HC Deb 16 March 2004 vol 419 cc181-94 "(1) The appropriate national authority may issue guidance to any local authority undertaking civil enforcement powers under Part 6 of this Act or the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2003 about any matter relating to the exercise by it of any power to impose civil penalties for road traffic contraventions. (2) In exercising their powers of civil enforcement of traffic conventions a local authority shall have regard to any guidance under this section.—[ Mr. Chope.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Chope

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time. When the Minister introduced Government new clause II, he made a slip of the tongue and talked about persecution. This new clause deals with persecution and how to prevent it. It is a plea for common sense, proportionality and reasonableness in the use of civil enforcement powers against motorists. It is a continuation of the Opposition's fight-back campaign on behalf of middle Britain. Motorists and other honest, decent and law-abiding road users are being persecuted and oppressed by unreasonable men and women in uniforms. The persecution is often carried out at the behest of local authority employers, out of greed or hatred of cars and those who drive them.

In Standing Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) drew attention to a headline in a Hampstead local newspaper earlier this year— "Traffic Warden Boss Admits He Hates Motorists". The newspaper sent a journalist, operating under cover, for a discussion with the person in charge of the traffic warden service. That person freely admitted that he hated all motorists, and would do all that he could to get at them. It is always important to consider whether a motive is involved, and there is clearly a motive in this case. That is why the Government must act on the matter.

There was a long and lively debate on the morning of 5 February about the enforcement civil penalties for road traffic contraventions. Many examples were given to illustrate how unreasonable some civil enforcement can be. I shall not repeat them all, but earlier this year Nadhim Zahawi, the managing director of the YouGov organisation, was involved in an accident in which his scooter was wrecked. As he was lifted into an ambulance, a £100 ticket was put on his scooter. That was thought to be reasonable.

Another example occurred in the snowy weather at the end of January and the beginning of February. A local authority placed fine notices on cars that had been abandoned because of the snow. That was also regarded as perfectly reasonable behaviour.

Both those examples illustrate unreasonable persecution. The new clause would enable the Minister to protect motorists from the excesses of enforcement officers, whom my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire called regulation-ridden, form-filling, pen-pushing nincompoops."— [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 5 February 2004; c. 260.] The hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) called them "over-zealous". The Minister said: In general, it is reasonable to ask those who enforce parking regulations to use good sense. I believe that in most cases they do: clearly, in some cases, they do not, and we all know of examples. We should encourage local authorities to promote good practice among those who enforce the regulations. For the police, that is generally the case. A police officer will use discretion and good sense, and a little bit of discretion and good sense is needed in enforcing some of the other regulations as well." —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 5 February 2004; c. 266.]

Mr. Redwood

I am swayed by my hon. Friend's sensible arguments so far. New clause 1 states that local authorities "shall have regard" to guidance, but will he say what penalty or persuasion should be used to ensure that they follow any sensible guidance that is issued?

Mr. Chope

What I have in mind is that any statutory guidance could be taken into account by the adjudicator if an appeal is made. At present, the adjudicator must apply the letter of the law. He cannot allow the discretion that would have been exercised by a sensible police officer or traffic enforcement officer to be imposed on the tribunal. However, statutory guidance would allow adjudicators to take that into account. As a result, motorists would be protected from over-zealous enforcement.

The Minister, in the passage that I quoted, seemed to accept our point that civil enforcement officers do not always exercise the common sense, proportionality and reasonableness that we have come to expect from the police. He said that he was keen to encourage local authorities to promote good practice. The voluntary guidance published in 1995 pursuant to powers contained in the Road Traffic Act 1991 is non-statutory. It is apparent that some local authorities have little, if any, regard for it. The new clause would put that non-statutory guidance on a statutory footing.

The matter is even more important because of the proposals in the Bill to extend the civil enforcement regime to cover moving traffic offences. Some such enforcement is already beginning in London on an experimental basis, but the practice will become much more widespread nationally. That raises the need for statutory guidance.

The Automobile Association has said: The civil enforcement of parking and traffic offences will be discredited if motorists come to regard it as a revenue gathering exercise rather than a road safety and traffic management issue.

The British Parking Association, in a letter to the Minister dated 1 March, admitted that allegations that some penalty charge notices had been issued improperly were correct. The letter stated: At present enforcement relies on either the placing of a ticket on a stationary vehicle, handing the ticket to the driver of a stationary vehicle or on the corroborating evidence of a camera. We are concerned that with the advent of civil enforcement for moving traffic offences the uncorroborated evidence of a single enforcement officer will not be considered as adequate or safe by a large proportion of the public. In effect a driver will receive a penalty by post, some time after the alleged offence with no evidence other than the word of a single enforcement officer. . . and very little chance of being able to question or challenge the alleged offence coherently. The BPA's interest is almost the other way in this matter, but it recognises that some local authorities behave unreasonably when it comes to civil enforcement, and that the Bill's powers in respect of moving traffic offences will cause an even bigger rebellion among the motoring public.

I hope that the Minister accepts that, at the very least, there needs to be statutory guidance to cover moving traffic offences, where the civil penalty cannot be served at the time of an offence and where reliance is placed on the uncorroborated evidence of a single traffic enforcement officer.

The Minister accepts that where traffic offences are decriminalised and the courts are no longer involved, it is necessary to ensure that those aggrieved by the imposition of the penalty charge have recourse to an independent and impartial tribunal. Such a system was set up under section 73 of the Road Traffic Act 1991. Unfortunately, the tribunals do not have the discretion to examine issues of reasonableness and proportionality, despite their being referred to expressly in local authority circular 1/95.

Page 38, paragraph 7.6 of the circular states: Local authorities should ensure that all parking attendants. including supervisors and managers, having the training necessary to provide accurate, fair and consistent enforcement. This requirement applies whether the parking attendants are employed by the local authority or by a contractor.

Paragraph 7.9 states that training should include The authority's policy for dealing with 'mitigating circumstances' and other matters which require judgment to be exercised (eg. the motorist claiming to be going for change when the PCN is issued; nearest pay-and-display machine out of order, but another machine is close by; claim that meter out of order when PCN issued; motorist claims that voucher, permit etc. was valid when attendant considers it was not; explanatory note left in vehicle. Common sense and good judgment should be exercised on those issues, but there are currently far too many occasions on which judgment is manifestly not being exercised, and motorists are suffering as a result.

On wheel-clamping, paragraph 8.16 of the circular states: Local authorities undertaking when clamping should devise guidelines for when clamping may be carried out … It is important the guidelines can command public support by making the level of enforcement proportionate to the seriousness of the contravention. Wheelclamping may be brought into disrepute if a local authority permits it for what the public may regard as relatively unimportant contraventions.

Vehicle removals are another contentious area, and paragraph 8.28 of the circular states: Removals should not be carried out in an ad hoc fashion…As with wheelclamping, it is important to ensure that vehicle removals are only undertaken where the seriousness of the contravention warrants this level of enforcement. Inappropriate use of removals may bring an authority's enforcement activities into disrepute. The problem is that none of that worthy advice from the Government carries any weight with the adjudicator if a local authority chooses to use its enforcement powers in an arbitrary, inflexible and oppressive way.

To put the matter in context, the latest figures show that more than 12,000 parking and bus lane appeals were received in the last three months of last year in London. More than 3,000 of those appeals were allowed, and in 3,266 cases the enforcement authority did not even bother to contest the appeal, resulting in an overall appeal success rate of 57 per cent.—moving traffic offences form a significant and growing part of that total. Most successful appeals and appeals that were not pursued by the enforcement authority should have been rejected at the informal representations stage. That aspect of the process is not working effectively.

Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of motorists cannot be bothered to go through that long process when they know that there is an inflexible law with minimum discretion for the adjudicator in examining the actual facts of the case, so they pay up regardless but under protest. If we had statutory guidance, which new clause 1 seeks, that would be in the past, and we would also be able to deal with the problem of those local authorities—it has been drawn to my attention that Somerset, which is under Liberal Democrat control, is one such authority—that have a specific policy to incentivise traffic enforcement officers to go out and maximise revenue to the detriment of the travelling public.

2.15 pm
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab)

I have listened to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) with incredulity given his references to the debate in Committee on 5 February in which it would be reasonable to say that I played a prominent part. He is so keen to pursue his long-held ideology of privatising everything and attacking the public sector at all times that one fears that he may have privatised his brain and that the shareholders have just taken a dividend. The debate on 5 February covered not only the public sector but the private sector.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) issued a letter that specifically refers the 5 February debate, in which I pointed out the difference between private sector operators of car parks and public sector operators of car parks and that private sector operators of public car parks are anomalous. I received the Minister's letter yesterday, which is rather late in the day, and it does nothing to address that anomaly—indeed, it excuses it.

The Minister is highly capable, competent and articulate, and he should know not to rely on information provided by the Department for Transport. He will recall that the Department managed to introduce road humps that failed to take account of where cars are positioned on the road, which were a disaster and unpopular across the country. The same point applies to the information that the Department has provided on civil and criminal enforcement, and the Minister's letter defends the existing legislation and the anomaly within it. An individual fined by a private operator of a private car park can go to a civil court and have their day in court. If a local authority is involved, an individual has the potential remedy of the parking adjudicator. But if a private operator of a local authority car park is involved, an individual can go to neither one nor the other and is therefore criminalised by the case being taken to the magistrates court.

The Minister's letter and new clause 1 both fail to address this point: a private operator with a profit maximisation outlook, which is reasonable if one runs a private company, can put the threat of going to a criminal court to the motorist. The motorist faced with the prospect of going to a criminal court will obviously be intimidated by the potential for criminal proceedings and a criminal record. The evidence from many cases in Bawtry car park, which adjoins my constituency, is that individuals cave in although their tickets should not have been given in the first place. New clause I must therefore incorporate civil enforcement if it is to be of any use to Parliament, motorists and the people of Britain.

Private operators are running public car parks as cash cows. They are raking in 100 per cent. of the money—as at Bawtry car park—and that must be addressed. The Minister, through his civil servants, has attempted to address the anomaly in the legislation, but failed once again to address the anomaly in the law, which was demonstrated in Doncaster magistrates court. Such cases are covered by section 112 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, which defines local authorities as a county council … a district council, a London borough council and the Common Council of the City of London. Therefore, neither a parish council nor the private operator of a parish council car park can take people to court. That contradicts the letter that the Minister sent to all members of the Committee—he is wrong and his civil servants are wrong. The issue is small because not many parish councils are stupid enough, anti-motorist enough or greedy enough to try to skin the motorist of money via a private operator. With the publicity that the parish council has received, I cannot imagine that there will be a queue—certainly in my area—of parish councils that wish to skin the motorist in such an unprecedented, unprincipled and greedy way. However, the anomaly could also apply to car parks owned by a county or district council or a unitary authority. Therefore, the issue must be addressed and my hon. Friend the Minister needs to put his mind to it. If the Government are to be on the side of the motorist, we cannot allow the private operators of public sector car parks to skin the motorist by using the threat of criminal proceedings. That has happened time and again, as proved by the evidence that I have provided to his Department.

One should never rely on evidence provided by a cursory examination by a local authority that—as the hon. Member for Christchurch pointed out—may also be on the make by skinning the motorist. For example, local authorities claim that car parking machines across the country are the same. They do not know that, because they did not configure the machines. If the civil servants had read the report of the debate on 5 February they would have seen fromHansard that the manufacturer of the machines, Metric, admits that the tolerance on the machines can be configured by the owner. When configuring a machine, the margins of tolerance are significant enough to determine whether, for example, a 20p piece registers. It is a longstanding issue. Years ago, people who had been abroad could stick old French francs in chocolate machines in place of a shilling to fiddle the chocolate manufacturers. Of course, I would never have dreamed of doing such a thing myself, but we have all heard the stories about such practices.

The question of the tolerance of the machines is fundamental. The owner of a machine can fiddle the tolerance so that a 20p piece stays in the machine but does not register, and the motorist might not notice that. How would the motorist then know that the money that they had paid honestly for car parking had not been registered by the machine? That might lead to the absurdity of a fine. That is a major issue, and I suspect that the scandal of Bawtry car park has been silently replicated across the country and that other hon. Members will he inundated with demands for action if my hon. Friend the Minister does not take action now.

In exposing the weakness in the new clause, with its ideology of privatisation, I have put before my hon. Friend the weakness of the arguments that his civil servants have provided for him. I trust that he will wish to reconsider that advice, put the record straight and allow the motorist to win, not the fleecer of the motorist's pocket.

Mr. Redwood

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) after that powerful speech, and I have much sympathy with his condemnation of rapacious car park managers of all kinds. He may be on to something and it is a pity that Ministers have not taken his arguments more seriously so far. It was a little unfair to criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), because the new clause tries to deal with a wider point about ensuring that sensible guidance is issued to local authorities that may be rapacious enough to see these measures against the motorist as an opportunity to raise revenue rather than to run a disciplined show.

The clauses in question include clause 70, which shows that we are talking about a wide range of contraventions by the motorist. The list includes: parking contraventions … bus lane contraventions … London lorry ban contraventions … moving traffic contraventions. It was the inclusion of the latter group that worried my hon. Friends who framed the new clause. The Opposition are concerned by the way in which the motorist has been targeted by some authorities, national and local, as the object of fines for minor infringements of ill-judged regulations. Motorists agree that they are ill judged, and that is why the motorists fall foul of them. I am pleased that my hon. Friends have produced a proposal so that a sensible Secretary of State could offer guidance to local authorities and discipline or control any local authority that might wish to use sensible measures for orderly policing of traffic as a means of raising revenue by exploiting motorists in distress.

I shall not bore the House with many examples, but it is important to consider one or two cases of inadvertent or unavoidable infringements for which a motorist could be hounded if sensible guidance is not offered. One example is bus lane contraventions. Most of the time, it is right that a motorist should observe the restriction on his use of a bus lane. If the bus lane is in operation, whether or not any buses are using it, the motorist knows that he must keep outside the bus lane on what remains of the highway. Let us suppose something happens just ahead of the motorist—an accident, or a motorcycle or cycle pulling out—so that it is rational and necessary for the motorist to take evasive action by moving his vehicle temporarily into the bus lane to avoid a worse problem such as a collision or worsened congestion. That is a judgment that a motorist has to make in a split second. It may be that, before the enforcement authorities intervene, the temporary problem that caused the motorist to move into the bus lane has cleared or is not immediately apparent to the enforcement officers who were not on the scene at the time. The motorist may then be prosecuted, but it is important that authorities dealing with such infringements are sensible about what might have happened. In the event of prosecution, there needs to be a proper procedure to allow the motorist to state his case, and for that to be taken seriously. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has done us a service by drawing attention to such issues. The same is true of parking. On occasion, a motorist may identify a free parking space only to discover that the parking machines in the vicinity are full of coins and not operating or have broken down. Is it really the case that the motorist has to feel that he cannot park there at all, even though it is a lawful parking slot in normal circumstances, because the authorities have been unable to collect the money or maintain the machine to an appropriate standard? I would hope that a plea in mitigation would be available, so that the motorist could get off if he had tried to pay and had genuinely been unable to do so, especially in cases where he had put a note on the windscreen of the car, explaining that he had no wish to defraud or deprive the authorities of their money but that there was no one around to collect it and the machine that the authority had supplied could not take the money. I hope that such extenuating circumstances will lead to sensitive and sensible enforcement.

Under the new clause, in the event that authorities tried to play Dick Turpin with the extensive powers to charge and fine, there would be an opportunity for a Minister to issue national guidance. I have only one worry about my hon. Friends' sensible proposal. I doubt whether Ministers are on the side of motorist and would wish to use the power sensibly if local authorities saw the Bill as a way to raise money from unsuspecting motorists or those unavoidably tempted into breaking a rule or regulation. I will not hold that against my hon. Friends, however. I would like to see them return to government as soon as possible, and it would be useful if the provision were included in the Bill so that it could be used by a sensible Minister, even if we cannot persuade current Ministers that there is a problem. I sometimes read in the press that Ministers have seen the light and recognised that most of their constituents—and they themselves—are occasionally motorists, but at other times they seem to go back into the mode of thinking that all motorists are wicked and should not use their cars.

It gives me pleasure to support the new clause, and I hope that the Minister will find some words of comfort for the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, who needs a different kind of amendment to tackle the robber barons about whom he is rightly worried.

2.30 pm
Mr. Greg Knight

I hope that I am not developing early signs of schizophrenia, but I have been puzzling since our debate started about why, on the amendment paper, I am referred to as "Gregory" next to the new clauses to which I have put my name and "Greg" next to the amendments. Perhaps someone could enlighten me about that before we conclude our proceedings.

I support new clause 1. There is a need for a code of practice, compliance with which should be compulsory—it should be a mandatory code. It is needed because widely varying practices are currently applied to decriminalised parking enforcement contracts from one council to another. Existing guidance from the Department, which I understand is issued under circular 1/95, is not proving to be as helpful as many Conservative Members had hoped. The circular is largely ignored by several local authorities, and I am told that some councils are not even aware of its existence. In case after case, the monetary gain from parking penalties is too much of a temptation for many councils, and they prefer to maximise their revenue at the expense of fairness and justice. I was listening to a local radio station in my car as I drove south down the MI on my way to the House yesterday. I was astonished to hear someone from Leicester city council saying that the council had to increase the parking charges in the city of Leicester by far more than the rate of inflation because its revenue from the issuing of parking tickets had dropped. The radio interviewer seemed rather baffled as to why the council wished to penalise law-abiding motorists who parked in parking bays and paid their fees because the rate of revenue gained from those who ignored the law had fallen. The council has given the game away. Many local authorities introduce such measures as a purely revenue-raising exercise.

A mandatory code of practice would require local authorities to ensure that enforcement standards were uniform throughout the country. I believe that it would reduce the number of appeals made on tickets issued in borderline circumstances. As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) said, the adjudication service would have clear instructions as to what was, and what was not, reasonable.

I would also hope that a code of practice would completely remove some of the dubious practices that currently exist in some parts of the country, and I wish to inform the House of several examples of such practices that have been brought to my attention since the Bill started its parliamentary progress. First, in some areas, a penalty charge notice is issued within one or two minutes of the expiry of the time purchased. Secondly, vehicles are sometimes clamped before the statutory 15 minutes has expired. I believe that 15 minutes is far too short a time anyway, because clamping adds to the delay suffered by the motorist and the inconvenience caused. It also puts a further £60 or so on top of what is already an extremely high charge.

Thirdly, vehicles are towed away from a parking bay within the first hour of overstay even though they clearly cannot be causing an obstruction because they are in a parking hay. The power to tow vehicles from parking bays should not exist unless it is clear from the effluxion of time that a vehicle has been abandoned. Fourthly, I am told that in some local authorities, authorised removal vehicles cruise around looking for offending vehicles. The Minister should condemn that practice because although it contravenes his Department's guidance, it happens on the streets of some of our cities.

Fifthly, traffic wardens do not wait to satisfy themselves of whether a vehicle is being loaded or unloaded. A case was recently brought to my attention in which a solicitor was visiting his in-laws and unloading a piece of furniture from his car. The solicitor was amazed to observe from the house window a traffic warden who approached the vehicle and started to write a ticket without delay. With the presence of mind that one would expect from a member of the legal profession, he took out a video camera and videoed the incident. When the local authority refused to withdraw the ticket, he took the matter all the way to court and won his case by producing evidence that the traffic warden had not satisfied himself that the vehicle was being unloaded. The sixth complaint that has been drawn to my attention is about cases in which a penalty charge notice is issued for a so-called out-of-parking-bay offence even though the vehicle extends just over the bay lines. Does the Minister approve of such behaviour and, if not, will he tell us what he intends to do to bring about an end to the practices? If new clause 1 were to become law, it would cope with all the grey areas that I mentioned.

Mr. Redwood

I agree with my right hon. Friend. Proper signing and notices are essential so that motorists know what is required of them. One wonders why the notices are inadequate. Perhaps that is deliberate—as I think he and I suspect—so that more revenue may be raised from the motorist.

We often hear that we are a tolerant society with a fair system of justice, but those practices are a blot on our otherwise well-earned reputation for fairness. They are driven by the greed of local authorities, not by justice. I frankly find them offensive because they are a means of raising money from those members of society who are in the main law-abiding, yet are identified by local authorities as a soft touch.

What makes matters worse is the fact that our fines and parking charges in general are already among the highest in the world. If my right hon. and hon. Friends will forgive me, I shall commit heresy by citing figures in euros. I think that the House will find the figures interesting. In Vienna, the maximum parking fee is (Euro)0.87 per hour. In Brussels, the maximum parking fee is (Euro)0.50 per hour, and in Barcelona. the maximum fee is (Euro)1.20 per hour. In Amsterdam, the maximum fee is (Euro)2.50 per hour, and in Paris, which is the nearest of our European partners' capital cities to this island, the maximum parking fee is (Euro)3 per hour. However, here in the UK, in London, the maximum parking fee is (Euro)8 per hour. I do not regard that as justice. The situation is not equitable or fair, and the Minister should examine it.

One can add to that the fact that most of our European Union partners impose fairly modest fines for breaches of parking regulations. Fines for parking offences ranging from (Euro)25 to (Euro)50 are the norm throughout the EU. However, in the UK, fines— perhaps I should call them stealth-tax fines—of between (Euro)100 and (Euro)130 are imposed.

Looking at these figures, the House can see how great is the injustice on the poor, long-suffering British motorist.

A report inThe Times on 7 March revealed that wardens in Scotland's two biggest cities distributed 500,000 tickets last year. Glasgow city council raised £6.6m in fines while Edinburgh collected £7.1m—a rise of 40% on the previous year. It went on: Wardens in Edinburgh, nicknamed the 'blue meanies', have issued tickets to disabled drivers, police cars, ambulances and a hearse. Drivers in Glasgow have been ticketed close to midnight and others have been hit with fines for parking late at night in council car parks. The report also reveals that, although 500.000 tickets were issued in Glasgow and Edinburgh, the police are responsible for issuing tickets outside those cities, and they issued only 157,000 tickets. That indicates that the police are operating as we would expect in a quasi-judicial way—in issuing tickets when they feel that that is fair, yet in some, not all, decriminalised areas where wardens operate, those wardens see this as a moneymaking exercise.

The new clause is an attempt to stamp out those indefensible injustices, over which the Government continue to preside. Let the Minister accept the new clause, and if he resists it let him explain to the House how he intends to guarantee to the motoring public fairness and equity in the operation of our parking systems. The unfair brow-beating and money-grabbing persecution more suited to a banana republic than to the United Kingdom really must cease.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson)

I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), who repeated a phrase that he used in Committee: he said that he was involved in the fight-back campaign for middle Britain. I can tell him that if the unlikely day comes when he gets somewhere near to getting back into government, he will be doing as we are doing—fightingon behalf of the whole of Britain.

We fully intend that guidance will be issued to local authorities undertaking civil enforcement of traffic contraventions. Part 6 provides for putting civil traffic enforcement by local authorities on a consistent national basis. All authorities, whether in London or outside, will be given the same powers. It is important that authorities that exercise those powers should do so as consistently as possible across the country, and that requires nationally applicable guidance.

I am not sure that I would go as far as the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), who I know to be a strong Europhile. I do not know whether those views are entirely shared by those around him. I do not want Euro-standards for fines or any matters to do with taxation, even though I am a luke-warm Europhile.

Mr. Knight

I was not arguing for Euro-standards; I was making the point that where we are so far out of line with the rest of the civilised world, surely something must be wrong. Our fines and parking charges are too high.

Mr. Jamieson

We are a long way out of line on road safety and on death and injury on the roads, and I would say that that is not wrong; it is right. We are right in the fines that we are imposing. It is also right that we make decisions about these matters, and I certainly do not want any Euro-standards. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) will come to the right hon. Gentleman's aid and make a strong, powerful case on behalf of Europe.

Mr. Redwood

indicated dissent.

Mr. Jamieson

There we are—there is already a split on the Tory Benches. It doesn't take long, does it?

John Mann

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way on the issue of Euro-standards. As he will be aware, I have driven cars and lorries commercially into many of the cities that were mentioned, and I assure him that the information provided by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) is wholly inaccurate regarding a number of the capital cities that he mentioned; for example, Brussels, Vienna and Paris.

2.45 pm
Mr. Jamieson

I thank my hon. Friend for that.

The question is whether guidance needs to be put on a statutory basis, as new clause 1 seeks to provide. Sadly, we cannot accept the new clause as drafted, as it refers to the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2003. The civil enforcement provisions of that Act will be repealed in due course by regulations to be made under the provisions of part 6 of this Bill. Also, I have to say that, although we know a good deal about civil enforcement of parking and bus lanes, in framing national guidance, we will in fact be learning from the practical experience gained by the pilots of enforcement of moving traffic contraventions to be undertaken in London under the powers in the 2003 Act.

I have considered the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) in the debate and in the substantial correspondence that he sent to my Department, which I read with great care. It makes sense for local authorities to be able to contract out the day-to-day operation of their car parks where that represents best value. Where such contracts are entered into, it is of course the responsibility of the local authority to ensure that the appointed contractor acts in accordance with the authority's wishes.

The case of Bawtry council car park is, perhaps, unusual. My hon. Friend made a point about the adjudicator. In the case of that particular car park and highways authority the area does not, as yet, have decriminalised parking, which means that the adjudicator is the magistrates court. One of the things that my hon. Friend was asking for is that the parish council should have to go to the highways authority to get permission to go ahead with prosecution. The right hon. Member for Wokingham, who is not usually one for talking up extra regulation, even for local authorities, supported my hon. Friend in that. The difficulty is that we could be providing something that all parish councils in similar circumstances would have to do, putting an extra burden of bureaucracy on them because of what I consider to be the specific and particular problems of the car park in my hon. Friend's area.

I fully accept that there are difficulties in that car park; my hon. Friend articulated them with great strength and power today and in the Standing Committee. If he thinks that there are other places with similar problems—perhaps the right hon. Member for Wokingham, who came to his support, knows of some—I will be interested to hear about them.

John Mann

The point is that the parish council cannot go for decriminalised car park status, and if Doncaster council, as the highways authority, went for that status, the ambiguity would be even greater, because the parking adjudicator would be available for people parking in Doncaster car parks, but not those in the privatised Bawtry car park, precisely because it was privatised.

Mr. Jamieson

I do not think that that is correct. I will take some advice on that, but it is for my hon. Friend to go to the authority in Doncaster to see whether it has any interest in taking up the option of decriminalised parking. The adjudicator would then, as my hon. Friend says, be available to people in Doncaster. As I understand it, however, it is the operation of the car park, rather than the car park itself, that is privatised. My hon. Friend will accept that if we made regulation on the basis of one car park, which affected all the other parish council authorities in the country, that would be somewhat unfortunate.

I have listened to the debate with great care. Having listened to Members' oratory, I wish to sound an early conciliatory note. Whatever the defects in the drafting of the new clause, after careful consideration I have concluded that there is merit in putting civil enforcement guidance on a statutory basis. It would give the guidance greater force and make authorities more mindful of its content when carrying out enforcement activities. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch will withdraw the new clause on the understanding that we will introduce a suitable amendment in another place, putting guidance to local authorities on civil enforcement of traffic contraventions on a statutory basis.

Mr. Chope

I am grateful for what the Minister has said. Could he be more precise about the stage at which he will table an amendment in another place?

Mr. Jamieson

I have only just been persuaded by the hon. Gentleman's arguments, but when the Bill goes to another place we will consider how to table a new clause to meet the points raised in new clause 1.

I hope that that is helpful. Notwithstanding his points about Europe, with which I did not agree, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire expressed some genuine concerns, and we shall make sure that they are dealt with.

John Mann

I am horrified that the Minister has accepted a provision that worsens the double standards that apply to local authority car parks and privately operated local authority car parks. What advice would he give to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency which, in a letter to me this morning, said that copies of penalty notices have to be provided? I won my court action against Bawtry town council because the DVLA had agreed that penalty notices were inaccurate and had been issued illegally. What does the Minister intend to do to ensure that equally strong guidance is issued to private operators, not least because the DVLA is key—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. That is a very lengthy intervention.

Mr. Jamieson

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The guidance, in fact, will take into consideration most of my hon. Friend's points, but I will also look at the involvement of the DVLA.

Mr. Greg Knight

To hear a Minister admit that he listened to the debate and was convinced by it is very rare indeed, so I should like to place on record the fact that there is no gloating among Conservatives. Indeed, in our eyes, he has grown in stature.

Mr. Jamieson

That is extremely kind of the right hon. Gentleman. In the seven years for which I have been in government it has not been uncommon for Ministers to listen—indeed, that occasionally happened before we came to office.

I hope that my assurance has been helpful. A good case was made for the new clause, and I shall accept its substance for consideration in another place.

Mr. Chope

I am surprised but delighted by the Minister's approach. I hope one day to have a secretary who can type up my thoughts as quickly as the Minister's thoughts were typed up when, in responding to our debate, he changed his mind after he listened to our arguments. We decided, because of the strength of our arguments, to table our amendments well before the Bill's Report stage. The Minister could therefore have applied himself to the matter a little earlier, and tabled an appropriate Government amendment. However, we look forward to seeing the substance of the Government amendment in another place, and I hope that it will take into account the concerns expressed both in our debate and by parking adjudicators. Recognising that this is a victory in the motorist's fight back, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Forward to