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 Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 8:01, 28 March 2022

My Lords, in principle I am very much of the same view as the noble Lord in supporting this code of practice, because there surely is plenty to improve in the operation of private parking. As he outlined, the key question is whether the code is fit for purpose and strong enough, as well as, of course, the issue about review once we have more information.

The tackling of this problem started in the Protection of Freedoms Act. That might surprise quite a lot of people because it is not an obvious topic for an Act about freedom, but it includes a section on the recovery of unpaid parking charges and the limits on powers to remove and immobilise vehicles. That was an important area of public concern about the use of excessive power by some parking companies and, in some cases, very sharp practice.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has criticised the code’s lack of an impact assessment. Since this will have an impact on thousands of companies and millions of drivers, it is surprising that there is no formal impact assessment. The big question is how that lack of an impact assessment can be defended.

The Government apparently spoke to three companies and the British Parking Association. They predicted an apparently massive impact on the industry, which seems unlikely to me and, I believe, to the Government. If it will have a massive impact, that suggests that things are very much awry with the way the industry is being run at the moment, if it is saying that it will not be possible for it to run well and fairly within its current cost structure.

It is important to bear in mind that we are talking not just about fairness to drivers. Drivers are also people who run businesses, so the unfair organisation of private parking has a huge impact on the economy.

Of particular importance is the single appeals process. I very much welcome that concept, and the idea that there will be limits on additional charges levied on motorists. Many motorists, particularly those who travel around the country a lot, find the whole process very complex. One will not be surprised that trying to appeal a parking charge is a complex process designed to discourage one. The guidelines are welcome because parking operators are judge and jury to their own charges, so a single appeals process will be very welcome.

I also welcome some kind of concept of a standard grace period, and ask the Minister how that will be advertised, because there is talk of having a different grace period for different types of car park. The idea that someone might go in, park and be allowed only five minutes is, of course, completely unrealistic—if there is a queue to pay for parking, or if the person has three young children in the back of their car who have to be taken out and sorted into buggies, and the day’s goods and chattels taken out as well. It is important that there is clarity on that.

I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has drawn our attention to the complexity of this and the inadequacy of the powers to review the provisions of the code. With modern technology, the problems of exploitation of the data are going to get only worse and more complicated to deal with, so it is important that there is a thorough review in a short period of time.