HC Deb 08 July 1991 vol 194 cc683-6

Lords amendment: No. 10, to insert the following new clause—Permitted and special parking areas outside London

  1. (".—(1) Schedule (Permitted and special parking areas outside London) shall have effect for the purpose of making provision with respect to areas outside London corresponding to that made with respect to London, and areas within London, under sections 57 to 69 of this Act.
  2. (2) In this section "London" has the same meaning as it has in Part II of this Act.")

Mr. Chope

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 72, 73 and 82.

Mr. Chope

When we last debated the parking provisions of the Bill in this House, I said that the Government would introduce amendments in the other place to allow for specified, non-endorsable parking offences to be decriminalised in specially designated districts of London, and to be enforced by local authority parking attendants. Amendments were introduced in Committee in the other place which now appear as amendments Nos. 72 and 73. They will enable my right hon. Friend, on application by a London authority, to make an order decriminalising specified parking offences in the district to which the order relates. Those areas will be known as special parking areas.

The first of the two new clauses introduced by the amendments specifies the offences to be decriminalised. It enables the Secretary of State, after consultation with the police and the relevant local authority associations, to add to the list of decriminalised offences to apply in special parking areas. If my right hon. Friend is made aware of further offences that could be covered by the parking area orders, subject to consultation with the police and the local authorities the list of decriminalised offences may be added to without the need for further primary legislation.

The second new clause applies the provisions of the new system of penalty charges developed for the enforcement of permitted parking in London to the decriminalised offences within the special parking areas. The London authorities will have extended powers to wheel clamp and remove vehicles in the special parking areas. There is a power for the Secretary of State to modify in the order any of the provisions of part II of the Bill in respect of their application in special parking area.

The principle of the amendments was widely welcomed when it was discussed in the House, and the amendments were given a similar reception in the other place. The Government were therefore pleased to respond to calls to consider the issues involved with the provision of a general enabling power providing for extension to other parts of the country of the new arrangements for permitted parking and special parking areas in London. Our considerations led us to conclude that such an enabling power was both possible and desirable. The amendments, which were carried in the other place, now appear as Nos. 10 and 82.

Ms. Ruddock

We regard the amendments as extremely important. They provide for highway authorities outside London to have an additional tool to use in their efforts to deal with the growing problems of congestion and environmental difficulties brought about by illegal parking. The fact that the Government introduced the amendments in the other place shows what an effective Opposition working in conjunction with representative organisations can do to influence the shape of legislation.

It would be churlish not to welcome the Government's decision to amend the Bill in this way, but it would also be wrong not to remind the House that in Committee and on Report the Government strongly resisted Opposition amendments designed to have a similar effect. The Government's change of heart is particularly welcome to the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which has been pressing for the change for six years in the face of what it regarded as unhelpful conclusions in the report of the Home Office working party on enforcement, unfruitful meetings with Ministers and strong ministerial resistance during the earlier stages of the Bill.

However, we should like to move forward, not backward. In moving the amendments in the other place, the Minister—Lord Brabazon of Tara—said that while the Government envisaged experience being gained in London they took advantage of the powers in relation to authorities outside London. That approach appears to have merit, but while the general adoption of powers outside London should not take place before there has been some experience in the capital, we believe that there would be considerable merit in some authorities outside London also being given the go-ahead, so that experience could be gained in other areas on a pilot basis.

That suggestion was made on Report in another place, when the Minister said: I said in my speech that probably we would wish to see the experiment in London before other authorities in the country try to implement the provisions. That is our opinion at the moment. However, if any local authorities outside London wish to come forward with schemes, we shall be very willing to discuss them, provided that the police are also satisfied with the proposals. That is an important proviso. 5.30 pm

In the light of those remarks, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities is currently discussing with its members the scope for a number of them to volunteer as guinea pigs in the deployment of powers outside London. Proposals for such trials are likely to be submitted to the Department later this year, and we hope that Ministers will be keen to discuss them positively with the association and the authorities involved.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

About six years ago, some local authorities in London and elsewhere were rather more loopy and left-wing than they are today. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) commented fairly that the Home Office was not the first to be convinced that this was a sensible concept.

One of the problems of enforcement for the police was that they did not receive the recycled receipts in respect of penalties imposed on those motorists who parked in the wrong place, or who stayed too long at a parking meter. Today, we have in effect a net cost regime, whereby some of the income from penalties can be used towards the cost of enforcement. Without wanting to break the Treasury rule against hypothecation, there are great benefits to be gained from effective enforcement, which are shared by the motorist trying to find somewhere to park legally. We know that Westminster, for example, declares a £3 million gain from effective enforcement.

I personally believe that effective parking control leads to a reduction in unnecessary traffic. One finds fewer people driving around trying to find a space to park where there are yellow lines because they know that if they do so effective enforcement will bring the consequences of inconvenience and expense. One finds also that fewer people occupy a meter for half a day or more, because they know that an attendant will soon be along to impose a penalty if they overstay their time. The balance of convenience is outweighed by greater enforcement.

I support the hon. Member for Deptford in her remarks about pilot schemes outside London. Experience in London will not always be duplicated elsewhere. There are many towns and cities where it would be possible to run experimental schemes with the agreement of the local police and of the Home Office.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the pragmatic way in which he has advanced matters. Motorists have the most to gain from a stricter system of parking enforcement. Road pricing would be a daft way of achieving the same ends. We ought to emphasise that, for people who earn a great deal of money, sitting in traffic jams is a waste of their time.

If we suggest that people with enough money should pay to buy some road space, that may be taken up by those working for local authorities—who will expect them to meet the charge—or for big business, who have no problem with money but only with time. Such an arrangement would penalise teachers, for example, living in one area, dropping their children off in another area, and driving to work at a school in a third area. However, perhaps that is straying off the subject of parking control.

Mr. Fearn

Am I right in thinking that, before a local authority can implement any scheme, it must make an application to the Secretary of State and receive his approval?

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

I fully support the amendment to the extent that it tidies up certain points of law. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister counts it as only the first tidying up, because much remains to be done in respect of the law on wheel clamping outside the metropolitan area. A profitable business has been created by private companies clamping cars outside hospitals and in private car parks, when the motorists concerned are often unaware that they are forbidden to park there. Wheel-clamping firms impose incredible charges. The most recent example I know of involved a penalty of £45, in the city of Southampton.

I believe that the Association of Wheel Clamping is acting because of the general weakness of the law as it applies outside London. My hon. Friend the Minister would be right to argue that the law of trespass prevails, but the imposition by private companies of large fines on private motorists in not within any law that I know of outside the London area, and it is something on which my hon. Friend the Minister might usefully comment.

Mr. Chope

I am grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) and to the whole House for supporting the amendments. Sometimes, it takes longer for the Government to reach the right conclusion, but I am sure that we have done so in this case. That has been possible because of co-operation between my Department and the Home Office.

Ms. Ruddock

And the Opposition.

Mr. Chope

Certainly, but the Opposition have always been of the same opinion as the Government supporters. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends also pressed me hard in Committee for the common sense behind the amendment.

Knowing as we do how stretched are police resources for allocation in London, it does not make sense to deploy them on parking offences when they could be directed at preventing crime. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) said, if local authorities or their agents enjoy sufficient income from penalties, it can be used to increase the level of enforcement. Consequently, when people drive into London, they are more likely to find a parking space, rather than be tempted to cause an obstruction.

The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) is right to suggest that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have to consider individual applications. The procedure is set out in detail in the amendments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) raised the fraught question of wheel clamping on private land. Nothing in the Bill deals with that issue, and the law relating to it is subject to a certain amount of dispute. In the High Court recently, a motorist appealed against a conviction for criminal damage after he forcibly removed a wheel clamp that had been applied to a vehicle left on private land. The court found that in the particular circumstances of that case the conviction should stand because warning notices were clearly displayed on the land and that the individual who trespassed on it with his vehicle was deemed to have accepted the risk that his vehicle would be wheel clamped. However, I have no views on the definitive law. One or two other test cases are in the offing, although in one instance the defendants in a civil case withdrew. There is some difficulty in securing a definitive ruling on the civil aspect of wheel clamping because the courts can adjudicate only on cases that are brought before them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Test will be aware that Southampton has one of the best-known wheel clamping firms in the country. I do not know whether anything that he said was meant as implied criticism of that firms activities. Hon. Members will welcome the code of practice or guidance produced by wheel dampers which specifies the maximum recommended fees for the removal of a clamp.

In Southampton there is much evidence that wheel clamping on housing estates has made it easier for tenants there to keep their parking spaces. Some private organisations seem to be making good use of wheel clamps. As I have said, one of the largest wheel clamping firms is based in Southampton. The legislation is a revolution in parking enforcement. It will begin in London, but bids from authorities outside London will be assessed on their merits.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

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