Code of Practice for Private Parking - Motion to Regret

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:01 pm on 28 March 2022.

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Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 8:01, 28 March 2022

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the introduction of this code of practice. I have long been a campaigner for the motorist in this and other areas and have served my time in the courts as a defendant against parking operators, so I am delighted to see this legislation reach the borders of becoming effective.

None the less, I wish that the Government had recognised that this is a difficult area, and that preparation should be included in this to amend in the light of the way that things turn out in practice. Otherwise, we will be waiting again for a chance of primary legislation before we can do anything about it, and it has taken a long time to get to this point. However, here we are, so I ask my noble friend—I do not expect him to reply in detail today, but I hope to have correspondence with him or his colleagues—whether we can set things up so that enough data is collected for us to tell quickly what is happening.

The data that I would particularly like to see collected is, first, on the volume of parking charges. That will be the best indicator of how parking operators’ business models are changing. If we see a lot more parking charges being issued, we will know that something is not working. It would be a big alarm signal if the result of this code was to push operators towards a financial model that was dependent on parking charges. We ought to be seeing the volume of parking charges coming down. This ought to be the key bit of information that is being collected and reported to the department, and not casually at the end of a year. Such information ought to be coming in monthly, once the system is up and running, so that problems can be caught early and understood early.

The other big indicator I hope the Government will look at is the volume of county court judgments relating to parking issues. It is really important what happens to parking charges. What percentage are paid and what percentage are appealed? How are they chased up? What happens in the end? How are those percentages changing? If we see an increase in the number of county court judgments, that indicates that we are seeing operators moving outside the code. In other words, they are judging that the conditions of the code are so strict that their best option is to operate entirely outside it.

It is entirely possible to do that, because if you are operating a park outside the code and go around sticking parking charge notices on people’s windscreens, about 30% of people pay them and another 20% appeal, which means the parking operator immediately knows who they are. Then there are vans with company names on them, and databases outside the DVLA collected by leasing companies and others and made available—quite how legally I do not know, but they are available—so that a parking operator outside the code can count on not a bad return on issuing parking charges.

That will show through in county court judgments because, without being able to collect through debt charges, there is none the less a way for unregistered operators to collect through solicitors who are able to obtain remuneration from the courts. To my mind, those are the two key indicators I would like to see the Government having regular information on and not, as is foreshadowed to the introduction to the code, waiting for a couple of years and then starting to look at what is happening.

There are other areas where I hope the Government will also collect data. What is the volume of appeals based on producing blue badges late? What are appeals based on? What is the pattern of appeals and what are their outcomes? What does that tell us about what is going on? How are the keeper/owner questions being resolved in general, in particular on railway land where the Protection of Freedoms Act does not apply—as it does not in some other circumstances too? What is happening in areas where tariffs exceed penalties, where it is in the motorists’ interest not to pay because they end up paying the penalty, which is less than the tariff that they would have incurred anyway?

What practice is evolving on grace periods? How are they set and how is that changing? What percentage of operators are offering remote additional payments so that, rather than being done with a parking charge, you get a text saying that you are about to go over and asking if you would like to pay some more? What is evolving in payment methods? How much is becoming digital and how much are we enabling people to pay in different ways? How is this all working with—I know cross-ministerial boundaries are difficult—the national parking platform, which the DfT is evolving in Manchester? What is happening in the pattern of the parking offer? Are we seeing movement away from payment-per-hour to having to buy a whole day in order that the revenue of the parking operator is increased? Are we seeing increased use of parking barriers?

This is a complicated area with a wide range of operators in it. We need to sort out how we are going to approach it quickly and clearly. We need to define what is legitimate, to play the role of the shepherd keeping our flock safe from wolves, and, at night, counting our sheep. I beg to move.