|Previous Section||Home Page|
Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.-- [Mr. Maclean.] Committee tomorrow.
Dr. John Marek (Wrexham) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was wondering whether the hon. Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson) will delay his comments so that he can reply to questions from Opposition Members. Of course it is in his hands. Sir Patrick McNair- Wilson indicated assent.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : In many respects the Bill is similar to the London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill that we debated last night. The statement produced by the promoters refers to the working party report that we discussed last night. That report made it clear that British Rail was working on a scheme for penalty fares based on the report. Therefore, some of the ground that we cover will be identical.
It is important to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the report which forms the basis of the legislation was drawn-up by people who may not meet the difficulties that a penalty fares scheme may produce. It was extremely difficult to get hold of a copy of the report as no copies are available in the Vote Office--although I have ordered one--and there are only two copies in the Library. That seems to be less than adequate when the Bill being debated by the House is based on that report.
The report deals with the terms of reference to examine London Regional Transport's concerns about penalty fares provisions. The working party consisted of four members of the Department of Transport, one representative from the Home Office, a representative of the Lord Chancellor's Department--curiously enough from the private and international law division--and two representatives of London Regional Transport, the solicitor and the group planning manager. It would be interesting to know whether the members of that committee travel on British Rail because the report was the basis of British Rail's calculations in making its proposals, so it is a very important document for us to consider.
One of my deep regrets is that the Department of Transport did not think it fit to include in that working party any representatives of the trade unions involved. The Minister might argue that it is not usual for outsiders to be included in departmental or
interdepartmental working parties. It may not be usual, but it has occurred. When the previous Labour Government were establishing the Co- operative Development Agency Act 1978, they established a departmental working party which included members from various strands of the co- operative movement, including representatives from working co-operatives organised through the industrial common ownership movement, and from the Co -operative Union. It included a very good cross-section of experience and ability.
Column 1167As it was done on that occasion, I see no reason why the working party that produced the report on penalty fares could not have been similarly extended to include representatives of the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association to represent the people who will administer the scheme, the NUR to represent the people in the ticket offices who will be made redundant, and ASLEF as train drivers will also be involved. If disputes occur on driver-only trains, when the travelling inspector gets on a train to check whether people have paid their fares, inevitably the communication cord may be pulled and the driver may be drawn into the argument.
It would have been useful for the working party to have included all the trade unions representing those who work for British Rail. The fact that the Government did not take the trouble to do that and chose instead to use a group of civil servants and some representatives of the management of London Regional Transport points to the deficiency in the basis of the legislation. It is also a pointer to the Government's heavy-handed attitude in imposing a scheme on British Rail.
It is a sad reflection on the managements of British Rail and London Regional Transport, who are so subservient that they cannot set their faces against those badly thought-out and designed proposals. It is an example of the way in which such schemes are imposed, just as British Rail management is attempting to impose the removal of the national negotiating rights that the NUR and ASLEF have built up over many years. The workers do not want to accept that. That is the kernel of the present dispute, which has been created entirely by the intransigence, obduracy and arrogance of the management of British Rail. Passengers who are inconvenienced should remember that it takes two sides to make a dispute, and although the weight of the press is heavily aimed against the ordinary workers on the railway system, it is the people in the offices and in the executive suites who have chauffeur-driven cars and who seldom use the railways who are creating the difficulties, the confrontation and the strike action.
That brings me back to the membership of the working party and the people who produced the scheme which has been so eagerly taken up by the British Rail management. The people who have taken up the scheme sometimes do not appear to care very much for railways. The management e lite of British Rail are provided with chauffeur-driven cars, although I do not know why they should be when they are running a transport system. I suspect that they rarely travel on the system as ordinary fare-paying passengers and that they use only main-line services and the first-class section of trains when they travel on the railways, which is rare. They do not seem to be the best persons to judge what is best for the travelling passenger.
The reason for this proposal is that when the report was produced in May 1986 it was claimed that £19.5 million was lost in fare revenue, and the figure has now increased to £26 million. The promoters of the Bill will be only too keen to provide the House with information about how the calculations were made. As I understand it, the calculations relate to London Regional Transport, because the report was based on London Regional Transport, but I have no doubt that British Rail will be anxious to provide figures and the basis of the calculations of the amount lost through fare dodgers.
Mr. Cryer : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have made a note that the figure is £36 million for Network SouthEast alone. But where has the figure come from? I used the figure of £26 million for London Regional Transport, although, as I said, I recognise that that figure does not apply to British Rail, which covers a larger area than London Regional Transport. I am concerned about the basis on which this legislation, which will make a massive change, is put forward. We have not so far had an explanation about either London Regional Transport or British Rail. If the figure for Network SouthEast is £36 million, we should know the basis on which that figure was calculated.
The hundreds of millions of pounds of investment nationwide, the redundancies and the difficulties in collecting the penalty fares are all connected with the amount that is being dodged. I hold no brief for people who evade fares. Clearly, we want to maximise the revenue of all public passenger services to provide a better service. That means that everyone is contributing and Labour Members believe strongly in collective provision. However, having identified the problem, the Bill is not necessarily the correct solution ; it may be the worst because it gives rise to a number of problems.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : I agree with my hon. Friend. No Labour Member favours fare evasion and we want to see firm action taken against it. My hon. Friend is also right to say that British Rail has produced no proof for the figure of £36 million lost on Network SouthEast alone. Has my hon. Friend any information about that figure? Does he not think that British Rail should have substantiated it? The figure is big for so small an area. British Rail is almost accusing many people in the south- east of being crooks. That is an appalling insult and a slur on people in the south-east for which British Rail has provided no detailed information.
Mr. Cryer : I refer my hon. Friend to clause 7 of the statement on behalf of the promoters in support of consideration of the Bill, as amended in Committee. The figure quoted is £36 million, to which the hon. Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson) drew attention. The figure refers to Network SouthEast alone. Unfortunately, it is given no credence and seems to have been plucked from the air by British Rail officials, who are keen that this legislation should go through so that British Rail can dispense with the services of a number of employees. British Rail management sees employment not as a valuable asset, but as a nuisance to be dispensed with at every conceivable opportunity. For several years, its policy has been to introduce driver-only trains--and it has removed signal boxes and installed automatic crossings. In every case where that has been done there have been problems, and in some cases lives have been lost.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Is not British Rail making it increasingly difficult to pay one's fare because of reductions in manning? My hon. Friend knows well the East Lancashire line and the Roses line, where most of the stations are unmanned. If one is catching a train to London, it is difficult to pay for a ticket and one often finds
Column 1169that one does not have enough time at Preston to pay for a long-distance fare. British Rail has also reduced manning on many trains, so one often does not have one's ticket checked. People who have no tickets do not have to pay. I have a handful of tickets that have not been clipped either because there has been no ticket collecter on the train or because he has not reached me as there are too many passengers on the train.
Mr. Cryer : As my hon. Friend knows, my wife comes from Darwen in Lancashire, so we frequently make visits across the Pennines. Colne station, which used to be staffed, has been reduced by some high-quality decision of British Rail management to a pile of rubble with a bus shelter in the middle of the platform as the only sign that there is a railway there. There are no staff to sell tickets and people have to buy their tickets on the train. That is often difficult because on crowded trains the ticket dispenser, checker and collecter cannot always get round all the coaches.
Quite apart from the basis of this legislation and the dubious claims put forward, I should have thought that if there was a national scandal of people avoiding fares, the promoters would have made available details of the number of people chased, where they came from and where they were going and the number of prosecutions for the amount of money lost. All that information should have been provided to substantiate British Rail's claims. However, we have been provided with nothing but a bald figure. That shows a certain contempt for the House because the promoters seem to assume that the Bill will be passed as a matter of course so they need not take too much trouble to delve out the information. It is possible, of course, that the promoters do not have that information and are trying, metaphorically, to bluster their way through.
Mr. Cohen : I bring my hon. Friend back to the point about the £36 million a year that British Rail claims is lost through fare evasion on Network SouthEast alone. The hon. Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson) represents a constituency that is in Network SouthEast, but right at the edge. Is British Rail saying that there are many crooks and thieves in the New Forest who refuse to pay their fares? Perhaps they voted for the hon. Member for New Forest. Should not the hon. Gentleman put his house in order in terms of his constituents? That appalling slur on those people has meant that it has fallen to the Opposition to defend them and say that they are basically honest.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) will bear it in mind that the debate is on the motion, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered. His remarks must relate to that motion.
British Rail should provide figures for our consideration. I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for pointing out that we are considering the Bill. British Rail has employed sponsors--who, no doubt, are more generously provided for than British Rail employees--to
Column 1170promote the Bill for our consideration. The sponsors and British Rail have not put the necessary information before us. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) has made a good point, which no doubt the hon. Member for New Forest is bearing in mind so that he can give us information about the basis for the £36 million loss. Labour Members believe in collective provision. We want to ensure that everyone contributes and that there are no fare dodgers. They place a bigger burden on other users of the railway service and the reduction in revenue diminishes the opportunity for investment. Naturally, we are keen that fare dodgers are caught, but is this the right way to go about it? It is not.
I do not want to go too much into the details of the King's Cross disaster because we dealt with that last night in the debate on the London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill. King's Cross was an example of how fire can rapidly take hold, causing loss of life and scarring. It stunned even the most experienced and hardened fire officers. I am sure that there are British Rail stations with similar characteristics--underground passages which can act as chimneys, causing draughts that lead to potential dangers for passengers.
We are talking about the installation of automatic ticket barriers. If they cannot be opened immediately fire breaks out, will passengers be in danger? British Rail may say, "That is unlikely. We have heeded all the warnings after King's Cross." No one expected the King's Cross disaster. Health and safety reports on London Underground had been ignored. ASLEF members who drew attention in a leaflet to the danger of underground fires and the hazards of travel were threatened with the sack by British Rail management. That management has introduced a new rule under which any BR employee who publicly criticises BR faces the penalty of sacking. If all those circumstances are compounded, we may find that fires start because of defective machinery and dangers arise because passengers are impeded when leaving railway premises.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend at an early stage in his interesting analysis of this measure. Is he aware that the circumstances surrounding disciplinary action may soon be worse than he envisaged? Under the proposals, in the brave new Britain of 1989, to abolish national negotiations in the railway industry, an employee who has the temerity to speak to the press about safety or any other matter could face dismissal by his area manager and have no right of appeal.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I again remind the House that the debate is on the motion, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered. If it is decided in the affirmative, the House will go on to consider the amendments. I remind the House that we cannot have a broad debate on railway policy. Hon. Members can discuss whether we should debate what is in the Bill and the amendments that are to come. A broad debate would be out of order.
Mr. Cryer : I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are debating whether the Bill should be further considered and in deploying those arguments we must consider, to some extent, the Bill's contents. I was making the point that the Bill's contents are so important that they should be further considered.
One characteristic of the Bill is the installation of automatic machinery that may impede the egress of passengers in a period of potential danger. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) said that British Rail employees could not draw to the public's attention information about dangerous circumstances, even though they might have drawn it to the attention of various layers of British Rail management. An employee would be sacked it he said to a local newspaper, "This escalator is dangerous. It smokes every now and then. We have put the fires out four or five times. Something should be done about it."
In debating the motion, we should consider whether British Rail management would attempt to interfere if a British Rail employee wanted to raise these issues with his or her Member of Parliament. We must send a clear message that British Rail employee's rights should in no way be curtailed by British Rail management. They should not be prevented from going to their Member of Parliament with information about potentially dangerous circumstances placing passengers in jeopardy or about any other railway matter. Hon. Members will agree that if British Rail management attempted to intimidate employees it would be a potentially serious breach of privilege, and the House would deal with it accordingly.
Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend has made a good point about safety on the railways. There are differences between the London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill, which we considered yesterday, and this motion. I remind my hon. Friend of Mersey Rail, which is a British Rail system. It has a tunnel going right round Liverpool, escalators going up to ground level and gates. I do not think that automatic gates will be installed there. Does my hon. Friend accept that penalty fares introduce a greater risk to safety, because of the associated hassles and controls? Does he agree that, when debating whether we should consider the Bill, one important question is whether under the Bill's provisions the railways will be safe? Will my hon. Friend address himself to that point in due course?
Mr. Cryer : The ramifications of the Bill are enormous. I wonder why the working party produced a solution for our national railway system when we have a well-tried system, to which people are accustomed, that has stood the test of time.
British Rail is using the Bill as an opportunity to get rid of employees. People are our greatest asset. We should have people on platforms checking tickets rather than automatic ticket machines. We are unclear to what extent British Rail will use the powers in the Bill, but once the legislation has been passed the necessary powers will be handed to it. We should therefore be provided with more detailed information than is contained in this sheet and a half of nine scant clauses.
We cannot leave the application of the Bill's powers to the vagaries of British Rail management, which has not always made the right decisions. I recall the introduction of automatic lights on level crossings without barriers. For
Column 1172many years previously, the system was to have manned barriers at level crossings, which physically kept traffic off railways. An early consequence of the introduction of automatic lights was the Hixson level crossing disaster, which occurred because the instructions for the operation of the barriers were defective. A large transformer was caught on the level crossing by a diesel-electric locomotive, thereby causing a serious accident. I use that example to show that, when we are deciding whether the Bill should be considered further, its safety ramifications are enormous and cannot be dismissed lightly.
Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend is on to an extremely good point. When deciding whether the Bill should be further considered, we must be guided by experience. Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that the Government relaxed restrictions on level crossings about 10 years ago? That did not lead to the Hixson disaster, but it led to a disaster at Lockington. Through their policies, the Government were responsible for the deaths of innocent people. Only recently have they realised the follies of their policy and introduced more barriers. We should know why the Government support the Bill. Do they believe that it will lead to public expenditure savings?
The policy of successive British Rail managements has been to get rid of employees. British Rail is now introducing rigid, anti-democratic rules to prevent employees from becoming involved in developing the railways. The Bill is based on the 1986 report of the working party. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East has much experience of working on the railways and is a railway enthusiast. If he were still a British Rail employee, he could not have access to the press without being threatened with dismissal. That British Rail management would not be seeking his advice and experience of many years in different operating capacities is scandalous. Thousands of British Rail employees want to provide a proper public service. They want adequate and improving standards on the railways, yet they are not being consulted.
We must consider the people who will operate under the Bill. The trains on which inspectors will be checking tickets will often be crowded. Inspectors will be involved in heated arguments and there will be difficulties and divisions. Far from improving the image of the railway network, inspectors will be facing enormous difficulties. In my area, trains on the service between Bradford interchange and Leeds and Shipley and Leeds--a station that I frequently use--are always crowded at busy times. People stand in aisles, yet British Rail is seeking powers to employ inspectors to argue with people about whether they have tickets.
The annex to the working party's report gives guidance to inspectors about how to deal with such difficulties. It is nonsense for half a dozen people in a lush room of the bureaucracy in Whitehall to discuss academically how railmen will deal amiably with fraught, anxious passengers. It does not reflect well on British Rail that it is seeking such powers.
I should like to mention how some stations are laid out. One of the platforms at Shipley, which is a triangular
Column 1173station, is a considerable distance from the ticket office. Will machines be placed on all platforms or at a central booking office, such as at Shipley? If people cannot obtain a ticket because the machine is broken or because they do not have the right change, will they miss the train because they are frightened that they may be interrogated by an inspector for not having a ticket? Will British Rail operate a fairly liberal policy and readily accept people's excuses? Will it impose on passengers the same arrogant restrictive nonsense that it imposes on its employees by not allowing them to talk to local newspapers?
It is important that staff are encouraged to take a pride in the railway, and a majority of them do. I speak not as a casual observer but as the founder of the Keighley and Worth Valley railway in Yorkshire. I called its first meeting and did every aspect of work on it from plate laying to firing engines, driving engines and maintenance. I did that from 1961 and negotiated with British Rail until 1982 when pressure of public duties-- alack, alas--forced me off the footplate.
I know the details involved in operating railways. I have come across many hundreds and probably thousands of railwaymen and women who exhibit enthusiasm for their network. However, under the terms of this Bill, they would be removed from stations and replaced by ticket machines. It would be preferable if we put all the ticket machines in British Rail's boardroom and got the board of British Rail out on to the stations to deal with the public. Then we might get better decisions from management.
In considering whether we should give further consideration to the Bill, we must bear in mind the removal of staff from stations. In our further consideration of the Bill, we cannot exclude other legislation because all this links together. For example, the Social Security Bill contains new regulations requiring people to show that they are actively seeking work. The Opposition argued against that and said it would be difficult to show that someone was actively seeking work. We thought that the proposal was unreasonable and that the test of availability for work, which has operated for many years, was entirely adequate.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman once more that the Bill has had its Second Reading. It has been amended in Committee and we are now discussing whether it should be further considered. The hon. Gentleman's points about the Social Security Bill do not arise on this Bill and he would be out of order if he were to discuss them now.
Mr. Cryer : My point is related directly to the Bill. This Bill allows penalties to be imposed on passengers who do not have tickets. I understand that British Rail will introduce automatic ticket machines throughout the length and breadth of the land and will have more open stations. Passengers will be obliged to obtain tickets. In discussing whether the Bill should have further consideration, we must bear in mind a woman who is offered a night job which she cannot refuse because of the legislation to which I have just referred, but which I will not mention again. It would be dangerous for a woman to
Column 1174work at night if she had to travel on British Rail. The recent employment legislation has removed the protection that prevented women from being employed at night.
I understand why you objected to my previous line of argument, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At first sight, the legislation to which I referred and this Bill do not appear to be linked. However, further consideration of the Bill must involve other legislation because its effects might mean that a woman who had finished night work might require assistance on a station platform late at night. She might hear footfalls in the dark and be afraid. I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are as concerned as I am about the increase in violence since the Government came to office in 1979. Many women are worried about it. A woman coming off night duty might seek assistance and could expect help in a staffed station. However, this Bill will remove staff from stations.
Occasionally staff are not helpful. However, in the main, 99.9 per cent. of staff will help passengers. They help women with prams. They help passengers on to and off trains and they open gates. They also help disabled people. But they are going to be replaced by ticket machines.
I believe that the Bill should be deferred. Having been over the pros and cons of the Bill for only a relatively brief time, I believe that it would probably be better if the sponsor went back to British Rail and said, "I do not think the time is right for a wholesale change in the operation of British Rail."
The Bill gives powers to British Rail management. However, that management has been inconsistent in its operation and has shown itself--even before the present dispute--to be arrogant and prepared to impose its views, whatever their merits, on the rank and file staff--the train drivers, cleaners and station operators. The management's attitude has resulted in the present confrontation and strike action and I lay the responsibility for that entirely at the door of BR management-- [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East has just said from a sedentary position, the Government are leaning on the management. I am always worried by the way in which BR management gives in so easily to the Government and does not exercise its independent--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member. We want to get the debate off to a good start. I remind him and the House again that the Bill is concerned solely with penalty fares for people without a valid ticket. We are now considering whether this comparatively narrow Bill should be considered and whether we should get on to the amendments that have been tabled mostly by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is quite out of order to extend the debate beyond those comparatively narrow issues.
Mr. Cryer : I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for taking so much time to give me guidance. I was tempted by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East who muttered something from a sedentary position. I wanted that point to be in Hansard and I am sure that you appreciate that.
Mr. Cohen : Does my hon. Friend accept that one reason why the Bill should not be considered tonight is that British Rail is out of date in respect of modern management trends? I draw my hon. Friend's attention to British Telecom, which has recently adopted a scheme
Column 1175whereby if it does not provide a service, its customers can claim a refund. In effect, that is a penalty fare in the opposite direction. Should that not apply to British Rail management? Should it not be in the Bill? Should not the sponsor take the Bill back? If British Rail wants to impose penalty fares on people who avoid buying tickets, the management should pay a penalty to the customer when it is wrong.
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend's argument boils down to the idea that we should give further consideration to the Bill because he suggests an amendment to reverse the concept of penalty fares so that if trains do not arrive a bonus voucher should be given to passengers. That is a very good idea. However, having considered the pros and cons of whether we should further examine the Bill, and bearing in mind my hon. Friend's ingenious proposal, I believe that it may be better if the promoter took the Bill back and suggested that my hon. Friend's ideas would be useful in highlighting the unfair burden which the Bill proposes for passengers. On those grounds, I would have reservations about giving the Bill further consideration.
Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) made another good point about the negative penalty fare that could be imposed upon management. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) take that idea on board? A few years ago, I travelled on the TGV between Paris and Lyon. A striking steward blocked the line, and the train had to be diverted. When that happened, the conductor came around handing the equivalent of a fiver back to everybody on the train because of the delay. Such things can be done. Penalty fares should be considered with that in mind.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : There is nothing about penalty fares for management in the Bill. The Bill deals with penalty fares for passengers. The hon. Gentleman's remark would have been perfectly in order on Second Reading, but it is not in order in this debate. We must deal with the Bill as it is, as amended, whether it should be further considered and whether we should discuss the amendments. 8 pm
Mr. Cryer : On whether the Bill should be further considered, which is what we are debating--it is an important item--the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) is outside the terms of the Bill, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as helpfully as always, have pointed out. That reinforces my belief that we should give the Bill further consideration. My hon. Friend's point about refunds to passengers on the TGV should be incorporated in the Bill so that we can give it proper consideration. The Bill is stunted. Unfortunately, no amendment has been tabled to cover that point. That demonstrates the advantages of discussing such issues and of several minds coming together.
Second Reading is some time away, and the Bill will go to a private Bill Committee which, as we know, is not like a Committee that deals with a public Bill where Bills are scrutinised by, perhaps, 20 or 30 hon. Members in Committees that are open to the public. Private Bill Committees consist of a handful of people--say four or five--so we do not get the same sort of input as we do with public Bills.
Column 1176Although I cannot discuss the details of the TGV experience, when the conductor handed out refunds, I believe that we should incorporate an amendment to balance the Bill so that passengers have some quid pro quo for the additional difficulties. We accept that the penalties should be imposed ; the question is how. Additional penalties are being faced by passengers in difficult circumstances. Innocent people are harassed if they do not have a ticket. Additional powers will be given. My hon. Friends argue that the Bill should not be given further consideration. British Rail is seeking these powers too early and without proper consideration. It should be able to take advantage of our debates, and, one would hope, reintroduce the Bill in a new form. Therefore, it might be better if we did not give the Bill further consideration at this stage.
Dr. Marek : I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) had to say. He made some useful points that we should consider before deciding to consider the Bill. This Bill is better than the one that we had before us yesterday.
There are mitigating circumstances in the Bill. By and large, there are no automatic barriers at British Rail stations--or, rather, I cannot remember whether there are any. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) will contradict me if I am wrong. British Rail may want to introduce automatic barriers at some stage, and it may be possible to do so without further
legislation--London Regional Transport was able to introduce automatic barriers without legislation--and most people would then consider this Bill as bad as the one that we considered yesterday.
Mr. Cohen : My hon. Friend will know that I have strongly objected to automatic ticket barriers for several reasons, some of which I explained yesterday. I should be greatly concerned if, as my hon. Friend said, British Rail is considering such barriers. Has he heard any hint that that is the case? Many people have said that such barriers do not work and are a waste of money. The public deplore them. On behalf of the House, will my hon. Friend say to British Rail management, "No barriers"?
Dr. Marek : We do not want barriers on British Rail. I assure my hon. Friend that we do not need them. British Rail tickets now pass through London Regional Transport barriers. This matter is directly related to penalty fares, safety and whether the installation of barriers is a proper provision of service. Would barriers make British Rail--whether it is underground, as in Merseyside, or above ground, as in most other parts of the country--safer or less safe? That is the central question that we should address.
As I said, British Rail tickets now go through London Regional Transport barriers. If those tickets have a magnetic strip, they will open the gates. It is not inconceivable that, in three or four years, tickets may have an implanted code on the back, showing whether they are blue saver tickets, white saver tickets, first-class tickets, or single or return tickets. All sorts of information could be implanted on the back of a ticket. There may be proposals for ticket collecting at King's Cross, Euston, Paddington, Waterloo and other major stations to be done by automatic ticket machines. I would not expect the sponsor
Column 1177of the Bill, the hon. Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson), to have an answer to that at his fingertips, but the matter must be considered. I fear that, if that procedure is introduced, it will place this Bill on a par with the one that we considered yesterday. I compliment the hon. Member for New Forest on being assiduous in his duty and, on more than one occasion, going to his advisers outside the House. Of course we cannot take any notice of them inside the House. I hope that he will reply to the debate before time runs out in a couple of hours. If he can do that, it would compare favourably with the performance of the sponsor of yesterday's Bill, who did not consult his advisers. Perhaps he knew all the answers anyway. He moved the closure of the debate to which he did not reply. This Bill is on a happier path than the Bill that we discussed last night.
Several amendments have been tabled. If we decide to consider the Bill, we will be able to consider them. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South talked about the impact of one or two amendments. I thoroughly approve of the amendment to be moved by the Bill's promoters. If permission is given to go into a restricted area or not to have a current ticket, it should be given not by the person providing the service, but by the person "controlling". That is the word used in the amendment, which is extremely sensible and would enable the Bill to work that little bit better if the House decides to give it its blessing and send it on its way.
Unfortunately, my favourable comments cannot be directed towards the Minister's performance. He is writing and I hope that he is writing something suitable about the Bill and about the debate that has taken place so far. I hope that he will be able to respond positively, or even negatively, this evening. Whether or not he agrees with us is a different matter. What is important is that he should give a constructive response. Certainly, he did not do that yesterday and I would hate him to repeat his performance tonight. I think that he spoke for one minute--
In yesterday's debate, the level of fare evasion was raised, and it has already been raised tonight. That is another central theme in the Bill, and if we are to consider the Bill--
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo) : I want to be entirely sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that I am not the Bill's sponsor. I have already expressed the Government's general support for the Bill and I said that the matters raised during last night's debate were matters for the Bill's sponsor, not the Minister. The Minister had little to add on whether the Bill should be considered further.
Dr. Marek : I welcome that response, for which I am grateful. It may be that the point that I wish to raise this evening and which I raised last night will be answered. It certainly was not answered yesterday. The Minister, perhaps quite rightly, did not answer it and the Bill's sponsor did not seek to speak.
I wish to take up the issue of the level of fare evasion. If the level is not great, it is hardly worth considering the
Column 1178Bill any further. Equally, if the level of evasion is such that considerable extra expenditure would be incurred in combating it and bringing it down to what the sponsor would deem an acceptable level, it would not make economic or any other sense for the promoters to pursue the Bill. The costs involved would exceed the likely return and it would not be worth our while to give further consideration to the Bill. I hope that the hon. Member for New Forest will reply, and that when he does he will address this matter.
How were the figures showing the level of evasion arrived at? What sampling techniques were used? These questions must be answered so that the House is able to make a judgment. It was on this point that I criticised the Minister. I apologise if my criticism was wrongly directed and should have been aimed at the sponsor, whose duty it was to respond. The Minister said :
"Both London Regional Transport and British Rail lose considerable amounts of money from people travelling on their services without having paid the correct fare or any fare at all"--[ Official Report, 28 June 1989 ; Vol. 155, c. 1057.]
However, he did not amplify that statement.