‘(1) This section applies if the parking code contains guidance recommending that all parking appeals are dealt with by a single person who is independent of persons providing private parking facilities.
(2) The Secretary of State may, for the purpose of enabling or facilitating persons to act in accordance with that guidance, enter into an agreement with any person who appears to the Secretary of State to be so independent for that person to deal with parking appeals.
(3) An agreement under this section may provide—
(a) for payments to be made by the Secretary of State in respect of dealing with parking appeals;
(b) for the person to have power to charge fees, payable by persons providing private parking facilities, for dealing with parking appeals;
(c) for the maximum amount of any fee chargeable by virtue of paragraph (b).
(4) A person authorised by an agreement under this section to deal with parking appeals may not authorise any other person to perform that function.
(5) In this section “parking appeals” means appeals against parking charges imposed by, or on behalf of, persons providing private parking facilities.’.—(Sir Greg Knight.)
The new clause provides that, if the parking code recommends that all appeals against parking charges are dealt with by a single independent person, the Secretary of State may enter into an agreement with such a person for that person to deal with appeals against parking charges.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 8, in clause 1, page 1, line 3, after “must” insert “use his best endeavour to.”
Amendment 1, in clause 6, page 3, line 14, leave out from “may” to “functions” in line 20 and insert “—
(a) enter into an agreement with a public authority authorising the authority to perform any functions of the Secretary of State under sections1 to4 (other than the function of laying a code or alteration before Parliament);
(b) enter into an agreement with a person authorising that person to perform any”
This amendment enables the Secretary of State to delegate functions relating to the investigation of breaches of the parking code to bodies that are not public authorities.
Amendment 2, in clause 6, page 3, line 28, leave out “public authority which is” and insert “person”
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.
Amendment 3, in clause 6, page 3, line 34, leave out “the final version of”
See the explanatory statement for Amendment 5.
Amendment 4, in clause 6, page 3, line 35, at end insert “for approval”
See the explanatory statement for Amendment 5.
Amendment 5, in clause 6, page 3, line 36, leave out “The” and insert “Once the Secretary of State has approved the code or alteration, the”
Amendments 3 to 5 make clear that, where the Secretary of State has delegated the function of preparing the parking code, the Secretary of State must approve the final version of the parking code (or any alteration to it) before it is laid before Parliament.
Amendment 6, in clause 7, page 4, line 3, at end insert—
“() where the Secretary of State has entered into an agreement with a person under section (Appeals against parking charges) (appeals against parking charges), the establishment and maintenance by the person of a service for dealing with parking appeals (within the meaning of that section).”
The effect of this amendment is that, where the Secretary of State enters into an agreement with a person for the person to deal with appeals against parking charges (see NC1), the costs of establishing and maintaining that parking appeals service may be defrayed out of the proceeds of the levy imposed on accredited parking associations.
Amendment 9, in clause 11, page 6, line 29, leave out from “force” to the end of line 30 and insert “two months after the day on which this Act is passed.”
Amendment 10, in clause 11, page 6, line 31, leave out subsection (3).
Following previous stages of our consideration of the Bill, and having received a number of representations, it is apparent to me that it can and should be strengthened further. One point of concern that has been raised, including by Stephen Doughty and my hon. Friend Mike Wood, relates to the appeals services available to motorists. Currently, when a motorist receives a ticket, they must first go to the parking operator to challenge it. If the challenge is rejected, they may go on to an appeals service provided by whichever accredited trade association the parking operator is a member of. Parking on Private Land Appeals and the Independent Appeals Service are the appeals services of the British Parking Association and the International Parking Community respectively. However, POPLA does not operate in Scotland, so motorists who receive parking tickets from British Parking Association operators in Scotland are denied an independent appeals service entirely, which I do not think is right.
The Bill provides an opportunity to raise the standards of the private parking industry and create more consistency in the process. My amendments would expand that opportunity, providing the Secretary of State with the power to appoint a single appeals service for the whole industry, providing greater consistency for motorists in England, Scotland and Wales, as they would know exactly where to go when they want to appeal a private parking ticket.
May I be the first to congratulate my right hon. Friend on piloting his Bill thus far? Many of our constituents who are caught up in these schemes are among the most vulnerable. Will he reassure my constituents who have been caught up in the past that in future they will be able to go through a much clearer and more straightforward process?
I am happy to give that assurance and to confirm that the appeals process will be free of charge.
The new clause and amendment 6 are the substantive amendments and would allow the Secretary of State to appoint a single appeals service for the private parking industry. They would also amend the proposed levy powers in order to use the levy to cover the costs of establishing and maintaining such an appeals service. Amendments 1 to 5, which also stand in my name, are largely technical and would amend the Bill to allow the Government flexibility to delegate their functions for investigating breaches of the code. They would also ensure that, where the Secretary of State has delegated the function of preparing the code of practice, they must still approve the final version of the parking code.
The current provisions mean that the Minister can delegate only to a public authority, but my amendments would allow the delegation of the investigatory function to private bodies. That would allow subject matter experts from private industry to conduct the function, thus offering a greater range of options and value for money. Lastly, my final amendments cover where the Secretary of State has delegated the code of practice, as I have said, but is still required to give final approval to it. I commend my new clause and amendments to the House.
May I address some remarks to the amendments in my name, particularly amendments 7 and 8 to clause 1? Like everybody else in the Chamber, I think this is a really good piece of legislation, but it is dependent on the good will of the Government to ensure that something actually happens.
Too often, we pass legislation in this House, and months or years later we find that nothing much has happened as far as the Government are concerned. I give as an example the primary legislation passed in this House to limit public sector exit payments to £95,000. That was contained in the Enterprise Act 2016. The Government have still not implemented that provision. Despite promises more than a year ago that they were about to bring forward regulations, they have not even fulfilled those promises. The most recent information I have is that there will be a write-round before Christmas, and then they may have a consultation on the regulations next year. When the Government say, “Yes, we’re definitely going to do something about this”, as they did when that law was passed, there is quite often a gap between what is said and the reality.
It is against that background that I am seeking, in amendments 7 and 8, to tighten up the requirements on the Government to bring forward the code of practice. Currently, all the Bill says is:
“The Secretary of State must prepare a code of practice containing guidance”.
However, he may not prepare that code of practice for many months or many years, and we should learn from past mistakes.
May I just say to my hon. Friend that so far, throughout this whole process, I have found the Government very helpful, with no sign of procrastination? Indeed, they have been very astute in already seeking views and starting the consultation process, with a working group looking at some of these aspects. I am certain his fears are misfounded.
I hope that is so. One way of establishing that my right hon. Friend is right would be if the Government readily accept amendments 7 and 8. Doing so would reinforce the good will of the Government in ensuring that they will bring forward their parking code in good time.
That is exactly the purpose of my amendments.
“within twelve months of the day on which this Act is passed”,
must prepare a code of practice. That is pretty clear in bringing in a time limit and a requirement. I hope the Minister will be able to give an undertaking that the Government will bring forward a code of practice within 12 months. Some people may be impatient and say that they want it sooner, but under the terms of the Bill the Government have to consult before producing a code of practice, so I think it is reasonable to allow a period for the code of practice to be drawn up and consulted on.
If the amendment goes too far and is too extreme for the Government, amendment 8 is a modification as it would mean that the Secretary of State must “use his best endeavour” to prepare a code of practice. I do not know whether the Minister will say that those words are a meaningless addition, or that they would impose too tight a legal requirement on the Secretary of State.
As always, my hon. Friend and neighbour considers these matters carefully, and I am listening carefully to his proposals. Given that the Bill’s sponsor has received reassurance on this point, surely the phrase “best endeavour” would be otiose, because the Government and the excellent Minister have said that these things will be brought forward. We simply do not need those words.
May I say gently to my hon. Friend that if his amendments are accepted, they may cause some difficulty? If the Bill becomes law, the Government will need to go through a procurement process, which will take several months. The arbitrary time limit that he seeks to impose might mean that that procurement process could not properly take place.
With greatest respect, perhaps my right hon. Friend’s point is relevant to my other amendments that relate to the time the Act must be passed. I do not see how having to go through a procurement process will interfere with the code of practice, unless the Government propose to delegate the drawing up of that code to some consultant—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend says that the Government might want to do that. They might also feel the need to comply with the European Union procurement directive on this matter, but that is speculation.
My right hon. Friend has been—not obsessed, but very concerned about the abuse of private parking facilities for a long time, and this is a great opportunity to get legislation on the statute book and get something done. However, I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends who have great trust in the Government, that even if the Minister does not obstruct the Bill and exercises good will, as we have seen with public sector exit payments, there can be a big gap regarding those good intentions. I think the whole House supported the idea of a £95,000 cap on exit payments, yet two and a half years later there is no sign of that coming into effect, and the latest projection is that it will be sometime next year.
That very challenging question is not dissimilar to the questions that I asked the Government and Prime Minister about what enforcement mechanism there will be to ensure that “best endeavours” as referred to in the withdrawal agreement will be implemented. In answer to a parliamentary question from me, the Minister replied on
“The reference to best endeavours in Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement is a legally binding commitment that requires the United Kingdom and the EU to conduct themselves so that the negotiations on the future relationship are meaningful. It prohibits inflexible or obstructive behaviour and obliges the parties to pay reasonable regard to the interests of the other party.”
So in answer to the hon. Gentleman, that is the precedent that would be established. If he thinks that that is full of clarity, then I am sure he will be eager to support my amendment.
Presumably, whether best endeavours have been followed in the Brexit negotiations is likely to capture slightly more media coverage than whether best endeavours have been used in the introduction of the civil car parking code of practice.
With the greatest respect, I do not understand why my hon. Friend says that. According to the Government, “best endeavours” is a legal term, so why can we not incorporate it in the Bill in the same way that it has been proposed that it should be incorporated in the EU withdrawal legislation?
My point is that in this instance best endeavours would always be in the eye of the beholder. The hon. Gentleman does not explain, in his amendments, how Ministers could be judged on whether they had used their best endeavours and what the consequences of any such judgment would be. Therefore, as an amendment—I know he is very careful about these sorts of things—it does not survive minimal scrutiny.
In my submission, if an aggrieved member of the public felt that the Government had not been using their best endeavours to bring forward the code of practice and were thereby delaying the implementation of the will of Parliament, it would be open to that person to raise the matter by way of a judicial review, so there would be an enforcement mechanism.
Is this amendment not a licence to take power away from this House and put it into the courts? This House should be responsible for its own legislation. If there had been a failure of a dilatory nature from the Government, then my hon. Friend could no doubt call them to account in this House. However, ceding power to the courts to make a decision on whether best endeavours have been used seems to me to be a complete abdication of responsibility.
What my hon. Friend says is interesting if one applies the analogy of best endeavours to what is being discussed in the context of article 184 of the EU withdrawal agreement. In answer to another parliamentary question, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris the Minister with responsibility for exiting the European Union stated:
“the primary remedy would be that the party in default would be obliged to return to the negotiating table and modify its position. In the event that there was further non-compliance, remedies may be imposed under the processes established by the withdrawal agreement.”
It may be that my amendment is just as weak as article 184 of the proposed EU withdrawal agreement seems to be.
I think my hon. Friend is seeing shadows on the wall where they do not exist. The Government have made it quite clear that they are very supportive of the Bill. If I give him an undertaking to harass the Minister and make his life a misery if I think he is dragging his feet, will my hon. Friend not press his amendments?
Is my right hon. Friend saying that he himself will undertake to harass the Minister? I am afraid that in the past my efforts at harassing the Government have proved manifestly unsuccessful. Of course, my right hon. Friend carries with him the distinction of being a former Deputy Chief Whip, so perhaps he has more influence than I have.
My hon. Friend should not be so dismissive of his own impact. As he will know, I was a sponsor of the Middle Level Bill, which is now the Middle Level Act 2018. His dutiful use of the procedures of the House ensured that it was a changed Bill. We do not necessarily need this at the moment, because we can rely on him being a dutiful parliamentarian, scrutinising constantly and ensuring that the House holds the Government to account for implementing the law that is passed.
Gosh, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am being flattered into submission. Perhaps this is an appropriate moment to say that the Government have also conceded on the amendment that my hon. Friend Mr Bone and I tabled saying that we need more Fridays on which to consider private Members’ Bills. That amendment has been accepted by the Government, and I understand that they are going to put forward a motion for debate on Monday that incorporates it. I can accept—
Order. It is important that we stick to the amendments in front of us rather than what might be amendments elsewhere in future debates.
I shall use my best endeavours to comply with your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I think that was a useful walk around amendments 7 and 8. Let me refer briefly to the other amendments in my name, which deal with when the Bill has to be enacted. At the moment, clause 11, on the commencement, extent and short title, says that “section 8” and
“any power to make regulations” will come in
“on the day on which this Act is passed”.
However, the clause also states that the
“remaining provisions of this Act come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations appoint.”
My amendment suggests that that should be two months after the day on which the Act is passed, again to ensure that the pressure is kept on the Government to bring the measures forward as quickly as possible. There is massive public demand for them, and I fear that if we do not tie the Government’s hands a bit more than the Bill does currently, we may have to rely, to a very great extent, on the muscle power of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire. I do not really think we want to have to do that, which is why I tabled the amendments. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
I congratulate Sir Greg Knight on his commitment to ensuring that we have parity and fairness in private parking—it is matched only by his dexterity on the drum kit and his ability to keep time in the parliamentary rock band, MP4. This is a very fine Bill, and I will come to the code of practice on Third Reading, because it is really important that we get a better understanding of the Government’s intentions on the code of practice, which is a most important feature.
I support the right hon. Gentleman on new clause 1 and the subsequent amendment. It is very important to ensure that we get clarity on the appeals process. He is right that we are not covered by POPLA in Scotland. If a car parking operator is part of the independent parking community, we can appeal to the Independent Appeals Service, but that leaves a rather big gap in the opportunities in Scotland to appeal against some of these parking restrictions.
The right hon. Gentleman will know my interest in all this. The city of Perth is totally plagued by private parking companies, making life a misery for my constituents and the many people who come to visit that beautiful city. It is important that we get the Bill done and address this issue. On appeals, a member of staff who works in my office in Perth spends a good part of his day having to deal with complaints and assist people with appeals about the operation of parking companies in my constituency. Something has to be done. The procedure is that someone can appeal against private parking operators, but they are self-regulating. It is up to them whether they take it seriously and to make a ruling and a judgment if they think it is fair—if they think the appeal should be progressed—and then to make a response to the complainant. Clearly, that course of action is unsatisfactory.
This comes down to the British Parking Association’s set of regulations. It introduced POPLA in England and Wales several years ago, which, as I have said, does not cover Scotland. People can appeal to POPLA only if they have failed to secure a successful outcome in appealing to the private parking operator in the first place, and there is a £20 charge. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that the new independent appeals process that he outlines in the new clause will be free of charge. That is important, because I have seen some of these fines range to over £100—I think the top one I have seen, at the end of one of the very many threatening letters that are used by debt collection companies, was in the region of £140 to £160. The added cost of the appeal is another burden and feature that has to be endured by the hard-pressed motorist.
I think 50% of MP4—[Interruption]—sorry, 75% of them are in the Chamber. Perhaps they will give a rendition before the end of the debate. Can I check, whatever we agree, that the measure will apply in Scotland, and the Scottish Parliament will back it?
Absolutely; it is important that that happens. At the beginning of his speech, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire mentioned that a legislative consent motion has been passed in the Scottish Parliament to ensure that this Bill covers Scotland and that those aspects that require this House to legislate on behalf of the Scottish Parliament are secure. Every part of the Bill applies to Scotland, so it will be national, which is important for many of the fine English visitors who come to my constituency and enjoy the delights of Perthshire. They will be protected if they park in my constituency, and will have the same rights of appeal and process as everyone else.
The hon. Gentleman has set out very clearly the concerns in his constituency. He has been an MP slightly longer than I have, but is he shocked by the sheer amount of correspondence in his inbox and postbag on parking charges? The Bill gives us a chance, particularly in Scotland, where the appeals process is slightly more iffy, to achieve clarity and fairness for our constituents against many of those—as he rightly says—rogue independent parking operators.
Absolutely. It is not just my city of Perth—I understand that there are issues across Scotland, where we have particular difficulties. I will come on to rogue operators on Third Reading, as it is important that they are identified and sharp practice is outlined to the House. What has happened is clearly a problem, and the hon. Gentleman is right that we require these measures. That is why I am proud to sponsor the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, and it is really important that we get it through the House today. I am pleased that we are here to ensure that a thoroughly good Bill gets through the House.
As ever, the hon. Gentleman is making an eloquent and passionate defence of the Bill, which is excellent. A few moments ago, he mentioned the threatening letters that were sent. Does he agree that, like my constituents, his more robust constituents can shrug them off, but the more vulnerable are caught up, and for them the charges, when set out in detail, are more worrying and impactful if they end up having to pay them?
Absolutely. I have seen examples of correspondence from debt collection agencies, and the increasingly aggressive and intimidating tone that is taken in subsequent letters. It gets to a stage where some of my constituents and visitors to my constituency feel that they may be taken out and shot at dawn because they tried to park a car in a parking space. I wish to return to this, because the Minister will probably have hopeful things to say about debt collection. I understand that that is one of the areas he is looking at, and I hope to secure good news from him on Third Reading about how that will be incorporated in the code of practice so that we can end the more intimidating features of debt collection agencies.
I do not want to say anything else other than to totally support the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire in what he is trying to achieve in his amendments. May I tell Sir Christopher Chope, who is engaged in a conversation with his Whip, that I do not think that I can support him? That is a shame, because we have both served on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. He was a doughty and—I shall use the term—challenging Member to the Chair, as I was at that point. I very much enjoyed his contribution, as he scrutinises things personally and ensures that he tries to test things to the absolute limit, but I do not think that I can support him, given all the concerns about procurement raised by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire. I understand that that is not decided yet, and there might be a need for such measures, but I cannot support anything that might get in the way of the Bill taking effect.
Reflecting the comments made by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, the Minister has been nothing other than totally efficient and effective in dealing with the Bill. He has responded generously, which is an example to other Departments and Ministers when we try to get such legislation through the House. If he is prepared to say that this is happening within the timescale allocated in the Bill, I would be more than happy and satisfied, having worked with him and seen the way in which he approaches these issues. I encourage the hon. Member for Christchurch not to press his amendments, as they would not have the support of practically anyone in the House, but I am more than happy to support the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire.
I want to speak, very briefly, about new clause 1 and amendment 6. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight on the progress that his Bill has made, and particularly congratulate him on the new clause and amendment, which clarify the possibilities for a truly independent appeals procedure.
Landowners clearly have a right to decide on reasonable and fair terms for the way in which their land is used, but, as we know from our constituency postbags and email inboxes, in too many cases those terms do not seem fair. The processes for contesting unfairly issued parking tickets are expensive and drawn out, and motorists who are willing to contest a ticket through the courts take a disproportionate risk in the form of a dramatic escalation from the original fine as well as, of course, the legal costs. While we would not wish to prejudge the outcome of the parking code, one possibility that should be considered is the handling of appeals by a single independent person, and the measures allowing that person to be appointed and the funds to come from fees collected from the private operators covered by the scheme are therefore sensible.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that generous intervention, but I fear that it may be a little too generous. The work that he and his team, and Ministers, have done has been key to the Bill.
I will certainly support both my right hon. Friend’s amendments and the Bill’s Third Reading, but I am afraid that I do not find myself able to support amendment 8, tabled by my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope. I think that we have a responsibility to ensure as far as possible that the provisions in our legislation are enforceable, and I therefore question the wisdom of legislative provisions requiring best endeavours on the part of the Government, although I have no doubt whatsoever that Ministers will at all times exercise such best endeavours. I am particularly reassured by the undertakings given by my right hon. Friend to harry Ministers if that becomes necessary, and I am in absolutely no doubt that he is perfectly capable of making Ministers’ lives a misery, just as he has promised.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in support of this important Bill, and I commend Sir Greg Knight for his hard work in championing it and enabling it to reach this stage. I also congratulate all the Members who have worked on it with him.
The Bill will, I hope, lead to long overdue change in the car parking industry. It is alarming to hear from Citizens Advice that parking companies are issuing 13 times more tickets than were issued a decade ago. This is a business model that is designed to exploit motorists rather than fulfilling its purpose. It is a case of several cowboy parking companies treating motorists in the most unfair terms, and it cannot be allowed to continue. Throughout our debates we have heard of a range of problems that motorists have faced, from poor signage and broken machines to appeal systems that lack transparency and fail to apply any common sense. Today we have the opportunity to ensure fairness for British motorists.
I support the Bill. Does my hon. Friend agree that some of these car parks are set up to trap motorists and lure them in? Their real aim is to get motorists not to pay the parking fee, but to pay the fine.
I totally agree. It can be difficult for the general public to understand these machines; they are set up to be confusing and then people get trapped. We are passing a Bill that will oblige the Government to introduce a new statutory code of practice to spell out what behaviours can be reasonably expected from private car parking operators.
As the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, who is in charge of this Bill, highlighted on Second Reading, there are almost 19 million journeys a day that end at a parking space. This is truly a Bill that will affect almost every person in this country in some way; it is an issue that hugely affects my constituents in Warrington South, as it affects the constituents of many other Members here. I have been contacted by a number of people who have told me of issues they have faced with parking companies. In most of these cases, my constituents are being penalised for breaking an obscure term of the car park, or they are being falsely accused of not purchasing a parking ticket.
One constituent told me that she had purchased a ticket but made a genuine mistake and failed to enter her vehicle registration number correctly. As a result, my constituent was sent a number of letters threatening court action if she did not pay a substantial fine. Despite the innocence of her mistake, the letters scared my constituent into offering up the money.
Such threatening and exploitative behaviour is totally unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue, and this is far from a one-off incident. I have been contacted by several constituents who made similar mistakes, often entering a single digit or character of their vehicle registration incorrectly, and have then been faced with fines and threatening letters.That is wholly unacceptable, especially as these mistakes are often made because of parking companies’ deliberately misleading signage and complicated machines.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight on introducing this timely Bill.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about parking companies that almost set motorists up to fail to be able to meet their terms, but it is not just the small operators who do this. It is alleged that NCP—National Car Parks—in the centre of Crawley has been charging motorists for illegal parking when it does not even have planning permission for the CCTV to monitor those cars. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the large companies must also comply with best practice?
I totally agree: all operators, whether large, medium-sized or small, should be part of this code of practice.
Some of my constituents are being targeted with letters demanding money and threatening court action. Indeed, some people have contacted me to tell me that the situation has become so bad that motorists are being discouraged from visiting some of the town centres for fear of being targeted by rogue parking companies. This is a deeply sorry state of affairs; it is bad for my constituents and bad for our local economy, especially in the run-up to the festive season. High streets and town centres are already struggling. Rather than coming into town to spend money on the high street, people are choosing to stay at home and shop online.
The regulation of private parking companies that this Bill proposes is long overdue, and I am pleased that it has secured cross-party support. If this Bill is passed today, it will be welcomed not only across this House, but across the country. It is good to see that in a time of much division in this place there are still opportunities for colleagues to put aside their differences and work together to improve the lives of their constituents.
What a pleasure it is to follow Faisal Rashid and his excellent contribution. I could not agree more with the points that he has made, and I entirely endorse this Bill. I just want to make a few additional remarks. The overarching point —it has been indicated before but it bears emphasis—is that so many of these companies are a law unto themselves, and it is important to iterate the distress and concern that their actions can cause. When someone is faced with what looks like an official letter demanding considerable sums of money, they can become enormously distressed by that. The concern is that these individuals are making these demands on an entirely specious basis, and I want to give the House two examples—
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is about to come to the amendments. We are now discussing the amendments that have been tabled by Sir Greg Knight and Sir Christopher Chope, and we are all desperate to make our Third Reading speeches, which will deal with some of the finer features of the Bill. I want to know what Alex Chalk thinks about the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire’s fine amendment about the appeals process.
I will be getting to that point, but it is important to set the context as well.
My first example affects one of my own constituents. I was making a point about the distress that can be caused by these demands, many of which are being issued on a specious basis. I had a constituent in Cheltenham, in a road near Montpellier Terrace, who received a letter demanding that a fine be paid. However, it turned out that the company demanding the money was seeking to claim a parking ticket in respect of land that belonged to the person receiving the ticket. That was an extraordinary situation. In other words, the company had not bothered to check with the Land Registry to find out who owned the land. When I looked into it, it turned out that the parking company had been called in because of a vexatious neighbour dispute. The neighbour had called in the parking company to try to get at his own neighbour. This is a prime example of why we need a sensible system of regulation, to ensure that the system is not misused in that way.
The second example that I want to give, before turning expeditiously to the amendments that Pete Wishart has mentioned, relates to my own situation. Seven years after the event, a parking company wrote to me to suggest that my car, which had long since been sold on, had been wrongly parked. I knew that this area of law was covered by contract law, and that this was way out of time in any event, even if the underlying suggestion was correct. The truth is, I could not remember, because it had happened seven years previously. However, such an episode would be upsetting for people who did not have that knowledge and who would not realise that such a demand was time-barred.
I shall now turn to the new clause and the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, whom I congratulate on bringing forward this brilliant Bill. He is right to have a single point of appeal; that is enormously sensible. There is not a great deal that I want to add to that, other than to say that I hope that the clause will be flexible enough to ensure that there are sufficient resources to deal with these points. The reason I say that is that new clause 1(1) states:
“This section applies if the parking code contains guidance recommending that all parking appeals are dealt with by a single person who is independent of persons providing private parking facilities.”
All I can say is that I hope there will be more than one person, because there are likely to be a great number of appeals. I hope that it will be appropriate for the singular to include the plural. I am sure that that point will be dealt with, but there needs to be more than one person.
I also want to deal with the proposal from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch about the use by the Secretary of State of “his best endeavour”. I understand the logic behind his proposal, but I respectfully suggest that it is unnecessary in this case. The point has been made that there is a danger of seeing ghosts where none exists, so to speak. The wider point, however, is that, were this provision to be required, it would surely be required in every piece of legislation that this House passes. That would transfer power from this House, where hon. Members can properly hold the Executive to account for allegedly dilatory behaviour, to outside the House because, as my hon. Friend rightly acknowledges, the issue would become justiciable. We could then have a situation where a person could serve a writ suggesting that the Government had not used best endeavours to bring legislation into effect, which would cost a huge amount of time, expense and inconvenience. More importantly, this House would effectively be precluded from discussing it, because it would then be a matter under discussion by the High Court, which would be an unsatisfactory state of affairs.
As ever, my hon. Friend is using his forensic intellect to consider these matters, but is not the situation worse than that? Even if it were justiciable, the phrase “best endeavour” is simply too vague. It would be impossible to judge, as Kevin Brennan pointed out in an earlier exchange, whether a Minister had or had not used best endeavour.
Absolutely right. The Court would not thank this House at all for requiring it to make that kind of assessment. One could imagine how the evidence would have to be provided on both sides. The Minister would provide timelines, and then the Court might have to consider what the Opposition had to say. How on earth would the Court be meant to make a judgment?
Does the hon. Gentleman suspect, as I do, that Sir Christopher Chope has tabled his amendments to make a point about Brexit, rather than about this Bill? We would therefore forgive him if, at this stage, he chose not to press his amendments, having made that point so well in his contribution today.
The hon. Gentleman recognises that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is a Member of great distinction and resourcefulness. It may just be possible that that is his intention. If it is his intention, he has certainly made the point with his customary eloquence and effectiveness. Yes, I think this would be an excellent moment for him to recognise that the point is made, and he could therefore graciously not press his amendments.
My amendment 8, which seeks to incorporate the phrase “best endeavour”, is completely nugatory in terms of legality or enforceability, and I take the point made by Kevin Brennan and by my hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson that “best endeavour” is a meaningless phrase. I therefore will not press the amendment. We would not want to litter our statute book with meaningless phrases, whether it be in the withdrawal Act or in this Bill.
That was elegantly done. Well, on that basis, I do not have much more to say. I have made the points I wanted to make.
With the Bill being improved in the way that has been proposed, I end by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire. This is past time, and the Bill will be welcomed in my constituency, by the constituent I mentioned, by me and, I am sure, by Members on both sides of the House.
It is wonderful when both sides of the House come together to support and put in place legislation that will make a practical difference to the day-to-day lives of the millions of people we represent. In that vein, I wholeheartedly congratulate my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight on highlighting this issue, and on the tenacity and diligence with which he has brought the issue to the Floor of the House and to Committee. I pay tribute to him, and many people will be grateful for his efforts.
I will speak briefly now, and perhaps respond to hon. Members’ comments more generally on Third Reading. For now, I will limit my remarks to the various new clauses and amendments.
New clause 1 will appoint a single appeals service to create further clarity for consumers, giving a well-signposted route to appeal a private parking ticket. I am delighted on behalf of the Government to support the new clause. It and the associated amendments will ensure that there is a fair, transparent and consistent appeals service for motorists. This has been warmly welcomed by consumer groups and the parking industry alike.
I am pleased to tell the House that Steve Gooding, the director of the RAC Foundation, has said:
“we particularly welcome the proposal for a single, independent appeals service, which, together with a single, clear code of practice should establish a better, clearer framework and a level playing field that is fairer for all”.
The foundation has challenged the effectiveness of self-regulation in the parking industry. Only this week, it drew attention to the fact that in the second quarter of the financial year, private parking companies sought yet another record number of vehicle keeper details from the DVLA with which to pursue ordinary drivers and motorists.
The chief executive of one of the industry’s leading trade associations, the British Parking Association, has said that the association welcomes the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, commenting that they
“chime with our call for a single standard body, single code of practice and a single independent appeals service. This framework provides a unique opportunity to deliver greater consistency and consumer confidence”.
The BPA looks forward to pushing
“for a positive outcome for all.”
It is therefore with pleasure that the Government can support new clause 1.
I am also pleased to support, on behalf of the Government, amendments 1 to 6, which are pragmatic alterations that will support the Bill’s delivery through secondary legislation. They will give the Secretary of State the ability to delegate functions to non-public bodies, such as experts in auditing, as seems eminently sensible. They will clarify the role of the Secretary of State, in that he or she will have final approval of the code of practice and any subsequent alterations that will be submitted to Parliament. Finally, as my right hon. Friend stated, the amendments will expand the existing levy under the Bill to cover the cost of appointing and maintaining a single appeals service. The Government support all the amendments.
Let me turn briefly to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope. I welcome his broad support for the Bill’s measures, and share his commitment to, and enthusiasm for, ensuring that the measures start making a practical difference to people as soon as possible. However, following the arguments that have already been made by various Members on both sides of the House, I, too, do not believe that the amendments are necessary. I can personally assure my hon. Friend that the Government and I are committed to creating and publishing a code of practice for the private parking industry as soon as is practically possible. I can confirm that considerable work has already gone into this, and I will happily walk the House through that in a second.
More generally, placing an arbitrary timeline on the process of developing a code and implementing the Bill would compromise our ability to make sure that the Bill comes into force in the way that we want it to, and with the impact that we all desire it to have. For example, a consultation with the public is necessary. Given the scale and volume of the correspondence to our postbags and email inboxes, which are already full regarding this topic, one can imagine that that consultation will be of extreme importance to many people whom we represent. They will want time to have their say, and we should make sure that that is possible. Furthermore, as has already been outlined, procurement practices might be required, and if they should be required, they will be subject to statutory timelines that need to be obeyed. Lastly, if the code of practice was going to put in place new provisions around such things as standard signage, standard forms of parking tickets or standard language, it would be appropriate for a suitable transition period to be put in place to allow companies to adjust to the new, fairer measures.
I cannot give my hon. Friend a precise answer to that question, simply because, in the first instance, I am not in control of the parliamentary process in the other place, as he will be aware.
However, what I can do for my hon. Friend and the House is to give some evidence as to the pace and commitment with which I and my team are working on this issue. My predecessor, my hon. Friend Mr Jones, had already, even before the Bill’s Second Reading, asked the director of the RAC Foundation to form a working group to start developing an outline code of practice. That working group contains multiple stakeholders from across the industry, including the two main trade associations—the BPA and the International Parking Community—the Welsh and Scottish Governments, and bodies such as People’s Parking, the RAC Foundation, the traffic penalty consortium, the British Retail Consortium, and the DVLA. The body has already met four times—each time extensively, for over two hours—to debate all the issues. I personally have spent time with the director of the RAC Foundation and the BPA, and I am shortly to meet the IPC. My officials have had more than 30 bilateral meetings with members of the working group. At my instigation, my officials have hosted a parking operator roundtable in the Department to fully engage the industry to help to develop the code of practice.
All that work has not been in vain. It has informed a draft code of practice, which has already been published and shared with the Public Bill Committee, and I would be delighted to place a copy of it in the Library for hon. Members to see. I hope that, collectively, this will give all hon. Members the reassurance they need that the Government and I are firmly committed to developing this code of practice, and ensuring that the legislation is enacted as quickly and practically as is possible.
I thank all Members who have contributed today, in Committee and on Second Reading. That has helped to inform the draft code of practice. Every conversation I have had about this issue, every piece of correspondence and any example that I have heard about has fed into how we will develop the code. We can discuss this on Third Reading, but I am pleased to say that almost all the examples I have heard about today will be dealt with in the code of practice, whether we are talking about poor signage, grace periods, threatening letters purporting to be from solicitors, or indeed the relationship with debt collectors and bailiffs. The new code of practice can solve those practical problems.
I pay tribute again to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire for all his work. I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am delighted the Government can support the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will not wish to press his amendments to a Division, in view of the reassurances I have given.
Thank you. It is very good to have clarity for the Chair.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.