HL Deb 17 May 1993 vol 545 cc1574-8

5.31 p.m.

Earl Ferrers rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 29th March be approved [26th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move, that the draft Function of Traffic Wardens (Amendment) Order 1993 be approved.

The order amends the Functions of Traffic Wardens Order 1970 in order to give new powers to traffic wardens. The order is designed to help the police by allowing traffic wardens to take on some additional parking enforcement duties. Those duties are ones which, at the moment, only a police officer can perform.

By allowing those duties to be undertaken by traffic wardens, the order will help to release police officers for other more important duties, which have, and should have, a higher priority.

If your Lordships have been good enough to look at the order —which I am sure your Lordships have in some detail—it may not have been obvious exactly what the order purports to do. That is because it amends an existing order, and its effects are not, therefore, immediately obvious. I will, therefore, try to describe, in plain language, the changes which the order seeks to make.

There are three main ways in which the order extends the powers and the functions of traffic wardens. The first of these main changes is under Article 2 (g) of the order. That gives traffic wardens the power to authorise the wheelclamping of vehicles which are illegally parked on public roads. Wheel clamping on public roads—which I know is not an act which endears itself to many of your Lordships—is authorised for use in London only, and then only in designated parts of it. In the year which ended on 31st March 1993, the Metropolitan Police authorised the use of wheelclamps in 93,541 cases.

Under the present law, each of those clampings had to be authorised by a police officer. But, we do not feel that it is the best use of the time of highly trained police officers for them to be tied up in duties such as wheelclamping when there are other—and considerably more important—demands to which they should reasonably address their attention. Traffic wardens carry out parking enforcement duties every day and they are quite capable of making proper decisions on when it is appropriate to have a vehicle wheelclamped. The instructions, which cover the wheelclamping procedure when it is undertaken by the police, will apply equally to traffic wardens when it is undertaken by them.

The second major change which is made by the order is under Article 4. Article 4 will allow traffic wardens to issue fixed penalty notices for three additional parking offences, two of which are endorsable offences. Traffic wardens can already issue fixed penalty notices for a wide range of parking offences.

The new offences, for which they will be able to issue fixed penalty notices, will be: causing an unnecessary obstruction; parking within the limits of a pedestrian crossing (which is an endorsable offence); and leaving a vehicle in a dangerous position (which is also an endorsable offence). At the moment, a police officer has to deal with those offences. The offences are, though, parking offences which wardens come across routinely in their daily duties. It seems to us, therefore, that it is perfectly sensible that traffic wardens should have the powers which are necessary to deal with them.

Endorsable offences are, of course, more serious than other parking offences, because they represent a danger to other road users. When taken to the courts, the offences carry a maximum fine of £1,000 and three obligatory penalty points on the driver's licence. When they are dealt with under the fixed penalty process, the penalty is £40 with the addition of three penalty points on to the licence.

The offence of causing an unnecessary obstruction, when it is dealt with by the courts, carries a maximum fine of £1,000. When it is dealt with under the fixed penalty system, the penalty is £30 in London and £20 elsewhere. The third change, which the order makes, is under Article 3. That will extend a traffic warden's power to require an offender to produce his or her driving licence. Traffic wardens already have the power to require the production of a driving licence when they are undertaking custody functions at a car pound. The order will give them the same power when they are dealing with the two endorsable parking offences to which I have referred.

As well as those main changes to the 1970 order, Article 2 of the order before your Lordships deals also with the interim disposal of vehicles which are removed under Section 99 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.

The term "interim disposal" describes the action which the police may take when they pass on abandoned vehicles to the local authority which has the ultimate responsibility of dealing with them. This is a small amendment which will ensure that if vehicles are removed by traffic wardens—which will be possible under another order—those vehicles, as well as those vehicles which are removed by police officers, can be handed over to the local authority for disposal if they are abandoned vehicles.

The order provides the police in England and Wales with the means to increase the role of their traffic wardens in day-to-day parking enforcement. The time of police officers can then be saved and can be devoted to work which is of a higher priority. It remains, of course, essential that the new duties which traffic wardens will have are carried out in a proper way. In particular, the training of traffic wardens in the exercise of the new duties is essential if they are to be correctly undertaken. We shall, therefore, be emphasising to chief constables the importance of training in the advice which we will issue to them about the new order.

I think that those new arrangements should make a helpful, and, in some cases, significant contribution to the ability of chief constables to make the most efficient use of all of their resources, whether those resources are police officers or traffic wardens. I commend the order to your Lordships.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 29th March be approved [26th Report from the Joint Committee]. —(Earl Ferrers.)

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for explaining the orders so clearly. Before I make the few remarks that I have to make about the order, which we generally welcome, I suppose that I should declare an interest in that my car was towed away from a back street in Islington some 18 months ago. Since I could not possibly believe that I had committed an offence, I went to the local police station to report its loss. The local police station knew nothing about it but had a brainwave and suggested that I should telephone the Metropolitan Police pound, which is where, indeed, I found my car.

In that case there was a lack of communication between the police in their impounding capacity and in their local policing capacity. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that the order will not make that worse in any way, but indeed may improve it. There may be better communication between local police stations and the impounding authorities.

Having appeared to confess guilt to a crime, I should say that I took strong objection to being towed away when I considered that I had not committed the offence of unnecessary obstruction. I took the matter to Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court. The case was dismissed and I got all my money back.

The events covered six to eight months. During that time there were two adjournments because the policeman who had to substantiate the alleged offence was not available. When he was available, his memory of the occasion, which purported to be based on notes made at the time, was defective. I really do not believe that policemen who accompany vehicle removal squads make notes at the time. I also noticed that a large number of police officers spent a great deal of time in the many courts at Highbury Corner. It occurred to me that that was a shocking misuse of police time. My experience leads me to welcome the thrust of the order, which is to relieve police time for matters of higher priority.

My honourable friend Mr. Alun Michael asked in another place why the extension in the power of traffic wardens to see a driving licence or to insist that it be produced within seven days should not extend to an insurance certificate. My honourable friend is right. Is not an insurance certificate at least as important a part of the protection of the public as a driving licence and a greater element in that protection than a current road tax disc? Would it not have been wise, while the order was being prepared, to have extended the power to demand to see a current insurance policy on the same basis as a current driving licence?

With that minor proviso we believe that the order is a rational extension of the power of traffic wardens. Provided that it is adequately supervised by chief constables and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and provided that the training of traffic wardens meets the requirements, we believe that the order should be approved.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for giving such a warm welcome to the order, in particular such a personal one. I was disturbed to think that his car was towed away even 18 months ago. I realise that nothing infuriates people more than having their cars towed away. The noble Lord said that there had been a lack of communication between the impounding authorities and the police. I can only assume that in his view there was an excess of communication between the impounding authorities and his motor car. I am sorry that he had such an experience. However, it all ended happily and the noble Lord received his money back. That is an example of how true British justice works. I am glad that the noble Lord is happy to see the power to carry out the duties extended to traffic wardens.

Some people are always frightened at the thought of giving other people additional duties. However, these are duties with which traffic wardens perpetually come into contact. The police will be saved a great deal of time as a result of the order and will be freed to carry out duties which are more suitable to police officers.

The noble Lord asked why the opportunity had not been taken to allow traffic wardens to inspect insurance certificates. On the face of it that seems a reasonable question, as are all the noble Lord's questions. If that were done the powers of traffic wardens would be considerably increased because they would have to go into all the details of insurance; that is, whether the certificate adequately covers the car and so forth. It was thought that at this juncture it would be inappropriate to extend that power to the traffic wardens.

I am grateful to your Lordships for approving the order. I commend it to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.