Clause 68 - Civil penalties for road traffic contraventions

Traffic Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 5th February 2004.

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Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw 9:25 am, 5th February 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 196, in

page 41, line 8, leave out 'of criminal proceedings or'.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 50, in

page 41, line 9, at end insert—

'(3A) The regulations shall include provision in respect of challenges to penalty notices and shall provide that such a challenge may be made immediately the notice has been received.'.

No. 129, in

page 41, line 10, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

No. 130, in

page 41, line 15, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

No. 131, in

page 41, line 17, at end add—

'(6) The regulations shall include provision that a penalty charge shall not be imposed in respect of any description of conduct in which there is a reasonable excuse having regard to the circumstances at the time.'.

No. 132, in

page 41, line 17, at end add—

'(7) The regulations shall include provision for a standard compensation payment to be made in respect of penalty charge notices which are withdrawn or successfully appealed.'.

No. 133, in

page 41, line 17, at end add—

'(8) The regulations shall include provision for penalty charges to be proportionate to the gravity of the contravention having regard to the duration of the contravention and its impact upon the safety and convenience of other road users.'.

No. 134, in

page 41, line 17, at end add—

'(9) Regulations under this Part of the Act shall require a local authority exercising civil enforcement powers to publish an annual report within six months of the end of each financial year setting out penalty income received and details of the number of appeals and representations received and their outcome.'.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Good morning, Mr. Beard.

I tabled the amendment partly as a probing amendment but also because of a major weakness in current legislation relating to car parking. The Road Traffic Act 1991 decriminalised parking offences and brought them within the civil enforcement system, and the clause seems to continue that. I ask the Minister to clarify whether the Government intend to continue to move towards civil rather than criminal enforcement and say whether he believes that the clause will worsen or improve the situation.

Under section 35A of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, local authorities can contract out the management of off-road parking to private car parking firms. However, there is no provision in the Act for a local authority agent to take action on the local authority's behalf. While the Act refers specifically—for example, in section 33(7)—to the use of agents to manage a car-parking facility, it does not authorise a third party to pursue action through the criminal justice system.

Throughout the country there is an anomaly. It is an anomaly that needs to be removed and one that neither the Government nor the House of Commons want to see in part 6 of the Bill. Where a local authority car park is run by the local authority, the situation is straightforward: the parking adjudicator has some authority. Where it is run by a private operator, the private operator is taking people to criminal courts to raise revenue, revenue that goes, to judge from most of the contracts that I have seen, entirely to the private operator.

The use of the criminal law by a private operator is an anomaly. A private operator of a private car park can use civil law only, and thereby pursue a civil debt. In accordance with the principles of civil penalties for road traffic contraventions in existing law and in part 6 of the Bill, the notion that such disputes should be civil disputes is right and proper. One who objects to the facts of the situation can go before a county court, with no criminal impunity possible, and argue one's case, and the issue can be resolved in the normal manner in the civil courts. However, the anomaly with local authority car parks that are under private subcontracted operation is that the private operators are using criminal law in the same way as a local authority is empowered to do, rather than civil law. That puts pressure on the individual, because the threat of criminal action entices him to pay the sum demanded by the private operator.

It is an unreasonable and irrational anomaly. I seek the Minister's response to it and his assurance that the ability of private operators to use the criminal courts to enforce debt recovery will not be possible under the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

This group of amendments is fundamental. Opposition Members have tabled a series of amendments to lead the fight back on behalf of law-abiding middle Britain, which comprises motorists and other road users who are essentially honest, decent and law abiding, but who are being persecuted and oppressed by unreasonable men and women in grey uniforms, often motivated by their local authority employers' greed or their hatred for motorists.

The best way to introduce this group of amendments in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends is to quote from a letter in the Evening Standard of Monday 2 February, written after the amendments had been tabled. The letter is headed ''War on Drivers'' and is from Iain MacMaster of Battersea Park road, London SW8, in the heart of the borough that I once had the privilege of leading. It reads:

''The original concept of imposing fines for illegal parking, with a view to improving traffic flow and local amenities, has long been forgotten by local councils, who regard it primarily as a money-raising exercise. Indeed, they rely on the money obtained to such an extent that it would be a matter of serious concern to them if everyone parked properly, and they lost the revenue from fines.

The desperation to obtain money from motorists results in fines that are totally disproportionate to the 'offence' committed, or its impact on other drivers and the general public. A low-paid worker who has to pay out a week's wages because his car has been towed away for a minor parking infringement (£175) is entitled to wonder why a passenger travelling on the underground without a ticket is only fined £10.

Also, aside from penalties, parking charges, set by local councils without any external control, are grossly excessive, and increase substantially beyond the rate of inflation, notwithstanding that the motorists paying them are only receiving cost-of-living pay rises.

As a legal consultant to a charity that assists the socially excluded and victims of miscarriage of justice''—

I hope that the Minister is listening to this—

''I have represented many motorists, justifiably disgruntled at the wrongful issue of parking tickets, at the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service. Several of these appeals have been held before Martin Wood, the senior adjudicator, whose scepticism concerning the competence of council parking enforcement officers . . . is well founded.

Mr. Wood, whose adjudications are, in my experience, scrupulously fair and based on a detailed application of the relevant law, is in an excellent position to identify local councils' ferocious efforts to obtain money from parking and other traffic infringements with no appreciation of reasonableness or justice.

The 'war' between the motorists and councils will continue for as long as the latter sees the former only as a source of funding.''

I think that it was the Prime Minister who said yesterday that he had not put his words as eloquently as one of his Back-Benchers who put a point to him. I do not believe that the points that we are making in support of this group of amendments can be put more eloquently than in that lead letter to the Evening Standard.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Will the hon. Gentleman comment on an anomaly? Let us suppose that we were talking about a private operator of a local authority car park. One case brought to my attention was that of a woman with cystic fibrosis who was in a wheelchair. She was unable to park in the disabled parking slot because of the gradient and therefore parked in a non-disabled space on a zero per cent. gradient so that she could get out with her wheelchair. A ticket was planted on her oxygen container—while she was carrying it in her wheelchair, while visiting her doctor. She is not able to go to the parking adjudicator, and was threatened with criminal litigation by the private operator. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the anomalies involved when it comes to taking cases to the adjudicator?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The example that he cites is horrendous, but unfortunately it is not unique when we are talking about what happens in private car parks where the service has been contracted out. Such things also regularly happen on the streets, where the enforcement is under direct local authority control. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that. One of the amendments in this group requires that enforcement be proportionate and reasonable. Local

authorities should certainly apply that criterion, both to offences committed on the highway and in private car parks.

Amendment No. 50 is a technical amendment. It arises from an issue brought to my attention by the AA. The amendment states that regulations shall provide that a challenge to a penalty notice

''may be made immediately the notice has been received.''

The existing rules prevent anybody appealing against an enforcement notice in the first 14 days. I am sure that that cannot have been the intention of the Government at the time. The existing rules mean that people lose the right to a discounted penalty.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

As my right hon. Friend says, deliberately. The AA points out that that is oppressive. It could amount to extortion. It involves the threat of a much greater penalty, and inhibits people from taking complaints to the parking adjudicator or making representations to the enforcement authority.

Amendment No. 129 raises the issue of why a penalty charge should be imposed in circumstances other than those set out in subsection (4). It is a probing amendment. I would be grateful if the Minister would give some examples of what he has in mind. Amendment No. 130 would ensure proper provision for exemptions, discounts and surcharges, and would make that mandatory rather than discretionary.

More important than the relatively technical amendments is amendment No. 131, which would require that no penalty charge be imposed for

''any description of conduct in which there is a reasonable excuse having regard to the circumstances at the time.''

There are hosts of examples of unreasonable behaviour on the part of enforcement officials. Let us compare them with police officers. Even in respect of offences of strict liability, police officers exercise their discretion.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Would the hon. Gentleman regard the following as unreasonable? In car parks, there are two types of ticket-issuing machines. One has an internal heater, which keeps tickets dry in wet weather, the other does not. This means that if the machine is outside and it is raining, the ticket comes out damp. As the normal practice of the motorist is to put the ticket on the window, would it surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that in the Bawtry car park in south Yorkshire the majority of fines are issued to drivers who have bought tickets in wet weather, which have subsequently fallen off windscreens or windows owing to a design fault, whether deliberate or accidental, in the ticket machine?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I think that the example given by the hon. Gentleman is four-square with what I am describing. I am sure that every member of the Committee would be able to come up with a list of horrendous examples. I shall quote a few from my own experience. Where I live during the week, in Lambeth, a builder had a temporary permit that had been

obtained by a resident, enabling him to park in the residents' parking bay. The permit had to be filled in by the builder. He marked the date as 1 October, whereas it should have been 1 November—the month had just changed. It was an error on his part. As soon as he had parked his van there, it was towed away. He sought to protest, and the official said that his permit had been filled in for 1 October, rather than 1 November, although it was obvious that the permit had not been used before. I quote that as an example of unreasonable behaviour whereby, under the amendment, it would be possible for the person accused to have a proper defence.

Later in this part of the Bill we will consider the issue of box junctions, but in anticipation of the fact that it is the will of the Government that these fixed penalties should apply in relation to box junctions, I can only say that unless there are provisions allowing for a defence on the ground of reasonable excuse there will be an incredible amount of injustice relating to activity around box junctions. Every motorist realises that one can think that the exit from a box junction is clear, but can find that, as one progresses across the box junction, one can be cut up by another driver, who then occupies the space. The Minister seems to think that it is impossible for that situation to arise. I have had letters from people citing that.

Furthermore, the situation in very dense traffic in London is that sometimes vehicles wishing to turn left where there is a box junction will never be able to do so unless they start easing out across the box junction when the lights are green. Therefore, the most strict and rigid enforcement, without allowing motorists to have a defence of reasonable excuse, will cause an enormous amount of injustice.

We need to have a regime that enables common sense to be applied. Again, this is not happening in the enforcement of bus lanes. Rescue vehicles attending members who have broken down in bus lanes are finding that they, as well as the vehicles that have broken down, are being subjected to fixed penalty notices. This is wholly unreasonable, and under the current regime of fixed penalty notices there is no excuse—they are offences of strict liability and the fine has to be paid. If the police were responsible, they would use their common sense and discretion, in accordance with their responsibilities as police officers, and would not impose fixed penalty notices in such circumstances.

The same problems will arise if fixed penalty notices are extended in relation to breaches of traffic signs. In my driving experience in my residential area, delivery vans often block the highway in such a way that it is not possible to get out of the residential area without turning in breach of the traffic signs. If someone on the ground saw the circumstances, that would be a reasonable excuse, but it is proposed that an insensitive camera will automatically issue a penalty charge.

The clause and its notes refer to the need to ensure that traffic is kept flowing and to ensure that buses can use bus lanes so that they are not held up in the traffic

flow. However, bus lane cameras are being used to penalise motorists who cut into the bus lane when there are no buses in order to make a left-hand turn, which speeds up the flow of traffic and reduces congestion. People may also have to move into the bus lane because the other lane is obstructed, but they are regarded as being in breach of the strict liability rules relating to bus lanes.

People who drop disabled neighbours at their front door will find themselves penalised by fixed penalty notices. Under even the very stringent rules relating to drink driving there is a defence of special reasons, but that defence is not applicable in relation to the offences of strict liability. If we are going to increase the number of fixed penalty notices, I urge the Committee to accept that we have to introduce a defence of reasonable excuse.

Amendment No. 132 would introduce reciprocity in relation to the penalty charge regime. It provides that there should be compensation where penalty charge notices are withdrawn or successfully appealed against. I have been told by one motoring organisation that some London boroughs do not pursue a case if there is an appeal. When the motorist turns up in front of the adjudicator and finds that the matter is not going to be pursued by the local authority, he has wasted a significant amount of time in going through the process of an appeal. He has won his appeal, but he is not entitled to any compensation or costs to cover the expenses that he has incurred.

Amendment No. 133 is important because it would ensure that penalty charges are proportionate to the gravity of the contravention, and have regard to the duration of the contravention and its impact on the safety and convenience of other road users. As the Minister will know, one of the first principles of good regulation is proportionality. When the Road Traffic Act 1991 was introduced following detailed scrutiny in Committee, Parliament was addressing the problem of a lack of enforcement of parking restrictions. For example, where there was a limited waiting area, motorists would park there all day, thereby depriving others of the opportunity to stop outside shops. People found that they could not park anywhere near their houses because residential parking provisions were not being enforced. People found that main routes were congested because of unreasonable behaviour on the part of motorists. Lack of enforcement meant that red routes were introduced on the main routes into London and, following long negotiations with the Home Office, power was given to local authorities to take over parking enforcement in particular circumstances. The purpose was to try to make things fairer for residents and motorists alike and to ensure that unreasonable behaviour that caused congestion or resulted in parking places not being available when they should be was outlawed.

Since then, parking enforcement has become so rigid and inflexible that it is falling into disrepute. The Minister will know, because it came up in Transport questions this week, that if someone drives at 31 mph in a 30 mph zone, under the Association of Chief Police Officers' guidelines they are not prosecuted. However, if someone overstays on a parking meter by

one minute—and often the clocks are not accurate—they can find themselves with a penalty charge of £80. How can that be proportionate or reasonable?

There are many examples, and people in this Room have recent examples in which either they or their loved ones have overstayed on a parking meter for a minute and suffered a disproportionate penalty, or parked on a yellow line for a short time without causing obstruction and found their vehicle towed away, thereby incurring a £175 penalty. The other day, one of my colleagues in the other place cited an example of where, in the square where he lives in London, a parked car had its wheel slightly over the edge of the kerb. That vehicle was towed away. It was not causing an obstruction and was not across the pavement, but had one wheel slightly over the kerb. Strictly speaking, an offence was being committed, but a penalty of £175 had to be paid by the owner of that vehicle. That was totally disproportionate.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation 9:45 am, 5th February 2004

We are all aware of cases of over-zealous traffic wardens, but central to the hon. Gentleman's argument is the idea that fines should generally be lower. If fine income is to pay for enforcement, how would the hon. Gentleman pay for enforcement of traffic regulations if fine income is insufficient?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman seems to believe that it would be better to perpetrate injustice on the basis that it contributes revenue for the greater good. If the situation is such that there is so much compliance with parking law that the only enforcement has to be on people who have overstayed by a minute or two, we need fewer wardens than there are at the moment.

One problem is that wardens are often incentivised so that they get bonus payments related to the number of tickets that they issue. That is an obscene practice, but it is commonplace. If those wardens have nothing better to do because there are no other infringements, we need fewer wardens rather than more. There is an opportunity cost for our economy of having more people in those grey uniforms than is strictly necessary. I hope that the amendment will find favour with the Committee. It would reflect what would normally be regarded as best practice. It would counter the problem of little Hitlers. The problem of insensitive, authoritarian officialdom with no discretion and no flexibility has gone too far and the amendment provides a chance to rein back on that a little and put one over on the unimaginative, small-minded, jealous little Hitlers who delight in persecuting and humiliating vehicle users. I hope that the amendment appeals to the Committee.

Amendment No. 134 would require an annual report—not just any old annual report, but one requiring the local authority to provide specific information on penalty income, the number of appeals, the number of representations, and the outcome of those appeals and representations. That information would be illuminating for residents and businesses in local authority areas and for the wider public.

The amendments are important. They go to the heart of the balance between the duties and responsibilities of motorists to behave reasonably and the need for proportionate and reasonable enforcement on the part of those who are being given civil enforcement powers in lieu of the criminal powers of the police.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

The flaw in the argument made by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) is that not every case of traffic regulation infringement is a minor one such as a tyre being one inch outside a parking box. There are serious problems, and parking in completely inappropriate places must be deterred with action, including fine action. It is disingenuous to suggest that the problem is just one of people committing technical infringements that do no harm to anyone.

I welcome the Government's decision to decriminalise a range of offences because I think that that will make it easier for them to be enforced. The City of York, which I have the great pleasure to represent, has a large pedestrianised area and buses are allowed through certain parts to provide access for people without cars and with limited mobility. Those bus services are often delayed by 10, 15 or 20 minutes because of parking by people who should not be in the pedestrian area and when a service is delayed by that time, it becomes unattractive to the public. Such parking is not a priority for the police, which is probably correct, but is extremely costly for the local bus company and extremely inconvenient for the public.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:00 am, 5th February 2004

Many cities find that the public do not like extensive pedestrianised areas in city centres. Town planners may like them, as may some anti-car councillors, but, by and large, the public like to drive to within a reasonable distance of the shops. The hon. Gentleman referred to York, the city he represents. I recall that recently a number of traders who were unhappy about the pedestrianised area got together and persuaded the local council to allow cars in during the evenings of late night shopping so that people could park their cars near the shops. Can he tell us why that experiment was carried out if pedestrianisation is so popular?

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

When the council first proposed pedestrianisation it was vociferously opposed by most of the city centre traders, who took the view that their business would decline and people would be driven to out-of-town shopping. If the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) comes to my constituency at any shopping time, including the evenings, but especially during normal nine-to-five shopping hours, he will see people walking down the main shopping street—Coney street—which used to have traffic in it but is now wall-to-wall pedestrians. Many more people come to the centre of York and many more people buy things in the shops as a result of pedestrianisation. Looking back, the chamber of commerce and the chamber of trade in York see it as a major improvement. That does not mean that one cannot fine tune the scheme. The council does not take a dogmatic view about the absolute cut-off time for

deliveries or about what vehicles should be excluded. Vehicles carrying disabled people are allowed to enter the pedestrian area during the closure period.

A flexible approach is needed, but the overall benefit of a pedestrian area has been greatly increased trade in the city centre. It has allowed out-of-town and city centre shopping in York to thrive. Shopping is now one of the great tourist attractions in York, along with its history and culture, which have been attracting tourists to the city for a long time.

The setting up and operating of civil enforcement teams is costly. In London, local authorities can make a profit from the income from fines, which more than covers the cost of enforcement. Westminster city council makes a handsome profit from its traffic offences fine income. In smaller towns and cities, however, that is not the case. If enforcement is effective in reducing the number of offences committed, which I hope is the wish of every member of the Committee, fine income will decline, and will inevitably decline to the point where it is lower than the cost of enforcement.

The Minister should consider how authorities in smaller towns and cities are to address the problem. If it is not addressed, we will encounter the difficulty of residents' raised expectations. They want the benefits of good traffic management—through residents' parking schemes, for instance—but find that parking is not properly policed and that, although they pay a charge for it, they are unable to gain any benefit. CCTV is also costly to set up, maintain and use for enforcement, but the cost has to be covered.

The civil enforcement proposals are warmly welcomed not only by the local authority, but by First, the local bus company in York, which has achieved a greater increase in bus use than any other bus undertaking in any part of the country, including Mayor Livingstone's significant improvements in London. First welcomes the proposals because it believes that if the body responsible for planning traffic management in the City of York—the local authority—is responsible also for its policing, it is likely to obtain greater compliance and therefore run its bus services better.

Returning to the difficulty of matching fine income to the cost of enforcement, I make the following proposal, which I hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch will support: the Bill might be amended to permit local authorities to set their own level for fines, on the basis that the level set must achieve only break-even on the relevant trading account, which could be audited by the district auditor. The proposal would prevent the problem in London that the hon. Gentleman rightly referred to, where local authorities use their fine income as a means of taxing the public. It would enable local authorities in areas where that is not the case to ensure that the cost of sustaining the free movement of traffic and providing a benefit for motorists is paid for by motorists and not by other members of community, as would be the case with the proposal from the hon. Member for Christchurch. Free-moving traffic is a benefit to motorists, and it should not be paid for by people who do not have cars.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I have long taken the view that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), who will reply to the debate, is a reasonable and fair-minded person. That view was confirmed this week when I discovered that in his few leisure moments he likes to take members of his family out for a curry. I am willing to resume my place at any time if he is willing to rise to say that he will accept the amendments. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch was a tour de force, and his arguments are unanswerable.

I am intrigued by the suggestion of the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) that a regulation should be made whereby fines would be collected until the authority breaks even. That could lead to a rather interesting situation: motorists would be hounded for the first half of the financial year but in the second half, by which time the authority would have broken even, a more relaxed view would be taken. I shall dwell on the proposal but, at the moment, I do not believe that it is workable.

If every member of the Committee were to seek to catch your eye, Mr. Beard, we would be here for several weeks listening to tales of injustices.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

Perhaps we would get tickets for overstaying.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I believe that we can all relate instances from our own experience of injustices in this area. For many years, I have visited a shop on Edgware road to buy the shirts that I wear in this place.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The tie, as may be obvious, is from America.

On arriving at the shop in a taxi, I noticed a traffic warden who appeared to be sheltering in the shop doorway. I was somewhat puzzled by that, as it was a warm, sunny day. It was not raining or windy. As I got out of the taxi, a motorist pulled up on the single yellow line, got out and went into a shop to collect a parcel that was waiting for him. The traffic warden immediately jumped out of the adjacent shop doorway, ran to the car and put a ticket on it. Similar incidents occurred on every occasion that I visited the shop over two years, until shop owners got together to ask the council for a parking bay, as the road is wide enough for one at that point. I am delighted that common sense has prevailed and that there is a timed parking bay outside the row of shops, but, until the council did what it should have done in the first place, the spot was a haven for traffic wardens wanting to dish out tickets, not because vehicles were obstructing the flow of traffic but because it was a temptation for motorists to stop. The road widened, and motorists needed to stop at the row of shops to load their vehicles.

A dear friend of mine was faced with a similar case when he parked outside his elderly aunt's house to load into his vehicle a piece of furniture that she had given to him. He parked on a single yellow line, so loading was allowed. While he was in the house

collecting the item, a traffic warden appeared and put a ticket on the vehicle. His wife had the presence of mind to video what was happening and the fact that the tailgate of the car was up so that it could be loaded. The traffic warden insisted that the ticket was properly issued. The case ultimately went to court and the motorist won.

Why should a motorist have to go through that? It just so happens that that motorist was a solicitor who had the expertise and knowledge to deal with the matter at no cost to himself, but how many motorists faced with receiving a notice of intended prosecution, then the threat of a summons, would have the nerve and, indeed, the time to go through court proceedings? My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is right to say that regulations ought to make provision for no penalty charge if there is a reasonable excuse for the motorist's action. I hope that the Minister is willing to accept the amendment.

I have sympathy with the point made by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who told the Committee about a disabled constituent who was unable to park in a disabled bay on a gradient. One wonders why on earth the disabled bay was put on a gradient in the first place. In my constituency, there is a disabled bay at the bottom of a steep hill and it is rarely used because disabled motorists find that if they use the bay, they cannot walk up the hill. There is a duty on local authorities to be more considerate when they are deciding where to place disabled bays. They ought to be more flexible as well.

At certain times of the day in Bridlington, taxi bays are empty. The taxi bays are fully used during evenings when nightclubs and bars are populated and people want a taxi, but the taxi ranks are not used fully during the day. Why should those bays not be used as disabled bays during the day or parking bays used for limited-time parking? The attitude of local authorities and others when it comes to dealing with the motorist who wants to park needs to change

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

The right hon. Gentleman makes the case that local authorities, or at least some, are inclined to be anti-motorist as a way to raise income. Why, therefore, does he not support my proposal to outlaw local authorities such as Westminster making a profit from their parking enforcement account and to limit the fines that they charge to an amount that covers the cost of enforcement? Surely he must agree with me about that.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I said to the hon. Gentleman that I was reflecting on his suggestion, and I have not dismissed it out of hand. It is certainly worth further consideration. One problem that Westminster has is that it has had to spend the money it has raised until now on parking and road alterations, which I also think is a mistake.

On my way home a couple of weeks ago, I happened to stop at a garage near Hampstead and I saw that the local paper had a banner headline stating ''Traffic Warden Boss Admits He Hates Motorists''. The paper had managed to persuade one of its

journalists to speak to the traffic warden head without revealing he was a journalist. In the course of the conversation, the man had freely admitted that he hated all motorists, and that he would do anything he could to get at them. That rather confirms the powerful case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch.

It never ceases to amaze me when I visit a car park how, next to disabled bays, the latest trend is to see parking reserved for mother and child. At the same time, we read in the papers that we are becoming a nation of obese people and that young children ought to do more exercise. Surely mother and child parking places ought to be situated at the farthest flung part of the car park to make youngsters get some exercise. Whenever I see a bay marked out for mother and child, I park in it as a matter of principle.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Is that an official policy statement on behalf of the Conservatives?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is certainly not an official policy statement.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

Order. I think some of these anecdotes are going a long way from the amendment.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful, Mr. Beard, for your protecting me from getting into hot water.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said on amendment No. 132 that the regulations should include provision for standard compensation. I say to the Minister that we are not seeking anything other than a modest payment to cover the costs and inconvenience where a person has received a ticket in circumstances where he or she should not have done so. My hon. Friend referred to little Hitlers. It is not a phrase that I would use, but I know the point that he is making, and I think that he made it well. I would phrase it thus: the amendments are reasonable in scope and an attempt to deal with the problems caused by regulation-ridden, form-filling, pen-pushing nincompoops.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 10:15 am, 5th February 2004

It is a pleasure to sum up the debate. On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of sitting for nearly five hours looking at the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire. That was not a hardship at all. We had a further 50 minutes in questions on the Floor of the House and, as he pointed out, I spent another hour looking at him in an Indian restaurant in Kennington when I was taking a member of my family out. He seemed to be enjoying the company of his colleagues. He does not seem to be able to get away from this place; nevertheless, it was a pleasant evening.

Sometimes one has to step out of one's environment and look back at oneself from a distance to appreciate what is happening in one's own environment. Some time ago, on a Select Committee visit to the capital city of another country in Europe, I recall getting stuck in a three-hour traffic jam in a city that had far less traffic than London and many other British cities. It was completely jammed, and the traffic was not moving at all. We were stuck for three hours and missed our appointment. Even though there was near total

gridlock, it turned out that the reason we were stopped was almost entirely a junction with traffic lights where there was no yellow-box rule. The people there just drove into the junction one by one, and it took three hours to get through. Parking was everywhere: people parked where they wanted. They did not have to park their cars, but just abandoned them at the side of the road. Hence, even though the amount of cars and traffic was light, the flow of traffic was almost impossible.

What I am saying is that—this is really what is contained in this part of the Bill—we have very high car and vehicle usage. I am pleased about that. I represent many constituents who are well off and many who are not. Some of those people have access to a motor vehicle that, even 20 years ago, would not have been thought possible. With that freedom for people to use their car has to come responsibility. We cannot have total anarchy in the use of cars. If we had that, nobody would move anywhere, just as I did not in that capital city in Europe. Nobody was going anywhere, because everybody was trying to do their own thing and not obeying any laws. One price of that freedom is that we have to accept a high degree of regulation of what we do to enable us to go about our everyday business.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw raised some good points. His amendment would remove, in cases where action is being taken through the courts, the requirement that a person should not be punished twice for the same offence. That is clearly unfair and goes against the basic tenet of justice. It is also inconsistent. It would retain the principle of one contravention-one punishment when a fixed penalty notice is issued, but not when the contravention is subject to a court action. It would not be possible under his amendment to have a penalty charge notice and be taken to court by the police. On reflection, he would probably agree that that is not a terribly good idea.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Can the Minister tell us his view about the concerns expressed by the Metropolitan police? The letter been sent to us from the Metropolitan Police Service, Government Affairs Unit, Commissioner's Office seems to argue that there should be circumstances in which there is dual enforcement, which is exactly what the hon. Member for Bassetlaw has argued for.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I have just said that I think that that is unfair. Either one should be able to have a fixed penalty and be taken to court—one cannot be fined on both accounts—or one should be given one of the civil charge notices and be taken by the police to court. It is not right and reasonable to be punished twice for the same offence. I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree with me. Indeed, he is nodding in agreement.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport


To return to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw, it is up to a local authority to ensure that the arrangements made by a service provider carrying out actions on its behalf are lawful and in accordance with its statutory functions. It must also ensure that its

private contractors act fairly and reasonably when providing services, particularly when the public are involved.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Surely it is a problem that motorists can be prosecuted twice for the same offence. I shall give the Minister an example. If a motorist exceeds the speed limit during one journey and he is stopped by the police, the police will prosecute him, or give him a ticket for speeding, for that journey. If the same motorist goes through two speed cameras on one journey, he gets two tickets. It is two offences but on one journey.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

If a person walked down the street and smashed a shop window, then went a bit further down and knocked somebody to the ground, that would be two offences but on one journey, so I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Does the Minister accept that there is an anomaly? He could table amendments at a later stage of the Bill to tighten the law so that a private operator of a private car park can only use the civil courts to pursue debt. If a local authority is running a local authority car park, there is the parking adjudicator, but a private operator of a privatised local authority car park can at present use the criminal courts to raise whatever money he wants by threatening people with criminal action.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

A number of issues are involved here, some of which are not relevant to the clause. It may be helpful if, for clarity, I set the matter out in a note for my hon. Friend, because there are different procedures in different types of car park. I think that he is referring to private car parks, but issues also arise on publicly owned car parks and street parking, each of which is covered in a different way.

If a car park is in the decriminalised parking enforcement area, there is recourse to the criminal courts. Although a local authority may employ a private contractor as its agent to collect the fines, any prosecution to collect those fines is brought in the authority's name.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Can the Minister explain how, at Doncaster magistrates court, Excel Parking brought cases itself, and in all its letters demanding payment threatened to take cases to the criminal court, not in the name of the local authority or through it, but as a private operator. Excel is taking cases to the criminal courts to pursue what should be a civil debt.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

That case does not relate to decriminalised parking. That is probably why a note to my hon. Friend is necessary to set out the various aspects. We are dealing here with decriminalised parking.

The hon. Member for Christchurch said that he is leading the fight back for middle Britain. That is wonderful, because much of what he complains about is contained in the 1991 Act, which came into force when he was the Minister.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman is now doing a U-turn on what he personally introduced. Many of the powers that we are dealing with today were brought in

under his guidance as the Minister at the time. He referred to the little Hitlers—I would certainly not use that description, and I notice that the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire did not, so there may be some difference between them there—but these little Hitlers were brought in by the Act that he introduced to Parliament. Also, in the guidance that came out in 1995, which was not produced by this Government, chapter 18, dealing with contracts for compulsory competitive tendering, specified that enforcement had to be competitively tendered, usually to outside contractors. If there are little Hitlers, the hon. Gentleman's fingers are all over their introduction.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is surely sensible for a legislature to look at the effect of its legislation in practice. I challenge the Minister to show any provision in the legislation that we introduced in 1991, with which I am proud to have been associated, for enforcement officers to be allowed to act disproportionately and unreasonably. That is the problem that we now face. If we do not respond we will get into the difficulty identified by the Automobile Association, which says:

''The civil enforcement of parking and traffic offences will be discredited if motorists come to regard it as a revenue-gathering exercise rather than a road safety and traffic management issue.''

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

Order. It is not in order to start reading large tracts during an intervention.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman is saying that there were unintended consequences of the Act that he took though Parliament. We are putting some of those things right and bringing in guidelines that will make it operate better.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of the report in the Evening Standard regarding the adjudicator. I think his raising of the matter reinforces the effectiveness of the independent adjudication process. Were that process not in place, we would not have the comments that Martin Wood, the chief adjudicator, made. I endorse those comments, and if those criticisms are well founded, they vindicate the presence of an independent person to exercise that task.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does the Minister agree that it would be much more sensible for those cases not to be brought before the adjudicator in the first place, and for prosecutions not to be initiated in unreasonable circumstances?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

If everybody parked in the right places and nobody ever committed a crime, we would not need courts or adjudicators or anything of that sort. Unfortunately, human beings are frail and there are sometimes mistakes, which is why we have the adjudicator to assist people in cases where there are errors or where an injustice may have been perpetrated. That further underlines why it is a good thing.

Regarding amendment No. 50, the recipient of a parking penalty charge notice can already make representations to an enforcing authority. If those representations are not accepted and the penalty charge remains unpaid after 28 days, the authority

will issue a notice to the owner, giving the recipient a further opportunity to make a formal representation. If that is rejected, the recipient has recourse to appeal to the independent adjudicator. This two-stage system for making representations in the case of parking penalties was, of course, established in the Road Traffic Act 1991. Penalty charge notices for other contraventions subject to civil enforcement under the Bill will be served by post. The intention is that regulations will give the recipient 28 days to make representations. The right to an appeal to the independent adjudicator would remain.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am not sure that the Minister has understood the point. If representations cannot be made within the first 14 days, which is the situation under the current regulations, the person thinking of making those representations is deprived of the opportunity of receiving the 50 per cent. discount that he would get if the penalty was paid within 14 days.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

My understanding is that, in most cases, if somebody makes an informal representation within a period of time, the authority stops the clock on the 14-day period.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:30 am, 5th February 2004

I am grateful to the Minister for explaining his understanding, but the Automobile Association tells me that that is not the situation. If he is persuaded that that is not the current situation, will he table an amendment on Report to cover the lacuna in the law?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

If that situation exists, I would want to see evidence. If the hon. Gentleman can provide some, I would be very pleased to see it.

Amendments Nos. 129 and 130 would restrict the Secretary of State's ability to decide the regulations on the imposition of penalty charges and to specify whether there should be exemptions, discounts and surcharges. In the case of moving traffic contraventions, we want to see what the pilots in London reveal about the appropriateness and effectiveness of enforcement by cameras and civil enforcement officers' reports. We therefore believe that flexibility should be retained in regulations.

On amendment No. 131, contraventions must already be properly signed or imposed so that motorists understand and appreciate them. We also expect the enforcement authority to exercise its judgment when confronted with mitigating circumstances. Having said that, if any individual feels that they are being treated unfairly, they will have recourse to the independent adjudicator.

On amendment No. 132, appeals are quite right, but neither side should be penalised once the appeal is over. The amendment is not even-handed. If an individual should lose their appeal, it does not provide that there should be a further charge. There is a caveat, however: an adjudicator can already award costs where he is of the opinion that either the appellant or the local authority has acted frivolously or vexatiously, or that their conduct in making, pursuing or resisting an appeal was totally or wholly

unreasonable. In addition, costs may be awarded against the local authority where the adjudicator considers that the disputed decision was wholly unreasonable. Such decisions will be retained in regulations made under clause 76(5).

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Does the Minister accept that there is an anomaly whereby if there is a private operator of a local authority off-street car park, the adjudicator's powers cannot come into play because he does not have the authority? It is a major anomaly in the proposal's fairness to any individual who wishes to dispute whether a charge has been brought properly.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I am informed that the adjudicator does have powers in those circumstances. In my written answer to my hon. Friend, it may be helpful if I set out where the adjudicator has those powers.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

The adjudicator himself says that he does not have those powers. My attempts to take cases to him in precisely that situation have been refused. He says that he has no jurisdiction over private operation over local authority car parks.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

If my hon. Friend sends me a specific example, I will have it closely examined. We must know the exact circumstances and who has the contract with whom. I would be very interested to look at the case.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

I may be able to help the Committee. The Minister might address the matter by carefully examining the wording of schedule 7 and making it absolutely clear that when we are dealing with an off-street designated parking area the circumstances described by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw would be decriminalised. That would be the easiest way of dealing with the dispute.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw made a valid point. If he is right and the Minister is wrong, it needs to be addressed on Report. Will the Minister promise to consider the matter before Report, while there is still time for amendments to be tabled, and let all members of the Committee know the position?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Certainly. That is my intention, but I want to clarify the matter. It is complex because different practices occur in different areas. It would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw would provide information about the circumstances to my officials and me so that we can investigate the situation. It may be that there is some local misunderstanding about who has power to do what. If that is not the case, we will clarify the matter.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

Through the miraculous efficiency of the Clerk's department, the right piece of paper has sped into my hand. Part 4 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, which deals with parking places, is amended in schedule 7. The matter can be resolved. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw made a good point if he has correspondence from the commissioner that outlines the anomaly that he described.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

That is very helpful. Some clarification is required, and I am happy to provide

it, not just for my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw but, as the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire has asked, for all members of the Committee.

Amendment No. 133 would introduce unworkable complexity. It implies that we should have a sliding scale of penalty charges based on a subjective judgment of the seriousness of a contravention. The amendment does not say who would make the judgment.

The Bill provides for some variation in the setting of charges in schedule 9. Different levels may be set for different cases or classes of cases. For example, it allows for continuation of three parking penalty bands in London. At present, they are £100, £80 or £60, depending on the zone in which the contravention occurs, with the highest penalty applying in the most congested areas, such as central London.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister is familiar with the Association of Chief Police Officers guidelines on speeding enforcement and penalties. Is there a role for him, as Minister, to issue guidelines on parking enforcement? For example, there are situations in which it would be reasonable to allow two or three minutes before placing a penalty notice on a car, or to allow a penalty to be paid rather than require the motorist to collect the car from the pound after it has been removed. Those issues of proportionality are of everyday concern to ordinary people.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman must agree that there would be a high degree of subjectivity in all those judgments. If someone has gone over by a minute, would they be fined £1, or £2 if over by two minutes? That would be absurd. The whole process would become bogged down with appeals and discussions about how long someone had overrun their time. It would become nonsensical.

In general, it is reasonable to ask those who enforce parking regulations to use good sense. I believe that in most cases they do; clearly, in some cases they do not, and we all know of examples. We should encourage local authorities to promote good practice among those who enforce the regulations. For the police, that is generally the case. A police officer will use discretion and good sense, and a little bit of discretion and good sense is needed in enforcing some of the other regulations as well.

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Enforcement should not be harsh, but there is a difference—I believe that he would agree with this—between someone who is a minute or two over their time and someone who flagrantly ignores all the usual laws, just parks their car anywhere and blocks the road.

In another part of the Bill, there is a time limit on clamping. Clamping cannot take place immediately: the clamp cannot be whacked on after the first minute.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We are getting somewhere. The Minister has accepted that the police are reasonable. In a situation in which the police are excluded from the process—we are talking about civil enforcement—there must be a role for the Minister to give guidance.

Will he consider issuing guidance on people who overstay their limit on a parking meter for a very short time? At the moment, they are subject to an unreasonable level of enforcement.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Guidance was published some time ago, but it would not be unreasonable to give a further indication of how things should operate. I will certainly consider the matter and see whether the guidance that came out in 1995 needs to be revisited.

Amendment No. 134 would require an enforcement authority to publish an annual report on its enforcement activities, which would give details of income received, and the number of appeals and representations and their outcome. That would be an unnecessary additional imposition. Authorities are already required to keep accounts of income and expenditure on enforcement activities, and they provide statistics to the Home Office on the number of penalty charges issued. Parking adjudicators publish annual reports on appeals and their outcomes.

The rules on box junctions are pretty clear. The box should not be entered until the exit is clear. If that is enforced using CCTV cameras, the moving image will pick up on somebody cutting in front of the driver—I think that it was the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire who raised that issue. It is not the camera that imposes the penalty; it is the operator who looks at the film, and who interprets it and decides whether somebody has committed an offence. If a driver was outside a yellow box and someone cut in front of them, it would be picked up by the camera.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

In the case of a camera dealing with a fixed offence, such as a speeding offence, a still photograph can be supplied to the accused person. In the situation that the Minister describes, when one needs to look at the whole sequence of events—a video recording—how will evidence be made available to somebody who feels aggrieved? Supposing there is a space at the other side of the box junction when the driver sets out to cross it, but some lunatic cuts in front and takes it. How will the driver test whether that has been taken into account?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I asked that question myself, because it is an important one. As in all cases, the evidence must be available to both sides. I believe that, just as a photograph from a speed camera can be issued to the person who is accused, the film will be available for examination.

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire and my hon. Friend the Member for City of York raised the costliness of civil enforcement and excesses. We will come on to some of the issues raised when we reach clause 89, which relates to excess penalties. It may be more appropriate to answer those points then.

I hope that my remarks have been helpful in summarising this interesting debate. I ask the Committee to resist the amendment.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I chose to listen to the Minister before saying anything in the hope that reasonableness would be the order of the day—it is certainly the theme of the

amendments. Sadly, however reasonable the Minister is as a person, his response to the amendments was not reasonable. I come at the issues from the view that my father always took about cars. He was quite convinced that if people could work out a way of driving their cars up to the bedroom to save walking upstairs, they probably would, and that the human race has a love affair with cars. If people in developing countries are asked what they want, they say a car. Most of us want a car and enjoy using it. People want a car if they live in a country where they have no means of a recognisably western European way of life unless they have a vehicle because public transport is not available.

A few people, however, seem to hate cars and car drivers—I shall not speculate on their motives—and see it as their mission in life to make it as difficult as possible for people to use what they want to use. I am not suggesting that that is party political issue, but it makes car drivers anti-authority. They see themselves as put upon. If we want to persuade society to act responsibly and to accept authority, we must take seriously any attempt to set out deliberately to antagonise car drivers with the sort of pettifogging nonsense that the amendments cover. That is why I hope that the Minister will agree, on further reflection, to think about some of the issues again and to see whether we can do something about them.

The classic instance of what the Minister got wrong came when he referred to amendment No. 131 and reasonable excuse. The Minister wants the Committee to reject the amendment because he said that it was possible for common sense to apply and that he hoped the enforcers would use their common sense. There are hundreds and thousands of examples—I shall not bore the Committee with them—of enforcers not using their common sense. The little Hitlers really do exist, and even those who are not quite that have quotas and targets and fear for their jobs if they do not issue enough tickets in a day. It is not adequate for the Minister to say that he hopes that those people will use their common sense. We have an opportunity in amendment No. 131 to say that they must be reasonable. If the Minister does not like the wording, he can take more advice and return on Report with an amendment to give more strength to his wish that people use common sense. We would be happy not to pursue amendment No. 131 if we had a promise that another way would be found to turn the Minister's wish into an instruction

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes 10:45 am, 5th February 2004

When I was a local councillor and people were talking to me about taking judicial review, the Wednesbury test, under which all decisions taken had to be reasonable, was suggested. Does that not apply to everything that we are talking about? Leave for judicial review would be granted only on the grounds of unreasonableness. If someone was being unreasonable, judicial review would be allowed, so what is the point of amendment No. 131?

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

Has the hon. Gentleman ever contemplated the cost of judicial review, particularly

given that we have been told that compensation does not appeal to the Minister?

The Minister said that there is provision for costs. In my limited experience, costs rarely amount to what is required to compensate someone for what has happened. There are measurable costs, and it would be interesting to know what his definition of costs would be. If the Minister wants to respond, I shall give way. There is the cost to a person's reputation for being hauled up and told that they must pay for the tickets. There is the cost of a day's work if they must go before an adjudicator. In my layman's experience of what happens when someone ends up in court, the costs rarely seem to bear much relationship to the totality.

The Minister was unhappy with the idea that there should be payment in compensation, but not the other way around. I did not follow that argument. If a parking ticket is slapped on, there is a cost if the ticket is justified and there should be a cost on the other side if the ticket is not justified, because what is fair for one is fair for the other. I do not understand the argument that somehow that would cause a double problem. It would focus the minds of the little Hitlers wonderfully, particularly if any costs awarded came out of their wages rather than the council tax payers' kitty. They might actually stop to think, and the Minister might achieve the objective of people being reasonable and sensible, rather than leaping out of doorways, as we heard earlier. It seems right to me to pursue amendment No. 133. The Minister has not given me any reason not to support my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch.

In relation to amendment No. 134, the Minister said that a report was unnecessary. I thought that he was a Member of a Government that believed in open government, and was keen to have transparency. On this occasion, for some reason, he does not want to be transparent. He wants us to hide the matter. One of his colleagues on the Committee was questioning why people should be able to make a profit out of the issue, and I could be persuaded to go down that route.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman blinked while I was saying it, but the amendment is unnecessary, not because authorities should not make a report, but because they already make one.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

They keep it pretty quiet, as far as I can see. The maximum amount of publicity that is given to the number of tickets issued and the amount of profit made in the case of certain councils might reveal what is really going on, and offer another opportunity for the Minister to enforce his will.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

For the sake of clarity, let me say that the local authority has to make a report on income from parking penalties and how it is disposed of. That is a public document open for scrutiny by councillors and residents. The idea of having a further report is unnecessary.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I do not think so at all. A report would highlight the nonsense that is going on in some councils. I hear what the Minister says, but he does not persuade me.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

The logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument suggests that he would be even more hostile to the privatisation of local authority car parks to companies whose sole purpose was to make a profit by dint of the fact that they were private companies. Any encouragement of privatisation should therefore be reversed so that democratically accountable local authorities take the rap for their actions.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I see Dick Turpin riding over the horizon. I do not necessarily accept that point. My experience of such issues is that when there is trouble relating to the use of private contractors it is almost always the case that the contract that was written in the first place is the cause of it. The hon. Gentleman makes some fair points about what can happen if private contractors are used, and there are many anecdotes about that if we want to go down that route, such as those concerning clampers on private land.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Is the answer not in our hands today? We are making the law. We could impose a duty on any private person, or as our amendment would ensure, require that someone who is dealt with unfairly has a remedy.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

Absolutely. That is exactly the point that I was gradually working my way to. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for getting there quicker than I might have done. I do not accept the argument of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw of ''public good, private bad''. Public can be awful, as can private.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

Order. Can we stick to the point of the amendments, not start a discussion about privatisation?

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I am grateful, Mr. Beard, for being rescued because I was sorely tempted, but you allowed the hon. Gentleman to ask me a question and in fairness, since I am reasonable person, I thought it proper to do my level best to answer him. I do accept that he should not have asked me the question in the first place because it led me down that route.

It seems to me that all the amendments are reasonable. The Minister says that he is a reasonable man.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

Well, the Minister did not leap to his feet and say that he was unreasonable, so I took that to be agreement. In my dealings with the Minister I have found him a reasonable and fair-minded person. Since all the amendments are fair-minded, reasonable, sensible and common sense, I am amazed that he cannot apply his own reasonableness to reasonableness from Opposition Members.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We have had a good debate on this group of amendments, and I understand that you are likely to take the view, Mr. Beard, that we should not have a clause stand part debate as well. I am sure that no member of the Committee would quarrel with that, if it were your ruling.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I am sorry that my hon. Friend said that, because one issue has not been covered.

Therefore, I hope he does not ask you to stop me in my prime, Mr. Beard.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

If my hon. Friend can tell me what that issue is, we may be able to debate it shortly.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

Yes. The issue arises in subsection (2)—

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I am trying to explain to my hon. Friend that the issue arises in subsection (2) and relates to whether the driver, the owner or another appropriate person should be liable for paying a ticket. It is a separate issue.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I hope that the Minister will be able to address my hon. Friend's concern. If it is not sufficiently clear, I hope that my hon. Friend will seek an opportunity to make it clearer during this debate, if indeed it the clause stand part debate is to be consolidated into it.

I want to record appreciation of the Minister's response to amendment No. 50, because there is a fundamental disagreement about the existing law, and the AA Motoring Trust's exact words. It said:

''Under the civil system a penalty notice is usually reduced by 50 per cent. if it is paid within 14 days. This is sensible and encourages prompt payment. However, a challenge to a penalty notice can only technically be made 14 days after the 'notice to owner' is usually sent. This goes against natural justice by effectively threatening a 50 per cent. surcharge if someone dares to challenge within the discounted period.''

The Minister seemed to accept the AA's point, and I hope that, when he has had a chance to consider the matter further, he will table an amendment on Report to address that real concern. I shall not press amendment No.50, because I want the Minister to think about it further.

However, I want to test the Committee's will on amendment No. 131, because it relates to reasonableness. My right hon. and hon. Friends have made strong points in support of introducing an element of reasonableness. The Minister's response is to say, ''Ultimately you can go to the adjudicator, who will deal with matters''. That is an incredibly long-winded and uncertain process, in which many people who lead busy lives are not prepared to get involved. A better way to deal with the matter would be to introduce at the outset a requirement on the enforcing authorities to be reasonable and to have regard to whether the motorist has a reasonable excuse. I hope that we can press that amendment to a vote.

As regards box junction enforcement, I think that there will be scope to argue specifically about box junctions on the next clause.

The Bill gives us a chance to revisit civil enforcement in practice, drawing on the experience of the last 12 or 13 years following the introduction of the 1991 Act. I was proud to be associated with putting that legislation on the statute book, but nobody in their right mind would suggest that legislation should never be amended in the light of

experience, and the ordinary motorist's experience is that enforcement is now unnecessarily rigid and inflexible. If that is the problem—we see it in our postbags, read about it in the press and know about it from our own experience and that of our friends and relatives—it is incumbent on us not to dig our heels in and say, ''Well, I was responsible for putting the legislation through, so it must be good and I do not want to suggest there is anything at fault in it''. I am prepared to admit—in fact I am eager to stress—that the unreasonable enforcement that we now see was never contemplated in 1991. If it had been, we would have addressed it in the 1991 legislation. We now have an opportunity to address it, and I hope the Committee will seize it.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford 11:00 am, 5th February 2004

Order. I will not be inclined to call a stand part debate after this very wide-ranging discussion. If the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) wishes to discuss clause 68(2) further I suggest he now does so.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

There is a small matter that I think the Minister can clarify for me. I hope that ''any other appropriate person'' includes people who steal cars and go joy-riding. Will the Minister assure us of that? It would be monstrously unreasonable if I ended up having to pay some sort of penalty if somebody stole my car and left it on yellow lines. I am sure that the Minister can confirm that ''appropriate person'' would include a thief.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

The issue in relation to reasonableness, and in relation to private versus public, which I think is crucial to people's concept of reasonableness, is not a pedantic one. I have had no cases brought to me of complaints about local authority running of car parks, but more than 300 from across the country about private operators of local authority car parks, and 36 of them have gone to the criminal courts. Over-zealousness is fundamental. It seems reasonable to me for people to have independent adjudication, either through civil courts, or through a parking adjudicator. That principle needs to be brought into the law, although I will not push my amendment, as the Minister has explained that its wording would not meet the requirements of what I intend it to do.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

In response to the first remarks of the hon. Member for Spelthorne, bringing in certain enforcement actually helps the vast majority of motorists by getting free flow of traffic. It helps people to go about their business. In many cases we are protecting the majority, who are law-abiding and want to go about their everyday business as smoothly as they can, from an inconsiderate minority. I would have thought that that was exactly what Parliament should be doing.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I invite the Minister, when he gets the chance to read Hansard, to find a single word I have uttered that says that I oppose the principle of these provisions.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I wish that the hon. Gentleman had made that clear in his speech. It certainly did not come out in what he said. I wrote down that he used the term ''pettifogging'' rules. I will give an example.

Where there is a residents' parking area, occasionally people who park in the residents' slots will say, ''That is a pettifogging rule''. However, to the residents themselves, who cannot get in and out of their houses because somebody is blocking all the spaces, it is not a pettifogging rule; it is essential to their everyday life. That also goes for parking at the side of the road. We do not have to travel far from this building to see how one person leaving their car at the side of a road, often in a bus lane, can cause huge congestion and, in some cases, such as where buses are required to pull round vehicles illegally parked in the bus lanes, danger to others. I do not think that these are pettifogging rules. They are essential for protecting the majority. That is what we are about on this side of the House.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne asked about subsection (2). The regulations will include a provision specifying the person or persons liable to pay the penalty charge. Following the precedent of decriminalised parking enforcement and bus lane enforcement, we intend the regulations to make the owner of the vehicle liable for the penalty charge. Again, following existing precedent, where the owner of the vehicle is a hire company and at the time of contravention the vehicle is the subject of a hire agreement, the regulations will allow for the company to pass on liability for the penalty charge to the person who hired the vehicle. Similarly, if a contravention took place before the current owner acquired the vehicle, they would not be liable to pay the penalty charge. If a contravention takes place after a vehicle is sold, the new owner will be liable. It will also be a defence against a penalty charge to argue that at the time of a contravention the vehicle had been taken without the consent of the owner. I hope that is helpful.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 131, in

page 41, line 17, at end add—

'(6) The regulations shall include provision that a penalty charge shall not be imposed in respect of any description of conduct in which there is a reasonable excuse having regard to the circumstances at the time.'.—[Mr. Chope.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.

Division number 42 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 68 - Civil penalties for road traffic contraventions

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the

Question pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 60 ordered to stand part of the Bill.