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Home Robertson, John
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Macdonald, Calum A.
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marek, Dr John
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Pike, Peter L.
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Wise, Mrs Audrey
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Bob Cryer and
Mr. Martin Redmond.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill read a Second time and committed.
London Regional Transport has a general duty to provide or secure the provision of public passenger transport services for greater London. It must pay due regard to the current transport needs of greater London and to the efficiency, economy and safety of the operation. Millions of pounds are being lost every year because the system lacks security. It is extremely important that those people who use the system and pay for its service should not suffer the cost while leaving many to get away without paying. According to the annual survey, it has been calculated that no less than £26 million a year is currently lost by London Regional Transport. That loss is far too big to be satisfactory. A proper system for reducing that discrepancy is needed and that is why the Bill is being introduced. There are many good reasons why the Secretary of State has to be satisfied before the measure can be introduced. He has to be satisfied that there is adequate staffing, adequate availability of machines, that the arrangements for monitoring defective machines are adequate and that ticket inspectors are properly trained. There must be adequate publicity about the introduction of the scheme and there must be a disputes and appeals procedure. Those are important matters and the Secretary of State must examine them carefully and diligently. It would be wrong to assume that he was uncritical about the standards before he was prepared for the Bill to be introduced. Most of us have suffered the inconvenience of using machines that are not up to standard, and in the past there have been many justifiable criticisms of ticket machines, especially those that are required to give change. Technology is moving quickly and in the near future we can expect major strides in computer and other electronic technology. We think that it is now possible to produce extremely reliable and effective machines. With that in mind we have to grasp the opportunity of being able to take advantage of modern technology, thereby reducing the volume of evasion and fraud in the system. Questions will be asked about the security of the system and in that respect London Regional Transport is important because the volume of traffic is such that it is not possible for tickets to be checked on trains in the same way as, for example, they are checked on British Rail. The present maximum fare on LRT is £2.90 and a penalty of £10 in relation to that is appropriate. The penalty on the Docklands light railway or on the buses is £5. There is a major difference compared with any system proposed for British Rail, and that is to take account of the lower charges on the Docklands light railway and the buses. The penalty has been geared accordingly. These powers are required as part of a new system of fare collection and the recognition of the importance of staff being introduced to the customers on the train. The system has worked extremely well on the Docklands light
Column 740railway where the train captains have a close involvement with the passengers and perform tasks in addition to the mere collection and checking of tickets.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : London Docklands railway is accepting the same philosophy as British Rail--that of open stations and fare collection and checking on the trains--but the rest of the tube system is using appalling barriers. Is that not illogical? If fare collection on vehicles, which has cut down violence on the trains, if not on the stations, can work, why should it not work on the rest of the tube system?
Mr. Thorne : The introduction of a train captain has been extremely effective and the system can be reassuring to the passengers. The collection or validation of tickets has been a major problem on the Docklands light railway, so that system is to be replaced. It is not possible for that system to operate completely satisfactorily, so it is necessary to make that change.
Staff can do much and they should be much more involved in the success of the operation. There are many opportunities and it is no longer valid to continue the operation as it has been run for many years. Although fraud has always been a factor, it has substantially increased in recent years and if it is allowed to increase still further, it will be unacceptable, particularly for the genuine, honest fare-paying members of the public who are the vast majority of those who use this transport. It would be wrong to allow those who wish to indulge in fraud to get away with it any longer.
It is important that we realise that there will be major provisions to ensure that genuine travellers who are not trying to evade the fare will be able to call in aid an excuse. The passenger will not be liable to pay a penalty fare if there are no facilities available for ticket sales at the station at which the journey was started. If the passenger transfers to London Underground or Docklands light railway from British Rail and the British Rail station at which he starts has no facilities for sale of tickets, and if a notice was displayed at the station where he started the journey--whether British Rail, London Underground or Docklands light railway station--stating that it was permissible for passengers to travel from that station without a ticket or if an authorised person in uniform informed the passenger to that effect, he would not be liable to pay the penalty. If a person is asked for his ticket or authority by the London Underground or Docklands light railway authorised official and says that he was not able to obtain it for one or more of those reasons, then it is for the London Underground or the Docklands light railway to prove that the reason is not correct. The onus is on them. If the passenger wishes to raise one of these reasons later, he has 21 days to do so from the day after the completion of the journey. Only then comes the transfer of the burden of proof. If the passenger does not provide the explanation in these terms on the spot or within 21 days, he has to prove that one of the defences applies.
This seems to be an effective and sensible way to conduct this arrangement. It is important that we should introduce it as early as possible so that we can take advantage of the available modern technology so as substantially to reduce the number of people who are defrauding their fellow passengers-- a number that is likely to increase if we do not take some firm steps against such a practice.
Column 74110.5 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Whenever I listen to the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) my memory goes back to county hall in the 1970s, when he was a great believer in strategic planning. If I remember rightly, he was the chair of the central area planning board. Unfortunately, he has now changed his position, but in the past he was committed to some form of strategic planning for London. I hope that eventually he will return to that view. I am against those who evade payment on London Transport or any other form of public transport. Fare evasion imposes a greater burden on honest fare-paying passengers. We want to ensure that everyone contributes his or her share to the cost. It is not surprising that in principle we all agree that something should be done to reduce fare evasion.
It is also not surprising that more and more members of the travelling public are evading their fares, or attempting to do so. That is connected with the fact that London passenger fares increased by an average of 12.4 per cent. only last month, which was twice the level of inflation. The cost of a weekly inner zone travelcard increased by nearly 20 per cent. When the Government were stripping control of London Regional Transport from the Greater London council in preparation for the abolition of the council, I well remember the then Secretary of State saying that fares would increase broadly in line with inflation. That is another promise that the Government did not intend to keep or have somehow forgotten since control was taken from the GLC in 1984.
The more that the Government put pressure on London Transport to push up the level of fares, the more the public will evade the payment of fares. That is because in many instances they will not be able to meet the new fare levels. I think especially of the unemployed, the low paid and the homeless. There is a correlation between ever-increasing fares and the ever -increasing level of evasion.
The withdrawing of staff leads to an open invitation to the travelling public to avoid paying their fares. I said during the Second Reading of the British Railways (Penalty Fares) Bill that this morning I travelled from East Ham on the District line after a meeting at Newham town hall. There was no one staffing the ticket office. A queue of would-be travellers was waiting to put money into the machine. I did not notice whether it demanded the exact fare or whether it gave change. I heard the train entering the station and as I was anxious to get to the House, as I always am, I decided to leg it down the stairs and jump on the train. I paid my fare at the other end of the journey, but if I had been someone not as well heeled as an hon. Member I might have decided to declare that I had come from the Monument or Tower Hill instead of stating the truth.
The more that the Government force London Regional Transport or any other transport undertaking to withdraw the number of staff on stations, the more the travelling public will seek to avoid paying their fares. It is noticeable that London Underground Ltd. remains committed to substantial staff reductions in its determination to cut costs. I understand that it is about to implement the first stage of its action stations. Such a term suggests that something is taking place when often the reverse is the case. Under the action stations programme, a pilot scheme is to be carried out on the Metropolitan line at 13 stations
Column 742from Harrow-on-the-Hill to Amersham and Chesham. The present complement of staff will be reduced from 169 to 142. As 20 of the 142 will be ticket examiners, the effective number of staff on stations will be 122, a reduction of about 25 per cent. In addition, London Underground Ltd. has announced the introduction of automatic ticket machines--they are now in place in almost all Underground stations--which will mean the loss of another 1,200 jobs.
It is true that London Underground has said that nearly half those jobs will be redeployed on general station duties and that will increase the availability of staff to help passengers. Nevertheless, the implication of the cuts is that there will be a reduction of about one sixth in the number of staff on London Underground. The more staff that British Rail and London Underground remove from stations, the more fare evasion will increase.
I asked the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) who promoted the British Railways (Penalty Fares) Bill whether there was any sign of an increase in fare evasion on British Rail in recent years. If it had not increased, why on earth was British Rail proposing such a scheme? The answer was that it had increased. Why cannot Ministers see that there is a correlation between a continual reduction in the number of staff on stations and an increase in ticket evasion?
When British Rail and the Underground were known to be more labour intensive, there was less fraud. There were also more jobs on the system. It is nonsense for the Government to suggest that they are not connected with the problems on British Rail and the Underground. I very much oppose the Bill because I think that it is cosmetic. It misses the target. It is not directed at the real cause of fare evasion on the Underground or on British Rail, for the reasons that I have given so far.
The Bill refers to fares on buses and the fixed penalties that will be imposed on them. Bus fares are slightly lower than those on the Underground. Perhaps that has something to do with the relative economic prosperity of bus travellers in comparison with Underground travellers. There must be some connection there.
The system is moving towards fewer staff. I have heard Minister after Minister at the Dispatch Box say that the travelling public likes one- person operated buses. I use those buses frequently. I cannot understand why I always manage to travel on one when none of the passengers seems to be happy. I make a point of talking to my fellow travellers and I ask them whether they like the service. The majority of opinion is completely against one-person-operated buses in London. That is the view of the passengers and of other road users.
There are insufficient controls over parking restrictions in the capital. More and more cars and lorries therefore pile up behind one-person-operated buses which stay at a stop for a long time while the poor old bus driver tries to ensure that everyone pays the fare. He must ensure that no one nips through the exit doors--I have seen that happen frequently.
It is strange that it is apparently OK continually to reduce the number of people working on the mass transit systems, while on the more luxurious transport systems there are more and more people. Only a very strange airline would try to sell the idea of
one-pilot-operated planes. A passenger might go to the entrance door and be greeted by the pilot who asks to see the ticket and then says, "Hang on a moment, I've just got to make sure that
Column 743the engines are started. I will come back and then I'll go round with the drinks after I've switched on to automatic pilot." No one would travel on a plane in those circumstances. The adverts give the idea that passengers are greeted by smiling staff and each airline boasts of its staff-to-passenger ratio. That is considered to be an absolute asset. Why can that not be true for the buses and trains? The travelling public would prefer to be greeted by the bus conductor or conductress who would show him to a seat, come round with the drinks halfway through the journey and announce the estimated time of arrival and that the passenger would be travelling at approximately ground level. That is the kind of thing people want on London transport.
The more staff that there are operating the transport system, the less fare evasion there will be. That is an obvious and straightforward equation, and I am surprised that it has not sunk into the psyches of Conservative Members that more staffing is the best way of dealing with not only fare evasion but safety and comfort.
The question whether ticket dispensing machines will work has been raised. Some of them are OK, but unless they are regularly maintained--and I am sure that the hon. Member for Ilford, South accepts this--they will break down. There will be increasing frustration as people have to queue up to put their money into machines that do not work. The Evening Standard published several articles about the annoyance and anger caused to passengers on London Underground as they found the machines either were inoperative or rejected coins. There are also matters of comfort and safety that neither the Bill, the Government nor London Regional Transport have addressed.
I do not know how often you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, use London Underground, or how often Mr. Speaker or Ministers use it. I know that one or two Ministers do. One of the few advantages of our working hours in this place is that we can usually travel outside the rush hour, and not encounter its full horror. When we do have to travel at the height of the rush hour, it all comes back to us like some horrible nightmare, and we wonder how much longer we must put up with such conditions.
To that discomfort, we now have the added obstruction of automatic ticket barriers, which are supposed to do something about countering fare evasion and smoothing the passage of travellers through the system. All that is rubbish, as anyone who has encountered the new ticket barriers can testify. I invite right hon. and hon. Members to examine the barriers at Westminster underground station. Again, the Evening Standard reported that passengers avoid using the automatic barriers, preferring to queue up at the barrier staffed by a uniformed ticket collector, because other passengers get stuck as they put their tickets into those wretched automatic barriers and find that they do not open.
I do not know who invented that machinery, but whoever it was should be shut into one of those barriers and left there to rot for a few years. He might then realise that those fiendish contraptions, which are now ringing London stations, are unacceptable and a complete waste of public money. There are all kinds of capital items on which London Underground could have used that
Column 744investment to improve amenities. It is a useless system, just like that used for one-man buses. I guarantee that within a matter of a few years they will fall into disuse and the barriers will be permanently jammed open, if they are not already. I say that because I do not have a great deal of trust in the manufacturers' ability to make sure that those barriers do not jam. One day, people will ask who was the fool who invented the system.
Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness) : I realise that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) does not often stray very far from Newham, but if he were to cross the Channel and travel on the Paris metro he would find there a similar ticket barrier system that has worked well for many years.
Mr. Banks : I trust that that stricture was not directed at me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that I was keeping to the point. I would very much like to go to Paris. I would go there with the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks), even though he is not quite my sort.
Dr. John Marek (Wrexham) : If the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) had been here for the past three hours, he would have heard us exploring all the differences between the Paris metro and the Underground in this country.
Mr. Banks : It is all about capital investment, flat fares and a range of other issues. As one of my hon. Friends said, we should not make comparisons based on only one aspect of the system. If we are to make European comparisions we should compare the levels of capital investment, fares and wages, and the number of staff employed. Given our parsimonious attitude to investment, it is not surprising that London's transport system is approaching breaking point and we have to resort to silly, cosmetic, passenger-delaying manoeuvres. The Bill does not address the real problem. It tinkers with it, as the Government do with so many other aspects of our transport life. The Government's transport policies, like their policies on other matters, actually produce problems ; then they come up with some fart -arsed cosmetic idea to try to deal with the problems that they have created.
Ministers, with one or two honourable exceptions, do not use the public transport system. One of the reasons why all Back Benchers want to become Ministers is the chance of getting into one of those chauffeur-driven limousines, reading their red boxes with the light on. As we trudge down into Westminster underground station, the Ministers go past in their cars splashing mud all over us. If they knew what it was like to travel on public transport they would not be defending this wretched little Bill and the silly things that are happening to London transport.
The best way to deal with the problem of fare evasion would be to return to the flat-fare system that the GLC was trying to construct, and keeping fares at a low level. If the system is seen as a service, there will be no excuse for anyone to evade paying fares. [Hon. Members :-- "Like in Paris."] As hon. Members say, that is what it is like in Paris.
We must start to look on transport as a social service, not a service that must always pay its way in straight
Column 745revenue terms. A proper social cost analysis for the economy as a whole, whether in London or the whole country, will show us that a flat-fare system would not only deal with the problem of fare evasion but would speed passengers through the system and take private cars off the road, because transport would become both cheap and attractive.
I suppose that the final solution would be a free transport system. I understand that there is no such thing as a free lunch--even for Members of Parliament--but given its economic benefits a flat-fare or free transport system would enable the service to pay for itself over and over again. It would be good for London, the travelling public, the Government and the economy.
I doubt whether that proposal will receive a very sympathetic hearing tonight, but the day will come when Labour Members are sitting on the Government Benches, and we shall return to the sane transport policy that the good old GLC tried to pioneer. That was stopped because we were having so much electoral success with our flat-fare system. Fare evasion was not the problem that it is now. When that day comes, I hope that I shall be standing at the back cheering on my good friend and saying what a wonderful job he is doing as a Minister--
We should be looking at the new system and deciding that having got it wrong for so long we will get it right this time. This is no way to get it right, and that is why I shall vote against the Bill. 10.24 pm
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo) : There is a danger that after the contribution by the hon. Member for Newham, North- West (Mr. Banks) my contribution will seem a little dry. However, it may be convenient if I set out the Government's attitude and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) on explaining the Bill so lucidly.
The Government support the Bill, as they support the British Railways (Penalty Fares) Bill. We believe that London Regional Transport should be allowed the opportunity to levy penalty fares on passengers travelling on its services without having purchased the ticket required. London Underground Ltd. currently estimates that fare evasion costs £26 million a year. Such a measure can therefore benefit only the honest passenger and ease the burden on the taxpayer and the London ratepayer.
LRT of course already has powers to operate a penalty fares system under the London Regional Transport Act 1984, and specifically on the Docklands light railway under the London Docklands Railway Acts of 1984, 1985 and 1986. But because some dissatisfaction was expressed with these powers, the Government established a working group on penalty fares in May 1986 to review the principles which should apply to penalty fares schemes on public transport and to look at the existing provisions concerning LRT services. The Bill before the House is based closely upon the recommendations of the working group.
I do not propose to go into the details of the Bill. Suffice it to say that the Bill underwent considerable scrutiny in
Column 746another place and a number of changes were made, primarily to ensure that the honest passenger is fully protected. The Committee stage in this House will allow further consideration of those matters, and others.
It should, however, be stressed that an activating order issued by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be required to bring the powers in this Bill into effect. It will be for LRT to convince us that it can operate a fair and workable penalty fares system on the particular service or services for which it is proposed before an activating order will be issued.
Before any such order is made the Secretary of State will need to be satisfied that all the necessary arrangements are in place to operate the system and that these include safeguards to ensure that honest passengers are not penalised if no opportunity to buy a ticket has been provided. He will therefore need to be assured that ticket offices are properly staffed, that the necessary ticket and deferred authority machines are in place, that there are satisfactory arrangements for monitoring and reparing machines, that there are adequate publicity arrangements to inform passengers about the new system, that ticket inspectors are properly trained to operate the system and are deployed appropriately, and that they have adequate indentification. He must also be assured that procedures for disputes and appeals are in place.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, thanks to your interpretation of the rules, that I said a few words a short time ago about the impact of the Bill on London.
Once again the Opposition find the assurances about the Secretary of State's involvement totally unconvincing. The long list of assurances that the Secretary of State will need before he gives permission for the penalty fare scheme to be implemented led to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). He asked a short but succinct question about whether the system would be introduced on one line or throughout the underground system. It was a sensible question, despite the Minister's mirth. How will the Secretary of State satisfy himself or herself that all the arrangements that the Minister outlined in his brief speech are satisfactory and have been implemented?
Secretaries of State are good at giving assurances but they are not very good at coming to the House to explain any breaches that have occurred. I hope that the Minister will intervene during the next 30 seconds and tell me just how the Secretary of State plans to enforce that long list of arrangements. That part of the Bill has not yet been fully thought out.
The figure of £26 million--the cost of fare evasion--has been plucked out of the air. Without repeating my earlier opinion that London Underground does not appear interested in collecting fares late at night, I must say that that estimate is as wild as the £36 million mentioned in connection with Network SouthEast.
Column 747When representatives of one of the railway unions approached London Underground Ltd. about the amount of late night fare evasion caused by lack of staff, the unofficial view, given him in an aside by management, was that it would not be worth paying staff to work overtime to collect the comparatively small number of fares that were evaded. So when London Underground wants to save on staff, passengers are honest ; when it wants a Bill like this passed, they are dishonest and they cost Londoners, and those of us who are unwilling Londoners for a few days a week, a sizeable sum. Although briefer, the Minister's contribution was no more satisfactory on this Bill than on the previous one. I hope that my hon. Friends will act accordingly.
Column 74910.32 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) about ticket barriers. I also agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape).
There is a great deal of public concern about the deplorable extent to which London public transport has been run down, and it was incredible that the Minister should fail, in his very brief speech, to deal with that concern. He should be ashamed of himself. When the issue of penalty fares on London Underground came up before, I brought up the subject of violence directed against staff--an immensely serious problem. Only a month earlier, staff at Leyton bus garage had stopped work to bury a colleague who had been killed. I wanted to know whether penalty fares would increase violence against staff who work for LRT. The reply I received failed to address the point and the Bill was expected to go through without doing so.
Now the legislation is here again. We have received only one document from LRT, and it arrived today, the day of Second Reading. Once again, it does not deal with our genuine concerns about the implications of penalty fares for the safety of staff. No one has said anything to me about them.
LRT is forcing this Bill through and treating hon. Members with contempt. That is reason enough to throw the Bill out. I cannot see a case for imposing penalties on travellers. Indeed, it should be the other way around : LRT should compensate passengers for the appalling journeys and risks they must undertake. I notice that British Telecom runs a scheme to reimburse subscribers whose phones are faulty. That is a bit gimmicky, but if it is good enough for Telecom, it should be used by LRT, too.
Serious safety problems for travellers have not been dealt with. I am sure we shall come to some of those in the debate tomorrow, so I do not want to encroach on them now. I realise that we are dealing with the question of penalty fares, but there is the question of such things as the public address system being inaudible and the risk that that can cause. There is also the question of dangerous overcrowding, which could well result in loss of life.