HL Deb 25 May 1999 vol 601 cc774-6

2.52 p.m.

The Earl of Clancarty asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the review of the London Underground penalty fares appeals procedure will be completed, and when the details of the outcome of the review will be made public.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, London Transport has undertaken a review of the Underground penalty fare system in association with the London Regional Passengers' Committee and officials from the Government Office for London. We shall be considering the outcome of that review shortly. There will be an announcement about the review in due course.

The Earl of Clancarty

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I declare an interest in asking the Question, in that I have recently been charged by London Underground with a penalty fare; an interest, indeed, I have since discovered I share with a number of your Lordships. None of us, I hasten. to add, had any intent to defraud London Underground. Does not the Minister agree that the current draconian application of penalty fares traps many people who have no intent whatever to defraud? Does he not agree that the system is inflexible; for example, it does not allow people to change their minds about a journey when they wish to travel outside the zone for which they possess a ticket? Does he not also agree that there should be an independent appeals procedure rather than London Underground acting as it does at present as judge and jury?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am slightly surprised to find a high level of such incidents among your Lordships. I am sure there was absolutely no intent. However, we are speaking of a penalty fare, not a criminal fine, which is requested when a passenger is discovered not to have an appropriate ticket. In those circumstances, it is not like a criminal case. Therefore, there is no full appeals process. However, the review will be considering, among other matters, whether the appeals dimension can be improved.

Lord Borrie

My Lords, the Minister used the word "requested". What happens if a request is refused?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, then, of course, the pre-existing criminal procedures can be pursued.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, the Minister mentioned that discussions are taking place. Has he any idea of the timetable for receiving the final outcome of the review? If not, shall we have to wait and insert a clause into the new GLA Bill to enable the forthcoming mayor to deal with the problem of an appeals procedure?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, under the GLA Bill, the London Transport powers will transfer to TfL. Therefore, should the noble Baroness be so moved to insert such a clause, it would be in order. However, the review will report shortly. It may well be that we shall have further news before we reach that part of the Bill.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord showed concern by his own Written Answer only the other day, in which he stated that fare evasion is rising steeply at present. After the introduction of penalty fares, it went down, but it now appears to be rising dramatically. This is a great loss to those of us—I am sure the majority of your Lordships, certainly myself—who pay the appropriate fare and who do not like to see people—perhaps the noble Earl—getting away without paying for a proper ticket. Is the Minister further aware that at my local station, which I must confess is in Zone 2, automatic ticket gates were installed about two months ago but have still not been brought into operation because, apparently, there is insufficient electricity at the station to run them?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that we are concerned about the problem and have been for some time. The installation of automatic gates is proceeding, it is to be hoped with electricity. The PFI scheme called Prestige is, among other things, introducing electronic gateways to every station on the network, whereas by and large they currently exist only in central London. That should make a major contribution towards ensuring that everybody pays the correct fare.

Baroness Ludford

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on his Question. He is quite right in saying that this problem causes a great deal of aggravation to London Underground users. It is particularly galling when the ticket machines are not working at the station of departure. Is the Minister aware of any plans by London Underground to modernise its ticketing system? It is not just the infrastructure which needs modernising. The whole ticketing system is decades behind European cities, which have multi-strip cards, add-on tickets, and so on. Does the Minister agree that the system is completely inflexible and not user friendly? Can he inform us of any progress in that direction?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, perhaps I may mention two or three points in relation to the questions raised by the noble Baroness. Where it is the fault of London Transport that a passenger does not possess a ticket—that is, the machine is not working—that is regarded as acceptable grounds for appeal. That is apparently the only circumstance. The infrastructure for ticketing is part of the same and parallel projects to introduce more modern ticketing machines. The question of the nature of tickets and the structure of fares is an important one. We want ticketing arrangements within London to become more comprehensive and user friendly. That will become a matter for TfL and the mayor of London in due course.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, we should bear in mind that many users of London Underground may be foreign tourists or people from other parts of the United Kingdom who will not be familiar with the Underground. Is there a significant level of complaint from such categories of people who may have inadvertently bought a ticket which, though valid, is the wrong ticket for the journey they wish to make?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the figures for the number of complaints do not identify the nationality of the complainants. As with other fare systems, one cannot use the excuse of being a foreign tourist for not paying the correct fare.

Viscount Addison

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of a situation that takes place as people come out of stations—what I call "twinning"? That is where one has a valid ticket and there is a chance that a friend may follow close behind as one goes through the barrier.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, your Lordships never cease to amaze me. I assumed the noble Earl was correct when he said that there was no intent to defraud London Transport and now the noble Viscount opens up a whole new chapter! I am not aware of that practice and I trust that none of your Lordships participates in it.

Viscount Addison

My Lords, I have seen it happen.