HL Deb 30 June 1988 vol 498 cc1705-9

3.19 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they consider that London Transport's plans to introduce ticket-activated gates at all exits from London Transport Underground stations constitute a threat to the safety of passengers in the event of a fire or other serious accident; and whether they propose to take any action on this.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, inspecting officers of railways representing my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport have been consulted during the introduction of the ticket-activated gates on the London Underground. They consider that the arrangements for the opening of all gates simultaneously in the event of an emergency are satisfactory. Because there will be a wider overall opening in the barrier line with the new system compared with the old a better means of escape in an emergency will be provided. No action on the part of Her Majesty's Government is therefore required.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does he recall that on Monday, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, he said at col. 1132 of the Official Report that there would always be someone in the ticket office able to operate the switches to open the gates? Is my noble friend aware that if he travelled frequently on the Underground he would find that at the moment that is not the case? Will he tell the House what will happen if a fire or other catastrophe took place during the usual situation of there being no one in the ticket office?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I believe that I said that there would always be available someone in the ticket office or in another place. I am assured that whenever a station containing the new ticket barriers is open to the public there will always be someone in charge who will hold the necessary keys to operate the emergency opening devices, even though the ticket office is closed.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has said. Would it not be better if London Transport adopted the system used in the Paris Metro where it is necessary only to show the ticket on entering the system but not on leaving it?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I do not have comparisons with the Paris Metro but I understand that there are more staff per station in London than in Paris. It may be that a different ticket structure in Paris accounts for that.

Lord Jay

My Lords, will the Minister not take more seriously the warnings given by the noble Lord. Lord Boyd-Carpenter? Is he not aware that the combination of the present acute shortage of manpower on London Transport and the introduction of the barriers carries serious risks?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer the inspectorate of railways has looked into this matter and has decided that there is no risk. As I further said, there will always be somebody at the station who is able to operate the switches.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, if that somebody has gone to answer a call of nature, is there a second somebody who is standing by to operate the switch.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as I said or Monday, there are three different places from where these switches can be operated. If there is only one person on duty in the station who has the key to the switch, I hope that in attending to his call of nature he does not take too long about it.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister merely saying what he thinks London Transport means when it says that all these areas which control the ticket department can be activated at the throw of a switch and that there will always be someone there to do that? Has London Regional Transport officially said that? Has it also considered the point already made that to frustrate the cheats who obtain free and illegal transport there should be a study of the Metro system in Paris which seems to cope with all the major problems? It frustrates the cheaters while not imposing any danger on passengers.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, in reply to the first part of the noble Lord's question, I am assured by London Regional Transport. That is from where my assurance comes. As to the second part, I do not have a comparison between the Metro system and the London Underground, but differences may apply.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in many cases going back over many years there has been no one collecting tickets and that even if there is someone he takes not the least bit of interest and is usually chatting to someone else at the time one goes through? Therefore, the present system is wasteful in manpower and totally ineffective. Is he aware of a new mechanical system installed in the modern metro of Washington whereby one's ticket, on being passed through the system, automatically has the number of stations through which one has travelled deducted from it. That is far more effective provided that we can have that overriding person in charge of the station at all times able to oversee a safety operation.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I believe that I gave the assurance he requires. The point is that tickets should be inspected either mechanically or by a person. If that cuts down on the amount of cheating it would be good for the London Underground.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the Minister aware that already at Embankment station where a ticket-activated system is in operation there is far more congestion for those leaving the station than there has ever been and if there was a fire it would be even worse?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my understanding is that because there arc more exits available for people to go through than there were under the manually operated system, in an emergency there would be more ways out than there were before.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, perhaps I can help my noble friend on the Front Bench as regards Paris. Is he aware that in France all underground tickets cost the same so that if one goes for one journey it costs so much and for a longer journey it costs exactly the same? Therefore, one does not need entry and exit ticket checks.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that information. It perhaps assists me in answering earlier questions about comparisons with the Paris Metro system.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that his replies this afternoon are far more definite than those he gave on Monday both to myself and to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter? Can we be assured that in his discussions with the inspector of railways the point has been made absolutely clear'? What matters is not who it is believed will be on duty but that there will definitely be a trained person available at all times.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, that is the assurance which I sought between Monday and today, and I hope I have been able to give that assurance.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, before the noble Lord allows this system with its inherent dangers to go through, will he at least discuss the matter with the London Fire Brigade?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, first, I do not accept that there are inherent dangers in the present system. Secondly, the present system is already coming into force and is expected to be complete by the end of the year. Thirdly, the London Fire Brigade has seen the new barriers in operation. It made some comments which were taken up by London Underground and is now generally satisfied with the barriers and the release mechanisms.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords as we have had tributes from three noble Lords to the virtues of the Paris underground system, will the Government send a deputation to Paris to study the matter for a few months?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I cannot give the assurance for which I suspect the noble Lord asks; namely, that he might be included on such a delegation. However, if such a trip is planned, I shall certainly keep in mind the name of the noble Lord.

Lord Hughes

My Lords, I do not know what would be the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The French Government subsidise the Paris Metro to the extent of £600 million per year.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, in that case, I believe that representatives from the Paris Metro would be well advised to come here to see our system, which costs the taxpayer a great deal less money.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I am not sure that London Regional Transport needs all this advice from overseas or even from any other EC country? It is doing extremely well. On the ticketing system mentioned by my noble friend Lord Onslow, there is a one-zone system. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molloy. It could increase its market. Of course, the Question of my noble friend is entirely in order. Equally, one has to follow the fare dodger so that income is not lost. London Regional Transport is extremely responsible and efficient.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I endorse the remarks made by my noble friend in the last part of his question.

Lord De Freyne

My Lords, over the last three years London Underground has reduced its staff by x number—I do not know what it is. Can the Minister give the figure, say why that is, and what is happening now?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we are straying rather far from the Question, which is about automatic ticket-activated gates. However, I remind my noble friend that London Regional Transport is not an employment agency. Its job is to provide an efficient railway system.