|Previous Section||Home Page|
When I left the train at my destination, either on the Victoria or the Piccadilly line, depending on which train came along first, regularly late at night there was no one manning my terminal station, and therefore, of course, my £1.60 journey cost me nothing. Yet we are told that under this marvellous new system it is the dishonest passenger who will be caught. The management of London Underground Limited will need to be more efficient before we bite on this particular cherry.
Mr. Banks : I have felt very much the same as my hon. Friend about the staffing at Westminster station. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has noticed how good it is at St. James's Park. Staff seem to polish everything there including the passengers. That might have something to do with the location of the headquarters of London Regional Transport.
I came from East Ham station this morning and the ticket office was closed. I saw the train coming, there was a queue waiting at the ticket machine, so I sprinted down and jumped on the train. Obviously, being a very honest person I paid the full fare when I arrived at Westminster. I was told there was no one at East Ham station because the staff were training. There is an awful lot of temptation put in the way of the potential fare evader and I find it unacceptable that it can be said that there are not sufficient staff to man the ticket offices. That is an open invitation to ticket fraud.
I have recently been travelling by London Underground from Notting Hill. Waiting for a Circle line train from Notting Hill enables one to watch operating practices. Unaccountably, Circle line trains appear to be few and far between. At Notting Hill there is a whole battery of those fancy new ticket machines in the booking hall. When they were installed, virtually all of them said in bright red letters "Change Given". They were very modern looking machines and one expected them to do everything, including drive the trains. They were complex to use but, once one got the hang of them, it could be said that the modernisation of LRT had actually arrived. However, now most of those machines, instead of saying "Change Given", say "Correct Change Only". To use one example,
Column 720this morning I counted about 14 people waiting at one open ticket window and others were looking plaintively at those machines and fiddling through purses and handbags trying to find the correct change.
There is a problem, too, with the new barriers at Westminster. One of them refuses to accept a 60p ticket from Notting Hill. I hope that I am paying the right fare. The barrier shows a green arrow, but the gates do not open. One could well envisage another King's Cross situation, and the carnage that would ensue from half a dozen people trying to get out through the barrier.
We are told that the introduction of barriers and the penalty fare scheme are designed to bring greater efficiency and benefit to the travelling public. With your kind acquiescence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have embraced what I wanted to say about the second Bill. There are important and substantial differences between the two systems. Travelling on the London Underground system at night is more difficult sometimes than travelling on the surface railway. All the points that I have made about the women travelling on British Rail once the Bill is implemented are even more relevant to London Underground because, by its nature, there are steps, subways, escalators--do you remember those, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and when it was possible to get on a moving one? In the new modern system it is only possible to walk up and down escalators ; they do not carry passengers.
I can only suggest to my hon. Friends that we wait for the hon. Member for New Forest to sum up. I am sure that his contribution will be as lucid and courteous as his opening speech, but I hope it will be more satisfying and enlightening.
Dr. John Marek (Wrexham) : There are similarities between the Bill and the London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill. I hope to make another contribution when we discuss the latter. Those who give a cursory glance at the two Bills may assume that they are different because the British Railways (Penalty Fares) Bill, if enacted, would allow open stations. Staff would not control any gates and passengers could walk straight on or off trains. The Bill for London Underground proposes a closed system. There will be gates at stations and passengers will be held within the system unless they have a ticket to pass through the gates to enter or leave the system.
The Bills are similar because the aim of both systems is to cut down staff and to make people redundant. Eventually they will generate a second-class system for what the Government plainly believe are the second-class public who use the systems. It is certainly true that, by and large, Ministers and Conservative Back Benchers do not use the London Underground or British Rail. The Minister spoke about what is happening on the continent, as though whatever happens there should also happen here. On the continent it is possible to get on a train without passing through a control, but equally on the continent there is not one pair of guards on a 12-carriage train, but two pairs. Those guards will pass through the train between one station and another. In this country there is no way in which a pair of guards or three guards could travel along a 12-carriage train during the rush hour between Newington and Sittingbourne on the north Kent route. If someone gets on at Newington and gets off at
Column 721Sittingbourne he may not have to pass through any controls. The system incorporated in the Bill will encourage evasion.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) spoke about the unsuitability of the barriers used on the London Underground. Those barriers also exist in the underground systems of Germany and France, but most of those systems have been rebuilt with wide, palatial concourses. A fire such as that at King's Cross could probably never happen in Europe because of the immense amount of space incorporated in the new underground systems. In comparison, the plans for our underground system are pokey, small, claustrophobic and liable to suffer similar fires to that at King's Cross because of the introduction of tight gates and automatic barriers. It is clear that either the Government have not thought it out or--
Mr. Banks : It is worthy of comment that the Prime Minister has not travelled on a British Rail train since February 1987. I am damned sure that she has never travelled on the London Underground during the rush hour. If some Ministers, particularly the Prime Minister, travelled on the Underground or on Network SouthEast during the rush hour, I am sure that something would be done about the appalling travelling conditions that Londoners must face.
Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend is right. I suspect that a lot of people are grateful that she does not travel on the trains or on the Underground, but perhaps that is somewhat facetious. Perhaps the Minister should report our comments back to his mistress and tell her that she should go down to Oxford Circus station at 5.15 on a Thursday afternoon. I regularly used to ask the Prime Minister if she travelled by train on official business, but for three or four years the answer was always no.
Mr. Banks : It has been suggested to me--I had not thought of it-- that if the Prime Minister travelled on the Underground during the rush hour someone would probably push her under a train. No doubt there would be quite a queue to do it.
I am not in favour of anyone evading payment of the proper fare. The National Union of Railwaymen is not in favour of that. I should declare that I am sponsored by that union. I do not believe that any reasonable person could condone fare evasion, but the problem is whether the Bill has got it right. The Bill, rather than closing off the avenues for evasion, will encourage them. Society will become worse because temptation will be put in people's way. Such temptation should, of course, be avoided but, life is not like that. It will be much better if we had a system where evasion was not presented as a temptation.
Assaults on passengers and staff on British Rail are increasing. In 1984 there were 309 assaults on passengers--such attacks cover murder, attempted murder,
Column 722manslaughter, malicious wounding, grievous bodily harm, robbery and assault with intent to rob. In 1985 there were 374 assaults on passengers ; in 1986 there were 448 and in 1987 there were 508. The equivalent figures for assaults on staff, although not rising monotonically as with passenger assaults, have also risen in the same period. In 1984 there were 88 assaults on staff ; in 1985 there were 79 assaults ; in 1986 there were 69 and in 1987 there were 102. That represents a fairly large increase and it is something that concerns employees of British Rail.
If the Bill gets on to the statute book staff will be expected to collect penalty fares in difficult circumstances. Late at night the staff, if they expect to do their job properly, honestly and without failure, will have to try to collect penalty fares from people who will have had too much to drink and who could easily be in an argumentative mood. There is no question of people being able to say that they were not absolutely sure that they wanted that particular train or that they were unsure if they could travel by bus if there was no convenient train. According to the Bill once the person has got on a train he has committed himself to an illegal position. Unless that person provides a satisfactory explanation for being without a ticket he will have committed a civil offence, which will necessitate the payment of the penalty fare. I am sure that a number of people will be unreasonable and irrational when asked to pay such a fare. It will increase the number of incidents on the railway and that is regrettable. We all seek a system to stop evasion but we should try to find one that will not lead to incidents, arguments and perhaps violence.
The Bill does not make me feel very easy. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East said, the penalty only applies if the fare is under £10. The fare from Dover to Victoria must be about £10.50 or £11 and that would encourage a traveller to chance his arm because if he were caught he would have to pay only £10.50 or £11.
Mr. Snape : I should also add, and perhaps I should have said it in my speech, that one would have to pay the full ordinary fare within 21 days. That is a better bet than standing in a long queue at a ticket office in Dover.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : It will be necessary to take a person's name and address and to make certain that the details are correct. What questions will the guard or ticket collector be entitled to ask about whether he has the correct name and address?
Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend raises an important matter. There will be a temptation to avoid paying a fare because it will be easy for a traveller to say that he is Mr. Jones of 4 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam and then go on his way. What is the ticket collector supposed to do in such a case? He can do nothing other than accept that the name and address are correct and that means that the person who has been caught will get away without having to pay his fare. I shall develop the argument that I advanced earlier. A fare dodger travelling between two stations that are close together--from New Cross to St. John's, for example, for which a single fare is perhaps 60p--and who was caught and decided to make a clean breast of it would have to pay
Column 723£10. I see no harm in a system that catches people trying to avoid paying fares but in future many people will be on trains without a ticket simply because the permission-to-travel machine did not work, the booking office was closed or there were too many people in the queue at the booking office and people had to jump on a train that was about to leave. In such cases the argument raised with the penalty fare collector will always be about whether there was a reasonable excuse. Anyone who is challenged by British Rail about why he did not go to the booking office will say that he did. I would say that and so would the Minister. There is a wide area for argument. People who have to pay a penalty fare of £10 for travelling without a 60p ticket will feel resentful, especially if they think that they are being treated unfairly vis-a-vis a traveller from Dover to Victoria or to London bridge who will have to pay only the single fare.
I have spoken about the reliability of permission-to-travel machines. The hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said that there will be new and better ticket machines. It would be better if the Bill were withdrawn for six months so that we could be satisfied that there were not just new and better ticket machines but new and guaranteed systems with fail-safe devices. When they are working the new London Underground ticket machines are good. That is a personal view. However, they will often accept only the exact money. I do not know why that should be, but I suspect that when the machines run out of change they automatically display a sign saying "Exact money only". Part of the problem is that London Underground is not prepared to service those machines so that they will always give change. It is no good the Minister saying that we will have an assurance on this or that. The public are far too cynical, and so am I, to believe such assurances.
I have long experience of London Underground and British Rail and I know that we need to see the system in action first. It must be proved that the new ticket machines on the Underground are reliable 99.99 per cent. of the time. I think that there are about three or four machines in Westminster tube station and in such stations it will be necessary for, say, two of those machines to work 99.99 per cent. of the time. If that could be guaranteed I might lend a more sympathetic ear to assurances by the Government.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : My hon. Friend has said that he has had no trouble with these machines. Could he tell us the correct way to push a child in a pram through one of the exit machines so that the passenger can insert the ticket and get the pram through without being chopped in half?
Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend misunderstands. I was talking about the machines that supply tickets and not about the barriers and how one should go through them. Perhaps we could talk about that later. I accept the problem mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) about coins being accepted while a few seconds later identical coins are rejected. In my short personal experience of these machines I have not encountered that problem. That reinforces the point that we need to be satisfied that the machines will work, and that calls for proper servicing by
Column 724London Underground. If a machine runs out of change somebody should be there within 10 or 15 minutes to replenish it.
British Rail machines will not be enclosed in underground stations but will probably be on open, windswept platforms where, late at night, anybody can have access to them. The whole point of the Bill is to ensure that there will be fewer staff and that people will be able to go in and out of stations and get on and off trains. Vandals will have access to the machines. As I say, I am cynical about the Bill. I do not think that British Rail will be able to provide a permission-to-travel machine that is vandal-proof and that will provide a valid ticket for a specific coin,. If the machines will accept any coin, what else will they take in the course of their working day?
There is a serious problem here. The London underground system is locked up at night and so is vandal-proof, but British Rail has the opposite system. It is planning to open stations but to withdraw staff from platforms and have inspections on the trains. That will be a temptation to vandals, and vandalism leads to a worse society. The hon. Member for New Forest said that the inspection teams would have two or perhaps three conductors for 12 -carriage sets, or even longer sets in suburban areas. The Bill basically affects Network SouthEast, in which many people get on and off at intermediate stations--for example, on a suburban train going from Charing Cross to Bromley and stopping every two or three minutes. At the peak rush hour, many people will get on at the terminus, but many will get off at the intermediate stations. It would be impossible for one team of conductors to go through the whole train between one station and another. I suspect that even two teams of conductors would not be able to do so.
This must invite evasion of fares. Passengers can easily find out where the conductors are and I suspect that it would be relatively easy to travel two or three stations without being inspected. Even those passengers who are not minded to evade fares will quite often find that their tickets are not controlled on such journeys. At the moment, such tickets are controlled because at the main stations there is a ticket barrier before a passenger gets on the train, and the guard looks at the ticket. When the passenger alights he has either to give in his ordinary ticket or show his season ticket to the guard at the barrier. If that changes, evasion will increase rather than decrease.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East said that £36 million was lost through fare evasion on Network SouthEast. That is a large sum, and I reiterate the point that he made that, if this is the official figure, the chances are that the real figure is even bigger. Why cannot British Rail go the other way and, instead of having an unsatisfactory method of trying to stop evasion and a way that will not work, employ 2,000 more staff?
The National Economic Research Association in its report as part of the "Better Rail" campaign suggested that 2,000 extra staff, costing £20 million, would pay for themselves by cutting fare evasion. The hon. Member for New Forest did not address that point, and he must do so. It would have obvious benefits in that not only would there be employment for 2,000 people, but those people would be on the platforms and would be able to help mothers with children and make sure that vandalism on the platforms did not occur, that stations were cleaner and that evasion was decreased. That is the nub of the
Column 725argument. The Bill is going in the wrong direction and it is the wrong Bill at the wrong time. British Rail should have come to a different conclusion and started to employ more staff instead. I hope that there will be a vote on Second Reading so that I can express my displeasure about the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish says, if the Bill does not receive a Second Reading, I hope that British Rail will think about the suggestions that have been made this evening. I hope that the Government Lobby fodder will not come in when the Division Bells go.
Dr. Marek : I hope that the hon. Gentleman is right. If he is, we have a chance of defeating the Bill, because the weight of argument is against it. However, if by some chance the Bill is given a Second Reading, I can think of many amendments that I should like to table in Committee and on Report.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : The best system for issuing tickets is that which uses human beings. The notion that many of them should be replaced by machines, with all the difficulties that have been described tonight, is a clear prelude to privatisation of British Rail--to increase profits, to inconvenience passengers and to give the putative privatised sector more powers, through orders issued by the Secretary of State, to impose the new system on passengers.
Nobody would quibble with the Minister's view that we should curtail fare dodging to benefit honest passengers. That was qualified by his claim that he wants to reduce public revenue support. Several people have quoted continental practice. For example, the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) spoke about the continental practice of train inspection. However, the Minister did not invoke the continental practice of support for railway transport, in working hours or in the rate of wages. If we are to have continental practice, then we should have continental standards on safety and wage awards.
The Minister and the hon. Member for New Forest are highly selective in what they say. They talk about on-train inspection--a new jargon phrase like "feedback" or "ongoing situation"-- but fail to inform the House that, while continental railways have the same basic gauge between the rails, they have larger loading gauges. Continental wagons and railway coaches, for example, cannot easily be transported over the whole of British railways, but over selected routes that have been specially widened for the purpose. Such coaches have more room on them for people to move around and are more substantial, so on-train inspection is more easy.
All in all, the continental example--invoked by the hon. Member for New Forest as though it were some sort of magical formula ; because it comes from somewhere else, it must be good--has no substance in it. British Rail has a system of barriers for entry on to the railway system because when the railways were built in the 19th century it was decided that the railway system should be safe and that people should be kept in a regulated fashion from approaching what is essentially a dangerous movement of heavy vehicles at high speeds on a railway track. Therefore, we have a statutory obligation to fence the
Column 726track on both sides to prevent access by both human beings and animals. On the continent, there is an open system because they decided that that was suitable, and they are more used to it. There is no reason or justification for us to shrug our shoulders and say, "Ah, it is the continental system. Therefore it must be good." Human beings working at barriers can not only check tickets but give help, advice and guidance. They can help women who are experiencing difficulties with their toddlers or the elderly person with parcels who is confused by the station's set-up because changes have occurred. Such changes baffle people. My mother has never been into Bradford interchange, built in 1974, because they changed all the bus stops and she was sure that it would confuse her. She is now 92, and it is pretty certain that she will not be catching buses to Bradford interchange. The elderly are confused when things are changed. If they have to go to public stations, they find it helpful to have staff at barriers to guide and inform them.
British Rail management always manages to provide an adequate number of personnel for occasions such as this. It does not abandon the box under the Strangers Gallery because it has to abandon involvement in the Bill. Indeed, it has sent along what appears to be a handsome contingent. I wish that it would apply the same standards to stations. At the inquiry into the proposed closure of the Settle-Carlisle line, four representatives of British Rail's management were present. One of them presented a statement and explained that he and his colleagues could not take part in the discussion because they were not to be subjected to debate. What a splendid example to set! Would it not be better if they were all busy working on the Settle-Carlisle line to promote it and thereby to attract more passengers? That argument seemed to go down extremely well with all the objectors to the proposed closure, but it did not bring much of a gleam to the eyes of the British Rail
Mr. Snape : I would not want my hon. Friend to accuse me of undue cynicism, but he should bear in mind that many members of British Rail's senior management spent their formative years travelling around the country in chauffeur-driven cars in the 1960s looking for parts of the system to close down.
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend is right. We remember the various dodges that were used to enable British Rail to present a case for the closure of certain lines, when that action was entirely unjustified. We are told in the summary that it is estimated that Network SouthEast is losing £36 million a year in fare evasion. That sounds grandiose, but that statement amounts to a guess. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) has said, there is no certainty as British Rail cannot know about successful fare evasion. I am sure that if it did know about evasion it would consider prosecution or publishing the names of evaders, for example. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), I think that it is a guess that has been put on the top side, as it were. After all, it would be human to present a figure that is on the high side so as to frighten a few hon. Members into providing their assistance in getting the Bill through the House.
British Rail has produced a figure for the cost of vandalism that is more quantifiable. It estimates that each year the bill is £20 million. If British Rail is each year to
Column 727shed more staff and introduce machines, vandalism will increase. That must be a major cause of concern for all hon. Members. If more stations are to be devoid of human activity in the form of British Rail employees, there is a potential danger for passengers both in stations and as travellers on trains. For example, things can be thrown on to railway tracks that may endanger lives because they affect the smooth and safe running of the trains.
What will British Rail do about that? The Minister will know that British Rail has a statutory duty to protect trains from people by means of fencing. The Bill does not provide for any sections of any existing Acts to be repealed, so is British Rail embarking on a criminal activity by introducing the Bill? By removing barriers it will be failing in its obligation to prevent the public from getting to its trains. It is proposed that there shall be open stations. It is urged upon us that we should adopt the wonderful continental system in which people can have free access to trains. That will mean that toddlers will have access to them at a time when there is more electrification. Is British Rail telling us that it will provide more access to trains for toddlers, teenagers and the elderly, for example, when there is third-rail DC electrification at 500 volts? The management's justification for this approach is, to say the least, somewhat suspect.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Has my hon. Friend received a letter from British Rail in which it makes a virtue of the fact that it will provide far more points of access to stations so that it will be possible for the public to get on to trains at all convenient points? That reinforces the argument that my hon. Friend is advancing.
Mr. Cryer : My comments are derived precisely from that claim by British Rail. It is clear that it wishes to make stations much more open. I am probably the only hon. Member who has accompanied a member of the railway inspectorate along a line with the man who became the chief railway inspecting officer. When he inspected the Worth valley branch line to ensure that it was safe, he said that fences had to be in place. We had to provide the inspecting officer with a certificate that stated that the faulty fencing to which he had drawn attention had been repaired to stop the very access that British Rail is now saying is one of the continental delights that we must adopt.
Dr. Marek : Perhaps my hon. Friend will bear in mind that British Rail removed fences at level crossings. Many automatic level crossings were introduced about seven or eight years ago and many people lost their lives because of a lowering of standards. There were arguments--
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we are not dealing with level crossings. We should be debating penalties for fare evasion. That has nothing to do with level crossings at this stage.
Column 728people running on to the platforms if, for example, they are drunk. The same applies to young children and others. In other words, the consideration applies to all those who may suffer injury by falling off the edge of the platform. The same argument applies to level crossings, but I shall not cross that path again.
The Minister was gloating when he spoke of less public money, but surely it is a good thing to have a good public service. There should be staff at stations to help and guide and to maintain property in good order. There should be staff to look after our public service and to protect facilities from vandalism. That is where British Rail should be making the savings that it and we want to be made. I am not advancing an argument on behalf of those who seek to dodge fares. Instead, I am saying that we should maintain and improve the good safety system that British Rail has been operating. By historical development, the system that British Rail has maintained--it is required to do so by law--depends on a closed system. It seems that we are being asked to take a step that is very much in the wrong direction.
I urge British Rail to reconsider its policy. It should leave the Bill for six months and start to employ people at stations instead of removing them and leaving a bare platform with a bus shelter. We are all aware that such shelters are often damaged. We condemn vandalism, but it happens.
My hon. Friends the Members for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and for West Bromwich, East have referred to abandoned stations. If staff are taken from stations, the risks increase, particularly for women. The Employment Bill is in Committee and that will remove protection for women. Under that Bill, women will either have to do night work or face losing unemployment benefit if they refuse to take that job.
Stations which should have barriers and a staff presence will not be staffed because, as the hon. Member for New Forest said, the Bill will mean that more stations will be unstaffed. Therefore, thanks to the Employment Bill, more women will visit stations late at night and will not see a friendly face and receive help from station staff. They would need such assistance in the early evening in winter or late at night in summer when station lamps might not be working as well as they should. Mobile maintenance teams carry out maintenance work at the moment. However, as stations are inspected only at intervals, repairs are carried out infrequently and at times the lamps are out of action.
There is Government pressure to make cuts and we are witnessing the all-too -willing acquiescence of British Rail senior management. It would have been helpful if British Rail management had the co-operation and help of the unions because union members will have to carry out the work. The board members endorsed and dreamed up the proposal in their executive suites. They have chauffeurs waiting at their doors, but those chauffeurs have not been sacked. Similarly, the executive cook in the executive suite still has a job. British Rail senior management will not be travelling on the trains. It would be good if Robert Reid left his executive suite, gathered the lads and lasses around him and said, "I'm going to do the Leeds Pullman express today and I want you all to come with me because I'm going to demonstrate how to deal with difficult passengers." That would lift morale on British Rail. However, he is not going to do that and nor is anyone else
Column 729in the executive suites. They will stick tight to their Italian leather chairs and send out the orders. They will not travel on the trains because they would meet too many people who would like to take up complaints directly with them. If those passengers discovered who they were, the executives would never get off some of the trains, particularly those on the overused, generally run-down urban services.
Trade unions members will have to impose the fare penalties. As my hon. Friends have already said, there may be drunks on platforms late at night. People might become intoxicated because they have been encouraged to drink by the advertising in this enterprise culture, for example, on ITV, and of course Sky television will be beaming around its adverts to booze more. I will not follow those electronic beams. I will refer to the Bill. It will be very difficult for station staff to impose penalties on drunks. Railway staff have already called repeatedly for more late-night protection. There will be other difficulties. While the hon. Member for New Forest has assured us that there will be no targets for collecting penalty fares from fare dodgers, or alleged fare dodgers, we must remember that British rail personnel are subject to an intransigent and unco-operative management which has imposed on them the most remarkable rule--if staff criticise British Rail publicly, they can be sacked. It should be made clear that if anyone in British Rail has a complaint, he should go to his Member of Parliament, because it will be a breach of privilege for British Rail management, or anyone else, to deny a person the right of consulting his elected representative. There is the onus and constant pressure on British Rail staff to collect fares. At the same time, they cannot grumble or complain about it being a bad system. Therefore, it seems that this is not the time to introduce the Bill.
My third point concerns the deterrent to travel--although I make no defence for the fare dodger. At present, the system is that the fare can be paid on checking. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East pointed out that in the 1960s the Government were busy eroding British Rail's network. More closures are in the pipeline. The question of the Settle to Carlisle line has been raised in the House on several occasions, with 29 petitions against its closure presented over the past 12 months. I am not happy with the powers envisaged being granted to British Rail management, because they will provide another technique for justifying a railway's closure. A set, group or gang of ticket inspectors could act as a potential deterrent to travel.
I should not like to see that happening on a line such as the Settle- Carlisle. That line belies the need for the Bill. Its passenger revenue has increased from £1 million to £1.7 million. There is already fares collection by guards on the train, but not the imposition of fare penalties. That system has, by and large, worked extremely well, with increased revenue to the extent I have described. One asks why the Bill is necessary when a line that was making a loss five years ago is now making a healthy profit--and with expenditure on the Ribblehead viaduct reducing from £4.5 million to £900,000, it is paying its way. If the Minister intervenes again, I hope that it will be to make the short, dramatic statement that he will make British Rail keep open the Settle to Carlisle line--
Mr. Cryer : It is very tempting to stay on the subject of the Settle to Carlisle line, because it is so important that it be retained. However, I accede entirely to your request, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Dr. Marek : I wish to mention the Settle to Carlisle, but in connection with the Bill. Is it not true to say that the Bill is unnecessary in respect of that line, because the two or three-car sets that it uses enables guards or ticket collectors to walk through the whole train between each station, thereby controlling the travel of every passenger and making fare evasion impossible? Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no need for the Bill's provisions on the Settle to Carlisle line?
Mr. Cryer : I agree with my hon. Friend. The record is there to see. The Settle to Carlisle line is a friendly line, and the imposition of fare penalties will breed a great deal of antagonism. The Settle to Carlisle line has developed an enormous amount of goodwill and friendliness over the years that it has been rescued from the clutches of closure by British Rail's management.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Does my hon. Friend agree that on a line such as the Settle to Carlisle, which is used a great deal by walkers and climbers, an unsatisfactory aspect of unmanned stations, and of unreliable train services on occasions, is that a traveller can arrive at the station and not be sure whether the train he wants has arrived and departed? That is important in respect not only of the Settle to Carlisle line but of others. If deferred ticket machines are to be installed, there must also be a system that will make clear whether trains have yet passed through a station.
Mr. Cryer : I entirely endorse my hon. Friend's point. I shall deal with a few of the Bill's details in a moment, but first I wish to emphasise that the Settle to Carlisle line offers a good example of why the Bill is not necessary.
Clause 4(3)( a )(ii) provides an exemption, for a passenger will not be able to pay a penalty fare if,
"when he transferred from another train service there were no facilities for either the sale of the necessary fare ticket for his journey or the sale of deferred fare authorities."
Where I now live I have the opportunity of going either to Bradford interchange or to Shipley station. The status of Shipley station has recently been enhanced. To avoid responsibility for closing the Wortley curve--another argument that I shall not go into now--British Rail has transferred London trains from Bradford interchange to Bradford Forster Square.
None the less, Shipley station is at present open only in the morning. If trains are leaving at about the moment of closure and someone has to run to catch his train, he may be confronted with a ticket collector saying, "You have no ticket. You could have bought one at Shipley station." Instead of just handing over the fare, as would normally happen, that person must write within 21 days an explanation giving the station's opening and closing times, the time of the train and the time of arrival, as outlined in clause 4(7). Surely that will encourage antagonism and make it more difficult for the traveller to decide whether to
Column 731sprint for a train. As it happens, the booking office at Shipley station is probably 120 yd from the main platform for the Keighley-Shipley-Leeds trains.
Moreover, a person is not liable for a penalty if he has no opportunity to obtain a ticket on a conductor-train service. Many of the urban services around Bradford are crowded, particularly at peak times. It will be extremely difficult for the conductor to get around to people who get on at, say, Bramley on the way to Leeds or uphill into Bradford, where no ticket collection service is available. Again, if they are sitting in a corner with others standing, the ticket collector may go past them. They will then become engaged in an argument about whether it was possible for them to obtain tickets on a conductor-train service.
That has occurred to me because I have travelled on a train and bought a ticket at the end of my journey, but have been ignored by the conductor-- who has been involved in giving out tickets--in the press of people. On the short journeys for which the Bill is supposed to be designed, it is possible to reach one's destination before the conductor has had time to go round.
"shall not apply to a person travelling on a conductor train service whose journey begins at a non-ticket station".
There is then the problem of deciding what constitutes a conductor train and a non-ticket station, which is dealt with in clause 2. At Dronfield station, where I alight for my constituency, there is someone selling tickets on the platform. That would seem to make Dronfield a non-ticket station, when that person is not there. Clause 2, however, states that
" non-ticket station' means a station on a conductor train service at which there is no provision at any time for the sale of tickets". There is a possiblilty of fare tickets being available at Dronfield station, but it is an open station : people can come in at the last moment and jump on to a train on which a conductor or inspector is going round with his machine. Will the Bill catch those who run to get on a train at the last minute because at the other end of the platform there may be someone with a machine issuing tickets?
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend has illustrated the point that I made about Shipley station. He has demonstrated that Shipley is not unique. I also know Dronfield station, which was reopened through the efforts of a Labour-controlled local authority, and very welcome it is, too. However, the provisions will create difficulties. The Bill provides for the Secretary of State to change the penalty fare. Every Government Department has introduced orders under which penalties or charges have soared. Increases by order of 30, 40, 50 or 60 per cent. are not unknown. On occasion the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has been advised by our counsel that some of the increases in charges are so great that they can be regarded as an unusual use of the power.
One of my reservations about the measure is that powers are to be given to the Secretary of State to make orders that would change the penalty fares as he chooses.
Column 732would have been happier if provision had been made for the affirmative rather than the negative procedure. Does my hon. Friend believe that the promoters ought to give an undertaking to make that change in Committee?
Mr. Cryer : I agree entirely. An undertaking ought to be given to amend the Bill to provide for the affirmative procedure. The Minister--as Ministers are wont to do--gave the usual smug assurance that statutory instruments can be debated, but he did not say that they cannot be amended. They have to be either agreed to or rejected. Our examination of statutory instruments is shockingly inadequate. There ought to be more than an hour and a half in which to debate them. Some statutory instruments are more comprehensive and detailed than many major Acts, and more time ought to be spent on examining them.
I hope that the promoter will give us an assurance that in Committee he will seek to change the Bill to provide for the affirmative procedure. He knows that under the negative procedure the possibility of time being given to debate a prayer depends on who signs it and on whether the Government are in a generous mood and award an hour and a half for debate. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that a prayer can be debated for an hour and a half from 10 o'clock. If there is a Division at 10 o'clock, debating time is automatically cut by 15 or 20 minutes. The time for debate is limited. Important powers are to be given to the Secretary of State, so the affirmative procedure would be better.
A safeguard is provided in clause 8(3). It says :
"A warning notice stating the amount of the penalty fare shall be posted at every station at which persons may start to travel on a train service, in such a position as to be readily visible to prospective passengers and shall (however expressed) indicate the circumstances in which they may be liable to pay a penalty fare." That is an absolute, not a qualified, obligation. It does not say. "so far as reasonably practicable."
No penalties are to be imposed if notices are not provided. If somebody is made the subject of a penalty fare and says, "I did not know about it", no provision is made for him to say that at Shipley or Dronfield station, or wherever it may be, a notice had not been posted. As it is to be an absolute obligation, it might help if the Bill were changed to provide for the members of the British Railways board to be prosecuted for breach of statutory duty if warning notices are not provided. No such provision is made in the Bill because members of British Railways board do not intend to lay themselves open to action if they fail to carry out their duty. The honest passenger will find, when circumstances conspire against him, that a penalty is imposed on him or her.
The Bill represents another step backwards by British Rail. More stations that look ugly and abandoned will still be open to the public. I would not like to catch a train from Forster Square station at night. There is no sign of any human presence. The huge, formerly magnificent midland railway terminus in Bradford is now a gaunt, empty shell with two railway tracks running into it. Late at night it presents a daunting prospect for me, but for many women and more slightly-built people it must seem considerably more daunting. I do not want a British Rail of this character, but one which is well served, and which provides passengers with an excellent service from good staff who are well trained and committed to serving the people. That is what the staff