I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further provision about penalties relating to parking on private land;
to make provision about compliance with notices concerning parking for disabled people on private land;
and for connected purposes.
I want to make it clear from the outset that people who provide private parking spaces on their land should be able to protect them. Many businesses are affected by people who park vehicles on their land and create problems. Pubs, shops and businesses in town centres want to ensure that their customers can park, and we need to make sure that they have the right to do that. It is important for businesses to protect their parking spaces for their customers and employees.
Many organisations use private security companies to enforce parking regulations on their land. The Private Security Industry Act 2001 provides for the regulation of such matters. It also provides for the security industry authority to license organisations that undertake immobilising and clamping activity in private car parks.
In addition to holding a valid security industry authority licence, vehicle immobilisers must observe specific requirements. First, a vehicle must not be clamped, blocked or towed if it displays a valid disabled badge or if it is a marked as an emergency services vehicle that is in use as such. Secondly, any licence holder who collects a release fee must provide a receipt, which must include: the location of the clamping or towing; the name and signature of the person who clamped the vehicle; the licence number of the organisation that carried out the clamping, and the date on which it happened. The immobiliser must wear a licence. Those who work without a licence commit a criminal offence, which is punishable on conviction by a fine of up to £5,000, six months' imprisonment or both.
The problem is that there is no clarity about the sort of signage that private clamping companies have to provide on sites before clamping is undertaken. There is no standard process. The fees are also a problem. The legislation simply states that fees should be "reasonable". That causes several difficulties.
The BBC in the midlands has recently undertaken some work in Birmingham to examine the operation of private clamping in the city. It got a woman driver to park a vehicle on a privately owned space and leave the scene. Almost immediately, the clampers from a private company emerged and began to tow away the vehicle. The woman returned to be told that she had to pay hundreds of pounds in cash to the company to release the vehicle and that she would be escorted to a cash machine to make the payment. When she said that she could not pay, she was left to make her own way home alone late at night. The company's behaviour was clearly unacceptable. However, people will pay almost anything to get their car released.
My constituent, Paul Watling from Telford, was also caught out on an area of land in Birmingham. He fully acknowledged that he was parking in a private space. However, the signage on the site was poor and he had to pay £350 to get his car released from clamping. He was virtually frogmarched to the cash machine by some fairly aggressive and intimidating clamping agents.
The Bill proposes that clamping companies must inform the local authority in their area of activity of the scope, style and location of signs to be used on private land. I am trying to drive towards some standardisation of the signage in local authority areas. The Bill also proposes giving the local authority the power to set a range in which penalty fees should be set. Clearly, that may vary between different towns and cities, depending on the market and the scarcity of parking spaces. I believe that the decision should be made locally by the local authority. However, we should consider setting a maximum amount for such fees—£350 in cash is extortionate.
The second element of the Bill concerns the provision of disabled parking spaces on private land. The Department for Transport provides advice on the provision of spaces for disabled drivers. The Disability Discrimination Act requires service providers to take reasonable steps to ensure that disabled people can enjoy services. Department for Transport leaflet 5/95 suggests:
"For car parks associated with shopping areas, leisure or recreational facilities, and places open to the general public: A minimum of one space for each employee who is a disabled motorist, plus 6 per cent. of the total capacity for visiting disabled motorists. The numbers of designated spaces may need to be greater at hotels and sports stadia that specialise in accommodating groups of disabled people."
Most disabled persons' parking bays in off-street car parks, such as supermarket car parks, are not covered by blue badge scheme regulations. Such car parks and parking bays are likely to be privately owned and managed by the individual business: the agreement, and any cost to use them, will be between the owner and the motorist or customer.
If a disabled motorist or passenger complains to, for example, a supermarket that a non-disabled motorist has parked in a disabled bay, an employee of the store can ask the driver to move their car but cannot legally insist on it. In some instances, the owners of private car parks are reluctant to take action against people, because they think that it is bad for business. In my view, not providing bays for people with disabilities and mobility problems is bad for business. One of the problems is that spaces tend to be close to the store and people feel that they can park briefly in one of those spaces when they use a cash machine or pick up friends or family who have been shopping. Such behaviour is not acceptable.
A number of surveys have been conducted on the use and abuse of disabled parking bays in recent years. In 2005, a survey carried out by Baywatch found that one in five bays were being abused on supermarket sites. The Bill would require all owners of private car parks with disabled parking bays to have a clear written strategy on enforcement, which is available to the public on request. It would also require owners to submit an annual report on their enforcement activity to the local authority and the Disability Rights Commission or its successor bodies.
I have considered proposals to extend the blue badge scheme on to private land and, for example, supermarket car parks. My main concern about an extension of that scheme is that many authorities already find it difficult to enforce the provision on public car parks. The Bill does not therefore include such proposals. Supermarkets and other car park owners who provide disabled places are, however, drinking in the last chance saloon: they need to act more effectively, or we will have to bring in more draconian legislation.
In closing, may I thank Douglas Campbell, chairman of Mobilise, and John Pring of Disability Now for their help on this issue? I also thank Philip Davies, whose support for the Bill has been especially helpful. I am conscious that the House is fairly full this afternoon. To ensure that the next speaker can make his points, perhaps Members will leave the Chamber quietly once they have listened to the presentation of my Bill.
Question put and agreed to.