HC Deb 18 April 1986 vol 95 cc1203-5

Considered in Committee; reported, without Amendment.

1.25 pm
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I once had the privilege of introducing a Bill under similar procedures concerning milk allocation to children at school which went through all its stages in the House without one word being uttered. The value and virtue of that legislation were so self-evident that there was no need to speak to it. Had I done so, the Bill might not have been accepted.

On this occasion, however, it might be helpful if I give the background to the Bill and explain its main purposes, because the House has been courteous in expediting progress. I thank the Department of Transport for its assistance. Those are the only kind words I am likely to say about that Department during the Government's lifetime. Therefore, they should form the first major part of my speech. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Transport and his officials.

The Bill is relatively modest but important. It has two aims: first, to get rid of some of the confusion about permit parking in local authority areas; and, secondly, to deal with traffic parking devices, meters, and so on.

First, there is confusion about whether it is legal in areas of permit parking for a local authority to charge or not to charge—to have a variable scheme. Clause 1 specifically and directly gives local authorities that flexibility. This is an important measure, especially in seaside and other areas which are heavily congested for brief periods of the day, where the local authority seeks power to protect residents and to facilitate the parking of those visiting the area. The Bill gives the local authority power to charge, or not to charge, residents, nonresidents, permit holders and non-permit holders. That flexibility will enable local authorities to gauge their traffic needs and controls.

The second aim is perhaps more interesting and important because it deals with metering devices used in arranging for parking. It concerns three aspects—in-car parking discs, parking meters and parking meters without a clock. The present legislation is rather confused. The Bill seeks merely to clear up the principles. Basically, it means that there can be in-car parking devices for rent or charge which are costed, and that will be legal. That will be important in areas of outstanding natural beauty where it would be an advantage to control and charge for parking, but where people do not want parking meters to clutter an otherwise good view, cathedral close or other part of our heritage. Therefore, the Bill will make it legal to have in-car parking devices. A number of companies, in conjunction with local authorities, are already experimenting with them.

Some present difficulties with parking meters are the number that are often out of order, emptying coins from them, and taking them in and out of action according to traffic demands and police or security needs. The Bill will enable us to have the equivalent of a British Telecom card for use in parking meters which will register the time. A customer will insert a card and buy his time, as he does with a BT card. It will be automatic, electronic, safe, durable, and unlikely to break down. Eventually, "smart cards" will be able to be used which will allow a person's account to be debited directly, rather than under the arrangements with a BT card.

It is a simple, direct system, and it is important because many of our parking meters have almost outlived their useful life. There is a large market for British firms in this area, especially in the United States. However, at present, when British firms seek to export these instruments, and they are asked, "Are they being used in the United Kingdom?", they must reply, "We cannot do so because we are not certain whether they are legal." The legislation will make it legal, so it is important for the British economy, as well as for safety, for getting the collection of money off the road, for security, for saving local authorities' repair costs, and for doing away with the necessity of having a clock device present to be seen by traffic wardens.

The final provision deals with fraud in relation to this device. This is a minor piece of legislation. I doubt whether there will be enormous celebrations in the streets when it becomes law. However, it will ensure a degree of efficiency and tidy up the law. That must benefit those who administer the law as well as those who suffer from or have to bear it. It provides an opportunity to improve the economic prospects of some of our companies, to guarantee jobs and to introduce new technology into parking meters.

For those reasons, I commend the Bill to the House. I thank the Government and the House for their courtesy during its passage.

1.32 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

This is one of the welcome occasions when the Transport and General Workers' Union is shown that it is represented on both sides of the House on a significant transport issue, although it may not necessarily be as substantial as the one to be introduced next week. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)—perhaps I should refer to him as my honourable Brother, so long as it does not get him into trouble with reselection—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I hope that no members of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers will start referring to me as Brother Chairman.

Mr. Bottomley

I hope that I was speaking indirectly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to get my marching orders from you.

The hon. Gentleman described the purposes of the Bill.

Mr. McNamara

I am grateful to the Minister, who is my brother in the trade union, for dealing with me kindly and courteously, but I wish to point out that this measure may increase employment prospects. According to my brothers in the Hull municipal corporation, the measure that the Minister will support on Tuesday will create at least 300 redundancies throughout the country, because it will decimate public transport.

Mr. Bottomley

If, in a few years' time, we have an opportunity to consider the effects of the changes, I hope that my honourable Brother will return and say that he was wrong and I was right.

The Government welcome the Bill, which provides useful clarification of the law on parking. Although the Bill may seem rather technical and concerned with matters of detail, it will be valuable both in the greater freedom it gives to local authorities to select an approach to on-street parking which best suits local needs, and in the greater certainty it will give to manufacturers in the development of new equipment and methods.

Technology is improving all the time in many areas, and parking technology is no exception to the trend. Traditional parking apparatus, especially the coin-operated clockwork parking meters, has given good service for many years—some of us might argue, too good a service, given the amount of money that we have poured into them. Nothing stays the same forever and new approaches are possible using magnetic cards and microchip technology. New systems are being developed which could revolutionise parking in the future.

The existing legislation was prepared long before such new approaches were considered. Not surprisingly, the present law does not fit those new approaches at all well. The Bill would amend the legislation to bring it into line with what is possible and remove legal doubts which have arisen over, for example, the use of coinless equipment.

I do not wish to give the impression that all the new approaches necessarily involve high technology. Better ways of using space on our streets can be achieved in some circumstances without the need for complex electronics. The Bill's provisions for shared parking schemes, under which permit holders and visitors can use the same road space—although not at the same time, remembering the slightly better road safety figures that we announced yesterday—are good examples of this. The Bill should remove some of the legal doubts which at present prevent many such schemes. From my constituency experience, I know that such provisions would be useful near railway stations, where commuter traffic could be kept off all-day parking and we could allow residents to park where they have their homes and pay their rates as well as allow visitors to shops and to residents to park for a reasonable period.

The Bill should also help with approaches to parking, such as the prepaid card displayed in the vehicle. That and similar systems may not meet the requirements of the existing legislation, but doubts should be removed by the Bill.

The Bill provides the freedom to try a range of new approaches. It should give more flexibility to meet the needs of residents and visitors. It should enable the production of more reliable and cheaper-to-operate equipment. It will permit cashless systems which could avoid many of our current problems.

The Government are happy to support the Bill, and I am happy to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for introducing it. I hope that it will come into law soon.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.