in the Box for that very purpose. They do not sit there just to have an overview of our procedures.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that whatever takes place on the other side of the Bar of the House has nothing to do with me or with our proceedings in the Chamber. That is something that we do not recognise.

The hon. Gentleman suggests that when assurances are given in the Chamber the House ought to adjourn to check the validity or the strength of those assurances.

Mr. Cryer

No, that is not what I said.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I thought that that was what the hon. Gentleman was suggesting to me.

Mr. Cryer

Let me guide you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was suggesting that, when an hon. Member is asked for an assurance, either he can produce a bland platitude which does not mean anything, or he can consult the sponsors, who may be beyond your knowledge or understanding according to the conventions of the House. I was suggesting that to allow the sponsor of a Bill to seek guidance, surely the occupant of the Chair has powers to adjourn the House to allow discussions to take place on an assurance requested by hon. Members, in view of discrepancies between the assurance solemnly given in the House and the outcome. There appears to be such a chasm between the two that there should be some means in our procedures of making sure that an hon. Member is not placed in the difficult and embarrassing position of being accused of letting down the standards of the House by not allowing or giving credence to the assurances that he has given. That is what I am seeking from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

7.30 pm
Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. He has been in the House long enough to know that our procedures usually allow sufficient time for hon. Members in charge of a Bill, or those giving assurances, to reflect or perhaps seek guidance before the debate is concluded so that they may give the House a more mature and considered view. That is why we usually have an interval between a motion or amendment being tabled and finally responded to in the light of what has been said in a debate. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I do not have the power, nor would it be practical for the occupant of the Chair, to adjourn the House in circumstances that may fit the situation described by the hon. Gentleman. He knows as well as I do that on many occasions assurances have been given by Members in charge of a Bill, whether or not they were Ministers, and subsequently doubt has been cast on the validity or exact interpretation of those assurances.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If a Committee considering a private Bill makes a special report asking for assurances from a Government Department—which may not be the Department sponsoring the Bill—in those circumstances can the occupant of the Chair make a ruling to bring the matter back to Committee so that assurances can be sought on the Committee's special report?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That does not apply to present circumstances. I shall not seek to rule on a hypothesis or on proceedings on another Bill.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will you reconsider the points that you made a few moments ago on two bases, Mr. Deputy Speaker? A private Bill is totally different from Government legislation. Traditionally, Ministers try to get Government legislation through and the onus is on Opposition and Conservative Members to press the Minister in charge of the Bill to make sure any undertaking given is absolutely clear.

I understand that the tradition for private Bills is rather different. Normally assurances are given by the agents or by the hon. Member in charge of the Bill in the House on behalf of the agents and are treated rather differently. I realise that the private Bill procedure has become discredited and the sooner that we manage to implement the procedures to get rid of them from the Floor of the House the better. Surely the principle that any undertaking given is upheld should be adhered to.

As I understand it, you have a responsibility as Chairman of Ways and Means to vet names which are put forward to be included on the A list of parliamentary agents. I understand that that vetting is to ensure that those agents are people of honour who will adhere to the tradition on private Bills that undertakings given are carried out.

If the House allows an undertaking to be breached tonight without any apology or any other action being taken, and if the agents do not come forward—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am not prepared to allow a debate or a discussion about the credentials of agents. They do not take part in our proceedings, nor do they speak in the Chamber. Any assurances given in the Chamber have been given by an hon. Member or hon. Members, and they are responsible for their words to the House. It is not for me to question the bases of their assurances.

I have been rather more forthcoming than I might normally have been in seeking to explain the basis of a ruling that I have given. The hon. Gentleman is now coming dangerously near to seeking to debate my ruling, and I cannot tolerate that. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to address the motion before the House, the House will hear him.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I would not want to question your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish merely to make the point that procedures on private Bills are being discredited. That means that hon. Members who are regularly approached by agents asking them to withdraw blocking motions will no longer be able to accept the word of those agents. That is deplorable. I hoped that you could take steps to ensure speedy action on the breach that has occurred with this particular agent.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Once again the hon. Gentleman is making allegations the foundation and substance of which I am not in a position to judge. The assurance which he claims to have been breached was given by an hon. Member in the Chamber. That hon. Member alone is responsible for the credibility or sincerity with which that assurance was given.

I am most reluctant to enter into a debate on my ruling, but surely in the course of a debate, if hon. Members are dissatisfied with a provision of a Bill before the House, they seek an assurance about it on the basis of which they are then prepared to allow the Bill to make progress. If they subsequently find that that assurance has not been fulfilled or was given without sincerity or credibility, they will take that into account in deciding whether the Bill should be allowed to proceed further. It is a matter on which the House will exercise its judgment in the course of our proceedings. I very much hope that we can now get on.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

Perhaps it would be helpful if you Mr. Deputy Speaker, were to allow the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) to explain whether an assurance was given and the reasons for it later when we debate the Bill? Were he to do that we could make progress, as many hon. Members are slightly bemused as to exactly what is going on.

Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

I have been waiting for 10 minutes to get in and now I am pleased to do so.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that if he is pursuing the point of order and satisfying the point that has been raised by the Opposition, he should bear it in mind that if he turns his remarks into a speech he may pre-empt his right to speak later? I am glad to allow the House to hear him on the point of order, but if he wishes to reserve the right to reply to any debate on the motion before the House, he would be wise to consider his remarks and perhaps to save them until the end.

Mr. Thorne

Perhaps I should take your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If you think that I am likely to transgress that rule perhaps you will be kind enough to tell me and I will resume my seat immediately.

I shall try to encapsulate the position. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) for warning me that he would raise the matter. I would be grateful if he would refer to the paragraph before those from which he quoted. I said: The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) mentioned inoperative machinery and I have answered that point. Passengers pushing prams will be able to pass through the manned barrier."—[Official Report, 6 February 1989; Vol. 146, c. 762.] I was referring primarily to the manual barrier for those who push prams or have other difficulties. That is the basis on which I was speaking.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

That is ridiculous. The hon. Gentleman should read out my intervention.

Mr. Thorne

It has already been read. I confirm that I was talking primarily about people who have difficulty in getting through the automatic barriers. I should like to make that absolutely clear. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is also concerned that people should have some freedom to choose whether they go through the automatic barriers. That is a rather different matter. People have their tickets checked far more efficiently through the automatic barriers and should therefore be encouraged to use those.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Dubiety was raised by the last comments of the hon. Member for Ilford. South (Mr. Thorne). I was in the House on that day and the assurance was not taken as relating only to people pushing prams. It was taken as an assurance that everyone would have the choice of using the manual barriers. I will now come to my point of order, as I can see that you are getting very itchy, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It must be a matter of serious concern that the House was misled in that way. I am not saying that the House was misled deliberately, but I and other hon. Members who were present on that day thought that the assurance was a general assurance for passengers using the barriers. In view of the point that the hon. Member for Ilford, South has just made, the House was misled. The Bill might not have received its Second Reading if we had been given a limited assurance, rather than the general assurance we believed had been given.

In view of the seriousness of the matter and the fact that the assurance goes to the heart of the Bill, our proceedings should be put back from tonight so that the matter can be considered again.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have made it clear that no matter how strong, weak, credible or otherwise an assurance given by an hon. Member, it is not a matter for the Chair, but a matter for the House to take into account in forming its judgment about the Question before the House or that may be before the House. It is not a matter for me, as I have made clear several times. We can now move on to debate the Question before the House.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I am appalled by the behaviour of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne). Obviously, I cannot call him a liar in the House and I shall not do so, but his statement was the most outrageous I have ever heard in the House of Commons. I wrote to him three weeks ago on this point. At no time did he put forward the alibi that he has tried to claim today about prams. His argument was always that there was an alternative available in the present operation, which was that people could ask to go through the manual barriers. If he was really an honourable gentleman, and if he really believed that his undertaking related only to people with prams, he would have made that point to me during the three weeks since we had that correspondence. I am utterly amazed that he should now have made his statement. I am also amazed by the behaviour of the agents, and I will put down a motion for the firm of Sherwood and Co. to be removed from the list of parliamentary agents.

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend is now saying that the promoter of the Bill had three weeks in which to make his position clear, and he was extremely reluctant to get to his feet tonight to produce his off-the-cuff remark. My hon. Friend is telling the House that the promoter has failed for three weeks to clarify the solemn assurance on the barriers he gave to the House. Like my hon. Friend, I am amazed that he chose the last possible moment to open his mouth and produce an explanation that is wholly contrary to that clearly implied in Hansard.

7.45 pm
Mr. Bennett

I must make it clear that I am not saying that the hon. Member for Ilford, South did not reply to me in those three weeks, but I am saying that he never brought forward the alibi that he was referring only to prams. This evening is the first time he has mentioned that.

When I had a meeting with London Regional Transport about Westminster station and Victoria station, London Regional Transport never made that point. I find it amazing that the hon. Gentleman should have said what he said tonight. He is responsible for his words in this House, but the parliamentary agents are responsible for the way in which private Bills go through the House. Parliamentary agents who feel that they can treat the House in such a way are not fit to serve as parliamentary agents. I shall table a motion to have Sherwood removed from the list of parliamentary agents who enjoy privileges in the House. The failure of Sherwood to ask the hon. Gentleman to apologise to the House is outrageous and brings into disrepute the way in which we proceed on private Bills.

We rise regularly to object to private Bills. The agents immediately get on to us, find out our reasons for objecting and often, as a result of negotiations, we accept their word as honourable individuals and remove our block. In due course, letters go backwards and forwards, amendments are tabled and other procedures take place in the House. If agents can see an undertaking being given to the House and then broken, we can have no faith in them. The rest of the parliamentary agents on the A list must have a strong interest in having a company such as Sherwood removed from the list as soon as possible, because Sherwood has brought the whole system into disrepute.

I was hoping to talk on Report about the wider issues of the Bill. Most of us have watched the major deterioration of the London Underground system once it was taken away from London Transport, which was made up of elected representatives. Were London Regional Transport acccountable to democratically elected individuals, the present industrial dispute would not be taking place and there would not be an attempt to introduce the ticket barriers, which are so degrading to human beings. People who are rather larger than will fit comfortably through the barriers are forced to make a special request to have the gates opened so that they can go through. I am also certain that an elected body would not have presided over the gross inefficiency and lack of safety that have developed on London Underground.

An elected body would not have come forward with proposals for a penalty fares scheme when it had so obviously alienated the public that it had itself created a situation in which many people felt that they could get their own back on bureaucratic organisation by not paying their fares. London Regional Transport has brought that upon itself. An elected body would also not have behaved so autocratically to the trade unions.

If the penalty fares scheme is to be operated effectively, some of the people collecting penalty fares on trains will collect a considerable amount. If they collect a considerable amount, they have every reason, as a result of the way in which the London Underground has developed, to feel that they may be subject to attack and they can ask legitimately for protection. I believe that the unions have asked for negotiations and for assurances that people collecting penalty fares will be properly protected, but they have not been given those assurances. London Regional Transport, as it is now constituted, feels that it can take no notice of anyone who has a problem and that it can simply push the Bill through the House of Commons with phoney assurances and the hope that the payroll vote will carry the Bill through.

I suggest to London Regional Transport that it should tackle the problem of non-payment differently. It ought to abandon the Bill and put its own house in order. Once it has done that, it can then make a true assessment of how far there is really a major loss of revenue as a result of people not paying their fares.

London Regional Transport should deal first with the question of the morale of people who work on the Underground. I have spoken to two or three people who have been instructed to operate the new gates and their morale has deteriorated further because they have received many complaints and much hassle from the general public, who are upset about them. The total failure to treat reasonably the people working on the stations, issuing tickets and collecting fares, has led to much indifference among those people. A reasonable employer would have considered staff morale first. I am sure that if London Regional Transport had done something to raise the morale of those who issue and collect the tickets on the stations, the number of people not paying fares would have reduced dramatically.

London Regional Transport should also consider passenger morale. As long as passengers feel that London Regional Transport cares very little for them and is simply concerned to make a profit out of them rather than to provide a service, they will feel that they can take it out on London Regional Transport by not paying their fares. Unfortunately, in the end they do not take it out on London Regional Transport; they take it out on other farepayers because either the service deteriorates or the other farepayers have to increase their contributions.

I am certain that if LRT were running a service of which Londoners and the country as a whole could be proud in our capital, there would be a great deal less fare evasion. People would be much happier to pay if they thought that they were getting a good service and good value for money and if they saw that the money that they were paying was being invested to improve the quality of the service and that it was not being used for draconian measures to stop people avoiding paying their fares.

It might solve some of the problems if London Regional Transport also considered the fare structure and the ticket system. It is clear that the multiplicity of tickets is one of the problems. The introduction of the new automatic barriers and their failure to adjust to all the tickets has caused a great deal of difficulty. One would have thought that since London Regional Transport was planning to introduce those barriers it might have been sensible to adapt the tickets so that they could all be used in the barriers before the barriers were introduced rather than afterwards. If hon. Members visit the Thomas Cook transport office in the House, they will find that the tickets issued for hon. Members wishing to go to Heathrow cannot be used in the machines. If London Regional Transport cannot get simple things like that right, one must question its competence to run the service at all. The ticket system and the complexity of the fares clearly add to the difficulties because other European countries with simpler fare structures have a much lower incidence of fares evasion.

London Regional Transport could legitimately have adopted one of two approaches. It could either have encouraged passengers to pay by having tickets checked on the trains, or it could have checked tickets at station exits. Tomorrow night the House will be debating the British Railways (Penalty Fares) Bill. At least British Rail seems to have found a logical solution. It has said, "Let's improve the service to passengers by having free exit from stations with no checks on people entering and leaving the stations. Instead, let's have a system of travelling ticket collectors to check on-train whether the passengers have tickets. Let's then ask for a penalty fare system for those travelling without tickets." That seems a perfectly logical proposal, but London Regional Transport has gone for another approach. It wants a system of penalty fares and travelling ticket collectors, with all the hassle that that will involve on the trains for both the individual passengers and the collectors, and it also wants to take the draconian step of imposing these barriers.

Anyone who has travelled via Westminster station and the other stations where the barrier system is fully implemented can see for themselves the chaos that has been caused. Any train arriving at Westminster from about 8 o'clock in the morning until about 10 o'clock at night produces a substantial number of people. When they come up the steps, they are faced with one barrier that does not work very well and with about three others through which they can pass. When the passengers push their tickets through, some get through the barriers successfully but others get halfway through when the doors come back on them. It can be quite unpleasant when the doors bang against the person. Those people who have tickets without a magnetic strip have to ask one of the station staff standing by the barrier to operate it as though the ticket had a magnetic strip. Those people who find it difficult to pass through the barriers have to ask one of the station operatives to open them.

If someone is built like the hon. Member for Rochdale (Sir C. Smith), it might not be difficult to ask the person at the ticket barrier whether he or she would mind opening the gate because if one is the hon. Member for Rochdale, it is fairly obvious that one will not get through the barriers. However, I find it undignified that anyone who is sufficiently large as to find it uncomfortable to go through the barrier should have to ask a gate operative to let him through. We now discover from the hon. Member for Ilford, South that people do not have a right to go through an open gate. Someone pushing a pram will be allowed through and, at the discretion of London Underground, those of a large size might be allowed to go through.

If an individual asks to be allowed through the gate, and shows a valid ticket, I should have thought that at the very least that person should be allowed through. However, London Underground is not prepared to do that because if everybody who asked to walk through were allowed to do so it would become clear that about 95 per cent. of passengers would prefer to go through the gates rather than through the barriers. London Underground is trying to intimidate people. It is certainly humiliating one group of people.

I am sure that most hon. Members can think of people who are rather large and who are not too happy about the fact. Such people will not want to have to ask someone operating the barrier for permission to go through the gates simply because of their size. Pregnant women might also be unhappy about going through the gates, with the chance that, because of the way in which they malfunction, the gate doors will come back on them as they are passing through.

It is unreasonable that any of those individuals should have to explain to a station operative the reason why they do not want to go through the barriers. It is completely unacceptable in a civilised society. It would have been far better if London Underground had accepted that, if it wanted to impose the barriers, as at Westminster, it should at least have given every individual the absolute right to go through a gate rather than through one of the barriers if those individuals do not wish to do so.

From my own observations of the Underground at Euston and at other stations, and from my observations yesterday when London Underground showed me the system, I have noticed that at most stations the system is working reasonably well in that the barriers are there but there is an alternative and people can walk past them at the side. The majority of passengers are choosing to walk through the open gate. The slight reduction in the flow from allowing people to go through the barriers only if they want to do so means that the station operatives can carry out efficient physical checks on the tickets. When I watched what was happening at Victoria station the other morning in the company of people from London Regional Transport, there seemed little evidence of people avoiding paying their fares by passing through the open gate. My observations at Notting Hill and Euston stations reinforce my belief that people are showing valid tickets.

It is a little odd for London Regional Transport to say that it is difficult for the people in the traditional ticket offices to stop and check someone showing a wrong ticket because it is London Regional Transport that has put those people in those little huts. Obviously, it is difficult for them to get out and to try to apprehend somebody who has offered a wrong ticket. If that member of the station staff were not standing in a hut the position would be much more reasonable.

Until London Regional Transport can provide an efficient service that is not disrupted as a result of industrial action, until it can improve the safety and the cleanliness of the Underground, and until it can sort out the appalling mess created by the introduction of the barriers, the House should not allow the Bill to proceed and should insist that undertakings given in the House are adhered to.

8 pm

Mr. Cohen

I, too, believe that we should not proceed further with the Bill tonight. I know that a number of clauses and amendments are before the House. I shall try not to stray on to those but hope to catch your eye. Mr. Deputy Speaker, later, especially on new clauses 1 and 2, dealing with industrial action.

New clause 1 says: No penalty fare scheme shall apply on any day when the operations of the Corporation are subject to industrial action. That would strike me as a sensible clause, because we all know the chaos that can arise during industrial action.

New clause 2 says: No penalty fare scheme may apply to any station where there is not a readily available alternative exit or entrance to the automatic barriers. I am especially keen to discuss those two clauses. However, we are only debating whether the Bill should again be considered by the House. I do not think that it should, because of the whole business of the assurances that we were given at Second Reading. I spoke in that debate and pointed out the great public unrest about the automatic ticket barriers. I mentioned a number of categories of people who had problems going through the barriers. It was not just women with prams, but pensioners, women with children, whether or not they had prams, who found it difficult to see their children through the barriers and would rather have the freer access, pregnant women and people with luggage.

I mentioned too, the problem of congestion and the fact that the barriers cause even greater queues. There is a serious problem of overcrowding on the Underground anyway. Because London Regional Transport has implemented the Government's policy of forcing fares up, season tickets are very expensive and people are not happy to put them into the barrier and risk losing them.

I draw to the House's attention a letter that was sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) by his constituent, a Ms. S. P. Barnard. She said: Dear Mr. Smith, I wish to bring to your attention yet another hazard of travelling by underground. Last Tuesday lunchtime I was returning to work from visiting Waterloo station and on leaving the Northern line ticket gates my travel-card was stolen. I was in a hurry and as usual there was a backlog of passengers trying to get out of those death-trap gates. I put my card in after the person in front of me and one card popped up and the man in front took it. I stood there waiting for mine and of course it was too late to do anything when I realised what had happened. He'd taken mine and his single yellow ticket was in the machine. At first I'd thought my ticket was stuck and after some reluctance, the staff on duty checked the collection box, to no avail. Then they admitted it now happened quite often with these new gates. I was very angry, as you can imagine. After being given the run around about who to see for a refund. L.T. have promised to re-imburse all the tickets I need to buy between now and when it was due to run out, (The following Monday). But what I think should now be done, is that passengers be made aware of the fact that this is a new crime to be aware of when travelling by tube. And not have all the hassle I've had. Why hasn't this crime already been publicised? My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury immediately wrote to LRT to take up that matter. The barriers were supposed to reduce crime, but this is a new crime arising from their installation.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The problem is that one cannot be certain whether it is deliberate or accidental. The worst of it is that it will be very difficult to prosecute a person, because one must prove that that individual did not think that it was his ticket coming back. It makes it a most difficult crime to pursue. It is extremely worrying that it will be a growing crime in London.

Mr. Cohen

That is right. It would be virtually impossible to prove it if the person who ended up with the ticket denied that he had stolen it and insisted that it was a mistake. That is a new point, but season tickets were considered at Second Reading. It was in the context of people being worried to put their tickets in the machine for fear of losing them. Pressure was put on for passengers to have freedom of choice in the use of the barriers or the manual gate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that there will always be an alternative to using the mechanical ticket barriers? The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), on behalf of the promoters said: The intention is that there will always be that option available."—[Official Report, 6 February 1989; Vol. 146, c. 762. The hon. Gentleman was unequivocal about that. However, for the first time today we have heard the hon. Gentleman saying that that only applies to women with prams, which was not the view gained by the House when it gave its approval for the Bill to proceed at Second Reading.

If hon. Members had realised that the choice was being taken away from travellers in that blunt manner, I am not sure that they would have given the Bill a Second Reading. After all, I have stood at elections where the Conservative party kept telling the electorate that it is the party of choice. To be fair to Conservative Members, I believe that many of them are honourable. They actually believe that they are the party of choice, although all the time they are taking money and public services away from people, which reduces choice. They are putting a burden on the people as opposed to giving them choice. I believe that many Conservative Members are in favour of giving people choice and, if they had known that choice was being taken away, I wonder whether they would have been so keen to go through the Lobby.

Dr. Marek

Will my hon. Friend give his opinion on the system used on the Tyne and Wear Metro, where there are turnstiles, but there are no automatic ticket barriers or controls? There is free exit and entry to the Metro, but there is an efficient on-train ad hoc ticket inspection system. Does he feel that the Bill is going about the problem of evasion in the wrong way and that perhaps a system such as that established on the Tyne and Wear metro might be preferable?

Mr. Cohen

That is right. There should be that choice available. By all means let London Transport have efficient systems for people to get in and out of the stations, if people are prepared to use them, but there should be a choice. London Regional Transport is going about it the wrong way and has not learnt lessons from the Tyne and Wear Metro and other systems around the world which have sensible systems.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish mentioned that on 5 June at Westminster station the choice to use the barriers or not had been taken away. On 2 June at Euston station staff were brought together almost like a would-be police force to man the ticket barriers and to force passengers to use them, giving them no choice. It is ironic that the staff should be used in that way, because barriers were brought in to cut the number of staff required. It is like the staff being asked to dig their own graves or sign their own redundancy notices. About 12 staff were sent down to the barriers and they stopped everybody and said, "You must use the barriers, you cannot use the manual barrier." That is what happened at Euston on 2 June between 6 and 7 o'clock at night. I had cause to complain to LRT about that.

One respectable passenger—I can vouch for her respectability as she is chairman of the Leyton Labour party—was passing through Euston and she told the staff that she wanted to use the manual barrier. That was a reasonable request, but she was stopped from doing so. The staff demanded of her the reason for her request. She told them that she felt safer and more comfortable going through that manual barrier, but they told her that that was not good enough. The staff told her that if she were disabled they would allow her to go through. Later in their discussions, however, it came out that the disabled are not allowed to travel on the Underground unless they have obtained permission in the first place. I shall be asking questions about that. Clearly the disabled are faced with a Catch-22 situation. LRT has forced the use of the automatic barriers by dismissing every reason suggested for not using them. It has taken away passengers' choice.

I do not believe that we should consider the Bill, as LRT has got its priorities wrong by spending so much money on promoting it. I came across a cutting this week from the publication of the London Hazards Centre, "The Daily Hazard", which said: In 1987 we reported on the absurd similarity between the penalties imposed for fare dodging on London Underground and the average fine for employers whose negligence causes the death of a worker—both around £400. We all know that, increasingly, the safety of LRT is at risk. LRT's priority should be to ensure that safety is improved and it should provide a compensation scheme for accidents to its staff. There should be more important priorities than fare dodgers.

Nobody supports people who dodge paying their fares, which is a criminal offence, but it appears that LRT has got its priorities wrong. About 300 British Transport police operate on LRT and they are immensely overstretched because of crimes of all kinds, particularly serious crimes of violence. Often the police are not on hand to deal with such crimes, because there are not enough of them.

I have chased up the Minister to find out the cost of the barriers, but I have been given some evasive answers. Originally the Minister told me that they cost £22 million, but I am now told that various items relating to the computers were not included in that cost. I am now told that it is LRT's responsibility to say how much the barriers cost. I am still awaiting that information from LRT although the national press has reported that the cost is in the region of £165 million. That money would have provided 550 British Transport police for 10 years. Rather than waste any more money on the Bill, that money should be spent on the transport police so that fare dodgers and other more violent criminals on the Tube are caught.

8.15 pm

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish that money should be spent on making the stations spick and span and a pleasure to visit. If people consider that the transport system is cheap, squalid and nasty they will try to evade paying for it. To clean up the existing squalor would be an incentive to people to pay their fares. The money should also be spent on staffing for the benefit of passengers and the service. It would have been far better if LRT had made safety its priority instead of the nonsense of a Bill before us.

I have studied the statement given by the promoters of the Bill and it does not refer to the trade unions being consulted. The trade unionists, however, are the front line in fare collection. They have not been consulted, but it is they who face violence if they confront someone on the tube and say that that person has not paid his fare.

Dr. Marek

I am a Member sponsored by the National Union of Railwaymen and, as far as I am aware, that union has not been consulted by LRT on any aspect of the Bill, even though it intimated to the management of LRT its worries about attacks on the staff. That is why the Bill is unsatisfactory.

Mr. Cohen

Yes, it is my understanding that the trade unions have not been consulted.

If such penalty fare collection is to become part of the job of the staff, one would think that, at the very least, they would receive additional pay, hut, in its statement, LRT has not said that it is prepared to pay staff more for their extra onerous task. That is not surpising, as we are already in the middle of industrial action because of the meanness of LRT. It has sought to impose the Government's wage-cut policy on its staff. We all know that the current dispute has been caused because LRT has only offered its staff 7 per cent. while inflation is 8 per cent. and rising. That wage offer is on top of the staff reductions that have been faced year after year and the worsening conditions under which staff must work. Many guards have been taken off trains so the other staff must now take the blame if anything goes wrong, but they receive nothing extra for that.

The workers' industrial action is justified and they have common cause with the passengers who have suffered from worsening conditions and increasing risks to safety. We should support the workers of LRT and put pressure on the Government to settle their justifiable claim so that they receive wages for their onerous extra tasks. Those staff will have to collect the penalty fares and they will undoubtedly risk violence, but the mean LRT board has not offered them a penny for doing so.

The House will recall that the chairman of LRT has described the strike action as "ungodly", but that term can also be used to describe LRT. The LRT management is trying to screw down the workers without paying them properly for their onerous extra tasks and it has caused passengers to suffer because of the increasingly squalid conditions. That management policy can only be described as "ungodly". The House should not agree to such a policy, especially as there has been no consultaion with the trade unions. There has also been no consultation with hon. Members.

When we discussed the Bill in the last Session I raised the problem of the possibility of violence to staff. I said then that I had not been consulted and that nobody from LRT had talked to me, a London Member of Parliament. From that day to this, nobody from LRT has told me about the proposals and the fact that they may lead to violence on staff.

Dr. Marek

It would be extremely useful if my hon. Friend would agree that the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) should seek to catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye so that he can explain these matters, rather than the Opposition talking in a vacuum without knowing exactly what is taking place behind the scenes. The hon. Member for Ilford, South may be able to assure us on some of these points and confirm where the division lies between those of us who have caveats about the Bill going ahead and those of us who do not.

Mr. Cohen

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am about to conclude my remarks to give the hon. Member for Ilford, South that opportunity.

I have given a number of reasons for opposing the Bill: the public, hon. Members and trade unions have not been consulted; there is the problem of the barriers; and LRT has the wrong priorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish said that when the GLC controlled public transport in London it acted as a democratic channel so that the public could be involved. Now, they are not involved at all. We should consider that factor.

The Bill, like the ticket barriers, is an enormous waste of money and the time of the House, particularly when we bear in mind the real problems facing the Underground. I shall be interested to hear how the hon. Member for Ilford, South can justify the inaction of LRT in those circumstances. I have given a powerful set of reasons why we should abandon the Bill.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I am sure that in a few moments the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) will take up the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen).

It is a happy accident that the three London Members come from east London because public transport there is even more important to ordinary people than it is in other parts of the conurbation. That is not surprising because car ownership in our boroughs—Walthamstow, Newham and, possibly, Redbridge—may be lower than elsewhere.

It is also a happy accident that the sponsor of the Bill, the hon. Member for Ilford, South, and I served on the traffic and transport committee of the Greater London council. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes an interest in these matters and has a practical grasp of them. I hope that he will concede, even if he does not always agree with me, that I also try to have a practical grasp of them.

It is an anomaly that, due to the excellence of the private Bill procedure of this House, which permits us to consider on the Floor of the House whether a Bill should go further after being in Committee, this Bill is being debated at a proper time and in a proper way, whereas the Government denied the House the opportunity even to discuss the proposals considered at Madrid last week. It is a democratic anomaly which puts the Government in a poor light.

It is also due to the Government's actions that hon. Members present this evening, and no less a person than the Minister of State, Department of Transport, are dealing with a subject that should be considered in the GLC county hall across the river. As I think the hon. Member for Ilford, South would agree, this is the sort of issue which was dealt with in a morning's Committee meeting, or maybe over a series of several meetings months, perhaps, after informal presentations from officers of London Regional Transport, questions from committee members and other members of the Greater London Council.

The sort of problems involving barriers and the practicalities of penalty fares, which have been described by my hon. Friend, were dealt with by representatives of London in county hall in a way which did not impinge upon the legislature of the nation. It is extraordinary that we have to bring the Secretary of State for Transport and my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) to the Front Bench in the national legislature to talk about practical and important matters relating to London Regional Transport. I am glad that we have the opportunity to do so but I wish that it could be done in county hall, where it should be, and that the time of the House was not being taken up with this matter tonight. However, we have no alternative, so my remarks tonight will be similar to those which I might have made had I been sitting in that committee as I did 20 years ago.

Is this Bill necessary? I would question LRT officials if they brought such proposals before a committee in county hall. The claim is that London Regional Transport is losing up to £26 million a year through fare evasion. I accede that it may be losing money and the matter may have been dealt with on Second Reading. I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford, South will tell us the basis of that calculation.

If the barriers and the new ticket system are as good as London Regional Transport has claimed, will the loss be reduced by that system—partially effective and offensive though it may be? One would have thought that if LRT were losing that amount of money, the electronic system which it installed would be designed to reduce it without recourse to legislation. Therefore, what is the necessity for the Bill, as well as the barriers? Must we have both? Apparently, both London Regional Transport and the Government say that we should. As a representative of the citizens of London and of the legislators here, I do not see why we should. If the barriers did their job, we would not need the Bill. This matter should be explained.

We also need an explanation of the interpretation of the word "penalty". We are soon to have a different sort of penalty fare in London: penalty fares for those who want to travel at peak times. The Government have endorsed that principle. The Prime Minister, from the very seat in which the Minister of State is now sitting, endorsed that principle when asked a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton only 10 days ago. She said that travellers would have to pay more at peak times to pay for better services in general. However, those who pay peak fares will not receive better services, and we object to that.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does my hon. Friend accept that the introduction of such penalties for people who travel at peak times will cause resentment? That is the sort of thing which motivates people to take out their resentment on the system, either by defacing stations or by trying to cheat on tickets. If the Government behaved in a responsible way and carried the travelling public with them they could do a great deal to encourage people to look after property and dissuade them from trying to evade fares.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend makes an important point, particularly in relation to incipient violence—I am not talking about theft. People's attitude to the transport system is to ask whether it is user-friendly, designed for their convenience and delight or to oppress them. That is an important psychological factor.

I was brought up in the middle and late 1930s when London Regional Transport was a delight to the eye and an exemplar throughout the world of good transport management. That is not so today. The existence of penal fares at peak hours, or penalty fares for alleged fare dodging, will tighten that psychological screw. That is another reason why I ask: should we have this Bill? If London Regional Transport is going to apply penalty fares at peak hours, should we let them have this Bill as part of the general package? We do not have much control over that because the Secretary of State has taken statutory powers relating to the fares structure of London Regional Transport. However, at least the House and representatives of London have some powers over this miserable piece of legislation.

Mr. Cohen

Has my hon. Friend thought about one of the implications of the Government's policy of loading extra fares on people who travel at peak times—the effect on the cost of living index? The increase in fares will be absorbed in the prices index as only a small rise, but this will be an enormous extra burden on people who use the system to travel in peak times, and that will be reflected in their pay claims. The Government will then say that the prices index has risen by only a little and ask these people why they are claiming a great deal more. Is not that a recipe for trouble?

8.30 pm
Mr. Spearing

Indeed. It is penal in the broadest sense. The original instruction that the former Secretary of State for Transport gave LRT was that fares should generally rise in relation to the cost of living index. That policy has now changed because they rose last time by 12 per cent., roughly double the general increase in prices. We do not know the size of the increase being planned by LRT now. Perhaps the Secretary of State will not agree to it, although recently Mr. Wilfrid Newton told London Labour Members of Parliament in reply to my question about whether the principle had been agreed and it was now merely a matter of method, amount and timing, that that was exactly so. I hope that he was wrong. The Minister of State is also a London Member; I hope that he and the Secretary of State will not permit these penal fares.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton said, public transport costs in London are already leaping ahead of inflation, which itself is too high, and that is inflationary. The Government claim that they believe in fighting inflation, yet they produce it by doubling LRT fares.

In the middle of the last century, the heyday of Victorian probity and enterprise, Parliament in its wisdom laid down t he maximum fares for private railway companies. LRT is still a public transport concern—we have not yet privatised it and I hope that we never shall. Although the railway companies may have run only one train a day at these fares, it was called the parliamentary train because there was a maximum fare. Are the Government going back on that relatively enlightened Victorian policy? I suggest that their public transport policy shows that they are.

Will these proposals stop evasion? For the past few moments I may have spoken controversially, but I shall now revert to what I might have said in a county hall committee. We all have a vested interest in stopping fare evasion even if we disagree with the fare structure. The psychology of LRT's anti-fare-dodging measures is not right. Recently LRT produced machines that authorise people to travel, but I am not sure that they are in operation everywhere. If there is no ticket man at a station — I do not blame the staff for that: there are severe shortages—we press a button and receive authority to travel. At our destination, the ticket collectors know where we got on. This good idea has only just been introduced and I do not know whether it is yet fully effective. I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford, South will tell us whether it is. Properly used, the system could cut down some evasion.

The chance of detection also cuts down evasion, as we all know from experience of other areas. The Post Office is a past master of this game. It sends a little van with a revolving aerial around the streets. It does not matter what is inside the van—there might just be a man turning a handle. What matters is that in the next two days people queue up at the Post Office to pay their telly licenses. That is a cost-effective form of ensuring that people do not evade their responsibilities. I have detected nothing like it on London Underground—quite the reverse.

We have argued before that there must be more staff on the platforms and stations. This is one of the reasons why the motormen are going on strike. They know that Government policy is going in the opposite direction of public opinion, and no wonder they get wild and annoyed. As a result the atmosphere is soured and industrial action takes place. There must be more people to check up. The possibility of detection will ensure that people pay their fares or carry the right pass.

I must confess to having been stopped by inspectors on LRT three times in the past year. Curiously enough, it always happened on a Sunday morning. I have only once seen someone checking tickets on a train on a weekday. Inspectors should check tickets at the big interchange stations, just as we pick up people going through Customs. A spot check is cost-effective, time-effective and person power-effective. Under the present system, people on the Underground do not know whether they will be stopped.

I have with me my London Regional Transport pass for three zones. When they were first introduced, the passess showed large numbers which could be easily read. Inspectors or conductors could see at a glance whether the pass holder was eligible to travel. The new passes need fairly close scrutiny to determine the zones. That does not inspire me with confidence in the management, although there may be an explanation for it. The poor chap driving the bus or at the ticket barrier would have to be very good to read the zone numbers. Employees of LRT say that one of their problems is that the new pass is not easily inspected. It is difficult for them if they have to stop people for a while to read the pass, because passengers get annoyed.

Last Sunday week I was on a bus and showed my pass, whereupon I was told that I was out of my zone. I said that the zone had been zone 3 last year, but I was told that the zones had now changed and the one I was in was zone 3a. The conductor told me that the zones had changed last December, so I paid up, and fair enough—up to a point. Confusion in the system does not give people confidence. I have had a complaint from Beckton in my constituency, which contains many new people and houses. The train station, North Woolwich, is in zone 3, but to judge from the boundaries the area is zone 4 for buses. I have written to LRT about this anomaly and no doubt it will provide a curious explanation.

This sort of thing helps neither the passengers nor the poor staff. If they do their job, they get the kickback from the customer; if they do not do their job, under the present management of London Regional Transport, which is pretty tight on some people, they may be jumped on by a spot—someone in plain clothes—for not doing their job. So the poor old lady or gent who is operating the bus is squeezed. Those are the problems in industrial relations today.

Dr. Marek

I deplore as much as my hon. Friend does the system of different zones and different fares. I wonder whether it is all part of a plan to destabilise a simple, straightforward fare system in London so that the structure may be amenable to privatisation in the unlikely event that the Tory party wins the next election.

Mr. Spearing

I hope not. I have a reputation for seeing under stones things that are not there. My hon. Friend's thesis may be true but I fear that the problems are caused by inefficiency, lack of imagination and an inability to see things from the point of view of the passengers, who happen to be the owners. We talk about customers but the citizens of London are not just customers of London Underground Ltd. or of London Buses; they are the owners. The Minister is not the owner.

Bus passes do not apply universally as they used to. Under the Transport Act 1985 the traffic commissioners gave permission for minibuses to run through east London; they do not accept passes, including pensioners' passes. We are beginning to see the break-up of the system. I do not think that the administrative cock-up over zones was deliberate but Government policy on pensioners not being allowed to travel free on certain minibuses is deliberate and is part of the scheme for privatisation. Therefore, old-age pensioners are penalised. If the break-up of the bus system does not allow for universal ticketing, there is discrimination and people are penalised in terms of convenience if not on fares.

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo)

If the hon. Gentleman's thesis were correct, why would I have written to the London boroughs concerned to ask them to extend concessionary fares to privately operated minibuses?

Mr. Spearing

I am glad that the Minister asked that question. Being a relatively new Member, perhaps he does not remember the history of concessionary fares in London. Originally, London boroughs decided whether to give passes to their residents. Some did, mainly the Labour boroughs, and some did not. There was an outcry thoughout London, with people saying that it was ridiculous that concessionary fares depended on which side of the road someone lived or on which party was in the majority in a borough; everyone demanded that concessionary fares should be issued Londonwide. It may be news to Government Members that that was not the case originally. The responsibility was transferred from the London boroughs to the Greater London council, which was established by the Conservative party as a strategic transport and planning authority for London, and pensioner passes were applicable throughout London.

Mr. Cohen

My hon. Friend is right; the Greater London council was established by the Tory party but I remind him that concessionary fares were established by a Labour GLC.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out, but the fares could not have applied on an all-London basis without the existence of a body that was strategically necessary for transport and planning, something that the Government denied subsequently. We wanted concessionary fares to remain on an all-London basis but the Conservative party has now produced the anomaly, as the Minister admitted. Route D16 runs through Tower Hamlets and Newham. Does the Minister expect Newham council to provide concessionary fares while others do not?

Mr. Cryer

I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that the Minister's intervention was interesting and revealing. No announcement has been made about the secret letters that the Minister has been touting round London. The Minister has been trying to remedy in secret the damage that the legislation abolishing the GLC achieved in public. The Government are trying to remedy the very policies that the GLC was carrying out amicably until a group of extreme Right wingers tabled a clause to abolish the GLC.

8.45 pm
Mr. Spearing

I agree with my hon. Friend. The position is even worse. Because the Government abolished the GLC for all the wrong reasons—we now see the results in the transport and traffic chaos in London—we have a patchwork system. The minibuses which the Government have encouraged and which are outside the remit of London Buses—probably the public do not know that —have to apply to individual boroughs, as the Minister has admitted, if they want pensioners' passes. That is ridiculous. The Minister is encouraging boroughs which suffer from an unfair rate system to remedy an anomaly that the Government created. That is yet another example of the fares and transport chaos in London.

Whatever the need for dealing with fare dodgers, this penalty fares Bill is ill-fitted for the job. It should be drafted in a way that satisfies the psychology and pride of the people of London, the well-being of those who work on the system and, above all, those who use it daily to travel to work.

Mr. Cryer

It is a pleasure to say a few words on the Bill. I am particularly interested in the statement that the promoters circulated to hon. Members. It sets out the origination of the Bill which was a report of a working group of officials from the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department, London Regional Transport and the Department of Transport.

The group was considering the principles that should apply to a penalty fares scheme on public transport. Unfortunately the report is not in the Vote Office or we could have had ready reference to it. The Library is obtaining a copy for me. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) has a copy. I sought information from the Vote Office. Unfortunately the promoters have not arranged for copies of the report to be in the Vote Office. The Vote Office tells me it may be several days before it can get copies.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

I fear that inadvertently I may have caused the problem. Like my hon. Friend, I read the promoters' statement. I went first to the Vote Office, as he did, and then to the Library to find out whether the report was available. The Library staff kindly and efficiently produced the report for me. Alas, it is the only one available in the building. That explains why my hon. Friend is subject to delay in its provision.

Mr. Cryer

That shows that the promoters have not been as assiduous as they might have been in providing hon. Members with information.

I was interested to note that the Bill started off with a working group of officials. Officials are not elected, directly or indirectly. They are appointees within the Civil Service career structure and it might be argued that they are not the most democratically minded individuals.

I looked again at the promoters' statement to see whether there were, for example, representatives of the people who operate services and who turn out at 4 or 5 in the morning, go down, open the trains, get on the stations, rather than dealing with high quality decisions with cups of Civil Service tea to hand in comfortable rooms with furniture that is well upholstered, like some members of the working party. I cannot see that any representatives of the workers who operate the railway system or the buses —those who start up the Routemasters at 4.30 am, get out the ticket machines and start the gritty business of meeting the travelling public in the morning and late at night—were involved.

The lack of such people in the working party is a matter of regret. Paragraph 7 in the promoters' statement says: The Bill has the support of the Department of Transport and there has been consultation with the Unions representing those who would have to implement the penalty fares scheme. I am interested to know—I am sure that the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) will tell us—the result of those consultations. I wonder why the promoters are so shy about it. Perhaps the result was glorious and the trade union representatives fell on the necks of the administrators of the scheme and said, "What a wonderful idea. We like meeting angry people in crowded trains to try to impose penalty fares, and this is a challenge." That is the sort of gobbledegook yuppie language that the Government so often use in such circumstances. If that had happened, I should have thought that it would be included in the statement. If it had happened but the promoters had not included it, they would have been remiss. No doubt the hon. Member for Ilford, South will reveal all to us in due course.

Dr. Marek

I do not think that there have been consultations. There certainly were none with the NUR. I am aware of what the promoters' statement says. The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) is refusing to explain these things to us. Would it not have been better if these things had been explained to us in advance?

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend is right. The sentence The Bill has the support of the Department of Transport and there has been consultation with the Unions representing those who would have to implement the penalty fares scheme requires some elucidation. It could refer to those who are to be on the trains, who will have to say to people on a crowded tube train in the morning, "You've not got your ticket and I want a penalty fare, chum"—the conversation that would ensue would be interesting and possibly difficult. It could refer to the people who get the paperwork from the people on the trains, implement it, and record the penalty fare payments, docket them and transfer them to the accounting department. It is not clear, and there would be a difference of view between those two unions.

I suspect that the people who go on the trains to collect the penalty fares do not view the task with relish. I suspect that those who merely administer the scheme would do it simply as another administrative exercise. After all, they are nicely insulated from the public, who will be protesting their innocence and so on. It is possible that that statement covers administrators but not the people who carry out the scheme. I am eagerly anticipating the explanation of the hon. Member for Ilford, South about why that elliptical sentence is included in the statement.

It is a matter of deep regret that the Government chose not to involve the people who are running the services in helping to draw up the scheme. It is an unfortunate characteristic of our society that the people who work, day in day out, at something and spend their lives working to provide a service—in this case, transport—are so rarely consulted on how it should be run. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East has many years' experience of the railways and knows that that is the case. Those who operate the service are always the last to be consulted about changes that affect the operation that they are running.

The promoters should be aware that 99x2014;9 per cent. of those who operate the services have an affection for them, a devotion to the cause of providing a service, an ability and talent to do so and a contribution to make. I am afraid that one of the adversities that we face is a hierarchical system. People appointed by the Secretary of State produce a report in insulated offices in Whitehall and then hand it on to be imposed on the people who are working the system to ensure that it provides a service, and often to cover up the deficiencies of management.

One of the reasons why there is industrial action today is that there has not been adequate consultation because there is a belief in the noxious phrase that the management must manage. That means that management must be able to impose its views on the work force, whatever the views of the majority, and those who do the routine tasks are always the majority. That is not an adequate way to work any system, whether it is a transport system, a factory or anything else. Jimmy Knapp, the NUR leadership and ASLEF are demonstrating that they will not have their negotiating rights trampled on by an arrogant management elite and that they want meaningful consultation rights, and wage negotiations, and decent working conditions negotiated under a proper, democratic and humane system. That is what the argument is about, and it is reflected in an interesting way in the Bill and the statement on behalf of the promoters in support of consideration of the Bill.

The system about which we are talking was imposed from on high—if we consider administrative rooms in Whitehall as being on high. Some people would refer to the ideas they produce as coming from the bowels of the earth. That is the origin of this legislation, so it has some deficiencies. The basic one is that, like all management people, they see their task as "increasing efficiency", which to them means getting rid of people. People are our national asset. They have the ability and the talent to design, to improve and to give value, yet they are the very people that the working party decided should be removed and ticket machines put in their place. There are a number of severe disadvantages in that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) mentioned the breach of faith by the hon. Member for Ilford, South. As will be clear in Hansard, an assurance was given that there would be some access to platforms without having to pass through ticket barriers. Those of us who use London Regional Transport know that that is not the case. When the ticket machines were first installed a gate was always left open, but that usually does not happen now. Quite often all the barriers are in operation and there is no alternative to passing through those barriers. That is very difficult for people with children, prams, pushchairs or baggage.

There used to be porters at railway stations, but now, other than at major mainline stations, they have disappeared from the face of the earth. However, there are still ticket collectors and they can give assistance and advice. The change machines do not always work. In my experience the machines that require exact fares work more often than those that give change. That is another inconvenience for travellers. People working at stations can give advice about fares, travel, connections and so on, but the report ignores all that.

9 pm

Dr. Marek

I do not know how the machines work, but I suspect that they are all of the same type. When a machine does not have enough change, the light-emitting diode on top of the machine will change to "exact fare only". My experience is that most machines, and certainly those at Euston, say "exact fare only". It is lucky to find a machine that gives change. We would have more confidence in LRT if it could assure us that all its machines and barriers would be foolproof. If experience of current machines is anything to go by, they are inadequate—indeed, anything that LRT does appears to be inadequate in some way.

Mr. Cryer

The machines will have to be extremely robust. They have been installed and in general use for only a few weeks. There may have been pilot projects, but I have not seen one. With the vast range of LRT stations, it is possible that there has been a pilot project somewhere. The machines must withstand one of the most intensive underground systems in the world, so their margin of safety must be very great if they are to survive the onslaught of such massive use. Like my hon. Friends, I have my reservations about the safety of ticket barriers. If a fire breaks out, such as the tragic and horrible incident at King's Cross, the barriers need to be removed rapidly. The machines and barriers physically reduce the amount of space available for people to get out in an emergency. There is only a matter of seconds, perhaps 120 to 180, to evacuate people from a station.

The fire at King's Cross started at the bottom of an escalator, which acted as a chimney. The draught of air flowing through that chimney rapidly spread the fire. The barriers had to be opened rapidly to allow the people to get out. I wonder whether the new ticket barriers can be rapidly opened or whether they will impede evacuation. King's Cross now has monitors and video cameras surveying the whole of the ticket area. The station also has a central ticket cubicle that is, I suppose, manned while the station is open, as well as a ticket cubicle that is often staffed.

I imagine that London Transport keeps a continuing eye on King's Cross because of the seriousness of the fire that occurred there, which made it the focus of worldwide attention. But we must bear in mind every station, including those at the end of branch lines and which are used much less than King's Cross. I have not seen at those stations the same degree of video monitoring as is in evidence at King's Cross.

Provision must be made for the worst possible case, where there is no supervision and no ticket collectors. Nevertheless, I suppose that with the advent of the Bill, even the last vestiges of that staffing will disappear, and I have severe reservations about the substitution of staff by machines.

The report that started the current trend to automation was published before the King's Cross fire. It is clear that the Bill is a Government measure, one stage removed through London Regional Transport. My guess is that if the King's Cross fire had occurred when the working party report was being prepared, the Bill would not have been produced, the working party would have changed the principles on which it was founded, and the House would not have been required to consider such legislation. It concerns me that LRT is so obdurate and pig-headed that it is not prepared to take into account the lessons learnt from King's Cross and to defer any proposals for several years, until the situation is comprehensively understood.

It would be interesting to know from the hon. Member for Ilford, South whether there have been any pilot schemes to assess the reliability of the machinery involved. As I said, it will be subject to a great deal of use, and all machinery wears out. What provision is to be made—on the basis of experience that, of necessity, must be limited —for dismantling, maintaining and overhauling ticket barriers and other equipment? What are London Underground's plans? Will ticket barriers, for example, be removed for routine overhauls or will some be overhauled in situ? If the latter, they must inevitably be taken out of use, which will reduce access to and egress from stations —and egress is the most significant consideration in respect of accidents.

The principle on which the Bill is based will make it incumbent on London Transport to install ticket barriers at all stations so that staff can be concentrated on the trains, to collect penalty fares.

Once the Bill is enacted, there will no longer be an opportunity to raise questions. One may write a letter to the chairman of London Regional Transport, who is an appointee, and seek information, but it will not be possible to raise matters in public, in the way that we can now on the Floor of this House.

Health and safety hazards also give food for thought. The report of the working party produced in May 1986 was designed to get rid of ticket attendants. We should be told by the sponsor—who, I suspect, does not know—how many ticket attendants will be displaced and put on to trains to collect penalty fares, how many people will be made redundant and what additional maintenance requirement will be imposed on London Regional Transport for the ticket machines.

The maintenance task is likely to be enormous. Every station probably has half a dozen machines; multiplied by several hundred, that will pose a task of exceptional stringency. Every machine must be working if health and safety standards are to be maintained. If the machines are to be replaced to guarantee maximum access, a given number of machines must be kept in store, overhauled and maintained ready for immediate replacement. If the machines are to be repaired in situ, that is an entirely different matter: a potentially serious hazard will be posed to health and safety at work and to passenger safety, and we should be told about that as well.

The linking of public with private legislation has social implications. This is essentially a Government Bill; its origin was in the Government working party set up in 1986. Its report was approved by the Secretary of State, who then told London Transport and British Rail to go ahead. Meanwhile, the Government have introduced legislation which provides further hazards.

We know that since the present Government came to office in 1979 violence has increased. Inadequate street lighting caused by cuts in local authority expenditure has caused women to be worried about walking in the streets late at night. I know of no woman who would say that our city streets are safe at all times of day and night. Many women to whom I have spoken have mentioned their fear of walking in the city streets in the dark, especially late at night.

Let us suppose that a woman is going to her station and hears footfalls behind her. She must walk along a subway to reach the station: it is ill lit and covered with graffiti. The Elephant and Castle is a case in point. The subway could be seen as a dangerous area—I do not say that it is; I merely say that it could be. When she reaches the station, the woman may seek safety in the form of a ticket collector or cashier, and find that the station is deserted and devoid of fellow passengers.

There is a machine, but it requires the exact money, and she does not have the right change. That means that she cannot get on the train because a penalty fare is involved. So she turns back and sees the corridors behind her with potential danger lurking there.

9.15 pm

That woman might have been obliged to take night work because, by the Employment Bill, the Government have removed protection for women against working at night. When a woman applies for a job and is offered night work, she may say, " I do not like night work because I am afraid of walking about late at night, and the shift finishes at 10 pm, when the streets are empty and stations are deserted. The buses do not run frequently because of cuts by the Conservative Government." The employer replies, "That is the job. Take it or leave it."

There may be no union at the factory to which the woman can appeal for aid and support, because the Government have been working against trade unions and they want to reduce union membership as much as possible. The woman goes to the Department of Employment saying that she turned the job down. "That is a superficial reason for turning the job down. You are not demonstrating that you are actively seeking work," the official at the Department replies. "I have been for a job," she says. The official says, "Yes, but you turned it down for reasons which do not sound good to us, so we are stopping your benefit under the new Social Security Act."

In other words, women are placed in peril by a combination of events, a third of which we are discussing tonight. It cannot be denied that Government legislation affects millions of women. The removal of protection against night work and the requirement actively to be seeking work are two of the events. The Bill—and British Rail penalty fare proposals on which I hope to speak tomorrow in the House—remove the friendly help and advice of staff at stations in our great city of London.

British Rail management hopes to take the same action at every station throughout the country, so these steps are of universal application. We are debating a measure applying only to LRT, but it is all part of a pattern by which women will become more vulnerable, although men, too, will suffer.

Even if not by design, and even though disparate Departments may he promulgating their own ideas, all this legislation links up. Even if there is no plan for a wholesale reduction in facilities, representing an attack on the standards of protection afforded to the work force, that is the effect of what is being done.

The hon. Member for Ilford, South should agree to halt further consideration of the measure. He should inform those involved that, in the light of circumstances in society, the Bill should be withdrawn and the whole principle enshrined in the 1986 report—of replacing people on stations with machines—reconsidered. People, rather than machines, should be retained.

Considering further the position of women at stations, imagine the plight of a woman with small children, one in a pushchair and the other a toddler. She has the problem of getting through the wretched automatic barriers. She must try to find somebody who can help her, and hope that somebody will be in evidence to come to her aid.

My guess is that late at night management will not be all that scrupulous about ensuring that staff are there to open locked gates. Before that lady reaches the gate she will have had to find the exact change for a ticket because the machine that gives change will have broken down and the sign "exact fare only" will he flashing on the screen. As a result of all the flurry and the difficulty she may go on to the train without a ticket. London Regional Transport officials will then say to her, "You haven't got a ticket, so you will have to pay a penalty fare." Meanwhile, her children will be tugging at her skirt. One will have fallen out of its pram and an ice cream will be slithering down the new dress of the toddler who is walking. The mother will have to explain the circumstances to a railway official who, during his walk down the corridor of a crowded train, has had a bit of abuse from two or three people. It is most unsatisfactory.

No hon. Member would dispute that that could happen, yet this is the system that London Regional Transport considers an improvement. At the moment, a woman in that position can say to the ticket collector, "Can you help me with my pushchair?" and he will tell her, "Yes, I'll give you a hand." That happens day in, day out. That will disappear.

It will be a wretched system. It is objectionable that a group of highly placed people in Whitehall should have decided that this is good for people. I wonder how many mothers were members of the working party. Do those members take their children regularly on the Underground or on buses? I suspect that not many mothers were on the working party. How many of its members were trade unionists? According to the promoters' statement, it does not appear that any of them were trade unionists. Neither women with young children nor disabled people were represented on the working party which established this wretched principle that machines should be used instead of people.

The scheme is replete with difficulties for the travelling public. The elite who run London Regional Transport ought to pay more attention to the travelling public. My guess is that the elite—the management of London Regional Transport—are provided with chauffeur-driven cars. The Secretary of State for Transport who established the working group and, when it reported, gave his approval and authority for the scheme to go ahead, goes around in a chauffeur-driven car. He is not given a set of tickets or tokens for the Underground and asked to exchange them for tickets and, when he has time, to use them. I am not sure who is on the working group as they are not listed here.

Mr. Snape

Before my hon. Friend leases that interesting scenario of the Secretary of State travelling on London Underground, given the problems with the machines that my hon. Friend has outlined so graphically, would the right hon. Gentleman be capable of feeding a ticket into the right slot and making his way through the ticket barrier?

Mr. Cryer

My guess is that in order not to reveal his lack of knowledge of these machines, the Secretary of State would get his private secretary to go ahead and demonstrate that it was all right so that the photographers could make it appear that the Secretary of State for Transport knew what he was doing.

The Secretary of State for Transport has established a working group of officials. If the permanent secretary or a deputy secretary at the Department of Transport were involved, official cars would be available for their use. The permanent secretary will have an official car to take him from his residence to the Department and home again every day. That is a rather cosseted existence for the person who supervises the working group of officials. If all the officials on the working group were permanent secretaries—and I doubt that—they would all be cosseted in that way. We all know that the Secretary of State has a chauffeur-driven Rover. We all know that it is a big Rover for a Secretary of State, a lesser model, probably a Montego, for a Minister of State and a Mini for an Under-Secretary. None the less, they all have chauffeurs. They are supervised by the Prime Minister, who has not set foot inside a railway carriage for years, and who likes to be driven around exclusively in her chauffeur-driven Jaguar.

Dr. Marek

I used to ask an annual question about whether the Prime Minister travelled by British Rail in her official duties. The answer always used to be no. However, two or three years ago the answer was yes. There had been one instance, and it may be that there has been another since then.

Mr. Cryer

Here we are examining whether the Prime Minister has been on a railway once or twice in the past five years.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Or down to Finchley on the tube.

Mr. Cryer

I suspect that she does not often go down to Finchley on the tube. Although strictly speaking she should not use the official car for going to Finchley on constituency journeys, my guess is that she fiddles it by arranging an official engagement just beyond Finchley each month so that she can get out, spend 20 minutes there and then get back into the official car and go on to her official engagement. The Prime Minister is still not using the tube or the bus to Finchley. Were she to do so, she would get involved in conversations such as those in which many penalty fare collectors will take part—very heated and bitter discussions—because she would meet the people who are being adversely affected by the legislation and she does not want to do that. She is not facing up to the difficulties which her legislation encompasses and the specific transport difficulties that are now being created.

It is extremely unfair that the elite in our society should be imposing a system on people claiming that it will recoup some of the fares that are estimated to be lost through fraud each year. The note from the promoters makes that justification. It says that, with all the massive investment of many millions of pounds in new ticket equipment, they will now reduce the millions of pounds lost each year in fare evasion. One of the best ways of reducing fare evasion would be to employ more ticket collectors and to have more spot checks. That would have been better than this massive investment. As I have said several times before—it bears repeating—people are our greatest asset.

The figures for the losses can at the most be estimates. By virtue of the fact that the figures are for fare evasion, we have no guaranteed knowledge that they are accurate.

9.30 pm
Mr. Snape

I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend yet again. I know that he is not aware of what I am about to say because he was unable to obtain the relevant document. I can tell him that the figure given in the document for fare evasion in May 1986 was £19.5 million. Remarkably, by February 1989, when the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) first moved the Second Reading, the figure had grown to £26 million. Are not those figures remarkably accurate when, by the very nature of fare evasion, the figures can only be guessed at?

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend is right. It is a remarkable chance that the figures have risen, as he said, from the 1986 figure of £19.5 million to the latest figure of £26 million. People may be driven to the conclusion that those guesses—which is all that they are—have been inflated to justify the Bill, which must be one of the worst bases on which to propose legislation. The working party guessed the scale of evasion and as it was attempting to justify the imposition of the new machinery and the removal of people, it had to produce rather high figures. When this legislation was introduced, instead of providing a complete rationale with considerable information and copies of the report, it decided that it would produce yet another inflated figure. It probably decided to increase the figure by the level of inflation. That was no justification for the figure.

Dr. Marek

My hon. Friend is on to an important point. A failing of our system of government is that the Minister will say that the level of evasion is £26 million and we shall have to take his word for it. I am not blaming him, because that would be true of whoever was the Minister. In a better system of government, the Minister would have asked whether we would like to come round to his office and would have ensured that London Regional Transport would have its expert there and that all the figures would be available for us or our assistants to peruse. He would have said that there was nothing to hide. In this place, we never have such offers and my hon. Friend is right.

Mr. Cryer

I agree with what my hon. Friend has said. I would be interested to learn whether there are any detailed calculations relating to the £19.5 million in the document, which was not provided in the Vote Office tonight, or whether it was merely a bald figure. I suspect the latter, because if the working party had produced detailed statistical justification, it would be subject to more challenge. The less detail one provides, the more difficult it is to challenge. We must say that we reject the figure because it has been plucked from the air. Perhaps the Treasury gave advice on that, because the Treasury is rather fond of plucking figures from the air. The figure is fallacious and until the promoters produce information based on the calculations produced by the 1986 working party report, I fear that we shall have to reject the figure.

However, the hon. Member for Ilford, South does not seem very interested. He is busy trying to fix things with the Government Whip and since this is essentially a Government Bill, that is understandable. I am pleading for the promoter to provide us with the detailed figures on which the alleged loss of fares revenue is based. I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford, South will have time to reply to the debate. I do not wish to take too long because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East wishes to participate.

Dr. Marek


Mr. Cryer

I give way to my hon. Friend with pleasure, although this will have to be the last time.

Dr. Marek

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has once again made an important point. We must decide whether the Bill is the right way to stop fare evasion, which we are all against. Perhaps my hon. Friend will couple his plea for the provision of figures about evasion in the London system with a plea for the figures on evasion in the Tyne and Wear Metro system, which is an open system. If we could compare the evasion in the two different systems, we would be in a better position to judge the merits of this Bill.

Mr. Cryer

I am sure that the sponsor, who has been plotting with the Government Whip, has been taking an interest in our affairs. I hope that he can provide the information that I require.

Mr. Thorne

The hon. Gentleman has asked me many questions and I am looking forward to having the time to answer them.

Mr. Cryer

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman and should like to ask him another question because I am not sure whether his attention was firmly fixed on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). My hon. Friend referred to comparisons with the Tyne and Wear Metro. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a recently constructed, virtually new metropolitan railway system, which has proved extremely successful. It would be interesting to know the comparative levels of fare evasion.

I have now said enough to express my views and my strong reservations about the proposed legislation. I hope that the promoter can answer some if not all of the points that I have raised. In view of the welter of questions, the preferable option would be to withdraw the Bill for more mature consideration.

Mr. Portillo

I had the opportunity of speaking at an earlier stage of the Bill's progress to express the Government's view. Therefore, I need not take up much of the House's time tonight, except to say that the Government support the Bill.

Both London Regional Transport and British Rail lose considerable amounts of money from people travelling on their services without having paid the correct fare or any fare at all. That simply increases the costs of travel for the honest passenger. Penalty fare arrangements are widely used abroad and we believe that LRT and BR should be allowed the opportunity of introducing similar systems in this country.

Although a penalty fares scheme based on existing legislation operates on the docklands light railway, it is true to say that penalty fares will be largely unfamiliar to the British travelling public. It is therefore right that the Committees of both Houses should have spent some time discussing the details of the Bill.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) will seek to respond to the specific points that have been raised tonight. However, I stress that it will not be possible for LRT to introduce a penalty fares scheme on any of its services unless an activating order is issued by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Before an activating order is issued we will need to be convinced that the system proposed by LRT is completely fair to passengers and that it is likely to work effectively. In order for penalty fares to work, a passenger must have a reasonable opportunity to buy the correct ticket for the journey and it follows that the operator must provide adequate opportunities for the passenger to buy a ticket at the start of his journey. That is the crux of any penalty fares scheme and we shall be paying particular attention to that in considering any request for an activating order that is put to us by London Regional Transport.

Mr. Snape

The Minister's contribution was illuminating and on this occasion he certainly did not detain the House for too long. I do not know whether the absence of his advisers from their usual place had anything to do with the brevity of his contribution, but he made no attempt to tackle any of the points or questions raised this evening. I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) will spend considerably longer replying to these important matters than did the Minister.

My hon. Friends, who have been the main contributors to the debate, have rightly subjected the Bill to considerable scrutiny. My immediate criticism of it is that it represents yet another worsening of conditions for the travelling public.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), who is not at present in the Chamber, asked about the compensation of the working party from whose recommendations the Bill flows. Before informing the House of the composition of that working party, it might be helpful if I informed my hon. Friends, and, indeed, the sponsor of the Bill, of some background to its introduction.

The Opposition remember that the penalty fares provisions first appeared in the London Regional Transport Act 1984. That was a not inappropriate year for that legislation, because prior to the abolition of the Greater London council, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who was at that time Secretary of State for Transport, was determined to strip the GLC of its principal function, which was that of responsibility for transport matters in London. The right hon. Gentleman was asked during the Committee stage of the Bill about those penalty fares provisions and how they would work. Being the broad-brush man that he is—and the water-colour expert that he is to prove it—he predictably urged us to wait until the outline was filled in. He promised us—truthfully as it turned out—that legislation would eventually appear.

In 1986 Ministers set up the working party to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South referred. I should have thought that that was indicative of their desire to see machines issue tickets and collect them at the end of the journey. It has been a consistent thread of the Government's policy that demanning, especially in public sector industries, is what government is about, and that any standard or concept of service for the travelling public is very much a back number—if it is considered at all.

I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South that there were no permanent secretary's in the working party—they being far too grand to serve on working parties investigating matters affecting the travelling public. However, the Department of Transport was represented by three members of the public transport, London division, and a legal adviser; the Home Office by someone from CI division; the Lord Chancellor's Department by a gentleman from the private and international law division and London Regional Transport by two representatives, a solicitor and the group planning manager.

It is difficult to imagine that members of that working party had much experience of the problems of rush hour travel or, indeed, any other sort of travel on London Underground. The Home Office representative was the only woman member of the team, but we do not know whether she was qualified in the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South starkly outlined, in that she had experienced some of the difficulties faced by women travelling on London Underground. Appendix 1 of the working party report makes no mention of her grade or circumstances.

An indication of the thinking behind the report can be readily gleaned from the preamble, which states: This report has been prepared by an inter-Departmental Working Group on Penalty Fares set up by Ministers in May 1986. Its terms of reference and membership are set out in appendix I, which I have already mentioned.

In paragraph B of the report, £19.5 million is given as the amount lost due to fare evasion on the London Underground. It also refers to a further £9 million lost due to fare evasion on the buses and states that the trend is rising. That is the sort of unquantifiable statement so beloved by interdepartmental working parties anxious to justify the inevitable conclusions and anxious to please their political masters. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South that no detailed figures or explanation was given as to how the original figure was arrived at.

9.45 pm

Perhaps I could add to the ever-increasing burden of the hon. Member for Ilford, South by asking him to tell the House how that £19.5 million has grown to £26 million and whether the promoters have provided him with any detailed figures to justify that second and higher figure.

In paragraph B(4) reference is made to the substantial reduction in operating costs We should insert in brackets "that means manpower costs".

The report states that London Underground is investing £135 million in a new, highly automated ticket system. Bearing in mind the impact that inflation has had on the supposed figure lost through fare evasion, does the hon. Member for Ilford, South have any information as to the impact of inflation on the £135 million investment laid out in the 1986 report?

A suggestion of the report's lack of credibility can be found in the preamble where reference is made to the need for a penalty fares scheme on the buses is much less pressing since it is more difficult to travel on a bus without buying or showing a ticket It goes on to point out that on one-person-operated buses the ticket is purchased from the driver, but from conductors in other circumstances. That was written before the Chinese and others were lucky enough to benefit from the virtual gift of Routemaster buses from London Buses Ltd., or whatever fancy name it calls itself these days.

Those of us who travel regularly on public transport will be aware that there is widespread fare evasion on buses, particularly on OPO buses where the top deck is a no-go area for the driver. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South is right that the top deck is, all too often, a no-go area at night for women or anyone else who does not fancy a broken nose. Among certain regular bus users it is customary to pay the minimum fare and then to retire to the top deck knowing full well that the driver has too much to do to ascertain whether people have gone beyond the stage for which they paid. The possibility of an inspector boarding a bus to check whether the correct fare has been paid is, particularly late at night, almost non-existent. Such is the credibility that the working party must bridge, but it appears from a couple of hours' reading of its report that it has singularly failed to do that.

In paragraph G of the report the working party outlines the major issues of principle and asks: Should lack of reasonable opportunity to buy a ticket be the sole valid excuse for not having one? What is a valid excuse for not having a ticket? Most of us travel on public transport, except, of course, Ministers who never have to worry about that. Reference has already been made to the new ticket machines, part of the £135 million plus inflation investment designed to strip London Underground of any human presence.

We are all aware that in their new and pristine condition these machines do everything except play pop records on Radio 2 or Capital Gold. The theory is that someone puts his money into a slot and, depending on the type of machine, chooses his destination or ticket price and receives not only a ticket, but change. As my hon. Friends have indicated, all too often the machine's light emitting diode display shows that it will accept only the correct change.

In what should be a showpiece station, Westminster —of course, in London Underground's opinion it is not, because its showcase station is St. James's park where the top brass work—many, sometimes most of the fairly newly-installed machines display the legend, "correct change only".

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South graphically illustrated the dilemma of a woman with two small children, perhaps in a fractious mood, with a pram, trolley or shopping basket. Under the general statement of principles, could such a passenger claim lack of reasonable opportunity because of the deficiency of these machines and the fact that a proportion, perhaps the majority, of them will accept only the correct change? Perhaps the hon. Member for Ilford, South could answer that question.

All of us can envisage the scenario, whether at Westminster or any other well-used tube station, in which the ticket window is surrounded by a considerable number of people. The window is supposed to be manned until at least 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening, although I can record a number of occasions in recent years when the supposed showpiece station next door was not manned at all after 7, 8 or 9 o'clock in the evening, which is an indictment of the incompetence and general lack of interest of London Underground management. In a city which prides itself in attracting tourists, it is likely that language and currency difficulties would be experienced at the station ticket window. The patience of those standing in the queue would be rapidly exhausted by the sort of exchanges which we can imagine taking place between the passengers and the ticket clerk.

Given that combination of by no means unlikely circumstances, the passenger may decide to take her fractious children, shopping basket and trolley to a London Underground train without buying a ticket. She would have to do so single-handed, because the demanning of stations means that she would have to lever her children, shopping basket and trolley on to the train herself. Guards and assistance for people in those circumstances are an old-fashioned concept of the past. If she decided to travel without a ticket, would the hon. Member for Ilford, South consider that she had had a reasonable opportunity to buy a ticket? If not, would she, under the terms of the Bill, be liable for a penalty fare?

The second issue of principle in this section of the Bill—

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

The Minister was deep in conversation during some of the important points made by my hon. Friend. Of course, we know that he is reluctant to use public transport; otherwise, he would not have been late for the Pavarotti concert the Sunday before last when he tried to get there by car and arrived after the concert had begun, which must have been disconcerting both for him and for Mr. Pavarotti. The lady with the children would have been warned by the Labour Member from her constituency not only to have the right change, but against travelling on the tube in the first place because so many passengers passing through the new turnstiles have had their tickets munched up by the ticket machines. The ticket would never come out the other side. If she was waiting for a British Rail train at the other end, she might force her way through and get on the train with no ticket, through no fault of her own. If she were a constituent of mine, she might miss her train to Huddersfield if she did not. She would never have got the pushchair through the barrier in the first place, though.

Mr. Snape

I am torn between considering Pavarotti halting in mid-note to greet the exalted personage who, alas, is no longer with us, and my hon. Friend's constituent going all the way to Huddersfield on London Underground. Neither scenario is particularly likely, but my hon. Friend painted a graphic picture which must have placed yet another question mark in the mind of the hon. Member for Ilford, South, who is responsible for piloting this shabby piece of legislation through the House.

I was referring to the major issues of principle laid down in the report which generated this piece of legislation. The second principle is as follows: To what extent should inspectors retain the discretion to waive penalty fares or to institute prosecution procedures as an alternative to levying a penalty fare? I have never had the dubious pleasure of working for London Underground in the days of a Conservative Government, but I am probably the only Member who has been a guard on the railway and travelled on extremely crowded trains. My heart goes out to the inspectors charged with collecting the penalty fares. Twenty-one years ago—

Mr. Thorne

Does the hon. Gentleman want me to answer his questions? If so, he is giving me very little time in which to do so.

Mr. Snape

I do not want to appear to be lecturing the hon. Gentleman on procedure, but I am sure that provision will be made through the usual channels, which I note are conferring even now, for him to reply at some unspecified future time. Once we have discussed the many amendments that appear on the Paper, we look forward to hearing from the hon. Gentleman.

I hope I may be permitted a little trip down memory lane as I ask the House to come back with me to 1968, the era of flower power and San Francisco, when the hon. Member who now represents West Bromwich, East was a passenger guard at Manchester's Victoria station. One of the trains on which I sometimes worked then was the 23.30 from Manchester to Rochdale via Oldham, which called at all stations. Sometimes on a Saturday night some of the passengers on that train were a little boisterous Since coming here I have learnt that the phrase is, "They had dined well," but I should not have thought—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The whole House is fascinated by this, but does the Underground go up there?

Mr. Snape

It does not, but the same principle applies, Mr. Speaker. I sense a certain frisson among those charged with the heavy responsibility of advising you from time to time on these matters—

Mr. Thorne

I beg to move, That the Question be now put—

Mr. Cryer

The hon. Member for Ilford, South has not replied yet.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must have an opportunity to reply before I grant the closure.

Mr. Snape

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I conclude my reminiscences by pointing out that the dilemma faced by the inspector on the Underground when collecting penalty fares would be as great—

Dr. Marek


Mr. Snape

Let me finish my reminiscences; I can scarcely bring myself to stop again. Already I feel a wave of nostalgia sweeping over me. My point is that the inspector charged with these onerous responsibilities would face enormous difficulties if he had to tackle a similar crowd of people to those with whom I had the problem of dealing in 1968. My last word about 1968 is that it was an era of flower power when no one ever resorted to physical violence. That was the theory. Things are very different in brutal Britain in 1989. I fear that an inspector charged with collecting penalty fares on a Saturday night on London Underground would need at least some protection before he embarked on the journey—

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

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.