HL Deb 27 November 1986 vol 482 cc688-91

6.35 p.m.

The Earl of Dundee rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th November be approved. (1st Report from the Joint Committee).

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this order amends the Functions of Traffic Wardens (Scotland) Order 1971 and is subject to affirmative resolution procedures in both Houses. It resembles very closely the order relating to the functions of wardens in England and Wales approved by the House earlier this year.

The order does not extend the functions of traffic wardens nor does it provide for new powers or functions. The order arises from the need to enable traffic wardens to issue "fixed penalty notices" under Part III of the Transport Act 1982 when new provisions relating to the issuing of these notices for stationery vehicle offences are introduced in Scotland on 1st December of this year. When Part III is brought into force, the legislation currently referred to in the 1971 order, which enables traffic wardens to issue fixed penalty notices at present, will be repealed. This order, which we have before us, amends the 1971 order only insofar as it removes the reference to the repealed legislation and replaces it with a reference to the Transport Act 1982. The order therefore does no more than allow traffic wardens to continue issuing fixed penalty notices, but under different legislation.

As the need for this order has arisen because of the implementation of provisions in Part III of the Transport Act 1982, it may be helpful to your Lordships if I say something briefly about these provisions. There have been, for some years, problems in administering the present parking ticket system, and a large number of parking tickets issued are never paid. Under the system which is now being replaced the motorist who ignored a parking ticket was presumed to have opted for a court hearing for the alleged parking offence and the procurator fiscal had therefore to prosecute such a motorist if any penalty were to be imposed. In practice, the large number of unpaid penalites made it impractical to pursue all such cases and many motorists escaped. The provisions being implemented are intended to remedy this by requiring the motorist specifically to request a hearing if he wishes to dispute his liability for the offence. If he does not and he also fails to pay the penalty, a fine of one and a half times the amount of the penalty will be registered against the motorist without the necessity of a court hearing. Thus a £12 unpaid parking ticket will become an £18 fine. This fine will be subject to the normal fine enforcement powers available to the courts. This is a very brief outline of the new fixed penalty system for stationary vehicle offences and while it should reduce the burden falling on the police and the courts in prosecuting such offenders, its implications for traffic wardens are small in that their functions and powers will remain the same as at present.

I hope that this explanation has set the draft order in context. Your Lordships will appreciate from what I have said that the order is necessarily simple as a consequence of bringing these provisions of the Transport Act 1982 into effect. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th November be approved. [1st Report from the Joint Committee.]—(The Earl of Dundee.)

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, we are grateful indeed to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for his explanation, so far as it goes, of what we have before us. The noble Earl said that it follows fairly closely English legislation that came earlier this year. I look at this order and what do I find? It says "Made". This is a draft. It is not made yet. The order says, "Coming into Operation 1st December". When is that? It is Monday. If this is essential to the bringing into operation of the new system let us look at the new system itself. We got that from the Secretary of State via Mr. Ian Lang, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office, under a statutory instrument on 28th October.

May I suggest that it took the Scottish Office from 28th October until about now to realise that there was something wrong? In other words, they had forgotten about the limitation of the powers of the traffic wardens. We do not amend Section 95(5) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act. We do not amend the 1982 Act, presumably because that would have required primary legislation and we should have been out of time with regard to the commencement date which was already law as from 28th October. In respect of 28th October I am citing a different Act altogether. I think that it was the Transport Act 1982 which was cited there as giving power to do this. It laid down 1st December 1986.

Can the Minister be frank with the House and tell us exactly what happened and why we are considering this at the very last minute? Suppose that something drastic had happened to this House today? The traffic wardens would not have had the power to do what the Government want them to do.

Why did they not change Section 95(5) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984? They had the power there. Traffic wardens shall not be employed to discharge functions other than those prescribed as appropriate for the purpose by order of the Secretary of State made by statutory instrument; and no order shall be made under this subsection unless a draft … has been laid before, and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament". They could have used that, but no, we go back to 1971.

In 1971 the traffic wardens did not have the power that is now being given to them or was given to them in 1982. I say this because in 1982 when the fixed penalty notice system was introduced and measures were laid down it was limited then to a constable in uniform. The traffic wardens could not do this according to law under the 1982 Act. Somewhere somebody forgot all about this and we come here at the last minute amending the 1971 Act.

Who are traffic wardens? I think that the age group is anything from about 19 to 59. Here they are given a new power. It was said that traffic wardens should be suitably trained—this was in the 1984 Act—for this new power. But this is not yet legislation. It has not yet been made. It has been approved by the other House but it has not yet been approved by this House. They have between today, Friday, Saturday and Sunday to train them suitably for this new task. This is because somebody in the Scottish Office must have slipped up.

If we go back to the other Act one discovers that in 1971 a draft was made on 4th March—which means that it was discussed before that—which came into operation on 1st April. But here we are, the order is not yet made, and it is coming into operation on Monday. It is interesting to note what the Under-Secretary said about the number of unheeded notices. I think that it is about 50 per cent. in certain very busy areas. If he knew anything about what is happening in the courts in Scotland—there was a very interesting article in the Glasgow Herald the other day in relation to this—he would know that they do not have the time. I wonder whether the situation will be any better after this. I do not see that it will be very much improved. There is certainly the additional penalty of the extra £6; but it makes it rather a laughing stock, if, having made and underlined laws, and having increased penalties, we do not have the administrative resources to put the measure properly into law.

The policeman cannot do it; he does not have the time. But if we do not have this measure the traffic wardens will not have the power to do it. I think that we shall be very unpopular with the motorists of Scotland if we allow this order to pass. There was a time when I was a motorist when my eyes were a little better than they are now. However, I shall risk the unpopularity. I think I have to, for the sake of the good sense of Scotland, about which we have heard a good bit in respect of the Bill before us earlier today. But months after they had done it properly in England, we suddenly decide that something is wrong with regard to Scotland and that we had better get this order through quickly. However, it is not good enough from the point of view of the reputation of the Scottish Office.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, I have some sympathy with the point of the noble Lord about timing. However, I feel that I can reassure him. There are two points to be made: first, that owing to the need to align the 1971 order with the new provisions contained in Part III of the 1982 Transport Act, wide consultations were necessary. Secondly, the traffic wardens' powers were certainly not forgotten, but the House of Commons came back later than this House. As a result there has in fact been no earlier opportunity to bring the matter to the attention of the House.

However, the substance of the point by the noble Lord concerned training. Indeed, if a great deal of training had been required to follow from the new measures proposed then lack of good timing would have been a difficulty. However, as it happens, the functions of traffic wardens arising from the proposals will be relatively unchanged. Traffic wardens will not need to be retrained in any way. Therefore I think that I can assure the House that there will be no administrative difficulties arising. I have every confidence that next month, and as from 1st December, the new proposals will be able to work well, and not least since the purpose of them is to ease the administrative burden on the courts and to give a greater disincentive to motorists to neglect parking fines.

On Question, Motion agreed to.