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Column 1192and said that the figures for Network SouthEast alone were estimated at £36 million. There is probably a shortfall of about £50 million over the whole railway network. As has been shown, much of the avoidance takes place over comparatively short journeys. The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) pointed out that my constituency of New Forest comes within the scope of Network SouthEast. I assure him that my honest constituents are only too delighted to see action being taken against those who ride for nothing on the railway system.
Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson : The figures were given to me by British Rail. May I carry the figures a little further before answering the hon. Gentleman's question? We may be talking about annual fare evasion on 20 million journeys. We are discussing short journeys, for which I have given a global figure for evasion of £50 million. Hon. Members have asked how those figures are calculated. On instruction from British Rail, inspectors take part in regular sampling. That procedure is statistically sound, but I entirely recognise the point made by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) that the figures are not detailed and therefore cannot be absolutely correct. Inevitably, they are round figures, but they are causing sufficient concern for British Rail's management to believe that action must be taken.
Mr. Cohen : What evidence has the hon. Gentleman or British Rail to show that this fraudulent behaviour occurs on short journeys? Often when people get to their destination they say, "I got on at the previous stop." That would imply longer journeys. Indeed, the huge figure for fare evasion would imply longer journeys. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's stout defence of the honesty of his constituents, but the implication of his remarks is that they are dishonest. Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson The hon. Gentleman correctly asks how we know that evasion takes place on short journeys. Longer journeys allow more time for ticket inspection, and the trains used have corridor facilities. I well remember when I had the privilege of representing the constituency of Lewisham, West from 1964 to 1966. At that time, trains consisted of single units with no connecting corridors, so obviously there was difficulty in inspecting tickets on the train.
Over the past 12 months, there have been between 3,000 and 4,000 prosecutions for fare evasion under the 1962 Act. We are dealing with a considerable problem, but the many court cases that are necessary to deal with those prosecutions, with all the work that is required to bring them to a conclusion, could be avoided by the penalty fares scheme.
Mr. Snape : The hon. Gentleman referred to "statistically sound" figures. Without wishing to impugn his straightforwardness in putting forward these matters, will he accept that those "statistically sound" figures perhaps were prepared by people within British Rail whose track record for preparing statistics is not the best? I am thinking of those who prepared the statistics for the
Column 1193estimated cost of repairing the Ribblehead viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle line, or those who prepared the figures that British Rail used to justify branch line closures in the 1960s and 1970s. Is it not a fact that all too often British Rail provides figures that are mainly invented and designed only to reinforce its somewhat specious case?
Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson : I listened to the hon. Gentleman's comments with interest. We are discussing one of the last of the great nationalised industries. An outside spectator might be concerned that the industry has been given a rough evening of criticism and comment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's comments are not true. The management of British Rail is doing a good job in difficult circumstances and it is now providing an excellent service for the travelling public. However, there is always room for improvement.
I want now to consider some of the points raised by the hon. Members for Wrexham and for Bradford, South. Several of those points revolved around concerns about the facilities which will be provided to ensure that the scheme works effectively. I want to make it perfectly clear that the passage of this Bill into law will not automatically bring the scheme into operation. The scheme must be activated and British Rail has made it clear that no such activation would be requested until it was totally convinced that the right equipment and the right publicity had been provided to ensure that the travelling public understood the scheme and that the problems that have been referred to of the difficulty in obtaining tickets had been dealt with.
As I explained on Second Reading, there will inevitably be occasions when the travelling public will have difficulty in obtaining tickets. That is why new automatic machines--of which 1,000 are on order--will be brought into play and why the new deferred ticket machine which will accept all coins from 5p to £1 will also be available on station concourses. Therefore, passengers who have not been able to obtain a full ticket, perhaps because of queues, will be absolved from blame if they possess a deferred payment ticket. They will be able to pay the remainder of the ticket price later.
Mr. Snape : The hon. Gentleman has just raised a very important point. When we debated this on Second Reading I understood that the deferred payment machine would not be activated unless it was impossible for passengers to buy tickets at the booking office. Is that wrong, or has there been a change since Second Reading?
Safeguards for passengers who are concerned about whether they are guilty of misdemeanours are contained in clause 4. Those are far-reaching safeguards. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East will recall that I read out a list of possible situations in which a passenger might find himself and it would be wrong of me to read it out again. However, it is important to point out that detailed training will be required of those who will be responsible for carrying out the ticket checks. People checking tickets must listen to the passenger's explanation. They will not automatically say, "You're guilty." There may be reasons why the passenger had difficulty in obtaining a ticket and there may be a sensible explanation. If it is immediately
Column 1194obvious that British Rail is at fault at the ticket office--and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East has just raised this point--that will be taken into consideration before a penalty notice is issued. If a passenger's explanation is suspect, the authorised person will begin to press for details, including the passenger's address. If he is not satisfied, he or she will report the matter to the penalty fares office with a brief statement from the passenger--the passenger still has an opportunity to make his excuse available to the final arbiter. The name and address and other details of the passenger will be checked and only then will a penalty fare notice be issued. The passenger will then be told that he has 21 days to pay. That is another safeguard. Had we had time to consider the amendments, we would have considered one tabled by the hon. Member for Wrexham on that point. It is important to make it crystal clear that no penalty fare notice will be issued until it is found that the circumstances are correct. I would not want any prospective, law-abiding British Rail traveller to feel that he was risking being forced to pay a fine.
Mr. Pike : There is a fear that the genuine passenger who wants to pay the fare will be worried about incurring the penalty fare. The hon. Gentleman said that the scheme cannot be activated until British Rail is satisfied that the ticket machines and staffing systems are correct. Who must the board of British Rail satisfy? Must it satisfy the Secretary of State or the House? It is important to know that.
"It shall be the duty of the Board to secure that the requirements of subsection (3) below with respect to warning notices are met in the case of a train service in relation to travel on which the penalty fare provisions have effect."
Clause 8(3) states :
"A warning notice stating the amount of the penalty fare shall be posted at every station at which persons may start to travel on a train service, in such a position as to be readily visible to prospective passengers and shall (however expressed) indicate the circumstances (as provided in section 4(1) or, as the case may be, 5 of this Act) in which they may be liable to pay a penalty fare." Until those provisions are satisfied, the Secretary of State will not activate the scheme. It is certain that British Rail will not enter into a penalty fare scheme unless the board is satisfied that its passengers--its customers ; those who make its profit-- are sure that the scheme will work. It is important to assure the travelling public that the scheme is designed to help them and to make sure that, when they buy a ticket, they do not pay for those who travel without one.
Reference has been made to the use of automatic gates. There was a danger of comparing British Rail's automatic gates with the barriers that were discussed in last night's debate about LRT. British Rail has no plans to install automatic gates at its stations. Obviously, at a small number of stations they are in joint operational ownership with the tube service, but, as a general rule, British Rail does not intend to install them.
British Rail is opting for the type of open station that is common on the continent of Europe, both east and west. Britain remains almost the only country in Europe, east or west, with the manned barriers to which we have become
Column 1195accustomed. There is no danger of the travelling public being trapped in the way that the hon. Member for Bradford, South suggested.
Unfortunately, we are not likely to complete our consideration of the Bill this evening. I recognise that Opposition Members have reservations about the consultation that has taken place. The letter from the board to the general secretary which the hon. Member for Wrexham read contains answers to many of the questions that have been posed during this debate. I should like to believe that, even if we cannot complete consideration of the Bill this evening, it will be possible to do so swiftly at some other time.
It is in the interests of British Rail and the travelling public to clear up what has frankly become a millstone around the financial management of the board. It really cannot be right for those who honestly purchase a ticket for a journey to have in the back of their mind the knowledge that many of those travelling with them are doing so for nothing, and that, as a result, fares will rise and the service will become less than adequate.
I urge the House to allow the Bill to proceed and for it to pass to the statute book as soon as possible.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : As usual, the House will be grateful to the hon. Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson) for the able and courteous way in which he has dealt with the Bill and the other matters for which he is responsible. I would have risen before him had I realised that he was going to speak when he did. I make no complaint about that, but there are one or two points that I wish to make which have either not been dealt with or have been dealt with inadequately during this debate.
I do not wish to labour the point about statistics and how soundly based they may be, but I repeat, without criticising the principle of nationalised industries--which the hon. Member for New Forest artfully suggested I had done--that the invention of statistics to prove a case is not confined exclusively to the public sector. I am sure that he will agree with that. Many hon. Members, probably from both sides of the House, must be suspicious of the enormous sums which it is regularly alleged are being lost to British Rail through fare evasion.
The fact that fare evasion takes place is unchallengeable. Many hon. Members believe that British Rail assists the fraudulent traveller by its staffing policies and philosophies, particularly on many branch lines.
During last night's debate on London Regional Transport's equivalent of this measure, I put forward some fairly strong views about the management's attempts to justify its consistent policy of demanning the system to save money and please its political masters. The side effects of that demanning, which also apply to British Rail, actively assist those who wish to travel fraudulently. The Bill is supposed to provide a solution to the problem.
The West Midlands passenger transport authority is responsible for operating stopping trains throughout a fairly wide area, from Coventry in the south to Wolverhampton in the north, as well as the branch lines in between. The passenger transport authority was recently concerned about fare evasion and fraudulent travel and, to demonstrate its concern, had considerable and protracted correspondence with British Rail. It frequently requested British Rail to do something about the large number of
Column 1196stations in that area with which, for various reasons--normally staff sickness and inability to provide cover-- British Rail seemed unable to deal.
So concerned was the passenger transport authority that it provided specific funds to try to rectify the problem. The funds are to provide not only extra British Transport police officers to patrol each line in the area for which it is responsible, but a squad of seven additional travelling ticket inspectors. The authority has given me some statistics demonstrating British Rail's lack of action to combat fraudulent travel.
A letter from the office of councillor Phil Bateman, chairman of the West Midlands passenger transport authority, to British Rail quotes paragraph 3 of a report which, under the heading
"Stations not staffed to schedule : 6 weeks 27 March to 7 May 1989",
lists 13 instances of unscheduled stations covering a total of 62 hours. It states :
"West Midlands stations are open for approximately 40,000 hours over a 6- week period. All instances were due to staff sickness exceeding relief cover."
The worst cases mentioned are Northfield and Perry Barr, two surburban stations in the Birmingham area.
The study undertaken by British Rail into the amount of fraudulent travel in the region came up with an estimate--accepted by the passenger transport executive--of £550,000 per annum. That is a considerable sum and many of us would wish such a large amount of fraud to be stopped, but it is nothing like the multi-million pound estimate that has been presented as a justification for the Bill.
Mr. Cohen : My hon. Friend has mentioned a number of stations in his patch in the west midlands. The Government have raised the spectre of privatisation out of spite, because they are trying to attack the trade unions. Would not a number of the stations to which my hon. Friend has referred be threatened with closure, and others suffer reduced services, under privatisation? Rural lines would also be affected, as would some of the less fashionable lines in London, such as the Gospel to Barking Oak line, which runs through my constituency and provides a valuable service. Would not privatisation have implications for penalty fares? Presumably it would mean higher prices and a private police force to collect the fares.
Mr. Snape : My hon. Friend paints a lurid scenario. I may have misheard him--I think that it is Gospel Oak to Barking rather than Barking Oak to Gospel--but, not being an expert on the North London line, I can only surmise that he may be correct.
The West Midlands passenger transport authority is paying a considerable amount to keep open the stations that I mentioned, because of the contribution that local rail services make both to the economic well-being of the west midlands and to alleviating road congestion in the region. If the PTA's contribution was withdrawn and responsibility for the stations became once more that of British Rail--as was the case before the Transport Act 1968--I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's scenario would become reality.
The hon. Member for New Forest will accept that I have cited some figures provided by British Rail and accepted on this occasion by those responsible for paying BR to operate those services. Although the sums are considerable, and we deplore the amount of fraud that
Column 1197takes place in the west midlands, they are not the multi-million pound sums that have been mentioned to justify the Bill.
Like their managerial counterparts in London Transport as was and London Underground Limited as it is now known, British Rail management has contributed towards the whole business of fare evasion. Indeed, when one reads the report entitled "Penalty Fares on Public Transport," to which reference has been made on numerous occasions in these debates, it is difficult to find much reference to BR.
The report, detailed though it is, was compiled almost exclusively as the result of an investigation into London Transport, although some reference is made in the report to other self-contained railways--if I might refer to them in that way--such as the Docklands light railway and the Tyne and Wear Metro. The only reference that I can find to BR to justify this amendment measure appears in paragraph 43, which says :
--that is in addition to the other railway routes to which I have referred, such as the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority routes, the South Yorkshire light railway and the Docklands light railway--
"British Rail are looking into the possibility of a penalty fares scheme. They are aware of the Working Group's deliberations and will be preparing their proposals in the light of this Report." It is worrying to think that the people responsible for compiling that report evidently carried out little, if any, investigation into its impact on BR. Hon. Members who take an interest in these issues will concur with the belief of my hon. Friends and I that there is a big difference between the heavy rail system, as it is known, operated by BR and the small self-contained systems such as the Docklands light railway or the other proposed developments in Yorkshire and Manchester which, desirable though they may be, have not yet come to fruition.
The trouble with BR arises from the long-term and chronic problem of underinvestment at many railway stations. They are, because they were built a long time ago, often dingy, Victorian structures. Although creditable efforts have been made to tidy, clean up and modernise many of them, many of them remain in that dingy state. The fact that the underlying theme of the Bill, like its London Transport counterpart, is designed to justify a further reduction in staff will mean that those dingy, dark, ill-lit stations will be even less likely to be properly manned in the future. The onus and burden of proof for those who travel without tickets will fall particularly on those who decline to loiter for a moment longer than necessary on station platforms when it is necessary to purchase tickets. Assurances were given by the hon. Member for New Forest that where a permit to travel or authority-to-travel ticket is purchased from a machine--
Column 1198Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question put, That the Question be now put :--
The House divided : Ayes 104, Noes 14.
Division No. 269] [10 pm
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Bevan, David Gilroy
Boscawen, Hon Robert
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Buck, Sir Antony
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Emery, Sir Peter
Fishburn, John Dudley
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Hordern, Sir Peter
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Lee, John (Pendle)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Macfarlane, Sir Neil
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Maude, Hon Francis
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Mitchell, Sir David
Moynihan, Hon Colin
Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Porter, David (Waveney)
Rhodes James, Robert
Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Roe, Mrs Marion
Sackville, Hon Tom
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson
Sir Michael McNair-Wilson.
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Marek, Dr John
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Wareing, Robert N.
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Peter L. Pike and
Mr. Harry Cohen.
Question accordingly agreed to.