Levy for recovery of administrative and investigation costs

Parking (Code of Practice) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:00 pm on 23 November 2018.

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Amendment made: 6, 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).” —(Sir Greg Knight.)

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.

Third Reading

Queen’s consent signified.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire 1:02, 23 November 2018

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

We have had a good-natured and constructive debate throughout our proceedings, and I wish to thank everyone who has taken part. In particular, but not exclusively, I would thank the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), and his predecessor, who first indicated to me that the Government were willing to support this measure. I also wish to thank Sarah McLean and Phillip Dunkley, her predecessor, who managed the Bill in the Department and have been very helpful to me. There are many other people I wish to thank: Steve Gooding of the RAC Foundation; my parliamentary colleagues who served on the Committee; members of the advisory group, which I have also attended and played a part in, who have discussed these matters; and, last, but certainly not least, the official Opposition for their support for this measure, the Scottish National party and my hon. Friend Pete Wishart—and he is my hon. Friend—who pledged his support, and my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan, who is also my hon. Friend and is a sponsor of the Bill. I am also grateful to the many people throughout the country who have contacted me with stories of how they have been unfairly treated by parking operators under the current voluntary regime.

As I have said, parking is an indispensable part of motoring, as if someone undertakes a journey in a vehicle, they will need to park it. According to the DVLA, there are 38 million vehicles on our roads, approximately 19 million of which will be driven each day and will then undertake at least one parking transaction. The number of penalty notices issued every year from private car parks continues rise, so it is essential that the Bill makes further progress. It is essential that those who park on private land are treated fairly and uniformly.

Motorists should have certainty that when they enter a car park, they are entering into a contract that is reasonable and transparent, and that involves a consistent process. That is not just my view: in 2015, some 78% of respondents to the Department’s discussion paper on private sector off-street parking stated that there were significant problems with how the sector conducts its business. Poor signage, unreasonable terms, exorbitant so-called fines, aggressive demands for payment and opaque appeals processes need properly to be outlawed.

Some private parking operators still deploy tactics that are clearly unacceptable. I have previously referred to an appalling case involving a pensioner called Angela, whose car was ticketed for £70 for exceeding the time permitted in the car park. Angela is 5 feet tall and although she had not initially noticed the parking sign, when she came back to her car she looked for it. It was mounted so high up on a pole that she could not read what it said. That is clearly unacceptable.

Another motorist, Mr O’Keefe, whose case I have also mentioned before, was driving on a private industrial estate, searching for a particular business that he was having difficulty finding. He stopped in an empty lay-by for around 15 seconds to reset his satellite navigation system and was filmed by a passing security van equipped with a video camera. One week later, he received a penalty invoice for £100 for stopping in breach of a sign that was situated not in the lay-by itself, but some distance further along the road. He realised that he had passed it at 30 mph. The parking company accepts that he was parked for only around 15 seconds, but when he used its appeals procedure, he still received threatening letters.

Faisal Rashid mentioned one of many cases in which usually pensioners, although not always—some of the cases that have come to my attention have involved pensioners—type one digit of their registration number into the machine incorrectly and the machine does not allow for any correction of the details already entered. The fee is nevertheless paid, but a ticket is issued. So, for many people, parking on private land can be a traumatic and expensive business.

One of the reasons why we need a mandatory code now is that technology is being used to provide evidence. The growing misuse of automatic number plate recognition cameras is a particular worry to me. Cameras ostensibly enable private parking companies to keep a record of exactly how long a motorist has remained in a car park and provide photographic evidence if they exceed the time they have paid for. They say that the camera never lies, but things are not always as they seem.

In one car park at a fast food restaurant in Nottinghamshire that is policed by CCTV, drivers are told they must not enter the car park when the restaurant is closed. However, the signage telling them that is located inside the carpark itself, along with the details of the opening times of the restaurant, making it impossible for a motorist to know before they enter the car park whether they will receive a private parking notice.

At another private car park at a fast food outlet in Enfield, a driver was recently issued with a parking charge notice for overstaying. In this case, the motorist visited the restaurant twice in one day. The ANPR cameras recorded her leaving the car park on the first visit and returning for the second. By using the photos the wrong way around, the car park operators tried to charge her a penalty for a period when she was not even in the car park.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

My right hon. Friend is continuing to make a powerful argument. One of my constituents recently parked at a McDonald’s so that he could go in and complain that his drive-thru order was incorrect, and he received a penalty notice. It is not only the small rogue operators that abuse the system; some large companies are also sailing extremely close to the wind.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. These examples are all, clearly, very distressing for the motorist concerned, as are the language and the threats that are often used—a point made by my hon. Friend Alex Chalk. It is, however, important to remember that these companies have no legal power to fine motorists. That is something only the police, local councils and those enforcing railway byelaws can do. As a result, some private parking companies deliberately make their parking charges look very similar to official penalty charge notices. When the police or the local authority issue a fine, it will often be labelled as a “PCN”—a penalty charge notice—and may come in an official yellow cellophane wrapper. Some private companies are now using similar packaging and are even labelling their notices with the word, “PCN”, but this time it stands for parking charge notice. Often the term enforcement is used, but these companies do not have any enforcement powers.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

None of these companies would be able to operate in this way if they were not able to get access to the DVLA database. Why is nothing being done about that?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, when this Bill becomes law, as I hope it will, that is precisely what it will do: it will take away the right of a rogue company to seek vehicle keeper details, thereby putting it out of business.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the whole purpose of this Bill—I will come on to this in my own speech in a minute—is to create a clear and single source for the code of practice and regulation so that the rogue operators cannot shop around, and also if those operators are not approved, they cannot approach the DVLA? What is at the absolute core of this Bill is stopping this flagrant abuse that is going on.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

Indeed that is the case. In reality, these private parking notices are not fines, but invoices. It is the law of contract that governs the relationship between the parking company and the customer, as has previously been said. In other words, they are a demand for payment, because the car parking company says that a driver has breached their terms and conditions. They are private parking notices, and the code should require them to be described as such in future, and I am sure that the Minister will do that and that those companies will not be able to use threatening language or imitate or copy a ticket received from the police.

My Bill is designed to bring these bad practices and bad behaviour to an end. It requires the Government to create a mandatory code of practice across the parking sector to end inconsistent practices and unfair treatment of motorists. It will ensure that the terms on which private parking is provided, including the rights and obligations of each party, are fair, clear and unambiguous. The mandatory code will assure drivers that private car park operators will in future treat them in a reasonable and proportionate manner. If they do not, motorists will have access to a robust and independent appeal service. As I have said to my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope, erring car park operators will be put out of business by being denied access to the DVLA database. May I repeat again that I am most grateful to have the support not only of the Government, but of the Official Opposition and the Scottish National party? I say to the House that, today, we can take a big step towards making private parking a fairer and more predictable experience for us all. I commend my Bill to the House.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons 1:13, 23 November 2018

Once again—this is now getting to become a feature—I congratulate Sir Greg Knight on progressing this Bill through the House with such dexterity, skill and consensus. I welcome the fact that, after today, this will soon become law. I also extend my congratulations to everyone involved, particularly to the Minister, who, as I mentioned in my earlier remarks, has been nothing other than consensual, effective and efficient in ensuring that this Bill has got through the House, and to everyone else who was on the Bill Committee with the right hon. Gentleman.

For me, this Bill cannot come soon enough. We need a firm of code of practice that will constrain the worst excesses of these private parking companies. I do not know what Perth has done to deserve the attention of some of the more sharper practices of the parking operators, but for far too long we have been blighted by some of the worst excesses of these parking operators. They almost act, until this Bill, as a law unto themselves. I refer to them as parking cowboys, because that is exactly what they are. They harass and frustrate our constituents and drive tourists away from our town and city centres.

I am sick and tired of receiving emails from people complaining about the behaviour of parking companies, telling me that they will never again visit Perth city centre because of the negative experience they had when they had the misfortune to end up in a car park operated by one of these companies. I have received more complaints about one car park in the city of Perth than about any other issue. That car park is operated by the lone ranger of the parking cowboys: the hated and appalling Smart Parking—I see that many other Members are unfortunate enough to have Smart Parking operating in their constituencies. It has reached the stage where one member of my staff now spends a good part of each day just helping my constituents and visitors to my constituency to navigate the appeals process.

Photo of Luke Graham Luke Graham Conservative, Ochil and South Perthshire

I am indeed the hon. Gentleman’s neighbour, and I can confirm that I, too, receive many complaints about that same operator, from constituents in South Perthshire and from people in Clackmannanshire who visit Perth. I therefore want to say how much I support the Bill. Hopefully our staff will soon be able to focus more on the things that really matter to our constituents, rather than having to deal with car parking complaints, which really are the companies’ responsibility to fix.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons

I understand totally the frustration felt by the hon. Gentleman’s constituents who have to park in Perth city centre. I hope that we will both see the amount of correspondence we receive in our mailbags on this issue decrease significantly as a result of the Bill.

Another frustration is that Smart Parking is singularly unresponsive. It does not reply to representations from Members of Parliament or have meetings with us. It does not even start to engage with some of the difficulties we identify with its operation. I wish to commend The Courier newspaper in Perthshire for the campaign it has mounted about the situation. One of the reasons I am down here today as the Member of Parliament is the very fine work that The Courier has done on the situation right across Perthshire. I congratulate it on that.

The Bill means that these companies will no longer be able to get away with that type of behaviour. The days when they could distribute fines like confetti, and when they could confuse and frustrate our constituents with their so-called smart technology and poor signage in order to harvest fines, are coming to an end. The Bill is evidently necessary, because self-regulation has been a resolute failure. The toothless regulators, such as the British Parking Association, are singularly incapable of dealing with the sharper practices of the rogue operators.

The British Parking Association actually lists some of the operators as its members. I had a meeting with it this week, and it gave me a copy of its magazine, which includes a list of all its members, and who should be listed there, in bold letters? It was Smart Parking. The BPA does not have the ability to regulate these companies and has shown no sign whatsoever that it is trying to get on top of some of the sharper practices. The BPA gives a veneer of legitimacy to some of the more outlandish rogue operators by including them in their membership, allowing them to continue to operate. The Bill will oblige operators such as Smart Parking to amend their practices.

I want to mention another practice that I have observed in a retail park in my constituency—this is actually worse than Smart Parking. Two private parking companies operate one huge car park at St Catherine’s retail park in Perth. One company circled the car park with signs telling motorists that, if they had the temerity to leave the part of the retail park where they had used a parking space to access shops in other parts of it, they would be fined. It did that, and it actually took photographs of people leaving their car and going into other parts of the retail park where the facilities are covered by another parking operator. That is what it did, and this is the extent to which some of these private parking operators work. It is not good enough, and it has to end.

I want to say to the Minister that I think what he is doing is fantastic. I have seen some of the details he is going to put into the code of practice and I think they are fantastic. I congratulate him on taking the maximalist approach. I think the Government will approach this by ensuring they will do the utmost they can to protect the motorist from this type of practice. They will put in place a set of regulations that will ensure the best result we can get when it comes to these things.

Among the things I want to make a plea for including in the code of practice—given what I have heard from the Minister, I am pretty certain that he will be looking at them—are equipment and technology. We have to make sure that we get the signage absolutely right and that surface markings are clearly identified and regulated properly. There should be clear and accessible displays of the terms and conditions of the car park. We have already heard examples of when that does not actually work. I know that the Government are looking at consideration periods to allow motorists sufficient time to decide whether they would like to park, and grace periods to allow motorists time to pay and leave the car park. All of this would make a real difference to the parking arrangements in our cities and town.

I believe these parking companies intentionally deploy poor signage. The fact that motorists can be fined simply for entering a car park to look for a space is simply and clearly unacceptable. One of the car parking operators in my constituency actually fines people for entering a zero instead of the letter o. Apparently, the smart technology cannot cater for that, but the operator takes no recognition of that when people appeal on such a basis.

Another of my pleas to be included in the code—the Minister may be able to help us with this one—is capping fines, a feature that I think we all agree must happen. The fact that someone can be fined £140, £160 or £180 for parking a car is simply and utterly absurd. I think, and I hope, that this will be addressed. My suggestion is that fines or parking charge notices in private car parks should be no more than those of the local authority. I think it is fair that there is a uniform cost that people pay in any city or town across the country, and I am pretty certain that we will get to such a place.

I know the Government’s intention is to ensure that what are called PCNs will no longer be able to look like fines from the local authority, and that is really important. Will the Minister tell us how this will be done and how he intends to ensure that that happens? Parking companies have to get away from this confusion with local authority penalty charge notices, and they must do so without using the threatening and intimidating language on these tickets.

What I would like to see on such tickets is the full legal basis on which they can be distributed. As the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire said, this is a contractual arrangement, so they are not fines. If the private parking company is to pursue such a case, it has to take it to the civil court to demonstrate clearly that the motorist has breached the terms and conditions of using the private car park. That should be mentioned on the parking ticket, as issued by the private operator. I think that would be fair.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

I would argue that if the parking operator takes an erring motorist to a civil court and it is shown in court that the form of private parking notice was not as laid down in the mandatory code of practice, that should be a case for dismissing the claim.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons

I totally and utterly agree. I will come back to access to the DVLA register later in my speech. The key to all this is the DVLA register and ensuring that access to it is predicated on good behaviour. If there are any examples of any of these companies going back to such sharp practices, they should be dealt with effectively and not given access to the DVLA register.

I am particularly delighted that the Government are looking at debt collection issues. I hope the Minister will confirm that the Government will state explicitly that operators cannot sell or assign debt to a third party, as that has to happen. The use of aggressive debt collection companies is probably the most grotesque, threatening and intimidating feature of parking companies’ behaviour, and the part of their operation that concerns me most. I cannot remember which hon. Member mentioned vulnerable customers who receive some of these letters, and what it must do if they receive a letter that tells them that the charge will impact on their credit rating. I think that is illegal—perhaps one of the greater legal minds here will clarify that for me—but that is the sort of thing that those letters include.

Debt collection companies increase the tempo and rate of intimidation and threat. One of my constituents received 10 letters from a range of different companies, with an increasing tone of belligerence and threat. It is right for private parking companies to expect settlement, and to deploy reasonable steps to recover it, but we cannot continue to allow threatening and aggressive letters that demand payment simply for parking a car.

Access to the DVLA is the prize that parking companies require to ensure they can continue to operate. The Government will introduce conditions for access to the DVLA database—perhaps the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire will confirm that—so that proper auditing must be conducted before an operator can join a parking association, and that compliance must be demonstrated. I believe it should be incumbent on parking operators to demonstrate fully that they are a responsible operator in order to get DVLA access, and if there are examples of bad practice, that access must be removed.

I am grateful that the entire Bill covers the whole UK and will be applicable in Scotland. We have agreed a legislative consent memorandum in the Scottish Parliament to ensure that the Bill will apply across Scotland, and it is right that we have uniform measures such as this. I travel down to London and park my car here, just as hon. Members come to beautiful Perthshire to enjoy the fantastic features of my constituency, and it is right for everyone to expect the same level of service and regulation throughout the United Kingdom.

We have seen what this issue does to towns and cities. Parking is an essential requirement for any town or city centre, and the right hon. Gentleman was right to highlight how many trips are made and how many parking experiences are involved as we go from A to B. It can have a devastating effect on local economies if we do not get the issue right, so parking is an important ingredient in our community and the local economy.

In my experience, people are happy to pay for parking—I have never seen anybody suggest that we should get parking for free, and any place where free parking has operated has become a disaster and a free-for-all. We need efficient and effective parking in our towns and cities. People are even happy to pay parking fines if they know they have been wrong and perhaps overstayed, or something happened and they received a fine. What they cannot stand, however, and why we receive so much correspondence and so many complaints in our inboxes, is when the fines are unfair and imposed disproportionately, or when people are pursued by parking companies. Ultimately, it is not beyond our wit to design an arrangement where someone parks a car, makes a payment, and is assured that that is the end of the matter. Needing to ensure a code of practice shows how bad things have become, which is why we must address this issue.

I hope that this is high noon for the parking cowboys. I hope they are brought under control and that I will not have continually to respond to constituents and visitors to my constituency about the behaviour of a certain company. This is a good Bill, and we must now see the code of practice. I know the Minister will ensure that we are involved in designing that code, and when he responds to the debate I look forward to hearing some of the features that will be included. Finally, I congratulate once again my good friend, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, on sponsoring this Bill, which I am sure will be successful today.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 1:29, 23 November 2018

It is an absolute pleasure to follow Pete Wishart. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight on finally bringing this madness, quite frankly, to an end with this Bill.

Many right hon. and hon. Members have talked about their constituents’ experiences of receiving unfair parking enforcement notices. I declare an interest because I have experienced the exact same situation. I drove into an underground hotel car park, got my bag out and went into the hotel. A member of the hotel’s staff then told me how much the parking charge was—it was more expensive than the hotel room—but that there was a really good local authority car park around the corner. I took that advice. I got back in my car, drove out and parked in the local authority car park without any problem. However, I received a fine from a parking operator because I had driven in and driven out of the hotel car park five minutes later. I won my appeal, but the hotel company said that it would discipline its member of staff for advising me to park elsewhere. Perhaps that is a private Member’s Bill for another day.

On the border of my constituency, there is a local authority car park. Bizarrely, part of the land is privately owned. People park there because they think they can park for free, just as they can for the local authority part. There is no signage on the part that is privately owned and people do get charged. It is an absolute sting.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

My hon. Friend is making a very good point. That is why it is essential that the code of practice has a transaction period that is free. In other words, it would give motorists thinking time between entering a car park and deciding whether or not to stay. In some parts of the country, car parks are situated in conservation areas where, for planning reasons, signage is inside. We need to give motorists time to go in and think, so they can say, “No, this is not for me” and leave without facing a penalty.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are talking about contract law. If people pick up an item in Boots priced £5 but at the till they are charged £10, many people think they can actually get the item for £5. In fact, under the offer and acceptance of contract law, the contract is formed only at the time of execution. Yet when one goes into a car park, one can be charged before executing the transaction. That has to be a breach of contract law.

On the charging mechanism, there is no proper definition for what is a reasonable and proportionate charge. That is of particular interest, because my former chambers sought a legal opinion from the Royal Automobile Club. The feeling was that the legal definition of reasonable and proportionate would be the cost of administering the charge. What was unusual was that the Supreme Court was asked to decide and found that £85 was reasonable and proportionate. The QC, however, felt that it was several times higher.

Perhaps the Minister could commit to guidance on what the charge should be. If that were to follow local authority charging, which outside London would be £60, I would perhaps stray into another area and say that I do not believe £60 is reasonable and proportionate. Local authorities will say that that is the cost because they do not make any profits, but I believe that they do. I believe that local authorities, time and again, use the money they raise from parking to pay for other areas of their spending. They are not supposed to do that. Barnet Borough Council, which was taken to court and lost, freely admitted that it was levying excessive charges to raise money for other services. No other local authority will ever admit that. There is a permitted amount they can spend from parking revenues on measures that enhance the environment. However, that is so wide and woolly that local authorities can effectively charge in any way they want.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk

Has my hon. Friend considered the position of rail companies? Under the Greater Anglia franchise, the rail company owns the car parks. The increase in its charges—I refer not to the fines, but to the cost of parking—is very substantial each year. They are unregulated, and the company has a monopoly. It seems to me that we should at least be considering those who probably have no choice but to pay the cost of parking—not just the fines.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. His link to railways reminds me of another charge that I managed to land myself with—I have an unfortunate habit of doing that. In fact, I recently chaired an event with Gyles Brandreth at which a local authority won an award for its great parking policies, so I threw all my offences in—not in the hope that they would be rescinded. Season tickets are another issue for many. Someone buys a season ticket—so a company that has the machines knows that they have bought the season ticket—but if that person is unfortunate and the ticket falls down and is not on display when they close the car door, they will be charged because the ticket was not displayed, despite the fact that they have already purchased it. Again, there is the principle that someone cannot pay twice for the same transaction, but it is not being properly enforced. If my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire comes up with a private Member’s Bill again, there would still be much more to do. We are getting there on the private side of things, but I am afraid that our constituents do not necessarily see the differentiation. Many local authority practices are not working, too.

I will leave time for others to speak, but I could not stand up and talk about parking without mentioning my own parochial issues. There are only 12 local authorities left in the United Kingdom that still require the police to deal with parking matters on their high streets. I have two of those local authorities in my constituency. We have talked about police funding issues and that the police perhaps do not have the resources that they need to do everything, and rightly we have added another thing to their priorities this morning. The police in my constituency have turned around and said, “We are not going to carry on doing this.” Effectively, if someone overstays in a two-hour parking bay, it is a criminal offence and the police are required to take action. All the money raised goes straight to the Home Office, so there is no local incentive, and the police take the view that they should be doing other things, and I absolutely support them. The local authorities, however, do not want to take this on, so in my constituency there is a parking free-for-all on our high streets. It is so bad that I got Guide Dogs to come down and I walked around, first, blindfolded while being led, then with a cane, and then with a dog. It is absolute chaos for people; motorists are parking on dropped kerbs and on kerbs. Those are criminal offences, of course, but the police are not doing anything at all, not even in areas where local authorities have traffic wardens.

I mention this point even though I know that it will not be this Minister’s responsibility—it will be more for the Department for Transport. The Government have had very successful policies on our environmental causes—small measures that go down incredibly well with the public—but I feel that we are not doing the same with transport. People are absolutely sick and tired of the way that their high streets are being cluttered up. People are acting in an antisocial manner and getting away with it. In my constituency it has got so bad that I find myself taking photos and putting them on social media, which I probably should not do and is probably an offence of some type, but we have got to a point where we really need action.

The frustration for me as an MP is that when I make this point to local authorities, they do not necessarily want to take it on. When I make it to the police, they say they do not have the resources. I make the point about enforcement to the Department for Transport, but enforcement is not occurring either. It is not fair that my constituents, just because of where they reside, are under a regime that is completely old hat and which most other authorities have moved on from, and are stuck in this situation.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire. I am sorry to have wandered off into the other spheres of parking, but we should not kid ourselves as a House that this is solved just with regard to the private side of things. On the public and high street side, there is more to do, and our constituents would thank us if we did so.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Co-National Campaign Coordinator, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 1:38, 23 November 2018

I congratulate Sir Greg Knight on the progress of this much needed Bill, which I am pleased to support on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition. It is long overdue, as we have heard today, and I thank him personally for his tenacity on this issue. He will be the champion of drivers across the land, because we all know and can all tell very similar tales of constituents who have been clobbered by these sharp practices.

Today we have seen the Commons at its best. We often hear—and our constituents are the first to point this out—“Why can’t you ever agree on any measures? Why can’t you come together in the national interest over X, Y and Z and just come to a common-sense view and get it done?” Today, we have done precisely that, and I genuinely thank the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, the Minister and the Scottish National party spokesperson, because this is the Commons at its best. We are getting things done for our constituents in every part of the United Kingdom.

There is a need for landowners and private car-park operators to have some control over those who park—no one would disagree with that—but enforcement must be fair, reasonable and proportionate. While many operators act properly—we should always remember that; we only hear about the nightmare cases, but there are operators who operate reasonably—the bad practices that we have discussed today colour people’s views of all parking operators, which is why the Bill is important, as it will provide uniformity in the code of practice and give people certainty about the rules across all private car parks. I have dealt with similar cases to those dealt with by Pete Wishart. I have a cross-borough constituency, and will give two examples, one from each borough.

First, there is a small private car park in Denton, the main town in my constituency. It is next to a building that until recently was a bank. A bank customer parked in the car park next to the bank, which she was visiting, only to receive forceful letters and parking charge notices that looked like penalty charge notices a few days later. She had not realised that the car park next to the bank was not linked to it, as there was no signage. She successfully appealed against the charges with the help of my constituency office, but how many people would have been frightened into paying the charge because of the official-looking notice that they received?

Secondly, there is a large retail car park in Stockport. Until recently, it did not charge disabled people who displayed a blue badge. The car park is designed so that the disabled parking bays are closest to the retail units. Unfortunately, the pay-and-display machines are at the far end of the car park—it is not possible for the machines to be any further away from the retail facilities, which are near the disabled parking bays. Two minuscule signs were erected at the entrance to the car park. When people drive in they do not see signs that are about the size of the Dispatch Box. Disabled constituents of mine parked, as they always have done, in the disabled bay, did their shopping and drove away, only to receive a parking charge notice a few days later. Again, it is wrong that there was not even a sign on the disabled parking bays, let alone a pay-and-display machine close to those bays. That probably contravenes the Equality Act 2010, along with several other laws.

That is wrong, and that is why I am grateful to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire for introducing the Bill. I hope that it will be seen by the sector as an opportunity to rebuild the shattered trust between car-park operators and the motoring public. Poor signage and sometimes no signage at all, unreasonable rules, exorbitant so-called fines, aggressive and excessive demand for payment and an appeals process that does not work in the interests of consumers constitutes behaviour that needs to be stopped. Having listened to the Minister, for whom I have great respect, I hope that the Secretary of State will take action once he is empowered by the Bill to do so, and, given the assurances from the Minister on Report, I expect that he will.

Similarly, action must be taken to ensure that parking companies are not able to raise the level of fines to mitigate the effects of the levy that will facilitate the scheme. We need to crack down on the bogus procedure whereby they are able to make their fines look official. These are not penalty charge notices; they are nothing of the sort. To frighten vulnerable and elderly people, in particular, into paying unreasonable charges when they do not have to do so is wrong, and something that the Bill seeks to address.

As others have already said, we need to ensure that there is a cap on fines, and that they are appropriate. I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire that they should be at a level similar to the level of fines imposed by the local authority in whose area the car park is located.

It is absolutely right ultimately to deny access to DVLA records to companies that do not properly adhere to the code, and I thank the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire for making clear to Sir Christopher Chope on Report that the Bill would provide for that. So many of my constituents cannot believe it is right for the DVLA to supply that information to cowboy operators, and it is most welcome that the loophole is to be closed.

As I have said, the right hon. Gentleman will be a hero among the long-suffering driving public. The Bill offers the prospect of a single set of standards that will help to end the confusion created by multiple codes of practice and appeals systems—and in many cases none—and will ultimately be fairer to all drivers. We wish it Godspeed in the other place, and look forward to its becoming law and saving so many drivers throughout the United Kingdom so much heartbreak.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Conservative, Redditch 1:47, 23 November 2018

Thank you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise for that slight note of surprise.

It is a real pleasure to follow Andrew Gwynne. He is absolutely right: this is a fantastic opportunity for us all to agree on something. I am sometimes confused with the hon. Gentleman because our constituencies sound rather the same. We are, of course, on different sides of the House, but it is nice to be together on this occasion.

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate and to give my support to this welcome and timely Bill, which I am pleased to see continuing its passage through the House. I am also pleased that it has the support of the British Parking Association and the RAC Foundation. There is clearly consensus on the need for a parking code of practice for private parking providers in an industry that currently lacks regulatory rigour. Sadly, there are three separate codes of practice among the accredited trade associations, with the British Parking Association code stipulating one set of requirements and the International Parking Community another. That inconsistency is inappropriate, and I am delighted that the Bill seeks to address it so comprehensively. That is why it has already sailed through Committee and Report, and why all the clauses were agreed to without Divisions. I am sure that that is testament to the amazingly hard work that my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight has put into this extremely well-drafted Bill.

Like other Members across the House, I have received letters and complaints, although I am pleased to say they are not in the same league as the notorious car park in Perth, which I will bear in mind if I ever travel to Perth. My own such parking experience took place in Redditch a long time ago, before I was the MP. I went to Redditch and was caught out by a dodgy parking operator. Hopefully, my constituents in Redditch will be delighted that the Bill will be passed today.

The RAC Foundation expects 6 million tickets to be issued by private parking providers this year alone, up from 4.5 million in the previous year. That highlights the lack of a consistent code of conduct and the lack of clarity. It is also borne out by figures from Citizens Advice, which reports that, last year, it was approached by over 10,000 people to ask for advice on private parking tickets. That is a huge number of people, considering the demand on its services.

I support the Bill and look forward to it progressing swiftly in the other place.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage) 1:50, 23 November 2018

May I join the long list of Members who have been praising Sir Greg Knight for introducing this Bill? He has had so much praise today that perhaps next Tuesday at the political studies awards, which will be shown on the BBC Parliament channel, he should get an award of his own for introducing this Bill. He will be well supported because I and Pete Wishart will be there with him at the awards, playing in MP4 and launching our new single “Do you see me?” I turn to the Bill. I was delighted to sponsor—[Interruption.] CDs are available at £5 on Revolver Records.

I was pleased to sponsor this Bill with the right hon. Gentleman, the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members. Why are we here? If we cannot in this place try to change things for the better for our constituents, there is little purpose in our being here, and this legislation genuinely will improve the quality of people’s lives. If they no longer have the stress and anxiety of receiving one of these fake notices—which is sometimes what they are—through the post, trying to extort money from them for simply going about their daily business, as anybody should be free to do, we will have done a great service to our constituents. If the Bill takes out some of the cowboy operators that every Member in this Chamber knows about through their constituency casework, we will have done a great service to our constituents. If it saves hard-pressed constituents a few quid because they have not been fooled—as is sometimes the case—into paying notices unnecessarily, we will have done them a great service. The right hon. Gentleman in particular and other Members who have contributed deserve credit for that. He does deserve some sort of award for bringing the Bill through. I am sure that will make the right hon. Gentleman extremely popular not only, as he already is, with his own constituents—I can say that as he has a very safe Tory seat—but with motorists and constituents across the country.

I am glad that the Bill was strengthened today through the new clause and the amendments that the right hon. Gentleman introduced, and I am sure that when it travels down the Corridor to the other place their Lordships will want to look at it very closely and perhaps consider strengthening it further in co-operation with the Government. But what is most important is that we get it on to the statute book as quickly as possible because it will make a genuine and positive difference.

In Committee, I mentioned some of the bad practices. I am not going to dilate at length—as Mr Speaker might say—on those issues this afternoon, but some companies, such as New Generation Parking, which I mentioned, do not even respond to correspondence from Members of Parliament on behalf of their constituents. In Committee, I expressed the view, which I know the Minister heard, that any code worth its salt would ensure that any company that failed to respond to a letter of concern from a Member of Parliament on behalf of their constituent would be in breach of that code. It should be a basic requirement on any decent company operating any kind of business that it should respond to a reasonable inquiry from a Member of Parliament within a reasonable time.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right on that point. If a complaint is made about the receipt of a private parking notice, whether by the driver, the registered keeper or the registered keeper’s MP, it should in my view be responded to within 14 days.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage)

I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has put that firmly on the record. He also responded positively in Committee when I intervened on him on this matter. I am sure that the Minister has heard what he said, and I hope that those who are preparing the code will also have heard that viewpoint being expressed here.

Perhaps we need to ponder further on the practice that is now developing of parking companies using technology to enforce these parking notices. I am concerned not only that they are using camera technology but that, in more and more cases, anyone who parks on private land—for example, the site of St David’s Hospital in my constituency, where there is no charge but we nevertheless have to register when we park—is required to enter their registration number into a machine in order to be deemed to have parked legally or appropriately there. How is the collection of that data being properly overseen? Who is responsible for ensuring that the personal data that is being collected in the form of our constituents’ registration numbers is being properly and legally processed? Further to that, the companies do not often provide a paper receipt from the machine, and people are expected to provide a mobile telephone number or sometimes an email address in order to get a receipt to prove that they have parked legally. Who is responsible for ensuring that the data being collected in that way is being properly processed?

This issue was brought to me by my constituent, Derek Donovan, who has campaigned heavily on issues relating to parking, and to private parking in particular. He has also pointed out that, even when we are not required to provide a registration number, the parking company can go to the DVLA and ask who the owner of a particular vehicle is. The way in which that information is handed out, and to whom, is not being properly co-ordinated by the DVLA—if indeed it is its responsibility to do that. Only a sample of cases is audited, so we cannot be sure that that data is in all cases being released to responsible people and used responsibly and legally. As a result, Derek Donovan has registered a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office, the outcome of which could prove pertinent to the passage of the Bill in another place if we hear from the ICO before the Bill goes through its other stages there.

I do not want to go on at length, because we want to ensure that the Bill completes its passage before we end our proceedings today. I reiterate my congratulations to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire and I wish it well for its further passage at the other end of this building.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North 1:59, 23 November 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Kevin Brennan. I am enthusiastic about rising in support of this Bill, not least because I was on the Public Bill Committee on 19 July but, unfortunately, as I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government I did not have the opportunity to speak. I now take the opportunity to put on record my support for the Bill.

I wish the Bill could come into force immediately and, because I know it cannot, I refer my constituents who have issues with privately operated car parks to an excellent article in the Express & Star authored by Peter Madeley in which he sets out the advice from Sarah Garner of DAS Law on how to challenge these charges. There is clearly a difference between a parking charge notice and a penalty charge notice, and it is essential that my constituents understand the difference and are protected from the duplicitous actions of some of these private parking companies, not least because, as Pete Wishart pointed out, these fines can be as much as £100. It is important that we, as a Government and as a Parliament, protect the public from such practices.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 2:00, 23 November 2018

I am conscious of time, so I will keep my remarks relatively brief. I am delighted to support my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight in securing the Bill’s Third Reading. About 18 months back, Graham P. Jones, who cannot be here today, and I secured a Westminster Hall debate on how the use of DVLA records and ANPR systems allows some of the sharpest cowboys in the parking world to put things out that frighten people and seek to get money from them. In many cases they use sharp practices such as, when a person enters their registration in the machine, the first button they press wakes up the machine, or the weird keyboard does not seem to be working that day, or, unlike local council car parks nearby that use such systems, they accept payment for registrations that are not in the car park, so a person who has actually paid can still get a fine afterwards.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the role of Premier Park in Exeter in supporting this legislation through its management of Marina car park in the middle of Torquay, which has produced a ton of complaints compared with the entirety of Torbay Council’s enforcement operation at 39 car parks and on-street car parking facilities.

This code of practice is overdue, and most of the industry will welcome it. Most of the industry want to manage and run car parks fairly. Most of the industry has nothing to worry about from the Bill, and actually actively supports it because they do not want to be undercut by rogue operators that rely on income generated from fines.

I am conscious of the time and that a few more colleagues would like to say some words in support of this welcome Bill, which I look forward to being enacted as quickly as possible.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough 2:02, 23 November 2018

It is a pleasure to support this Bill, a sound piece of legislation sponsored by a sound Member from a sound part of the country. We should get on and pass it without further delay.

This is a serious issue. Some 10,000 people have been in contact with Citizens Advice over the past year in relation to parking fines, which can be traumatic and stressful for people who suddenly receive bailiff notices, threatening letters and other mail. One of the great things about this Bill is its flexibility; it is not a clunky thing that will become outdated as practice changes in the parking industry. Instead, the Bill will allow us to be flexible over time.

My experience demonstrates the need for this legislation. I have had experiences where certain operators have given me unfair fines, perhaps because they have wrongly typed in my car registration, and I have had successful redress and the fines have been dropped. In other cases, where the operators were more like the cowboys mentioned by Pete Wishart, I have not been successful. The Bill will bring coherence to the system and ensure a fair deal for everyone throughout the country.

It is brilliant that the Bill is supported by the industry. Andrew Pester, the chief executive officer of the British Parking Association, agrees that a single code is important to ensure that unscrupulous providers do not undermine the parking sector with bad practices. The Bill will allow future Ministers to be able to sort out the issues that other Members have raised, to avoid excessive fines, to avoid the failure to give notices, to avoid excessive legal charges in pursuing those things, to stop the sending of threatening letters to vulnerable people and, above all, to strike off cowboy operators by making it impossible for them to trade.

This is a superb Bill. It is exactly the sort of thing that this House should be doing, and it will be hugely welcomed by constituents. I thank my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight, who has done this country a service by bringing forward this excellent Bill.

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan Conservative, Chichester 2:05, 23 November 2018

I, too, add my thanks to my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight for all his work on this important Bill and for sticking up for the consumer, consumer rights and the small guy in the street.

Good-quality parking services are a vital element of all our communities. Before coming to this place, I had the enormous privilege of being the cabinet member responsible for parking services at Chichester District Council, where I saw that as a duty to work closely with businesses and the community at large to ensure that we provided good-quality and safe services. I am especially proud that during that time we upgraded all the car parks to include contactless payment and payment by mobile phones. Indeed, we won many awards for our safe car parks in Chichester.

Having proper, well-run parking services supports the wider economy, as it facilitates people to visit our city centres or quaint villages. This is especially true for rural areas where people mostly have to use a car to get to, say, Chichester. Most car park operators are honourable and seek to offer safe, convenient parking facilities, and to make life easier for people who are trying to visit the city, but it is clear that this ambition to provide a genuine service is not uniform, and there is therefore a clear need for this Bill.

One of my constituents recently came to me having been sent a fine for not purchasing a ticket in a private car park. Her car was registered as she entered the car park by CCTV cameras, and the computer system deemed her not to have paid. On appeal, she insisted that she had in fact paid and bought a ticket, but she was getting nowhere. It was her word against theirs, as is often the problem in these situations. A few weeks later, she returned to me triumphant because she had found her purchased ticket and was able to prove her innocence. However, most of us do not keep old parking tickets. Hearing stories like this, it is no surprise that we now see 13 times more fines issued than a decade ago.

I fully welcome this Bill as it will allow my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to implement best parking practice across the country and to have an appeals process, as well as improving the management and operational practice of our car parks.

It is also important to look to the future of parking. As well as issuing guidance for common standards and operation, I urge the Minister to consider the impact that technology is likely to have on this topic. Personalised parking using number plate recognition technology and differentiated pricing based on peak and off-peak periods are likely to become much more commonplace in future, but we should make sure that they are used to encourage good parking practices and to disincentivise bad ones.

I think it is safe to say that we all support this Bill. I look forward to seeing it in practice and putting an end to the sharp business practice that we have seen increasing in our car parks.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Conservative, Mid Worcestershire 2:07, 23 November 2018

I am very pleased to congratulate my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight on bringing in this Bill, which is a good dose of common sense in this time of division. He has managed to unify the House. Perhaps we need more such Bills.

The Bill is common sense in so many ways. All of us, as MPs, receive way too many emails, letters and calls from our constituents raising concerns about parking. It makes absolutely no sense for us, in our offices paid for by the public purse, to effectively be as the customer services complaints process for some of the more disreputable car park operators. This Bill will help to avoid all that. Citizens Advice and other bodies are involved in these disputes to far too great an extent, as well. A single code of practice consistently applied means that if we go into a car park at one end of a street, it will have the same standards as the others. I also appreciate the penalty in the form of not having access to DVLA information should there be non-compliance with the code of practice.

My constituents always expect me to support common-sense Bills, and I will do so today.

Photo of Luke Graham Luke Graham Conservative, Ochil and South Perthshire 2:09, 23 November 2018

Being a neighbour of and sharing a county with Pete Wishart, it is a pleasure to come here to support him and my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight on this Bill. This parking issue affects constituents from not only Perth and Kinross, but Clackmannanshire, on the other side of my constituency, who go into Stirling. They, too, have experienced extortionate fines for very small or misunderstood misdemeanours. Importantly, this Bill corrects a wrong that was identified by Citizens Advice Scotland in 2014 in its “It’s Not Fine” report, which set out how private practitioners need to clean up their act. This is now being addressed and it is great to see a national problem having a national solution in this Bill, with the support of Members from across the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

This Bill is important not only in protecting motorists; it is vital to the vitality of our town centres. People who are afraid of high, arbitrary parking penalties do not come into town centres and so do not support local traders, and our high streets miss out. Parking providers have privileged access to DVLA records in order to enforce these charges. That is a privilege, and where providers are abusing their position through excessive charges and making sure that those escalate as a way of dissuading people from contesting the charges, despite there being insufficient signage, the provider should lose those privileges, even if they go out of business. My right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight, in bringing forward this vital Bill, has earned the thanks of motorists from around the country. He deserves the thanks of the traders in our town centres who rely on this and he deserves the support of all of us in this House today.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:11, 23 November 2018

It is a pleasure to conclude this outbreak of consensus and unity. Andrew Gwynne put it perfectly: of course private landowners and car park operators have the right to manage their land effectively, but that must be done in a fair, reasonable and proportionate manner. For the first time, as a result of this Bill, that is exactly what will happen. We have heard so many contributions from Members in all parts of this House about the sharp practices that our constituents have had to endure, and we will now be able to put an end to those nefarious ways of doing business.

So many specific examples have been given that it will be difficult to respond to all of them, but I wanted to touch on a few of the common themes that emerged in Members’ contributions. The issue of surface markings was raised by many Members and I can confirm that the code of practice should look at that, along with signage—the size, the things that should be included on signs and where they are located in car parks. Again, that is a common-sense measure.

Consideration and grace periods was another issue picked up on by many hon. Members. We heard examples of Members and their constituents being taken advantage of. Ensuring there are sensible periods to allow someone to come into a car park, decide whether they want to park and then leave again without charge, and to allow them when they return to be able to pay for their ticket, get to their car and leave are sensible measures that the code of practice will examine.

We heard a lot about the legal status of private penalty charge notices and the confusing nature of private companies using that legal language. I confirm, again, that the code of practice should and will look at that, as well as the language and information that should be included on those private parking notices, as we should perhaps call them. This could include the contact details for the parking operator, clear information about the appeals and the challenge process, timescales for payments and the details in relation to the breach of contract, so that no threatening or misleading language can be used in relation to the terms of the situation that the parker has found themselves in.

Fines were a topic raised by many Members. Of course it is sensible that there should be some element of fines, but those should be reasonable. I have heard and taken on board the suggestion from hon. Members about linking them in some way to local authority fine rates, which are already in existence. That idea definitely has merit and we will continue to explore it with the team. My hon. Friend Huw Merriman raised the issue of railway parking. As he knows from his time in the Department, railway parking is governed by separate rail byelaws. Obviously, our constituents are not aware of that, so we are working with the Department for Transport to see whether we can find consistency between the various different regulations.

I hope hon. Members will remain convinced of our commitment to bringing this legislation into force as soon as practicably possible. Of course we all join in congratulating my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight on his diligent and valiant efforts in this regard. In conclusion, I hope hon. Members can join me in thanking my team. A small team has been working on this incredibly important issue for many months. They have done a fantastic job and I am sure that they will continue to make us proud as we bring this legislation to bear.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire 2:14, 23 November 2018

With the leave of the House, I once again thank everyone who has taken part. In anticipation of his future help, I thank my noble Friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, who has agreed to take the Bill through the other place.

The message to cowboy parking operators from this Chamber is loud and clear: in future, you play by the rules or you are put out of business. Let us give the Bill our blessing and make parking a much fairer experience.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.