HL Deb 16 May 1989 vol 507 cc1117-23

7.53 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Teviot.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD HAYTER in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 1: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause: ("Surplus revenue from parking places. The following subsection shall be inserted after section 55(4)— (4A) Any surplus revenue accrued by a local authority in respect of parking places designated by designation orders for which they are the local authority shall not be carried forward from one quadrennial period to another without the consent of the Secretary of State; and any such surplus revenue shall be applied for all or any of the purposes listed in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (4) above." ").

The noble Lord said: Perhaps at the outset I should apologise to my noble friend Lord Teviot and to my noble friend the Minister as well as to the Committee for having been absent on 24th April during the Second Reading of this Bill. Had I been present I could have given notice of my intention to raise some matters, two of which are the subject of the two amendments that I have tabled.

Amendment No. 1 is a little wide of the purport of the Bill. It is intended as a probing amendment. I wish to draw the attention of the Committee to some serious errors in the way that on-street parking and parking charges are dealt with by some local authorities. In essence the amendment takes us back to the position in 1956 and the 1956 Act when the net proceeds of car parking meter charges were devoted to providing further parking spaces. It is interesting to note that over the years that parking meters have been in use—they were started in 1958—many millions of pounds have been raised as a surplus.

That provision which required local authorities to spend the money within a four-year period was abandoned during the passage of the 1984 road traffic Act. It is now only necessary for local authorities to provide a separate income and expenditure account. The surpluses are to be used, in general terms, for traffic related matters. A local authority is not required to spend the surplus, if a surplus occurs, on providing car parking spaces. Under the present legislation a local authority is let off the hook entirely if it decides that there is no need for further parking facilities in its area.

I want to emphasise this situation by referring to the report of the Oxford University transport studies unit of November 1988 entitled Traffic Regulation in Urban AreasThe Public View. This report was commissioned by the Department of Transport. I shall take from the abundant examples in the report Chester, Oxford, Leicester and Southampton. All the motorists in those places have said that an inability to find a parking space causes frustration, congestion and a lot of aggravation not only to the local authority concerned but also to the police and other motorists. I suggest that local authorities have not discharged their obligations in this area.

The Royal Automobile Club conducts an annual survey of parking meters which covers the City of London, Westminster, 20 other London boroughs and 26 provincial towns. Therefore, the survey is representative of about 50,000 meters, 24,000 pay-and-display spaces and some 65,000 residents' parking bays. The period that has been studied does not represent 30 years exactly because some authorities did not enter the scheme until 17 years ago. During that period a surplus of £65 million has occurred. Yet in areas like Southampton, which I know best and to which I drew the attention of the House as regards parking problems when we were discussing another matter about a fortnight or three weeks ago, there is a surplus of £500,000. Nevertheless, the motorists in the survey say that it is difficult to find a parking space there. That is an appalling situation.

I apologise to my honourable friend the Member for North-East Leeds, Mr. Kirkhope, for using his Bill to draw attention to this matter. In the absence of the provision which was contained in the 1956 Act, what can the Government do to apply pressure on local authorities to provide out of the surpluses that occur—namely the differences between the revenue and expenditure on parking meters—an adequate supply of parking spaces for hard-pressed motorists? I beg to move.

8 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining his amendment. My problem is that I believe that it would be difficult to compel local authorities to spend surplus money from parking meters on providing off-street parking. I believe that they should be given flexibility, but to compel them to use the money for that purpose is unrealistic.

My memory may be at fault, but I believe that the ministry was first approached by Westminster City Council which had a large fund but could not find anywhere to build off-street car parks because land was so valuable and space was not available. The second problem was the lack of space on the roads at 5 o'clock at night, and concern that the bigger the car parks the more cars there would be on the road at 5 o'clock. My memory may again be at fault but I seem to remember that in Birmingham, the city of the motor car, a Conservative council talked about the only solution if they built more car parks being to close them until after the commuters had driven into the city in the morning and before the commuters left at night because the purpose of car parks was to provide parking for people on relatively short visits to the city for two, three or a maximum of four hours.

I can see the point of the noble Lord's amendment, and I can see the need for off-street parking in some areas. Oxford may very well be one such area. Consider North Oxford any night at 5 o'clock; I should not like to see very many more cars on that road where it is already almost impossible to move. Therefore I should be doubtful about supporting the amendment, largely because I do not think that it gives enough flexibility to local authorities to decide how to use any surplus that they may have.

Lord Teviot

I have very little to say on this amendment. My noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, have introduced a most interesting discussion. I am a public transport buff, but I believe that this Bill is absolutely splendid in providing for off-street car parking and payment by credit cards. However, I am concerned by my friend's remarks about the number of parking spaces: they could grow like Topsy. That remark may incite my noble friend to spend the next 20 minutes saying that that it not so, and the Committee has already had to wait a long time for this Bill to appear this evening. Therefore I shall wait for my noble friend to give us the benefit of his wisdom.

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

It is very kind of my noble friend to describe my words as wisdom. We shall see whether all noble Lords agree with that. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for explaining the amendment and indicating that this is a probing amendment.

I shall concentrate my remarks on the more general matters he has raised. But I shall first say that the Government cannot support the amendment. It would re-introduce a requirement for ministerial consent which was swept away in 1974 under the Local Government Act. That was in the context of an exercise to remove or relax a range of statutory controls on local authorities which were no longer felt to be necessary or appropriate. We have no wish to reverse that process.

Under Section 55 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, any surplus revenue from on-street meters must be applied for specified purposes. The broad intention is that profits from parking charges on the street should be ploughed back into financing parking provision, or if not, into expenditure on public transport or highway improvements. It would be unreasonable in the circumstances for authorities not to be able to carry these forward from one year to another. We see no reason to constrain this further in the way that this amendment proposes.

For most local authorities the provision of off-street parking does not tend to be a highly profitable activity, particularly where it involves the acquisition of land or costly construction. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, referred to a case in point. Where an authority is able to make a surplus on the revenue account of off-street parking, the 1984 Act does not constrain the use to which the money can be put. It may be transferred to the authority's general rate fund and used to keep down the rate levy or to support other rate funded services.

Local authorities have a duty under Section 122 of the 1984 Act to secure the provision of suitable and adequate parking facilities on and off the highway, but there is significant scope for private sector involvement, for example in joint development schemes with the local authority. Some authorities contract out the management of off-street car parking to the private sector. We welcome such moves. We believe that it is right that users should pay for parking. There is seldom a case for subsidy from the ratepayer.

I am grateful to my noble friend for giving me an opportunity to comment briefly on these issues although, as my noble friend said, they fall rather outside the provisions of this Bill. I hope that he feels that my remarks have been helpful and that he does not need to press the amendment.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, for his contribution in this short debate which, if nothing else, has drawn some attention to the fact that there are surpluses in some areas and that there are shortages of car parking spaces, whether on street or off street. That leads in part to the congestion on our roads. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his explanation. I have to accept that responsible local authorities should use the moneys which they raise, lawfully and properly, in a manner which suits their areas best. However, I suggest that car parking falls very low on the list of local authorities' priorities. With thanks to your Lordships' Committee, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 2: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:

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—
  1. (a) require the display of any orders under section 35(1) above relating to the parking place;
  2. (b) specify the manner in which the information and orders are to be displayed;
  3. (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
  4. 1121
  5. (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-con+pliance 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."").

The noble Lord said: This new clause looks rather long and complex but it is not quite so frightening as it appears. The amendment represents an attempt to safeguard the interests of consumers. This is a matter which is gaining in popularity in government and in other circles because it is the consumer—the car parker—who has to pay. The purpose of the amendment is to help him by promoting the display of sufficient information at car parks.

Perhaps in parenthesis I may say that while there may be a proliferation of signs, instructions and guidance notes at car parks, whether it is on the surface, underground or above ground, I hope that any further development in this area will be accompanied by adequate lighting. Unhappily a number of crimes have been reported in underground car parks—which could equally occur in surface and above ground car parks—and I believe there should be a requirement on a developer of an off-street car park to provide an adequacy of lighting, purely for safety reasons.

Criticism is often levelled at the lack of information about the rights and obligations of the car park user. He is invariably told how much it will cost, but it does not always make it abundantly clear when the park opens and closes, what kind of vehicles may use the park and a whole multitude of other matters. Practice varies up and down the country. The clause, which has, I am sure, the support of Her Majesty's Government—I have to acknowledge help from the department of my noble friend the Minister in drafting the amendment is an attempt to bring some uniformity and some clarity to the situation that currently obtains.

It is essentially a matter of providing the Secretary of State with regulations. I know that noble Lords are not always over-keen to give regulatory powers to the Secretary of State, but we think that it may not be necessary for any regulations to be made. We believe that voluntary compliance in the interests of good will between the car park operator and the user will perhaps be sufficient to ensure that there is an adequacy of signing.

I should say that, if noble Lords agree the amendment, and regulations were to be made, the provisions in Section 134 of the 1984 Act relating to consultations still apply. Under that section, before the Secretary of State could make regulations, he would be required to consult representatives of local authorities, users of parks and so on.

There is only one other matter that I should perhaps draw to the Committee's attention. Subsection (4) provides that, in the unhappy event of there being proceedings—in other words, the car park user being brought to court—it shall be assumed, unless it is shown otherwise, that the local authority has complied with regulations. It would then be up to the motorist, if he parks without payment—because he takes the view that the local authority has failed to meet its obligations to display any prescribed information—to be able to demonstrate that such was the case.

As I said at the outset, this is essentially a measure to safeguard the interests of consumers which I believe may well commend itself to the Committee this evening. I beg to move.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

Again, I must congratulate the noble Lord on his ingenuity in introducing these amendments; but, in this case, I hope that the Minister has something good to say because the general tenor of the noble Lord's speech was very worthy of consideration.

We have all experienced the problem, particularly in basement and multi-storey car parks where the lighting is bad and the feeling of general security is not very good and can sometimes even be quite scary. Sometimes, when one goes in late at night, one wonders whether the wheels on the car will be there—and occasionally they are not.

Perhaps the Minister will give us an idea as to whether there is any general advice from the department to architects to liaise with the police in the design of new car parks, whether multi-storey or basement car parks. They would then be aware of the need for a safe neighbourhood approach to design to ensure that there are as few dark corners and awkward pillars as possible and that the lighting is good and well maintained. I hope that the Minister will give his noble friend some encouragement for what he has done in these two amendments.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth for his remarks in introducing the amendment. I find the proposition an attractive one.

As my noble friend says, the Bill opens the door for an increasing range of payment options at local authority car parks. It will be important for the motorist to be given clear information when he parks his vehicle, or in some cases in advance, before the point where he is committed.

There is a more general point. Car parks are not always furnished with information as well as they should be. As my noble friend has said, the motorist may not always be sufficiently informed about conditions of use. Such matters will have been covered in the relevant parking place order which governs the charges and use of the car park. There is no requirement at present to display the full text of the order, but it is reasonable to suppose that there is a minimum standard of information which ought to be available and clearly displayed for the benefit of users.

Like my noble friend, I would hope that we could avoid having to resort to regulations. Many local authorities may already be fully meeting their moral obligation to users in this area. I understand that there is a prospect of a British standard being developed which would aim to guide car park operators in such matters as information and signing. That would undoubtedly help to promote good practice. The new clause would, however, provide a useful means of reinforcing that if exhortation alone proves insufficient to encourage observance of the standard. I do not believe that the requirements would be onerous. As my noble friend said, there would be consultations.

My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, referred to lighting and the design of car parks. Those points are not covered in this amendment or in the Bill, but I understand that standards are promoted by the British Parking Association and I hope that they will be observed.

To return to the amendment, it appears to be a sensible measure in support of the parking public and the Government would be happy to support it.

Lord Teviot

It only remains for me to say that my noble friend's amendment is an excellent and well drafted amendment. The short debate on the subject has been most interesting. In essence, the measure satisfies the consumer and helps local authorities.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, and to my noble friend the Minister. I only hope that my honourable friend Mr. Kirkhope in another place will have as much support when he takes his Bill back to that place.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Remaining clause and schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with an amendment.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.55 p.m.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.20 to 8.55 p.m.]