Designation of Parking Control Authority

Orders of the Day — Road Traffic Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 26 February 1991.

Alert me about debates like this

'After section 95 of the Road Traffic Regulations Act 1984 there shall be inserted—

"95A(1) The Secretary of State may in the circumstances specified in subsection (2) below and subject to subsection (5) below by Order designate any Metropolitan District Highway Authority in a Metropolitan County as a parking control authority.

(2) The Secretary of State shall make an Order under this section in respect of any metropolitan county area where—

  1. (a) he has been requested to do so by all the Metropolitan District Highway Authorities in the relevant county; and
  2. (b) he is satisfied that the designation in necessary having regard to—
    1. (i) the level of unenforced contraventions of the law relating to stationary vehicles in the area concerned;
    2. (ii) the transport policies of the authorities concerned; and
    3. (iii) the effect of the level of unenforced contraventions on these policies.

(3) Before making an Order under this section the Secretary of State shall consult any Police Authority all or part of whose area comprises the metropolitan county concerned.

(4) Any Order made under this section shall—

  1. (a)specify under which provisions of this Act regulations may be enforced by the parking control authorities in the Metropolitan County concerned;
  2. (b) provide for the contravention of regulations made under those provisions to cease to be a criminal offence;
  3. (c) specify the means by which the parking control authorities shall discharge their responsibilities under this section.

(5) No Order may be made under this section before 1st January 1994.".'.—[Ms. Ruddock.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock , Lewisham, Deptford

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The effect of the new clause will be to allow the Secretary of State to designate metropolitan district councils as parking control authorities. He would have to be satisfied that designation was necessary because the level of unenforced parking contraventions in the area concerned was undermining local transport policies. The powers provided by the new clause would not be used until 1994.

The new clause is necessary because part II deals with parking enforcement exclusively in relation to London. The highways committee of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities is concerned, and the Opposition share that concern, that parking problems in the major urban areas outside London are increasing rapidly and that action is needed in relation to them as well as in the context of London. That view is shared by the AMA's public transport committee, which is concerned about the effect of illegal parking on the reliability of bus services.

The best detailed information on the problems of enforcement is from joint police and highway authority studies of parking enforcement in Sheffield and Rotherham, commissioned by the Home Office working party on parking enforcement.

In Sheffield, surveys were carried out in three areas, including 20 per cent. of the city centre. Agreed beats were patrolled between five and 10 times over two days. The surveys adopted the same five-minute loading rules as that adopted by traffic wardens. The Sheffield survey found that fewer than 1 per cent. of vehicles found parking on yellow lines in the city centre had been served with a parking ticket. It found 55 vehicles parked on yellow lines in a northern part of Sheffield and 49 in part of south Sheffield. None had been subject to enforcement action.

The Rotherham survey was carried out on a similar basis. In Rotherham town centre, 132 vehicles were found parked on yellow lines, only one of which had been the subject of enforcement. In the outer areas surveyed, 47 contraventions were spotted, but not one parking ticket was seen.

Those surveys show that only a minute proportion of vehicles found on yellow lines had been served with a parking ticket. In response to that finding, the police state that the contraventions found were often in side streets and had resulted in no major congestion or road safety problem. On that basis, they argue that the findings did not support the case for change outside London.

The AMA highways committee accepts that many of the contraventions found in the Sheffield and Rotherham studies did not result in major congestion or road safety problems, but it does not accept that that in any way undermines the case for change. The fact is that the law is not being enforced.

It is particularly important to understand the police view and their objective, which is parking enforcement strictly in the narrow terms of maintaining the free flow of traffic. Yet parking is increasingly also being viewed as an important transport policy. The availability of parking space can be an important influence on a person's decision whether to travel by car or by public transport. The availability of additional free parking space—that is, unenforced parking on yellow lines—can seriously undermine broader transport policies designed to encourage greater use of public service vehicles.

It is also important to acknowledge that yellow lines are introduced for a range of reasons other than maintaining the free flow of traffic on main routes. Local traffic management and environmental considerations are often, and increasingly important. Those are local authority rather than police objectives, but the responsibility for allocating enforcement resources rests with the police.

Concern is not confined to south Yorkshire. For example, Manchester city council is currently lobbying for parking enforcement powers to be transferred to its authority. Its proposals are based on the important role that parking policies are likely to play in transport strategy designed to tackle that city's worsening problem of road congestion.

When the subject was discussed in Committee, the Minister rejected out of hand the case for change outside London. He said that the view of the Home Office working party was that the most pressing problems were in London. That is why we have brought forward proposals in the Bill to deal with the problems in London. The Minister acknowledged that problems existed outside the capital, but maintained that they could be resolved by improved liaison between the police and highway authorities, but the Minister's remarks included a glimmer of hope for the future. He said: There is not sufficient evidence to warrant changing parking regimes outside London, but that will be reviewed in the light of the experience of the coming months and years in London. We accept that the most pressing problems are in London, but that fact in itself is not a reason for not taking action in relation to other urban areas. The new clause is intended to meet most of the Minister's concerns.

First, the powers available in the clause could not be exercised until 1994. That is intended to enable trends in the other urban areas to be monitored, experience to be gained with the new arrangements in London, and discussions to take place between local highways and police authorities. If the new clause is accepted today, the legislation will be ready once those new steps have been taken.

The new clause is deliberately drawn in flexible terms. If the Secretary of State were allowed to determine by order the range of powers to be given to parking control authorities, he would be able to take on board the lessons learned in London.

In Committee, when debating the issue, the Minister further said: It is fair to say that local authorities sometimes abuse yellow lines by painting them on the road against the advice of the police. If the police advise against, it is hardly surprising that there is not much enforcement."—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 5 February 1991; c. 324–29.] That goes to the heart of the problem. Highway authorities introduce parking restrictions for a range of reasons—including, increasingly, support of broad transport objectives. Yet the enforcement of those restrictions—the decision, as the Minister suggests, whether they are enforced or not—is left to the police who, in relation to parking, have two important but narrow objectives—maintaining the free flow of traffic and protecting road safety on main routes.

The way ahead does not lie in the direction set by the Minister, who, in practice, has given the police carte blanche not to enforce restrictions with which they do not agree. The way forward involves vesting public policy making, regulation making and enforcement in one authority—the local highway authority.

The Minister's response also highlights a contradiction between the recognition now being given by his Department to the importance of parking to transport policy and his attitude to enforcement. The new clause attempts to address the issue head on by including as factors which Ministers must take into account when designating a parking control authority the transport policies of the areas concerned and the impact of the level of enforcement of those policies.

The Minister may well argue about the wording of the new clause, but that is not important at this stage of the Bill's process. What is important is that the Minister should acknowledge that parking enforcement is a problem in urban areas outside London; that it is likely that changes to the enforcement regime will be needed to tackle those problems in due course; that experience in London could provide valuable lessons for other areas; and that it would be sensible to take enabling powers in the Bill so that steps could be taken to tackle the problem outside London, as soon as the Department and the police accept the local authorities' case for change. That stage may not be reached in the immediate future, but it will almost certainly be reached before further parliamentary time is found for this important area of debate.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

I cannot accept the amendment. As the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) has explained, it is along similar lines to one that we discussed at considerable length in Committee. I said then that part II of the Bill had been brought forward largely in response to detailed consideration of the issues by a working party chaired by the Home Office during 1987 and 1988. Its report concluded that the problem was in London and that, although it is not true to say that there are no problems outside London, we should tackle the problems there first.

8.30 pm

In Committee, I said that it ought to be possible to arrive at a reasonable accommodation on appropriate levels of enforcement effort for traffic and parking controls in the provinces, given that the county is both the police and the highway authority. In many cases, that is what happens in practice.

As the hon. Lady reminded us, I also said that we would reconsider this matter in the light of experience. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has a flexible attitude to the subject and that, if he were persuaded of the need to extend these powers outside London, he would have no hesitation in introducing the necessary legislation. At this stage there is no case for proceding in that manner.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock , Lewisham, Deptford

Does the Minister have any thoughts on how many years it will be before congestion problems in other major cities reach the stage that they have now reached in London? Does he believe that associated problems and the need to enforce parking restraints are relevant to that?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

I cannot speculate. There is some significance in the fact that no authority outside London has requested the introduction of wheel clamping powers from the Secretary of State, which suggests that authorities have not yet exhausted the enforcement mechanisms available to them under existing powers. Authorities can also employ their own parking attendants to enforce excess charges at paid-for parking meters on the streets, and few authorities yet do so. Those authorities which are introducing new parking controls—whether with meters, parking vouchers, or pay-and-display schemes—find that they can help to achieve their traffic objectives, as well as yield a satisfactory financial return.

I am not sure whether there is a demand for the changes that the hon. Lady suggests. Even if we had sound

'For Schedule 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (Prosecution and Punishment of Offenders) Part 1 (Offences under the Road Traffic Act) RTA section 143, there shall be substituted:
(1) Provision creating offence(2) General nature of offence(3) Mode of prosecution(4) Punishment(5) Disqualification(6) Endorsement(7) Penalty Points
Offences under the Road Traffic Act 1988 (continued)
RTA section 143Using motor vehicle while(a) summarily6 months or level 5DiscretionaryObligatory6–8
uninsured or unsecured against third-party risks(b) on indictment12 months or a fine or bothDiscretionaryObligatory8.'.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale , North Thanet

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 17 seeks to reintroduce a custodial sentence for driving while uninsured. This was thoroughly discussed in Committee and I do not want to detain the House long on the subject tonight. However, will my hon. Friend the Minister consider the great concern that has been expressed by the Magistrates Association, among others, about the inability to impose anything other than a fine for the free-standing offence of driving uninsured.

I am acutely aware that, in many cases, magistrates have powers to impose other sentences because driving uninsured occurs as an offence on its own on relatively rare occasions. However, there are slightly more than 200,000 convictions each year for driving uninsured, which leads me to believe that at any one time the number of people driving uninsured is somewhere in the region of 500,000. Apart from those involved in other offences—for example, theft of a car for use in a burglary or taking and driving away, which account for a number of cases—it is clear that there is a hard core of people who take a calculated risk. Rather like those who knowingly choose not to pay for a television licence, in the belief that they may get away with it, there is a hard core of people who decide, with malice evidence for extending our proposals beyond London, it is by no means certain that we would want to limit those powers to metropolitan districts in the way that the new clause does. Why should they be singled out? If the principle were agreed, it would be reasonable to consider extending the powers to the counties as well.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock , Lewisham, Deptford

We limited powers to the metropolitan districts because we have received evidence that it is in those areas that the problem is perceived as being worse. That is the reason for the limitation in the new clause.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

I hear what the hon. Lady says, but it is not necessary to repeat why the Government feel that the new clause should not be accepted. It does not mean that some of the powers that will soon be implemented in London may not be applicable to provincial areas at some stage in the future. We are not ruling that out, but it would be wrong to include the new clause in the Bill.

Question put and negatived.