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Mr. Bennett : I am coming to that. The point of order is that since all the rules of procedure have been broken the hon. Gentleman ought to get up and apologise to the House, on his own behalf and on behalf of the agents and London Regional Transport, for misleading the House, or you ought to rule that because there has been a gross
Column 1032breach of procedure we should not proceed with the Bill at this stage. It should be withdrawn and then reintroduced so that, having broken the conventions of the House since they gave an undertaking on a private Bill, the hon. Gentleman and--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I am responsible only for what happens in the Chamber. Whatever anyone--be they agents or anybody else--does outside the Chamber is not my responsibility. They do not take part in our proceedings. The hon. Gentleman complains that words were used in the House that constituted an undertaking or an assurance, that it has not been fulfilled and that it shows a lack of credibility or sincerity. The responsibility for that rests not with me but with the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), who gave the undertaking, and the House. The hon. Member for Ilford, South has heard what has been said. He may wish during the debate to comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). They are not, however, matters for me, nor are they matters upon which I can make a judgment or take action.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is a point of order upon which you can give guidance to the House. Hon. Members promote private Bills and we rely on other hon. Members to give assurances. One expects such assurances to be honoured. However, this assurance was given on behalf of an entirely separate organisation that is seeking additional powers. I seek your guidance on whether the House should adjourn for a few minutes while an assurance is sought, or find some means by which clarification can be sought. If that does not happen, there is no opportunity for the hon. Member to seek guidance from the agents or the promoters, who are in the Box for that very purpose. They do not sit there just to have an overview of our procedures.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that whatever takes place on the other side of the Bar of the House has nothing to do with me or with our proceedings in the Chamber. That is something that we do not recognise.
The hon. Gentleman suggests that when assurances are given in the Chamber the House ought to adjourn to check the validity or the strength of those assurances.
Mr. Cryer : Let me guide you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was suggesting that, when an hon. Member is asked for an assurance, either he can produce a bland platitude which does not mean anything, or he can consult the sponsors, who may be beyond your knowledge or understanding according to the conventions of the House. I was suggesting that to allow the sponsor of a Bill to seek guidance, surely the occupant of the Chair has powers to adjourn the House to allow discussions to take place on an assurance requested by hon. Members, in view of discrepancies between the assurance solemnly given in the House and the outcome. There appears to be such a chasm between the two that there should be some means in our procedures of making sure that an hon. Member is not placed in the difficult and embarrassing position of being
Column 1033accused of letting down the standards of the House by not allowing or giving credence to the assurances that he has given. That is what I am seeking from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. He has been in the House long enough to know that our procedures usually allow sufficient time for hon. Members in charge of a Bill, or those giving assurances, to reflect or perhaps seek guidance before the debate is concluded so that they may give the House a more mature and considered view. That is why we usually have an interval between a motion or amendment being tabled and finally responded to in the light of what has been said in a debate. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I do not have the power, nor would it be practical for the occupant of the Chair, to adjourn the House in circumstances that may fit the situation described by the hon. Gentleman. He knows as well as I do that on many occasions assurances have been given by Members in charge of a Bill, whether or not they were Ministers, and subsequently doubt has been cast on the validity or exact interpretation of those assurances.
Department--which may not be the Department sponsoring the Bill--in those circumstances can the occupant of the Chair make a ruling to bring the matter back to Committee so that assurances can be sought on the Committee's special report?
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Will you reconsider the points that you made a few moments ago on two bases, Mr. Deputy Speaker? A private Bill is totally different from Government legislation. Traditionally, Ministers try to get Government legislation through and the onus is on Opposition and Conservative Members to press the Minister in charge of the Bill to make sure any undertaking given is absolutely clear.
I understand that the tradition for private Bills is rather different. Normally assurances are given by the agents or by the hon. Member in charge of the Bill in the House on behalf of the agents and are treated rather differently. I realise that the private Bill procedure has become discredited and the sooner that we manage to implement the procedures to get rid of them from the Floor of the House the better. Surely the principle that any undertaking given is upheld should be adhered to.
As I understand it, you have a responsibility as Chairman of Ways and Means to vet names which are put forward to be included on the A list of parliamentary agents. I understand that that vetting is to ensure that those agents are people of honour who will adhere to the tradition on private Bills that undertakings given are carried out. If the House allows an undertaking to be breached tonight without any apology or any other action being taken, and if the agents do not come forward--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I am not prepared to allow a debate or a discussion about the credentials of agents. They do not take part in our proceedings, nor do they speak in the Chamber. Any assurances given in the Chamber have been given by an hon. Member or hon. Members, and they are responsible for their words to the House. It is not for me to question the bases of their assurances.
I have been rather more forthcoming than I might normally have been in seeking to explain the basis of a ruling that I have given. The hon. Gentleman is now coming dangerously near to seeking to debate my ruling, and I cannot tolerate that. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to address the motion before the House, the House will hear him.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : I would not want to question your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish merely to make the point that procedures on private Bills are being discredited. That means that hon. Members who are regularly approached by agents asking them to withdraw blocking motions will no longer be able to accept the word of those agents. That is deplorable. I hoped that you could take steps to ensure speedy action on the breach that has occurred with this particular agent.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Once again the hon. Gentleman is making allegations the foundation and substance of which I am not in a position to judge. The assurance which he claims to have been breached was given by an hon. Member in the Chamber. That hon. Member alone is responsible for the credibility or sincerity with which that assurance was given.
I am most reluctant to enter into a debate on my ruling, but surely in the course of a debate, if hon. Members are dissatisfied with a provision of a Bill before the House, they seek an assurance about it on the basis of which they are then prepared to allow the Bill to make progress. If they subsequently find that that assurance has not been fulfilled or was given without sincerity or credibility, they will take that into account in deciding whether the Bill should be allowed to proceed further. It is a matter on which the House will exercise its judgment in the course of our proceedings. I very much hope that we can now get on.
Dr. John Marek (Wrexham) : Perhaps it would be helpful if you Mr. Deputy Speaker, were to allow the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) to explain whether an assurance was given and the reasons for it later when we debate the Bill? Were he to do that we could make progress, as many hon. Members are slightly bemused as to exactly what is going on.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that if he is pursuing the point of order and satisfying the point that has been raised by the Opposition, he should bear it in mind that if he turns his remarks into a speech he may pre-empt his right to speak later? I am glad to allow the House to hear him on the point of order, but if he wishes to reserve the right to reply to any debate on the motion before the House, he would be wise to consider his remarks and perhaps to save them until the end.
Mr. Thorne : Perhaps I should take your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If you think that I am likely to transgress that rule perhaps you will be kind enough to tell me and I will resume my seat immediately.
I shall try to encapsulate the position. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) for warning me that he would raise the matter. I would be grateful if he would refer to the paragraph before those from which he quoted. I said :
"The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) mentioned inoperative machinery and I have answered that point. Passengers pushing prams will be able to pass through the manned barrier."--[ Official Report, 6 February 1989 ; Vol. 146, c. 762.]
I was referring primarily to the manual barrier for those who push prams or have other difficulties. That is the basis on which I was speaking.
Mr. Thorne : It has already been read. I confirm that I was talking primarily about people who have difficulty in getting through the automatic barriers. I should like to make that absolutely clear. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is also concerned that people should have some freedom to choose whether they go through the automatic barriers. That is a rather different matter. People have their tickets checked far more efficiently through the automatic barriers and should therefore be encouraged to use those.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Dubiety was raised by the last comments of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne). I was in the House on that day and the assurance was not taken as relating only to people pushing prams. It was taken as an assurance that everyone would have the choice of using the manual barriers. I will now come to my point of order, as I can see that you are getting very itchy, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
It must be a matter of serious concern that the House was misled in that way. I am not saying that the House was misled deliberately, but I and other hon. Members who were present on that day thought that the assurance was a general assurance for passengers using the barriers. In view of the point that the hon. Member for Ilford, South has just made, the House was misled. The Bill might not have received its Second Reading if we had been given a limited assurance, rather than the general assurance we believed had been given.
In view of the seriousness of the matter and the fact that the assurance goes to the heart of the Bill, our proceedings should be put back from tonight so that the matter can be considered again.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : I have made it clear that no matter how strong, weak, credible or otherwise an assurance given by an hon. Member, it is not a matter for the Chair, but a matter for the House to take into account in forming its judgment about the Question before the House or that may be before the House. It is not a matter for me, as I have made clear several times. We can now move on to debate the Question before the House.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : I am appalled by the behaviour of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne). Obviously, I cannot call him a liar in the House and I shall not do so, but his statement was the most outrageous I
Column 1036have ever heard in the House of Commons. I wrote to him three weeks ago on this point. At no time did he put forward the alibi that he has tried to claim today about prams. His argument was always that there was an alternative available in the present operation, which was that people could ask to go through the manual barriers. If he was really an honourable gentleman, and if he really believed that his undertaking related only to people with prams, he would have made that point to me during the three weeks since we had that correspondence. I am utterly amazed that he should now have made his statement. I am also amazed by the behaviour of the agents, and I will put down a motion for the firm of Sherwood and Co. to be removed from the list of parliamentary agents.
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend is now saying that the promoter of the Bill had three weeks in which to make his position clear, and he was extremely reluctant to get to his feet tonight to produce his off-the-cuff remark. My hon. Friend is telling the House that the promoter has failed for three weeks to clarify the solemn assurance on the barriers he gave to the House. Like my hon. Friend, I am amazed that he chose the last possible moment to open his mouth and produce an explanation that is wholly contrary to that clearly implied in Hansard.
Mr. Bennett : I must make it clear that I am not saying that the hon. Member for Ilford, South did not reply to me in those three weeks, but I am saying that he never brought forward the alibi that he was referring only to prams. This evening is the first time he has mentioned that.
When I had a meeting with London Regional Transport about Westminster station and Victoria station, London Regional Transport never made that point. I find it amazing that the hon. Gentleman should have said what he said tonight. He is responsible for his words in this House, but the parliamentary agents are responsible for the way in which private Bills go through the House. Parliamentary agents who feel that they can treat the House in such a way are not fit to serve as parliamentary agents. I shall table a motion to have Sherwood removed from the list of parliamentary agents who enjoy privileges in the House. The failure of Sherwood to ask the hon. Gentleman to apologise to the House is outrageous and brings into disrepute the way in which we proceed on private Bills.
We rise regularly to object to private Bills. The agents immediately get on to us, find out our reasons for objecting and often, as a result of negotiations, we accept their word as honourable individuals and remove our block. In due course, letters go backwards and forwards, amendments are tabled and other procedures take place in the House. If agents can see an undertaking being given to the House and then broken, we can have no faith in them. The rest of the parliamentary agents on the A list must have a strong interest in having a company such as Sherwood removed from the list as soon as possible, because Sherwood has brought the whole system into disrepute.
I was hoping to talk on Report about the wider issues of the Bill. Most of us have watched the major deterioration of the London Underground system once it was taken away from London Transport, which was made up of elected representatives. Were London Regional Transport acccountable to democratically elected individuals, the present industrial dispute would not be
Column 1037taking place and there would not be an attempt to introduce the ticket barriers, which are so degrading to human beings. People who are rather larger than will fit comfortably through the barriers are forced to make a special request to have the gates opened so that they can go through. I am also certain that an elected body would not have presided over the gross inefficiency and lack of safety that have developed on London Underground.
An elected body would not have come forward with proposals for a penalty fares scheme when it had so obviously alienated the public that it had itself created a situation in which many people felt that they could get their own back on bureaucratic organisation by not paying their fares. London Regional Transport has brought that upon itself. An elected body would also not have behaved so autocratically to the trade unions.
If the penalty fares scheme is to be operated effectively, some of the people collecting penalty fares on trains will collect a considerable amount. If they collect a considerable amount, they have every reason, as a result of the way in which the London Underground has developed, to feel that they may be subject to attack and they can ask legitimately for protection. I believe that the unions have asked for negotiations and for assurances that people collecting penalty fares will be properly protected, but they have not been given those assurances. London Regional Transport, as it is now constituted, feels that it can take no notice of anyone who has a problem and that it can simply push the Bill through the House of Commons with phoney assurances and the hope that the payroll vote will carry the Bill through.
I suggest to London Regional Transport that it should tackle the problem of non-payment differently. It ought to abandon the Bill and put its own house in order. Once it has done that, it can then make a true assessment of how far there is really a major loss of revenue as a result of people not paying their fares.
London Regional Transport should deal first with the question of the morale of people who work on the Underground. I have spoken to two or three people who have been instructed to operate the new gates and their morale has deteriorated further because they have received many complaints and much hassle from the general public, who are upset about them. The total failure to treat reasonably the people working on the stations, issuing tickets and collecting fares, has led to much indifference among those people. A reasonable employer would have considered staff morale first. I am sure that if London Regional Transport had done something to raise the morale of those who issue and collect the tickets on the stations, the number of people not paying fares would have reduced dramatically.
London Regional Transport should also consider passenger morale. As long as passengers feel that London Regional Transport cares very little for them and is simply concerned to make a profit out of them rather than to provide a service, they will feel that they can take it out on London Regional Transport by not paying their fares. Unfortunately, in the end they do not take it out on London Regional Transport ; they take it out on other farepayers because either the service deteriorates or the other farepayers have to increase their contributions.
Column 1038I am certain that if LRT were running a service of which Londoners and the country as a whole could be proud in our capital, there would be a great deal less fare evasion. People would be much happier to pay if they thought that they were getting a good service and good value for money and if they saw that the money that they were paying was being invested to improve the quality of the service and that it was not being used for draconian measures to stop people avoiding paying their fares.
It might solve some of the problems if London Regional Transport also considered the fare structure and the ticket system. It is clear that the multiplicity of tickets is one of the problems. The introduction of the new automatic barriers and their failure to adjust to all the tickets has caused a great deal of difficulty. One would have thought that since London Regional Transport was planning to introduce those barriers it might have been sensible to adapt the tickets so that they could all be used in the barriers before the barriers were introduced rather than afterwards. If hon. Members visit the Thomas Cook transport office in the House, they will find that the tickets issued for hon. Members wishing to go to Heathrow cannot be used in the machines. If London Regional Transport cannot get simple things like that right, one must question its competence to run the service at all. The ticket system and the complexity of the fares clearly add to the difficulties because other European countries with simpler fare structures have a much lower incidence of fares evasion.
London Regional Transport could legitimately have adopted one of two approaches. It could either have encouraged passengers to pay by having tickets checked on the trains, or it could have checked tickets at station exits. Tomorrow night the House will be debating the British Railways (Penalty Fares) Bill. At least British Rail seems to have found a logical solution. It has said, "Let's improve the service to passengers by having free exit from stations with no checks on people entering and leaving the stations. Instead, let's have a system of travelling ticket collectors to check on-train whether the passengers have tickets. Let's then ask for a penalty fare system for those travelling without tickets." That seems a perfectly logical proposal, but London Regional Transport has gone for another approach. It wants a system of penalty fares and travelling ticket collectors, with all the hassle that that will involve on the trains for both the individual passengers and the collectors, and it also wants to take the draconian step of imposing these barriers.
Anyone who has travelled via Westminster station and the other stations where the barrier system is fully implemented can see for themselves the chaos that has been caused. Any train arriving at Westminster from about 8 o'clock in the morning until about 10 o'clock at night produces a substantial number of people. When they come up the steps, they are faced with one barrier that does not work very well and with about three others through which they can pass. When the passengers push their tickets through, some get through the barriers successfully but others get halfway through when the doors come back on them. It can be quite unpleasant when the doors bang against the person. Those people who have tickets without a magnetic strip have to ask one of the station staff standing by the barrier to operate it as though the ticket had a magnetic strip. Those people who find it difficult to pass through the barriers have to ask one of the station operatives to open them.
Column 1039If someone is built like the hon. Member for Rochdale (Sir C. Smith), it might not be difficult to ask the person at the ticket barrier whether he or she would mind opening the gate because if one is the hon. Member for Rochdale, it is fairly obvious that one will not get through the barriers. However, I find it undignified that anyone who is sufficiently large as to find it uncomfortable to go through the barrier should have to ask a gate operative to let him through. We now discover from the hon. Member for Ilford, South that people do not have a right to go through an open gate. Someone pushing a pram will be allowed through and, at the discretion of London Underground, those of a large size might be allowed to go through.
If an individual asks to be allowed through the gate, and shows a valid ticket, I should have thought that at the very least that person should be allowed through. However, London Underground is not prepared to do that because if everybody who asked to walk through were allowed to do so it would become clear that about 95 per cent. of passengers would prefer to go through the gates rather than through the barriers. London Underground is trying to intimidate people. It is certainly humiliating one group of people.
I am sure that most hon. Members can think of people who are rather large and who are not too happy about the fact. Such people will not want to have to ask someone operating the barrier for permission to go through the gates simply because of their size. Pregnant women might also be unhappy about going through the gates, with the chance that, because of the way in which they malfunction, the gate doors will come back on them as they are passing through.
It is unreasonable that any of those individuals should have to explain to a station operative the reason why they do not want to go through the barriers. It is completely unacceptable in a civilised society. It would have been far better if London Underground had accepted that, if it wanted to impose the barriers, as at Westminster, it should at least have given every individual the absolute right to go through a gate rather than through one of the barriers if those individuals do not wish to do so.
From my own observations of the Underground at Euston and at other stations, and from my observations yesterday when London Underground showed me the system, I have noticed that at most stations the system is working reasonably well in that the barriers are there but there is an alternative and people can walk past them at the side. The majority of passengers are choosing to walk through the open gate. The slight reduction in the flow from allowing people to go through the barriers only if they want to do so means that the station operatives can carry out efficient physical checks on the tickets. When I watched what was happening at Victoria station the other morning in the company of people from London Regional Transport, there seemed little evidence of people avoiding paying their fares by passing through the open gate. My observations at Notting Hill and Euston stations reinforce my belief that people are showing valid tickets.
It is a little odd for London Regional Transport to say that it is difficult for the people in the traditional ticket offices to stop and check someone showing a wrong ticket because it is London Regional Transport that has put those people in those little huts. Obviously, it is difficult for them to get out and to try to apprehend somebody who
Column 1040has offered a wrong ticket. If that member of the station staff were not standing in a hut the position would be much more reasonable.
Until London Regional Transport can provide an efficient service that is not disrupted as a result of industrial action, until it can improve the safety and the cleanliness of the Underground, and until it can sort out the appalling mess created by the introduction of the barriers, the House should not allow the Bill to proceed and should insist that undertakings given in the House are adhered to. 8 pm
Mr. Cohen : I, too, believe that we should not proceed further with the Bill tonight. I know that a number of clauses and amendments are before the House. I shall try not to stray on to those but hope to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, later, especially on new clauses 1 and 2, dealing with industrial action.
New clause 1 says :
"No penalty fare scheme shall apply on any day when the operations of the Corporation are subject to industrial action."
That would strike me as a sensible clause, because we all know the chaos that can arise during industrial action.
New clause 2 says :
"No penalty fare scheme may apply to any station where there is not a readily available alternative exit or entrance to the automatic barriers."
I am especially keen to discuss those two clauses. However, we are only debating whether the Bill should again be considered by the House. I do not think that it should, because of the whole business of the assurances that we were given at Second Reading. I spoke in that debate and pointed out the great public unrest about the automatic ticket barriers. I mentioned a number of categories of people who had problems going through the barriers. It was not just women with prams, but pensioners, women with children, whether or not they had prams, who found it difficult to see their children through the barriers and would rather have the freer access, pregnant women and people with luggage.
I mentioned too, the problem of congestion and the fact that the barriers cause even greater queues. There is a serious problem of overcrowding on the Underground anyway. Because London Regional Transport has implemented the Government's policy of forcing fares up, season tickets are very expensive and people are not happy to put them into the barrier and risk losing them.
I draw to the House's attention a letter that was sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) by his constituent, a Ms. S. P. Barnard. She said :
"Dear Mr. Smith,
I wish to bring to your attention yet another hazard of travelling by underground. Last Tuesday lunchtime I was returning to work from visiting Waterloo station and on leaving the Northern line ticket gates my travel- card was stolen.
I was in a hurry and as usual there was a backlog of passengers trying to get out of those death-trap gates. I put my card in after the person in front of me and one card popped up and the man in front took it. I stood there waiting for mine and of course it was too late to do anything when I realised what had happened.
He'd taken mine and his single yellow ticket was in the machine. At first I'd thought my ticket was stuck and after some reluctance, the staff on duty checked the collection box, to no avail. Then they admitted it now happened quite often with these new gates. I was very angry, as you can imagine.
Column 1041After being given the run around about who to see for a refund. L.T. have promised to re-imburse all the tickets I need to buy between now and when it was due to run out, (The following Monday). But what I think should now be done, is that passengers be made aware of the fact that this is a new crime to be aware of when travelling by tube. And not have all the hassle I've had. Why hasn't this crime already been publicised?"
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury immediately wrote to LRT to take up that matter. The barriers were supposed to reduce crime, but this is a new crime arising from their installation.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : The problem is that one cannot be certain whether it is deliberate or accidental. The worst of it is that it will be very difficult to prosecute a person, because one must prove that that individual did not think that it was his ticket coming back. It makes it a most difficult crime to pursue. It is extremely worrying that it will be a growing crime in London.
Mr. Cohen : That is right. It would be virtually impossible to prove it if the person who ended up with the ticket denied that he had stolen it and insisted that it was a mistake. That is a new point, but season tickets were considered at Second Reading. It was in the context of people being worried to put their tickets in the machine for fear of losing them. Pressure was put on for passengers to have freedom of choice in the use of the barriers or the manual gate. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said :
"Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that there will always be an alternative to using the mechanical ticket barriers?"
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), on behalf of the promoters said :
"The intention is that there will always be that option available."--[ Official Report, 6 February 1989 ; Vol. 146, c. 762. The hon. Gentleman was unequivocal about that. However, for the first time today we have heard the hon. Gentleman saying that that only applies to women with prams, which was not the view gained by the House when it gave its approval for the Bill to proceed at Second Reading.
If hon. Members had realised that the choice was being taken away from travellers in that blunt manner, I am not sure that they would have given the Bill a Second Reading. After all, I have stood at elections where the Conservative party kept telling the electorate that it is the party of choice. To be fair to Conservative Members, I believe that many of them are honourable. They actually believe that they are the party of choice, although all the time they are taking money and public services away from people, which reduces choice. They are putting a burden on the people as opposed to giving them choice. I believe that many Conservative Members are in favour of giving people choice and, if they had known that choice was being taken away, I wonder whether they would have been so keen to go through the Lobby.
Dr. Marek : Will my hon. Friend give his opinion on the system used on the Tyne and Wear Metro, where there are turnstiles, but there are no automatic ticket barriers or controls? There is free exit and entry to the Metro, but there is an efficient on-train ad hoc ticket inspection system. Does he feel that the Bill is going about the
Column 1042problem of evasion in the wrong way and that perhaps a system such as that established on the Tyne and Wear metro might be preferable?
Mr. Cohen : That is right. There should be that choice available. By all means let London Transport have efficient systems for people to get in and out of the stations, if people are prepared to use them, but there should be a choice. London Regional Transport is going about it the wrong way and has not learnt lessons from the Tyne and Wear Metro and other systems around the world which have sensible systems.
My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish mentioned that on 5 June at Westminster station the choice to use the barriers or not had been taken away. On 2 June at Euston station staff were brought together almost like a would-be police force to man the ticket barriers and to force passengers to use them, giving them no choice. It is ironic that the staff should be used in that way, because barriers were brought in to cut the number of staff required. It is like the staff being asked to dig their own graves or sign their own redundancy notices. About 12 staff were sent down to the barriers and they stopped everybody and said, "You must use the barriers, you cannot use the manual barrier." That is what happened at Euston on 2 June between 6 and 7 o'clock at night. I had cause to complain to LRT about that.
One respectable passenger--I can vouch for her respectability as she is chairman of the Leyton Labour party--was passing through Euston and she told the staff that she wanted to use the manual barrier. That was a reasonable request, but she was stopped from doing so. The staff demanded of her the reason for her request. She told them that she felt safer and more comfortable going through that manual barrier, but they told her that that was not good enough. The staff told her that if she were disabled they would allow her to go through. Later in their discussions, however, it came out that the disabled are not allowed to travel on the Underground unless they have obtained permission in the first place. I shall be asking questions about that. Clearly the disabled are faced with a Catch-22 situation. LRT has forced the use of the automatic barriers by dismissing every reason suggested for not using them. It has taken away passengers' choice.
I do not believe that we should consider the Bill, as LRT has got its priorities wrong by spending so much money on promoting it. I came across a cutting this week from the publication of the London Hazards Centre, "The Daily Hazard", which said :
"In 1987 we reported on the absurd similarity between the penalties imposed for fare dodging on London Underground and the average fine for employers whose negligence causes the death of a worker--both around £400."
We all know that, increasingly, the safety of LRT is at risk. LRT's priority should be to ensure that safety is improved and it should provide a compensation scheme for accidents to its staff. There should be more important priorities than fare dodgers.
Nobody supports people who dodge paying their fares, which is a criminal offence, but it appears that LRT has got its priorities wrong. About 300 British Transport police operate on LRT and they are immensely overstretched because of crimes of all kinds, particularly serious crimes of violence. Often the police are not on hand to deal with such crimes, because there are not enough of them.
Column 1043I have chased up the Minister to find out the cost of the barriers, but I have been given some evasive answers. Originally the Minister told me that they cost £22 million, but I am now told that various items relating to the computers were not included in that cost. I am now told that it is LRT's responsibility to say how much the barriers cost. I am still awaiting that information from LRT although the national press has reported that the cost is in the region of £165 million. That money would have provided 550 British Transport police for 10 years. Rather than waste any more money on the Bill, that money should be spent on the transport police so that fare dodgers and other more violent criminals on the Tube are caught.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish that money should be spent on making the stations spick and span and a pleasure to visit. If people consider that the transport system is cheap, squalid and nasty they will try to evade paying for it. To clean up the existing squalor would be an incentive to people to pay their fares. The money should also be spent on staffing for the benefit of passengers and the service. It would have been far better if LRT had made safety its priority instead of the nonsense of a Bill before us.
I have studied the statement given by the promoters of the Bill and it does not refer to the trade unions being consulted. The trade unionists, however, are the front line in fare collection. They have not been consulted, but it is they who face violence if they confront someone on the tube and say that that person has not paid his fare.
Dr. Marek : I am a Member sponsored by the National Union of Railwaymen and, as far as I am aware, that union has not been consulted by LRT on any aspect of the Bill, even though it intimated to the management of LRT its worries about attacks on the staff. That is why the Bill is unsatisfactory.