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Mr. Cohen : It is not just the amounts, and the proof of how they were arrived at, which we need to know before we can give consideration to the Bill ; we also need to know the reasons for the evasion. The promoters' statement contains no attempt to consider the possible reasons for the amounts, let alone proof of whether they are correct. Does my hon. Friend consider that we should have received more information before considering the matter in a more detailed way?
Dr. Marek : Yes, my hon. Friend is right. I was going to address this issue later in my remarks. There is a lack of information. The promoters' statement gives a background to the Bill and we have received the working party's reports. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South has left his report here for the rest of us to consider. I should certainly like to see it at some stage, although I have a rough idea of what it contains.
We must consider whether the House is able to give a judgment on the Bill which is good enough for the average man in the street to rely on. At the end of the day, we are here to represent our constituents and the public who must be able to rely on us and to know that we have the information on which to base our judgment, and then be able to use our judgment in the most constructive way. I shall return to the central issue of evasion. The Minister did not spend much time justifying the need for the Bill on the grounds of the amount of evasion. I hope that either the Minister or the hon. Member for New Forest will spend more time tonight giving us the statistics on which the Bill is founded.
Yesterday, I said that one problem of this form of Government was that it was oppositional, in that we face each other and have to try to score points off each other. It would be a great advantage to the country if, instead of doing that at the consideration stage of a private Bill, which is not a completely political measure--I can think of other measures which are more political--the Minister could ask British Rail and London Regional Transport for the statistics. We must satisfy ourselves about the statistics before we support the Bill and ensure that there is nothing secret about them. I would have been delighted if the
Column 1179Minister had invited us or our agents to come to the Department of Transport, where we would be given every opportunity to see the figures. We would then have been able to exercise our judgment when we spoke in the House.
Unfortunately, the Minister did not take up my request, and did not even reply to it. It may be, as the Minister said, that I should have asked the sponsor of the Bill. It would be useful if the hon. Member for New Forest could persuade British Rail to open the books and show us the sampling techniques used, how the statistics were acquired, over how many days, on which lines and how accurate the estimate was. I think that it was estimated that £36 million was lost in revenue every year. That is a lot of money and if it is the correct estimate it shows that we have a society that we would not wish for. It would be far better for everyone to be honest and to get into the habit of being honest. One way of getting into that habit is to realise that if we are dishonest we are likely to be caught and will have to pay a penalty fare. Bearing that in mind, it would seem that we would all want to speed the Bill on its way. However, it is not as simple as that, because there are disadvantages to it.
Mr. Cohen : Advertisements put out regularly by British Rail refer to fare evaders getting a criminal record. Would someone who paid a penalty fare automatically gain such a record? Is there not a danger of information going awry, and would not the possibility of a court appearance be a more effective deterrent than on-the-spot penalties?
Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, but I am not sure that I am able to answer it with authority. A system of prosecution might be more effective, but I saw the penalty-fare system working on the excellent Tyne and Wear Metro when I was in Newcastle upon Tyne earlier this week, with spot checks being made on the trains. Although the system is called the Metro, the trains travel overground and the system, which is run by the local authority, is to all intents and purposes a railway system.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt from Newcastle. The carriages of the Metro trains contained large notices saying that anyone caught by an inspector without having paid the proper fare would face a penalty of, I believe, £5 if the fare was paid within seven days and £10 if it was not. No doubt offenders could subsequently be prosecuted ; they were certainly asked for their names and addresses. I have not enough experience to know whether the system works : perhaps the Minister knows, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who is an expert in such matters, may also be able to help.
There are ticket machines on the Tyne and Wear Metro, and passengers are, to an extent, honour bound to travel with a valid ticket. There is, of course, a limit to how far the system could be translated to British Rail. The maximum fare on the Tyne and Wear Metro is £1 or £2, and there are ample opportunities for the purchase of day tickets and, no doubt, tickets for a longer period. The fare structure on British Rail is a different matter : a single first-class ticket from Newcastle to London, for instance, costs nearly £70, and a second-class ticket nearly £50. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that the penalty-fare system is working on the Tyne and Wear Metro.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South said that the working party had not consulted the railway unions. It is sad that those who control the service should
Column 1180have felt that they could decide on the best way of introducing a penalty-fare system without consulting those who would have to operate it. That is one of the faults of British industry in general--but I am sure that I should be ruled out of order if I dwelt on any other aspect of British industry. It is a pity that the consultative document did not benefit from the experience and active participation of employees. I should add that I speak as a Member sponsored by the National Union of Railwaymen.
The difference between this Bill and the London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill is that in the last month or so there has been some consultation--late in the day, but none the less welcome--between British Rail management and the unions. I have a copy of a letter written a few days ago to the general secretary of the NUR by the director of Network SouthEast. As it is not confidential, I may read extracts from it to help hon. Members make up their minds about the Bill. It shows that there has been an attempt at consultation, although it may be too little too late. Other matters, of course, are currently worrying the NUR and British Rail management--but I shall not stray on to that ground either.
If employees can be brought into the consultation--even at this late stage- -if an undertaking can be given that the system will operate in a certain way, although there is no such undertaking in the Bill, and if in the end the NUR is satisfied, I am sure that it will say the same as us : "If the Bill cuts down on evasion and leads to a better society, we are for it."
Mr. Cohen : I am sure that the railwaymen would say that, but would they not also say that if they are to be responsible for the collection of penalty fares they will expect to be paid for that responsibility, and also that they do not want any redundancies? Is that, perhaps, one of the reasons why British Rail embarked on consultation so late in the day-- because it would have to give a commitment on both counts? Does my hon. Friend think that that is why London Regional Transport and London Underground did not consult at all--because they are even meaner in those respects?
Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend may well be right ; I do not know. I am not saying that I expect the hon. Member for New Forest to be able to answer such questions, but if he happens to know the answer it would be useful to hear it.
It may not be just management that is meaner. There is a paymaster whose representatives sit on the Conservative Benches. They may say that the 7 per cent. is not a magic figure that has come out of a hat, but has been arrived at independently by various bodies. Many hon. Members, however, believe the facts to be slightly different from those presented by the Government or in the faithful press, which renders whatever the Government may say as absolute truth. We are a little cleverer than that in the House.
I am placing the most favourable possible construction on recent events. If the consultation is successful, I shall be happy to withdraw even amendments that I feel, with good reason, should be made. I shall do so later rather than now, because I hope that we shall consider the Bill and that in time I shall be able to speak to my amendments.
I must, however, get some points straight if the Bill is to be considered. Not only London Underground but British Rail has automatic ticket machines. We must consider the whole issue of the reliability of equipment
Column 1181provided in the past by British Rail and assess whether--should the Bill be passed and an activating order made by the Minister for certain lines--the automatic ticket machines that are to be installed will be maintained to the high degree promised by BR. If they fail to work, will maintenance staff be on hand within a few minutes, failing which will automatic "permission to travel" machines be on hand?
Mr. Pike : My hon. Friend will be aware of the number of occasions on the Underground and at other LRT facilities when machines display "No change given" signs. That often puts all the machines out of use, unless the traveller is prepared to pay well in excess of the fare for the journey. Frequently the offices at BR stations will not be open to enable the traveller to buy a ticket.
Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend makes an important point. LRT might say that the ticket office will always be open, and that might be the case. Unfortunately, however, one could find Murphy's law in operation, and at the very time when the machines break down, the official in the ticket office has three or four Americans and one or two Japanese visitors wishing to purchase tourist cards for the week, and the traveller knows that there will be no chance for perhaps 15 minutes of his obtaining a ticket. There are usually several ticket machines in operation in LRT locations. With BR, on the other hand--my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East will correct me if I am wrong--there will be only one machine at a station vending tickets automatically.
I appreciate that BR sets service standards. BR says that ticket offices must be open and that people should be able to buy tickets within a few minutes. Can we, using our judgment, say that British Rail will--if the Bill becomes law--service and maintain the machines to a standard which will ensure that any departure from total availability will be so rare that not I nor my hon. Friends the Members for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) will have reason to complain?
I fear that LRT and BR would fail that test now. Certainly the Underground ticket machines would fail the test because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley pointed out, "Exact fare only" is a sign which the machines display all too frequently. That means that they have not been serviced properly in that they do not have sufficient change in them.
Mr. Cohen : The Government insist that the lowest tender for maintenance must be accepted. BR might find itself, in this privatised world, with a cowboy contractor servicing and maintaining its machines. In those circumstances, the automatic machines could not possibly be in operation for 99 per cent., let alone 100 per cent., of the time.
Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, even if it does not apply to BR's willingness to maintain the ticket machines so that they are available all the time. If the machines are not working, the passenger who turns up at a station with only a few minutes to spare before his train is due to depart will face a dilemma. If the machine is not working and the authority to travel machine has not been installed or has run out of paper, he must consider whether to board the train and risk having to convince an
Column 1182authorised person--with an explanation that he must deliver within 10 or 20 days, as the Bill lays down--that he had no alternative, with the possibility of being landed with a penalty fare and, even worse, a criminal record.
Mr. Cohen : A person in that position might decide to jump on the train because he has a pressing appointment. With the cuts in service that are being made, there could be a long delay before his next train. That passenger may have the intention of paying at the other end. He may have no intention of evading the fare. That raises a whole new implication for the penalty fare concept because it implies an assumption on the part of the traveller to pay at the other end. Should that not be recognised in the Bill?
Dr. Marek : I tabled an amendment to that effect, but because it would have involved BR proving an intention it was not selected for debate. I was not surprised at that, because it is difficult to prove an intention. Usually such an issue has to be decided by the Court of Appeal. At the lower level with which we are concerned, the traveller is in a dilemma. He may be in a hurry--in the south-east people are, generally speaking, in more of a hurry than they are elsewhere--and he is faced with the awful decision whether or not to get on the train. Let us not forget that with InterCity trains the guard will have an awful job trying to get through the whole train to check tickets. If one has jumped on to an InterCity train and is at the back end of a second class, or in a first class compartment-- depending, of course, on which way through the train the guard is going-- one may get away without paying any fare.
But suppose one has an authority-to-travel ticket or, even worse, no ticket and one must provide an explanation to an authorised person, the guard in the case I am citing. The job of the guard going through a crowded train to check tickets will be almost impossible. On occasions it is impossible already. I cannot imagine how, on crowded trains, that type of situation can be avoided.
Deadlock will occur if there are, say, half a dozen people with authority- to-travel tickets and other people explaining how there were numbers of people at the ticket office or that the automatic machine did not work, or that there was some emergency involving the staff, so that they simply got on the train. Some travellers might want blue saver return tickets, others might want executive tickets, while others might want tickets to proceed to the continent. I do not see how a guard, faced with his other duties, will be able to cope with all that ticket writing and explanation assessing.
How will these issues be addressed by BR on crowded InterCity services, let alone if there has been a breakdown at some starter stations where there have been a dozen or more people wanting tickets and they have been unable to obtain them before commencing their journeys?
Mr. Pike : Another problem with the Bill is the increasing use by British Rail of what it calls open stations. I believe that Preston station is to be made open. British Rail is gradually removing ticket barriers, opening up shopping areas and encouraging people to use the refreshment facilities on the station. Will not such open stations encourage people to get on trains without tickets?
Column 1183any train without a ticket. My hon Friend may view that with dismay, but within three or four minutes a guard comes along asking for a ticket. He is not left by himself--I have seen four guards on some of these trains, and they provide a proper service. However, if there are to be open stations--I am aghast by what my hon. Friend has just said--will the trains be properly staffed and serviced by British Rail employees? I need a lot of convincing.
Mr. Cohen : My hon. Friend spoke about the various types of ticket and I can see the problems involved in that. Did my hon. Friend see the article by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), the deputy leader of the Opposition, in The Guardian last weekend? My right hon. Friend asked for toast and was told by a British Rail employee, "Sorry, sir, you are not a first-class passenger." My right hon. Friend replied, "Actually I am." The British Rail employee said, "You still can't have toast because you are not having the full breakfast."
Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend's example shows the inability of the privatised service to provide proper facilities for passengers. Trusthouse Forte now runs the catering service, so questions about that should be addressed to the Minister.
The employees of British Rail must be sure about the ticket machines. Will they be properly serviced? Will they be functioning? Will "permission to travel" machines issue tickets and will tickets, which should be available all the time, be unavailable not less than 0.0001 per cent. of the working year? If we could be satisfied of that, that would overcome the first of the 12 problems that we have to consider before we decide whether to consider the Bill. Automatic ticket machines are often inoperative. This must happen, because nobody can expect a 100 per cent. operating rate for any ticket machine or "permission to travel" machine or even 100 per cent. availability of booking staff behind the booking window, because emergencies happen. It would be wrong to insist that British Rail has a standard of 100 per cent., although it must have a standard close to that. If something goes wrong, will booking staff be available immediately to be drafted in to where the problem is, to keep the sale of tickets going? It is vital that the answer to that is yes, because if it were not, that would raise many problems and many people would have to make decisions about whether to travel without valid tickets and be liable to penalty fares, or miss their train.
I should like the hon. Member for New Forest to say something about that. What will happen if an emergency affects the availability of booking hall staff? Many stations have only one person in the booking office. My station of Wrexham has only one little window and usually only one person is there issuing tickets. That employee might not be able to get to the office, perhaps for a silly reason such as oversleeping--we have all done that. What will happen if he does not open the booking hall and the "permission to travel" machine happens to jam at the same time?
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The hon. Member for New Forest must assure me that such problems will occur only 0.0001 per cent. of the time, and justify that record. One needs a bit more than just an assurance. Too often British Rail has said that it will do certain things, or the Secretary of State for Transport has said that he is setting passenger service standards for British Rail, but years go by and they are not achieved. That is not necessarily because British Rail does not want to achieve them, but it is under the constraints of finance. Therefore, we need a commitment that booking staff will be drafted in and people will not have to make such difficult decisions.
The phrase "authorised person" is dotted about throughout the Bill and it would be interesting to know who an authorised person is. Is it a guard, a booking clerk, an inspector, or anybody else working on the railway? All could be an authorised person, but they will need extra training. When staff have to deal with the public, training is important, and British Rail must realise that. The authorised person must have on-the-job training to help him to decide how to handle these issues. British Rail will give him authority, but training is another important aspect.
Let us take the example of a person waiting, with only three or four minutes left before his train is due and the ticket machine is not working and the booking clerk is not available. That person has to decide whether to risk a penalty fare. However, if an authorised person were available he could make the decision. He could say, "Hang on, you've got three minutes before the train goes and the booking clerk will be back in one minute and will be able to give you a ticket, and I shall make sure that the train does not go." On the other hand, the authorised person should also have the power and authority to say, "Four or five people are waiting and the platform is over the bridge and 50 yards down the track so you'd better go now because I can't guarantee that you'll get a ticket. However, you've been here for a few minutes and in those circumstances, it is reasonable to say that it is our failure and I give you authorisation to go. I will make sure that the authorisation I've given is logged properly at the station so that if you are asked by another authorised person why you do not have a permission to travel ticket' you can make the relevant statement and it will be backed up by the log that I shall make and the permission that I am giving you." If the Bill is passed an amendment to allow that will have to be made to it.
Not every railway employee is trained to deal with members of the public. Some stations have only a few railway employees and they have to deal with many things. I should like an assurance from the hon. Member for New Forest that on-the-job training will be given so that staff are taught how to handle the public and to minimise aggravating circumstances.
It is also important that a different type of on-the-job training is given to authorised persons who control tickets on trains or in restricted areas to make sure that they know how to minimise violence should a person be found not to be travelling with valid authority to travel. It is not unknown for people who have had too much to drink to be on certain trains on certain lines at certain times of the week. Guards need training to cope with such people. If any British Rail employee thinks that there is even a remote risk of violence as a result of asking for a ticket, I
Column 1185would advise that employee not to ask for the ticket but to leave it to the British Transport police to sort out the matter at the next station
If a guard asks a person for his authority to travel, if it is not produced and if the guard has to levy a penalty fare, he must be trained on the best way to do it. I think that the guards should work in pairs rather than singly. I am not sure that I am competent at this stage of the debate to judge the issue. I should be grateful if the hon. Member for New Forest could tell us something about that. If the Bill goes through and penalty fares are to be charged, there should be radio communication between guards or authorised persons who have to exact the penalty fares. There will be a real threat to British Rail employees. There should be a panic button so that British Rail employees would be assured that the train would stop at the next station where there would be an adequate complement of British Transport police to deal with trouble. I am not saying that we are a violent nation and that there will be trouble all the time, but if people who may be violent, perhaps because of alcohol addiction, do not have at the back of their minds the knowledge that they will be caught, put in a cell overnight and perhaps charged, they will take liberties with British Rail staff. No one wants that to happen. An important way of ensuring that it does not happen is to have radio-controlled equipment, panic buttons and a proper complement of British Transport police available to go to stations where trouble may occur. If publicity were given to such incidents, the number would decline.
At this stage I need to have confidence that British Rail would have the equipment and the people available. I do not have that confidence. We need more than an assurance. We need to know the detailed plans that British Rail has for the employment of extra British Transport police, for on-the- job training and for radios and panic buttons to be provided. I welcome the fact that such equipment is being introduced, but more detail is needed.
Wages and salaries are also important. I am not referring to the 7 per cent. pay dispute, but if staff are to be given extra duties they will expect to be remunerated accordingly. I am not asking staff to hold British Rail or the travelling public to ransom by saying that they will not operate the penalty fare scheme unless they get an astronomical amount for doing so. The staff are not asking for that, but they are asking for a little more simply because the job will result in more hassle since people do not like paying penalty fares. Staff will have to do more on trains in checking tickets and authorities to travel, and in issuing tickets if passengers have a valid explanation. Depending on which side of the bed people get out of in the morning, they are more likely to argue the toss. That will put an extra burden on staff. I shall not dwell too long on the need for extra remuneration. No doubt the hon. Member for New Forest cannot say that everything has been agreed, but I hope that he will go back to British Rail management to point out that that is another central issue which has to be solved. The staff must have confidence that if the Bill becomes an Act they will get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. No one can ask for more. That is all that the railway employees are asking for.
The next point has already been partly covered. I do not want to delay the House too long, but authorised persons should be conversant with the full range of operating duties. As time goes on there are fewer and fewer
Column 1186employees on British Rail. Because of that, the job that any person has to do multiplies. Any person on a station will have to understand and cope with the new scheme. This fits in with the requirement for on-the-job training. I do not want to repeat what I have said, but British Rail staff will have to be conversant with many more things. A person who works on the platform of a station may not know all the intricacies of tickets ; he may not know whether a ticket machine has broken down or why the booking office is not manned. The ticket office is not always near the gate to the area where a person will be liable to a penalty fare if he is found without valid authority to travel. A lot of education and training will be necessary. I hope that British Rail will make sure that its staff know exactly what they are doing.
We need more British Transport police. I suspect that over the years the number of British Transport police has been reduced. It is only recently that the number has increased. The number of British Transport police in Holyhead has been cut, yet those men serve the line all the way to Crewe. That cannot be right. The certainty or the near-certainty of transgressors being caught--those who are anti-social, violent or who cheat--is the best deterrent. I should like to have some assurances from the hon. Member for New Forest that British Rail takes that matter seriously.
Mr. Cohen : This is an important point. The public's perception of safety and fare evasion is bad. Is my hon. Friend aware that the British Transport police undertook a survey at Fenchurch street of the public's perception of those matters, but that has been covered up. The British Rail board has refused to publish that information. Is not that a scandal? Unless that information comes out into the open, such matters cannot be dealt with, and we will not be able to take the necessary steps, such as having more police, to make sure that the system is safer. That has repercussions for the Bill. If the British Rail board is so secretive on such an important matter, how do we know that its figures and its rationale are right in relation to penalty fares?
Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend is right. I criticised the Government earlier for not being open about their statistics, and British Rail falls into the same category. There is nothing to hide. The British travelling public are not second-class passengers. British voters are not second-class citizens until the day comes to vote. They should be treated with respect and given the information. There should be nothing secret. The hon. Member for New Forest has heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton has said. I hope that such information will be released in the interests of better discussion and a better judgment of the Bill.
Another matter that should be in the Bill but is not is a provision for the review of penalties for fare evasion. I am no expert on Home Office matters, but violent members of the public who assault someone often seem to receive only a minor penalty. In contrast, a person who fraudulently fiddles £1 million from the City of London usually gets off and goes to Majorca or the Bahamas. I had better not insult any country, so I withdraw those names. Some--not any of us--may say, "If you can get away with
Column 1187it, good luck to you." We should try to inculcate into people the belief that they should be social and not try to get away with it. Extra staff would mean a greater certainty of detection. But it is no good if, at the end of the day, those who are caught only get a scolding from the judge or magistrate who says, "Naughty lad, go away and don't come back again." They will know that they can do the same again with impunity. Such a sentence does not deter a certain type of person. It may be that I am wrong about that. I shall take advice to see whether anybody has any experience of that, but it will be useful to consider that when we debate the amendments.
Another important matter is publicity. Many members of the public will not know about the Bill, despite our having considered it in Committee and its having passed all its stages in the House, perhaps leaving this Chamber with one small amendment to go to the other place.
The Bill says something about notices being prominently displayed. I should like an assurance that such notices will not only be displayed and be visible to the public but be comprehensible. In the past, private railway companies and even British Rail were very good at producing notices packed with small print about rules and regulations affecting people intending to travel on the railway, and nobody ever read them. Nevertheless, if anyone transgressed, the rules and regulations were pointed out--but by then it was too late, because ignorance is no defence in law.
If the Bill is to make progress, it must provide for such notices to be easily understood not only by the public at large but by those who are not as conversant with reading as others, or the traveller in a hurry who only has time to glance at the information once or twice. The promoters of the Bill should explain what types of notices will be produced, how many will be displayed, and where, so that we may be convinced that no one can truthfully say, "I did not know the rules. I did not see any notice. I am innocent. How dare you ask me for a penalty fare." I can imagine such arguments being made, but we should try to avoid that likelihood. The promoters should say something about the publicity that will be given at every station to which an activating order will apply.
I suggest to the promoters that any person convicted of assault should be banned from travelling on the railways for five years or some other appropriate period. Such a provision might cut down the number of assaults, particularly if convictions are given widespread publicity. If that is done, I suspect that we shall have a better Bill, a better railway system, and a better society.
I turn to the positive aspects of the Bill, and quote from a letter from Mr. Chris Green, director of Network SouthEast, to Mr. Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen : "As you may know, this Bill comes up for consideration in the House of Commons on Thursday evening this week, 29 June. The Bill was reported from the Unopposed Bills Committee on 19 April with a few minor amendments to the drafting, following points made earlier in the Commons debate.
Dr. Marek has tabled a number of further amendments to the Bill, with the likely effect of delaying or blocking its progress, or disabling its provisions."
I certainly do not wish to do that. I hope that I have made my position clear.
Although we may not have time tonight to consider the Bill, I hope that my remarks will be taken seriously. As we
Column 1188all know, private Bills can be considered at 2.30 pm in the afternoon very expeditiously. I hope that my points will be satisfactorily dealt with, so that British Rail's employees will not be confronted by any problems. If so, I shall do my utmost to ensure that the Bill gets a fair wind, even if it cannot be entirely dealt with tonight.
The letter continues :
"I recognise that this reflects the concerns of your Union about the possible implications for the legislation on members engaged in revenue protection work."
That is right, but I have tabled amendments because I believe that they should be made. The letter then says :
"We have had earlier discussions on the Network SouthEast strategy for revenue protection, in which Penalty Fares form an essential part, and I regret that it has not, in present circumstances, been possible to resume or conclude such discussions, but it would be our intention to do so as soon as the climate is favourable." I welcome unreservedly that statement. It is generous. All hon. Members want the Bill to become law. Nobody should be able to evade paying the proper fare. Mr. Chris Green then says :
"I should like to reemphasise the purpose of the legislation as we see it. The aims are i) to recover a significant proportion of the revenue currently lost through fare evasion for lack of a proper ticketing discipline."
If that is one of the purposes of the Bill, that is right. We ought to be told how much money is being lost, whether the estimates we have heard about tonight are accurate and whether there will be a proper ticketing discipline. Many of the points that both I and my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South have made are directed at that point. However, to put it bluntly, can we trust British Rail to do it properly, if the Bill becomes law? The letter continues : "ii) to undertake ticket checks in a more effective manner and one that allows customer service and access to stations to be improved." The word "effective" can hide many evils. The word means different things to different people. The Government would think it effective to close down the whole railway system and spend no public money on it at all. That is one example of an effective policy from the Government's point of view.
Ticket checks have to be made properly. I have drawn attention to the problems that ticket collectors will have to cope with on crowded InterCity trains. Ticket collectors may have a multiplicity of jobs to do, simply because tickets are not available at certain stations. What will be done to make ticket checks effective? I understand the spirit of the letter, but I need to be convinced that action will follow if the Bill becomes law. Ticket checks must also be in a manner
"that allows customer service and access to stations to be improved."
The same comments apply to that statement. I understand the spirit that lies behind it, but does it mean that customers will suffer no traumatic experiences at barriers or with guards when they try to explain why they could not obtain a ticket for their journey? If I could be convinced of that, it would remove one of the important mental obstacles that I have to the Bill. The letter continues : "iii) to create conditions in which ticket examining staff have a realistic and more rewarding task, and with their security improved."
Again I agree with the spirit that lies behind that statement. Everybody wants the morale of British Rail staff to be high, but it is necessary for the staff to have a fair wage if their morale is to be high. That is a basic
Column 1189necessity. To improve their morale, an agreement has to be reached under which British Rail staff feel that they will receive the right remuneration for the additional jobs that they will have to do. Of course, conditions will be created whereby ticket examining staff will have a realistic and more rewarding task but it must not be a more harassed and harrowing task in which they are liable to be assaulted. That means that those possibilities must not be in the forefront of the minds of those staff when they check tickets or permissions to travel. We need to be satisfied about that. 9.15 pm
I absolutely agree with what the director of Network SouthEast said in his letter, but we need to put a bit of flesh on the bones. The letter continued :
"You will know that we are already embarking on a substantial investment in improved ticketing facilities. We are also giving a great deal of thought to the staffing aspects of revenue protection, particularly in terms of staff training."
That is an important point which I have mentioned, and I am extremely pleased that it is included in the letter.
The letter continued :
"Staffing levels and remuneration will also be an important matter for further consideration prior to implementation of any Penalty Fares scheme. We also take most seriously the problem of staff security. It is accepted that there are conditions in which it is undesirable for ticket examining staff to work on their own. Penalty fares, by operating on a spot check' basis for shorter journeys (and it is only these journeys to which Penalty Fares in effect apply), will allow us to organise our ticket examiners in teams." That is absolutely vital. I tabled an amendment providing that penalty fares can be levied only by an authorised person in the presence of another authorised person. If ticket examiners are to be organised in teams, I shall be very happy to accept that undertaking and, subject to what the hon. Member for New Forest says, I shall withdraw my amendment forthwith on that assurance.
The letter went on :
"This will enhance both their effectiveness"--
that is the ticket examiners--
"and their own security. There is an opportunity here to improve on the present arrangements in this respect, and it is one that will be lost if the Penalty Fares Bill were to fail."
I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton will see any other intention in the letter, and I hope that he will give it careful consideration, but, as far as I can see, there is an entirely laudable intention to carry out the aims set out in the letter.
Mr. Cohen : Many of the elements in that letter are laudable, particularly the suggestion that ticket examiners should work in teams because of the risks involved. After yesterday's debate when an assurance that we had been given earlier was suddenly limited so that only women in prams could go through the manual gate, when previously we had been assured that anybody would have the freedom to choose, I am worried that we will get an assurance from the sponsor of the Bill that what is in the letter stands, and there will be teams of collectors, but later that suggestion will be thrown out the window and become worthless and staff will have to work alone in dangerous circumstances.
Dr. Marek : I agree with my hon. Friend. I very much hope that the attitude taken by the promoters of the LRT Bill is not the same as that taken by British Rail on this Bill. I have no letter or copy of a letter, and I do not think
Column 1190that any other hon. Member received an equivalent letter from London Regional Transport. I understand that no consultation took place between London Regional Transport and its employees, through the unions that represent them. But some consultation has taken place on this Bill. I shall finish discussing the letter and then I shall conclude my remarks as I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. The letter continues :
"We appreciate that there are a number of practical matters to be resolved with staff before any Penalty Fares scheme can be introduced, but the concept is one that is, we believe, in interests of the staff, our customers and the industry. This is a view supported by the users groups."
This may be a slight question, but it would be useful if the hon. Member for New Forest could tell us which users' groups support this scheme and whether they have caveats about any aspects of it. That will probably help the House.
The last paragraph of the letter says :
"In summary, I believe Penalty Fares legislation will enable us to recover significant revenue which would otherwise be lost, to improve security for both customers and staff, and potentially offer more rewarding work. We would wish to arrange formal consultation as soon as we are able, but in the meantime I believe the possible failure of the current legislation would present a significant lost opportunity both for the industry and its staff."
Under ideal conditions, I should like to see a Bill on penalty fares introduced, but at this stage there are great hurdles to be overcome before that could be done.
Although I may have sounded a bit optimistic in the past 10 minutes, I will now bring myself down to reality. The omens are not good. Although consultation took place, it did not take place when the original consultation document was drawn up. In other areas, consultation between British Rail and its staff is perfunctory. The system of consultation between British Rail and its staff was good in the past, but it has not been used recently by British Rail management. That has been the problem. It is a great pity that the employees were not brought into the consultation from its inception so that a proper Bill could have been fashioned. After all, it is the employees who will have to operate the system and understand it. They could forewarn management of any problems.
I have already referred to the other omens that are not so good, so I shall mention them only briefly now. British Rail has much to do to convince me that it will maintain the machines properly and that the authority-to- travel machines will always be working. It has much to do to convince me that there will always be someone in the booking office and that people will always be able to buy tickets. All that requires money. In the past 10 years, finance has always been in short supply because the Government do not believe in spending money on public services. British Rail is an agent of the Government in that respect.
As a legislature, we are debating whether to give consideration to the Bill, so British Rail has a different duty. It can say that it cannot give such assurances because it has to cut down on the maintenance of machines, escalators and other areas. If it does that, the outlook will be extremely bleak. I hope that British Rail will say that it wants the Bill because it believes that the gains in terms of lower fare evasion would be worth the running costs of having proper machines in order, making arrangements for them to be properly maintained and ensuring that booking clerks were in place. British Rail could say to us, who are the legislature, that it guarantees that
Column 1191maintenance will be tip-top and that tickets will be available at all stations. I hope that British Rail will explain the parameters of the scheme and the way in which it will set about introducing it. It is no good British Rail saying merely that it will introduce the scheme and hope that we will be satisfied. Previous experiences have always led to disappointment. British Rail needs to say how it will carry out the scheme and what resources it will spend on the system to ensure that it will be carried out properly.
British Rail must ensure that staff have high morale, which means that they must have a fair day's pay for a fair day's work in the operation of the system. I want to be satisfied on that point. We cannot negotiate the matter here, because it is the wrong place, but I want to be satisfied on that before the Bill receives its Third Reading. There must be adequate safeguards for staff and the number of assaults should decrease. Enough equipment should be supplied and the necessary action must be taken to reduce the number of assaults. I hope that the hon. Member for New Forest understands the apprehension that I and others feel. We would basically like the Bill if all the conditions were right. I am a little pessimistic about achieving that and I wait with interest to hear the hon. Gentleman.
I remind the House that the Bill has been before Parliament for more than 18 months. It had an unopposed Second Reading in the other place on 2 March 1988. No petitions were deposited against it in the House of Commons and on 6 February this year it was given its Second Reading in this place. The Bill, as amended, was reported from the Unopposed Bills Committee on 19 April. It has the support of the Department of Transport. As the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) pointed out from a letter that he read out, consultations are taking place with the general secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen. The Bill is not new. It has been discussed over a long period. At its heart lies this simple question : do fare-paying passengers want to pay for those who cheat and go without tickets? That question must be resolved.
The hon. Member for Wrexham pointed out in the early part of his remarks that he welcomed the idea that the Bill should be considered, but he was more realistic in his closing remarks when he pointed out that that consideration would not take place this evening. I have a nasty feeling that, regardless of what I say, that will not happen. Two options are available. One is that British Rail should collect the correct fare from fare-paying passengers. The other is that it should institute criminal proceedings against those who try to avoid payment. Those proceedings can be brought, as was made clear on Second Reading, under the Regulation of Railways Act 1889 and the attendant section 67 of the Transport Act 1962. The purpose of the Bill is to move away from those cumbersome criminal proceedings towards a penalty fare scheme which can be much quicker and avoid the time-wasting and costs of pursuing matters through the courts. The questions which were posed tonight on the extent of fare avoidance were dealt with in detail on Second Reading in February. I remind the House of the skeleton of those figures. I corrected the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), who is not in his place now,