HL Deb 24 April 1989 vol 506 cc1119-27

7.44 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Thirty-three years ago Parliament accepted the recommendations of a government working party and agreed to an experiment with parking meters in central London. These were designed to help the short-term parker to secure efficient use of space at the kerbside, but frankly it was to stop selfish behaviour, which is still to be found at the kerbside where there are no meters. It was considered not unreasonable that the motorist should be asked to pay for parking. The recommended charge was sixpence for one hour, a shilling for two hours. That was in 1956. The enabling Act was the Road Traffic Act of that year.

Within five years, over 12,000 meters had been brought into operation in central London. Half as many spaces again were available for off-street parking. Meter schemes were gradually introduced in places as far afield as Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle and Southend. But it was already becoming difficult in the early 1960s to find an empty meter in parts of London during the day. The then Minister of Transport, Ernest Marples, recognised that meter charges needed to be increased if meter parking was to help secure a better balance between supply and demand.

Many of us here will recollect those days clearly, but we would do well to remember that this objective is at the heart of parking controls. On-street parking was an issue even before the days of motor vehicles. I am reminded of the celebrated case in 1812 in which the proprietor of a Greenwich stagecoach was prosecuted for allowing his coach and horses to stand on the public highway near Charing Cross for long periods between his twice daily trips to London. Private carriages were thereby obstructed from access to houses on the opposite side of the road. The then Lord Ellenborough upheld a charge of unauthorised obstruction of the highway with the immortal words: No one can make a stableyard of the King's Highway". I will proceed with my introduction before noble Lords seek to draw modern day parallels from this episode.

To return to meters: in 1963 the Minister of Transport took powers to approve the type and design of parking meters. That power remains with the Secretary of State to this day. It is now in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. Whilst its origins may have been influenced by concerns about the environmental and aesthetic aspects of the first parking meters, there is a more fundamental reason why it has become an established and accepted feature. The indications given by a parking meter can be used as evidence in criminal proceedings. Prior approval of equipment by the Secretary of State offers a safeguard to the public and ensures that minimum performance standards are met. The approval process is linked closely to appropriate British Standards, where possible.

This Bill is concerned only with methods of payment for parking. It seeks to conclude a piece of unfinished business following a similar measure brought to this House in 1986 by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, and to the House of Commons by Mr. Kevin McNamara. It had become apparent at that time that the Secretary of State's powers of approval were limited to coin-operated equipment, that being the only form of equipment previously available. But new developments in parking technology were introducing the prospect of payment otherwise than by coins—for example, magnetic cards or tokens. The Road Traffic Regulation (Parking) Act 1986 therefore amended the existing legislation to permit "cashless" equipment to be approved for use on the street. This need not be limited to traditional parking meters. It may involve pay and display systems, now very common in local authority off-street car parks. Or it may cover the use of vouchers which can be bought in advance and displayed in the car window when the vehicle is parked. An excellent example of this is already operating successfully in Bath.

Electronic devices are also available which count down parking time while the motorist is absent and can be cancelled on his return. As yet no local authority has taken up this system, but one or two are seriously considering it at the moment. I am also informed that the system is widely used in Norway. Since 1986 it has become clear that the Secretary of State's powers to approve such equipment in local authorities' off-street car parks are still deficient. This Bill will put that right. Further, it will expand the methods of payment to include payment by bank notes in addition to coins, and by credit or debit cards.

Before I begin to explain the Bill, I should say that I am extremely pleased that I have had the privilege to be associated with it. The Bill was introduced in another place by Mr. Timothy Kirkhope who got the Bill through almost by an electric current. The Bill is an enabling Bill. It raises no new issues of principle nor does it impose any new duties or responsibilities on local authorities. However, local authorities remain the largest collective providers of off-street parking spaces nationally and, under the Bill, will be given greater freedom to introduce new payment systems for car parking. We owe it to them to see there is no impediment to the use of modern technology in this area.

Cashless systems have the advantage of reducing the amount of cash on the street and in car parks, which, as we know, can be prone to vandalism and theft. They offer benefits to the motorist who may choose to purchase a card or a book of vouchers in advance and so avoid the necessity of having to carry the correct change every time he or she wants to park. As we all know, when we go somewhere we do not quite know what coins to carry. That can cause difficulties.

The Bill will allow compatible equipment to be installed for both on-street and off-street parking. It should therefore open up a more stable market for the equipment manufacturers, of whom there are a number. I hope that they are watching now and that they will get the equipment ready by the time the Bill is enacted. I hope it will be enacted very soon.

I turn now to the Bill's provisions. Clause 1 sets out the main purpose of the Bill, and is largely modelled on the equivalent provisions in the 1986 Act for on-street equipment. It amends Section 35 of the 1984 Act to provide for the use of non-coin operated equipment at off-street car parks under local authority control. "Parking device" is shorthand for any method of paying in advance for parking, rather than by a coin in a slot at the time. The clause also enables the Secretary of State, by regulation, to amend the definition of "parking device" if technological advances produce variants which are not currently caught by the description given here. The negative resolution procedure is prescribed for that. The clause also contains a safeguard to ensure that the Bill does not disturb any existing arrangements.

Clause 2 re-enacts the existing provisions in the 1984 Act concerning offences for contravening or failing to comply with parking place orders, and for fraudulent misuse of apparatus or devices. These are essential to effective enforcement. The provisions are expanded to cover misuse of any apparatus or devices permitted under Clause 1. The Bill does not create any substantive new offences. Your Lordships will be pleased to hear that. The clause also defines the expressions "credit card" and "debit card". The basic distinction is that the former allows the user to defer payment, while the latter effects payment electronically at the point of use. Parking systems which accept credit cards are already in use at airports.

Clause 3 introduces the schedule which makes minor and consequential amendments to other legislative provisions to reflect the changes introduced in Clauses 1and 2. Clause 4 provides for the short title and leaves the Secretary of State to appoint a day for commencement. This would allow time for his department to issue any necessary advice or general approvals, and provides that the Bill, like its parent Act of 1984, does not extend to Northern Ireland.

The Bill has attracted widespread support and, to my knowledge, no real opposition from any quarter. That makes it a remarkable measure. I believe it will usefully clarify the law on this admittedly narrow aspect of parking. It will assist local authorities which are keen to exploit new approaches to car parking and to adopt new control systems which are efficient, secure and cost effective. Motorists will benefit from more choice and convenience in payment methods which the Bill will provide. I commend it to your Lordships' House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Teviot.)

7.55 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, for explaining the background to the Bill and its clauses. I echo what the noble Lord said as regards thanking Mr. Timothy Kirkhope, the Member of Parliament for Leeds North-East, who introduced the Bill in another place.

As the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, said, the Bill gives the same facilities for off-street parking as were approved in the Private Member's Bill, the Road Traffic Reglation (Parking) Act 1986, which dealt only with street parking. I want the Minister, if he can, to give the House some indication of how many authorities have used the provisions of1he 1986 Act. If only a few have done so, that does not necessarily mean that the Act is a bad Act. Perhaps the Minister can also tell us whether the same systems that are proposed for off-street parking can be used both for on-street and off-street parking when this Bill is passed.

Both legislative measures provide an opportunity for more effective and orderly use of approved parking places. The Bill is national in that it covers all of Great Britain. Although many cities have parking and congestion problems, in some cities the problems occur only at limited peak periods. The major problem is in London. The Bill is useful but we must not deceive ourselves that it offers the solution to all parking and congestion problems. I shall quote from the document published recently by the Department of Transport, entitled Transport in London. The document has a foreword by the Secretary of State which states: Sensible parking policies can make a significant contribution to tackling the problem of congestion. A single badly parked vehicle can halve the capacity of a road junction, reduce a dual carriageway to a single lane, or even block a road completely. London, particularly central London, cannot afford to see scarce road capacity squandered in this way". I am one of those bad creatures who travel up to your Lordships' House by car, for various reasons, almost every day. I see the problem each time I travel here from the suburbs of Essex and through the City. Many motorists indulge in selfish, unthinking parking. There is also inadequate enforcement of parking regulations. I live in the Epping Forest district council area. It covers a number of separate districts, many of them divided by the forest. Where I live a traffic warden is seen once in a blue moon. However, I can think of two roads within a few hundred yards where buses and delivery vehicles constantly travel up and down. Despite that fact, people park on yellow lines and there enforcement of parking regulations again takes place once in a blue moon.

There is also the problem of residents and parking facilities. Where residents-only parking areas exist, the problem is resolved reasonably satisfactorily. However, even where there are residents-only parking areas, congestion still arises. The problem of residents and parking occurs not only in central London, but also in inner London and outer London. It is a severe problem. The Bill makes no reference to that problem. However, I thought that as the Bill is entitled the Parking Bill, I should make some general comments on parking problems without of course wishing to delay the business that is to follow.

Where there are no special residential parking areas, parking for residents is a problem. If one parks as one should, on the road, one creates the kind of phenomenon that the Department of Transport document mentions. On the other hand, if one thinks that because it is a narrow road one will park on the pavement, that is illegal. I travel through the City, Hackney, Leyton and Woodford where, frankly, the only places where residents can park their cars is on the pavements. That is unfair to pedestrians and particularly to the blind. Therefore it is a problem.

I am certain that both the Member for North-East Leeds who introduced the Bill in another place and the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, would agree that the other issue is whether easier parking will cause more car commuters to drive into central London and create greater congestion. That is a problem which has to be faced. Why do some of us, because it is convenient for other purposes, come by car?—because there is a car park outside the House of Lords. If I had to use the underground car park across the road, which is for season ticket holders only, it would cost me a fortune to park there every day. This is a useful Bill but we must not deceive ourselves that it solves all the poblems of parking or of congestion.

In my view there is a need for more parking facilities at surburban stations, both Underground and British Rail. When I travel to the House I cannot get into my local station car park, although it is a fairly substantial one, because it is full. On one occasion I had to pay to come out of the car park in order to take my car back home and somehow hobble on a bad leg back to the station, simply because I could not find a space in the car park. All the roads round the station have yellow lines and as a law-abiding motorist, I refuse to park on them.

We also have to look more carefully at the problems in relation to the effect of parking and congestion on public transport. I hope that we can deal with that aspect very thoroughly when we debate London transport in your Lordships' House on 3rd May.

With those general comments on the problems of parking, we give this Bill full approval in the hope that your Lordships' House will pass it.

8.2 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, for so ably introducing this Bill and for making clear to me one or two points which are not readily apparent. Although it is a modest measure it is not the most modest of Bills. I should also like to congratulate the honourable Member for Leeds North-East on getting the Bill to this stage.

As was touched upon by both the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, paid-for parking has a role to play in simplifying parking and thus a role to play in easing congestion. Legislating for the use of pre-paid stored value cards is, I believe, a definite step in the right direction. But I believe that legislation for the use of credit and debit cards is a much greater step in the right direction because it seems to me to take account of changes in our habits. In the old pre-inflationary days we used money to pay for an awful lot of things. Cheque cards had modest guarantee values. Nowadays some of us at least are used to using an international credit card rather than a pre-paid card to make a phone call from trains. Soon we shall be able to make phone calls from aeroplanes using an internationally recognised credit card. Therefore I feel that this is a step in the right direction. It brings systems of payment for parking into line with current practice. We all carry plastic nowadays.

The Bill would also make life easier for most of us in the sense of simply finding a parking space. It makes life easier for foreign visitors, who were so much my concern until very recently. It might even go some way, if suitable facilities are provided, to facilitate the parking of British and foreign coaches, a topic which crops up with considerable frequency in your Lordships' House, particularly in relation to central London. That is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, touched upon indirectly.

I realise that this is an easier payment-for-parking Bill rather an easier parking Bill. I go along with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said. I read on the tapes this evening that the Secretary of State will perhaps announce a substantial cutting back of the red tape surrounding our road construction programme. That would be welcome if it helps people to get more easily from A to B. But there is no point in making their journey from A to B easier if there is nowhere for them to park when they reach point B, their destination.

We are not debating parking, and therefore I do not propose to make a speech on that subject. Far be it from me, as probably the only speaker tonight who does not hold and has never held a driving licence, to go into those eternal verities. I believe this is a very competent, very good, and super little Bill. I join both the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, in wishing it well.

8.5 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, it may be helpful if I intervene briefly to give the Government's view on the Bill. We are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Teviot for his explanation of what the Bill does.

The Government fully support the Bill. It is a detailed and somewhat technical measure but no less important for that. It is perhaps unfortunate that it is needed at all, but it was widely assumed in 1986 that the amendments then made to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 would suffice. It was only when the department was subsequently approached with a request for approval of cashless equipment in an off-street car park that the Secretary of State's powers were found to be inadequate. This Bill offers an opportunity to put the matter right and we welcome it.

Local authorities have wide powers under the 1984 Act to designate parking places on highways in their area, and to provide off-street car parks. My noble friend Lord Teviot reminded us of the early history of parking meters. As he said, other methods have been developed which do not require every parking place on the street to be accompanied by a meter. I hope we can exploit those to the full, if only to help minimise the amount of clutter on our streets. This Bill should help authorities, and manufacturers, to continue to think imaginatively about methods of parking control, as well as to pursue systems which are secure, efficient to operate and easy to maintain.

As users, we should all welcome the prospect of greater choice in payment methods and the convenience which pre-paid cards, like phonecards, can offer. We live in an increasingly cashless society. There is no reason why we should not pay for parking by means other than cash at the point of sale, when so many other goods and services can be purchased in this way.

The Bill has a narrow and specific focus. Your Lordships can no doubt think of many other aspects of parking which they feel could be improved. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned badly or illegally parked cars. I entirely agree with what he said. My own experience is that they cause traffic jams far beyond the minor nature of the offence. The noble Lord also mentioned enforcement and the problem of pavement parking. All of those are problems which the Government need to tackle. The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, mentioned the problem of coach parking.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked me one specific question about what examples we had of the operation of the 1986 Act. A low technology voucher-style parking card system was approved in 1987 for use by Avon County Council in Bath. My noble friend Lord Teviot referred to that scheme in his opening remarks. Various local authorities are attracted by its undoubted success but are awaiting the results of a TRRL survey before proceeding themselves. With regard to high technology systems, both manufacturers and local authorities are awaiting the imminent publication of a British standard. I understand that several informal requests have been received by the department. A limited scheme has been introduced for coach parking in Westminster using card-operated machines. I understand that there is also a system in Birmingham but I do not have details of that scheme.

As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, indicated, an important point in this Bill is that compatibility with off-street systems is likely to give an increased impetus to the introduction of new technology. This Bill will help to extend freedom of choice to providers and users alike. I therefore commend it to your Lordships.

8.9 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords who have stayed and taken part in the debate, and for the kind remarks that have been made.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, rightly introduced the wider subject of parking, rather than keeping to the narrow aspects of the Bill. I hope that his points have been answered by my noble friend the Minister. I feel rather guilty because one or two other noble Lords had put down their names to speak but, owing to another engagement, could not be here. Convention does not allow me to deal with their points when they are not here, but the points raised by one absent friend were aptly dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, so I feel slightly less guilty about that. I regret the absence of the promised contribution from the Liberal Benches.

The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, is raring to speak at any moment, as is the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who simply cannot wait. I have been told to get on with my speech, as I shall do. My experience with this Bill has been most agreeable. This is the first time in 21 years that I have been asked to take on a Bill from the other place. It has been very nice to take on so successful a measure.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.