HL Deb 21 March 1988 vol 495 cc69-84

7.10 p.m.

Lord Marshall of Leeds

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Your Lordships will be pleased to note the brevity and simplicity of this Bill, the purpose of which is encapsulated in Clause 5: if a person travelling on a train service fails to produce a deferred fare authority, fare ticket or general travel authority on being required to do so by an authorised person, he shall be liable to pay a penalty fare". Before turning to the detailed contents of the Bill I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to indicate why these powers are sought by British Rail, how the system will work in practice, and to describe briefly the safeguards that have been incorporated to protect the passenger.

Your Lordships may not be aware that the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic are the last countries in Europe to retain the ticket barrier. Other national railway systems have dispensed with it and British Rail have done so too on many Intercity routes and in rural areas. When ticket barrier controls are swept away, passengers are no longer forced to queue to show their tickets. They are not delayed in leaving the station, trying to find their ticket while carrying their luggage and possibly trying to look after children as well. It will also help the disabled. Thereby, access to stations is improved and it is possible to open up secondary station entrances which can benefit many passengers by reducing the distance that they have to walk. The stations can be opened up for trading with perhaps cafés and small shops, such as flower shops, making better use of the large areas of space bequeathed to us by the early railway engineers and architects.

The business of ticket checking can then be transferred from the station to the train. Those of your Lordships who travel at quiet times of day will be reassured to see the reappearance of ticket staff. I am sure that this will be particularly welcomed by the elderly and by women who travel during the evening time. Apart from this, ticket checks can be carried out more effectively on the train than is possible with the somewhat perfunctory checks that can be undertaken at ticket barriers, particularly at busy main line termini.

However, the checks can only be effective if the passenger has first had the opportunity to buy a ticket. British Rail are currently taking delivery of 400 passenger-operated ticket-issuing machines of the very latest type. These machines will not only issue the ticket but also accept bank notes and coins and give change. The requirement for further machines will be re-examined in the light of experience. The number of staff working in booking offices is being reviewed to ensure that as far as possible enough booking clerks are available to deal efficiently and economically with the number of passengers seeking to purchase tickets. The objective is that no passenger should have to queue for more than three minutes to purchase a ticket at normal times.

In case these improvements should not prove to be entirely effective, British Rail will be introducing deferred fare authority machines at many stations. This is an entirely new concept. They will accept any coin between 5p and £1 and will issue a ticket to the value of the coin inserted, showing also the date and time of purchase and the station name. If a ticket machine has failed or the ticket office queue is too long, or it is closed for any reason, purchase of a deferred fare authority will avoid incurring a penalty fare on the train. The ticket examiner, either on the train or at the destination station, will then charge the appropriate fare for the journey that the passenger is making, but give credit for the value of the deferred fare ticket already paid.

Why then is there a need for a penalty fare? The penalty fare is not intended to be punitive but is designed to encourage the pre-purchase of tickets, something which is commonplace throughout the rest of Europe. The new system which I have just outlined makes life considerably easier for passengers by giving more freedom than is possible with the ticket barrier system and a much better standard of personal service on the trains. In return, British Rail needs to be sure that passengers will book their tickets before they board the train and will not swamp the travelling ticket collector on the train with requests for tickets, leaving him to carry large sums of money, which would be an obvious security risk.

The penalty fare will also be a deterrent to dishonest travel. Sadly, some £34 million a year is lost to British Rail through ticketless travel. A high proportion of this is dishonest. The penalty fare will discourage casual dishonest travel and will improve the receipts and the overall financial position of British Rail. If it does not do this, the alternatives are perhaps less palatable. They may involve a greater increase in fares than would otherwise be necessary, or a saving of costs by reducing services or facilities which passengers would prefer to remain. It cannot be right that the honest passenger should pay for the iniquities of the dishonest or undisciplined traveller in this way. The penalty fare is an important step in remedying this abuse. There have been arguments that the penalty fare will make criminals of honest passengers. This is just not so.

The proposed improvements in ticket availability will make the life of the honest passenger—and I am pleased to say that the great majority of railway passengers are indeed honest—a great deal easier, by enabling him to purchase a ticket in advance. If, however, a passenger on a train is not in possession of a ticket, he is not to be treated as a criminal under this Bill. He is simply asked to pay a penalty fare, which is a civil penalty and not a criminal one. If there are good reasons why he has not been able to obtain a ticket before travelling, not even this civil penalty will be due. Only if there is evidence of an intent to avoid payment may the passenger be liable to prosecution. Then it would be under the existing provisions of the Regulation of Railways Act 1889 and not under the provisions of this Bill.

One of the social benefits of this Bill is that it will take most ticketless travel outside the scope of the criminal law and will free the hard-pressed magistrates' courts to deal with other serious business.

With your Lordships' permission I shall now shortly examine some of the provisions of the Bill. The Bill seeks only enabling powers. Your Lordships have a natural and understandable aversion to enabling powers, a concern which I also share. In this case however the powers which Clause 3 of the Bill would grant to the Secretary of State form an important safeguard for the passenger. It would clearly be wrong to penalise the passenger who had not had a reasonable opportunity to purchase a ticket before travelling, and British Rail has no intention of doing that. No doubt my noble friend on the Front Bench will confirm to your Lordships that it is most unlikely that the Secretary of State will make an activating order to apply the Act to a line or group of lines until he is satisfied that the stations concerned are adequately staffed, are equipped, where required, with ticket and deferred fare authority machines, and that the scheme is adequately publicised by the display of notices at stations. So it is a question whether the Secretary of State will not move to activate an order until he is satisfied with the matters to which I have referred.

Clause 6 provides that the penalty fare on British Rail will be £10 for shorter journeys, which is the same penalty fare as is proposed for all journeys on the London Underground. Where the ordinary single fare exceeds £10 the standard single fare for the journey that the person is making will be payable and he will not be entitled to any concessionary fare, for example, if he were to be the holder of one or other of the railcards.

Clause 5 provides that the penalty fare would not be payable, first, where a valid ticket or pass for the journey being made is produced; secondly where a deferred fare authority is produced; thirdly, where the station at which the passenger joined the train has no ticket office or the ticket office was closed for any reason and no deferred fare authority machine was available; and, fourthly, where the passenger is told by a uniformed railway official or by means of a notice that he may join the train without a ticket.

Clause 7 of the Bill strengthens the authority of ticket examining staff to secure the name and address of passengers on a train who are unable or unwilling to pay any penalty fare due. Clearly the effectiveness of the Bill would be greatly weakened without that provision.

Clause 8 ensures that nobody can be prosecuted for a travel irregularity in respect of which a penalty fare has already been paid or where civil proceedings have been commenced in the county court to recover an unpaid penalty fare.

Turning now to the practical application of the proposals, your Lordships could best consider this in terms of a suburban railway journey in, say, London, Manchester or Glasgow. In other words, the provisions are designed for short journeys on very busy trains rather than for longer and more leisurely intercity journeys. In the vast majority of cases passengers will hold either season tickets or capital cards or will have bought their tickets in advance from an agent, from a booking clerk or from a ticket issuing machine.

Where there are inordinate delays a deferred fare authority can be purchased to avoid the penalty fare, and from unstaffed stations no penalty fare will be payable provided the passenger proffers his fare to the ticket examiner or guard as soon as possible after joining the train. For example, let us suppose that there was an unusually long queue at a ticket office at a small station where no deferred fare authority machine was provided. In this case a passenger could certainly challenge any request for a penalty fare. If it were not possible to resolve the issue on the train the passenger would be issued with a penalty fare notice requiring payment within 21 days. He would have ample time to set out his case to the designated railway manager who, if he agreed, after checking with the station concerned, would thereupon withdraw the penalty fare notice.

To summarise the safeguards for passengers, first, we have the activating orders which would be made by the Secretary of State only when he was satisfied that the system was adequate to deal with the likely demands to be made upon it. Secondly, we have the investment in new ticket issuing machines backed up by more effective staffing arrangements in ticket offices and more ticket examiners employed on trains. Thirdly, we have the deferred fare authority machines combined with good signing and publicity to ensure that passengers know what is happening. Finally, we have the penalty fares notice for any disputed cases.

Two Petitions have been deposited against this Bill in your Lordships' House. British Rail will be meeting both petitioners to discuss their concerns, but whatever the outcome of those meetings there will be opportunity in Committee for the detailed provisions of the Bill to be closely examined.

This Bill has been carefully thought out and is based on many years' experience by British Rail both of the traditional method of ticket control and of the newer open station system. It follows very closely the provisions of the similar London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill which has been substantially improved in Committee and is to be recommitted so as to effect some further adjustments which it has been agreed should be made.

I can tell your Lordships that some managers within British Rail sought to bring a similar Bill before your Lordships' House in the 1970s, but the board had properly judged at that time that this should not be done until the right ticket issuing systems were available to ensure that the arrangements could be operated successfully. These systems are now being introduced, and the board feels that the time is right to apply for the powers which are sought in this Bill. Meanwhile, the need has not diminished with ticketless travel, much of it dishonest. Unhappily, that continues at a very high level.

The powers sought by the Bill are the key to reducing dishonest travel, opening up access to stations but eliminating many of the irksome restrictions on our present system of enclosed stations. I have no hesitation in commending the Bill to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Marshall of Leeds.)

7.26 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, noble Lords on all sides of the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Leeds, for his detailed exposition of this Bill, which is both simple and complicated.

I begin from these Benches by saying that we firmly believe that those people who are failing to pay their fares on British Rail are cheating not only British Rail but their fellow passengers and the taxpayer. Therefore, we have no objection, and indeed my colleagues and I would wish to give every encouragement, to schemes which will ensure a better level of payment of fares on British Rail.

However, it is right that on a subject like this your Lordships' House at Second Reading should spend a little more time than it normally does on a private Bill of this sort because there are important principles lying behind it. Before it passes to a Select Committee it is right that we should give it proper scrutiny and that Parliament should debate the matter before it passes into law.

It may appear that we are being asked to allow rights to employees of British Rail which we do not allow to our police force; in other words, the right to impose what might be regarded as on-the-spot fines—because whatever you call them, penalty fares may well be seen by people as being on-the-spot fines. Let me deal with that point immediately and take your Lordships back to the London Regional Transport Bill. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in his place because he dealt with this matter when it came up under that Bill. I hope that noble Lords taking part in this debate have re-read his speeches from the Government Front Bench, particularly at col. 1007 of 12th June 1984 at the Committee stage.

It seems to me that the precedent has already been set for this measure. Assurances were given by the noble Lord on that occasion that we were not creating a new criminal offence—the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Leeds, has referred to this—but merely giving British Rail the right to invoke a new civil liability. I should like the Minister formally to confirm that position and that that is the Government's understanding of what the position is. If that is so, having re-read the debate which we had in this House on the London Regional Transport Bill I must say that I am satisfied on that principle.

Nevertheless, it is incumbent on us to make sure that in handing over this power to the servants of the railways board the innocent are protected, that they are not going to be unnecessarily harassed, that they are not going to be subjected to unfair treatment and that an adequate and simple appeals procedure exists.

I am slightly put on my guard by the wording of Clause 8(2)(b) of the Bill, which seems to open up the possibility of bylaws being made under Section 67 of the 1962 Transport Act which might make the failure to obtain or produce a deferred fare authority an offence, presumably a criminal offence. I should like to ask the Minister whether he believes that that is the case and, if so, how that can be regarded only as a civil liability.

There was one point which emerged in the debate in 1984 which was raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, to which there may have been an explanation at a later stage of the Bill, but I have so far been unable to find it. I believe that it is relevant to this Bill also. He was worried that someone who failed to satisfy a constable that the name and address that he or she gave was accurate might, under the provisions of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981, be arrested without a warrant and under the provisions of the Police and Criminal Justice Bill find themselves detained for up to 24 hours, perhaps even without the benefit of a lawyer.

Does the fact that there is no reference in this Bill to Section 25(2) of the 1981 Act mean that a person cannot be so arrested, or does the absence of the reference to that Act in Clause 8(2) of this Bill mean that they can be arrested under the 1981 Act even though, while liable under Clauses 4 and 5, they are exempt from certain provisions of the 1889 and 1962 Acts under Clause 8(1) of this Bill? I am sorry if that sounds rather complicated, but it seems to me that there is no reference to the 1981 Act in this Bill and there may be a loophole here. I shall be most grateful if someone can clear that up for me.

If it is the former position, I am quite satisfied. However, if it is the latter, perhaps an amendment to include the provisions of the 1981 Act ought to be included as a new Clause 8(2)(c). I leave that to the Select Committee and to others who are more expert at these matters than I am. Without such amendment, it might be possible for a civil liability to be converted into a criminal charge rather too easily. In other words, someone who had the unlikely name of John Smith—and I make no reference to Members of another party in another place—might find himself in the cells overnight because he had the misfortune to sleep beyond his stop and subsequently had difficulty in proving to a constable that his name was John Smith.

However, without such power it seems to me that British Rail will find it difficult to ensure that the provisions of Section 7(1) are workable. In answer to the direct question, in correspondence that we have had British Rail says that it is a problem it has had to face since the 1889 Act came into effect. The position is therefore no worse than it has been for the past 100 years. If we cannot do better than that without hurting innocent people, so be it perhaps, but does it mean that this Bill is not as watertight as it might be?

Let me deal with one or two general points that arise out of the Bill. We recognise that a number of benefits will arise (and the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Leeds, has referred to many of these) in addition to the more effective combating of fraud and the consequent help for the paying passenger.

He has mentioned the ability to create more open stations with easier access to passengers, and a larger number of access points. That may be very important for people with disabilities or for those who do not wish to walk a large distance with baggage. There is the not inconsiderable benefit for passengers who, while holding on to baggage, children, pushchairs, umbrellas, newspapers, and so forth, do not have to fumble in their pockets to produce a ticket at the barrier. That may sound a slightly frivolous comment, but it is important for the travelling public.

Perhaps the most important aspect is the ability of British Rail to deploy ticket collecting staff to areas where they may be of much more use to the travelling public. I would prefer to have more staff on trains, again as the noble Lord has said, at times when there are perhaps not too many people on the trains, when I believe that those measures could well improve the level of security and the level of passenger safety. Therefore, I am hoping that British Rail do not see this as an excuse for further de-manning, but as a way of better deploying its current staff and of improving the skills of its existing staff. I also hope that this will not lead to an increase in totally unstaffed stations. That might well reduce passengers' feelings of security and undermine the benefits of the scheme.

Correspondence that we have had with British Rail on the subject has produced the reply that the proposals will not themselves lead to an increase in unstaffed stations. That is not quite the same as saying that the introduction of the scheme will not be a factor in the increase in unstaffed stations. That is what I would greatly prefer it to say; and I hope that British Rail will take this out of its calculation in trying to determine whether or not a station should be unstaffed.

Perhaps I may now turn to one or two minor points in the Bill that I think should be raised at this point. The most minor of these is a spelling mistake. On page 4, line 44, the fourth word should be "in" rather than "is". It is always a delight to find a mistake in a Bill at this stage. I make no great virtue of that.

The next point is the definition of "authorised person" as defined on page 2 in line 2. Noble Lords will no doubt remember vividly that at cols. 1028–29 of the Official Report of 12th June—again in reference to the London Regional Transport Bill—the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said: An authorised person is not going to be an ordinary inspector or ticket collector. This will be a particular person. It could be a man or it could be a woman who would be specifically trained and will be authorised to undertake this kind of work". It goes on: The authorised person … would have signed authorisations indicating the scope of his responsibility. He would have an identity card to be shown to any passenger who so demands". Can we have a similar assurance on this Bill? I believe that that is important again from the point of view of giving a sense of well-being to travelling passengers that they will not be conned by people who are pretending to be authorised when they are not.

Perhaps I may next refer to Section 5(2)(a), where we see that a person shall not be liable, if, at the time when and the station where he started his journey or that part of his journey subject to the provisions of the Bill, there were no facilities available for obtaining a deferred fare authority or for the sale of the necessary fare ticket for the journey". Again the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, has explained the view of British Rail on this. However, there are two issues that arise. Suppose that the deferred fare authority machine available is out of action. Is it then incumbent on the passenger to get a ticket even if there is a queue which would involve missing the train? I take it that that is not the case. If that were the case, the scheme would depend very much on the confidence of the travelling public in the reliability of those machines issuing deferred fare authorities. Without that confidence the system would be brought into total disrepute. If the meaning is that, if the machine is out of action and one is unable to obtain a ticket, one is then entitled to board the train without incurring a liability, on whom does the burden of proof rest to show that the machine was not in operation? That is the important point. It is my belief that the prime responsibility must be on British Rail to show that the machine was working at the specific time and place before that liability can be incurred. It should not be left to the passenger to prove the negative, which could be an almost impossible task in most circumstances.

That brings me to the final question, which relates to Section 6(1). This deals with the level of penalty fares. I have had some lead on this from what the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, said as to this being designed on the whole for short journeys. But presumably it is not intended to be entirely for short journeys. My reading is that the defaulter has to pay either the penalty of £10 or the full single fare, whichever is the greater, but not both.

This is different from the London scheme, partly because the amounts involved are different. Anybody travelling a distance costing more than £10 pays no penalty. I realise that it is more expensive to pay the full single fare than to take advantage of the many extremely complicated and not always understandable saver schemes that British Rail applies to its return tickets. However, there exists the curious situation in which anyone wishing to make a single journey could take the risk of boarding a train without holding a valid ticket. If the cost of that ticket is likely to be over £10, he will incur no extra cost if he is caught. Surely there should be an additional penalty; perhaps £10 in addition to the full single fare or even a sliding scale proportionate to the cost. For example, it could be £10, plus the single fare, plus 10 per cent. of that fare. I do not see why people seeking to defraud the railways, the shareholders and the taxpayers should get away without cost simply because they are beyond the £10 limit.

I believe that without that deterrent effect the scheme is unsufficient. If there is no deterrent effect we may just as well say that British Rail can forget the Bill and increase its surveillance on trains to ensure that fare dodgers are caught. However, that implies that other fare-paying passengers must pay the cost and that the manning levels must be increased. That is a situation which we wish to avoid.

I believe that the Bill deserves the support of your Lordships' House. I am sure that the Select Committee will have a great deal of work to carry out and I commend the Bill to your Lordships, as did the noble Lord, Lord Marshall.

7.41 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I apologise for not having added my name to the list of speakers and I shall be brief. For 34 years I have commuted from my home in Surrey to one of three of London's stations on the Southern Region. Therefore I have encountered some of the problems envisaged in this admirable Bill, which I believe will have general support throughout the country. However, I am concerned about several aspects, most of which have been dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. The first concerns the rush hour. There are a number of small suburban stations in Surrey, Hampshire and Sussex where the population has expanded but where the area around the ticket office is still small. In the area machines would be far from easy to install and there always exists the problem of a machine breaking down. Those noble Lords who use the London Underground know that the ticket machines break down and that during the rush hour it is often difficult to summon the man in the ticket office to regain the coin. Even in this age of high technology there always exists the danger of the machines breaking down, and that is a real problem during the rush hour. I believe that the Select Committee must look into that matter most carefully before the Bill becomes law.

My second point relates to Clause 7. I believe that the National Union of Railwaymen is worried about the possibility of a hooligan gang travelling without tickets and assaulting a ticket collector. Are the penalties at present enforceable in law sufficient? That is another matter which the Select Committee must consider carefully.

Apart from those aspects, I believe that the Bill is admirable and, hopefully, its clauses and purpose will decrease the enormous losses sustained by British Rail as a result of deliberate fare bilking. Those who do so deliberately—particularly those who become aggressive when confronted—should literally have the book thrown at them.

7.44 p.m.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, I should like to add a few words to the extensive coverage of this matter by my noble friend. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, was about to give the House his experience of what happens in Russia. However, I misheard him because he was talking about the rush hour. I am slightly concerned by Clause 4, which is not mandatory upon the ticket collector. His duty is not cut and dried; it is discretionary. I say that because of the words: if required to do so". That provision means that the ticket collector will be performing a quasi-judicial function. He will be asking himself whether he believes the passenger's story about the train standing on the platform and there being not a moment to buy a ticket. Is it right that a ticket collector should be saddled with a quasi-judical function and not have a compeltely cut-and-dried duty to perform? A good deal of aggravation would be removed if the ticket collector could say to the passenger, "I have no option in the matter. This is the regulation under which I must operate and I must demand this penalty from you. If I do not collect this penalty I shall be in danger of losing my job." That would remove a good deal of the aggravation. The passenger would be less likely to protest and ask, "Do you mean to say that you don't believe what I've just told you about how I couldn't possibly buy a ticket before I boarded the train?". Therefore, I should like to know whether the discretionary element in Clause 4 can be reconsidered and whether the duties of the ticket inspector can be made cut and dried in order to remove some of the aggravation from the confrontation with the passenger.

Lord Moyne

My Lords, I apologise for not having added my name to the list of speakers, but I raise only a small point. I should like to know whether the machines will take account of the concessionary cards carried by senior citizens. I believe that passengers paying their fares on the train are not entitled to concessions but will that situation alter in the future?

7.47 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Leeds, for explaining the Bill and taking the House through its various provisions. This is a Private Bill and I therefore speak in a personal capacity but I say unhesitatingly that we on these Benches support its general aims and desires. We recognise the serious problem of fare dodging, which the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, described as "defrauding". I understand that in the Network South-East area alone, approximately £20 million was lost as a result of fare dodging.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to the London Regional Transport Bill, which was before your Lordships' House in June 1984. It introduced five new clauses to deal with the serious matter of defrauding as it would affect London Regional Transport. The Bill received support throughout your Lordships' House. On that occasion I intimated that the Greater London Council was in full agreement with the five new clauses. Nothing that I say today in respect of this Bill will be in contradiction of anything I said in 1984. I am always careful to avoid being quoted on anything I said four years ago. I have read and re-read what I said on that occasion and I have noted that I put forward several cautionary points of which I believed LRT should take heed when the Bill became law.

Today I want to stress again some cautionary points which I trust your Lordships' Select Committee, to which this Bill will be referred, will give consideration. I do not want to go over all the ground covered by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, in his excellent exposition of some of the problems that may arise unless certain assurances are given by British Rail; and we are told by the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, that there are two Petitions before the Select Committee.

There must be recognition of the acts of violence towards personnel involved in public transport. We discussed this recently with regard to buses and London Underground in a Question. The report of the chief constable of the British Transport Police, which was made to the British Railways Joint Safety Committee as recently as July 1987, shows that in 1985 and 1986 there were 537 offences of actual bodily harm to railway personnel and a further 250 cases of common assault. The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, also referred to violence towards railway personnel.

The present procedure in the event of fare defaulting is to charge the passenger travelling without a ticket the full single fare to the destination. As the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, explained, no discounts are allowed and the passenger is not allowed to buy a return ticket—a saver return or otherwise. It is recognised that there is some sense of inequality about the system, because a person can be charged a full single fare for a long journey or a short journey. Therefore, there is some inequality.

As we have been told quite clearly, what is proposed in the Bill is this flat penalty of 10. I trust that heed will be taken of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that that itself can be the cause of considerable ill-will. One person can be charged a 10 penalty fare which may be only a few pence above his ordinary fare, whereas another person may find he is paying more substantially. Therefore there are grounds for certain sections of the public to feel ill-will towards the person who has to collect the penalty fare. That must be recognised.

The Bill also clearly recognises that the provision will be activated only if British Rail requests the Secretary of State so to do and if the Secretary of State is satisfied with the arrangements made on either a single line or group of lines. He has to be satisfied about various safeguards which are not in the Bill. They are points to which the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, referred. I am glad that he did; but I think that the Select Committee—whatever British Rail may say, and it has written to both myself and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff—must clearly ask whether these safeguards will definitely be provided by British Rail before the Secretary of State is asked to activate an order on a particular line or group of lines.

Looking very carefully at material which I have received from British Rail and from the National Union of Railwaymen, I see that there is not a great deal of difference between the two. They both want something done and in various ways raise questions of safeguards. Without going through all the points which have been mentioned already, the Select Committee must be satisfied that before the Secretary of State activates an order there will be improved ticket issuing facilities; there will be a proper provision of ticket machines; there will be deferred ticket authority machines to enable passengers to purchase a full range of discounted tickets on the train; and, particularly important, there must be adequate publicity of the scheme and its provisions.

Furthermore, no penalty fare will be raised where the ticket office was temporarily closed. The noble Lord, Lord Marshall, referred to this. It may well be that the railway staff who have the responsibility of dealing with this matter on the train will in all probability not be aware that a particular ticket office was closed temporarily, as so often happens on London Underground. I often find a station where I cannot even pay my fare when I get off if I do not have a ticket because there are no staff, never mind the fact that there are often no staff in the booking office on some of the Underground stations. Therefore, it could well be that the staff who are the authorised persons to deal with the question of penalty fares may not be aware that a ticket office in a particular station is temporarily closed or that there is a shortage of staff. Naturally that will be a ground for argument and that is where the union is concerned that this could exacerbate some of the problems it has had with violence towards railway staff.

Reference has been made to the increase in open stations. I completely agree with the desirability of that, but it means that the onus is placed more heavily on the person checking tickets on the train, who is usually referred to as the guard or conductor. This is where a possibility of violence also occurs, particularly late at night. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to the possibility of football gangs, but there are others who have had a little too much to drink and who will immediately start arguing with the staff who carry out this duty.

We also know that there is a problem of queueing at ticket offices, particularly at mainline stations. There must be a clear assurance given by British Rail to the Select Committee that there will be a reduction in the amount of time that one has to spend queueing for tickets, particularly at mainline stations. If it is a problem of staff, that is something that BR must face; if it is a question of money, BR must raise that with the Government. However, we cannot have this sort of system without adequate staff, particularly at mainline stations. I do not know what the position of the noble Lord is, but I find, particularly when I am on the London Underground, as I was this morning, that the number of people waiting at half-past nine so that they can buy a senior citizen's ticket is nobody's business. There are huge queues at Underground stations out in the sticks waiting for half-past nine so that the senior citizen's ticket can be bought. We know the problem that arises at many of the mainline stations with the queues that form. Those are the sort of issues to which the Select Committee must pay attention.

We cannot refuse to recognise that the penalty fare system is in effect an on-the-spot penalty fine. I do not say that that is wrong, but it could put the staff at risk. Therefore we must have certain assurances. As in the LRT Bill, persons will have 21 days to pay in disputed cases. I believe that the Select Committee must satisfy itself thoroughly about this. A question was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, about the possibility of court action. I have similarly looked at Clause 8 of the Bill and the reference to proceedings: "If proceedings are brought". What proceedings? Proceedings can only be court proceedings. Therefore, we need to have some assurances on that point for somebody who has not satisfied the authorities whether this reference to proceedings means court proceedings or something else.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to the question I put to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I am pleased to see he is sitting in his place because I was going to quote the exact reply he gave, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred. Exactly who will be the authorised persons? The Bill states in the interpretation clause: 'authorised person' means, in relation to any purpose, a person authorised for that purpose by the Board or by the person providing the service". That does not give the assurance the noble Lord requested. It does not say exactly who will be the authorised persons. It does not say what sort of training will be given. I believe that this is an important question, because unless there are properly authorised persons of the right type, who have been selected for the purpose, who have a sense of good public relations and who are properly trained there could be a great increase in the offences against railway staff, to which I referred earlier.

With those few words I wish the Bill a speedy passage through the Select Committee, provided the Select Committee seeks definite assurances from British Rail on a number of those points because the Secretary of State will have to satisfy himself that these safeguards will be carried out before he activates an order. That means that British Rail must give some definite assurances to the Select Committee rather than in correspondence to certain noble Lords.

8.1 p.m.

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

My Lords, I should just like to intervene briefly to give the view of the Government on this Bill. We have considered the content of the Bill and have no objection to the powers sought by the British Railways Board; indeed, we strongly support the aims of the Bill.

As my noble friend Lord Marshall of Leeds so clearly outlined, the Bill will benefit both the British Railways Board and its passengers. First and foremost, it will help to reduce the large amounts of revenue lost each year through fraudulent travel. Recouping this lost revenue should contribute significantly to the achievement of the objective we have set the board of reducing its call on the taxpayer, without any reduction in the general level and quality of the service provided to passengers. In fact the more efficient fare collection and ticket inspection systems the board intends to introduce should improve the quality of service to passengers. I am sure that most passengers will welcome the extra freedom of access that will result from the removal of barriers and introduction of on-train ticket inspection.

I do not intend to go over the ground covered so ably by my noble friend Lord Marshall of Leeds, but I should take up his invitation to say a little more about how my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will go about making the activating orders needed before the Bill's powers can be used. The Secretary of State's priorities will be to ensure that any scheme put forward by British Rail is accompanied by adequate operational arrangements and adequate safeguards for honest passengers. He will, for example, wish to be satisfied that ticket offices will be properly staffed; that the necessary ticket and deferred fare authority machines are in place; that publicity arrangements are satisfactory; that ticket inspectors are trained to operate the system; and that the procedures for disputes and appeals are adequate.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, drew attention to a number of specific concerns about the possible legal ramifications of this Bill. Some of those concerns are for the board but some, indeed, are for Ministers, notably the question of possible criminal rather than civil proceedings as a consequence of the application of by-laws made under the Transport Act 1962, and a number of issues relating to the identification of authorised persons for the purposes of this Bill. There is also the question of the burden of proof should a ticket issuing machine malfunction. Those are matters of particular concern to the Government, not least because we shall wish to satisfy ourselves that the board's arrangements under this Bill properly protect the innocent passenger. In view of their complexity, however, I should like to write to the noble Lord with a full answer shortly.

I can assure all noble Lords that my right honourable friend will take his responsibilities seriously so that the Bill achieves its purpose of deterring fraudulent travel while protecting the honest passenger.

I know that the Select Committee will wish to examine the Bill and the Petitions against it in detail, but I trust that what I have been able to say on behalf of the Government has helped noble Lords to agree that the Bill should proceed in the usual manner.

Lord Marshall of Leeds

My Lords, perhaps I may say how grateful I am to all noble Lords who have displayed such a helpful approach to this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, expressed concern about the right to impose on-the-spot fines. I think that that is a little strong because they are not fines, they are penalty fares. Great Britain and Ireland are the only countries in both east and west Europe which do not have a penalty fare system. The safeguards which concerned the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, are those that I detailed in my opening speech. The innocent are protected by the Bill, but it is only fair that the dishonest traveller should be caught.

However, even when he is caught he is not a criminal because the Bill will take most ticketless travel outside the scope of the criminal law. There might be some suggestion of criminality if a person failed to give his name and address because he then becomes liable to a fine by the courts. Of course, as we all know, the only criminal aspect of travelling without a ticket is that, for it to be criminal, a passenger must have the intent of avoiding payment; that is to be found under Clause 5 of the Regulation of Railways Act 1889—travelling with intent to avoid payment.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, asked what would happen if the deferred fare machine was out of action. He asked: upon whom is the burden of proof? I refer noble Lords to Clause 5(2)(a)(i) and (ii) and to Clause 5(2)(b)(i) and (ii). I shall not read them out but those are the paragraphs which answer the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but with respect I do not think that they do. The paragraphs refer to where no facilities are available, but who is to say that no facilities were available? Is it the passenger who says, "but no facilities were available" and that is accepted by the British Railways Board? What happens if the British Railways Board says that facilities were available? On whom rests the onus of proof? That is my question. Does it rest on the passenger or on British Rail to prove that the facility was or was not available?

Lord Marshall of Leeds

My Lords, if it comes to an argument on a busy train, as I think I pointed out in my opening speech, the question will have to be resolved in a different way. If it cannot be resolved because of pressure of time, the ticket examiner will issue a penalty fare notice which will then require payment within 21 days or will allow investigation within 21 days. It is then that the powers that be within British Rail will investigate to see where the passenger boarded, what were the conditions obtaining at the station he joined, whether any deferred ticket machines were in operation, or whether the booking clerks were in attendance. In my submission, the matter will be dealt with fairly at the end of the day; but it will take 21 days.

There is some discontent that where the fare is more than £10 there is not sufficient penalty. That is not a matter for me and I hope that it will be explored by the Select Committee. However, if the fare is more than £10 then, of course, the passenger must pay the full fare. He cannot call into account any discount card, capital card or pensioner's card that he may have. That is an additional penalty. I said in opening that this penalty fare system is not designed for the long, leisurely journeys but primarily for short journeys.

My noble friend Lord Auckland was concerned about the penalty fare. I shall remind him that I dealt with the point he raised when I said that where the station at which the passenger joined the train has no ticket office or the ticket office was closed for any reason (that was the noble Lord's concern) and no deferred fare authority machine was available, no penalty fare will be payable.

The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, was concerned with the issue of the penalty fare. I made the point that there are 21 days for investigation. I made that point clear in opening. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, spoke about the ill-will of having a differing penalty. It is a differing penalty; but I say again that this proposed legislation is designed for short journey travel and not for long, intercity journeys. To answer Lord Underhill's other point, the Secretary of State will not issue an activating order until he is satisfied that stations are equipped with ticket and deferred fare authority machines, and also that they are adequately publicised. I have no doubt that if there is queueing, British Rail will provide the necessary additional staff.

No doubt the Select Committee will give careful attention to all the matters that have been raised. The word "proceedings" has been questioned. In my view, they are civil and not criminal proceedings. It is not advised on the answer to that point. The selection and training of authorised persons will obviously be a most important matter.

Perhaps I may say how grateful I am to all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I refer particularly to my noble friend the Minister for his assistance and his most helpful comments especially as regards the question of the activating orders that the Secretary of State will be making from time to time in respect of individual lines or networks. I believe that between us we have dealt with most of the important points raised by this Bill. I again thank most sincerely all noble Lords who have participated. I commend this Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.