Consumer Protection (Private Car Parks) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 2:21 pm on 13th May 2011.

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Second Reading

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley 2:23 pm, 13th May 2011

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

I am acutely conscious that we have very little time left before the Adjournment debate, so I shall try to give the abridged version of a Second Reading speech. I am also conscious, while I am talking about time, that it was only just over a year ago that I was elected to this place and I would not have imagined that I would be presenting a private Member’s Bill on the provision of consumer protection and private car parks. Whenever I contribute in the Chamber, I try to bear reference to my experience as a constituency Member of Parliament and, in my time as a Member of Parliament, I have unfortunately come across a rogue car park operator in my constituency that, for the most minor infractions or for no offence at all, regularly issues motorists with apparent fines or at least demands for payment for very dubious reasons.

The operator often claims payment from motorists, saying that they did not purchase a ticket, but when a motorist produces evidence that they did indeed buy a pay-and-display ticket the operator says that it was not properly displayed and demands payment. Many people are, in essence, intimidated into parting with their money; demands are often made for £70 rising to £140 if the amount is not paid within two weeks. Many elderly and vulnerable people have been tricked into making a payment that is not a criminal fine but merely a demand from a private car park operator. Many fear for their credit rating, because they receive threatening letters, often with the claim that the company will send in the bailiffs.

When I raised the issue with the planning and licensing sections of my local authority, I was told that planning legislation does not allow local authorities properly to control the actions of such rogue private car park operators. Their operations are not covered by the licensing regime either.

Photo of David Nuttall David Nuttall Conservative, Bury North

Is it not the case that car park operators are required to identify through visible signs the status of the land on which they encourage people to park? The signs must show the terms that apply and any penalties for contravening them. If an individual falls foul of those obligations, in essence, they have only themselves to blame.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

I agree. If somebody contravenes the conditions for parking on private land, it is perfectly reasonable for the private operator to seek restitution. However, as I said earlier, operators often claim that people have not purchased a ticket when, in fact, they have, and demand payment. There are many responsible private car park operators, but I regret that a minority let down the industry.

Photo of Adam Afriyie Adam Afriyie Chair, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

I welcome the Bill, irrespective of the outcome today. In Windsor, we have a car park such as my hon. Friend describes, so I encourage him to make his case as forcefully as possible.

It is important that people have a sensible form of redress when they are incorrectly or unfairly treated by private car park operators.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support.

My instincts are not to reach for the statute book and additional regulation, but there is a gap in the legislation and it needs addressing. The provisions of my Bill would do that straightforwardly, at no additional cost to the taxpayer. The Bill would give local authorities a licensing function over the operation of publicly available paid-for car parking. Just as taxi companies or public houses are licensed, so too, through an application fee, could private car parks be licensed, to ensure that rogue operators behave responsibly.

People might say that surely the industry can regulate itself, and there is indeed a body—the British Parking Association—but it supports the Bill, because it recognises that self-regulation has not worked. Other organisations, such as Consumer Focus, the AA and the RAC, also support the Bill.

The Bill offers relief to the motorist, who can fall foul of the somewhat questionable practices of a minority of operators. Liverpool Victoria estimates that motorists are paying apparent fines or penalties of about £60 million a year. They should not be paying those penalties and they should have the right to appeal. With that brief conclusion, I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport 2:29 pm, 13th May 2011

I congratulate my hon. Friend Henry Smith on securing a Second Reading debate on his Bill. I fully understand many people’s concerns about a minority of car park operators and the activities that have given rise to the Bill.

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11( 2 )).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 21 October.