Clause 72 - Civil enforcement orders

Traffic Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 5th February 2004.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:30 pm, 5th February 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 192, in

page 42, line 40, leave out from 'authority' to end of line 43.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 193, in

page 42, line 43, at end insert—

'(2A) No person shall be employed as a civil enforcement officer unless he is the holder of a current valid driving licence and has been the subject of a check with the Criminal Records Bureau.'.

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

We had a discussion earlier about the qualifications of traffic officers. If civil enforcement officers are to be given this wide range of responsibilities they should be properly qualified. The Government were sympathetic to the point that was made in the earlier debate about the need for Criminal Record Bureau checks, and the fact that traffic officers should have a current driving licence and, therefore, a knowledge and understanding of the highway code and the reality of being a driver. Obviously, the Highways Agency is under direct Government control, and the Government have already given assurances that traffic officers will have to have those qualifications in order to become traffic officers under the provisions of part 1.

The situation in relation to local government is rather different. We know from the record that there is an enormous amount of injustice at the moment in the conduct of local authority civil enforcement officers, as they will be called under this regime. Much of the need for appeals could be removed if they were better qualified in the first place. That is what amendment No. 193 is designed to ensure. Later in the Bill, we talk about double parking and parking a particular distance from the pavement. If one parks further than that distance, one will be subject to a civil penalty. It is important that the people who are looking at that should be able to exercise discretion and common sense, based on the fact that they have some experience of driving.

I am lucky enough to drive a car with power steering, but many of my elderly constituents do not. The measure is not designed to discriminate particularly against elderly women, but it could have that impact in practice unless the enforcement is carried out by people who have some common sense and knowledge of exactly how difficult it can be for somebody who is perhaps slightly infirm to get their car parallel to the kerb, when there are many vehicles there. I am concerned that we shall have a civil enforcement regime in which the people doing the enforcement are not sufficiently au fait with the realities of life for motorists.

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston mentioned box junctions. He and I, as members of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, know the rules, but we also need to have regard to the realities. We are much more likely to get others to do that if they have a driving licence, and if we know that they are responsible people who are not known to the CRB as a result of having been in difficulties with the law.

Amendment No. 192 is a probing amendment to test why the Government believe that civil enforcement officers should not be directly employed by and accountable to local authorities.

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

Under the clause, existing parking attendants become civil enforcement officers. Currently, they are employed either directly by authorities or by companies that undertake enforcement for them. Authorities can decide for themselves which option to choose, taking into account best value considerations as legislation requires. I was interested that the hon. Member for Christchurch spoke mainly about the second amendment rather than the lead one. I think I know why. The provisions that he is trying to overturn are those that he introduced in 1991.

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

The Under-Secretary talks about the lead amendment as though I had chosen it as the lead amendment. He knows that the order in which amendments are debated is an issue for the Chair rather than for the person who proposes an amendment.

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

Indeed it is, Miss Begg. However, it is usual that the lead amendment is spoken to first. I merely noted that the hon. Gentleman gave less emphasis to it. As he will know, under the Road Traffic Act 1991, authorities were compelled to subject enforcement activities to competitive tendering under the legislation then in force, so I find it rather curious that we have his amendment before us. However, it has been useful to have the debate.

Amendment No. 193 would require a civil enforcement officer to be someone who is the

''holder of a current valid driving licence and has been the subject of a check with the Criminal Records Bureau''.

I see no reason why an officer should necessarily have a driving licence. Such people would not have to drive in connection with the work—they could cycle, walk or take public transport—so they would not necessarily need driving licences. However, I think that it is right that they be properly trained and that they have the skills to carry out the job. The hon. Gentleman will know that circular 1/95 on guidance on parking enforcement outside London, which sprang out of his own legislation, contains clear guidance about the training of parking attendants. We shall ensure that the guidance that relates to the Bill covers the role of enforcement officers including their training. We will echo the provisions of paragraph 7.6 of circular 1/95 that local authorities should ensure that enforcement officers, including supervisors and managers, should have the training necessary to provide accurate, fair and consistent enforcement. The point is well made and important.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

We have created a category of people who have responsibility for exercising wide powers, all of which are to do with such things as box junctions, road traffic signs and the behaviour of vehicles. The easiest way to ensure that somebody knows what those mean is to require them to pass a test—at least the written part of the driving test. I respectfully suggest to the Minister that somebody who has not taken the test is unaware of most of that.

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

I agree with that up to a point. Obviously, somebody who has taken the driving test will be more familiar with general matters on the road, although I admit to the Committee that although I can barely swim, I have taught many people to swim, including my children, who are all excellent swimmers. One does not necessarily have to be able to do something to be familiar with it and to know what needs to be done.

The scope of the clause is quite limited and proper training will be given. The provision that officers should have a driving licence is unnecessary. However, the Bill will enable civil enforcement officers to report moving contraventions, and we expect that most such contraventions will be detected using cameras. We certainly do not envisage officers going out in vehicles to detect moving contraventions. They will not have powers to stop vehicles: in fact, clause 74(4) specifically prohibits the conferral of power to stop vehicles.

The civil enforcement officers' role will not be akin to that of the Highways Agency traffic officers: they will not be able to stop vehicles and would not normally come into contact with the occupants of vehicles. Nevertheless, civil enforcement officers are in a position of trust, so we should, of course, expect them to act honestly and fairly. Local authorities must make sure of that when they issue penalty charge notices or report vehicles for moving contraventions.

There has been an outbreak of consensus on the matter of the CRB check, and I should like to give it further thought. I do not think that there is a need to put that in the Bill—we have not already done so for traffic officers, as that that will be in the regulations. Civil enforcement officers are in a position of trust—not to the same extent as a traffic officer and certainly not to the same extent as a police officer—so we need people of the highest quality to do the work. They generally do a good job, although some in some areas they do not appear to do so. The public need proper reassurance about what sort of people we employ to do the work. I hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch accepts my points, and I guarantee that I shall reconsider the issue. Although I do not think that it needs to go in to the Bill, we could certainly consider whether the matter is necessary for the guidance.

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

I am grateful to the Minister. He obviously understands that there is an issue here. I hope that when he considers what course he should take, he will look at the most recent report of the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service. That report sets out vivid examples of wholly unreasonable behaviour on the part of parking attendants. In the latest newsletter, the figures for April to September in Lambeth show that 1,292 appeals were received, of which only 285 were refused. In other words, more than 1,000 appeals have been allowed or withdrawn: that is an incredibly high percentage success rate for appellants, incredibly burdensome for the adjudication service and absolutely oppressive for the people who have had to go through the process to get justice. Furthermore, for every person who appeals, I suspect that 10 or 20 others hang their heads in shame and say, ''I just can't be bothered with it, I'll just pay up, but I

hate the whole system.'' Anything that the Minister could do to restore more respect for the system would be welcome. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 72 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 73 ordered to stand part of the Bill.