Jim Dowd (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab): On redeploying staff from ticket offices, the crux of the matter is that increasing visibility is incompatible with losing the best part of 1,000 front-line jobs that deal with the London travelling public. It is not just those with special needs and disabilities who will be affected

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by this proposal; every person travelling on the London underground will suffer a degraded level of service as a result of these proposals.

John McDonnell rose—

Andrew Rosindell (in the Chair): Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that others wish to speak in this debate. The Front-Bench spokesmen will begin speaking at 3.40 pm. That leaves us with only half an hour for other Members to participate, so will he please draw his comments to a close?

John McDonnell: I will conclude by quickly refuting some more of TfL’s arguments. TfL said that other countries’ underground systems manage without staff or ticket offices. The London underground has won international recognition and awards largely due to having station staff and a good service; many other metros do not. If we level the service down, it will undermine the whole level of service. In Washington, which removed all staff and moved to a fully automated system, the press, after another accident, called the lack of safety the “price of parsimony”. TfL said that new technology means that the London underground needs fewer staff. New technology can improve the London underground, but only if it is used alongside, not instead of, staffing. Too often, TfL uses increased mechanisation as an excuse for getting rid of jobs.

Frankly, we need some clarity on all this. The Minister has a role to play in what goes on in London. This debate is an opportunity for us to ask him to intervene. Will he clarify exactly what the discussions were between the Government and the Mayor that led to the decision to make these cuts in this way? Ministers have a role to play and one thing the Minister could do is impress on the Mayor that there has been no public consultation to date on these cuts. It would be helpful if he joined us and urged the Mayor to consult Londoners. We are making a simple request: listen to Londoners. The Minister might be able to help us get some clarity on the contradictory statements by Ministers and the Mayor on the equality impact assessment.

I am really worried about safety. The Minister has a role to play in meeting the Mayor to look at what assessment has been made of safety in light of the threats of terrorist attacks and the potential for accidents. The Mayor has not met the unions for six years. Will the Minister join us in urging the Mayor to meet the unions? Secretaries of State and Ministers of this Government meet trade unions almost daily, including the TUC, the general secretaries, and others from other unions. The Mayor should at least do that, too. He owes that debt to the unions that represent these staff. The Minister could play a valuable role here. If he does not, London MPs will have to play it. We will join in with those campaigns, with passengers and with trade unions, to try to ensure that the staff are protected and our ticket offices stay open.

3.14 pm

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): I had not planned to speak in this debate, but the picture painted by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) differs in almost every respect from the briefing I have had from London Underground. I hope that the Minister will be able to extract the facts when he responds to the debate.

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I am an enormous fan of the London underground. I use the tube all the time and it is by far the easiest way of getting round London. It is quicker than buses and is certainly quicker than a car or taxi. I am someone who gets lost very readily at ground level, but I know exactly where I am on the tube. I have four stations in my constituency. Although they are not underground, they are the last four stations on the District line.

Some 1.2 billion journeys were made on the London underground last year. It is an enormous task to get that many people from A to B efficiently, effectively and safely. There are some 3.5 million journeys every day. I pay tribute to the exceptional standards of customer service provided by London Underground during the London Olympics last year. That was a great success and a feather in its cap. It is planning to introduce a new 24-hour service from 2015, and I know from travelling late at night on the underground that the trains are always full. If someone was not wearing a watch, they would not know that it was late at night; it could be any time of day. There is a demand for the service.

The proposals will see more staff in public areas, which is where the tube customers need them. Several scenarios have been described in which passengers will need personal intervention, help or advice from personnel on the stations—passengers such as women travelling alone at night, of whom I am one. I do not happen to feel unsafe, but some people might. Other scenarios include terrorist attacks, people falling on to the line—it is rare, but unfortunately it does happen from time to time—wheelchair users needing help or advice, someone collapsing or falling ill on a station, and someone who is autistic needing things explained to them if they do not understand. In all those scenarios, what is needed is advice, which is more readily available under these proposals. Staff will be in the ticket hall or on the platforms—in the public areas of the stations—rather than behind glass at the ticket office. In those scenarios, the proposals will be an improvement on the current situation.

As we have heard, there are many ways to buy tickets and only 3% of journeys involve a visit to the ticket office. If there were more staff in the ticket hall who were more accessible and could be spoken to, person to person, passengers’ problems might be resolved without the need to go to the ticket office. London Underground said:

“Our core commitment is that all stations will be staffed and controlled at all times when trains are running and that there will be more staff visible and available to help customers.”

That sounds like the sort of thing that is needed and is an improvement on current circumstances. I am not clear why it is being opposed. The briefing continued:

“The current ‘turn up and go’ assistance service for disabled and visually impaired passengers and the disability training given to staff, will continue.”

One thing puzzles me. I have heard a lot from Opposition Members about staff cuts, but London Underground’s briefing states:

“We have made a firm commitment to the staff affected by these changes that no compulsory redundancies will be made and it is our intention that there will be a job for everyone who wants to stay working with LU and who is willing to embrace change.”

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I assume that “embrace change” means transferring from back-office jobs and ticket offices, and being available for passengers in public areas, and that sounds like an improvement to the service. From what I have read, the changes will be an improvement, rather than detrimental. The real point of difference is on whether there will be staff cuts, and the briefing from London Underground says that there will be no compulsory redundancies.

To conclude, I quote the London chamber of commerce and industry, which said:

“London businesses want the Tube to provide the best customer service possible.”

We all want that; everyone would agree on that. It continued:

“In an era where less than three percent of Tube journeys involve a visit to a ticket office, it makes sense that this service is provided by staff at ticket machines and on the gateline, not stuck behind a glass panel. LCCI understands London Underground’s practical reforms will increase the number of staff interacting with the public, no station will be left unstaffed.”

I hope that the Minister will extract the facts from the very different account we have heard, so that we understand exactly what is proposed.

3.19 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): As we have heard, 3.5 million journeys are made on the tube every day. Millions of Londoners use the tube every day, and, next to housing, public transport is one of the most important issues for ordinary Londoners’ health and well-being. Londoners have been fortunate: under the visionary stewardship of Ken Livingstone, first as leader of the Greater London Council and then as Mayor of London, millions were invested in London Underground, to do up stations and for new services—notably the Overground line, of which I am a happy user every day. I pay my respects to the people who staff Haggerston station. I congratulate Sir Peter Hendy, whose stewardship of London Underground in good times and bad has been exemplary. The way he delivered and kept London moving during the Olympics has been noted on all sides. Perhaps one day a statue will be raised to him—by public subscription, of course, not paid for by taxpayers.

Until now, I should have said that Transport for London has been able to withstand the worst that Boris Johnson could try to do to it; but now it is proposed, in one fell swoop and without consultation, to close every single ticket office. I listened to the explanations read from the Transport for London briefing of why that is a good idea; but they sounded like the views of people who do not use the underground. People who use it will have seen the queues outside ticket offices every day, particularly on a Monday morning. What are the people who queue up going to do? People who use the underground will know how often the machines do not work or gobble up money; they will understand that even in a relatively small tube station such as Westminster, there are hundreds of tourists whose first language is not English, who need someone to talk to.

It is all well and good to come to the Chamber and read out the Transport for London briefing; we are talking about the realities of London Underground, and the reality for the people who must use it, whether they are regular commuters, people from out of town or the thousands of tourists who throng through tube

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stations in zones 1 and 2 every day. As the House has already heard, the millions of London commuters whose fares are being ratcheted up do not understand why they are paying more to travel when the level of service may well come down. It is not enough to say, as Transport for London does, that it is because so many people now use Oyster cards. We need to think about out-of-town business, the elderly and disabled, and tourists, and weigh up the promises that there will be more staff on the stations to help commuters.

The first thing to consider is how commuters see the proposal and how much hostility there is to the closing down of every ticket office on the network. Many members of my family have worked in transport, and I would always argue that London Underground is only as good as its staff. Those staff have in good and bad times shown London Underground exemplary loyalty and a deal of flexibility. On 7/7, they showed how brave and committed they were. What are they being given for all those years of commitment—for building the underground service that still serves Londoners so well? The answer is up to 1,000 job losses and on top of that, and in my view worse, a drive to employ more agency and casualised staff. We are moving away from secure, stable jobs that offer a lifetime career to casualised employment. As a general point, I deplore the hollowing out of London’s economy through the replacement of stable—and, yes, unionised—jobs with casualised agency workers. That cannot be in the interests of a stable society and stable employment in London.

I am a regular user of London Transport services and I bow to no one in my respect for what it has achieved, particularly under a Labour leader and then a Labour Mayor—and I am an admirer of Sir Peter Hendy and all his work. However, passengers and staff oppose the cutting of every ticket office without consultation. All the polling shows that the majority of passengers are unhappy. Boris has yet to explain, certainly to London MPs, how the proposal can possibly improve the service. We know that more and more people are using Oyster cards and that Ken Livingstone introduced a smaller programme of closures when he was the Mayor, but now we face the elimination of every ticket office on the network. That cannot be right. I shall fight the closures on behalf of ordinary Londoners, staff and a London that works—a stable community that offers jobs and life chances to its citizens. That is the only kind of London that has a future in the 21st century.

Andrew Rosindell (in the Chair): I ask hon. Members to keep their contributions to three minutes from now on, so that everyone gets a chance to speak.

3.26 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I repeat my apology for missing the beginning of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I have a brief time to speak, and want to express my admiration for the people who work for London Underground. It carried 4 million passengers in a day during the Olympics, and despite the best advice of the Evening Standard in the run-up to the games the staff performed brilliantly. The service was delivered throughout the Olympic games, as it is every day, by willing staff at all the stations. We should think about that—as should the Mayor.

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It is extraordinary for someone to have been the Mayor of a great city such as London for six years but still never to have met the representatives of the people who provide the services for which he is responsible. He has time to meet every banker in the City and to travel to every city in the world, but does not, apparently, have time to invite the union representatives of the people providing TfL services to his office to tell him their views about it. He needs to get a grip on what democratic accountability is about.

I drew attention to Finsbury Park station in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington because it is the one I use the most. Indeed, some of my colleagues in the Chamber today use it too. It is old, busy and getting much busier, and is an interchange between Network Rail and the Piccadilly and Victoria lines. It is not well laid out and was never well designed, and it has no ticket barriers; there is nowhere to put them. There are plans to change the station, but the changes are some years away. That means the station becomes very overcrowded, and frequently in the morning rush hour staff must stand in the street and ask the public not to come in until the numbers on the platform can be reduced. There is no physical way to stop them because of the lack of barriers.

There is a First Capital Connect ticket office and another for London Underground. For reasons that are beyond me, each seems to deal only with its own business. It should be possible for them to deal with each other’s business. The ticket office is very busy, with people making inquiries about Oyster cards, lost Oyster cards, or student travel; there are people using the freedom pass, who may have mislaid it or have a problem using it, and people simply trying to buy tickets or find where to go. They get a good response and good help from the very hard-working staff in that station. If the ticket office is closed, what are they supposed to do? The hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) gaily told us that only a small percentage of the total number of travellers will be affected, but as my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said, that is 100,000 people a year, or the equivalent of a bit more than a full Wembley stadium. Would we really have Wembley stadium operating with only ticket machines and no staff? Think about the numbers and the potential for problems by not having fully staffed ticket offices.

When we make this plea, we do so to retain jobs, obviously, and to ensure that the public are properly represented and dealt with in ticket offices. We also do it from the point of view of station safety, because, in the days when not enough staff were at the stations and there were only, quite often, inoperative CCTV cameras inadequately guaranteeing the safety of passengers, the number of assaults went up and the number of passengers at night went down, and the number of people trying to drive in and out of London went up while the number of public transport users went down. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) pointed out, if we run a good public transport system that is well staffed and well run, more people use it, our city is less congested, and it has a much better sense of community.

Through the medium of this debate, I make an appeal to the Mayor: think again. Meet the staff representatives, understand what the ticket offices are there for and what they do, and reverse this crazy policy and retain staffed ticket offices on every station, as we have now.

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3.31 pm

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): I will be brief, because I appreciate that others want to speak. I make reference not only to my entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, but to my membership of the RMT, TSSA, and ASLEF parliamentary groups— I thank them for the briefings that they have provided for the debate, which are quite different from the briefings from Transport for London, which have been referred to.

I am speaking in this debate because I believe that if the proposals for job cuts and ticket office closures in London go ahead, they will come to areas such as the one I represent next. If those closures are possible in London, where there is massive public opposition and a strong, well organised, trade unionised work force, which, frankly, has a tradition of taking industrial action, that will make it very difficult to fight similar threats in other parts of the country. However, I assure anybody who is listening that we will fight any attempt to reduce staff in other parts of the country, and in Ayrshire in particular.

The reality is that it is in none of our interests to have a transport system that does not have staff and people on it to look after passengers, but that is our current direction of travel, to use a pun. We are talking about approximately 1,000 job losses as a result of the 240 ticket office closures in London, affecting not only ticket office staff but supervisory staff, managerial positions and staff in control rooms. It is happening as part of Government proposals to take staff away from our whole public transport system, and in particular the railways and the tube lines. That is why this debate and this dispute are relevant to every part of the country.

It is common sense that we need people to help us when we use our trains, and we need people on stations to assist us. Whether that involves buying a ticket, finding the appropriate platform, finding a trolley to put a bag on, helping people on to the train or helping them once they are on the train, it is something we all need and something for which I believe there is cross-party support.

I say to everyone in the House that this dispute is not only about London Underground, but about the service that all our constituents receive. We should be sending a very clear message not only to Transport for London and to the Mayor but to Government in this place and throughout these islands that we want a public transport system with people to help us on the platforms, in ticket offices and on trains.

Stephen Pound: I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that the Minister is a decent man. He regularly uses the District line and is frequently seen on the Wimbledon run, but I fear that he may be seduced by the arguments that we have heard today, which are the same as those used when my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) and I were bus conductors. We were told that without conductors, the buses would be safe, but in fact, crime has rocketed on the buses. Does my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) agree that there is real fear, not only about public insecurity and a lack of public safety, but about an increase in crime in unmanned, empty, echoing halls?

Katy Clark: I agree with my hon. Friend; I do not think we want to have to deal with machines all the time. We want to have staff to help us in stations and on

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every part of our transport system. That is why I have spoken today, and I hope that the voice will come very clearly from this place that these proposals are not in anybody’s interests.

3.35 pm

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on an excellent, powerful and factual contribution, and I shall bear in mind the fact that I have about three minutes.

London underground is not only a London issue—I am a north-east MP and I have great interest in what happens to the underground. This is the nation’s capital. It is where we held the Olympics, and where we have fantastic cultural events, arts and leisure, and international football and rugby games. We have all seen the chaos that often occurs on the underground.

I place on record my thanks to the fantastic work force who work tirelessly 365 days a year to provide the London Underground’s services. They are fantastic. Look at the tourists from across the globe; we want as many people coming to London as possible. We do not want to keep them away for fear of having a dreadful service in London. Look at the people who work on the underground and the valuable contribution that they make to the economy, and yet we think nothing of slashing jobs and stations at the cross of a pen. Millions of ordinary people use the underground as a means of getting across London to work. We have to consider all that.

In the minute or so I have left, I mention that this is not a failing organisation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington said, passenger journeys on London underground will rise by 13.75%, from 1,273 million to 1,448 million by 2021. London Underground is a flourishing organisation, which needs more staff, better health and safety and a whole new structure to cater for the people who will use the service. I cannot understand how the hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) can suggest, even with the best brief in the world, that closing the 240 ticket offices and cutting 950 jobs will be an improvement to the service. Perhaps somebody can explain to me how it will improve it. We need to make sure that the service is top class and stop cutting the jobs, and we need to make sure that the service is there, embracing people from across the globe, and to get to grips with reality.

3.39 pm

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): I have only a minute left to speak, but there are plenty of things that I want to say. I rise to contribute to the debate as a part-time Londoner, even though I represent a constituency 120 miles from the capital. I emphasise that to me this is part of a wider ideological assault on the public sector and on public services. We have heard eloquent testimony today from hon. Members about the contribution that London Underground staff make to ensuring that we have a quality service. We should be proud of and cherish the personal attention that they give members of the public. The Minister should use his good offices to ensure that the Mayor recognises the important role that those staff play and that the Mayor meets their trade union representatives, so that he can hear directly from them and, we hope, they can change his mind.

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3.40 pm

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on securing this important debate. He is a tenacious advocate for better public transport and was right to say that London Underground’s quality of service is now under threat.

There are two closely related issues in the debate, and I would like to begin with the question of station staffing levels, because the staffing reductions on the underground weigh heavily on the minds of many Londoners who rely on current levels of customer service to undertake their daily journeys. Of course, that is to say nothing of those Londoners whose jobs are at risk.

Every passenger may experience inconvenience if staffing levels are reduced. How many of us have come across faulty barriers or ticket machines, but have known exactly where to find help? How many of us knew where to go for advice when a service was cancelled, especially late at night? Clearly, it was the ticket office. Just yesterday, I arrived on the platform down at Westminster to find services disrupted, so I could not travel by tube and needed a refund on my Oyster card. I knew that that service would be provided quickly and courteously by staff in the ticket office, and of course it was.

Such experiences are common to us all, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington set out very clearly, we know that Boris Johnson’s plans to close all ticket offices and cut 17% of station staff will hit disabled passengers particularly hard. These are passengers who Transport for All has warned could face new barriers in trying to travel to work, to see friends and family and to get out and about in the capital. According to Transport for London’s own equality impact assessment, customers with dyslexia will be particularly affected, as that is

“a disability that remains hidden when”

people are

“using a ticket office, but would potentially become known when”

they are

“requesting assistance at the ticket machine.”

If stations are left unstaffed, perceptions of safety will be damaged, discouraging some groups of passengers in particular from travelling. TfL’s own equality impact assessment states:

“Concerns about crime and antisocial behaviour tend to affect the travel patterns of women, BAME”—

black, Asian and minority ethnic—

“Londoners, younger people and…those on lower incomes more…than other groups”.

A number of my hon. Friends have described some of the circumstances that demonstrate exactly how important tube workers are in keeping stations safe and feeling safe.

Let us be clear. This is not a carefully managed, gradual transition to new working practices. All the ticket offices are due to close next year. That suggests that it is driven by a political timetable. These proposals are about McNulty-style cuts to the underground instead of putting passengers first. I well understand why my hon. Friends the Members for Derby North (Chris Williamson), for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) and for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) are worried about the

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implications for their local rail services. When almost 1,000 station staff are losing their jobs, it is simply not credible for the Mayor to say that that will not lead to any reduction in passenger service and safety standards.

Chris Williamson: Does my hon. Friend agree that this is also a matter of trust? I say that because the Mayor is on record as saying in March 2010:

“This Mayor takes his promises to Londoners extremely seriously. Every station that has a ticket office will continue to have one.”

He made that solemn pledge; he could not have been clearer. This is a matter of trust, is it not?

Lilian Greenwood: My hon. Friend is exactly right. I would say that the Mayor has now lost any credibility that he might once have had on this issue. Not only did he make those comments in 2010 but in his 2008 manifesto he was unequivocal:

“We will halt all such ticket office closures immediately.”

I know that the Mayor has had a high-profile falling-out with the Deputy Prime Minister, but perhaps he should have some sympathy with him, because he was photographed signing a petition that called for an end to

“the closure of station ticket offices”

and the reopening of

“those which have already been closed.”

In a particularly florid turn of phrase, the Mayor said at the time:

“Consider the threat has been lifted, annihilated, vaporised, liquidated, exterminated, removed and obliterated as of now”.

He later said to Assembly Members:

“The first and most important point to make is no ticket offices will be closed...They are not going to be closed...The answer to the number of ticket office closures is nil”.

On the very same day, a leaked TfL report revealed that closures were indeed being planned, and in November we had confirmation that all ticket offices were to be shut, so Boris Johnson began as the Mayor who said that he would save every ticket office and he will finish as the Mayor who closes every one of them.

There are other long-term considerations that have to be addressed, including the future of London Overground which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) rightly said, is an excellent service. Services and stations on the West Anglia lines are due to be transferred from Greater Anglia to London Overground next year, and commuters on those lines will be hoping that the promises made on investment and improvements in service quality will be upheld. As the Campaign for Better Transport has powerfully argued, the highly visible improvements that London Overground made in 2007, which included putting more staff on stations, have improved passenger satisfaction, driven up revenue and transformed the image of many local services.

As Ministers help to oversee the transition of the lines, will they satisfy themselves that this round of job losses is not the first step towards returning to the poorly staffed, poorly maintained and threatening stations that characterised the old Silverlink franchise? If this Minister can give that commitment today, this question must surely apply: why take that approach to the overground but not the underground?

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Unfortunately, recent relations between the Government and the Mayor’s office do not give us cause to hold out much hope for the future. Several of my hon. Friends have raised concerns about TfL’s funding. The current dispute between the Treasury and the Mayor reflects poorly on both parties, but as Labour Members understand, ordinary Londoners are the ones set to pay the price.

I will give some background. David Goldstone, TfL’s chief finance officer, told London assembly members that

“the Mayor made the decision about the average”


“across all TfL services being at RPI…at that time we understood the travel cards would have the national RPI-plus-1 formula applied. The Chancellor then announced that national rail would be at RPI.”

This has left TfL with a budget shortfall of £13 million to £14 million a year, and the late application of fare rises this year—a result of the confusion between Whitehall and the Mayor’s office—means that the bill could rise to £20 million in 2014. There is an apparent refusal by Treasury Ministers to fund that hole in the Mayor’s budget, and that has naturally led to suspicions that personality politics may be at work.

Can the Minister provide clarification and say whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer informed the Mayor of London that he intended to restrict fare rises to RPI before the announcement was made? Will the Treasury fund the shortfall, and if not, what estimate has he made of the impact on TfL’s services that cuts of this value could have? Is he in contact with the Mayor and the Treasury on this matter, and what representations has he made to them? I hope that the Minister will address those questions and the questions raised by other hon. Members, but the truth is that there are enough questions on this issue and these plans to fill a much longer debate.

With fewer staff available to manage congestion during peak periods, it seems likely that overcrowding will start to have a greater impact on operational performance. Violent crime is unfortunately on the rise on the underground network, and visibility will be reduced, as up to 17% of station staff are set to lose their jobs. Staff will be carrying more expensive equipment as they replace ticket-office functions, which could make them targets for abuse and theft. Of course, the staffing reductions will be much higher at some stations, raising the prospect that individual members of staff could be left in unsafe situations, with little flexibility for back-up, particularly when there are problems on the lines.

However, it does not seem that the Mayor or TfL have planned for these problems, nor does there seem to be an awareness of the practical challenges that unattended ticket machines and barriers pose. We all know that that is not infallible technology and that without constant supervision, disruption can soon mount up for passengers. I am concerned that passengers will not necessarily be able immediately to find staff to help them if they are not in the location where they should be able to find them.

Although most of the matters we have discussed today are the responsibility of the Greater London authority, there is an important role for Ministers in

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assessing the impact of the planned cuts, clarifying the position on the £20 million black hole in TfL’s budget and ensuring that this chaotic situation never arises again, because Londoners deserve better than this.

3.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. Like other hon. Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on securing this debate on Government funding for TfL and station staffing levels. Let me begin on a consensual note, because that may not carry on through my speech. As the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) said, I often use the underground, and I did so this morning. I recognised, as I always do, the valuable role that the workers on the London underground play.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) asked whether I would tackle some of the myths and misinformation that are circulating. I hope that I will be able to reassure her—I am not sure that I will ever be able to reassure all Opposition Members—that the changes will make London underground staff more visible. They will be there to help with ticket barriers, ticket machines and platform safety in a way that has not been seen before.

John McDonnell: The Minister, and possibly the Mayor, might be able to convince people, but in order to convince people it is necessary to meet them. The Minister and his colleagues meet the RMT and other unions regularly. Why cannot the Mayor do so?

Stephen Hammond: I understand the fixation on the Mayor, because he is the leader of London. However, Mr Brown, who runs London Underground, meets the unions, and I understand that Sir Peter Hendy has done the same.

I was asked several questions, and I will try to answer some of them in the short time that I have. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington asked me about the response to a parliamentary question about the planned changes. The response stated that according to the equality impact assessment, the changes would be

“positive or neutral for all equality target groups”.—[Official Report, 6 January 2014; Vol. 573, c. 121W.]

That information was provided to us by TfL, which has also guaranteed that it will run an engagement exercise throughout this year with disabled and older people to ensure that they understand exactly how services will continue to be accessible.

The hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) spoke about the great achievements of the previous Mayor, but it is important to recognise that under the current Mayor, platform staffing levels have risen by 12% and demand by 23%. The Government recognise that transport is the key to unlocking growth and jobs, and they provide the financial settlement that allows the Mayor to fulfil his responsibilities for transport and operational matters. The Government are providing more than £10 billion to TfL over the current Parliament, which includes more than £4.5 billion to support the tube upgrade. The Jubilee line upgrade has been completed. The Victoria line upgrade features new trains, tracks

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and signalling and a 21% increase in capacity. The Metropolitan line has a new fleet of air-conditioned trains. The Government have provided the Mayor with a guarantee that enables him to move ahead with the proposed Northern line extension to Battersea. The upgrade of the sub-surface lines, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster and I take a particular interest, will increase overall capacity by 33%. The spending round announcement last summer included a huge commitment of £5.8 billion in capital grant and a further £3.8 billion of borrowing power for TfL to 2021, which will be absolutely crucial to the delivery of Crossrail and the Thameslink project.

The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) challenged the Mayor on trust. Memories are short on so many things; I remember the previous Mayor telling us in 2004 that there would be no increase in fare levels if he were re-elected, but the following January fares went up by a minimum of 4%. One must be careful when talking about trust, because that contention applies as much to Mayor Livingstone as to Mayor Johnson. The hon. Lady questioned me about fares, and the Mayor has said clearly that the extra accommodation that is needed can be found from TfL’s budget by a combination of efficiencies and increased commercial revenue. In the huge budget provided by the Government, there is scope for TfL to find the relatively small amount that the hon. Lady mentioned. The Mayor has decided, quite rightly in my opinion, to hold London fares down to RPI plus zero. I think it will be possible to find the amount required to do that, and it will be sustainable if he continues to deliver efficiencies and value for money and ensures that the money that the Government give to TfL is best spent.

Everybody has pointed out that London continues to grow. We are set to see a further 1.8 million people by the 2030s, which is enough to fill an extra tube train per week. It is quite right therefore that TfL set out its vision for the future of the tube on 21 November. The core commitment at the front of that vision is that all stations will be staffed and controlled when trains are running and there will be more staff visible on platforms and in ticket halls to help customers.

However we look at it, the way in which passengers choose to pay for their travel is changing. That is an incontrovertible fact, even though we may not like the 3% figure. Over the past five years, demand for travel has risen by 23%, but ticket office sales have fallen by 43%. At the same time, to meet customers’ expectations, station staffing needs to increase. The ticket office is not

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the heart of the station; it is simply a room. The staff are at the heart of a station’s operation. TfL’s vision for London will allow them to be better equipped with technology and information in the ticket halls and at the barriers, so that they can step out of the ticket office and improve customers’ journey experience.

Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Minister assure me that the closure of ticket offices will not be accompanied by yet more retail opportunities at tube stations?

Stephen Hammond: That is an operational matter for TfL. The hon. Gentleman should recognise the key points in TfL’s vision. A 24-hour tube service will run at weekends; the reliability and capacity of the tube will be further improved with new, more frequent trains; there will be enhanced signalling at stations; all tube stations will be controlled and staffed while services are operating; and staff will be more visible. TfL aims to deliver improvements and secure the best value for money.

In addition, the vision contains a commitment to the staff. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster was absolutely right; although some 950 staff work in lightly used ticket offices, the overall decrease in station staff will be less than that, because TfL proposes to create 200 new jobs in ticket halls and on stations. Furthermore, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, TfL has made a commitment to provide a job at London Underground for anyone who wants to continue working there, and the changes will be made with no compulsory redundancies.

Despite the comments about the Mayor, London Underground continues to speak to staff and involve them at various stages of the change. The transformation will create 200 new jobs on top of the significant increase in numbers of staff available in ticket halls, at barriers and on platforms to provide reassurance about safety and to give advice. Those are not the figures portrayed by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. The numbers are available, and I am sure that he will want to look at them.

I am aware that RMT has announced two 48-hour strikes, and I urge the RMT and TSSA leadership to work with TfL to shape the plans. Customers want hassle-free journeys, and they expect customer service that is fit for the 21st century and beyond. With Government investment, the vision for London ensures that the tube will continue to be fit for purpose, safe, affordable and reliable, and that it will meet the expectations of passengers throughout the 21st century.

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Manorial Rights (England and Wales)

4 pm

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I welcome the opportunity to debate manorial rights, which are an important issue across the country. In recent years, concerns have been expressed about chancel repairs and manorial rights in Wales and England. As the Minister will know, such rights are ancient. In the case of chancel rights, they include the repair of parish churches, particularly Anglican ones. In the past, manorial rights have covered a number of activities on ancient manorial lands, including shooting, hunting, fishing and mineral extraction.

The matter has been brought to my attention recently when residents of my constituency became aware of overriding rights, often by accident or when ownership of titles changed and, once aware, the new owners attempted to exercise their rights. The problem goes back over decades. Chancel repairs and manorial rights are very much relics of the past. Many such rights go back to the Domesday Book, and others have evolved over many centuries. Often, they have lain dormant while properties have been built, boundaries extended and land use changed. People have bought their properties in good faith. They have paid for legal fees for searches and conveyancing and have not been aware that any overriding rights exist. Many constituents of mine, and people from across the country who have been in touch with me on this issue—

4.2 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.16 pm

On resuming—

Albert Owen: Before the Division, I was outlining, by way of introduction, the origins of chancel repairs and manorial rights in Wales and England, and how many people who have become aware of them have done so by accident.

Over many years, Parliament has tried to resolve the issue of land registration. The Land Transfer Act 1875 and the Land Registration Act 1925 sought to update the law on registration. The Land Registration Act 2002 was introduced following a Law Commission and Land Registry report entitled, “Land Registration for the 21st Century”, and many of us thought that that was a great step forward. The 2002 Act sought to simplify and modernise the law on registration. The aim was to provide an accurate picture of title of land, showing more full rights and subsidiary interests affecting the land; it was also designed to provide protection against predatory rights and fake claims.

I understand—the Minister may be able to confirm this—that some 20% of land remains unregistered. The need in the early 2000s was to try to verify ownership.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing a debate on an issue that is causing massive concern in my constituency. I look forward to the Minister’s response, hopefully clarifying some of those issues.

Landowners such as the Williams-Wynn estate in north Wales send letters to people and cause them massive concern and great expense as they consult solicitors

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because of their worry and because they have no idea what the letters mean. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is irresponsible behaviour and that there should be a proper explanation of what it all means?

Albert Owen: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. A lot of distress and anxiety is caused when people receive letters not just from individual landowners, but from the Land Registry on behalf of title holders.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Albert Owen: Before I do, I just want to outline the foundations of the 2002 Act. It has many positive aspects, such as greater transparency and a clear, up-to-date register, but in recent months it has caused great concern, as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) described just now, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who cannot be with us today, has indicated is happening in his area, not least when residents receive letters from the Land Registry. In many cases, that was the first time people knew of any such title or overriding rights.

Hywel Williams: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and my near neighbour on securing this important debate. I agree with him that this situation is an unjust and clear anachronism that needs to be tackled. He will be glad, of course, that our colleague, Rhun ap Iorwerth AM, is meeting the Land Registry to discuss this matter next week. Does he agree that the so-called “Lord Treffos” should be thoroughly ashamed of himself for causing such worry to local people in his constituency and, I am sure, elsewhere, with these entirely unjustified claims, as well as causing them expense and possibly threatening their mortgages and remortgages too? It is a disgrace.

Albert Owen: The hon. Gentleman pre-empts what I was going to say about Anglesey and Lord Treffos. I acknowledge that many people have raised this issue with the county council, local councillors and their local Assembly Member, and they have taken it forward. I have raised it a number of times in this House and the most appropriate place to raise it is in this House of Parliament, which confers rights on individuals, including manorial rights, and which should be protecting the rights of individuals.

I will talk about Lord Treffos in a second but, as has been indicated, this issue has caused concern in my own constituency because of Lord Treffos’s claims. However, I have also been contacted over the weekend by people across Wales and England, including the county of Wiltshire, where a community council is concerned about the rights being established—or, rather, it has become aware for the first time of rights being established —over a playing field for young children. There are implications across Wales and England.

That is why I am pleased that the Minister is here in Westminster Hall today to respond to the debate, because this is not just a parochial matter. I will make no apologies for the fact that the purpose of this debate is to gain assurances from the Government that they will alleviate people’s concerns. It is one of the unintended

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consequences of the Land Registration Act 2002 that people are being distressed because they were unaware of this situation.

An important question is why these manorial rights were not included in original deeds, because many people paid for conveyancing and searches, believed that they had full freehold and were unaware of these overriding rights. In the 21st century, those people need the right protection. I want to examine the role of the Land Registry and how it deals with issuing notices, as well as the legal tone of those notices. Indeed, in my part of the world it is important to note that Welsh language provision was not available when these notices were first sent out, when by statute it should have been available.

I also want to look at the role of the legal authorities, which could perhaps lead in providing collective responses in the future, so that the burden does not fall on individuals. They could also perhaps look to rebalance these rights in favour of the freeholder today, to ensure that—as the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) said—mortgage lenders are aware of the benign nature of these manorial rights, so that they do not consider them to be a restriction on the remortgaging or indeed the sale of properties. I ask the Minister to look very carefully at that issue.

As I say, I make no apologies for briefly highlighting the situation in Anglesey, where there is the ancient title of the Lord Trefoss, which originates from the Bishop of Bangor’s diocese. The title is today held by Stephen Paul Hayes, who I understand purchased it, perfectly legitimately, at an auction in the early 1990s. I now understand that the title, including the manorial rights of hunting, fishing and mineral rights, is up for sale on a website for $45,000. I have also been made aware that a document exists from the district valuer, dating back to 1950, showing that in 1940 the Bishop of Bangor gave the then title to University College of North Wales, now Bangor university, and that the claims of interest in the manor are limited to commons and waste lands within the provision of the law, including the Property Act 1922. I am not a property lawyer, but I make the point clearly that it should be possible for individuals to find out the exact titles, and that information should be included in their deeds. Surely the role of the Land Registry should be to assist individual freeholders and not to put out a generic letter that causes so much concern. In layperson’s terms, any such letter should have explained the reasons for what the Land Registry is doing, as well as the manorial rights and titles.

I will now move on. I realise that we will now finish at about 4.45 pm, so I will try to be brief for the rest of my remarks, so that the Minister can give a full reply to the debate. I want to look at the role of the local authority in Anglesey, because it too has been issued with some of these notices as its land falls within the manorial rights. The first point in the notice that was being distributed by the Land Registry was that the manorial rights being claimed by Lord Trefoss are actually contained within the local authority itself. As Members will know, over the years a lot of responsibilities have been passed from landowners to local authorities, as County Council Acts in the 1800s and various other measures have meant that authorities have taken over services. Today, highways, street lighting and all those main services are provided by the local authority. The local authority

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could be—in fact, it needs to be—a single body that could object to manorial rights on behalf of a number of households within its jurisdiction. That would be a way forward.

For the benefit of the Minister, I will also examine briefly the role of the Land Registry in the distribution of these notices. The explanatory notes to the notices attempt to clarify the reasons for the notices being issued. However, many people have been so concerned that, as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said, they have gone—at great cost to themselves—to a solicitor for clarification, because they found the notice to be a little threatening and they were certainly unable to understand it. Also, as I have already said, there has been an issue with the lack of Welsh language provision, which is not acceptable under current statute.

Jessica Lee (Erewash) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for securing this debate this afternoon. Moving away from his constituency to Derbyshire and my constituency of Erewash, an issue has been raised about land owned by the Duke of Rutland. Regarding the issue of language, however, our local newspaper has come into its own, airing the grievances and concerns of local residents but also allowing the landowner the right of reply, so that he can explain his position. I am sure that my hon. Friend has raised the issue in his area on behalf of his constituents, as he represents them; I continue to do the same for my constituents in Erewash.

Albert Owen: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. Indeed, I am in a similar position, but it should have been the duty of the Land Registry to provide clear and concise notices in the first instance. It is an unintended consequence of previous Acts that this method of informing people has come into being, and in the future I want to see a clearer way by which manorial rights can either be extinguished or at least explained to individuals. We are singing from the same hymn sheet in that regard.

I do not expect the Minister to give full answers today to the questions that I put to him directly, but we have already exchanged letters and he has very courteously given me a lot of the details about this situation. I have also raised this matter with the Leader of the House. The purpose of this debate is to ask the Minister to consider the points that I have raised, and will continue to raise, on behalf of constituents in 4,000 premises in my constituency and, as I have said, many other people throughout Wales and England.

As I have already indicated, the Land Registration Acts of Parliament, including the Land Registration Act 2002, are supposed to provide transparency and clarity on these ancient and in many cases outdated manorial rights. Instead they have caused people confusion, anxiety and distress. That burden could be lifted en bloc if there were the political will to do so. Also, as I have said, the local authority can help.

In future, I want the owners of properties to be comfortable that when they do searches on their properties, these types of rights are identified, and I do not want anybody to be penalised for having a right added to their property deeds. That is because for ordinary people a home is probably the biggest purchase that they will make in their entire life, and they want security for themselves and their family. I feel for them in that

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regard. I am sure that the Minister will understand the fears and concerns about manorial rights that I have highlighted. He will also understand that those fears have been heightened at a time when we are talking about shale gas exploration in this country. Many people link the two things.

As I have said, I raised the issue of manorial rights with the Leader of the House on 5 December. I welcomed his saying quite clearly that there is no link between the notice of manorial rights and shale gas or oil. He added that

“The Petroleum Act 1988 vests all rights to the nation’s petroleum resources in the Crown.”—[Official Report, 5 December 2013; Vol. 571, c. 1100.]

However, there needs to be further clarification of this issue by the Minister, because many people are uncertain what minerals can be extracted if a mineral right is part of manorial rights. I am sure that the Minister will mention that.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware of the considerable concern of many constituents throughout the country about chancel repair liability. He will also know that the General Synod of the Church of England recommended phasing that out in 1982, a call that was repeated by the Law Commission in 1985. Would he suggest that, as the October 2013 deadline has passed, the Government should at least set up a parliamentary committee of inquiry to try to sort out all these issues?

Albert Owen: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been campaigning on behalf of her constituents on this matter as well. I am sure that the Minister heard what she said. That is one way forward that the Government could take, working with the Church Commissioners. Perhaps there will also be an opportunity for a question to the Church Commissioners in the House.

In relation to the Council of Mortgage Lenders, I should like the Minister to reassure people in my area and others that the current status of manorial rights is not regarded as a blight that warrants restriction on lending in future. Does he agree to senior officers of the Land Registry meeting myself and other concerned Members of Parliament to discuss the issues and how they can best be handled and improvements made? Serious errors in my area, with people receiving not just one notice but two, have heightened the anxiety and distress.

Will the Minister consider seriously whether local authorities could make a collective response to the Land Registry on behalf of residents? I know the law is complex, but in the 21st century we should be looking to give greater benefits, to simplify the process, to rebalance property rights away from the unique protection of ancient rights that are often absurd, and to protect today’s property owners for the future. I make that statement today—other hon. Members have spoken in the same vein—to get a positive outcome, not to just raise the issue and let it be.

Many people who have contacted me are receiving notices saying that owners of titles are contesting this matter. It will go on and cause greater anxiety unless the Minister responds in a more positive way and considers changing the laws. The Minister is a reasonable, progressive

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man and he will understand the genuine concerns raised today about my constituency and on behalf of the people of Wales and England who want to look forward with comfort, having bought their properties and done the right thing, encouraged by this Government and others before them, rather than find themselves with an additional burden regarding rights on their properties. I hope that we can all work together to alleviate those concerns and anxieties and have property laws fit for the 21st century.

4.33 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Michael Fallon): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on securing this important debate. He raises concerns about manorial rights and the implications for affected property owners of recent changes to the law.

The Land Registry is a non-ministerial Department on behalf of which I am responding today. I undertake to write to the hon. Gentleman on any points that I am not able to cover. Perhaps some points are not directly relevant—for example, chancel repair liabilities, which are important and worrying—but I may be able to get a better reply in writing on that to the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), and to the hon. Gentleman on his point about local authorities.

Manorial rights are certain rights over land that were specifically preserved when most remnants of the manorial system were abolished in 1926. These rights may take several forms, but include sporting rights and rights to timber, mines and minerals. Until recently, those rights bound the owners and buyers of land, whether they knew about them or not. However, since 13 October 2013, the rights will have bound buyers of registered land only if those rights are noted on the register before the purchase is registered.

One of the aims of the Land Registration Act 2002, which I understand passed through this House without a Division, was to bring more information on to the register of title, so that it formed a more complete record of legal ownership. Manorial rights are a good example of a hidden burden that the policy was designed to expose. The 2002 Act gave the owners of these rights 10 years to bring them on to the register to ensure their continued existence. Naturally, the approach of the 10-year deadline brought forward a number of registrations and, unsurprisingly, issues around these manorial rights have arisen as the owners of the rights have had to consider what to do, and some property owners have been reminded—or perhaps have learned for the first time—that someone is claiming that their property is subject to these rights.

In some cases, landowners have always known that their properties are subject to these rights, either because the rights are referred to in the old title deeds or because they were discovered by their conveyancer when they bought. However, in other cases, these rights were not apparent at the time of purchase, and owners are finding out about them for the first time when they are contacted by the Land Registry. The Land Registry has received more than 73,000 applications to enter a notice claiming manorial rights on properties across England and Wales.

Although I appreciate that letters from the Land Registry have arrived without warning, there is little that it could do about this. It can only notify property

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owners that an application has been received, resulting in a notice of a claimed right being entered on to the register in respect of their land. The statute requires the notice to be entered. The Land Registry appreciates that it can cause concern and upset when people receive a letter from it saying that a third party has protected a claimed interest. However, that letter gives the property owner an opportunity to consider the issue. The letters give full details of the third party making the application, as well as Land Registry details, so residents can ask for further information if they require it. The Land Registry has worked with applicants to try to ensure that those affected by notices are able to access more information via the applicant.

The letter deals with the main questions that recipients have tended to ask. Recently, it has been updated to take account of feedback from recipients, including those from the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, to try and simplify the information as much as possible without making it misleading.

The Land Registry has also produced a guide for property owners that sets out in simple terms what these rights may consist of, and what steps an owner can take if they dispute that the claimed rights affect their land. That guide is available in English and Welsh, both on the Land Registry’s website and from any Land Registry office. However, following discussions with the Land Registry, I confirm that it will now send this guidance out with its initial letter, as a matter of course.

Where an owner disputes that their property is subject to the rights claimed, the Land Registry does what it can to help the parties in the dispute. For example, it encourages the party claiming the rights to produce its evidence at the earliest possible stage, and in many cases that brings the matter to a conclusion. The Land Registry always gives the parties the opportunity to try to resolve their dispute, and the time to do so. In addition, where it can, the Land Registry will try to assist, if asked, by expressing its view, based on the available evidence. However, hon. Members will understand that the registry must, throughout this process, remain strictly impartial.

Where, after negotiation, the notice holder decides to withdraw their notice, the Land Registry arranges for them to lodge a withdrawal. So far, approximately 6,000 properties have been voluntarily released from notices. If it is clear that the parties cannot settle their dispute, the Land Registry is required to send the case to the land registration division of the property chamber first-tier tribunal for a judicial decision. In such cases, the registry has to await, and then act on, the tribunal’s decision.

The registry appreciates that a property dispute can be difficult for both property owners and those claiming legal rights over properties. It has therefore produced a guide about the dispute process and the various stages.

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That is routinely sent to the parties to disputes who are not legally represented. It is also available on the website and from Land Registry offices.

On the Welsh language, Land Registry policy is to send communications in the recipient’s language of preference, if that is clear from the register. If the language preference appears to be English because there is no contrary indication on the register, communications will be sent in English. If it is apparent from the register or from any subsequent contact that the recipient prefers Welsh, however, the Land Registry will communicate in Welsh. The Land Registry’s website has extensive information in Welsh. It would prefer to continue to try to meet the personal preferences of recipients, rather than send large amounts of material that might not assist its customers.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that there has been quite a lot of publicity suggesting that the existence of manorial rights has caused difficulty in getting property loans. The Land Registry has been monitoring the situation and, where it has been able to contact individuals who may have been affected, those individuals usually, but not always, turn out not to have been affected. We know that in some cases there has been a short delay in granting a loan because of an earlier application by the property owner to remove the notice. The lender would have wished to ensure that any dispute had been resolved before proceeding. In one case, the property owner changed lawyers because of concerns about the advice given, and the change in lawyers enabled the loan to be granted. The Land Registry stands ready to assist anyone else facing similar problems.

The fact that a notice has been entered in the register does not necessarily mean that the right claimed actually exists. Whether the right exists will depend on the facts of the case. Home owners and other landowners remain as free as they were before the legislation to contest a claim. The requirement to enter a notice to protect manorial rights removes uncertainty and unpredictability by making it apparent that such rights are claimed. It is a positive development for property owners in general that such rights have to be recorded on the register and may be lost if they are not recorded. Registration of manorial rights is, of course, distinct from exercising those rights. In the case of mineral rights, to which the hon. Gentleman referred at the end of his remarks, planning consent is required in the normal way.

I am happy to write to hon. Members who have spoken and interjected on the points raised. The registration requirement will ultimately achieve a better balance between the interests of the owners of manorial rights, the interests of those who are subject to the rights, and the interests of those who may at some time in the future purchase a property affected by such rights. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and others who have helped to bring the matter before the House today.

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Police and Crime Commissioners and ACPO

4.43 pm

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I am grateful to have secured this debate, which is timely, as the police and crime commissioners’ decision on the funding of the Association of Chief Police Officers is pending.

ACPO still receives £4 million of public funding. Some £1.2 million of that is provided directly by PCCs to ACPO centrally, with the remainder almost all going to national policing units still overseen by ACPO—something that I and other members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs have repeatedly said is wrong. The Home Office has already ended funding to ACPO, so I hope the Minister will find General Sir Nick Parker’s independent review of ACPO helpful.

The PCCs to whom I have spoken do not in any way interpret recommendation 4, on having a change management programme, as a criticism of the Home Office; rather, they see it as an offer to work with the Home Office to ensure that the transition from ACPO happens, and to provide a final year of funding to do so. The Parker report’s other three recommendations also strongly support the changes to the policing landscape driven by the Home Office, and they will be welcomed by members of the Select Committee, and by many chief constables who are perhaps not part of the ACPO in-group, if I may describe it in that way.

The Parker report’s first three recommendations are central to today’s debate, and I will address them in reverse order. Recommendation 3 states:

“PCCs should seek greater visibility of National Business Area governance and output. Even though the overall responsibility for management is transferring from ACPO to the College of Policing the level of resources that Business Areas consume at local level mean that PCCs remain a major stakeholder.”

The Select Committee would probably also add that Alex Marshall and the College of Policing are in charge. The College of Policing is a new body that will take time to get into its stride, which I believe it is now doing. It is important that chief constables look to Alex Marshall, who is operationally in charge of the college, to provide that leadership, because it now happens through the College of Policing, rather than through ACPO.

Recommendation 3 runs counter to the rearguard action being fought by a number of chief constables; that point is addressed on page 10 of the report, where General Parker refers to the “concerns” from some that

“the wide representation of stakeholders within the College, and the processes necessary to ensure appropriate consideration, may delay the implementation of tactical procedures. Chief Constables should retain an important stake in the speed of decision-making and the priorities set to address issues. This will allow Business Area Heads to ensure timely, credible implementation and, if the situation demands it, provide an effective counter to obfuscation by other stakeholders within the College who may not have responsibility for operational effect.”

That betrays some chief constables’ lack of understanding of how the new policing landscape should operate, and particularly of the role of the College of Policing in running those business areas, and the key role of the police and crime commissioners on the college’s board. As the general says,

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“it would be wrong to assume that there is a clear dividing line between policy and practice”.

That is why it is necessary for PCCs to have oversight. The business areas should not just be pushed off on to a professional committee within the College of Policing; the PCCs should be central either in directly managing the business areas or delegating them to ensure appropriate supervision. That is essential, as General Parker emphasises in his report.

The second recommendation is on national units, of which there is a great range. Some are small in what they do, although they are often important, and some are smaller or larger in terms of funding. The general says that we need

“alternative models to governance, funding and support currently provided by ACPO, such as the lead force…to streamline governance and financial accountability by reinvigorating the bilateral contact between forces and each national unit. This will ensure that individual force requirements are met in the most cost effective manner.”

The report continues:

“ACPO does provide important administrative services, particularly in support of national units. It governs some commercial interests and acts as the home for CPOSA. There are alternative solutions, including more widespread use of the lead force model in the case of national units.”

There is a clear model for the direction that that should go in, so the question is how we arrange the transfer over the next year, if the PCCs are kind enough to provide funding and support for the Home Office to oversee it.

Finally—this is key—nobody has any objection to chief constables getting together to discuss matters of mutual interest. That is something that they have done, as the so-called chief constables’ council, within ACPO, using ACPO as the agency to the extent that that was required, but the consensus, certainly in the report, is that the status quo is no longer feasible. General Parker says that we need change that

“shifts responsibilities…to the College of Policing and other appropriate bodies, one of which must represent senior…operational leadership at the national level”.

ACPO will therefore have no further role in that. I emphasise that responsibility is shifting to other appropriate bodies, one of which will provide a central focus at the national level and can act as a forum for the senior leadership of the police service.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He rightly quotes at length the Parker review, which praises the historic work of ACPO, recommends a collective national policing function to conduct operational and managerial co-ordination, and argues for reform. It has been embraced by ACPO and supported by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which are now collaborating in a transitional board. Does he accept the importance of a focus akin to that which ACPO has provided historically? Whatever the future reforms, there should be that focus on the effective co-ordination of operational and managerial delivery. Is that not key to the safety and security of the communities that we represent?

Mark Reckless: What is key for our communities is democratic oversight. As I said in my maiden speech, if Labour is now not the party of democratic oversight,

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which the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) has an honourable record in pushing, but of ACPO, then it can stand on that basis, but that is a sad change. I am not sure whether, in the shadow Minister’s remarks, there was a degree of confusion between ACPO and the National Police Coordination Centre, in terms of that national co-ordinating role during times of crisis—the most obvious recent example is the riots. Everyone agrees that that role is required, but we need appropriate oversight of that, and there is appropriate oversight in that centre. The president of ACPO does not have direction and control; he is one of a number of people serving on the new body, which includes representation from the Cabinet Office and the Home Office. That is the right model.

It is perfectly fine to discuss and develop the idea of whether chief constables need a collective view, and whether or not the body should be called the chief constables’ council. The traditional tripartite model involves the chief constable and the police authority locally, and the Home Office setting the national framework. Unfortunately, over several decades, ACPO began undemocratically to set that national framework centrally, when it is much more appropriate for such things to be delivered locally and with democratic oversight. If there is to be a chief constables’ council, which is perfectly sensible, it should be run by a part-time chair elected by the members—even ACPO was run in that way before 2003. There is no need for some great legal entity and superstructure that has human resources, finance and legal functions; it can operate like the other business areas. The elected chair could use his staff officer and a number of officers within the local force as appropriate, with the costs falling as they lie with the business area. That is the appropriate model, which would allow chief constables to work together, with the chair speaking on their behalf when appropriate. That is all that is required, and we must be sure that the transition does not allow a revamped ACPO to return from the dead.

4.53 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I will be brief, as the Minister has to speak, and I know that other colleagues also want to contribute. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and to congratulate the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) on initiating the debate. He is a true original thinker on the Select Committee on Home Affairs as far as policing is concerned. Throughout the incredible change that has been organised by the Government and the new landscape of policing, he has pushed the Select Committee in the right direction when we have probed the changes. I am happy to remind the House that the Select Committee is investigating how police and crime commissioners and chief constables work together. As part of that, we will have our say on what is left of ACPO in the new landscape.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that chief constables have a different role from the one that has developed over the past few years. They are not supposed to be involved in making policy, although the Home Affairs Committee has on many occasions called on ACPO to give us views on policy. That changes in this new landscape, which I am on the record as saying I am excited about, but it has not yet settled. The hon. Gentleman is saying that when it has settled, chief constables will have a role to play, but it will not be the traditional role that

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developed under ACPO. It should be a new role. I am sure that the Select Committee will consider those points when we come to make recommendations.

4.55 pm

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who is the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who gave an excellent summary. He and I have often taken up this issue on the Select Committee, because it does matter.

When I talk to experts in policing structures from around the world and they look at how ACPO works, they are often shocked at the amount of power that has accumulated without oversight and without deliberate intention. Nobody would deny that there is a role for operational discussion between chief constables, but far more than that has been accumulated and gone into the new structure, as I have seen in many cases. Several years ago, the Cambridgeshire police authority was told that it had to agree a particular policy on Tasers, because it had been mandated by ACPO. The police authority should have known better than to accept the policy, but that is what it was told, in writing, from the chief constable at the time. That is simply inappropriate. It is not up to ACPO to set that sort of policy.

The Parker review is deeply critical on several points, as was summarised by my hon. Friend. Some things have been annoying many of us for a long time, such as the fact that it is a private limited company and exempt from freedom of information requests. In fairness, the president, who is on the parliamentary estate today, has highlighted those as things that he would like to change, but I have not seen them change yet. We have the opportunity to change things now as a result of the Parker review, the new College of Policing, the bringing of a good evidence-based environment to policing, and the changes around police and crime commissioners.

PCCs now have the right to choose what model they would like. It is obviously their choice to make, but I hope that they consider the sort of model outlined by my hon. Friend. I say yes to a chief constables’ council, yes to a place for chief constables to talk, engage and interact, and yes to it having a part-time chair, who should have support and be able to be involved with operational policing. ACPO should be trimmed down, with far more responsibilities lying with accountable bodies, and far less of the power that it has accumulated. Many people at ACPO have worked hard and with the best of intentions, but it has not been accountable, and it has led to a few people collecting a huge amount of power.

4.57 pm

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless). ACPO was let off lightly in General Parker’s review. It is a failed institution that is bordering on corrupt. It has myriad conflicts of interest and lacks transparency. General Parker’s review is excellent, but it failed to identify and to nail the heart of the problems at ACPO, which come from a group of men, largely, protecting their jobs over decades.

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Jack Dromey: A very serious allegation has just been made about the most senior police officers in our country. It has been alleged that they are corrupt. Will the hon. Gentleman either justify that statement or withdraw it?

Julian Smith: I will not withdraw it. An organisation that offers jobs to ex-officers without following the procurement processes that it created displays a form of corruption. It is a club working in its own interests. The report does not identify that, just as it does not identify the organisation’s moral vacuum. There have been many challenges to our police service, but has this organisation reviewed the issue of better leadership, or what should be done? Has it looked at how many women are in the senior leadership of our police forces? Has it looked at ethnic minorities? Has it challenged itself? Has it looked at new entrants into the forces? Has it looked at why white males largely dominate the senior positions within our police? It has not. For those reasons, we should draw a line under ACPO. The PCCs should not give this organisation a penny piece beyond some transitional funding. The Home Office should be much more focused on ensuring that any money that it pays for ongoing projects does not seep over into the overall running of this organisation. ACPO is finished and should be wound up; the sort of organisation outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood sounds like just the ticket for a new, more transparent period of policing.

5 pm

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Damian Green): It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. It was also a particular pleasure to hear some thoughtful and trenchant views in the course of this short debate. Those who spoke, most of whom are members of the Home Affairs Committee, have thought about the subject deeply and long. Furthermore, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Select Committee, said that a report is gestating; as ever, we look forward to its birth. I was especially grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that he was “excited” about the new policing landscape. There were many reasons why we conducted such a widespread and radical reform of the police. It was extremely necessary to improve policing in this country. It is an uncovenanted and added bonus that it excites the Chair of the Select Committee.

The time is right, amid all this change, to look again at the role of ACPO to ensure that it has adapted to the massive change and reform programme introduced by the Government, because the whole of the policing landscape has been reformed. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who introduced the debate so thoughtfully, police and crime commissioners have given communities a greater say in policing and introduced new lines of accountability for chief constables. Also, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has been strengthened to ensure the highest standards of police integrity, which is clearly an ever more important reform; the National Crime Agency has been created to lead the fight against serious and organised crime; the inspectorate of constabulary has been made more independent; and the College of Policing has been established to provide professional standards for policing. It is therefore essential that ACPO’s functions are now delivered within the ethos of the new policing landscape.

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In the short time—a little more than a year—that PCCs have been in office, they have innovated by developing strategies to tackle drug and alcohol misuse and the problem of people with mental health problems being held in custody cells; they have worked with young people to improve engagement; and they have driven innovation in technology to improve policing. They have done all that while holding their forces to account and scrutinising police performance. Many PCCs have wasted no time in introducing new processes to hold chief constables to account for the delivery of the PCC-prepared police and crime plans and in driving value for money. All that has fundamentally changed the accountability process in and governance of policing for the better. I am grateful for the endorsement of that change in the tone of the debate so far.

PCCs have reviewed the role and remit of ACPO within that new context—this is essential, and I very much welcome it. Various hon. Members have talked about the Parker review, which demonstrates that PCCs are providing an impetus to reform at the national as well as the local level. They are of course innovating and delivering policing more efficiently in each of their individual areas, and not only have they brought real local accountability to how chief constables and their forces perform, but they are working hard to ensure that their local communities have a stronger voice in policing.

Everything is happening against the economic and fiscal background with which we are familiar. In the current climate, it is essential to drive innovation and transformation that deliver value for money, so that savings can be made and priority given to front-line policing. PCCs are doing this at the same time as they are delivering against their national responsibilities, which I hope is putting an end to the view of some people that that is a weakness of PCCs. I think that it is a strength.

I now turn in some detail to the Parker review. As Sir Nick Parker said in a review undertaken on behalf of PCCs, not of the Home Office, there are frustrations with the lack of transparency in ACPO funding and with the inadequacy of audit and performance monitoring. Sir Nick said that

“these arise out of ACPO’s undoubtedly complex and unorthodox structure.”

There is a variety of governance mechanisms across the full range of ACPO’s functions, and its status is unusual, in that it is a company limited by guarantee rather than a public body. We have heard some of those frustrations aired in the Chamber today.

Keith Vaz: To be fair to the president of ACPO, Sir Hugh Orde—I am a great fan of his and the way in which he conducts his policing—he said that he was very uncomfortable with being in a company limited by guarantee. He had torn what little hair he had left off his head in order to find alternatives.

Damian Green: Absolutely. The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right to make that point. I am conscious that Sir Hugh Orde has thought as much about these matters as anyone else and has, as one would expect, come to thoughtful conclusions.

I support the broad direction of travel of the Parker review, and I was pleased that PCCs had taken collective action to review the role and functions of ACPO. I was

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also pleased the review recognised the need for efficiencies and for deriving maximum value for money from services that are currently provided under ACPO.

The PCCs have a vital role in ensuring that there is a national forum in which chief constables may come together to co-ordinate what they see as their needs at the national level. We all agree that that is an essential function. As the review recognises, crucially, the majority of ACPO functions have now transferred to the College of Policing. We are using the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill to give the college the power to set standards. It will be for the college to provide leadership for the whole of policing in future.

Dr Huppert: The Minister is absolutely right to highlight the role of the College of Policing in providing standards and leadership. It is also important to evidence-informed policing and to developing new approaches that were not seen in the previous policing landscape. Will he talk about that role as well?

Damian Green: Indeed. My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am about to come on to the college and its vital, central role in future, but first I will point out the one part of the Parker review with which I disagree: the need for a centralised change management programme for police reform, potentially run from the Home Office. That is exactly what we do not need and is very much against the ethos of the more accountable, locally driven and bottom-up police service that we are introducing. That is one of the reasons why I am so glad that the PCCs have grasped the nettle of reform themselves, because it shows that we do not need a small group in the Home Office driving all change.

Mark Reckless: The PCCs I have spoken to do not interpret the report in that way. I can see how the Minister might, reading it broadly, but that has not been their interpretation, to the extent that change management is needed and the Home Office’s co-operation with that is desired. I believe that is an issue for the transitional final year funding that PCCs are prepared to offer to help the Home Office to ensure that ACPO’s functions are wound down and that the appropriate transition is made.

Damian Green: Absolutely. I thought that that was what I had said. I am conscious that PCCs want to do that. I am not saying that there is no role for the Home Office—there is of course a role for it, and we have a very senior official sitting on the transition committee precisely so that the legitimate interest that the Home Office has in the process can be represented at this vital time of change.

I have been invited to talk about the College of Policing, however, so I will. We saw before Christmas with the code of ethics that the media and the public are increasingly—and rightly—looking to the college to speak boldly on how it believes the police should response to press and public concerns, in the way that, in the past, they would have looked to ACPO. The college has taken on much that we used to look to ACPO to provide—setting out the case for change, providing leadership and enabling police forces to provide a more effective service to their communities.

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In future, we will be looking to the college as the body responsible for developing a better police force, for identifying the challenges that policing faces and for setting out how those challenges should be met. In future the college will come up with the big ideas for reforms to improve the way policing is delivered. I expect to see the college providing dynamic leadership in the face of a wide range of challenges, including reducing bureaucracy, increasing officer discretion and driving the modernisation of the police.

To achieve all that, the college will need to be visible not just to the few at the top of the police or to the many thousands working in policing but—perhaps most important of all—to the general public, without whom the police could not be effective. We have always had a model of policing by consent. The famous dictum of Robert Peel, that the

“police are the public and the public are the police”

needs constant reinvention in every age. It will be to the college that Governments, the police and the public will look to interpret how we achieve that hugely desirable end, which has always been at the heart of British policing, in the 21st century.

We have talked about accountability today, and I agree that it is important. The college is accountable through its board, with a far greater range of people from right across policing responsible for taking decisions about the way the college works. It will also be accountable to Parliament for the standards it sets.

Mark Reckless: The key is that the range of people on that board include a serious number of PCCs, who are elected. That is the difference, surely.

Damian Green: It is one difference, but the most important difference, and the next thing I was going to say, is how inclusive the college is. It is for the whole of policing: officers, staff, special constables and volunteers. There is a wide range of people on the college board as well as on its professional committee. As my hon. Friend says, that rightly includes PCCs, who are themselves directly elected.

The college is new and new organisations need time to get their strategy and structures in place, and to make sure that they have the right people in post to deliver their aims, but there has already been huge progress. In September, the college published its strategic intent, inviting views on its strategy, including on whether police officers and staff should pay a fee to join. In October, it consulted on the code of ethics for police officers and members of police staff. While we are debating the changes to ACPO here today, the college is working through its longer term structures and developing its commercial strategy. All that is being progressed alongside the work the college is doing on direct entry, on the threshold tests linking pay to skills, on police digitisation and on freeing up police time. It is essential that everyone not only gives the college time to develop but supports it in that development. It will be a vital institution for the future success of policing in this country.

We should all recognise that it will not be some diktat from the Home Office or lever pulled by the Policing Minister that will bring about reform. We need to work in partnership with police and crime commissioners and chief constables to ensure that the model for the

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future is the right one. We continue to take a strong interest and financially to support those critical national functions that chief constables undertake and must continue to deliver, namely those where operational co-ordination is needed on national issues. Critical national functions including the national police co-ordination centre and the ACPO criminal records office must continue so that we safeguard work on, for example, the sharing of international criminal information across the EU and the rest of the world—clearly an area of increasing importance to the police.

Sir Nick Parker’s review was comprehensive and looked at the future of ACPO in the round. It concluded that reform was needed to ensure that chief constables have a forum with functions and structures that fit the new police reform landscape. I support that objective. The changes to the policing landscape that followed the publication of the review of ACPO will take time to

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unfold. Once those changes take place, it will be essential that they work. We have already seen the changes the Government have made to this part of the policing landscape through the creation of the college. Those changes have worked because they have been supported by all parts of policing—by chief constables, PCCs, the Police Superintendents Association, the Police Federation and those trade unions that have members who are police staff. The changes to ACPO need to be worked through in exactly the same way.

I am grateful to ACPO and its members. Chief constables have shown the ability to adapt and evolve to meet new challenges. That pragmatic, reforming approach will need to continue as police reform and, in particular, a sharper focus on public accountability and transparency continue to drive change across the policing landscape.

Question put and agreed to.

5.15 pm

Sitting adjourned.