HL Deb 20 December 1988 vol 502 cc1247-50

2.45 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether in the light of recent incidents they will direct London Underground to maintain at least one unobstructed exit for passengers at all times when services are in operation.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I mentioned in the debate on the King's Cross fire on 12th December that London Regional Transport is appointing outside consultants to review the new Underground ticketing system, as recommended by Mr. Fennell's report on the King's Cross fire. Questions of this nature will no doubt be covered by the review.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful Reply. Is he aware of the fact that the present proposals of London Transport and London Underground provide for the necessary release mechanism involved in this apparatus being sited in the ticket office? Is he further aware that on many occasions, from one's observations, the ticket offices are not manned? Will my noble friend carefully bear these matters in mind since any government approving a scheme of this sort may be taking a very heavy responsibility indeed?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I accept what my noble friend says. I should point out that there are three emergency plungers situated in any one station—one in the ticket office and two in other places. However, we will wait to see what the independent review comes up with.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that a great number of passengers are not able to use these machines because they have season tickets or old-age tickets of some sort?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, that may be the case at present but if the system goes ahead all existing tickets will be replaced over a period of time with tickets which are accepted by the machines.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, as a matter of interest, have Her Majesty's Government any power to direct the London Underground?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the Railway Inspectorate has certain powers of enforcement under the health and safety at work legislation, it is at present satisfied in general with the safety of the system. My right honourable friend has no power to direct London Underground in such matters of detail.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in the publication Datalife dated 5th December a letter appears which quotes a London Fire Brigade official—unfortunately, unnamed—as stating: Once Tube stations arc covered by building fire regulations we will ask London Underground to remove the barriers". If the noble Lord is not aware of that decision, will he contact the London Fire Brigade because if that is its view it seems a shocking waste of money to commence installing further equipment?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I have not seen that article. I shall obviously look into the matter. But until now the London Fire Brigade is generally satisfied with the safety arrangements. At least, that is the official view.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, would it not make more sense to have a restricted access to the system and to increase egress from the system? In other words, should not the barriers be at the entrance to the stations and the exits free? Would not that make greater sense?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, it would only make sense if there were only one price of ticket. As there is more than one price, there could be opportunity for fraud. I should point out to noble Lords that London Underground calculates that it loses in the region of £20 million a year through fare evasion.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, in the event of the examining committee making recommendations which involve additional staff—the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, will inevitably mean additional staff—can the noble Lord give an assurance, in order to prevent any possible recurrence of the events at King's Cross, that there will be no hesitation in asking London Underground to employ more staff?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I believe that I dealt with that matter fairly fully during the debate that we had on the King's Cross disaster.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, the noble Lord gave a very interesting figure just now. Can he give the figure as a proportion of the total takings and the total fares received? He referred to the millions of pounds being lost each year through fraud. I believe the Minister mentioned the figure of £20 million.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have a figure for the total receipts.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, reverting to my noble friend's answer to my noble friend behind me as regards the Government's powers, is it not the fact that the Government appoint and can sack the board of London Transport?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, that is perfectly true.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, is it not also the case that London Regional Transport is the only industry nationalised by the present Government, and therefore do they not have the powers of any government as regards any nationalised industry?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, certainly. As I said to my noble friend, we have the power to appoint the board of directors and to sack the board.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, in his reply to the first supplementary question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, the Minister referred to last week's debate concerning the King's Cross disaster. Is he aware that on that very morning when making my way to the House of the six escalators that I tried to use three were out of commission and this was not in one of the older stations? Is it not a fact that if this situation were widespread on the Underground system it could be very dangerous indeed? I ask the Minister because of the safety factor alone to look at this matter and to make sure that there is a maximum number of escalators working.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, with respect, I believe that to be another question and one that I have dealt with on a number of occasions. My noble friend's Question refers to exits from the stations.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, can my noble friend say when the review as regards ticket barriers is likely to be concluded?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords. I hope that it will be concluded by March.