§ Lords amendments considered.
Lords amendment: No. 1, after clause 2, to insert the following new clause—Display of information—
. The following section shall be inserted after the section 35A inserted by section 2 above—
§ 35B.—(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations requiring local authorities to display at off-street parking places provided by them under section 32 above such information about parking there as is specified in the regulations.
§ (2) Regulations under this section may also—
- (a) require the display of any orders under section 35(1) above relating to the parking place;
- (b) specify the manner in which the information and orders are to be displayed;
- (c) exempt local authorities, in specified circumstances or subject to specified conditions, from the requirement to display information and orders, or to display them in the specified manner; and
- (d) provide, in relation to a parking place at which a local authority fails to comply with the regulations or with any specified provision of the regulations, that, except in any specified circumstances, any order under section 35(1) above shall be of no effect in its application to that parking place in so far as it requires the payment of any charge in connection with use of the parking place—
- (i) while the failure to comply continues, and
- (ii) as respects vehicles parked there when the failure to comply was remedied, during a specified period thereafter.
§ (3) Regulations under this section may make different provision for different circumstances and for different descriptions of parking place, and may exempt specified descriptions of parking place from any provision of the regulations.
§ (4) In any proceedings for contravention of, or non-compliance with, an order under section 35(1) above relating to an off-street parking place, it shall be assumed, unless the contrary is shown, that any relevant regulations under this section were complied with at all material times."9.43 am
§ Mr. Timothy Kirkhope (Leeds, North-East)
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
After Report and Third Reading here, which was almost exactly three months ago, I did not expect that I should have to bring my Bill before the House again. I am, however, happy to do so this morning as a result of an amendment that was agreed in Committee in the other place. I fully agree with the amendment. It has my fullest support.
As it is some three months since we were last considering the Bill in this place, it is only fair to hon. Members, and to others, to tell them briefly about the important nature of this Bill. Throughout its passage, it has received a broad measure of all-party support. It is 586 comparatively unusual for Bills, particularly of this type, to receive all-party support. I am therefore delighted that it has received the support of the other parties.
The important point about the Bill is that, until 1986, there were no vehicle parking provisions that permitted the use of any form of payment other than cash. On the surface, that appears to be most surprising. Many of the people to whom I have spoken while the Bill has been before both Houses have expressed considerable surprise about it. I suspect that it is just a legal anachronism. Many people have been greatly inconvenienced over the years when paying for parking their motor cars by the lack of flexibility in parking arrangements, particularly by local authorities. They believe that it should have been put right many years ago.
I pay credit to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who successfully introduced a private Member's Bill in 1986 which is not all that dissimilar from the private Member's Bill for which I am responsible. It provided for parking equipment that was not operated by coins to be used, but unfortunately only on the street. It related mostly to the type of parking meters that we see on every street. It was a limited measure, not through any fault on the part of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North but because at that time he felt that it was a useful measure for which he felt he could obtain all-party support. It had a successful passage through the House and it has had limited success so far in one or two local authorities.
The only problem about the hon. Gentleman's Bill, which he perceived at the time that he introduced it, was that inevitably there would be difficulties in obtaining the confidence of manufacturers of parking equipment. It was clear that a small-scale scheme would not necessarily encourage them to manufacture equipment if the market for it would inevitably be limited. It was an inspired Bill and a useful piece of legislation, but it did not achieve enough.
When, therefore, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to introduce a private Member's Bill, I thought that it would be useful to build on what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North had done in 1986 by trying to broaden the scope for the use of such equipment so that it could be used for both off-street parking and on-street parking, thus ending up with a comprehensive piece of legislation in which both local authorities and the manufacturers of parking equipment could place their confidence.
I have already said that I am grateful for having received all-party support for the measure and for the fact that I am able to build on a measure that was introduced in 1986 by an Opposition Member. I am particularly pleased to be able to give full credit to him for what he began and for his own measure.
§ Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford)
Does that mean that once the Bill becomes law, assuming that it does, both on-street parking and off-street parking will be treated in exactly the same way? That would obviously be sensible.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. I think that at this stage the hon. Gentleman is going beyond the scope of the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope), who is in 587 charge of the Bill, will now deal with the Lords amendment. I understand that he has made his introductory remarks.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
Certainly, Madam Deputy Speaker. For my hon. Friend's information, though, that is correct.
The new clause, which is headed "Display of information" is an enabling provision. In itself it does not impose any new obligations. In that sense, it can be described as a free-standing clause. It would add a new section to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, but it would not affect any of the other clauses.
§ Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)
Does my hon. Friend share my disgust at the fact that not one single member of the SDP or the SLD is present in the Chamber? Does not that show that they do not care tuppence for the interests of motorists in Britain?
When my hon. Friend deals with the Lords amendment —which, as you rightly pointed out, Madam Deputy Speaker, is the only issue that we are debating today—could he tell me the reason for subsection (2)(c), which seeks to exempt local authorities in specified circumstances? I think that this amendment, passed by the other place, is excellent, but I cannot envisage why any local authority should be exempted from having to display the information that is mentioned in the Lords amendment.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I shall come to subsection (2)(c) in due course. I am also sorry that no SLD or SDP Members are present, but in their defence I must stress that the Bill had all-party support and sponsorship.
The new clause does not impose new obligations. Its justification is strengthened by the fact that the Bill, if passed, will open the way for increasing use of new forms of off-street parking control, taking advantage of new technology and non-coin-operated systems. Inevitably there will be a much wider use of various systems, including payment by magnetic cards, vouchers and other means.
Obviously there are great attractions in that there will be less scope for fraud and theft and more cost-effective and efficient means of maintaining parking systems, moving away from the traditional coin-in-the-slot approach. The Bill will also encourage a great number of manufacturers to produce equipment using new technology. One leading contractor in Yorkshire, near Halifax, feels very strongly that there is considerable export potential in Europe and in other continents.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Does he agree that there is potential for British manufacturers to increase the scope of the equipment that they produce and to export it to other countries? In regard to the signs that are the subject of the Lords amendment, some marvellous British manufacturers produce leisure signs, and they will benefit from the Bill. Does he further agree that there are lessons for the ordinary motorists? When they see the marvellous British equipment and signs, they might reflect that it would be better if they were driving marvellous British cars?
§ Mr. Kirkhope
My hon. Friend's last remark moved slightly away from the Lords amendment. I occasionally count the number of British cars in our car park at the House of Commons and I am reasonably encouraged that the vast majority, but sadly not all, are British. My hon. 588 Friend is quite right that it is not just a question of the enormous export potential for metering equipment; as he says; there is also enormous export potential for the signs to which the amendment refers—exports which Britain needs. Britain has a large industry producing attractive and useful signs, so I am pleased to support my hon. Friend's point.
Motorists clearly need to be informed about the changes that might result from the new legislation. It is important that the consumer should have more information. We are living in a society which increasingly recognises the importance of consumers, and it makes sense that they should be provided with such information by right. The Lords amendment refers specifically to car parks which are under local authority order, so it refers primarily to the interests of local authorities served by the legislation, as they will be able to organise their car parking arrangements much better in future.
§ Mr. David Wilshire Spelthorne)
My hon. Friend rightly draws the House's attention to the fact that the Bill will affect local authorities. Does he agree that there are just as many problems arising from lack of information or misleading information from private car park operators, especially from those who provide a field on occasional days?
§ Mr. Kirkhope
My hon. Friend is quite right. The Lords amendment and the Bill do not tackle that specific point. As the vast majority of car parking in Britain is provided by local authorities or is subject to local authority orders, they should be entitled to make their car parking arrangements as attractive as possible, and thereby I hope that they will make sure that, wherever possible, people will use local authority car parking. The Bill has received a very broad welcome, and the amendment has been welcomed by the local authorities that I have consulted. They feel strongly that they have been restricted in some ways in the provision of car parking spaces, and they would like more flexibility. The technology that they will be able to introduce will enable them to plan their parking much more around the facilities that the parking is there to assist.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
Following the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) raised, what is the effect of the amendment on local authorities which provide car parks but decide to put them out to private tender? Obviously, we are moving in that direction, which I believe is right. I was once in control of parking in Kensington and Chelsea, as chairman of the works committee. I had to suffer many long and arduous public meetings at which people complained that there were simply not enough car parking spaces run by private companies or local authorities.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
I thank my hon. Friend for using the Chamber as a confessional this morning. He is right to say that the Bill does not related to independent private contractors, but it will apply to those who act as agents for local authorities in the supply of car parking. I am not sure of the latest statistics, but about 90 per cent. of off-street car parking in Britain is subject to local authority order. Therefore, the Bill refers to the vast majority of car parking arrangements. Inevitably, it will not cover everything, but it is designed to cover the majority of off-street parking.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
I crave the House's indulgence; I have not been present throughout the debate as I have been busy on other pressing matters, which unfortunately have not been very fruitful.
I am intrigued by the structure of the amendment, and I need some help to understand it. Subsection (2)(a) requiresthe display of any orders under section 35(1) above relating to the parking place;while subsection (2)(c) wouldexempt local authorities, in specified circumstances or subject to specified conditions, from the requirement to displayThe amendment appears to require local authorities to display, and then to exempt them from displaying. The logic of that escapes me, as a simple-minded soul. Will the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope), without the assistance of the Minister for Roads and Traffic, explain that to me?
§ Mr. Kirkhope
In each case, it is a question of "may". I shall move on to explain the precise details of the exemptions in due course. A few moments ago my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) raised a specific question about subsection (2)(c) and I said that I would deal with it. If the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) will bear with me for a little longer, I shall come to it in due course.
As I was saying, it is important to remember that local authorities are the largest collective providers of off-street parking. Undoubtedly there is still a need for further private sector development, but it is vital that local authorities are encouraged to provide facilities that are co-ordinated with the development of shopping centres and other places of attraction, particularly in our cities but, to a lesser but still important extent, in rural communities. There is a developing interest in tourism and, until now, local authorities have been somewhat reluctant to provide extra off-street car parking because of the difficulties that I have explained, such as fraud, theft from machines and other problems associated with car parking. The Bill will predominantly help in urban areas and will help local authorities in planning their parking provisions.
There is no statutory obligation on local authorities to display information on how car parks are managed. Other hon. Members have probably also experienced great frustration from time to time in the diversity of information in off-street car parks. It is extremely piecemeal. Information is very clearly displayed in some car parks, with a clear statement of how much it will cost to park, for how long, and the times of opening.
One may go to another city or town and find that the very information that one has come to rely on is no longer displayed. There may be absolutely no information displayed at the next car park.
§ Mr. Wilshire
Does my hon. Friend agree that that is probably another dreadful example of the gross incompetence and bad management of some local authorities, especially Labour-controlled ones?
§ Mr. Kirkhope
I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend, but I do not accept that there is any political difference in this matter. I accept that some car parks are well managed and that some are badly managed by local 590 authorities, but I would not assume that the political persuasion of the council means that a car park is badly managed. Certain car parks in urban areas may be run better than others.
I am trying to help all local authorities. There was some surprise earlier that a Conservative member should want to do anything to help local authorities. That comment seemed to be rather odd. Conservative Members and the Government do a lot to help local authorities, although we do not always get appreciation for it—I wish that we did. Most support for my Bill has come from local authorities in the north of England, the area that I am proud to serve, and most of them have been Labour-controlled.
§ Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that he has had to bring forward his measure in a private Member's Bill. That is because some Conservative Members support and help local authorities, and his Government do not have the same record. The local authority in the area in which I live, Lewisham, manages car parks extremely well—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. No doubt the House will help all local authorities tremendously if we get back to the Lords amendment.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
I am grateful for the intervention by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock). I do not demur in agreeing with her. I have already said that there is a wide diversity, and sometimes even a paucity, of information in off-street car parks. Unfortunately, a lot of it is not provided until one enters the car parks. The entrance to a car park is often down a dark tunnel, and, by the time one gets to the pay machine, there may be 20 or 30 cars behind one, sounding their horns as one tries to negotiate the ramps.
One then finds that the information that is provided, which is not substantial, is unacceptable. It may be unacceptable because the pricing structure is disgraceful or because one fundamentally disagrees with certain terms and conditions on the notice. One's vehicle may no longer be technically acceptable for the car park. It may be too long or too wide. Disabled people also have a problem. It is important to measure the number of spaces for them.
§ Mr. Greg Knight
I am here not to help local authorities, but to try to help the motorist. That is why many Conservative Members are present. I am rather heartened by my hon. Friend's remark. As I understand the Lords amendment, regulations could provide that information should be displayed not only inside the car park but perhaps at a point that can be seen from a public place—in other words, from the highway. Will my hon. Friend confirm my interpretation and that it will be possible to require that a list of parking charges be clearly visible from a highway?
§ Mr. Kirkhope
My hon. Friend is right in one way, but I said a few minutes ago that this is an enabling measure. It is not inevitable that that will occur. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister's powers will not need to be invoked. We are trying to obtain good practice so that we do not need to introduce anything further. When the legislation is in place, many local authorities that are not doing as well as Lewisham and one or two others will put their houses and car parks in order. I am sure that plenty of departmental assistance will be available for local authorities that wish to know what sort of information 591 could or should be supplied. I am sure that they will get a lot of co-operation and help, and that will be to the good of the motoring public.
I do not say that only local authorities will benefit. Clearly, we are concerned mainly about the motoring public and consumers, but the interests of local authorities can be consistent with those of the motoring public. Practice varies from one authority to another, or even from one car park to another under the control of the same local authority. Motorists would welcome more consistency in information. Some information should certainly be provided at car park entrances, so that a driver can choose whether he wishes to go into that car park. I hope that many of those things will come about anyway. That will be as a result either of a decision to operate good practice, or from pressure from users or users' organisations or consumer organisations which will realise the effects of this measure and how they can guide those who provide the facilities.
The important point about the amendment is that, if it is desirable, the Secretary of State could promote consistency of treatment by means of regulations. That would require the display of specified information. I emphasise that that is not the Secretary of State's desire or my desire. I like to see such things happening without the need for regulations. The public feel the same way. They would prefer to have a good voluntary code of practice rather than regulations, which undoubtedly have an unhelpful effect.
This measure applies only to those local authority off-street car parks under section 35 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. I emphasise that the aim is to provide a reserve power, but in answer to the hon. Member for Stockton, North, I stress that it is only a reserve power and would be used only if such measures proved to be necessary in due course.
§ Mr. Greg Knight
Assuming that we accept the amendment and the Bill is passed into law, who is to monitor whether local authorities are following the spirit of the Bill? How will we know whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will need to lay down regulations? We need some feedback. I hope that my hon. Friend will not say that he expects motorists to write in to complain, because we need something more organised than that.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
I am surprised to hear my hon. Friend's remarks. I do not know what he means by "organised". Does he mean that we should have a group of people snooping around car parks? I would not dream of describing motorists and consumers as "snoopers", but they are extremely interested parties and if they are "snooping" in the most favourable way and deciding that the way in which information is displayed is unacceptable to them, we are entitled to ask: who else is better equipped to complain or comment?
If the individual motorist does not want to complain himself or herself, there are plenty of organisations that serve motorists in this country that would do so. I am sure that the Royal Automobile Club, the Automobile Association and the Consumers Association would be most interested in that. I am also sure that the pressures that they can bring to bear would be far more effective than the official organised snooping that my hon. Friend suggests.
§ Mr. Wilshire
My hon. Friend is being a little over-sensitive to the suggestion that consumers should check up on things. One of the best ways of getting a rotten service from a trader or a supplier of a service is to take bad service lying down and not to complain. We need not be in the least bit defensive about saying that consumers should complain if they receive bad service.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
I would not argue with my hon. Friend on that point. It is a fair comment, but I do not feel that I am being over-sensitive. I am simply expressing the views of many people in this country. I am trying to put things right for them and am seeking to do so in a way which is as uncontroversial, and I hope as useful, as possible.
Subsection (2) covers the additional matters which may be provided for in the regulations. For example, regulations may require the display of the order made by the local authority under the provisions governing the use of the car park.
When one enters a park or takes children to play on the swings in a recreation ground, in all likelihood one will see the byelaws relating to the operation of that park or recreation ground prominently displayed on a large hoard. Perhaps the main provisions of the car parks orders could be displayed in a comparable manner.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I have been listening to my hon. Friend with interest. Has he ever seen anybody reading the byelaws so prominently displayed? They are often in such tiny print; on such large and intimidating boards and written in such total gobbledegook that nobody can read them—certainly not in the open air, with the rain coming down—so how could such boards be read if they were at the entrance to a car park where the motorist will encounter cars queueing behind, with other drivers tooting and trying to get their tickets?
§ Mr. Kirkhope
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I have often seen lawyers reading such notices. As my hon. Friend and I were both of that persuasion before we came to this place, I am sure that we both read such notices avidly. Indeed, it does not really matter whether one is a lawyer or not—
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes
Is not the real problem the fact that such gobbledegook was probably written by people such as my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope) and for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot)?
§ Mr. Kirkhope
That may well be the case. However, I am glad that we have moved away from the basis of the charge being by way of the number of folios, because that will undoubtedly reduce the length of such information in the future.
My hon. Friend has beaten me to my next point. I was about to say that the display of such information should not take us away from the crusade for plain English, which is so important. I referred to the need for plain English earlier in the passage of the Bill and emphasised the importance of making sure that everything that we write is in plain English. There is no point in something that people cannot understand. Part of the responsibility for the way in which something is written rests with the legislator but the responsibility also lies partly with those who display the information. They must ensure that the 593 way in which it is displayed, on a board or on an illuminated sign, is sufficiently attractive to ensure that people will read it and that they will be able to understand it.
The regulations by the Secretary of State could also specify the manner in which the information is to be displayed and could stipulate the location of any such board or display. Motorists should be given adequate information either as or before they enter the car park. I should prefer it to be before. That would at least ensure that motorists will know which vehicles are permitted.
That reminds me of the famous case about the Mount Charlotte Hotels, which other hon. Members who are lawyers will almost certainly remember. That case established that, on checking into an hotel one should be able to see displayed on the counter or reception desk the conditions or provisions governing one's stay in that hotel, before one signs the register to book in. At that point, one is entering a contract with the hotel about the provision of accommodation and food. If one wants to argue about the conditions, one must do so before contracting with the hotel. Therefore, a hotel is obliged to provide that information as near to the entrance or to the start of one's contract with the hotel as possible.
It is only reasonable that similar provisions should apply to off-street car parks. I see no reason why a motorist should find out too late that the car park is unacceptable to him in some way.
The information to be displayed should also include details of whether season tickets apply, and should give the scale of charges. I refer again to the powers of local authorities, because several local authorities in the north have told me that they would very much welcome the sort of technology that would allow them to alter the pricing structures of their car parks, dependent upon the day of the week or the time of day. That would enable them to assist those who provide shopping facilities and to encourage people into the centres of towns, which are often deserted at certain times of the day, by offering a lower pricing structure at those times, but a higher pricing structure at the periods when people might want to park their cars for commercial and business purposes. It is felt that people should pay more for on-peak rather than off-peak time.
The technology can be monitored and operated in such a way that those changes can be made, and given that the local authorities have that flexibility, it is important to ensure that the motorist knows that those provisions apply. It would be most unfair if one arrived at a car park at 11 am one day and was charged 50p an hour, but returned on another day at 8.30 am to find, only after one had entered the car park, that the charge at that time was £2 per hour. Because of the impact that the Bill will have, it is even more important that that flexibility, which the local authorities welcome, should be notified to the motorist before he or she enters the car park.
§ Mr. Wilshire
My hon. Friend is right to say that the siting of the information is crucial. Unfortunately, I am not a lawyer, so will he confirm that where subsection 2(b) specifies the manner of display, "manner" to a lawyer means the location as well as the content and the size?
§ Mr. Kirkhope
I would certainly interpret it in that way. Certainly that is what is meant to be implied by it. I hope that other lawyers will agree with that opinion.
These measures are especially important where barrier systems operate, because once one is under a barrier and the barrier closes there is no retreat. One is stuck. The only way out of the car park is then along the route which takes one to the checkout.
§ Mr. Greg Knight
My hon. Friend has now mentioned an important point, because some car parks put their conditions under which one can park one's car on the ticket that is dispensed. When one takes the ticket from the machine, the barrier lifts up. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that it is unreasonable to expect a motorist in a queue of traffic to stop at the barrier to read the information on the ticket before he drives under that barrier. Will my hon. Friend assure us that he proposes that this information will be displayed not only on tickets, but on signs that can be seen from a distance?
§ Mr. Kirkhope
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. It confirms what I have already said. It is an important point and is part of that with which we are trying to deal.
Subsection (2)(c) provides for the exemptions which the hon. Member for Stockton, North mentioned; I hope that he will be returning to the Chamber shortly. It is important to allow any regulatory regime to be tailored to meet the main objectives and not to apply regardless. There must be flexibility in the system. For instance, it would be fair to say that it may be difficult for very small car parks, which just come under local authority orders or, importantly, seasonal car parks which are there only for a temporary period, but are subject to a local authority order—such as Christmas car parks—to display the information in the form in which we would like to see it. I believe, therefore, that it makes a lot of sense to have exemptions in such circumstances, because they would provide a considerable amount of flexibility.
There have been many press reports recently about the problems of specific groups of people with upper limb disabilities. I must admit that the Bill is almost coincidental. Sadly, it was not designed primarily to help such people, but it just happens that it will help such disabled people considerably. Obviously such new systems of payment as are proposed—such as magnetic cards or vouchers—would be more convenient for disabled drivers, especially those with dexterity problems, for example, thalidomide victims. However, those are only the tip of the iceberg of people who have such problems.
I have heard from organisations representing the interests of such groups that some disabled people have considerable problems in handling coins, so they will welcome what we are trying to do. They will welcome, too, the fact that much information will be provided on the information boards about the number of disabled parking places available, the location of those places in the building and any other provisions which are designed to help them. It will tell them, for example, where ramps are located so that, once they have parked, they will have easy exit from the building, which will be useful to them.
We understand that more than 1 million British adults have difficulty in reaching and stretching. Indeed, nearly 2 million—certainly 1.75 million—have problems with dexterity in their upper limbs. I know that manufacturers 595 and designers of such equipment are well aware of the needs of people who are not able-bodied. I hope that they will ensure that they install equipment which is most helpful to them. Certainly, disabled people could be helped by the amendment from the other place.
The amendment will also give the Secretary of State the power to require local authorities, if necessary, to display information for those who are disabled. I hope that those powers will be taken up by the Secretary of State, if necessary, but that in the meantime they will be implemented as good practice by local authorities, having been given the encouragement.
§ Ms. Ruddock
I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said and the help that the amendment could give to people with disabilities of the kind that he has outlined. I hope, however, that the provision will be for free passes for the car parks and that he is not suggesting that such people should merely be given the facility to pay through a different means.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
That is outside the scope of the Lords amendment, so I cannot really go into it. However, I would say that the delivery of the plastic card for parking purposes does not imply either that the card has had to be bought for cash or that it was provided under some scheme. The hon. Lady has hit on a point with which I would like to deal. The joy of a plastic card is that a disabled person does not have to handle cash, and the card could be provided to them under a scheme which gives them the security of being able to park in a place which has been well designed to deal with their problems. The hon. Lady raised a good point, and I hope that I have dealt with it adequately.
It is important that a mechanism is provided to secure compliance with any regulations. Paragraph (d) provides for that compliance in an ingenious but nevertheless, important manner. The failure of local authorities to comply with any future regulations would render the car park order of no effect in so far as it placed an obligation on the consumer or the motorist to pay a charge. That is not exactly dynamite, but it is the sort of provision that will hasten or help along the implementation of a good code of practice. It would certainly be used only in an extreme case. However, it is important for the consumer and the motorist that it is in place. Therefore, in order to protect the car park revenue and the enforcement of their charges, it would be in the local authorities' interests to see that any regulations displayed are properly observed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North asked on whom the onus would be to show anything other than good practice. It is right that that onus should be on the user, and that will be well reflected by the user or his consumer or motorist organsation.
Further provision is made in subsection (3) to allow for the exemption altogether of specified types of car parks from the application of the reglations, or their exemption in specified circumstances. The intention is to provide a framework which can be fine tuned to any set of circumstances. We had difficulty interpreting how new technology would be used. It is difficult to be precise about what will happen to car parking devices in the future, so, the legislation has been prepared in such a way that it will allow great flexibility for that new technology when it comes aong, without the need to burden this place with 596 further legislation. After all, one of our interests is to keep legislation to a minimum; clearly we are doing so in allowing that flexibility within the Bill.
In the Lords, the Government clearly indicated that they had no immediate intention to make any regulations. I hope that the Minister will refer to that point and confirm what I have been saying. It is important to underline that fact.
The new clause acknowledges the reasonable expectations of car park users to be properly informed about the arrangements governing the use of car parks and about their obligations. I can see no good reason for anyone to oppose that principle. The new clause enhances what I have always said is a modest measure, where there are no losers, only gainers. The Lords amendment is an eminently sensible and valuable addition to my short, but I hope practical, Bill. With those few words, I invite the House to give its approval.
§ The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley)
I am sure that the practical and concise speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope) will have destroyed any potential opposition to the Lords amendment. As was pointed out, if the Social and Liberal Democrats are content not to be here, the burden can be carried by the Labour and Tory parties.
There is good co-operation between local authorities and central Government on this matter. No local authority has written to the Government opposing the extra powers in the Lords amendment. I give an assurance that the Secretary of State hopes never to have to use them. It is far better to have voluntary acceptance of a standard of information to provide necessary help to all people.
If the House wishes, I can deal with some of the points in more detail. As my hon. Friend made clear and as I am sure is acknowledged by the presence on the Opposition Front Bench of both the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) and by the keen interest of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown), the provision of information can help those who have difficulty using car parks. That brings me to the point raised during business questions yesterday by the right hon. Members for Wythenshawe and for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley).
I shall relate all my remarks to the provision of information and the Lords amendment. Most of us obtain our information not from notices outside or inside off-street car parks, but from newspapers and television. I pay tribute to The Sunday Times which fought for thalidomide victims in a long campaign, at great cost. The journalists involved showed great bravery. The outcome shows that a persistent campaign of being reasonable and sometimes unreasonable can occasionally bring great advantage to those in great need. Many other groups will follow that example and benefit from reasonable, and unreasonable, campaigning.
The hon. Member for Deptford asked whether free provision would be made and whether cash needed to change hands. I regret that The Sunday Times did not cover our consultation document published in 1986 about whether orange badges should be extended to the upper limbless. Perhaps it did not feel that it was newsworthy. An 597 article two weeks ago managed to suggest, or was sub-edited to suggest, that in 1986 the Government withdrew the opportunity for the upper limbless to have orange badges. The truth is completely the reverse. I am not accusing The Sunday Times of lying. I do not wish to use strong language or to have a war with it, ITN, the Evening Standard, the Thalidomide Trust or Mr. Gordon Piller. I simply want to set out the information openly.
In 1986, the Department of Transport, with my approval, asked whether the upper limbless should be included in the orange badge scheme. There were hundreds of responses. In April this year, we announced the conclusions. The predominant, strong advice and the recommendations of the statutory committee, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, was that the scheme should not be extended to the upper limbless or those who are unable to carry. The reason is not in any way to target Thalidomide people as being not disabled or deserving. Some Thalidomide people already have orange badges. Others do not want them. At least one, and probably others, did have one but did not get it renewed.
The media have a responsibility to declare facts as well as the right, which I acknowledge, to put forward opinions and to campaign. It does no good to run a campaign to double the number of orange badges from 1 million to 2 million, which, together, ITN, The Sunday Times and the Evening Standard could do. The Evening Standard editorial stated that it would not matter whether there were 2 million instead of 1 million, but that would destroy the magnificent achievement of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe, who managed to introduce the national scheme.
When we consider information displayed outside off-street car parks in local authority hands, we are talking not only about local schemes but about the national scheme. The right hon. Gentleman introduced the national scheme and provided information not just outside car parks but on cars—the national orange badge scheme. I have with me the proposed variant which will introduce other improvements. It is relevant to see whether people who use information in off-street car parks are entitled to any concessions that the orange badge may bring.
The national scheme was introduced to avoid disabled people having their front windscreens covered with four, 14 or 40 local badges. The House approved the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion. It was a breakthrough. As the 1975 regulations made plain, it was designed for those who could not walk an appreciable distance without great difficulty. In 1982, following consultations, the House approved regulations which did not make a material difference to those criteria.
The scheme has run from its conception, through its inception, through the review in 1982—the regulations came into effect in 1983—without change. I regret that the coverage of the consultations which started in 1986 and the announcement of the Government's preliminary conclusions were ignored by most of the media. They were not ignored by the disability organisations. The joint committee and the statutory committee both gave clear advice to the Government.
After we announced the conclusions, we held a press conference at the Department of Transport. We then came 598 here for an immediate meeting with the all-party parliamentary committee on the disabled, which spans both Houses. It took two members of the statutory committee about 35 minutes to get from the Department of Transport to the House of Commons. That illustrated the problem that people in wheelchairs and others with disabilities have in moving about.
As the chairman of the statutory committee said in a letter to The Sunday Times, there are two further problems, among many. One is how to pay for parking. Alison Wright, whose case has been mentioned in the media, is disabled and I hope that she will not mind my using her name. An ITN news item which I did not see would have illustrated the problem, judging from the response of the editor of the Evening Standard. The second problem is shopping. Neither problem is necessarily solved by the orange badge in itself. It is difficult for those whose arms do not work effectively and for those who do not have arms, for reasons including Thalidomide, to carry shopping.
Most people would accept that it would be immoral to extend the qualifications of the regulations just to people who are Thalidomide vicitms, unless their level of disability is greater than that of those who otherwise would be excluded from the scheme. It is important to use the figures with great caution. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys has estimated that more than I million people have significant practical difficulty in carrying shopping. I do not argue that all those people would necessarily want an orange badge. If we start using the ability to carry shopping as one of the criteria for issuing an orange badge, we will not be limiting the number of orange badges in circulation, although there are no quotas or targets, but extending it dramatically.
We have sufficient evidence to suggest that local authorities are creating more and more no-loading areas. Often, the implicit reason for that is to exclude orange badge holders from using the side of the road in such areas. Local schemes for the disabled driver are also increasing. During last week's transport strike, I walked through Kensington and Chelsea, where I saw the Kensington and Chelsea blue badge. That might entitle the user of that badge to free parking in a Kensington and Chelsea off-street car park. The information might be on the board of its car parks for the benefit of disabled people.
One can imagine, however, reaching the situation whereby a disabled person not only has to apply for such a blue sticker in advance, but may end up with a green one for one area, a red one for another, one with black vertical stripes for another or one with horizontal blue stripes for yet another area. We would return to a terrible proliferation of such badges and schemes, and the effect would be to exclude various people from parking. It would be like having a sign at off-street and on-street car parks saying, "Disabled persons not wanted here". If that happened, the no-go area and apartheid system against which the most severely mobility disabled handicapped people argue against would be created.
Let me make it absolutely plain, that the Department of Transport recognises that Alison Wright and other such people are disabled. Those who were able to attend the tremendous mobility road show at Crowthorne in Berkshire at the transport and road research laboratory, where 20,000 people, most of them disabled, came together, will recognise that the Department is keenly 599 interested in working successfully with local authorities, the private sector and the disability organisations to overcome the problems of disability wherever possible.
The Department has a good record. Although I have done a great deal to support the work undertaken, that good record is not particularly mine. It is a good record because of the way in which the matter has been treated as a non-party, non-personality issue. Great credit goes to many involved, but some of the greatest credit goes to the former permanent secretary at the Department of Transport, Sir Peter Baldwin.
During the International Year of the Disabled, Sir Peter asked what could be done to help disabled people meet their transport needs. Once one can help a disabled person overcome his transport difficulties, one is helping him in every other way.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman agrees.
Transport is the key to overcoming most of the disablement in life that disablement of the body or the mind brings about.
The person who listened to Sir Peter Baldwin ask that question was his private secretary, Ann Frye. Although it is not the convention to mention the name of an individual civil servant people will recognise that her service to the disabled community, to the Department and to the voluntary organisations as head of the disability unit in the Department has been unusual in its dedication and unusual in its success. That success has mostly been achieved through partnership. I intend to continue such partnership.
Independent Television News has suggested, perhaps because it did not have enough time to consider it, that orange badges will now only be given to people with serious walking disabilities. Such a suggestion is no doubt an unintentional mistake. Those with serious walking disabilities who get the concession of the orange badge in off-street car parks where the relevant information is available know that they have always been entitled to that badge. It was suggested that the concession on the board at such car parks should be extended and that the numbers of those eligible under the national scheme should be increased. The ITN report also suggested that officials at the Department do not recognise that a particular person is disabled. That is a great insult to civil servants who know as much about this as most, and more than many.
It would be better if those who want to do programmes on the disabled consulted the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe. Although we do not agree on every point, we recognise that all are bona fide in their attempts to make progress. We also recognise the care, consideration and hard work that officials at the Department and local authority officials undertake in trying to overcome the problems of the disabled.
In the transcript from ITN, Alison Wright is quoted as saying that she is not talking about going out shopping, but about operating ticket machines in car parks. In that connection, it is important to consider what information is available on the board at car parks and whether that information could make it plain that someone with a disability, whether upper arm or some other, could use that car park. It is no good finding oneself in a car park 600 and then discovering that it is not possible to use it. Such information would be covered by the Lords amendment if the local authority operating the off-street car park did not provide that information voluntarily. I expect that all local authorities will want to provide such information.
Alison Wright asked how she was expected to get up to the machine, put the money in and get her ticket out. She said that the ticket machines used to be fairly high off the ground. I am sure the reason why those machines are now coming down is the work of those concerned to make life easier for the disabled. I do not want to get into a war with Alison Wright's father, so I shall leave out some of the comments he made. The question and answer sheet that has been made available to all hon. Members makes it plain that we are taking further medical advice on the assertion of Mr. Gordon Piller that Thalidomide victims have difficulty in walking—not when shopping or leaning down. That is a new claim and we are discussing it with the medical profession and the Thalidomide Trust.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
Will Professor Smithells of Leeds be involved in that consultation? He had much to do with the medical advice given in the early 1970s when we were campaigning for adequate compensation for the Thalidomide victims. He is a man of considerable experience.
§ Mr. Bottomley
That is a sensible suggestion. Together with the Thalidomide Trust and the medical experts, we shall find a way in which to make an assessment without requiring every Thalidomide person to undergo a new medical assessment. I agree with Mr. Gordon Piller that it would be wrong to say that one particular group should be subjected to a medical assessment every five minutes every time Parliament is discussing the issue. It is important to accept expert medical advice, and I acknowledge what the right hon. Gentleman has said.
As the assessment about Thalidomide people's difficulty in walking was known in the 1970s, if it had been relevant to the entitlement to the orange badge concession, which might be illustrated in the information at the entrance to an off-street car park, it would have been specifically built in to the criteria for issuing orange badges in 1975 or in 1982. That suggests that the solution is not as simple as The Sunday Times, the Evening Standard or ITN may have suggested.
If I had the power to write to someone to say that someone else should be given an orange badge, I would have done so. I have been in my job for three and a half years and I have never issued or withdrawn an orange badge. I have never instructed that a particular person should not have an orange badge. If that had been made plain by the media earlier on we could have had a more helpful discussion. If any one person wants to expand the criteria, it is better that it is done in such a way that it is outside the full glare of publicity. It is better to discuss the principles and to use illustrative examples rather than focusing on one particular person with a problem and on one person who may be thwarted in what is seen as an uncaring and unthinking way. I have no doubt that one of my friends in the media will now say that the Minister has described himself as "uncaring and unthinking".
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East has done well in extending the provisions set out by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) 601 to deal with on-street car parking. We must continue to solve the problems of the disabled. That does not mean merely providing information on car park boards, but looking at issues in a different way. I am sure that we will soon decide that the idea of putting cash into meters is ludicrous; it is caveman stuff. It would be far better to use a stored value smart card that loses value with use. That would make life very simple for those using parking facilities.
I hope that the media will help in putting across the important issues and will help to explain that it is important that, over the past five years, the number of orange badges has gone up from 600,000 to more than 1 million. At the present rate the number of orange badges will increase to 2 million within the next five years. It is important to bring those numbers down so that those who have the orange badges are clearly identified as those with the most severe mobility—walking or moving—handicap.
We want to solve the problem faced by disabled people when shopping and trying to put money into meters, whether off-street or on-street. We also want to try to solve the problem that they face when driving cars. I expect to see more people being legitimately entitled to orange badges—for example, more elderly people driving and more people receiving the mobility allowance. Those are the sort of points which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East and others have been putting forward.
We do not give the greatest help to those in greatest need by giving a small amount of help to those with a recognised, but lesser or different, need. We must work across the spectrum, and I pay tribute to the general work of the all-party committee for the help which it gives. I hope that today's debate, while persuading hon. Members to accept the Lords amendment, which is a sensible one, will also illustrate some of the issues. If we can persuade more of the media to cover all the issues related to disability and the ways in which problems can be overcome, we shall move forward in a far more useful way than we shall if the sort of ludicrous and partial coverage —which may be necessary in the competitive press of today, but does not help those with disabilities—continues. We are trying to cut the number of casualties and disabilities—which is what road casualty reduction is about—and I look forward with interest to see what the killed and serious injury rate is when the next figures come out. Quiet, undramatic banging away, never letting go and fighting for a client group is what lobbying and campaigning is about. That is honourable work for newspapers, Members of Parliament and Government Members.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
In relation to the Lords amendment on the display of information, I want to ask whether the regulations made by the Secretary of State will include information relating to disabled people or make special provision for them. In particular, I want very briefly to raise, as the Minister has done, the predicament of people with no arms, including many Thalidomide victims, which arises from their exclusion from the orange badge scheme of parking concessions for disabled people. The scheme is one which, as the Minister recalled, I introduced as a private Member in my Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. I must emphasise that I did so with all-party support in both Houses of Parliament.
602 There has been widespread publicity about the cases of people who are upper limbless and strong public support for their inclusion in the scheme. Their predicament, and often humiliation, is due to their inability to feed parking meters and, if they are trying to carry shopping, they face further intimidating difficulties as severely disabled people. In any case, the mobility of people without arms is often held to be restricted by loss of balance in walking. That, I trust, will be one of the issues which the Minister will be trying to tackle in his consultation with medical advisers.
Some people with no upper limbs who are now excluded were in the scheme until recently. They were excluded at a time of growing concern about the considerable increase in the number of beneficiaries of the scheme who now exceed 1 million and, some will say, they were excluded because of the abuse of the scheme by people who do not need the very important benefits it confers.
The answer to that problem is, of course, that we should deal with abuse by tackling the abusers, if necessary by increasing the penalty for abuse, instead of piling handicap on handicap by excluding some very needful people from the scheme. For my part, I would rather lock up serious abusers of the scheme than lock up severely disabled people in their own homes. Any relevance which the Lords amendment can be made to have to this problem will be widely welcomed, more especially if it can provide any amelioration of the problems of people with no upper limbs for whom parking concessions can often mean all the difference between living a normal life and becoming heavily dependent on other people, even between becoming a taxpayer and staying at home on social security.
If the Lords amendment can help in any way to solve the problems of disabled people, there will be considerable relief among the Thalidomide victims and other disabled people who feel wrongly excluded from the scheme. I shall be grateful if the Minister will address the problem in the days ahead. He has my assurance that I fully appreciate the difficulties of ensuring that the scheme is strictly limited to those who need the benefits it gives. The Minister knows of my concern about those difficulties and their crucial importance to people who cannot walk. I urge him to offer some hope to those who are now asking this House for its help.
§ Mr. Greg Knight
I broadly support the Lords amendment. The reason I do so has nothing to do with whether I feel it will be helpful to local authorities, but because I believe that it will safeguard the interests of the consumer and be good news for the motorist.
As I read the Lords amendment, it will empower the Secretary of State to make regulations to require that signs are displayed which not only show the cost of parking in a particular car park, but will ensure that the sign states whether the car park is open or closed, its hours of opening, the penalties for not purchasing a ticket, the cost differentials at different times of the day or days of the week, and the general conditions of use. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope) has not entirely laid to rest all my concerns on the matter. I have a number of questions which I hope that he will answer when he sums up. I noticed that the Members of the other place, in welcoming and supporting the new clause, said that they thought that it would be a good idea to have a sort of British standard so that every car park in 603 the country would display a sign of similar size, containing similar information. That is an excellent idea, but no mention was made of whether we would be likely to run into difficulty with our friends in Europe.
Hon. Members may well recall that we ran into difficulty a few weeks ago about the size of health warnings on cigarette packets. The European Commission thought that it was competent—and, unfortunately, it appears that it was—to start laying regulations about the size of warnings on cigarette packets in this country.
Will we find that we spend time debating this issue and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East listens to the views expressed from both sides of the House, only to find that, at the end of the day, some bureaucrat in Europe has an idea that we should have bright pink car park signs of a certain design, and all our efforts on this Bill have come to naught? Therefore, can my hon. Friend assure the House that the Bill will not fall foul of any pending legislation before the European Commission? It would be too much if Europe interfered in this matter, and the question should be answered today.
As I read it, the new clause could be construed as saying that the regulations could deal with the language to be used on these signs. Does my hon. Friend think that some local authorities may feel it appropriate to display the information not only in English, but Urdu or some other language. I understand that, only this week, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East had difficulty with a French motorist in London who parked in front of his garage and refused to move his car. There may well be a case in tourist areas for car park signs to be written in European languages as well.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
My hon. Friend has failed to say that I had 100 per cent. success in dealing with the matter by simply writing in French a notice politely requesting them to go away.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. That probably qualifies as a personal statement and we may want to remind hon. Members who have not been in the House for long that it is not right to question people on a personal statement of that sort.
§ Mr. Knight
The House will admire the ingenuity of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East in getting rid of the unwelcome motorist in the way that he did.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
I did not write the notice. It was written by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard) who is better at French than I am.
§ 11 am
§ Mr. Knight
I am sure that the House is grateful for that explanation.
Although I have raised the lighter side, it is a valid point. If one visits certain parts of the country, one is immediately struck by the predominance of tourists. That is particularly so in London, but it is also the case in Stratford-upon-Avon and other parts of Britain. Therefore, there is a case for dealing in the regulations with those tourist areas. I should like some assurance that if it were felt necessary by a local authority to display the car park signs in other languages as well as English, it would be able to do so under the scope of the new clause.
§ Mr. Frank Cook
In view of 1992, it might be sensible to make that sort of provision. It seems eminently sensible.
§ Mr. Knight
That is a valid point. I hope that the day is no too far off—perhaps the next century—when all the people in the world can speak English. In the meantime, we need to make provision so that the motorist, whatever his native language, is able to see where to park. This makes sense because one does not want to find the roads in tourist areas cluttered with the cars of motorists who are here for only a short stay and do not know where the car parks are and cannot find out because they cannot read the signs.
§ Mr. Wilshire
I thought that my hon. Friend was putting together two thoughts which do not work. He was saying that whatever language a driver speaks he should be able to see where to park but if we follow that argument, it may be impossible to see where to park because the signs would be so big.
§ Mr. Knight
I understand my hon. Friend's point. I am not suggesting that in every area we should have a plethora of signs in different languages. However, a case could be made out in tourist areas for allowing an alternative language to be displayed. I would be interested to hear the response of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East.
I was somewhat taken aback when my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East said that he was not sure that the regulations would be made and that they would be a sword of Damocles hanging over local authorities—if they behave themselves and put up signs, he did not think that the Bill would need to be implemented. I think that was what he said. I disagree with him. If we accept the Lords amendment and the Bill passes into law, we should enact the Bill and the regulations to see that there is uniformity throughout Britain.
I do not think that our poor, long-suffering motorists should be encouraged to monitor the signs displayed at car parks and to have to complain to their Members of Parliament if they feel that an appropriate sign is not erected. I will be telling my constituents that if they feel that there is a problem in Derby, they should write to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East. If that is his view, he should be responsible for collecting motorists' complaints.
I have a couple of legal queries for my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East. Subsection (2)(c) of the Lords amendment to which I referred earlier, exempts local authorities in specified circumstances from having to comply with the regulations. I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend give two examples of that. He said that perhaps seasonal or small car parks would be exempted. Can he give me an assurance that he does not see those exemptions being applied selectively and exempting car parks operated by some local authorities? If the Bill means anything, it has to be applied uniformly across Britain. I accept that there may be a case for exempting a small car park or a car park on a temporary site, but I hope that local authorities will not apply for an en bloc exemption in their area.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
My hon. Friend, with whom I usually agree on Fridays—I accept that this is a minority interest subject, like the protection of the freedom of the press—must be a lawyer. He is suggesting that my right 605 hon. Friend the Secretary of State wants to get at as many local authorities as possible. That is very un-Conservative. My right hon. Friend does not want to intervene but needs the power to do so in case it is necessary. If he feels that it is necessary to intervene, he will want to do so in a limited way so that if he selects a certain class, he can exempt some within it. The idea that it is all for one and one for all and that there can be nothing out of the ordinary is one which I hope does not get back to my hon. Friend's constituents.
§ Mr. Knight
Perhaps my views on this matter are coloured by the fact that I have to live with Labour-controlled Derbyshire county council, which is one of the most unreasonable and badly run councils in Britain.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
Both my hon. Friend and I are solicitors, but I hope that he is not trying to give the impression that we all think the same on this issue. Clearly, our remarks and interpretations are different. It shows that within the legal profession there is almost inevitably a diversity in the way we present cases.
§ Mr. Knight
I prefaced my remarks by saying that I broadly supported my hon. Friend's Bill and the Lords amendment to it. I hope that my hon. Friend will appreciate that some of my remarks now are couched in the interrogative. I hope that when he replies to the debate he will give me some reassurance on those points.
My hon. Friend touched too briefly on the question of burden of proof, which is covered in subsection (4) of the Lords amendment. To paraphrase my hon. Friend, he said that the burden of proof will be on the motorist and that that is as it should be. I part company with him there. If the local authority is seeking to prosecute or obtain a fee from the motorist, the duty should be on that authority to show that it has complied with the regulations laid down under the Bill.
If I can give an example, I may take my hon. Friend with me on this point. Let us imagine a motorist who parks in an off-street car park where the sign displaying the regulations and terms of parking is not present, perhaps because it has blown down or vandals have removed it. He may omit to buy a ticket from a machine which is perhaps on another floor of the car park and a week later receives a letter from the local authority demanding payment of the fee or an excess penalty. He would be shocked because he did not see any sign. On his return to the car park he may find that the local authority has reinstated the sign. What possible defence could he have if proceedings were brought in those circumstances?
If the duty were on the local authority, it would be easy for it to inquire of the car park attendant, or the person whose duty it is to see that everything is in order, whether the sign was erected at 9 am on a particular day and whether it was still there at 5 pm. The burden of proof should be with the local authority. I can see circumstances arising in which a motorist does not obey the regulations because a sign may have disappeared, but in the meantime a local authority can re-erect the sign and the motorist would have no defence.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
I must correct my hon. Friend. I do not think that I referred to the burden of proof. If there needs 606 to be a burden of proof, it will be within litigation or within the relationship between the user and supplier. I said that the responsibility for the need to display a sign or to make a cause should be on the user, not the provider of the parking space.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I am sure that my hon. Friend will find new section 35B(4) of relevance. It says:it shall be assumed, unless the contrary is shown, that any relevant regulations under this section were complied with at all material times.
§ Mr. Knight
That is the part of the Lords amendment with which I am having difficulty, because I feel that it is unreasonable. When a local authority is pursuing a motorist for disobeying regulations relating to a car park, the onus should be on it to show that the driver had seen, or should have seen, the notice advising him of the correct course of action to take.
I appreciate the difficulty that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East has. Last year I wished to move an amendment to the Licensing (Amendment) Act 1988 which was altered in the other place in a way with which I was not entirely happy. However, we do not have a procedure to tamper with a Lords amendment. We have to accept or reject it in toto. Therefore, although I am unhappy about this part of the amendment, I appreciate that my hon. Friend cannot take on board today the points that I have raised.
I only hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, when he formulates the regulations, will give serious thought to the wording of them, so that the motorist is not placed in an unjustified and difficult position when, for example, a sign has gone missing, and he does not follow the regulations of the park correctly. Although I have some doubts about the wording of the amendment, it is clearly designed to safeguard the interests of the consumer. As that is the overriding principle behind it, with some reservations I support it.
§ Ms. Ruddock
On behalf of the Opposition I welcome this amendment, as we welcome the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope). This is a modest measure, which allows charging by magnetic cards or vouchers in off-street car parks, and thus increases choice and flexibility in the provision by local authorities of car parking. The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 enabled local authorities to designate parking places on highways and to provide car parks. They remain the largest providers of off-street parking. In 1986, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) introduced a private Member's Bill allowing non-coin operating equipment on the streets. We are pleased today to be able to extend the support that we gave that Bill to this important measure, which allows off-street parking to be similarly operated. However, we are surprised that the Government did not find time for such a simple measure, and left it to be introduced through the private Member's Bill procedure.
The new amendment will allow the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring local authorities to display the proper information at car parks—for example through signs with information about methods of payment, about which we have heard this morning. As the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East has explained, the amendment is an enabling one and it is our hope that the regulations may not have to be brought in but that there will be a voluntary 607 code instead. However, if there is no voluntary code, we hope that the Minister will act speedily because it is our belief—as it is clearly the belief of many hon. Members—that the standard of information displayed at car parks is not high enough. We hope that there will be a better display, that there will be consistency in display, and that the information will be displayed outside car parks to enable people to make a proper choice and to know precisely what their options are when deciding whether to enter the car park. We also hope to see a major effort made to display information that is helpful to people with disabilities.
As the Minister spent so much time dealing with the orange badge scheme, I shall make a few comments about that. The onus is now strongly on the Minister to respond to the points made so constructively by my right hon. Frind the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), the author of the original scheme. I share the Minister's concern about congestion on our roads and about the difficulties caused by the large number of vehicles coming into the centres of our towns and needing places to park. However, I cannot believe that it would add to those problems if we were to admit 150 upper limbless Thalidomide victims to the orange badge scheme. We are disturbed to know that the Minister judges these matters on the criterion of numbers. Decisions to be made concerning disabled people should be made on the basis of their need, not on the overall numbers who might be admitted to the scheme.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I appreciate that the hon. Lady may not have been able to be present at the meetings of the joint all-party disablement committee and I hope to make more information available because it is important that both sides of the House understand this matter. Whatever decision is made on the regulations, the only role that I have is in proposing regulations to the House. The only regulations that we have are those which were proposed to the House by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). I repeat that the 1975 regulations, abbreviated in 1982, are the provisions that the Department put out to consultation in 1986.
The Department, with me as the junior Minister, was the first to raise the question whether the upper limbless should be included. I re-emphasise that there is no question of quotas, targets or discrimination against any group. It would be helpful, as the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe said, to recognise the predominant view of the organisations representing the most severely disabled, and to take their views and interests into account. There is probably a solution, but it is not found by saying that 150 people are excluded because of something that has been done. We must find what regulations will allow in those who are most severely handicapped.
§ Ms. Ruddock
I thank the Minister for that intervention, although it was not overly helpful. I understand that some people were excluded from the scheme in 1986 and that Alison Wright was one of them. What the Minister has said is on record. I took his remarks to mean that he was concerned about the prospect of the 1 million people who can already use the scheme becoming 2 million in the future. It is clear that he is concerned about numbers. Whatever his difficulty in looking back on consultations which come to a particular conclusion, it 608 should not be beyond his imagination, determination and skill to find a way in which these people, who are quite properly seeking to be admitted to the scheme, could be so admitted.
The hon. Member for Leeds, North-East spoke about variations in pricing and the need for display of information where such variations occur. These variations are an important factor in traffic management. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the possibility of empty car parks and encouraging people into them through low tariffs. There may be such empty car parks in rural areas and small cities, but in London we have the opposite problem. There are too many vehicles and too much congestion, so restraint must be exercised and management improved.
The flexibility that these new systems can offer would be an extremely important tool in traffic management and control and car restraint within our cities. The variations in pricing should be carefully displayed so that people have no doubt about the penalties that they face if they bring in vehicles in peak hours.
Traffic and parking problems in our cities are important factors in our consideration of the Bill and the amendment. The problem of parking is growing, as the number of cars and goods vehicles on our roads increases. The White Paper envisages traffic increasing by between 83 and 142 per cent. by the year 2025. That could mean an increase of 32.7 million vehicles. Hon. Members may wish to speculate on the scale and size of car parks needed to house so many additional cars, no matter what method of payment might by instituted and no matter how well information might be displayed at car park entrances. If we reach that point—as we shall, unless the Government act more positively to deal with traffic problems—the regulations proposed in the amendment might mean signs stating, "Did you need to bring your car today?" or even "Full up—please use the bus next time." The sheer volume of cars and other vehicles is not only bad for parking—it is bad for our environment and bad for safety. I remind the House that the casualty rate in London is the highest in the country. If we continue to build more roads, especially in city areas, we shall exacerbate all those problems.
The provision of car parks with efficient methods of payment and well displayed signs is essential to deal with existing problems. We must also adopt a package of measures, of which an important component must be stricter parking controls. That means increasing fines and penalties for illegal parking and violation of bus lanes. Although we certainly need this small and modest Bill, we also need a more comprehensive approach to traffic problems. The Government should introduce major legislation to tackle the difficulties with which we are all becoming more and more familiar day by day.
We welcome the amendment and appreciate its safety and security aspects. We are in favour of any method of payment which improves safety for those who deal with the machines and use the car parks. We are increasingly becoming a cashless society. That is our choice. We want an opportunity to pay through vouchers—free vouchers, I hope, for the disabled—or magnetic systems, for those of us who can make those choices and who have sufficient money to do so.
The Bill will be widely welcomed throughout the country and the Opposition wholeheartedly support it. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-East has had all-party support for his Bill, which is very rewarding for anyone who, as 1 have done, introduces a private Member's Bill. 609 Piloting such a Bill through the House is an interesting and stimulating experience, but it is also a complex task. I pay tribute also to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, who paved the way for this measure with his original Bill.
The hon. Member for Leeds, North-East said that he was offering us a Bill which had no losers, only gainers. That must be extraordinarily rare in this House. The Bill will shortly reach the statute book, which will give the hon. Gentleman a great deal of satisfaction.
§ Mr. Wilshire
I echo the words of congratulation from the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope). It is no mean feat to bring a Bill this far, this smoothly.
Like my hon. Friend, I welcome the Lords amendment because it provides additional safeguards for consumers. I am not known as one who always enthuses about everything that aims to further the cause of consumerism. My wife ran a shop for far too long for me to be wholly in favour of everything to do with consumerism. Therefore, when faced with such an amendment, the first question I ask is whether it is trying to protect people from their own stupidity. The second question is whether it sets out to assume that all providers of service are necessarily crooks. If those were the sorts of consumerism embodied in the amendment, I would not support it. I have learnt not to accept such approaches to consumerism. In the end, they turn the consumer—be he a driver or a shopper—into a human version of a rottweiler who will simply launch unprovoked attacks on quite innocent providers of services.
I have no hesitation in supporting the additional protection for consumers provided by the amendment. When drivers set out to buy parking space they are all too often vulnerable, and certainly not through their own stupidity. They are often at their wits end and may have spent a long time looking for any available parking space. They are often late for meetings—which, I suspect, has something to do with the tourists referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight). Because they are late they will take any parking space they can find.
Even when drivers are not simply chasing every available parking space, they are still vulnerable because they cannot obtain the information they need because there are no signs and the car parks are not staffed. Somebody should tackle those problems, and it seems sensible that that person should be the Secretary of State. I accept that there should be certain exceptions—the "just in case" argument is sensible. However, I am not attracted to the argument that just because a car park is small, or just because a car park is temporary, that is a blanket reason why information should not be available.
If the Secretary of State is given the necessary enabling powers, the test whether he needs to use them should be based on whether drivers are genuinely short of information. In an ideal world information would be available at all car parks, but we do not live in an ideal world. In a near ideal world it should be sufficient simply to say to local councils, "You are not providing enough information." I regret to say that experience has taught us that local government as a whole, of whatever political 610 persuasion, does not have a good track record on doing what it is asked to do. In the world in which we live we must, therefore, make reserve powers available to the Secretary of State.
Hon. Members could no doubt cite many examples of sharp practice and sloppy management by car park operators. I suspect that private operators rather than local government operators are more guilty of sharp practice. Only last weekend, while on the way to Wimbledon, I was stuck in yet another traffic jam and saw a cardboard sign for a temporary car park stating, "Car park spaces here—£4.50." When I pulled up to the entrance, another cardboard sign said, "Car park spaces here—£7.50." That is a classic example of getting the driver committed to coming into the car park and then pushing up the price. It is right that steps should be taken to protect the consumer against such sharp practice.
Again, we could all cite examples of sloppy management. What makes me most furious is when, on a wet day like today, I have driven a very long way and, having found a space at a pay-and-display car park, I find that I have no change. The change machine does not exist or has broken down and somewhere there is a little hut containing two employees sitting drinking tea or playing cards, and a scruffy notice is stuck on the window saying, "No change". That is sloppy management. If that is the sort of car park that the operator wishes to run, he should put a notice outside saying "This is a sloppily run car park. There is no change available."
If it is necessary to force certain car park operators to put up notices, we should spell out what those notices should say. First, they should say whether the car park is full. We have all had to make the vast trek up five or six storeys of a multi-storey car park, only to find that we need not have gone there in the first place. They should also say whether the car park is supervised, not only because supervision might provide the chance of obtaining change but because knowing whether a large, dark car park is supervised is important, especially at night.
The notices should also specify the method of payment, and whether change is available. They should mention the closing time, if there is one. How many of us have discovered, having gone back to collect the car late at night, that the gates were locked at 7 pm and that, moreover, no address or telephone number is available for someone who might be able to deal with the matter?
Reference has been made to disabled people. If a car park provides facilities such as special spaces, lifts or escalators, the advance sign should state, "This car park caters for the disabled." It would also be helpful if the sign stated whether the car park had toilets. Certainly it should specify the charges. If there is a choice—particularly in the inner cities—between cheaper long-stay rates at the edge of the city and a higher charge for a short stay, advance signs should not only make it clear whether the car park is long-stay or short-stay but should expalin how to find a long-stay car park: not everyone will know the way in a strange town. Notices should give the names, addresses and telephone numbers of owners and operators, so that drivers can take action if they wish to complain or to obtain further information.
Other hon. Members have already raised the question of where the notices should be placed. I think that there should be signs in several places, and that the amount of 611 information and how it is displayed should vary according to where they are. A large, simple advance notice, telling the drivers whether it is worth their while to join a queue and where they can go to seek alternative parking, would be extremely helpful. Notices should encourage—or require—drivers who opt to queue not to block the road and prevent others from driving around to look for another car park.
For years I drove a caravanette which was over height in many places, and I was frequently unable to discover from car park advance notices what the headroom would he if 1 joined the queue. I therefore feel that notices should specify size restrictions.
Motorists should be able to read a sign at the main entrance before they are committed to driving into the car park. Like others, I suspect, I have had to take a ticket and have then found it difficult, sometimes impossible, to be let out of the car park—because it is full or the conditions are not satisfactory—without having to pay for the indignity of having driven around the car park and then left. The notice at the main entrance should say whether the car park is full and should state the charges, if any. It is crucial that the closing time be clearly displayed, along with the method of payment. Details of owner and operator should appear not only on all signs but on all tickets, so that the driver has a written record for the future.
The size of the notice will have been touched on only briefly when the lawyers were deciding how much small-print gobbledegook should appear. Signs whose print is too small for drivers to read, however, are not only useless but potentially dangerous. Any regulations or code of conduct must specify that the basic information on notices can be read by a driver still sitting in his car.
We have discussed whether temporary car parks should he exempted, but I am anxious to hear whether they can be included. I am not a lawyer, and I am not sure whether the legislation would cover only permanent car parks, but I feel that it should extend to temporary ones. I suspect that the wording of the Lords amendment, which can require local authorities to perform certain duties, confines the scope of the Bill to local government. Although it may well be the largest provider of parking spaces, local government is far from being the only provider, and neither sharp practice nor sloppy management is its exclusive prerogative. If at this late stage the Bill cannot be made to cover privately operated car parks, I hope that someone will strike lucky in next year's ballot and set about seeking to extend it in another private Member's Bill.
I appreciate the cunning of the proposed penalties: they are a good way of concentrating wonderfully the minds of councillors who realise that they may be surcharged if they do not cleat with problems. The Bill does not specify, however, who is to put up notices stating that the existing notices are no longer valid because they do not comply with the regulations.
Having said that, I do not hesitate to add that both the amendment and the Bill have my wholehearted support. Let me finish where I began, by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East, who has done a splendid job. I am not entirely sure whether I envy him the task of steering a private Member's Bill through the House, but he nevertheless deserves the congratulations of all of us.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope) 612 on piloting the Bill through its stages in the House. It has been interesting for those of us who served on the Standing Committee to observe the enormous skill with which he has done so. He displayed that skill again today. When some of my hon. Friends tried to introduce party political divisions of view, he poured oil on troubled waters and bipartisanship returned.
I also congratulate spokesmen on both Front Benches on being able to make such wide-ranging speeches within the confines—and the rules of order—of such a narrow Lords amendment. I pay tribute to their ingenuity.
§ Mr. Hughes
I bow to the experience of the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook).
My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) was right to say that the signs must be clear and that certain minimum requirements are necessary. This is not, as some hon. Members have suggested, a matter of byelaws and numerous details about the rules and regulations—nor is it a matter of posting signs in various different languages. We need clear signs providing people with the basic information that they require, in at least one language—English. We can leave it to local authorities to decide whether, for the benefit of tourists or for members of the ethnic community, such signs need to appear in other languages.
I could point to examples of London car parks which are the responsibility of councils controlled by all three main political parties from which it is very difficult to find one's way out. Signs indicating exit points would help the flow of cars departing and leave spaces free for others. I commend subsection (2)(d) because making it impossible for local authorities to collect any money unless they apply the regulations is a wonderful way of concentrating their minds and ensuring that they display the right signs and comply with the regulations in other ways. I cannot remember which political party controls Ealing council, but my experience of parking in that borough leads me to believe that that council will be unable to comply with the regulations.
I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister concerning the disabled and his remark that although new ideas and technology are important to them and can make an enormous difference to the quality of their lives, such developments are no replacement for orange badges. I welcome also the nature of the scheme that my hon. Friend wants to operate. During my time in London local government, concern was felt by people of all political persuasions that the orange badge scheme was being misused. Although I accept the argument of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) that the number of badges should not be limited, if too many people who do not really need badges are allowed to have them, the scheme will not be so advantageous as it might be for those who really need the orange badge facility.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
If local authorities believe that there are too many orange badges, they will introduce their own regimes, with the loss of the national benefit. As to qualifying criteria, I refer my hon. Friend to Statutory Instrument No. 1740 of 1982, which refers toa permanent and substantial disability which causes inability to walk or very considerable difficulty in walking.That can either be interpreted as admitting a very small group of disabled, which means that the problem can 613 easily be solved by local authorities rather than by the Department, or the wording must be amended. The number involved is not 100 versus I million badge holders. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who are interested in that aspect will address their minds to the basis of our 1986 consultation. I deeply regret that some interests outside Parliament who now display a great interest in the matter did not bother to write to us about it in 1986, 1987, 1988 or 1989.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that further clarification.
Anyone who read the article about the orange badge scheme in last week's issue of The Sunday Times would instinctively have taken the view that the only reasonable thing to do is issue the additional 150 badges in question. However, my hon. Friend the Minister explained today that it is not so simple as that. If there is to be reasonableness and justice, many categories of the disabled deserve consideration. If The Sunday Times really cares about the cause, and not just about a front page headline, this Sunday it will present a detailed analysis and provide a genuine insight into all the problems.
Cashless parking is extremely important. Sometimes I think that local authorities choose the combination of coins that is most difficult to find in one's pocket. I have often been caught out, as I am sure other right hon. and hon. Members have, after entering a car park in the belief that I had the coins needed for payment. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East describes the Bill as a relatively modest measure, but it is significant to the motorist, who will be extremely grateful for all the work that my hon. Friend has done. Tribute should also be paid to him by car manufacturers and distributors. One day in the future, perhaps we will all be saying, "There is a car park, and I can park there easily using my Kirkhope card."
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
The amendment is important and gives the Secretary of State a power rather than a duty to make regulations, which is the right way to go about it. Right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House hope that he will not have to use that power and that local authorities will enter into voluntary arrangements. In the same way that it is better that the Secretary of State has a power rather than a duty, it is better that local authorities act under their own volition than under central direction. Ours is not a centralist party—or should not be—and this should not be a centralist House of Commons. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) agrees that the Secretary of State should be given the power to compel local authorities to take certain action if they do not do so of their own accord.
I am delighted also that the hon. Member for Deptford has persuaded her party to support the Bill. All too often in this House, we shout yes while the Opposition shout no, and vice versa. In respect of this Bill at least we can all shout yes, and I hope that that is a growing trend.
I particularly welcome the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope) about the amendment that aims at improving the situation of the disabled. As to the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister concerning Thalidomide victims, having read the newspaper features about Alison Wright, I was undecided 614 until I went on to read the various articles in the Evening Standard, when I was sure that the policy of my hon. Friend the Minister is the right one. It is true that hard cases make bad law, and my hon. Friend should be congratulated on resisting intense and emotional pressures to produce a result that would not necessarily be right when judged by the criteria decided after considerable consultation and a great deal of thought by many people.
The comment in the Evening Standard that it does not matter if 2 million people have orange badges was ridiculous, and on that point I part company with the hon. Member for Deptford. Of course it matters how many badges are issued. The more there are, the less valuable they become to those who have them. I accept the argument of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) that there should be stringent enforcement of the rules governing the issue of orange badges and severe penalties on those who breach them. However, to some extent it must also be a question of numbers.
§ Ms. Ruddock
Does not the hon. Gentleman concede that there are about 6 million people with disabilities and that if it can be shown legitimately—I stress the word "legitimately"—that there is a real need for parking concessions for as many as 2 million people, we must accept it? The question must be need. We should not say that just because a person has not come forward or has not been identified as having a disability that is relevant to the need to have a car parking concession, he or she should not have it.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
The question is not only need. The question is also balance. If so many people have orange badges that those who cannot walk are prevented from parking near enough to the places where they want to go, that damages everybody. If the 6 million people to whom the hon. Lady referred had orange badges—
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I know that that is not what she suggested, but I am taking her argument to absurd extremes in order to demonstrate that there must be a balance. If all the 6 million had orange badges, the amount of car parking space that was available to those who cannot walk would be limited because of the pressure on space. Those who cannot walk must have an orange badge, but the basis has to be balance.
§ Ms. Ruddock
I thought the hon. Gentleman was reaching the point where he was failing to see that the entirely able-bodied would be put at a disadvantage and would have to park much further away from the places to which they wanted to have access.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
It is vital to recognise that the Department and others are trying to work on the 6 million figure. We are not necessarily dealing with people who are travelling by car. The poor, the disabled and the elderly often have to travel by bus. The bus industry is involved in significant changes. There have been dramatic improvements, most of which were on display at the mobility road show to which, sadly, the media did not pay much attention. I invite the media to ask themselves what they can do by means of coverage that would help the greatest 615 number. Within the 6 million people, there are 1 million, or even more, who have difficulty in carrying shopping, either because they have no upper limbs or because their limbs do not work, for one reason or another. Within that group there are people who cannot walk. We need to solve the shopping problem. We need also to solve the problem of putting money into meters, which is where we return to the Lords amendment. We must also—here 1 thoroughly support what my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) is saying—pick out those who are faced with the greatest difficulty or with the impossibility of walking. For them the orange badge concession or facility is absolutely essential. If we cannot distinguish between that group of people and another group of 1 million or 2 million, we are not doing our job properly.
I understand why media interest is aroused. If the editor of the Evening Standard watches an ITN programme or sees an article in The Sunday Times which, because of pressure of space on the front page, was not as full as it might have been, one can understand how one quarter turn of a cog can lead to the editor of the Evening Standard saying, "All right, we're going to get at Bottomley." I do not mind if I am got at. What matters is that the 50,000 or the 500,000 people who most need the mobility advantage of the orange badge should get something of value out of a national scheme.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
There is a look in your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, which leads me to believe that I ought to get off orange badges and turn to the question of local authorities.
The amendment may lead to a proliferation of signs that would be good for the information of motorists but would be bad if they led to motorists being distracted, particularly if those signs were as prominent as hon. Members have said today that they hope they will be. Too much information might be displayed. Companies can confuse their readers by providing too much information in their reports, with the result that nobody knows exactly where to look for the information that he or she wants. There could be the same problem outside car parks. The more eye-catching the notices outside car parks, the more dangerous they may be to drivers who may be distracted by them.
The amendment does not solve all the problems. It will not help motorists who are queuing on a ramp. There will still be pressure from motorists further down the queue, urging drivers in front of them to get on with it. If there is no queuing on the ramp, there will be queuing on the highway, which would be even worse.
Still, all things considered, it is a very good amendment, which we ought to accept, to a good Bill. Therefore I congratulate my hon. Friend on his excellent measure.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
We have had an extremely full, very interesting and though-provoking debate. I am sure that the Minister will take on board many of the points that have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope, therefore, that they will excuse me if I do not deal with a number of the points that they have made. I noticed that the Minister was scribbling away furiously during their contributions, so I have no doubt that any regulations that are proposed at any point will take their points into account.
616 It is appropriate, however, to pay tribute to a few hon. Members. I pay tribute first to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on having introduced his far-sighted private Member's Bill in 1986. It allowed me to climb on board his vehicle while it was still on the move—a potentially very dangerous thing to do. Nevertheless, it seems to have worked out quite well. I pay tribute also to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). One effect of the amendment will be to help disabled people. The right hon. Gentleman was the instigator of the very fine orange badge scheme, and I pay tribute to him for his helpful and thought-provoking remarks in the debate.
I pay tribute, too, to Lord Teviot who kindly agreed to steer the Bill through the other place. He did so with great flair and imagination. He made very helpful and constructive suggestions throughout its passage in the other place. Lord Teviot takes a great interest in transport matters and he displayed a similar interest in this measure, which he so kindly handled for me in the other place.
I am also grateful to my colleagues on both sides of the House who were kind enough to sponsor the Bill and to all hon. Members who have been good enough to contribute so constructively and helpfully to the debate, both on this occasion and on previous occasions. In particular I thank the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) who has been so helpful. She is an Opposition Member. It underlines the fact that not everything that we do in this place has to be contested. There are certain issues on which all reasonable honourable Members of good will can combine and do something useful, to the benefit of a large number of people and to groups of people within that large number who particularly need help.
I mention also The Sunday Times. Every other hon. Member seems to have done so, but I do it in this light. I congratulate The Sunday Times on its Thalidomide victims campaign. It did an excellent job on that issue, as on other issues in the past. I hope that the slight differences of opinion that have been expressed this morning about the nature of its campaign on this general issue will not cloud the fact that nevertheless The Sunday Times has made a major contribution to the debate. I know that the Minister has also been involved in co-operating with the media generally. I hope that the co-operation will continue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) said that the card ought to be named after me. I said that this measure involves no losers, only winners. It would be taking things a little too far, and I should be sticking my neck out much too far, if his suggestion were to be adopted. Nevertheless, it was kind of my hon. Friend to make it. There may be occasions on which people will be able to glide into a car park, place their plastic card in the meter and go straight to their allotted space, with all the parking signs perfect and everything wonderful. They will get out humming to themselves and saying to themselves, "How wonderful that I've been able to use the Kirkhope card." But there may just conceivably be occasions—I admit that it is unlikely—when there is an enormous queue and an enormous hold-up. The machine is broken, the notice has fallen down, the car's tyres have gone flat or the petrol has run out as the car enters the car park and the driver will take a small card out of his wallet. I prefer not to say what he would say—or perhaps only in French.
I said that I would not deal with all the points that have been raised and I do not intend to do so, with the 617 indulgence of my hon. Friend. I shall mention only almost the last remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) who said that conceivably too much information could be provided. I accept what he says and I realise that there is some risk, but I would prefer to take that risk. It is very rare that we have too much information, and we would welcome having a little too much rather than far too little. I renew my invitation to the House to accept the amendment.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Lords amendment No. 1 agreed to. [Special Entry.]