HL Deb 24 June 1991 vol 530 cc423-64

3.9 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 43 [Permitted and special parking areas outside London]:

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 1: Page 41, line 27, leave out ("76") and insert ("78").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment corrects the reference in Clause 43. That clause is an introductory clause to Schedule 3 which contains the general power for the Secretary of State to make orders designating "permitted" or "special" parking areas outside London to which the provisions of the new decriminalised parking regime in London can be suitably applied. The references in the clause need to be expanded to include Clauses 77 and 78, which deal with the enforcement of unpaid penalty charge notices through the county courts and Crown application. This ground will need to be covered in the orders made under Schedule 3. The expanded references will enable that to happen. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 44 [Parking attendants]:

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 2: Page 41, line 44, at end insert: ("(3A) Whether employed directly by a local authority or otherwise, parking attendants shall not be remunerated on any basis which relates remuneration to the number of penalty charge notices issued.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is a neater and greatly simplified version of an amendment that I moved on Report and later withdrew. That amendment received a great deal of support from various quarters of your Lordships' House. To avoid any misunderstanding let me say straightaway that this amendment is in no way an attempt to take advantage of the embarrassment and difficulties that Westminster City Council is currently facing. The amendment is based on important broad principles applicable throughout the whole of Britain.

The amendment is designed to ensure that parking attendants are paid on a normal weekly, monthly or annual basis, as is the case with most employed people in this country as opposed to self-employed people. The amendment specifically seeks to ensure that the attendants are not paid on results. By that I mean that their pay should not be linked to the number of parking tickets issued.

There is no need for me to repeat at length the arguments that were advanced in Committee and on Report against this deplorable practice. The practice is unnecessarily harsh on individuals, some of whom may be harassed mothers collecting their children, or temporarily disabled people, who may arrive at the parking meters only 20 or 30 seconds after their time is up or whose car bumpers may extend a few inches over the yellow line. The paying of parking attendants on the number of tickets issued will almost certainly engender contempt for the law and will lower the esteem of the police in the eyes of the public in so far as the police are linked in the public mind with parking attendants partly by virtue of their uniforms and partly by virtue of the role that the police play in towing away vehicles which are incorrectly parked.

The system of paying attendants on the number of tickets issued will also tend to bring authority in general into disrepute and that cannot be a good thing. I am sure your Lordships will agree that such a practice could open the way for corruption. A woman, for example, may arrive back at her parking meter and if she is a minute or less over her allotted time the attendant may say to her, "If I do not book you I stand to lose, but if I do book you, you stand to lose a great deal more. How about splitting the difference? Shall we say a fiver in cash"?

All in all, paying attendants on the basis of the number of tickets issued constitutes an unacceptable abuse of power. That is why this matter cannot be left to local authorities to determine. It is a matter for the country as a whole to determine. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I support the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, as I have done previously. I hope that the Minister can comment on one or two points upon which he was unable or did not wish to elaborate when this matter was before the Chamber on 10th June.

The burden of the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, is that it is offensive in these circumstances for parking attendants to be paid by results. When we discussed this issue on 10th June the Minister said: I recognise the concerns that may be held about paying these attendants on a piecework basis and the abuses that that might encourage. However, it is not for legislation to tie the hands of local authorities in matters such as these".—[Official Report, 10/6/91; col. 984.] If a local authority by reason of a contractual obligation does something which is contrary to the public good and perhaps even invades the liberties of the citizen, I suggest with respect that the argument that the Minister has adduced will not stand up. It is the job of Parliament to address abuses of that kind. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, has made a strong point on two occasions in relation to this form of abuse. Admittedly, the Minister has pointed to some slightly mitigating factors. He said on 10th June, again at col. 984, that provision is made for motorists, to make representations to the local authority concerned, and to appeal to an independent parking adjudicator if they consider their representations have not been dealt with satisfactorily". With respect, that argument is only good as far as it goes. Often people will not take matters further—unless they feel strongly about a situation—as they believe it is inconvenient to go to such trouble, particularly if they are in business or carrying on an important occupation. While they may want to pursue the matter further, it is simply inconvenient to make representations and an appeal. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, is addressing a collective rather than an individual problem here. To say effectively that someone cart appeal to an independent parking adjudicator does not address that problem at all.

The Minister continued at col. 984: Provision is also made for an annual report on the parking adjudicators' activities to be published, so that any abuse of parking attendants' powers will rebound on the local authorities and will do so in a highly public manner". However, such a report will probably mean that problems are dealt with a long time after the offending event has occurred. The Minister's reply does not begin to address the seriousness of the situation to which the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has referred. The Minister further stated at col. 984: If contractors behave badly as well, then the local authority will receive complaints and surely will discuss them with the contractor. If need be, the local authority can cancel the contract". The problem with that statement—the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has not referred to this today but he did so on the previous occasion—is that a council such as Westminster City Council goes along with the idea of paying rewards on the basis of results. Therefore, it will be difficult to dislodge such a council from that ideological absurdity.

However, I believe that this is not a matter that should divide us politically. A perfectly reasonable proposition has been made that can be introduced into legislation without any undue difficulty. It concerns a mischief which affects many people. I hope that even at this late stage the Government will take this mischief into account. After all, the Bill will go to another place and government amendments have been tabled which will have to be considered. This amendment should be just such another amendment. I hope that the Minister will respond to my plea in a positive way.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I oppose the amendment but I do so not just because Westminster City Council has been mentioned and I have moved amendments on its behalf. I accept that that council has undertaken measures that have not been satisfactory. I oppose the amendment because in all walks of life people are being urged to earn productivity bonuses. The amendment is a contradiction of that principle as it proposes that parking attendants should not be paid on results. Since Westminster introduced a scheme of paying parking attendants on results, parking meters have been checked every 20 minutes. In the past one could leave one's car parked at a meter for hours without an attendant checking the meter.

I hope the day will come when parking meters are installed in the royal parks. The whole purpose of parking meters is to obtain a turnover so that people do not hog parking spaces. At the moment only the first 20 people who arrive at one of the parks can park there. No one else has a hope of parking there. That situation used to prevail in the streets of Westminster and all over London. The meters are intended to achieve a turnover of parked cars. I do not excuse the practice that prevailed in Westminster when the parking wardens were first subjected to a different system. Appalling practices came into being and wardens used to stand by meters almost waiting for them to tick the seconds away. They used to hand drivers tickets as the drivers put their keys into the doors of their cars. There was uproar because that was a scandalous thing to do. It is no longer the practice. However, to say that they should not be employed on the basis of being paid by results is contrary in general to most employment practice, quite apart from the specific case of parking. I must oppose the amendment.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I, too, am opposed to the amendment, but for different reasons from those given with great sincerity by my noble friend Lady Gardner. Like the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I think that it is wrong for traffic wardens to be paid by results. I must confess to having played a part in the introduction of traffic wardens some 30 years ago. At that time it was said that it was a conspiracy aimed at getting prostitutes off the streets and replacing them with traffic wardens!

If it is right for traffic wardens to be paid by results in this way, what about the police? Next we shall find that an incentive bonus is to be paid to members of the police force who get the maximum number of people convicted in court or the maximum number of thieves arrested. It is jolly good that the police should make as many arrests as possible, but for them to be rewarded on that basis is totally wrong.

Until the debate the other day I did not know that there was any question of traffic wardens being remunerated on the basis of the number of motorists they had managed to catch out. I still cannot believe that that is done on a very wide scale. Rather than legislate against it, if there is a danger of that happening I should have thought that all that is necessary is for the Home Office or the Department of the Environment to write to local authorities saying that that is not the right way to go about it and asking them not to do it any more. However, for us to legislate on that basis would be wrong.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, I should like to lend my support to my noble friends Lord Renton and Lady Gardner, who have covered what I intended to say and far better than I could have. I believe that it would tend to lead to a number of people being encouraged to become peeping Toms and behaving like Mack the Knife, hiding behind bushes, waiting for people to commit an offence and then grabbing them.

This is the only instance of which I am aware of such a provision in any Bill. My noble friend Lord Renton referred to the police. Let us take the case of a park attendant. Is he to be remunerated on the basis of the number of litter louts he manages to find in the park?

It is an appalling amendment. It is a disgraceful amendment. It is an indictment of the integrity of our countrymen. I do not think that we should allow it. The local authorities should be able to employ their staff on terms and conditions which they see fit. It is not for us to tell the local authorities on what terms to engage their staff. If people living in a particular borough find such things happening I suspect that at the next council election the members of the local authority would not hold their seats. I hope very much that your Lordships will not accept the amendment.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, perhaps I may ask whether the noble Viscount is for or against the amendment. He said that he was against it and seemed to suggest that it would lead to all kinds of things. That is exactly the tenor of our argument from this side of the House.

It is interesting that Westminster, my favourite local authority, was the first to react. It not only has the lowest poll tax. Why? Because it is closing schools and sacking teachers. It uses these twopenny-halfpenny exercises in order to raise money. It has a privatised system of rubbish collection which every tenant and every occupant of an office is forced to use. That is not the way we want local authorities to run our affairs. If everybody is to be paid by results, what kind of economy will we have?

I have been with people when the clampers have appeared. They obviously hover about. It is a well-known fact that certain people are paid by results. The principle is quite wrong. The noble Baroness defended it because that is the way the Government see everything. Presumably they will pay doctors more for performing more operations in a day; doctors will then be encouraged to take shorter operations which can be conducted more quickly. That is how the system works.

Thank God there are many of us in this country who still do not believe in such a system but believe in putting our best into the community and accepting the remuneration that goes with it. It would be a very sad day if every local authority were to copy Westminster.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I, too, should like to support the amendment because I feel that payment by results in this case could well lead to misuse of the powers of traffic wardens employed by local authorities.

When my noble friend answers the debate I wonder whether he will let the House know whether those who tow away vehicles because they are parked in the wrong place rather than clamping them or issuing penalty tickets at meters are likely to be paid for the number of vehicles they remove.

On a rather different point, can my noble friend tell the House what would happen if the amendment is not accepted, in the case of an operator who is paid by results and who accidentally makes a mistake and issues a ticket or tows away a vehicle when patently he ought not to have done and the owner is able to prove that? Will the amount he was paid for removing the vehicle be deducted from his salary?

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, since I put my name to the amendment perhaps I may say two words in support of it. I support all that my noble friend Lord Monson said on the general principle. In particular, I support the amendment because I believe that this method of remuneration adds to the problems experienced by orange badge holders trying to park their vehicles.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I should also like to support the amendment from these Benches, having put my name to it. If the Minister were to accept the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and give an undertaking that instructions will be issued by the Department of Transport to local authorities that that should not be the method of payment—

Lord Renton

My Lords, I am sorry if I gave the impression of there being instructions. I did not say "instructions". I said that the department should write to local authorities, in other words implying that it should give advice.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification. If the Department of Transport were even to give an indication that this was something of which it disapproved we might go away happier. Otherwise, the matter needs to appear on the face of the Bill.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, I was slightly confused by the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret. He seemed to begin by supporting the principle that people should not be paid by results and then came down against the amendment.

I draw noble Lords' attention to the wording of the amendment. I have no objection to people being paid on the basis of doing a good job and ensuring that the law is obeyed, but the amendment is very specific. It says that people should not be paid on a basis: which relates remuneration to the number of penalty charge notices issued". It is that which is offensive. People start to spread such notices around like confetti in order to improve their wages. That is the truly offensive aspect. As the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has rightly pointed out, it encourages all sorts of dubious practices by traffic wardens, who are, after all, not the most well loved of people, contrary to the other group of people to whom the noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred. They need to have a rather better image for the public. If the public have the impression that they slap notices on cars at the slightest provocation, their standing in the eyes of the motorist will go down even further.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting in his last statement that parking attendants put notices on cars before drivers are in default?

Lord Tordoff

No, my Lords, I am not, but I am suggesting that the impression is given that people are being harassed by meter readers—the people with yellow hats on. That image will he reinforced if people realise that parking attendants are paid according to the number of notices that they distribute.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, with the except ion of my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes, practically all of your Lordships who have taken part in the debate have accepted that it would be undesirable for people whose job it is to enforce regulations to be paid by results or given a bonus for productivity. as my noble friend Lady Gardner described it. Generally speaking, your Lordships regard that as a dangerous idea which might be very unpopular with the motorist.

The question on which I admit that I have a more open mind is that on which the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, touched; namely, whether legislation by way of amendment to the Bill is the right way of dealing with the matter. It would be clear-cut and definite and would give a proper indication of the views of Parliament. On the other hand, I share to some extent the dislike of my noble friend Lord Renton for legislating on every detail. To my mind, therefore, it comes down to what line the Minister will take. If he is prepared to say that he will give—I use the word deliberately—guidance to local authorities to point out that this would be a thoroughly undesirable system and that, if they use it, they would do so against the disapproval of the department, that might clear most of our apprehensions. Therefore, everything—certainly the way that I would vote if there were a Division—depends on my noble friend's reply.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we have had an interesting short debate on this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, warned us that he was not content with the reply that I gave on Report and he has duly come back with this amendment on Third Reading.

I have listened carefully to what has been said today about the possible dangers for drivers and owners if local authority parking attendants are paid partly on a salaried basis and partly on a commission basis. However, I must reiterate the view that I expressed on Report and say that the Government do not believe that i1 is for legislation to tie the hands of the local authorities in matters such as these. If that means that local authorities or their contractors see the need to offer an incentive to parking attendants as part of their salary, that will be entirely a matter for them. The Government have no business interfering with such contractual arrangements. Incentives may be a good thing in terms of the need to control parking. At the end of the day, however, effectiveness must be mean red by improved parking compliance, not simply by the number of tickets issued. My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes made the point, but it has not come out in other speeches this afternoon, that, although many people curse parking attendants for giving them tickets, many other people are grateful to them. If turnover takes place at parking meters as it is intended to, we all stand a better chance of finding a parking place when we look for one.

Under the terms of the Bill, the local authorities will have full responsibility for enforcing the new local authority parking controls. They will be responsible for the consequences of that action whether they employ their own parking attendants or use attendants employed by a contractor. The local authority is responsible for the persons whom it employs. The contractor is an agent of the local authority and will be responsible to the local authority for the actions of its employees. All parking attendants will act under the instructions of their respective employers. It will be the responsibility of those employers to issue instructions to their employees as to how they carry out their duties under the Bill. The contractors will obviously wish their people to comply with what the local authority instructs, otherwise the contract will be lost. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, that is a powerful incentive. Attendants who fail to comply with instructions, whether they are directly employed by the local authority or contracted, will ultimately be liable to dismissal.

Parking enforcement practices are not matters for legislation, but for education and training. As such, they are more appropriate to be covered in the Secretary of State's parking guidance. In due course the London authorities may decide upon a code of practice for parking enforcement. That would be a welcome move. I can assure the House that the need for local authorities to exercise effective management of parking enforcement and the need for adequate training for the attendants who will enforce the new parking controls will be addressed in the Secretary of State's parking guidance under the Bill. Coverage of those issues will ensure that the attendants act with tact and sensitivity in the same way as the police are required to. That point was of particular concern to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, at earlier stages and was raised again this afternoon by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter.

I can also reiterate that the Government are against any abuse of powers by parking attendants, either now or in the future. We accept that there is a need to guard against over-zealousness. Provisions in the Bill do that. They provide for aggrieved motorists to make representations to the relevant local authority and, if they are not satisfied with the response that they receive, to appeal to a parking adjudicator to have that abuse rectified. The adjudicators will provide the objective and independent assessments to which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred on Report. I do not think that it is any good the noble Lord saying that people will not be bothered to do that. That is not true. They will do so, especially if debates such as that which has taken place in your Lordships' House this afternoon raise some of the difficulties that have been experienced.

In keeping with the theme of incentives, there are two further measures in the Bill for a local authority to make sure that parking attendants get it right. First, Clause 72(18) of the Bill requires the joint committee of London authorities to publish its annual report on the discharge by the parking adjudicators of their functions. Thus, abuse of the kind described this afternoon will come to light and in a public manner.

Secondly, Clause 72(12) (i) of the Bill provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations which will in particular make provision for the award of costs by parking adjudicators in relation to proceedings before them. If parking attendants abuse their powers and treat motorists in an unfair manner and those motorists use the representations and appeals procedures, parking adjudicators will be able to award against the local authority the costs of bringing the appeal. That point was raised by my noble friend Lord Swinfen. That will be a powerful incentive to the authority to ensure that abuse does not occur. I hope that it will also improve the image of traffic wardens, a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff.

I hope that that explanation will convince noble Lords that, although the Government believe that there is no place in legislation for the kind of controls suggested by the amendment, alternative provisions have been made or will be included in the Secretary of State's parking guidance to prevent abuse. In summary, the terms of the Secretary of State's parking guidance will lead to effective management and proper training for parking attendants and the representations and appeals procedures in the Bill will provide a safeguard for aggrieved motorists. Both actions will be backed up by the threat of adverse publicity and the award of costs of bringing appeals against the local authorities if attendants do not behave properly.

Lord Renton

My Lords, before my noble friend goes any further perhaps I may raise one point. Throughout the debate we have referred to parking attendants, but it is clear from what he says that his comments should apply also to traffic wardens, whose duties overlap with those of parking attendants. Does he include traffic wardens in what he says?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, both in the amendment and in the Bill we are talking about the new arrangements for local authorities to take over the control of parking in their areas. They will employ people who are known in the Bill as parking attendants and who will be to all intents and purposes, as the noble Lord knows, the same as traffic wardens.

My noble friend Lord Swinfen asked about the towing away of vehicles. Under the new system, that will be the responsibility of the local authorities. As I said, it will be for them to make the necessary arrangements.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will allow me to say that he has not made entirely clear in his answer whether people who are responsible for towing away or otherwise removing vehicles are likely to be remunerated according to the number of vehicles that they remove.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my point was that that also will be a matter for the local authorities who are responsible for those areas. It will be up to them to decide what system to use. I hope that I have answered most of the questions and persuaded noble Lords that the safeguards written into the Bill and under the new arrangements will guard against the type of abuse which it is alleged occurs under the existing system but which will not happen under the new system as proposed in the Bill with its safeguards. I hope, therefore, that I have convinced the noble Lord that he should withdraw the amendment.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down he has given us a number of useful and important points but has not replied to one important question. He mentioned that the guidance will lay down that there must be no abuse. But will the guidance refer to this specific matter about which noble Lords are very concerned?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I did not say that the guidance would specifically prohibit the types of arrangements that might be made by the local authorities. I was quite clear in not saying that.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, can the Minister explain a little more fully? So far as I understand, there will be an ombudsman to whom one can complain, but how on earth would one prove such a case? These days one has enough trouble proving that someone has bashed one's car when there is clearly a big crack in its side. How on earth would one ever prove this case? It is all very well for the Minister to suggest that we do not need this provision in the Bill because everyone will receive one of the marvellous little guides, but to whom they will be issued? Will one be given to every motorist? Will they be available at every parking place? It all sounds very glib and easy but I suggest that in practice it will be very difficult to implement.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, clearly, as in everything, mistakes are sometimes made by parking attendants or traffic wardens. If those mistakes become obvious and the motorist feels hard done by he will be able to appeal to the parking adjudicator. The parking adjudicator will then decide whether or not that is the case.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and the noble Lords, Lord Tordoff and Lord Swinfen, for their valuable support. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for his support in principle, slightly qualified though it was. As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, it proves that this is not essentially a party political matter.

I am somewhat puzzled by the quixotic intervention of the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, who said that it was not for us to tell local authorities what to do. That view was echoed in a rather less intense fashion by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, and, indeed, the Minister. Do they also suggest that we have no right to tell police authorities what to do? For example, suppose the Metropolitan Police authority, the West Midlands Police authority and the Thames Valley Police authority had the necessary power and decided to pay the police—as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Renton—not on an annual salary basis but according to the number of arrests that they made. How horrified the general public would be. I believe that I can say with all confidence that the Government themselves would be horrified. Yet, there seems to be no difference of principle. They both consist of people in uniform who have been given a power over the ordinary citizen. What applies to one should apply to the other.

I should have preferred not to press this amendment to a Division. The trouble is that although the Minister said that traffic wardens will be encouraged to act with tact and sensitivity that seems incompatible with the powers that they are given by, happily, the very few local authorities—I think that so far there is only one—which pay them on a commission basis. The Minister was asked from various quarters of the House to give an undertaking that the Government would encourage local authorities—they can do no more than encourage because they cannot compel them to behave—at least not to employ that method of remuneration. However, the Minister felt unable to do that. Effectively he said that the Government must maintain a position of neutrality. I do not honestly believe that that is good enough.

Let me repeat, payment by results on a quasi-commission basis would be unfair on individuals, would lower the esteem in which the police are held by the general public because of their association with traffic enforcement, would bring the law into disrepute, would open a door to the possibility of corruption and would constitute an abuse of power. For those reasons I feel that we must give the other place a chance at least to have a look at this amendment. If they reject it, so be it. I should certainly not dream of carrying it any further. I must test the opinion of the House.

3.45 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 92; Not-Contents, 99.

Division No. 1
Addington, L. Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.
Airedale, L. Dormand of Easington, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Ellenborough, L.
Ampthill, L. Ezra, L.
Ardwick, L. Gainford, L.
Attlee, H. Gallacher, L.
Aylestone, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.[Teller.]
Belhaven and Stenton, L.
Blackstone, B. Grey, E.
Boston of Faversham, L. Halsbury, E.
Bottomley, L. Hanworth, V.
Brain, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Brightman, L. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Broadbridge, L. Holderness, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Craigavon, V. John-Mackie, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Kinloss, Ly.
David, B. Lawrence, L.
De Freyne, L. Leatherland, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Longford, E. Seear, B.
Lytton, E. Sefton of Garston, L.
McFarlane of Llandaff, B. Serota, B.
MacLehose of Beoch, L. Shackleton, L.
Masham of Ilton, B. Shannon, E.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Shaughnessy, L.
Merrivale, L. Stallard, L.
Milverton, L. Strabolgi, L.
Molloy, L. Swinfen, L.
Monkswell, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Monson, L. [Teller.] Tenby, V.
Morris of Castle Morris, L. Tordoff, L.
Munster, E. Turner of Camden, B.
Nelson, E. Underhill, L.
Ogmore, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Pearson of Rannoch, L. White, B.
Phillips, B. Wilberforce, L.
Portsmouth, Bp. Williams of Elvel, L.
Quinton, L. Willis, L.
Rankeillour, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Rea, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Renwick, L. Winstanley, L.
Sainsbury, L. Wise, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Arran, E. Kimball, L.
Astor, V. Kinnaird, L.
Auckland, L. Kitchener, E.
Beloff, L. Knollys, V.
Belstead, L. Long, V. [Teller]
Bessborough, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Boardman, L. Lyell, L.
Borthwick, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Malmesbury, E.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Mancroft, L.
Bridgeman, V. Margadale, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Marlesford, L.
Caithness, E. Marsh, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mersey, V.
Campbell of Croy, L. Middleton, L.
Carnock, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Morris, L.
Cayzer, L. Mountevans, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Mountgarret, V.
Colnbrook, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cottesloe, L. Newall, L.
Cox, B. Norfolk, D.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Davidson, V. Orkney, E.
Denham, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Oxfuird, V.
Effingham, E. Pender, L.
Elibank, L. Plumb, L.
Elles, B. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Pym, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Reay, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Renton, L.
Ferrers, E. Rodney, L.
Flather, B. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Strange, B.
Gridley, L. Strathcarron, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Strathclyde, L.
Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Harmsworth, L. Terrington, L.
Henley, L. Teviot, L.
Hesketh, L. [Teller.] Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Hives, L. Trumpington, B.
Hood, V. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hooper, B. Waddington, L.
Howe, E. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Ironside, L. Wedgwood, L.
Jeffreys, L. Westbury, L.
Jellicoe, E. Whitelaw, V.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Wynford, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

3.53 p.m.

Clause 46 [Tramcars and trolley vehicles]:

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 3: Page 43, line 12, leave out ("9,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 3, which is a technical amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 4: After Clause 46, insert the following new clause:

Applications for licences to drive hackney carriages etc.

(".—(1) Part II of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 (including that Part as it applies in any area at the commencement of this section) shall have effect with the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (1) of each of section 51 (licensing of drivers of private hire vehicles) and section 59 (qualifications for drivers of hackney carriages)— (1A) For the purpose of satisfying themselves as to whether an applicant is a fit and proper person to hold a driver's licence, a council may send to the chief officer of police for the police area in which the council is situated—

  1. (a) a copy of that person's application, and
  2. (b) a request for the chief officer's observations;
and the chief officer shall respond to the request. (2) Where any local Act contains a provision requiring a district council to be satisfied as to the fitness of an applicant to hold a licence to drive a private hire vehicle or a hackney carriage, the council may send to the chief officer of police for the police area in which the council is situated—
  1. (a) a copy of that person's application, and
  2. (b) a request for the chief officer's observations;
and the chief officer shall respond to the request.")

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 4 in the name of my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara. The amendment is the result of the consultation which my noble friend promised during the debate at Report stage of the Bill. The effect of the amendment is that, when a district council has to decide whether an applicant for a licence to drive a taxi or a private hire vehicle is a "fit and proper" person, the council may copy the application to the local chief officer of police with a request for his or her observations; and the chief officer must respond to that request.

The significant difference between this clause and the one suggested previously by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is that the onus to seek the views of the police rests with the licensing authority and not with the applicant.

This is an important subject on which I should like properly to explain the Government's views. There are three practical reasons why the responsibility should rest with the licensing authority. First, it is in the interests both of reducing the work load on the police and of maintaining the privacy of the individual. If every applicant were to have his record vetted by the police one could well have a situation where there may be, say, eight applicants but only one licence granted. The system then becomes clogged up with the police unnecessarily checking seven records. The Government consider that applications should be sent to the police only when a licensing authority is satisfied that, in all other respects, the applicant is worthy of a licence.

The second reason why the licensing authorities should retain the responsibility for checking records with the police is this. If the onus were on the applicant to send his application to the police and the licensing authority had received no observations within a reasonable period, the licensing authority would have no way of knowing whether that was because the applicant had failed to send his application to the police, whether the police were being dilatory or whether the application had simply become lost in the post.

Thirdly, if the application forms make it clear that the licensing authority intends to check with the police the information which has been put on the form, that fact will go a long way towards ensuring that the applicant declares his previous convictions when completing the form. That will be particularly so if licensing authorities decide to make the provision of false information, or of failure to disclose unspent convictions, a reason for refusing a licence.

I hope that your Lordships will realise that the Government, by moving this amendment, are very concerned about the realities of the situation which were so graphically presented from all sides of the House at Report—anxieties which I happen to share.

But I have to express a word of caution. It would be wrong for me to pretend that this amendment answers the immediate worry which has been expressed by your Lordships, and indeed by others. There are substantial difficulties in getting these provisions to operate immediately. They will come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may appoint by order made by a statutory instrument.

The practical reasons why the Government have been, up to now, reluctant to go down this road still remain valid, but I assure your Lordships that that should not eclipse a real will on the part of Government to overcome the problems. I am, however, anxious that your Lordships should not under-estimate them.

To start with, there is the question of the additional work load on the police. I understand from the Department of Transport that there are approximately 35,000 taxi drivers and 50,000 private hire vehicle drivers in England and Wales outside London. Most district councils renew their licences annually, so in theory we are talking of about 85,000 checks each year. Obviously the initial check would be the major one and renewals would require a check only on the preceding year. Even so, this is a pretty substantial increase in work.

There is no centrally imposed manpower ceiling on civilian staff, so forces could—again, at least in theory—increase their staff to do the work. The associations may agree in principle to such an increase, but whether they could, or would, find the money to finance it is, of course, another matter. Similarly, there is no guarantee that staff for this purpose would be regarded as a priority in every police area. If we are going to achieve a reasonable level of service it is essential that we should consult the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Association of County Councils and the Association of District Councils as to the increase in civilian strength and the general methodology which should be adopted.

Charging fees sounds an obvious solution to the manpower problem. However, I am advised that it would probably be unlawful for the police to charge a fee for fulfilling what can reasonably be considered to be a proper police function. It may well be that legislation could overcome that difficulty, but we would be breaking new ground and we think that it would be unwise to introduce the concept of the police charging for vetting, in the relatively narrow context of a Road Traffic Bill, without full consideration of the implications for all other kinds of vetting.

If the police had to make observations on applications for licensing without any additional staff, I know that the police service would do its best to do so. But I equally know that it is also being asked to meet the increasing demands which have been imposed upon it since the introduction in 1986 of the vetting of teachers, social workers and others who work closely with children, and since 1988 of health workers too. Without limitless resources it would have to pick its priorities—and without limitless resources backlogs would grow. Already we have received complaints about the backlogs being too great.

We are of course not just considering the capacity of the police to check a record but also—and this is vital—the capacity of the system both to cope with a large increase in demand and the ability of the staff to keep the information in the system up-to-date. Obviously, the results of the checks when they are made must be accurate and prompt.

Recently a Home Office scrutiny was made of criminal records. It states quite clearly that the present records are fragmented, that they differ from force to force and that they vary greatly in quality. The scrutiny recommends that there should be a central computerised system of recording criminal offences. That should be based on a general agreement as to which records should be included and what procedures should be followed in disclosing them. The scrutiny states that until then no new categories of vetting should be added to those which have already been agreed. I am bound to tell your Lordships that the introduction of this new clause is directly contrary to the advice which the scrutiny offers.

The Government have not yet reached decisions on the recommendation in the scrutiny, but the acceptance of this amendment means that very careful consideration will need to be given to seeing how we can overcome the deficiencies which exist in the present system—or at least how we can reduce them—before the new central computerised system comes into operation.

In advising licensing authorities and the police on the implementation of this amendment, the Home Office would wish to ensure that the standard of vetting throughout the country is reasonably consistent. We need to be as sure as we can be that all members of the public are receiving broadly the same standard of service. That is obvious but it will be necessary to consult licensing authorities in the hope of reaching agreement on matters such as how far back the checks should be made, whether certain types of conviction may be ignored for the purpose of these licences and whether other types of conviction should mean automatic refusal. These are matters on which there is a wide variation of opinion.

We must also bear in mind that a force may have no record of an applicant's wrong-doing. However, the applicant may have recently moved from an area where the police force had a record of his wrong-doing. There is no way of checking this at present other than by individual contact with other forces. An applicant may, therefore, receive a clean bill of health from his own police force which would be totally misleading to the licensing authority.

Those offences which are recorded centrally are held on microfiche at the National Identification Bureau at New Scotland Yard. As regards those who have first come to notice since 1st January 1981 conviction details are held on the police national computer. But the work associated with —to use the awful jargon word—inputting the convictions onto computer means that the record is about three months behind the facts. A clean bill of health from this source might not indicate therefore what had happened to the applicant in the past three months.

Those are the problems. I felt bound to rehearse them to your Lordships in some detail because it may easily appear that the Government are just not interested in going down this path. I was acutely aware of the general and legitimate anxieties that were expressed on Report. We have tabled this amendment which I hope will go some way towards meeting the immediate worries. However, for the reasons that I have stated, it will not be possible to bring the new clause into force immediately. It will be possible to bring the provision into force by a commencement order by the Secretary of State. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I welcome the noble Earl to our debate. However, I did not welcome everything that he said. When I saw the new clause on the Marshalled List, I was enormously encouraged. I then heard the noble Earl's reservations. He appeared to say that massive problems arise to the extent that the Minister will introduce the proposals when he thinks appropriate. In view of the weight of the objections adduced by the noble Earl I infer from that comment that if the Government were to remain in power, that might be never.

I wish to pay tribute to noble Lords who participated in the debate on Report, in particular to my noble friend Lady Hollis who is abroad. Her persistence and eloquence and her probing of this issue has been invaluable in developing the opinions of the House and in creating some change of heart on the part of the Government. As has been mirrored by the noble Earl's comments, it appears that the Government have been markedly reluctant to act for a long period of time. Indeed, in reply to a Question tabled on 16th May the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, said that he could not promise to do anything immediately. That is now manifestly plain.

There has been little reason to be optimistic about the way that the Government have tackled the matter judged by ministerial responses in another place. Yes, the department was sympathetic. Yes, it had received many representations from organisations active in this field; for instance, the National Association of Taxi and Private Hire Licensing and Enforcement Officers; the National Federation of Taxicab Associations; the Association of District Councils, the Association of County Councils; the Association of Municipal Authorities and so forth. I wonder what view those organisations will now take about the halfway house —if it is as far as that—that the Government have offered to your Lordships this afternoon.

It is fair to say that on Report the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, promised to look at what had been said by a number of noble Lords in support of the proposition then before the House. He promised that he would take the matter away and examine it before Third Reading. He has honoured that promise and I pay tribute to him. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, or the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will respond to the debate on behalf of the Government. I wish to know with whom they consulted following the debate that took place on Report and the questions that were asked. The noble Earl referred to the Home Office scrutiny team. Do I understand that the team still remains opposed to the proposal and that the Government have put forward this proposition notwithstanding that advice? Is the Minister saying that he does not believe that the scheme can operate effectively? That was one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, when the issues were discussed previously.

Looking at the wording of the new clause, I assume that it is not intended that it shall operate in London in respect of minicabs. Why is that? If I am wrong, no doubt the Minister will put me right. Why is there a change of pattern or an inconsistency in the requirements applying to minicabs outside of London, and those within London? I can understand the position as regards taxis because there is a clear and precise way of invigilating people who apply for taxi cab licences. That works very effectively. Indeed, it works as effectively, if not more so, than anywhere else in the world and we should be proud of that.

Has the Association of Chief Police Officers relinquished its stand against this proposal within the past few days? Is the Minister saying that no new funds or resources would be made available to ensure the effective operation of the system and that it would be left to the local authorities to procure those funds, although here we are dealing with a matter which relates to policing?

I believe there is a deficiency in the proposal because there should be a provision concerning appeals on the part of people who may be prejudiced as a result of being mistakenly alleged to have a criminal record. I know that your Lordships who have practised in the criminal courts will know that in certain instances—and it is true that it is a minority—records of previous convictions have been mistaken. Therefore, it is right that provision of this kind should be accompanied by a power to redress the situation if that were to arise.

The noble Earl said that this would come into force only upon a date appointed by the Minister as a result of statutory instrument. I believe he carefully chose not to give any indication as to the timescale which the Government have in mind. I sense that we shall have to undergo a considerable delay. Will that be a matter of months or years? Perhaps the Minister has decades in mind.

In the light of what the Minister said, I fear that there is a risk that the Home Office is seeking to negate the effective implementation of this matter by raising all those objections. I do not believe that that would be within the mood of the House. This is a continuing problem which has given rise to very serious anxieties on the part of many people. That has been reflected in the incidents to which the Association of District Councils has referred in its earlier representations to your Lordships. There have been serious cases of people who have not declared previous convictions for grave assaults against women, serious acts of dishonesty and major driving offences. Those matters will continue. The mischief needs to be cured with some urgency. The Minister gave no indication whatever of that.

If the Minister is concerned that there could be disparities of practice or that certain objections could arise, then it would be possible for the Home Office or the Department of Transport to issue guidance as to the way in which the provisions of the new clause should be dealt with.

I do not wish to appear churlish towards the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, because he has honoured his undertaking to the House to consider the matter and we should be grateful for that. On the other hand, if the effect of the new clause is to be so long delayed that it is hardly likely to take effect, then we have grave cause for concern. There are objections but surely the Minister can give us an indication of a timescale within which we can expect this provision to operate.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has been exceedingly grudging in accepting the amendment. It may be that it does not go so far as many of us would wish it to go but it represents a significant breakthrough in the Government's attitude to the debate which we had on Report. I am grateful to the Government and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, for pursuing the matter and to the noble Earl for bringing forward an amendment with the backing of the Home Office.

Noble Lords will remember that it was a powerful debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is to be congratulated on pursuing the matter, as indeed are those noble Lords who advised the noble Baroness at that stage that she should not push the matter to a Division on that occasion. The wisdom of that has been shown by the fact that there is now an amendment which, although it may not go the whole way, breaks through on the broad front of the principle of the matter.

I was interested to hear the noble Earl saying that he had great personal sympathy with the reasoning behind the need for the amendment. That must go a long way in comforting those of us who wish that the provision could be brought in tomorrow but know that it will not be brought in tomorrow.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, is right to ask the Government to give an indication of the sort of timescale of which they are thinking in bringing this into operation, because it is a serious matter. People are at risk while this loophole is still present in the law where local authorities are not able to obtain the information which they need in order to issue the licences properly.

Also I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that it would be helpful if this provision could be extended to minicabs. I understand that at present there is no licensing of minicabs and, therefore, that this provision cannot apply to them. Would that there were such a provision! That subject has been raised from these Benches by my noble friend Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham, who has pursued the matter at length. Doubtless we shall return to it. However, as I understand the position, this provision will not cover minicabs. If I am wrong, I shall be glad to be corrected about that.

Basically, the Government are to be congratulated, as is the House, on having done a good job on this issue.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I was delighted when I saw this amendment on the Marshalled List. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, seemed to be unduly ungrateful, or at any rate disparaging of it.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I was not disparaging. I began by saying Clinton-Davis that I was very gratified to see this amendment. I am concerned about all the qualifications introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. He gave us no indication of the timescale which the Government have in mind.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I can only suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that he reads his speech in Hansard tomorrow. If he does not regard that as disparaging then I am horrified at the idea of what he may regard as disparaging.

I was delighted when I saw this amendment because it seems to me to reflect, first, the great value of debate in your Lordships' House. We had a very impressive debate on the amendment on Report. I share the views of other noble Lords that that debate was admirably handled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, not least because she had the sense to accept the advice of those who suggested that she would spoil everything if she pushed the matter to a Division. Very wisely she accepted that advice, which has resulted in the present amendment.

The other encouraging point is that it shows that the Minister listened to the debate and allowed it to impress him. He then took the trouble to discuss the matter with the Home Office and this amendment is now before us. Perhaps my noble friend will allow me to say that that is an excellent example of good parliamentary practice and, although my noble friend will not thank me for saying it, I hope that he will follow that practice frequently in the future.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend the Minister; not only for the trouble he took in negotiating with the chief constables and others to work out something that he could present to your Lordships but also for the candour with which he explained the difficulties and indicated that there may be some delay.

Perhaps I may refer to the problems in regard to delay. Naturally it passes through the minds of all noble Lords whether the provision will come into operation this year, next year, some time or never. I should think that there need not be too long a delay. In saying that, I refer to the two main problems mentioned by my noble friend. He necessarily referred to the fact that we must wait for the chief constables and other members of the police to establish the necessary administrative arrangements. That must be done, but should not take more than a few weeks or months. Therefore, from that point of view, there is no reason why the provision should not come into force this year.

My noble friend placed a great deal of weight on the need for the police to have a centralised computer. Scotland Yard already possesses a centralised computer for the more serious offences. As my noble friend pointed out, there is sometimes a delay of some weeks before the conviction and sentence passed by courts throughout the country reach that computer. But my noble friend wants all conceivably relevant offences to be brought on to the computer and that will indeed take some time. That would not enable the clause to be brought into force this year; it may be said not next year either, but I hope not.

I implore my noble friend not to wait for the computer. Every chief constable must answer the request from a licensing authority for such information as he has. The fact that he cannot obtain every single piece of information that eventually, in some years' time, might be available should not excuse the chief officer of police from giving the licensing authority all the information he possesses. If he does not have the information, that is too bad and some cases may slip through the net. But we must not wait a long time for this important clause to come into operation. It is an important piece of crime prevention. To that extent it will appeal to the police as well as to my noble friend and to all your Lordships.

The general secretary of the National Federation of Taxicab Associations happens to live at Huntingdon and, living only five miles from there, I know him very well. The members of that organisation are perhaps more concerned than even the rest of the public. The position affects their general reputation. Not only do they want this clause on the statute book—they are thankful that it soon will be—but also they want it introduced as soon as possible rather than waiting until there is perfection.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, like other noble Lords I am delighted with the amendment. However, I am extremely surprised that it does not cover London. This matter was mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Tordoffand Lord Clinton-Davis. I wrote to my noble friend Lord Brabazon asking what the Government will do in regard to the minicab situation, and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, mentioned his noble friend Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham in that connection. I mentioned this subject when we discussed the London Local Authorities (No. 2) Bill 1990, introduced by my noble friend Lady Gardner.

My noble friend Lord Ferrers referred to a vast number of people—private hire car and hackney carriage drivers. However, there are 40,000 minicab drivers in London who appear to escape scrutiny. It has now been established that there is a need for scrutiny of taxi drivers and I should like to hear the Government's plans in that respect. Licensing of minicab drivers may be too cumbersome. However, a scheme existed, which it may be too late to discuss in detail now, for licensing minicab owners. I believe that scheme has a place. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government agree with that scheme? Perhaps legislation which is contiguous should follow on quickly and perhaps be introduced at the same time as the arrangements made by my noble friend. We must face the situation in London.

Lord Renton

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down perhaps he will allow me to intervene. I am sure he appreciates that the clause refers to people applying for licences to drive private hire vehicles. Minicabs are private hire vehicles and, as I understand it, they will therefore be covered by the provision. If that is wrong perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench will so indicate.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, to answer my noble friend, perhaps he will bear with me for a moment. My noble friend will see that paragraph (1A) refers to a "council". That is a licensing council and London boroughs are not licensing councils. In London the authority issues the licence. If the amendment said, "licensing authority" that would be splendid. However, I am afraid minicabs do not come under the provision, so perhaps my noble friend will respond.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I hope that it is in order for me to say that the clause does not refer to the metropolis, which has different arrangements. These provisions refer to what happens outside London and hence the reference to the "district council".

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, my name was added to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, in regard to her amendment which made a brief appearance on the Marshalled List and was then replaced by the Minister's amendment. I welcome Amendment No. 4 and I hope there will not be too long a delay before its implementation. As a woman, as a mother with daughters and as a disabled person I consider the amendment to be extremely important.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I too support the amendment, to which I spoke briefly at Report stage. The sooner it comes into operation the better. At Report stage most of the anxieties were in regard to attacks on the person, particularly children and disabled people. I should have thought that anyone convicted of such a crime would be sentenced to a term of imprisonment. Therefore, the three-month delay in putting the records on the computer, as mentioned by my noble friend when moving the amendment, in all probability will have well and truly passed by the time the miscreant is released from gaol. There should therefore be no difficulty in that regard. I see no real reason for delaying implementation.

Several noble Lords put forward different suggestions, but let us not forget that the Bill must return to the other place once again. It is the right of the Members of another place to disagree with the amendment if they so wish and to table an improved version if the Government so choose.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, in welcoming the amendment I must follow the point made by my noble friend Lord Teviot and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, concerning my anxiety in regard to London. Private hire vehicles, or minicabs to most of us, are not covered in any way. I was rather impressed and surprised in that I had not remembered the exact title of the Bill to license minicabs that I attempted to introduce last year.

It was revealed that there were about 40,000 minicab drivers. Not only do we not know whether they have criminal convictions, but we do not know whether the vehicles are licensed, insured or anything else. Quite a story has come to us about attacks on people who travel in such vehicles. I think that the amendment is to be welcomed, but there is still a huge gap in the provisions for London. The black cab drivers, with their expert knowledge, rightly protect their right to ply for hire, which applies nowhere else in the country. But because they are so protective of the valuable interests that they have, they are leaving Londoners exposed to the great weakness of the other 40,000 or more minicabs in which passengers have no protection whatever. That causes concern.

I ask my noble friend whether subsection (2) of the new clause—namely, Where any local Act contains a provision requiring a district council"— means that if in due course we have an Act for London which licenses minicabs or private hire vehicles, all the provisions will automatically come into force or whether certain provisions will still have to be dealt with by primary legislation.

4.30 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for being kind enough to welcome me to the proceedings on the Bill. He said how enormously happy he was when he saw that the amendment had been put down. But the more he listened to what I had to say the more unhappy he became. I am sorry about that. It shows the trouble that one can get in to when one tries to be as frank and open as possible. Many people believe that noble Lords should make short speeches and I am one of those, but it is quite different when it applies to oneself. I deliberately made my speech longer today, which I knew would antagonise many of your Lordships. I made the speech longer in order to cover the points of anxiety which were expressed.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, because he congratulated the Government. My feathers rose a little, but I appreciated his help. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that the Government had been reluctant to go down this route. It was not a reluctance arising from a wish not to follow the route but because of the physical ability to do so. That is the reason why I spent a certain amount of time in my opening speech trying to explain what the complications were, not why we were not minded to go down a certain route. I hope that the noble Lord will relax a little and realise that we are trying to meet his concerns and those expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that he believed the amendment might not come into operation for a few months, a few years or even a decade. I was trying to explain to him that the arrangements will come into operation under a statutory instrument made by the Secretary of State. That applies to every part of the Bill. If the noble Lord addresses himself to Clause 83 he will see that it states: The preceding sections of, and the Schedules to, this Act shall come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may appoint by order". In that respect the amendment is no different to any other part of the Bill.

I have tried to explain to your Lordships that all our sympathies are with your Lordships and also with the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), who also expressed her anxieties. I understand those anxieties, the great problem is to find how they can be dealt with. It is all very fine for Parliament to pass a Bill saying that certain measures should be put into effect, but if the provisions do not work or it is difficult to put them into operation, that is another matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked a string of pertinent questions. I shall try to answer them. He referred to the scrutiny team and asked whether we were going against its advice. The team was set up by the Home Office to look into the problems of criminal records and so forth. It found that a great deal was needed before the system could reach perfection. The report of the scrutiny team has been placed in the Library of the House for your Lordships to read. It states that no more vetting procedures should be undertaken until the whole problem has been looked at.

By tabling the amendment we are acting contrary to the advice of the Home Office scrutiny team. I thought that that might endear itself to your Lordships, but not a bit. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that we are seeking to negate the purposes of the amendment.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, no. I said that delay of a serious character would obviously negate the purpose of the amendment. I am hoping to hear from the noble Earl some kind of timetable that will prevent that.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord will find that I am coming to that point. In tabling this amendment we are going against the advice of the scrutiny team. That is being done in order to meet the concerns which have been expressed. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and my noble friends Lord Teviot and Lord Renton referred to minicabs. We appreciate that it is a difficult issue. The fact is that neither the Metropolitan Police nor the London boroughs have the power to license London's minicabs. One begins with that premise. London's taxi cabs are licensed, but not minicabs. In the amendment we are trying to assist the licensing system for minicabs and improve it in England and Wales. Minicabs have been licensed since 1976.

We are not introducing a new regulatory system but improving the vetting procedures. The new provision will apply to England and Wales, but not to London for the reasons which I have given; namely, that minicabs are dealt with under separate legislation. We are funding a research project carried out by the Suzie Lamplugh Trust which is looking at the incidence and perception of serious crime in relation to minicabs in London. We look forward to seeing what it produces.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked whether ACPO has relinquished its stand against the vetting procedure. ACPO has been concerned only because of the resources involved. We have been in touch with the Association of Chief Police Officers and we expect to be so again.

The noble Lord asked whether new resources have been made available. I cannot pre-empt the outcome of the public expenditure survey round, but whatever it is, one cannot pre-empt the way in which local authorities spend their money. Even if the authorities had an influx of additional men, I cannot say whether they would prefer to put them in the field to catch robbers, to carry out other duties or to check records. That must be a matter for the local authorities. That is the reason why we wanted to consult with the Association of County Councils, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the association of London district councils. We want to find out what their priorities are: what questions they want asked, what answers they expect to receive and how it can all best be done in order that the Association of Chief Police Officers will be able to respond correctly.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred to an appeal procedure for anyone aggrieved by a decision. Provision is already made for that in the general licensing legislation. The noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Renton referred to the fact that the provision is introduced by statutory instrument, and they wanted to know how long the delay would be. I cannot say how long the discussions will take, but it is our intention that the measure should be completed by 1st April 1992. That is the timescale that we have in mind.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, that is perfectly reasonable. But that matter was not dealt with in the noble Earl's earlier remarks. As far as I am concerned (and I believe also my noble friends) we would regard that kind of delay as perfectly acceptable, taking into account all the matters referred to earlier by the noble Earl.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, or stands up—I am not sure which—it would be important to put on record that a point that he made was not quite accurate when he said that the minicabs in London were dealt with under other legislation. The point we have all been making is that they are not dealt with under other legislation.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if I said that, then that was an error. My noble friend is quite right: they are not dealt with under legislation; it is taxis that are dealt with under legislation. However, the vetting of London taxis is different from that which applies in the rest of the country.

I hope that I have been able to disarm those anxieties that were still retained by your Lordships. If I did not give that data at the beginning, I apologise if it has discomfited the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. He will realise that one does not always shoot all the bolts out of the quiver at one time, and I thought that he would have been satisfied with the explanation that I had given him.

I would re-emphasise—and it is important to re-emphasise this—that this is a matter that the Government consider of great importance. We want to see it work, but we want to make quite sure that it works effectively and that one does not impose on people things that will not work properly. When my noble friend Lord Renton said, "Don't wait. Let the chief officer give what information he can give", I understand that. But he must also be reasonably certain that the information that he gives is correct and that it is not erroneous information. That is why we want to go through this as carefully as possible. With that explanation, I hope that your Lordships will see that this is a matter that we have treated with great concern and we want to see it work.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 52 [The Director's network plan]:

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 5: Page 47, line 5, at end insert ("and to the needs of people with a disability.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 5 and, with the leave of the House, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11. The House will recall that during Report stage the Government fulfilled undertakings given at Committee and moved a number of amendments relating to the needs of people with a disability. Upon further detailed consideration of those amendments, it has become clear that some of them were not always carried through to their logical conclusion. The present amendments therefore complete the process. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister. I cannot recall whether there is any provision in the Bill—I think not—to deal with a report as to the nature of the activities carried on with regard to consultations of this kind. Will there be some annual report issued in order to inform the public of the organisations so consulted?

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I should like to welcome these amendments, and in particular my noble friend's efforts to continue to improve the Bill in this respect.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, it would be discourteous of me not to express satisfaction and thanks to the Government for these amendments which have been taken with the ones that were passed at Report stage. As noble Lords know, I have spoken at various times in recent years and recent months in our debates on the question of disabled drivers and the modifications and improvements that some of us think need to be made to the existing schemes.

I have been a disabled driver for more than 40 years, and in another place I was a sponsor of the 1970 Act that brought in the orange badge scheme. Then in the same year I found myself, as Secretary of State, responsible for bringing in that new scheme for the first time. When I was chairman for Scotland of the International Year of Disabled People in 1981 we were monitoring the orange badge scheme all over the country to see how it was working, and again made suggestions as to how it might be improved.

I thank my noble friend for what has been done in this Bill, because in the early stages I was told that it might be difficult to do very much during the Bill as we were awaiting the replacement scheme for disabled drivers to replace the orange badge scheme, whereby the orange badge will be abolished and each individual disabled driver will carry a document that will be a kind of passport. That will be the major improvement, and I ask my noble friend whether he can give us any later information as to when that scheme is likely to come into operation.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful for the reception that these amendments have had. These amendments merely tidy up what has already been decided in the Bill. Unfortunately from the week since I last spoke on these matters I cannot give any further information to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked whether the matters of consultation would be published in any way. Under the Bill the traffic director has to produce an annual report to Parliament, and it will of course cover this issue of consultation and the measures taken regarding the disablement provisions in the Bill. I hope with those assurances that the House will approve this amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

4.45 p.m.

Clause 54 [The Director's trunk road local plans]:

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 6: Page 50, line 12, leave out ("their") and insert ("the").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment and Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 14, 17 and 19 to 21, which I should also like to cover, are all technical drafting amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 55 [The Minister's trunk road local plans]:

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendments Nos. 7 and 8:

Page 51, line 3, leave out ("he") and insert ("the Secretary of State").

Page 51, line 26, leave out ("their") and insert ("the").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 58 [Variation of local plans]:

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendments Nos. 9 and 10:

Page 53, line 40 after ("Transport;") insert: ("( ) such organisations representing the interests of people with a disability who may be affected by the plan as appear to the authority to be appropriate;").

Page 54, line 6, after ("Transport;") insert: ("( ) such organisations representing the interests of people with a disability who may be affected by the plan as appear to the Director to be appropriate;").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 60 [Intervention powers]:

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 55, line 31, after ("Transport;") insert: ("( ) such organisations representing the interests of people with a disability who may be affected by the plan as appear to the Director to be appropriate;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 12: After Clause 65, insert the following new clause:

("Removal of vehicles displaying disabled persons' badge

The Secretary of State may make such regulations as appear to him to be necessary or expedient in relation to the removal of vehicles displaying a disabled persons' badge by local authorities or their contractors.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 12 in my name. We are returning to this subject for the third time on this Bill. When speaking to Amendment No. 2, my noble friend confirmed that local authorities who indulge in the practice of towing away vehicles that are parked dangerously or so as to cause an obstruction may pay their contractors on the number of vehicles removed. I think that is what he said. No doubt he will correct me if I am wrong. To my way of thinking, this makes my amendment all the more important.

The disabled fraternity have no objection to their vehicles being moved from a position where they are causing a danger or an obstruction to a more sensible position close to the position where the disabled driver left them. Bearing in mind the nature of many disabled drivers' disabilities, it is a considerable burden for them to have to go to the pound to collect their vehicles. Some of them physically cannot do it, particularly if they are on their own—and many disabled drivers are on their own. Added to that there are many vehicles specifically adapted for use by disabled people that cannot be driven by anyone else in their families because of the nature of the adaptations. This again makes it much more difficult for a disabled driver if the vehicle is removed completely.

No one has any objection to the repositioning of a vehicle in a safer and less obstructive position. The amendment has been drafted in such a way that it is not compulsory for the Secretary of State to make regulations. It is an enabling amendment. It allows him, should he so wish to make the regulations, to make provision for the necessary removal of a vehicle when security is involved rather than just traffic safety or traffic flow. This is a particularly important matter, reinforced by my noble friend's remarks when answering questions on Amendment No. 2. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I support, as I have done previously, the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, in part of his campaign. That campaign has been remarkably successful on the whole and the Minister is to be applauded once again for listening to the arguments put forward in our debates. It is a great credit to your Lordships' House that that has been the case.

The amendment is couched in extraordinarily wide terms. It could not have been made more flexible for the Minister. What I suspect the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, is saying is that, as the Minister on other occasions listened patiently to what the House said and responded to many of those concerns, we have confidence that in this regard—I qualify the praise that I may heap on the Minister by saying "in this regard"—he will use his best endeavours within the department to ensure that progress is made. That, in effect, must be the meaning of the amendment, as the Secretary of State, may make such regulations as appear to him to be necessary or expedient in relation to the removal of vehicles displaying a disabled person's badge". The Minister will have listened to the eloquent pleas of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and others. He has not so far been able to satisfy the House on the specific question of the removal of vehicles which display the disabled person's badge. One can only hope that on this occasion he will demonstrate that he is still prepared to come forward with a suitable provision, although I suspect that he will be unable to do so today. I shall not complain too much about that. However, I shall be looking for that general intent in the future development of policy in this area. I conclude where I began by complimenting the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, on his diligence and devotion to this cause. The whole House is grateful to him.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I support the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has put the case very clearly. I thank the Minister for Amendments Nos. 5, 9, 10 and 11. They are most welcome and a logical follow-up to the amendments that he brought forward at an earlier stage. Like the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, I am delighted that the Minister has listened, reflected and given so much. However, the towing away of vehicles is a separate and important issue.

I am sorry that to date the Minister has not been able to agree with the solution put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. In a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, dated 19th June, the Minister said: I believe local authorities have generally shown that they understand the needs of disabled people and I have no doubt that their interests will be properly served in this way. I am, however, happy to offer that we will watch developments closely; and, if the need arises, we will bring forward regulations necessary to ensure uniformly good practice on vehicle removals by local authorities and their contractors". That is very encouraging, but I should like to read from another letter which was written to me, curiously enough on the same day, by the director of RADAR, who is himself a wheelchair user. He said that, on Thursday 13th June I was parked at a parking meter on Jockeys Fields, WC1. My car was displaying a current Orange Badge and City of Westminster badge. In addition RADAR had also obtained permission from PC Moles at the local (Holborn) Police Station for me to park at Jockeys Fields. A message to this effect was placed on the windscreen. Despite this, a parking warden employed by the London Borough of Camden placed a parking ticket on my car demanding that I pay a fine of £30. I think the above incident shows that Local Authorities do not always exercise the same discretion to disabled people as the police who do at least have a Code of Practice. If Local Authorities are granted powers to tow away vehicles it is likely that many Orange Badge Holders will find themselves stranded when Local Authorities remove their vehicles without considering the consequences". That shows that the regulations are necessary with regard to local authorities and their contractors. Does the Minister agree that, unless the amendment is accepted, he will not be able to introduce such regulations until another Road Traffic Bill is brought forward? I hope that he will be able to make that point clear when he comes to reply.

Amendment No. 12 specifically does not cover the police. At Report stage on 13th June, at col. 1245, the Minister mentioned the need for the police to have flexibility in matters such as security. The amendment is targeted at local authorities and their contractors. As the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, it is only an enabling amendment. I hope very much that, even at this stage, the Minister will feel that we have got round any problems and will be able to accept the amendment.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I should like to add to what has been said by my noble friend Lord Swinfen and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) by asking this question. If the Government are not able to accept the amendment, or something equivalent to it, will they be able to bring forward a provision when the new disabled parking scheme is introduced? When I referred earlier to that scheme, my noble friend said that he could not yet give a date for its introduction. The scheme should help to eliminate the present concerns about the abuse of orange badges.

Of course, there are cases of orange badges being used when a disabled person is not a driver or passenger in a vehicle. There is also casual misuse, where a member of the family leaves the badge on or forgets to take it off. In some cases the orange badge has not been removable, although most of us have been trying to insist that it should be in a holder from which it can be removed when the disabled person is not using the car.

When the new scheme is introduced the badge will come out of the disabled person's pocket and will be placed in the car where it will be visible from the outside. The scheme will restore confidence which has been lacking in the past because of the abuses that have occurred. The introduction of the new scheme should transform the situation. When it is introduced, will the Government be able to bring forward a measure of the kind suggested in the amendment, or will we have to wait—a point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth)—for the next Road Traffic Bill? I hope that the Government will have powers to bring forward regulations when the scheme is introduced. That will be the moment when disabled drivers' parking should be very much improved.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I support the amendment. I compliment the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, on his work for the disabled and thank him for moving amendments on my behalf at previous stages of the Bill when I had to be abroad.

I support the amendment: it is an enabling amendment. The phrase "necessary or expedient" is desirable. In certain parts of central London—Camden, Westminster and possibly Kensington and Chelsea—a different type of disabled parking scheme has to be operated from the orange badge scheme; otherwise there would not be enough parking places to enable orange badge holders in general to use them. Those areas hope that when the Bill becomes law they may be able to make greater provision for disabled people. I hope that they will.

Without doubt the problems in some areas of London are different in terms of traffic congestion. The phrase "necessary or expedient" means that the amendment takes into account both the needs of the disabled and the traffic situation in the area in question. It would mean that if such a vehicle had to be removed at least someone would be there to ensure that the disabled person reached home safely. There would be ways of dealing with the problem other than by stating that such a vehicle must never be towed away no matter where it is. This is a good amendment. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can accept it.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, I support the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, no one would mind his vehicle being towed away a short distance. I beg, however, that it should still be in sight of the disabled person who may well be in a wheelchair. Would it not be possible to put a note on the windscreen to explain to the disabled person why he should not park there and to warn him not to do so again? Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that my husband has just been given an orange badge by North Yorkshire County Council. It has supplied a plastic pocket so that we can take out the badge when he is not in the car.

5 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we discussed at earlier stages the general issue of the removal of vehicles displaying an orange badge. I appreciate that the question of removals by local authorities and their contractors, the subject of the present amendment, was a matter of anxiety. I fully accept that, where local authorities assume control of parking enforcement in their areas, we must ensure that they are no less sensitive than the police towards the needs of disabled people. I accept, too, that guidance is needed to guarantee that.

Noble Lords may recall that, following amendments introduced at Report stage, provision was made in Clause 62 of the Bill for the Secretary of State's parking guidance to have regard for the needs of people. with a disability. As the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), said, I have written to my noble friend Lord Swinfen on the subject. I am glad to repeat now an undertaking which I have already given to him. The Secretary of State's parking guidance will set out for local authorities clear criteria which will provide the same level of safeguards for disabled people. as are offered by the Metropolitan Police guidelines. I believe that local authorities have generally shown that they understand the needs of disabled people. I have no doubt that their interests will be properly served by proceeding in this way.

In fact, I can go further than that: I can assure the House that we shall watch developments closely. That is what the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), asked me to do, and I can give that undertaking. The noble Baroness gave us an example of where the present arrangements went wrong. However, I was glad to hear that the car was not actually towed away but merely had a ticket put on it. Of course, that is a matter which could be taken up in future with the parking adjudicator.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, he is paid by results!

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, says that the adjudicator is paid by results. Of course, as I understand it, the incident took place in the Socialist-controlled borough of Camden. I should have thought that nothing much could go wrong there. However, in that particular incident evidently it did.

Perhaps I may now return to the substance of the amendment. If the need arises, we will bring forward regulations to ensure uniformly good practice on vehicle removals by local authorities and their contractors. We do not need primary legislation to do that. The Secretary of State already has, under paragraph 33 of Schedule 4 to the Bill, the power to make just the sort of regulations which this amendment seeks. I hope that that answers the questions put by noble Lords, especially those from my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. I would not necessarily say that we need to wait for the orange badge scheme to come into force for such regulations; if there is a problem, we can bring in regulations.

With those assurances I hope that my noble friend will realise that the amendment is unnecessary and that there is no question of local authorities ignoring, or being allowed to ignore, the interests of disabled people. In the circumstances, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I should like to thank all those speakers who have taken part in this short debate in support of my amendment. However, it is clear From what my noble friend the Minister said—and who am I to disagree with him, I am not a lawyer? —that it is his opinion that the powers in the Bill will meet the aim that I seek to achieve. I am also pleased to note that he said he will be keeping the matter under review so that, if necessary, regulations may be brought forward at a later stage. I am most grateful to him. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 66 [Recovery of vehicles or of proceeds of disposal]:

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 13: Page 59, line 20, at end insert ("or, where paragraph (b) (ii) applies, as may be prescribed.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a technical amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 71 [Appeals to parking adjudicator in relation to decisions under section 70]:

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 14: Page 63, line 42, after ("(6)") insert ("(b)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Permitted and special parking areas outside London]:

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 79, line 11, at end insert: ("( ) with respect to the whole, or any part, of their area, by a regional or islands council in Scotland;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall, with the leave of the House, speak also to Amendments Nos. 16 and 18. These amendments seek to make provisions for the new local authority parking regime in London to be available to local authorities in Scotland, in the same way that they will be available to other authorities in England and Wales.

The Government did not bring forward amendments on Report seeking this wider application primarily because there was no clear indication of wide demand from the local roads authorities in Scotland, but that evidence is now available. For example, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has recently received an expression of strong support from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. We should have been pleased to accept the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, but for some minor technical difficulties with them. We have overcome these difficulties through drafting changes and these are incorporated into the government amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has withdrawn his amendments, but I nevertheless thank him for his contribution to the debate.

The amendments which the Government introduced on Report, enabling appropriate authorities in England and Wales to apply for orders establishing decriminalised parking regimes, were widely welcomed. The Government are now pleased to make these enabling provisions available to appropriate authorities north of the Border. I hope that your Lordships will accept these amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for having rewritten the amendments in language which fits better into the Bill. The delay in putting down such amendments is unusual for Scotland. Indeed, the Scots usually keep up-to-date with such matters. I have received representations from Lothian and Strathclyde regions.

Perhaps I may put a further matter to the Minister, although I am not sure that there is sufficient time to do anything about it now. He has probably received correspondence from CoSLA in which the convention points out an odd part of Scottish law. I refer to the difficulty of enforcing regulations in respect of off-street car parks, especially as regards persistent offenders, because it is not possible to use wheel clamps. There are great difficulties involved in using other methods to deal with these people.

It has been pointed out to me that, if the sanction of wheel clamping cannot be used, it is difficult to tow cars away because the overhead space in many car parks is not sufficient. Moreover, there are also intruder alarms which could be set off in such circumstances. Is there any way in which the Minister can find out whether it is possible to use the sanction? I have been given legal advice through the authorities in Scotland. They have taken legal advice which states that wheel clamping is not possible in their car parks, although the sanction is frequently used in privately-owned car parks. Moreover, the car parks of businesses and hotels frequently use the sanction.

I told CoSLA and the local authorities that I would raise the matter with, I suppose I could say, "the fountain-head of all knowledge" in such matters. Therefore, if the Minister cannot do anything at present perhaps he will write to me on the matter indicating exactly what the position would be. Having said that, I should stress that I am very grateful for what he has done thus far.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I should simply like to confirm that, although Schedule 3 at present only applies to areas outside London in England and Wales, local authorities in Scotland have made it clear that it would be helpful for them to have similar powers. Therefore, I am glad that the Government have tabled these amendments in preference to those originally proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, though no doubt his aim was the same. I believe that he was right to accept the Government's draftsmanship. These amendments will be appreciated by local authorities in Scotland. It will give them similar powers to those which are to be given to local authorities outside London in England and Wales.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I am sorry that when discussing the extension of the power from London to the rest of the country at an earlier stage of the Bill we did not think of including Scotland. However, I believe that the man with the forked stick has been walking a little slowly with copies of Hansard north of the Border. Indeed, it was only at the end of last week that I received an intimation from CoSLA that people in Scotland felt that they had been left out. Like other speakers, I am grateful to the Minister for bringing forward the amendments, as will be the local authorities in Scotland.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their reception of the amendments. As the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said, we did not wake up until recently to the fact that the Scots wished to have the provisions extended to them. I am glad that we had time to do so before the Bill goes back to another place.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, asked about the use of wheel clamps at off-street car parks and the treatment of persistent offenders at those car parks. We debated that matter in relation to England and Wales at an earlier stage of the Bill. I hesitate to comment too much, but wheel clamping in off-street car parks is not covered by the Bill in England and Wales or Scotland. I am aware that Scottish law is different from English law in a number of respects. I had better take the opportunity which the noble Lord offered me and write to him on the matter in more detail. I have not seen the letter from CoSLA to which he referred.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 79, line 48, after ("council;") insert: ("( ) with respect to the whole, or any part, of their area, by a regional or islands council in Scotland;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 17: Page 80, line 11, leave out ("permitted") and insert ("special").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 80, line 22, at end insert: ("( ) section 129(6) of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 (parking of a motor vehicle wholly or partly on a cycle track to be an offence);").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Parking penalties]:

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendments Nos. 19 to 21:

Page 104, line 18, leave out ("will") and insert ("may").

Page 105, line 46, leave out ("(2)") and insert ("(1) (c)").

Page 106, line 4, leave out from beginning to end of line 6 and insert: ("(d) the district judge shall serve written notice of the effect of service of the declaration on the person making it and on the London authority concerned.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 7 [Minor and consequential amendments in relation to London]:

Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 107, line 33, at end insert: ("(5) In subsection (4) after paragraph (d) there shall be inserted— (e) If it appears to the local authority that for the time being it is unnecessary or undesirable to meet costs incurred in the provision or operation of, or of facilities for, public transport services or of projects connected with the carrying out of operations which constitute the improvement of a highway, the following purposes, namely—

  1. (i) the construction of a new highway; and
  2. (ii) the maintenance of existing highways.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment seeks the power to apply parking places reserve account funds to all activities authorised by the Highways Act 1980 and the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. The amendment would allow that parking account money to be spent on new stretches of road, maintenance and improvements. The parking places reserve account is a special account in which a local authority must keep any surplus accumulated from its on-street parking operation. In the first instance, money must be spent on parking measures. If no further expenditure is considered desirable or essential, money may be spent on other transport, including public transport, or on highway improvements.

At the moment, expenditure on the creation of new highways and routine highway matters, principally maintenance, cannot be drawn from the parking places reserve account. Central London now makes a considerable surplus on parking operations. It is a handicap when money raised for one form of transport activity can be ploughed back into a limited range of highway or transport-related objectives only. After the Bill's passage, not just Central London boroughs, but many large authorities in cities throughout the country, will find themselves with a surplus in their parking reserve account after they have met all the requirements already listed. Controlled parking is spreading and the number of meter bays is likely to increase as authorities increasingly recognise the need to restrain the use of the motor car in the busiest areas. That applies throughout the country.

Many more authorities are therefore likely to accumulate larger surpluses in their accounts in the future. The reserve fund is a good way to fund new roads and road maintenance, because by using money from parking operations the user is paying directly for work from which he or she would benefit. The spirit of the proposed amendment means that the money may be spent only on the provision of new stretches of road and on maintenance, if no further expenditure—I emphasise this point because it was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, on a previous occasion—on parking-related measures, other transport or highway improvements is considered desirable or essential.

The amendment continues to limit the use of that money to items provided for under the Highways Act 1980 and the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. It is wrong; that councils should have money frozen in accounts and be unable to use it when surplus funds are not readily available and other sources of funds for maintenance are desperately short. I shall give an example. I asked a Question last week about Kensington High Street. A Kensington councillor informally told me that the council has to restrict use of the road because it is unsafe. The Minister's answer revealed that it was due to the covering of the London Underground tunnel which requires special reinforcement. It further emerged that the council is applying to the Department of Transport for a grant to carry out that work. If surplus funds from the parking reserve account could be used for that work it would benefit all traffic in London using what is a "borough" road. It is not a designated road. That case illustrates the need for the amendment. I hope that the Government will consider the amendment favourably. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am pleased that the noble Baroness made it clear at the outset that the amendment applies to all authorities throughout the country. The heading of Schedule 7 reads: Minor and consequential amendments in relation to London". That is not the fault of the noble Baroness; it is how the Bill is drafted. When I read paragraph 5 it became clear that the schedule relates to all parts of the country. I was deceived by the heading of Schedule 7. I always like to support the noble Baroness because she is so interested in transport matters and generally supports matters that I find I can support. I am afraid my attitude is the same as it was on the previous occasion to which the noble Baroness referred.

We naturally wish to see local authorities allowed the maximum freedom and flexibility in handling their finances, but I wonder whether the amendment is the right way to handle this matter. As the noble Baroness pointed out, Section 55 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 provides clearly how the surplus in the parking account should be used. As she said, it should be used first in connection with parking arrangements. It should then be used for the development of various aspects of public transport and for the maintenance of highways.

I find it difficult to believe that any authority could find it unnecessary or undesirable to spend any of the money in the parking account on aspects of public transport, bearing in mind that the Act relates to the provision and development of all public transport facilities, or on highway maintenance. I am worried that some authorities may see the amendment as an opportunity to divert money into the provision of new highways rather than to provide further parking facilities or the enforcement of parking regulations. The enforcement of parking regulations is important. I am trying to think of an authority which would find it unnecessary or undesirable—to use the words in the Bill and the amendment—to use the money on public transport facilities. I wonder whether every authority provides proper bus stops, halts, and seats. I am thinking specifically of the half-hourly service; sometimes I stand at the bus stop for a quarter of an hour before a bus comes along.

I understand the principle behind the noble Baroness's amendment, but I am concerned that it gives an opportunity to too many authorities to avoid doing some things that they should do and to divert some of the surpluses in the parking accounts to purposes for which the money should not be used.

Incidentally, I find it difficult to understand the difference in the wording. The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 states: improvements of a highway". Under the noble Baroness's amendment, the money could be used for, the maintenance of existing highways". I fail to see the difference. I sympathise with the noble Baroness but I am afraid I cannot give her amendment our support.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the Government have some sympathy with the suggestion that local authorities should be able to use surpluses on their parking revenue accounts for routine highway maintenance, provided that there is no need for further parking provision to be made in their areas. Section 55 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 already allows them to use such surpluses for road improvements within the meaning of Part V of the Highways Act 1980, but that does not extend to maintenance.

The first part of my noble friend's amendment could specifically encourage the financing of new highways from parking revenues. That would significantly widen the scope of Section 55 of the 1984 Act and the present Bill. The case for such an amendment has not been put previously to the department and will need careful consideration. I believe that the best vehicle for that consideration would be the Government's comprehensive review of local government structures and functions which is currently under way. I drew attention to that review when responding to a similar amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Gardner in Committee in relation to highways maintenance works and work under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. The current restrictions on the further use of parking revenues will be one of the topics to be considered in the review. I believe that that is the right and proper way to consider the widening of the scope of Section 55. In such a review, the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, can be taken into account.

I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment in the light of what I have said and on the understanding that the matter is addressed in the review.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I was not able to move the amendment at Report stage because he moved one which, when accepted, ruled out my amendments. For that reason, I brought them back today. However, his explanation is clear. I thank him for it and I hope that when the local government review takes place this item will be carefully examined. It seems to me very wasteful for millions of pounds to be locked away, unable to be used, when other local authority needs are great, including highway needs. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.25 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. I assure your Lordships that I do not intend to speak at great length at this stage, which I am sure will be welcome.

The Bill deals with safety and efficiency in transport and the House has accepted that these are important matters for government action. I should like to extend my thanks to all noble Lords who have contributed to the stimulating and helpful debates that we have had, in particular my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter, Lord Nugent and Lord Renton from the Privy Council Bench, who were helpful and supportive on various matters. I also thank noble Lords opposite, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis, Lord Underhill and Lord Tordoff. Although we have not always agreed on everything in the Bill, I believe that we agree that it leaves the House in a better state than when it came here. That is in no small part due to the friendly exchanges that we have had across the Chamber.

I also wish to thank my noble friend Lord Swinfen and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), for bringing to our attention the important problems of people with disabilities and the issue of the orange badge scheme. My noble friend Lady Gardner has brought other important issues concerning London particularly before us and I hope that we have been able to help the situation. I particularly wish to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, who was kind enough to write to me to say that she would not be here today. She brought up the important issue of taxi licensing, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Ferrers for having been able to respond on the matter, I hope satisfactorily.

Part I of the Bill should make a valuable contribution to achieving our road safety target of cutting casualties by one-third by the end of the decade. There have been many suggestions for further improvement in addition, but the Bill has received general support during our wide-ranging debates at Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and again today. I welcome that.

Part II of the Bill addresses the important issue of traffic congestion in London which everyone agrees must be tackled urgently. We have brought forward a major package of measures to help deal with the problem so that traffic can move around London more easily, reliably and safely.

Priority routes will free London's main arteries and provide the opportunity for local benefits; for example, by improving facilities for pedestrians and taking speeding traffic out of nearby residential areas. The new arrangements for on-street permitted parking will enable local authorities to develop and enforce coherent parking policies tuned to traffic policy objectives. They will allow the police and traffic wardens to concentrate on their primary traffic controls. We should be particularly pleased that in this House we have extended those measures from London to the rest of the country.

I have no doubt that we have before us a Bill much improved as a result of our deliberations, which will make a major contribution to road safety and the reduction of congestion and pollution. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Brahazon of Tara.)

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, at the outset of what will be an uncharacteristically short speech, perhaps I may echo much of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon. He has shown courtesy to the House throughout our deliberations, particularly to Members of the Opposition, over a Bill that has not been disputatious, although it has given rise to certain controversy. That has not essentially been on party political grounds, because we are all concerned to meet the objectives to which the noble Lord referred. But the problems of injuries through accidents on the roads must be resolved. The toll is high. I can only hope that the purpose of the Bill, as demonstrated by the noble Lord, will be fulfilled, although in some respects I have my doubts.

I also wish to mirror what was said by the noble Lord in paying tribute to those who have ventilated the concerns of the disabled effectively through our deliberations over the past few weeks. No one could have worthier champions than the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (deKnayth), who attended the debates with remarkable regularity. They have taken the trouble to put down amendments which have obviously made a great impression on the Government. From the Opposition I thank them both.

I also agree with the noble Lord when he says that the Bill has been noticeably improved as a result of our debates in this House. The Minister has played his part in listening courteously and diligently to the representations that have been made to him. He has done more: he has responded positively to the concerns which have been expressed. That is the job of a Minister and he has done it well. He has also accomplished something else. He has engaged in a veritable torrent of correspondence, of which your Lordships may not be aware. I believe I should place that on record. Some of the letters have been incredibly long and it has taken me a weekend to read them; but, nevertheless, I thank the Minister for his courtesy.

I wish to pay tribute to my noble friends on this side of the House as well as to all those who have participated from the Cross-Benches and from the Government Benches. They have made the debates civilised and interesting. I wish to pay a special tribute to my noble friend Lord Underhill who has revealed that indefatigable patience, moderation and comprehension on the detail of the Bill—that often eludes me as I am sure the Minister will be the first to agree—which characterises his approach to affairs in this House. I thank my noble friend for his contributions.

I do not intend to create any controversy after that welter of compliments. However, I must mention my anxieties about Part II of the Bill. I am not convinced by any means that Part II of the Bill will produce great gifts for Londoners. Neither the Bill nor the Government's policies generally reveal a cohesive and coherent response to traffic problems. However having put those comments on the record, I had better reserve any further comment on that matter for another occasion when we shall be in a rather more controversial and disputatious mood. The Minister need have no fear on that point.

I apologise for the fact that I have not mentioned the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, so far. He has almost single-handedly from the Liberal Democrat Benches—perhaps that is not the right thing to say on this occasion—put forward the point of view of his party. He has been persistent in his attendance and contributions. Except for one brief moment today when he ceased to be complimentary to me, he has almost invariably been positive in his contributions. I thank him for his contributions.

We all wish the legislation to have the effect that all of us enunciated from the beginning of the debates on the Bill. It is difficult to believe, however, that any one piece of legislation will have a truly dramatic effect. I hope I shall be proved wrong about that. I also hope that many will be spared the death and injury that is the fate of far too many people on the roads at the present time. That is a blot on our nation.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I echo the final comments of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. Your Lordships' House is particularly successful in its dealings with transport matters as we start from the premise that we are trying to reduce the number of road casualties and traffic injuries that occur. I hope that the work we have undertaken on this Bill may in some small measure have helped to achieve that aim. I am proud to have been part of that process.

I shall refer to the contentious issues first and then pay compliments afterwards. I have been critical of the red route proposals from the beginning, mainly because I do not believe they are comprehensive enough to solve the problems that they were set out to solve. I do not wish to cover that ground again but I hope that when the traffic director is appointed and the system is running, the Government will ensure that in the establishment of the red routes the maximum sensitivity will be paid to the needs of the areas through which they run. At a very late stage I have received representations from Islington where the pilot study has been carried out. It is quite clear that people in Islington feel their local community has been damaged by the pilot scheme.

We must all bear in mind that the red routes are not just arterial roads. In many cases they run through the heart of communities. London was originally a collection of villages which have been connected by main roads. I hope that point can be borne in mind when the regulations come into effect.

Having said that, I am pleased to have taken part in the Bill. Road safety considerations will always receive support from these Benches. I personally wish to thank my noble friend Lord Falkland for the work he did during the early stages of the Bill in connection with two wheel traffic. I believe the changes that have been made have provided some help for cyclists and motor cyclists.

Finally, I wish to thank all those who have already been thanked. I thank the Minister who has been courteous and helpful, as he always is in his exchanges on transport matters. He is always anxious to understand what lies behind some of our amendments and to understand their principles. I also thank his officials who are perhaps a more listening bunch of people than the officials in some other departments of state. Perhaps it is improper to express that view. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for his kind words. I am sorry that today I stepped out of my usual helpful mode towards the noble Lord. Occasionally one has to let it be known that we on these Benches have minds of our own and do not always follow exactly what has been said from the Labour Party Front Bench. However, I say that in the friendliest way.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who brings to these discussions an expertise that none of us can seek to emulate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and others who spoke for the disabled lobby. They are greatly to be congratulated for having once again tabled amendments to a Bill in this House. It has almost become a matter of honour that hardly any Bill passes through your Lordships' House without the disabled being given more consideration than is sometimes the case in another place. In general, I wish the Bill well. I hope that Part II succeeds better than I fear will be the case. Certainly the other parts of the Bill are to be warmly welcomed.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, although I did not achieve what I wanted as regards driving standards, the revised Highway Code to be published next year may achieve something in that regard. I am pleased with the camera provisions which should go a long way towards reducing the offence of jumping traffic lights. The provisions of this Bill and those of the new Highway Code should go a long way towards reducing the appalling road accident rate. I am grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for the way he has introduced the Bill.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I must start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for his kind remarks. I have been passed a note informing me that in my absence my noble friend Lord Brabazon and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, also made kind remarks about me. It is probably a good thing that I was not in the Chamber at that time as my head is quite big enough as it is, and I do not want to have to buy a new hat. With the help of many noble Lords, we have improved the position of disabled people as regards the Bill's provisions. I am delighted about that. The indication that has been given that a revised disabled person's badge will be introduced as soon as possible will help matters considerably. I know that the majority of sensible disabled people look forward to that day even though it is likely that a number of them who already have badges may find they are no longer eligible for them. I thank all those who supported my efforts. I wish the Bill a speedy passage.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to the four noble Lords who have spoken on the Motion that the Bill do now pass. We all accept that the aim of Part I is to reduce the appalling toll of road accidents and to reduce the number of injuries that are suffered on our roads. Although I do not claim that Part I of the Bill will achieve that aim on its own, I hope it will go some way towards improving the situation. Similarly, I do not claim that Part II of the Bill will solve London's traffic problems overnight. However, I believe it will result in a considerable improvement in the flow of traffic in central London. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that we shall introduce provisions concerning the red routes with sensitivity, concern and, as the Bill says, after a great deal of consultation.

I am grateful to noble Lords for their kind words. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.