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If such penalty fare collection is to become part of the job of the staff, one would think that, at the very least, they would receive additional pay, but, in its statement, LRT has not said that it is prepared to pay staff more for their extra onerous task. That is not surpising, as we are already in the middle of industrial action because of the meanness of LRT. It has sought to impose the Government's wage-cut policy on its staff. We all know that the current dispute has been caused because LRT has only offered its staff 7 per cent. while inflation is 8 per cent. and rising. That wage offer is on top of the staff reductions that have been faced year after year and the worsening conditions under which staff must work. Many guards have been taken off trains so the other staff must now take the blame if anything goes wrong, but they receive nothing extra for that.
The workers' industrial action is justified and they have common cause with the passengers who have suffered from worsening conditions and increasing risks to safety. We should support the workers of LRT and put pressure on the Government to settle their justifiable claim so that they receive wages for their onerous extra tasks. Those staff will have to collect the penalty fares and they will undoubtedly risk violence, but the mean LRT board has not offered them a penny for doing so.
Column 1044The House will recall that the chairman of LRT has described the strike action as "ungodly", but that term can also be used to describe LRT. The LRT management is trying to screw down the workers without paying them properly for their onerous extra tasks and it has caused passengers to suffer because of the increasingly squalid conditions. That management policy can only be described as "ungodly". The House should not agree to such a policy, especially as there has been no consultaion with the trade unions. There has also been no consultation with hon. Members.
When we discussed the Bill in the last Session I raised the problem of the possibility of violence to staff. I said then that I had not been consulted and that nobody from LRT had talked to me, a London Member of Parliament. From that day to this, nobody from LRT has told me about the proposals and the fact that they may lead to violence on staff.
Dr. Marek : It would be extremely useful if my hon. Friend would agree that the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) should seek to catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye so that he can explain these matters, rather than the Opposition talking in a vacuum without knowing exactly what is taking place behind the scenes. The hon. Member for Ilford, South may be able to assure us on some of these points and confirm where the division lies between those of us who have caveats about the Bill going ahead and those of us who do not.
I have given a number of reasons for opposing the Bill : the public, hon. Members and trade unions have not been consulted ; there is the problem of the barriers ; and LRT has the wrong priorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish said that when the GLC controlled public transport in London it acted as a democratic channel so that the public could be involved. Now, they are not involved at all. We should consider that factor.
The Bill, like the ticket barriers, is an enormous waste of money and the time of the House, particularly when we bear in mind the real problems facing the Underground. I shall be interested to hear how the hon. Member for Ilford, South can justify the inaction of LRT in those circumstances. I have given a powerful set of reasons why we should abandon the Bill.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : I am sure that in a few moments the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) will take up the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). It is a happy accident that the three London Members come from east London because public transport there is even more important to ordinary people than it is in other parts of the conurbation. That is not surprising because car ownership in our boroughs--Walthamstow, Newham and, possibly, Redbridge-- may be lower than elsewhere. It is also a happy accident that the sponsor of the Bill, the hon. Member for Ilford, South, and I served on the traffic and transport committee of the Greater London council. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes an interest in these matters and has a practical grasp of them. I hope that he will concede, even if he does not always agree with me, that I also try to have a practical grasp of them.
Column 1045It is an anomaly that, due to the excellence of the private Bill procedure of this House, which permits us to consider on the Floor of the House whether a Bill should go further after being in Committee, this Bill is being debated at a proper time and in a proper way, whereas the Government denied the House the opportunity even to discuss the proposals considered at Madrid last week. It is a democratic anomaly which puts the Government in a poor light. It is also due to the Government's actions that hon. Members present this evening, and no less a person than the Minister of State, Department of Transport, are dealing with a subject that should be considered in the GLC county hall across the river. As I think the hon. Member for Ilford, South would agree, this is the sort of issue which was dealt with in a morning's Committee meeting, or maybe over a series of several meetings months, perhaps, after informal presentations from officers of London Regional Transport, questions from committee members and other members of the Greater London Council.
The sort of problems involving barriers and the practicalities of penalty fares, which have been described by my hon. Friend, were dealt with by representatives of London in county hall in a way which did not impinge upon the legislature of the nation. It is extraordinary that we have to bring the Secretary of State for Transport and my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) to the Front Bench in the national legislature to talk about practical and important matters relating to London Regional Transport. I am glad that we have the opportunity to do so but I wish that it could be done in county hall, where it should be, and that the time of the House was not being taken up with this matter tonight. However, we have no alternative, so my remarks tonight will be similar to those which I might have made had I been sitting in that committee as I did 20 years ago.
Is this Bill necessary? I would question LRT officials if they brought such proposals before a committee in county hall. The claim is that London Regional Transport is losing up to £26 million a year through fare evasion. I accede that it may be losing money and the matter may have been dealt with on Second Reading. I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford, South will tell us the basis of that calculation.
If the barriers and the new ticket system are as good as London Regional Transport has claimed, will the loss be reduced by that system--partially effective and offensive though it may be? One would have thought that if LRT were losing that amount of money, the electronic system which it installed would be designed to reduce it without recourse to legislation. Therefore, what is the necessity for the Bill, as well as the barriers? Must we have both? Apparently, both London Regional Transport and the Government say that we should. As a representative of the citizens of London and of the legislators here, I do not see why we should. If the barriers did their job, we would not need the Bill. This matter should be explained. We also need an explanation of the interpretation of the word "penalty". We are soon to have a different sort of penalty fare in London : penalty fares for those who want to travel at peak times. The Government have endorsed that principle. The Prime Minister, from the very seat in
Column 1046which the Minister of State is now sitting, endorsed that principle when asked a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton only 10 days ago. She said that travellers would have to pay more at peak times to pay for better services in general. However, those who pay peak fares will not receive better services, and we object to that.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Does my hon. Friend accept that the introduction of such penalties for people who travel at peak times will cause resentment? That is the sort of thing which motivates people to take out their resentment on the system, either by defacing stations or by trying to cheat on tickets. If the Government behaved in a responsible way and carried the travelling public with them they could do a great deal to encourage people to look after property and dissuade them from trying to evade fares.
Mr. Spearing : My hon. Friend makes an important point, particularly in relation to incipient violence--I am not talking about theft. People's attitude to the transport system is to ask whether it is user-friendly, designed for their convenience and delight or to oppress them. That is an important psychological factor.
I was brought up in the middle and late 1930s when London Regional Transport was a delight to the eye and an exemplar throughout the world of good transport management. That is not so today. The existence of penal fares at peak hours, or penalty fares for alleged fare dodging, will tighten that psychological screw. That is another reason why I ask : should we have this Bill? If London Regional Transport is going to apply penalty fares at peak hours, should we let them have this Bill as part of the general package? We do not have much control over that because the Secretary of State has taken statutory powers relating to the fares structure of London Regional Transport. However, at least the House and representatives of London have some powers over this miserable piece of legislation.
Mr. Cohen : Has my hon. Friend thought about one of the implications of the Government's policy of loading extra fares on people who travel at peak times--the effect on the cost of living index? The increase in fares will be absorbed in the prices index as only a small rise, but this will be an enormous extra burden on people who use the system to travel in peak times, and that will be reflected in their pay claims. The Government will then say that the prices index has risen by only a little and ask these people why they are claiming a great deal more. Is not that a recipe for trouble? 8.30 pm
Mr. Spearing : Indeed. It is penal in the broadest sense. The original instruction that the former Secretary of State for Transport gave LRT was that fares should generally rise in relation to the cost of living index. That policy has now changed because they rose last time by 12 per cent., roughly double the general increase in prices. We do not know the size of the increase being planned by LRT now. Perhaps the Secretary of State will not agree to it, although recently Mr. Wilfrid Newton told London Labour Members of Parliament in reply to my question about whether the principle had been agreed and it was now merely a matter of method, amount and timing, that that
Column 1047was exactly so. I hope that he was wrong. The Minister of State is also a London Member ; I hope that he and the Secretary of State will not permit these penal fares.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton said, public transport costs in London are already leaping ahead of inflation, which itself is too high, and that is inflationary. The Government claim that they believe in fighting inflation, yet they produce it by doubling LRT fares.
In the middle of the last century, the heyday of Victorian probity and enterprise, Parliament in its wisdom laid down the maximum fares for private railway companies. LRT is still a public transport concern--we have not yet privatised it and I hope that we never shall. Although the railway companies may have run only one train a day at these fares, it was called the parliamentary train because there was a maximum fare. Are the Government going back on that relatively enlightened Victorian policy? I suggest that their public transport policy shows that they are.
Will these proposals stop evasion? For the past few moments I may have spoken controversially, but I shall now revert to what I might have said in a county hall committee. We all have a vested interest in stopping fare evasion even if we disagree with the fare structure. The psychology of LRT's anti-fare-dodging measures is not right. Recently LRT produced machines that authorise people to travel, but I am not sure that they are in operation everywhere. If there is no ticket man at a station--I do not blame the staff for that : there are severe shortages--we press a button and receive authority to travel. At our destination, the ticket collectors know where we got on. This good idea has only just been introduced and I do not know whether it is yet fully effective. I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford, South will tell us whether it is. Properly used, the system could cut down some evasion.
The chance of detection also cuts down evasion, as we all know from experience of other areas. The Post Office is a past master of this game. It sends a little van with a revolving aerial around the streets. It does not matter what is inside the van--there might just be a man turning a handle. What matters is that in the next two days people queue up at the Post Office to pay their telly licenses. That is a cost-effective form of ensuring that people do not evade their responsibilities. I have detected nothing like it on London Underground--quite the reverse.
We have argued before that there must be more staff on the platforms and stations. This is one of the reasons why the motormen are going on strike. They know that Government policy is going in the opposite direction of public opinion, and no wonder they get wild and annoyed. As a result the atmosphere is soured and industrial action takes place. There must be more people to check up. The possibility of detection will ensure that people pay their fares or carry the right pass.
I must confess to having been stopped by inspectors on LRT three times in the past year. Curiously enough, it always happened on a Sunday morning. I have only once seen someone checking tickets on a train on a weekday. Inspectors should check tickets at the big interchange stations, just as we pick up people going through Customs. A spot check is cost-effective, time- effective and person power-effective. Under the present system, people on the Underground do not know whether they will be stopped.
I have with me my London Regional Transport pass for three zones. When they were first introduced, the passes
Column 1048showed large numbers which could be easily read. Inspectors or conductors could see at a glance whether the pass holder was eligible to travel. The new passes need fairly close scrutiny to determine the zones. That does not inspire me with confidence in the management, although there may be an explanation for it. The poor chap driving the bus or at the ticket barrier would have to be very good to read the zone numbers. Employees of LRT say that one of their problems is that the new pass is not easily inspected. It is difficult for them if they have to stop people for a while to read the pass, because passengers get annoyed.
Last Sunday week I was on a bus and showed my pass, whereupon I was told that I was out of my zone. I said that the zone had been zone 3 last year, but I was told that the zones had now changed and the one I was in was zone 3a. The conductor told me that the zones had changed last December, so I paid up, and fair enough--up to a point. Confusion in the system does not give people confidence. I have had a complaint from Beckton in my constituency, which contains many new people and houses. The train station, North Woolwich, is in zone 3, but to judge from the boundaries the area is zone 4 for buses. I have written to LRT about this anomaly and no doubt it will provide a curious explanation.
This sort of thing helps neither the passengers nor the poor staff. If they do their job, they get the kickback from the customer ; if they do not do their job, under the present management of London Regional Transport, which is pretty tight on some people, they may be jumped on by a spot--someone in plain clothes--for not doing their job. So the poor old lady or gent who is operating the bus is squeezed. Those are the problems in industrial relations today.
Dr. Marek : I deplore as much as my hon. Friend does the system of different zones and different fares. I wonder whether it is all part of a plan to destabilise a simple, straightforward fare system in London so that the structure may be amenable to privatisation in the unlikely event that the Tory party wins the next election.
Mr. Spearing : I hope not. I have a reputation for seeing under stones things that are not there. My hon. Friend's thesis may be true but I fear that the problems are caused by inefficiency, lack of imagination and an inability to see things from the point of view of the passengers, who happen to be the owners. We talk about customers but the citizens of London are not just customers of London Underground Ltd. or of London Buses ; they are the owners. The Minister is not the owner.
Bus passes do not apply universally as they used to. Under the Transport Act 1985 the traffic commissioners gave permission for minibuses to run through east London ; they do not accept passes, including pensioners' passes. We are beginning to see the break-up of the system. I do not think that the administrative cock-up over zones was deliberate but Government policy on pensioners not being allowed to travel free on certain minibuses is deliberate and is part of the scheme for privatisation. Therefore, old- age pensioners are penalised. If the break-up of the bus system does not allow for universal ticketing, there is discrimination and people are penalised in terms of convenience if not on fares.
Column 1049would I have written to the London boroughs concerned to ask them to extend concessionary fares to privately operated minibuses?
Mr. Spearing : I am glad that the Minister asked that question. Being a relatively new Member, perhaps he does not remember the history of concessionary fares in London. Originally, London boroughs decided whether to give passes to their residents. Some did, mainly the Labour boroughs, and some did not. There was an outcry thoughout London, with people saying that it was ridiculous that concessionary fares depended on which side of the road someone lived or on which party was in the majority in a borough ; everyone demanded that concessionary fares should be issued Londonwide. It may be news to Government Members that that was not the case originally. The responsibility was transferred from the London boroughs to the Greater London council, which was established by the Conservative party as a strategic transport and planning authority for London, and pensioner passes were applicable throughout London.
Mr. Spearing : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out, but the fares could not have applied on an all-London basis without the existence of a body that was strategically necessary for transport and planning, something that the Government denied subsequently. We wanted concessionary fares to remain on an all-London basis but the Conservative party has now produced the anomaly, as the Minister admitted. Route D16 runs through Tower Hamlets and Newham. Does the Minister expect Newham council to provide concessionary fares while others do not?
Mr. Cryer : I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that the Minister's intervention was interesting and revealing. No announcement has been made about the secret letters that the Minister has been touting round London. The Minister has been trying to remedy in secret the damage that the legislation abolishing the GLC achieved in public. The Government are trying to remedy the very policies that the GLC was carrying out amicably until a group of extreme Right wingers tabled a clause to abolish the GLC.
Mr. Spearing : I agree with my hon. Friend. The position is even worse. Because the Government abolished the GLC for all the wrong reasons-- we now see the results in the transport and traffic chaos in London--we have a patchwork system. The minibuses which the Government have encouraged and which are outside the remit of London Buses--probably the public do not know that--have to apply to individual boroughs, as the Minister has admitted, if they want pensioners' passes. That is ridiculous. The Minister is encouraging boroughs which suffer from an unfair rate system to remedy an anomaly that the Government created. That is yet another example of the fares and transport chaos in London.
Whatever the need for dealing with fare dodgers, this penalty fares Bill is ill-fitted for the job. It should be
Column 1050drafted in a way that satisfies the psychology and pride of the people of London, the well-being of those who work on the system and, above all, those who use it daily to travel to work.
Mr. Cryer : It is a pleasure to say a few words on the Bill. I am particularly interested in the statement that the promoters circulated to hon. Members. It sets out the origination of the Bill which was a report of a working group of officials from the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department, London Regional Transport and the Department of Transport.
The group was considering the principles that should apply to a penalty fares scheme on public transport. Unfortunately the report is not in the Vote Office or we could have had ready reference to it. The Library is obtaining a copy for me. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) has a copy. I sought information from the Vote Office. Unfortunately the promoters have not arranged for copies of the report to be in the Vote Office. The Vote Office tells me it may be several days before it can get copies.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : I fear that inadvertently I may have caused the problem. Like my hon. Friend, I read the promoters' statement. I went first to the Vote Office, as he did, and then to the Library to find out whether the report was available. The Library staff kindly and efficiently produced the report for me. Alas, it is the only one available in the building. That explains why my hon. Friend is subject to delay in its provision.
I was interested to note that the Bill started off with a working group of officials. Officials are not elected, directly or indirectly. They are appointees within the Civil Service career structure and it might be argued that they are not the most democratically minded individuals.
I looked again at the promoters' statement to see whether there were, for example, representatives of the people who operate services and who turn out at 4 or 5 in the morning, go down, open the trains, get on the stations, rather than dealing with high quality decisions with cups of Civil Service tea to hand in comfortable rooms with furniture that is well upholstered, like some members of the working party. I cannot see that any representatives of the workers who operate the railway system or the buses- -those who start up the Routemasters at 4.30 am, get out the ticket machines and start the gritty business of meeting the travelling public in the morning and late at night--were involved.
The lack of such people in the working party is a matter of regret. Paragraph 7 in the promoters' statement says :
"The Bill has the support of the Department of Transport and there has been consultation with the Unions representing those who would have to implement the penalty fares scheme."
I am interested to know--I am sure that the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) will tell us--the result of those consultations. I wonder why the promoters are so shy about it. Perhaps the result was glorious and the trade union representatives fell on the necks of the administrators of the scheme and said, "What a wonderful idea. We like meeting angry people in crowded trains to try to impose penalty fares, and this is a challenge." That is the sort of gobbledegook yuppie language that the
Column 1051Government so often use in such circumstances. If that had happened, I should have thought that it would be included in the statement. If it had happened but the promoters had not included it, they would have been remiss. No doubt the hon. Member for Ilford, South will reveal all to us in due course.
Dr. Marek : I do not think that there have been consultations. There certainly were none with the NUR. I am aware of what the promoters' statement says. The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) is refusing to explain these things to us. Would it not have been better if these things had been explained to us in advance?
"The Bill has the support of the Department of Transport and there has been consultation with the Unions representing those who would have to implement the penalty fares scheme"
requires some elucidation. It could refer to those who are to be on the trains, who will have to say to people on a crowded tube train in the morning, "You've not got your ticket and I want a penalty fare, chum"--the conversation that would ensue would be interesting and possibly difficult. It could refer to the people who get the paperwork from the people on the trains, implement it, and record the penalty fare payments, docket them and transfer them to the accounting department. It is not clear, and there would be a difference of view between those two unions.
I suspect that the people who go on the trains to collect the penalty fares do not view the task with relish. I suspect that those who merely administer the scheme would do it simply as another administrative exercise. After all, they are nicely insulated from the public, who will be protesting their innocence and so on. It is possible that that statement covers administrators but not the people who carry out the scheme. I am eagerly anticipating the explanation of the hon. Member for Ilford, South about why that elliptical sentence is included in the statement.
It is a matter of deep regret that the Government chose not to involve the people who are running the services in helping to draw up the scheme. It is an unfortunate characteristic of our society that the people who work, day in day out, at something and spend their lives working to provide a service --in this case, transport--are so rarely consulted on how it should be run. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East has many years' experience of the railways and knows that that is the case. Those who operate the service are always the last to be consulted about changes that affect the operation that they are running.
The promoters should be aware that 99.9 per cent. of those who operate the services have an affection for them, a devotion to the cause of providing a service, an ability and talent to do so and a contribution to make. I am afraid that one of the adversities that we face is a hierarchical system. People appointed by the Secretary of State produce a report in insulated offices in Whitehall and then hand it on to be imposed on the people who are working the system to ensure that it provides a service, and often to cover up the deficiencies of management.
One of the reasons why there is industrial action today is that there has not been adequate consultation because there is a belief in the noxious phrase that the management must manage. That means that management must be able to impose its views on the work force, whatever the views of the majority, and those who do the routine tasks are always the majority. That is not an adequate way to work
Column 1052any system, whether it is a transport system, a factory or anything else. Jimmy Knapp, the NUR leadership and ASLEF are demonstrating that they will not have their negotiating rights trampled on by an arrogant management elite and that they want meaningful consultation rights, and wage negotiations, and decent working conditions negotiated under a proper, democratic and humane system. That is what the argument is about, and it is reflected in an interesting way in the Bill and the statement on behalf of the promoters in support of consideration of the Bill.
The system about which we are talking was imposed from on high--if we consider administrative rooms in Whitehall as being on high. Some people would refer to the ideas they produce as coming from the bowels of the earth. That is the origin of this legislation, so it has some deficiencies. The basic one is that, like all management people, they see their task as "increasing efficiency", which to them means getting rid of people. People are our national asset. They have the ability and the talent to design, to improve and to give value, yet they are the very people that the working party decided should be removed and ticket machines put in their place. There are a number of severe disadvantages in that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) mentioned the breach of faith by the hon. Member for Ilford, South. As will be clear in Hansard, an assurance was given that there would be some access to platforms without having to pass through ticket barriers. Those of us who use London Regional Transport know that that is not the case. When the ticket machines were first installed a gate was always left open, but that usually does not happen now. Quite often all the barriers are in operation and there is no alternative to passing through those barriers. That is very difficult for people with children, prams, pushchairs or baggage. There used to be porters at railway stations, but now, other than at major mainline stations, they have disappeared from the face of the earth. However, there are still ticket collectors and they can give assistance and advice. The change machines do not always work. In my experience the machines that require exact fares work more often than those that give change. That is another inconvenience for travellers. People working at stations can give advice about fares, travel, connections and so on, but the report ignores all that. 9 pm
Dr. Marek : I do not know how the machines work, but I suspect that they are all of the same type. When a machine does not have enough change, the light-emitting diode on top of the machine will change to "exact fare only". My experience is that most machines, and certainly those at Euston, say "exact fare only". It is lucky to find a machine that gives change. We would have more confidence in LRT if it could assure us that all its machines and barriers would be foolproof. If experience of current machines is anything to go by, they are inadequate--indeed, anything that LRT does appears to be inadequate in some way.
Mr. Cryer : The machines will have to be extremely robust. They have been installed and in general use for only a few weeks. There may have been pilot projects, but I have not seen one. With the vast range of LRT stations, it is possible that there has been a pilot project somewhere.
Column 1053The machines must withstand one of the most intensive underground systems in the world, so their margin of safety must be very great if they are to survive the onslaught of such massive use. Like my hon. Friends, I have my reservations about the safety of ticket barriers. If a fire breaks out, such as the tragic and horrible incident at King's Cross, the barriers need to be removed rapidly. The machines and barriers physically reduce the amount of space available for people to get out in an emergency. There is only a matter of seconds, perhaps 120 to 180, to evacuate people from a station.
The fire at King's Cross started at the bottom of an escalator, which acted as a chimney. The draught of air flowing through that chimney rapidly spread the fire. The barriers had to be opened rapidly to allow the people to get out. I wonder whether the new ticket barriers can be rapidly opened or whether they will impede evacuation. King's Cross now has monitors and video cameras surveying the whole of the ticket area. The station also has a central ticket cubicle that is, I suppose, manned while the station is open, as well as a ticket cubicle that is often staffed.
I imagine that London Transport keeps a continuing eye on King's Cross because of the seriousness of the fire that occurred there, which made it the focus of worldwide attention. But we must bear in mind every station, including those at the end of branch lines and which are used much less than King's Cross. I have not seen at those stations the same degree of video monitoring as is in evidence at King's Cross.
Provision must be made for the worst possible case, where there is no supervision and no ticket collectors. Nevertheless, I suppose that with the advent of the Bill, even the last vestiges of that staffing will disappear, and I have severe reservations about the substitution of staff by machines.
The report that started the current trend to automation was published before the King's Cross fire. It is clear that the Bill is a Government measure, one stage removed through London Regional Transport. My guess is that if the King's Cross fire had occurred when the working party report was being prepared, the Bill would not have been produced, the working party would have changed the principles on which it was founded, and the House would not have been required to consider such legislation. It concerns me that LRT is so obdurate and pig-headed that it is not prepared to take into account the lessons learnt from King's Cross and to defer any proposals for several years, until the situation is comprehensively understood. It would be interesting to know from the hon. Member for Ilford, South whether there have been any pilot schemes to assess the reliability of the machinery involved. As I said, it will be subject to a great deal of use, and all machinery wears out. What provision is to be made--on the basis of experience that, of necessity, must be limited--for dismantling, maintaining and overhauling ticket barriers and other equipment? What are London Underground's plans? Will ticket barriers, for example, be removed for routine overhauls or will some be overhauled in situ? If the latter, they must inevitably be taken out of use, which will reduce access to and egress from stations--and egress is the most significant consideration in respect of accidents.
Column 1054The principle on which the Bill is based will make it incumbent on London Transport to install ticket barriers at all stations so that staff can be concentrated on the trains, to collect penalty fares. Once the Bill is enacted, there will no longer be an opportunity to raise questions. One may write a letter to the chairman of London Regional Transport, who is an appointee, and seek information, but it will not be possible to raise matters in public, in the way that we can now on the Floor of this House.
Health and safety hazards also give food for thought. The report of the working party produced in May 1986 was designed to get rid of ticket attendants. We should be told by the sponsor--who, I suspect, does not know --how many ticket attendants will be displaced and put on to trains to collect penalty fares, how many people will be made redundant and what additional maintenance requirement will be imposed on London Regional Transport for the ticket machines.
The maintenance task is likely to be enormous. Every station probably has half a dozen machines ; multiplied by several hundred, that will pose a task of exceptional stringency. Every machine must be working if health and safety standards are to be maintained. If the machines are to be replaced to guarantee maximum access, a given number of machines must be kept in store, overhauled and maintained ready for immediate replacement. If the machines are to be repaired in situ, that is an entirely different matter : a potentially serious hazard will be posed to health and safety at work and to passenger safety, and we should be told about that as well.
The linking of public with private legislation has social implications. This is essentially a Government Bill ; its origin was in the Government working party set up in 1986. Its report was approved by the Secretary of State, who then told London Transport and British Rail to go ahead. Meanwhile, the Government have introduced legislation which provides further hazards.
We know that since the present Government came to office in 1979 violence has increased. Inadequate street lighting caused by cuts in local authority expenditure has caused women to be worried about walking in the streets late at night. I know of no woman who would say that our city streets are safe at all times of day and night. Many women to whom I have spoken have mentioned their fear of walking in the city streets in the dark, especially late at night. Let us suppose that a woman is going to her station and hears footfalls behind her. She must walk along a subway to reach the station : it is ill lit and covered with graffiti. The Elephant and Castle is a case in point. The subway could be seen as a dangerous area--I do not say that it is ; I merely say that it could be. When she reaches the station, the woman may seek safety in the form of a ticket collector or cashier, and find that the station is deserted and devoid of fellow passengers.
There is a machine, but it requires the exact money, and she does not have the right change. That means that she cannot get on the train because a penalty fare is involved. So she turns back and sees the ill-lit corridors behind her with potential danger lurking there.
That woman might have been obliged to take night work because, by the Employment Bill, the Government have removed protection for women against working at
Column 1055night. When a woman applies for a job and is offered night work, she may say, " I do not like night work because I am afraid of walking about late at night, and the shift finishes at 10 pm, when the streets are empty and stations are deserted. The buses do not run frequently because of cuts by the Conservative Government." The employer replies, "That is the job. Take it or leave it." There may be no union at the factory to which the woman can appeal for aid and support, because the Government have been working against trade unions and they want to reduce union membership as much as possible. The woman goes to the Department of Employment saying that she turned the job down. "That is a superficial reason for turning the job down. You are not demonstrating that you are actively seeking work," the official at the Department replies. "I have been for a job," she says. The official says, "Yes, but you turned it down for reasons which do not sound good to us, so we are stopping your benefit under the new Social Security Act."
In other words, women are placed in peril by a combination of events, a third of which we are discussing tonight. It cannot be denied that Government legislation affects millions of women. The removal of protection against night work and the requirement actively to be seeking work are two of the events. The Bill--and British Rail penalty fare proposals on which I hope to speak tomorrow in the House--remove the friendly help and advice of staff at stations in our great city of London.
British Rail management hopes to take the same action at every station throughout the country, so these steps are of universal application. We are debating a measure applying only to LRT, but it is all part of a pattern by which women will become more vulnerable, although men, too, will suffer.
Even if not by design, and even though disparate Departments may be promulgating their own ideas, all this legislation links up. Even if there is no plan for a wholesale reduction in facilities, representing an attack on the standards of protection afforded to the work force, that is the effect of what is being done.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South should agree to halt further consideration of the measure. He should inform those involved that, in the light of circumstances in society, the Bill should be withdrawn and the whole principle enshrined in the 1986 report--of replacing people on stations with machines--reconsidered. People, rather than machines, should be retained.
Considering further the position of women at stations, imagine the plight of a woman with small children, one in a pushchair and the other a toddler. She has the problem of getting through the wretched automatic barriers. She must try to find somebody who can help her, and hope that somebody will be in evidence to come to her aid. My guess is that late at night management will not be all that scrupulous about ensuring that staff are there to open locked gates. Before that lady reaches the gate she will have had to find the exact change for a ticket because the machine that gives change will have broken down and the sign "exact fare only" will be flashing on the screen. As a result of all the flurry and the difficulty she may go on to the train without a ticket. London Regional Transport officials will then say to her, "You haven't got a ticket, so you will have to pay a penalty fare." Meanwhile, her children will be tugging at her skirt. One will have fallen out of its pram and an ice cream will be slithering down the new dress of the toddler who is walking. The mother will
Column 1056have to explain the circumstances to a railway official who, during his walk down the corridor of a crowded train, has had a bit of abuse from two or three people. It is most unsatisfactory.
No hon. Member would dispute that that could happen, yet this is the system that London Regional Transport considers an improvement. At the moment, a woman in that position can say to the ticket collector, "Can you help me with my pushchair?" and he will tell her, "Yes, I'll give you a hand." That happens day in, day out. That will disappear.
It will be a wretched system. It is objectionable that a group of highly placed people in Whitehall should have decided that this is good for people. I wonder how many mothers were members of the working party. Do those members take their children regularly on the Underground or on buses? I suspect that not many mothers were on the working party. How many of its members were trade unionists? According to the promoters' statement, it does not appear that any of them were trade unionists. Neither women with young children nor disabled people were represented on the working party which established this wretched principle that machines should be used instead of people.
The scheme is replete with difficulties for the travelling public. The elite who run London Regional Transport ought to pay more attention to the travelling public. My guess is that the elite--the management of London Regional Transport--are provided with chauffeur-driven cars. The Secretary of State for Transport who established the working group and, when it reported, gave his approval and authority for the scheme to go ahead, goes around in a chauffeur-driven car. He is not given a set of tickets or tokens for the Underground and asked to exchange them for tickets and, when he has time, to use them. I am not sure who is on the working group as they are not listed here.
Mr. Snape : Before my hon. Friend leaves that interesting scenario of the Secretary of State travelling on London Underground, given the problems with the machines that my hon. Friend has outlined so graphically, would the right hon. Gentleman be capable of feeding a ticket into the right slot and making his way through the ticket barrier?
Mr. Cryer : My guess is that in order not to reveal his lack of knowledge of these machines, the Secretary of State would get his private secretary to go ahead and demonstrate that it was all right so that the photographers could make it appear that the Secretary of State for Transport knew what he was doing.
The Secretary of State for Transport has established a working group of officials. If the permanent secretary or a deputy secretary at the Department of Transport were involved, official cars would be available for their use. The permanent secretary will have an official car to take him from his residence to the Department and home again every day. That is a rather cosseted existence for the person who supervises the working group of officials. If all the officials on the working group were permanent secretaries--and I doubt that--they would all be cosseted in that way. We all know that the Secretary of State has a chauffeur-driven Rover. We all know that it is a big Rover for a Secretary of State, a lesser model, probably a Montego, for a Minister of State and a Mini for an
Column 1057Under-Secretary. None the less, they all have chauffeurs. They are supervised by the Prime Minister, who has not set foot inside a railway carriage for years, and who likes to be driven around exclusively in her chauffeur-driven Jaguar.
Dr. Marek : I used to ask an annual question about whether the Prime Minister travelled by British Rail in her official duties. The answer always used to be no. However, two or three years ago the answer was yes. There had been one instance, and it may be that there has been another since then.
Mr. Cryer : I suspect that she does not often go down to Finchley on the tube. Although strictly speaking she should not use the official car for going to Finchley on constituency journeys, my guess is that she fiddles it by arranging an official engagement just beyond Finchley each month so that she can get out, spend 20 minutes there and then get back into the official car and go on to her official engagement. The Prime Minister is still not using the tube or the bus to Finchley. Were she to do so, she would get involved in conversations such as those in which many penalty fare collectors will take part--very heated and bitter discussions- -because she would meet the people who are being adversely affected by the legislation and she does not want to do that. She is not facing up to the difficulties which her legislation encompasses and the specific transport difficulties that are now being created.
It is extremely unfair that the elite in our society should be imposing a system on people claiming that it will recoup some of the fares that are estimated to be lost through fraud each year. The note from the promoters makes that justification. It says that, with all the massive investment of many millions of pounds in new ticket equipment, they will now reduce the millions of pounds lost each year in fare evasion. One of the best ways of reducing fare evasion would be to employ more ticket collectors and to have more spot checks. That would have been better than this massive investment. As I have said several times before--it bears repeating--people are our greatest asset.
The figures for the losses can at the most be estimates. By virtue of the fact that the figures are for fare evasion, we have no guaranteed knowledge that they are accurate.