HL Deb 07 May 1996 vol 572 cc91-3

8.20 p.m.

Viscount Goschen rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 1st April be approved [17th Report from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee].

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the House will not be surprised to hear that I do not intend to engage in a great explanation of this measure because by some fortuitous circumstance I believe that the House is already quite well informed about it.

Rather like the previous measure, the order removes a very small and unnecessary bureaucratic procedure. I think that it will be of benefit to all concerned. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 1st April be approved [17th Report from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee].—(Viscount Goschen.)

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the measure is not quite as simple as that. In my view the Minister should have dealt with the objection raised by the Automobile Association. It is an objection which I do not support but is nevertheless highly relevant.

The Automobile Association has suggested that the proposed change would lead to motorists having to prove their innocence". I do not believe that that is the matter in law. The situation is this. The machine in question, if not approved by the Secretary of State—that is the purpose of the order—would be assumed to be working accurately in terms of evidence being given against the defendant. The evidence is simply admissible and is not conclusive. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that that is the department's understanding of the situation. In fact, a defendant could seek to prove that the machine was not working accurately.

I wish to raise another factor. I paid the department a tribute previously. Here I do not. It must stop saying silly things. I refer to the report of the Deregulation Committee of another place. The department was taken to task about the issue in evidence at page viii of the report. The department stated: If a user believes that a parking meter is not recording time correctly, he or she can check it quite simply by inserting a coin and observing how much time elapses before the penalty indication appears". That seems a rather strange way of going about things. It takes no account of the time constraints that might affect the person concerned. I believe that the department was a trifle out of touch. As the report states: Members of the public cannot be expected to time parking meters to check that they are reliable; there must be some other means of ensuring that equipment performs satisfactorily". One of the great virtues is that existing British standards will apply. I believe that that is one of the great safeguards. The other safeguard is that if a motorist, faced no doubt by an issue of principle, wishes to seek an acquittal from the court, he might be able to find some other ways of doing so. Having said that, I believe that the proposal is on the whole worthwhile, and we support it.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the noble Lord demonstrates without a shadow of doubt his skill as a lawyer by putting to me some of the difficult objections to the matter and then giving me the answers as to why they should be immediately dismissed.

The noble Lord's first point referred to a possible objection concerning evidence, court procedures and so forth. I know that the noble Lord understands the working of the law in the courts far better than I do. However, the question was as regards what happens if a meter is faulty. To what extent is that evidence taken into account?

If the motorist believes that he has been charged for a parking offence on a meter that is faulty, he should first complain to the local authority. Local authorities are usually quick to check meters and to withdraw charges if they find the meter to be faulty. If that fails, the motorist can take the case to court. Indication given from a parking meter is prima facie evidence. If other evidence—for example, that the meter was faulty—were put forward, the court would consider it. The approval process gives little protection against that sort of problem. That was essentially the noble Lord's argument when he turned his hat the other way round and argued against the objection. I commend the order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.