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Westminster Hall

Volume 455: debated on Thursday 18 January 2007

Westminster Hall

Thursday 18 January 2007

[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]

Parking Policy

[Relevant documents: Seventh Report from the Transport Committee, Session 2005-06, HC 748, and the Government’s response thereto, Fourteenth Special Report, Session 2005-06, HC 1641.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Liz Blackman.]

It is always a delight to see you in the Chair, Mr. Benton. You will sympathise when I say that parking is the one thing on which everyone seems to have an opinion. It is no surprise that when people regard themselves as newly affluent, they expect the right to buy a car. I am told that lottery winners always put a car first on the list of things that they want to acquire. That does not entirely surprise me. However, people do not seem to go on to consider where they will park their vehicles. The whole question of the space taken up by motorcars, how they are controlled and how they affect the quality of our lives, streets and houses is very important.

In considering parking policy and enforcement, the Transport Committee was concerned that the Department for Transport was expecting to issue a confrontation—forgive me, although perhaps that is the word. It was expecting to issue a consultation on draft regulations and statutory guidance for parking provisions early in July. We wanted the opportunity not only to take evidence, but consider some of the implications and, if possible, give guidance on how the Government should proceed.

It is startling to realise that an estimated 50 million acts of illegal parking take place each year in London alone, costing £270 million a year in additional delays and accidents. Clearly, the cost of illegal parking throughout Britain is significant. For many years, the police, faced with a series of difficult decisions, have chosen, almost inevitably—I do not mean that in any pejorative sense—to put their other duties above the responsibility for dealing with illegal parking.

Has the Department estimated the annual cost of the delays and accidents caused by illegal parking? Inevitably, people park in the wrong places; that impacts on not only the movement of goods and people but disabled drivers who want the right to park safely.

Local authorities have had 15 years to take on enforcement powers from the police. About half of local authorities have taken on civil enforcement powers, and that creates a rather strange anomaly. How can it be acceptable that motorists should be subject to different legal processes for the same parking violations in different parts of the country? Why should a motorist in one place be branded a criminal and face a £30 penalty, or ultimately appear in a magistrates court, when in another area they would have committed a contravention but have faced a higher penalty—up to £100—and their representations would have been heard by an adjudicator rather than a court? What evidence does the Department have that its proposal to remove the requirement that civil enforcement operations should be self-financing will be sufficient to encourage all authorities to take on civil enforcement powers? In parking above all else, we require standardisation and harmonisation.

The Committee stressed that local authorities must not be able to use parking operations primarily to raise revenue. There is a logic to having a properly controlled parking scheme for whatever area is in the control of the local council or county council, but that should not be regarded as an automatic way of increasing a revenue stream. Using it in that way not only engenders very real irritation among the general public, but frequently means that people’s indignation spills over into the arguments and distorts the need for proper control.

The draft guidance states:

“Raising revenue should not be an objective…nor should targets be set for raising revenue or the number of Penalty Charge Notices…issued”.

How will the Department and the Audit Commission uphold in practice the principle that parking operations must deliver transport priorities, not financial aims? The Committee was clear that incentive schemes for parking attendants and employees are totally misguided. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) will mention the evidence that we took from Manchester, which made it clear that that was the way to perdition and produced tremendously negative responses. We recommended that incentive schemes should not be permitted.

In their response, the Government stated that they largely agree with the Committee, without explaining which bit they disagreed with. How are incentive regimes in enforcement contracts ever compatible with sensible and proportionate enforcement? Does the Minister feel that such regimes ought to be allowed? If not, how will we make it clear that they are not acceptable?

The Committee has said that there must be much greater accountability and transparency in local authority parking operations. People ought to know how much a scheme costs to administer, how it is operated and the implications. The Committee was struck by the ignorance of how parking notice appeals worked. We sat in on the work of the adjudicators. Personally, I was enormously impressed not only with their professionalism but with their common sense in how they operated the system.

However, many people faced with quite large parking fines do not understand where they can appeal, what advantages there are or where they can benefit from an independent scheme. Many do not even understand that the scheme is independent. In some instances, some local authorities imply that if a person does not pay up in a short period and they appeal, they will not be able to take the benefit of any discount offered. Frankly, that is not constructive and I hope that it will be discontinued.

The Government said that there should be greater reporting by local authorities to their local communities, but as, to date, local authorities have not volunteered that information, the Government will have to do a great deal more to ensure that such local reporting takes place.

We must understand the question of penalty charge notices. From the evidence that we took, we believe that the business of a driver needing to make representations within 28 days of receiving a parking ticket, but there being no requirement for the council to respond within an agreed period, is not balanced. We suggest that the Government indicate to local authorities that, like Ministries, they should have a proper target in respect of the time that they take to respond and how they deal with the situation.

The Government propose that local authorities should respond to representations about vehicle clamping and removal within 56 days, but how can it be considered acceptable for a potentially innocent driver to be without their vehicle for almost two months? We also want to know a bit about the pay or challenge system, under which payment of the penalty charge prevents the owner from making representations subsequently. We heard evidence that not all motorists understand exactly how that works. We said that statutory guidance should require local authorities to make things clear on a penalty charge notice and the notice to owner because there is the attractive incentive of a discount for early payment. The principle needs to be clearly communicated.

The Government were measured and said that our proposal had a lot of merit. I am not sure about what that means, but I am sure that the Minister will be able to tell me exactly. All our proposals, of course, have enormous merit, but that does not mean that the Government have always accepted them root and branch.

A 50 per cent. discount is offered to drivers who pay the penalty charge within 14 days, but did the responses to the consultation support the Committee’s recommendation that the discount should be re-offered after the representations stage? In other words, it should be retained as a fair measure.

We talked about differential penalties, issued according to the seriousness of the offence. The report states:

“Illegal parking acts which clearly create danger for other road users, those which result in disruption to traffic flow, and those which contribute to congestion, should attract penalties at the severe end of the scale.”

Did the responses to the consultation support the Committee’s call for differential penalty charges based on the severity of the contravention? What action will Ministers take and what penalties will there be for persistent offenders?

The Government response told us that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency does not have data for overseas vehicles to allow enforcement to be undertaken. This is a matter of great moment, particularly with the increasing numbers of foreign vehicles coming to the United Kingdom. What steps will the Department take to ensure that the DVLA has access to overseas databases to permit enforcement of foreign-registered vehicles? The Government have accepted in other fields the principle of increasing the number of occasions on which information about British citizens can be transferred between police forces, and the Home Office has almost made a virtue of it. I hope that the matter will be a priority because it is bizarre that foreign vehicles entering this country, particularly heavy goods vehicles and light goods vehicles, are frequently not prosecuted because the police believe that the amount of time and effort that would go into such a prosecution would mean it was not worth their while. That is not acceptable.

The subject of parking attendants frequently came up in our evidence. It is clear that parking attendants suffer a disproportionate amount of personal attacks, both verbal and actual, but it is also clear that many of them are not properly trained and, in some instances, not properly paid. If that service is to be a professional one, there must be some standards and a proper way of training the people involved. Inevitably, because they are in the front line, and because they will come up against indignant motorists—and heaven knows, motorists can get very indignant—they need the support and protection of proper training and payment. That would also ensure that their skills are retained within individual schemes. What analysis has the Department undertaken into the experience of granting discretion to parking attendants in Manchester? What lessons has it learned and what is it going to do?

The Department told us that it does not have the resources to check traffic regulation orders, which underpin parking enforcement, before granting powers to councils. Although errors are frequently discovered, we need to know what the Department intends to do in the future. If it does not have the resources, why not? In what way does it intend to change the situation, and how does it intend to ensure that that situation does not arise in the future?

The question of pavement parking is tremendously important. There is no point having disability legislation if people cannot get along pavements or get into parking spaces because of illegal parking. That is a great bugbear, and it does not matter whether it takes place in supermarkets, where local authorities are not responsible, or out on the streets. The utter selfishness of able-bodied people who park in places where the disabled desperately need to be able to leave their vehicles is a shame on our society. It is a matter that requires more urgent action than there appears to be at the moment.

The question of loading is a problem. I know that the Government have received evidence, as we did, of the extra cost and difficulties encountered in large cities by those loading and unloading. There has been an indication that industries that have a direct responsibility are not always prepared to be sufficiently flexible about the times at which they receive goods but, nevertheless, there are real problems. For example, because of health and safety issues at work, the brewery industry needs to ensure that delivery vehicles are able to park close to the point at which they are to be unloaded. From time to time, it is clear that those vehicles do not receive the support that they ought to from local authority parking schemes.

I do not wish to continue for too long, and I have gone on longer than I intended, but I would like to say one thing to the Minister. Parking is a problem for people from day to day, but there is a degree of unreality in views about it. People expect to be able to go on buying increasing numbers of vehicles. Households expect to go from one to three vehicles, and people do not closely and honestly look at the effect of such expansion. Nevertheless, that makes it all the more important for the Government not only to have coherent and defensible policies, but to tell local authorities that because this is the frontier at which they will come into contact with many of their own constituents, there must be clear, defensible and standardised schemes throughout the UK. People should know what is expected of them and what is necessary, and if people then commit contraventions by parking illegally and holding up the movement of goods and people, they should be fined and dealt with summarily.

However, that is not the current situation and it is bizarre that in this day and age we still have an uneven, unbalanced and indefensible situation throughout local authorities. I know that the Government care about it and that they have done a lot of work on the matter, but our Committee has highlighted areas on which urgent action must be taken and I look to the Minister for answers on these matters.

I commend the Committee on its report, which highlights some very important issues. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said in her opening statement, everyone has an opinion on parking. In my constituency, a great many opinions on parking are put to me on a regular basis but, all too often, the impact of Government policy on transport receives far too little attention. The work of the Committee in this area, and the others it has considered in the past few months, has done a great deal to highlight matters that have not received attention.

Why is it important that we debate the report? In this country, 75 per cent. of households have cars, which amounts to 22 million cars. The hon. Lady said that car ownership was something that newly affluent people aspire to, but those figures suggest that it is more than just the newly affluent who aspire to a car. Increasingly, the vast majority of households have a car. In Basingstoke, more than 80 per cent. of households have a car, and a great many have more than that. The findings of the report are pertinent to the vast majority of people in this country, and it raises some important issues, about which I have received correspondence from my constituents. I have been told about problems with appeals to adjudicators, the role of local authorities and police—a dual role that causes increasing numbers of problems—and day-to-day issues, such as loading and pavement parking. The report has a particular emphasis on the enforcement of parking regulations and, as the hon. Lady has pointed out, on the issues to do with illegal parking.

I was particularly pleased to see that the Committee sought a submission from the AA Motoring Trust, which is a Basingstoke-based organisation that does a great deal of good work on this subject and on other matters that relate to our roads and transport systems. In its submission, it particularly highlighted the issue of over-zealous enforcement, which is no longer peripheral but yields an income of more than £1 billion a year. That is pertinent to many residents in many constituencies. The trust echoed many of the Committee’s concerns about the use of draconian measures against people who park illegally and about the lack of proportion in the way in which enforcements can sometimes be put in place. I commend the trust for the work that it does on behalf of all motorists and all people who come into contact with our roads and transport networks. I share its view that there is a strong case for a thorough review of the powers of local authorities to make, administer and enforce parking regulations and that the report is a good first step in that direction.

I want particularly to pick up on a subject that received a little less emphasis in the report, in order to highlight it to the Chairman and the Committee for future consideration. It was dealt with under the section on capacity and demand in the part of the report called “Parking Accessibility” and, in particular, in the paragraphs that dealt with planning policy guidance. The Committee’s recommendations stated that it

“did not receive sufficient evidence to make specific recommendations”

on the subject. I would have preferred to have seen that gap in the report filled. By considering planning policy guidance, we are considering how we can help people to park legally in the future rather than focusing on illegal parking.

Planning policy guidance determines parking capacity, and so it is integral to the report. The Government’s planning regulations clearly state the need to reduce parking in new developments, yet as the report shows, car ownership is set to increase by up to 45 per cent. by 2030. The report shows clear evidence dating back as far as 1993 from the Transport Research Laboratory that

“people’s determination to own cars seems to outweigh all other considerations, including the difficulty of parking.”

If one were to draw a conclusion from that, one might think that rationing parking as a way to control car numbers might not be a robust strategy for the Government to follow.

We all know that there is a growing awareness of the link between emissions from vehicles and climate change and of the need to change our car-use patterns to reflect that. However, the figures that I have cited suggest that there is little evidence that that will result in a reduction in car ownership. Yes, it might result in a change in use or in car design, but not in a reduction in the number of cars that are owned.

Planning regulations are perhaps not easing the situation but, if anything, exacerbating it. Although the Committee perhaps struggled to find time to take the evidence—I am sure that there were many other subjects that the report covered in depth—I want to provide a couple of examples of why the regulations should be considered further. Perhaps the Minister will pick up on that in her response. There is a perverse incentive under planning guidance for developers to cut car parking, because a higher density of development yields a higher level of profit to the developer, whether in the commercial sector or the residential sector. Planning policy guidance note 13 states:

“Car parking also takes up a large amount of space in development, is costly to business and”

that reducing densities of parking in new developments is essential. That is worthy of consideration along with the report’s findings.

I have a couple of examples of where we need to consider revised parking policies. My constituency, Basingstoke, is a growth point for the Government and an area of considerable housing development. We have experienced a number of problems with parking. A block of flats in my constituency called Crown Heights was built with no allocation of parking spaces for some of the residential units in a town where 80 per cent. of all households have a car. In another high-density housing block in Winterthur way, 484 flats were built with 12 visitor spaces—only 12 spaces, for probably nearly 800 residents.

A broad figure of 1.5 parking spaces per household is used in my constituency yet more than 40 per cent. of households in Basingstoke have more than two cars. A great number have three or even four. That has caused immense problems in new developments with cars being parked on pavements.

Is the hon. Lady seriously suggesting that planning guidance should indicate that permission should be given in all new schemes for people to have more than one car? It is an agreed planning objective to use the restriction of parking space as a means to ensure that quality of life for everyone is better rather than worse.

Of course, as has already been said today, it is important that parking can be used as an important part of a traffic management strategy—the report states that. The problem is that when local development does not reflect the realities of day-to-day living in the community, it can create more traffic problems rather than solving them. When one considers the different levels of car ownership throughout the country, one can see clearly that the issue is difficult to handle at a national level. Later in my remarks, I shall suggest that perhaps it is something that would be better handled locally.

I hope that my hon. Friend is advocating a change in planning policy guidance. In constituencies such as Kettering, where tens of thousands of new houses are to be built in the next 15 to 25 years, it is obvious to everyone that there will not be enough road space to park all the cars in the residential areas that are being built unless planning policy guidance is changed.

I think that my hon. Friend faces in his constituency some of the issues that we face in Basingstoke. If the problem is not unique to towns that are expected to have a high level of housing development and that have high-density figures put forward, it certainly creates more problems in constituencies that are akin to ours.

The problem is not confined to the residential sector but is an issue in the commercial sector. Basingstoke is ninth when it comes to jobs in the south-east, with 79,000 jobs. We are a diamond for growth; a growth point for the Government. Many companies are showing a considerable amount of growth in my constituency because it is a good place to do business. However, there are issues to consider. We have almost full employment in Basingstoke and, as a result, many people who work in our town have to travel in daily. Despite the fact that we have 79,000 jobs, we have not received a huge amount of investment in our public transport system in recent years. We have guidance in place that gives three parking spaces per 1,000 sq ft, which is in line with the Government guidance, and because of the problems that Basingstoke has with public transport, about 50 per cent. of its day-time population travel to work by car. That is exacerbated by the fact that a great number of the people who live in the rural areas surrounding my constituency work in Basingstoke, and the public transport links are insufficient for them to be able to use it as a viable alternative.

The Government have made the problem worse by insisting that developers build motor cars out of new developments, in both the residential and commercial sectors, by the under-provision of parking spaces. The result in recent years, as residents and businesses know, is a dramatically worsening parking problem in places such as Basingstoke. As I said, it is causing a great deal of concern to many residents.

So what is needed? First and foremost, investment in infrastructure should go hand in hand with development. Promised improvements, such as the new Chineham railway station, which we were promised a number of years ago but which has since been postponed, need to be put in place. That, however, is beyond the remit of our debate.

On a more positive note, I am pleased that the Government, on page 30 of their response, say:

“The approach to planning for residential car parking provisions is…currently under review”.

Indeed, they continue, saying that draft guidance PPS3

“makes clear that local authorities should develop parking policies for their plan areas with local stakeholders and communities, having regard to expected car ownership for planning housing”.

Does that change in emphasis indicate that the Government feel that their previous guidance was wrong? If so, it would be useful if my local authority, which would have to implement such things, and local residents and businesses could have that information.

We have the opportunity to give local authorities more freedom to determine locally what is required for residential and commercial parking. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, it is important to use parking as a way of controlling traffic, but it needs to be done in a way that does not create problems, such as congestion and inappropriate parking, in other parts of our communities.

Basingstoke was built around the car—at a time, perhaps, when there was less pressure on our roads. As I said earlier, time moves on and our low level of unemployment and the high demand to live in what is a very good community mean that parking is becoming a distinct problem. I look forward to the Minister’s response. One can help communities like mine to deal better with such issues.

Finally, I touch on a slightly different issue—that of blue badges. The Committee considered their abuse in detail—and I expect that the Minister knows what I am about to say. I would have liked the report to cover other further issues, but particularly the eligibility criteria for blue badges.

At present, children under the age of two with severe mobility impairments are not eligible for a blue badge. That might sound straightforward, as children of that age cannot possibly drive. However, they need to be moved around by their parents. Some suffer from the sort of illness that requires bulky medical equipment to be transported with them. My constituents Helen Grindrod and Kelli-Ann Wilkins have daughters, Mia and Jessica. They have hip dysplasia, which means that they have to wear full body casts. As a result, it is difficult to manoeuvre them in and out of cars. Not being eligible for blue badges considerably reduces the parents’ ability to move not only the children but the whole family.

The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee recommended in 1999 that the rules should be changed. The Government accepted in 2002 that the rules should be changed. We should have seen some change before now, but no: four years on, and we have had no change in the rules. Yet more consultation is spoken of, but that is not good enough for Mia and Jessica, who are suffering as a result of the Government’s inaction. I draw that case to the Committee’s attention in the hope that it may be given consideration. I invite the Minister to fill me with joy by telling me that she will bring forward those much-needed regulations in the near future.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Again, I commend the Committee on its report, and I hope that it judges my contribution today to have been positive and that it may consider picking up on it.

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller). If she was saying that the Government’s implementation of the Barker report had the balance wrong between public transport, car parking, the general capacity of the system and the right of local authorities to make decisions, then I agree with her, although I would not go the whole way with her solution. Merely increasing car parking would deal with only one particular part of the problem.

I start by paying respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) for the way in which she chairs the Select Committee on Transport. She does it with enthusiasm and intellectual rigour. Apart from the three years when I was helping the Government—or not, as the case may be—I have been a member of the Select Committee, and on every occasion and on really difficult issues, from aviation and runways at Heathrow to road pricing, my hon. Friend has managed to achieve consensus. That does not happen in all Committees. I do not know whether it is an apology or a confession, but I say that because on this report I was not able to agree with the Committee. For the first time, I voted against a report.

I dare say that it would have been possible to find a form of words on some issues on which the whole Committee could have agreed, but I had a fundamental disagreement with the report on the question of who should make decisions on car parking. Should it be the Government or the local authority? My hon. Friend made a straightforward case for why it should be the Government. I hope to make the case that the Government are not good at that sort of thing and that, although local authorities have a mixed record—some are good and some are bad, and some change and become more responsive—they are the better part of the state to make such decisions.

Before I get to the meat of the report, it is worth going through a few statistics. Transport is a complicated matter, and statistics often enlighten the debate. Every transport debate, particularly on roads, should start with the fact that an estimated 2 million vehicles are on the road that should not be there because they are not properly insured or taxed. How much would it help our congestion and parking problems if those 2 million vehicles were crunched or taxed and licensed properly? I suspect that it would help a great deal, but it is the Government’s responsibility and they are not doing well, which has not helped.

The report says that 45 per cent. of local authorities use the decriminalised system of parking enforcement. That is true. However, like a lot of statistics it is absolutely true but it probably gives the wrong impression. Most of those authorities cover densely populated urban areas. I could not work it out—I did not have the statistics—but I would guess that about 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. of the population is covered by decriminalised parking regulations.

One staggering statistic, which has not come out in the debate so far, was given to the Committee on 7 December by Mr. Kavanagh and Mr. Macnaughton of National Car Parks. They told the Committee that, although there can be improvements in the administration and collection of fines, people stand a good chance of not paying them. Thirty per cent. of fines are never paid or enforced, and the courts, the police and the local authorities could do a great deal more to collect that money.

According to another statistic, which has been referred to, more than £1 billion a year is collected from people who do not comply with on-street parking rules, which leaves a surplus of more than £400 million in the system. I disagree, however, with the Committee’s view on whether that money should be spent just on parking and on whether central or local government should determine how it is spent.

Let me summarise the areas in which the Committee wants more central Government guidance. It wants control of the income and wants no-incentive schemes to be national policy. It wants guidance on local transport plans to be enhanced and increased. It wants an absolute prohibition on parking on pavements to be a national policy, not subject to local traffic regulation orders. However, I disagree with the Committee that such centralised policies should apply, because nearly all those issues are better determined locally, and I shall try to explain in detail why.

The Committee argues very well for transparency and clarity of information, whether on parking tickets, some of which do not explain the appeals system properly, or when councils pass traffic regulation orders. Such issues should be clear, as should the fact that traffic regulation orders are subject to the local ombudsman. I agree with the Committee on those points.

I shall use Manchester as an example of why local is better than central. In many ways, it is a bad case to start with, because it probably had the worst parking enforcement system in the country in 2002. At that time, it would have been easy to say that the system should have been nationalised because central Government could not possibly have been as bad. The city council handed the enforcement of on-street parking to Control Plus after a tendering process, but the company was a disaster. Its operatives were characterised in the local press as going about their business in jackboots, and it was incompetent. It used a financial incentive system that meant that its operatives had to issue a certain number of tickets a day to avoid being disciplined. That meant that they put tickets on cars on bank holiday Mondays, when the regulations did not apply. As a result, there were lots of confrontations.

I have not been able to look up the figure, so I am speaking from memory, but I think that about 70 or 80 per cent. of the appeals in the national system at that time were from Manchester—that is how bad it was. The company would clamp and remove cars at the drop of a hat. It clamped and removed cars on Remembrance Sunday, and ex-servicemen from all over the north-west of England who had travelled some distance to go to the Remembrance day parade returned to their cars to find that they were expected to pay considerable fines to get them released. Frankly, the company was appalling.

Having listened to the evidence, however, the Committee accepted that Manchester had introduced a model system, following local pressure from councillors, Members of Parliament and the press, as well as the general dissatisfaction expressed through the democratic process. It is practising things with which the Committee is not very comfortable. For example, parking attendants have discretion over whether to put the ticket on. I know that the case against that approach is that it makes attendants vulnerable; they can be threatened if the public know that they have discretion. However, it represents a change in philosophy and attitude and it is part of a much better system. Confrontations and violence have decreased considerably.

There has also been a change in clamping policy. Clamping is a perverse policy. We say that the owner of a car that is parked illegally should pay a fine or that they are causing excessive congestion, so we will make it difficult to move the car. That has never seemed a very sensible policy to me. However, it has now gone out of the window in Manchester. Cars are now removed only where they cause congestion, and people have to pay a fine only when they have parked so selfishly that other drivers cannot get through the city.

I am sure that what is happening in Manchester is very welcome to the public there. It is an interesting experiment, but has any formal evaluation been made of it? Have any hard statistics been generated as a result of the experience?

In seeking to understand such questions, it is always better to look at hard figures, rather than just at anecdotes about confrontations. The best figure that I can give off the top of my head to highlight the improvements is that the number of appeals against decisions has fallen to a quarter of what it was—as I said, it was at record levels compared with other places in the country. That is not a complete indicator of what is going on, but it is a fair indicator of an improvement in the system.

We are talking not only about a transport philosophy but about a general attitude to how the city should be. My hon. Friend will wince when I say this, but the council—these are not my words—has said that parking is not just a transport issue but a liveability issue. It is about living in the city centre. As a result, it has extended the responsibility of parking attendants, who now not only deal with illegally parked cars but are better trained and better qualified. They liaise with the police and other authorities to get rid of untaxed vehicles and deal with other problems. Generally, therefore, they help to make the city a better place to live in. There are statistics, which I do not have with me, to show how many untaxed and abandoned vehicles they have helped to remove. Such vehicles were not dealt with at all previously.

There is a debate about centralisation and localism. The Committee’s view is very much that car parking is part of the transport issue, that it should be seen as such and that income from it should therefore go back into the transport system. My view is that it is a matter for local determination. If we want to tax people for parking in the city, why should not the charges, which are now determined nationally, be determined locally? If some cities want low levels of income from fines, or a town or city wants a high level of fines, why should they not have it? That could then be subject to debate. However, at present it is up to the Secretary of State to deal with changes to fines beyond a certain level.

The system in Manchester, then, has been improved beyond the remit of the transport debate, and more effectively than I think it would have been if it had been left to my hon. Friend the Minister and Department for Transport officials. I do not think that it is ever possible centrally to obtain enough information to deal with the vast array of communities, cities, towns and counties of this country.

Before I finish, I should point out that it may sound as if the story that I am telling has a happy ending, but it does not, entirely. The parking enforcement has been improved, but the city council is now consulting on charging for parking on the streets in the evenings and on Sundays—with fines for unpaid charges. I shall reply to the consultation. I have not seen the detailed proposals, but I suspect that they will damage the economy and jobs in Manchester and I shall respond accordingly. However, whether the council has got the matter right or wrong, such decisions are better determined locally than nationally. Also, if money that is raised locally goes to an environmental scheme, which is allowed now, that is good. A city or town should have the right to allocate parking income to social services or education if that is how it wants to plan its budgets, when it looks in the round at how it wants the town or community to develop.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich began with a point in favour of centralisation. The British Parking Association put the case, probably not as articulately as my hon. Friend, and its argument, set out in the report, puts things starkly. I think that it is wrong. It says:

“At the moment we have a local authority activity which is of the order of £1 billion per year in terms of turnover where there is no scrutiny, there is no control, there are no standards and there is no back-stop except by going for judicial review or similar methods. There is nobody to say whether it is being done rightly or wrongly and telling local authorities where they are doing things wrong that they should mend their ways.”

I say great—excellent. The fact that local communities and local democracy are not dictated to from outside and that local choices can be made is excellent, and the British Parking Association is wrong when it says that no one can change that state of affairs. The electorate can, if it becomes such a big issue.

I do not want to stray much from parking, but wherever we look—as a Committee or as Members of Parliament—where central Government take more control over local affairs the result is inefficiency and the wrong decision. The Transport Committee did a report on trams. We found that the involvement of the Department for Transport put extra costs into the tram system, delayed it and in effect meant that Liverpool, Leeds and South Hampshire did not get the tram systems that they required. I shall not give a long list of examples, but in the context of education we might ask whether the schools building programme is better controlled by the Department for Education and Skills and the Treasury than local authorities. I suspect that most people, having seen the figures recently, would think not. The Government do some things well, including setting national frameworks and ensuring that there is transparency, but they do other things less well.

Another matter of disagreement with the Committee relates to parking on pavements. Parking on pavements is a nuisance. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, and as the report says, it is an annoyance, and beyond that can be dangerous for people who are visually handicapped or have mobility problems. Where it can be avoided, it should be. However, I can tell one moderately funny anecdote about it, and another about how stopping such parking would have been a very bad idea. I shall begin with the serious story. A group of people came to my advice bureau and said that a local traffic order had been enforced and they had had to park their cars on a bit of tarmac round the corner from where they were in High Blackley. Their cars had been vandalised two or three times. They had put them back outside their doors and the local parking attendants had come round—it is a residential area—and put tickets on them. They came to see me and the council responded reasonably. They were allowed to park outside their houses on the pavements again. I think that that is a better balance. Despite the disadvantages of pavement parking, it was better than people having their cars vandalised. That can only be determined locally.

When I was a councillor I went to a public house where the Labour party was having a meeting with the chair of the highways committee, Tony Burns, to talk about on-pavement parking. The local Labour party was up in arms about it and gave him a terrible time. After the meeting I came out of the pub, which had been mainly occupied by Labour party members—the rest of the pub was empty—and in front of it every car had its wheels on the pavement, because not to have done so would have blocked the road. It is a difficult issue. In principle, I am sympathetic to the Committee’s view; in practice I think that it is better determined locally.

My final point relates to what I think public service—and car parking regulations—should be about. The person I want to talk about will probably never read the report of the debate, but I was very grateful to him. Four or five years ago I was in the north bay in Scarborough, and stopped for a cup of tea at a little hut there. After about five minutes a parking attendant came up to me. There were no other cars parked there. It was a windy April day. He said, “Excuse me, sir, but you are parked illegally. There is a space over there; you probably did not see the sign.” It was visible, but I had not seen it. He asked me if I would mind moving my car, and I did. No nuisance was being caused by my car, but it was in the wrong place. That parking attendant’s attitude was to be commended. It was much better than the brutal nastiness of Control Plus in Manchester some time ago. The parking attendant has my thanks not just for the fine he saved me but for showing what public service should be about.

I am a new member of the Transport Select Committee and I am disappointed not to have been on it earlier so that I could take part in the preparation of the report. I want to commend the Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), on the report and to say how much I have enjoyed my first few weeks on the Committee. I congratulate the other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, who made some extremely pertinent points.

Paragraph 242 of the report states:

“Parking management has the potential to help to enable us to manage our road system with sophistication, balancing a complex number of demands, reducing urban stresses, and mitigating congestion and the intrusion of traffic for local residents. But this vision is not yet being realised widely. In order to maximise the positive impact of parking policies and enforcement regimes on a council’s transport objectives, it is essential that parking be properly planned and integrated into a comprehensive, clear, and local transport policy framework.”

That is the best paragraph in the report.

The problem is that while we recognise what needs to be done, unfortunately in reality it is not being done. We have just had an excellent example from the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) of the fact that we can sit in meetings and talk about the ideal, but in terms of actually living where we live and parking where we want to park, the reality does not live up to the ideal.

The problem is that parking falls between too many departmental stools and, in Kettering, the parking situation illustrates that. Kettering is a small and fairly typical town in Northamptonshire in the middle of England and it has the same typical problems as most towns of that nature. There are all sorts of different Government agencies, local authorities and other bodies involved in enforcing parking. First, there is obviously the police. However, the police have given up enforcing parking in Kettering. The two basic reasons for that are that parking enforcement is not a target set by the Home Office and they do not have the money to do it.

Kettering has one traffic warden who works 16 hours a week. He is now largely paid for by the local borough council and if it did not do so there simply would not be a traffic warden. As an illustration that there has to be a practical approach to parking issues, instead of spending most of his time putting tickets on cars parked in the wrong place, on busy days—for example a Saturday morning—he quite rightly stands at the top of Gold street in Kettering, which is Kettering high street, and stops cars from travelling illegally down the pedestrianised area. He has to do that because of the red tape involved in trying to persuade the county council to put a barrier up to prevent cars from entering the pedestrianised area.

It may be different in areas that have unitary authorities, but in Northamptonshire, like in most of England, we have a borough council and a county council. Despite the fact that we both want to achieve the same objectives, it seems very difficult to introduce a sensible traffic management system.

My first point was that the police have given up, despite the fact it is their responsibility to enforce parking regulations until local parking is decriminalised.

I am interested to know why the borough council has not considered taking over that duty—what is standing in its way?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. The answer is that in Northamptonshire a process of decriminalisation is under way. There is a dispute between the local borough council, district councils and the county council about who should run that operation. In Kettering’s case, the borough council, of which I am a member, has taken the view that it would like to run the operation. That is largely because of the point made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley that the more locally these issues are dealt with, the better local residents’ requirements can be delivered. However, it looks as if we will have to have a county-wide parking enforcement scheme, although that has not yet been decided. The borough council has been unable to take over those powers because that issue is still under discussion.

I wish to make the same point as that of my hon. Friend about planning guidance by humbly suggesting to our distinguished Chairman of the Committee that that is an area we should consider for an inquiry as it is something that the public would want us to look at more closely. My hon. Friend is right to say, as is stated in the report, that planning guidance is a gap in the report—the Committee unfortunately did not have time to consider it. However, it is a very real issue. I was struck by old photographs from the 1940s and 1950s of roads, streets and avenues across the country in which there are lovely rows of houses and trees, and not a car in sight. If we returned to any of those roads, streets and avenues and took the same picture from the same point, the chances are that both sides of the road would be lined with parked cars.

There are places in Kettering where cars simply have to park on the pavement on both sides of the road because if they all parked in the road, the traffic would be unable to go down the middle. It is incredible that under the planning policy guidance of the Department for Communities and Local Government, local planning authorities are effectively forced to give permission for new housing estates where the road width is simply not adequate to cope with the demand for residential parking. We are creating real problems for ourselves in the future because car growth continues to increase and hundreds of thousands of new houses will be built in the next 10, 15 or 20 years under the Government’s growth area housing expansion plans.

My hon. Friend raises the issue of parking on streets. Does he share my concern about the implications for road safety when there is such an increase in the number of cars parked on our residential streets? The implications for young children are particularly concerning.

My hon. Friend makes an extremely pertinent point as usual. She, like me, has young children and we are all too aware of explaining the dangers of crossing a road to them. However, when there are parked cars on either side of a road, the dangers are much greater. As the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley said, it is a real problem for disabled people when cars are not parked on the road but on the pavement, as the cars get in the way.

We need to sort out planning policy guidance to make it far more relevant and practical. The Government want to try to prevent the sprawl of housing expansion and are reducing the road width so that the new housing estates can be built in a small area. I understand why the Government are doing that and that the intentions are good, but the effect will be very bad for many decades to come.

I have mentioned the police, local authorities, the Department for Communities and Local Government. They are three stools between which parking policy is falling—another is the NHS. At Kettering general hospital there is outrage from the 3,200 staff at that magnificent facility because they are being forced to pay to park at their place of work. In many cases, they will have to pay more than £200 a year. That might not sound a huge amount, but for a low-paid ancillary worker or nurse that is a real dent in their take-home pay. The reason that the staff car parking scheme was introduced was not because the NHS trust wanted to introduce it, but, quite simply, because it would raise about £300,000 to go towards balancing the budget. That is because of the consistent under-funding of our local hospital—not an argument for this debate I admit, but a point I have made elsewhere. That under-funding has spilt over into charging staff to park at their place of work.

Another area is supermarkets. Last year, I had the privilege of sitting on the all-party parliamentary group for small shops. We published a report that said that unless appropriate action was taken, there would be no independent retailers on Britain’s high streets by 2015. Part of the reason why that will be the case within a decade is that supermarkets are building big car parks, where it is in effect free to park, while up and down Britain, shoppers who want to shop in high streets have to pay ever increasing car parking charges, either in the car park of the local shopping centre or in the local council-owned car parks. That is certainly true in Kettering, and I am sure that it is true elsewhere.

Another side effect of the lack of an overall parking policy involves verges. Like many other issues that should be fairly simple and straightforward, roadside verges are covered sometimes by the local district or borough council and sometimes by the local county council. There seems to be no rhyme or reason why one verge should come under the ownership of one type of council and another under the ownership of another. In Kettering, because of the narrow width of the roads and the lack of car parking spaces, more and more people are taking to parking on verges, and in wet weather the verges are becoming like mud baths. I am sure that all of us recognise that from our constituencies.

There is some doubt about whether parking on a pavement is illegal and the local authority certainly has no funds available to put in hard-standing to prevent the grass verges from being dug up. I am sure that all of us would say, “Well, cars shouldn’t really be parked on verges” and probably the law says that, but in Kettering, as in many other places, people simply have no option but to park on verges. Such parking can be selfish—for example, outside Wicksteed park in Kettering, which is a leading amusement park and leisure facility with a very strong reputation. Sometimes people do not want to pay the car parking fees in the park, so they park outside on the verges. That is illegal, but the law is simply not enforced by the police.

Another issue is residents parking. There is huge demand in Kettering for residents parking schemes. However, all this is being held up by the arguments between the local councils about the extension of decriminalisation.

Kettering borough council is keen for the Government to allow local authorities to appoint generic street wardens. The idea is that a warden patrols his or her local street, able to perform all the functions that local residents would think it was sensible for him or her to be able to perform, such as issuing car parking tickets, alerting the police if a misdemeanour is taking place, calling in the local highways authority to fill a hole in the road and calling in someone to fix a street light. At the moment, however, the legislation is such that there is no ability for a local council to appoint a generic warden.

Much of what the hon. Gentleman describes is a very common pattern. For example, charges at hospitals and the practice of supermarkets expanding and providing free car parking are also characteristics of my constituency. Specifically on the latter point, what is the solution? Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that all supermarkets should charge or be obliged by law to charge for parking.

I thank the hon. Gentlemen for his very pertinent question. My personal view is that anyone, whether it be a supermarket, a local council or some other public body, who provides a car parking facility for, say, more than 20 members of the public ought to be able to contribute to—indeed, ought to be required to take part in—a local parking plan, so that everything can be co-ordinated.

The Government response to paragraph 242 of the Select Committee report, which I read out earlier, is:

“The Department’s guidance about second local transport plans encourages just this, as does the draft statutory guidance.”

Again, however, the reality is different. I can speak from my own experience in Northamptonshire. The Northamptonshire local transport plan simply does not address the practical difficulties of parking in and around a town centre such as Kettering. I think, for example, that Tesco’s supermarket, on the outside of the town, should be obliged to talk to the local authority and the local authority ought to be obliged to talk to representatives of the supermarket about the co-ordination of their car parks with the other car parks in the town. There needs to be some kind of partnership approach to achieve what paragraph 242 in the excellent Select Committee report sets out.

Before I finish speaking, I want to praise one of the local newspapers in Kettering—the Evening Telegraph —which has run a very effective campaign to prevent inconsiderate parking outside schools at peak time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) said, there are real issues about pedestrian safety around parked cars, and there has been a growing problem in Kettering. Understandably, parents are reluctant in many cases to allow their children to walk to school, so they drive them there, and of course they all drive at the same time, to get there just before the school opens. There has been a lot of inconsiderate parking. However, thanks to the publicity that the Evening Telegraph has given to the issue, I am pleased to say that in many cases there is now no longer a problem outside local schools, because parents are thinking, “Oh, we should set off five minutes earlier; I should park just around the corner.” The parking has been much more considerate.

I thank you, Mr. Benton, for the time that you have given me today. I commend the Select Committee on its report. In particular, I think that paragraph 242 sums it all up rather well.

First, I apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), who would like to be here. He is doing something traditional, wild and Celtic for which he has grown a beard and goodness knows what else. I am moonlighting in a way, but hon. Members will know that it is not possible to come from Southport without having had a lot to do with parking in one way or another.

The report confronting us is very important. It has been of immense public interest. As a Select Committee report, it has been very successful, because it has initiated serious dialogue with the media, the public and, of course, the Government. The Government response has been fairly positive, constructive and thoughtful. The issue of parking policy and enforcement clearly generates an enormous amount of strong feeling. It is also very important for road safety. The nearest I ever came to losing my life on the roads was when someone parked at a junction to rush into a betting shop to place a bet. I came out of said junction. When someone’s head is bleeding and their car is written off, they think quite hard about where people do and do not park, although possibly more at the time about their own survival.

It is impossible to do justice to the entire report and all the contributions in the debate, which have been most thoughtful, but I thought that I would speak specifically about the customer’s experience, if I can call it that. Most people understand broadly what parking enforcement is about. It is about rationing parking space. That was never needed in the past, but now we have hundreds and hundreds of extra cars and people accept that space in town must be rationed. It is about safe parking and it is about reducing nuisance—moving away the awkward car that is blocking someone’s driveway and so on.

There are, however, other wider objectives, possibly known only to councils. They worry about the economic effects of parking, the environmental goals of the parking system and maintaining traffic flow. In Manchester, they may even worry about issues such as liveability, although I am not quite certain what that is. The report highlights very well the limited evaluation of this important service done by councils and the Government. Both collect data and do some sort of evaluation, but it was pointed out forcefully in the report that they could not find a single example of an annual report from a parking authority. An annual report seems an excellent idea. It would include, according to the Select Committee, an account of the expenditure on the civil parking enforcement scheme, revenue collected, revenue outstanding, expenditure of surpluses, parking compliance statistics, the number of penalty charge notices issued, the number of informal representations received and so on. That information strikes me as being useful to evaluate the whole process, but, sadly, the parking departments in many local authorities are simply asked to get on with it, and the surplus is gratefully received.

The lack of clarity about objectives and the lack of clear strategy lead to tension and, sometimes, to pointless enforcement on days when it simply is not required. That misuse of staff time often leads to motorists feeling that they are being deliberately penalised or financially exploited. Citizens might not agree with a council’s strategy or use of surpluses, and that is a matter of genuine democratic debate, but often they do not even know that there is a strategy or set of objectives and so regard the people who enforce the parking regulations as an unpleasant force that makes their life awkward. In my constituency, the enforcers have been referred to not as being jack-booted, but as the Gestapo.

It seems that when there is no strategy, there is no sensible use of discretion. That difficult area is dealt with quite well in the report. If there is no discretion, there is essentially no favouritism, no kerbside persuasion, no corruption and no bribery or bias, but it can also generate public ridicule and outrage. I can add to the tales of the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), who illustrated how that can happen with his example of the veterans who found on their return from a Remembrance day procession that they had received tickets. In my constituency, a wedding car parked outside the town hall received a ticket, and care workers making necessary calls have been fined for their trouble. I shall view with great interest the outcome of the Manchester experience, not simply in terms of how many appeals there are—I would expect there to be fewer—but in terms of general compliance with parking regulations in Manchester.

One thing worse than there being no discretion is there being no discretion and no explanation of people’s rights or how they can appeal or protest. If discretion can be operated only at office level and not on the streets, which is how some people claim things should be done, that should be made clear on the streets. People should be informed that there is an appeal system and of what they can do when they do not get a sensible or satisfactory response. There is certainly a need to penalise the parking authorities that do not use their discretion sensibly. That message to the adjudicator comes through in the Select Committee report.

Having a clear strategy leads to a sensible approach to pricing, which is crucial to the success of any parking system. When a parking system was first introduced in my constituency in the 1990s, there was wholesale uproar at one stage. There were people marching through the streets and, believe it or not, people outside the town hall demanding my resignation. When the prices were adjusted to fit in with what people wanted and a sensible parking regime and set of tariffs were produced, much of the initial hostility died down. I do not say that there is no hostility today, but pricing could be controlled better if people knew what they were trying to do with it.

Clear strategy is also crucial to evaluating the performance of outsourced contractors. We heard about the Manchester case; in my constituency we use the British Legion. There has to be an end to any growing fine-chasing culture. Perhaps we should start to develop the role that very few traffic wardens have as ambassadors and helpers: people who help the system to work better rather than simply enforcing those who cannot understand or who abuse the system.

The report recognises that the enforcement process is becoming ever more sophisticated. Cameras are now used to settle issues that were previously settled through long and somewhat tedious correspondence, but technology does not always bring benefits. My son recently received a form from Transport for London stating that a car like his, which was said to have his registration plate, had not exited from a yellow box in time. When we looked into the matter, we found that both he and his car were in Runcorn on that day. They were surveyed by CCTV, so there could be no doubt about it. We contacted TFL, using the sophisticated system, and thought that the technology would take notice of our reasonable and rational representations. My suspicions were confirmed, however, when he was told a few weeks later that his fine had been doubled because he had not paid it. Clearly, the computer had not taken the message even if the person on the other end of the phone at TFL had heard it.

The immovable fact remains that the wardens who enforce the regulations are dealing with humanity in the raw, which it is not always pleasant. I do not think that it has been mentioned so far that wardens put up with enormous amount of abuse from the public and receive occasional threats of physical violence. That is why training—another theme that was picked up well by the Select Committee—is crucial. Clearly, one needs a lot of judgment when clamping down on something like blue-badge abuse. One wants to deal with the person who leaps spryly out of their car having used someone else’s badge, but one does not want to confront someone who has a genuine and valid reason for using a badge—someone who has a disability that they are trying to deal with.

How does one give traffic wardens that real professionalism and help them to deal with the problems that they confront on a day-to-day basis? One answer that seems to be being tried in some areas is to make them look ever more like a military force and to parade them around in twos wearing quasi-military uniforms. A better answer, which is in the report, is to give them proper, professional training. I hope that the report is a big step towards there being a professional, fair, well managed service.

I conclude on a different note. We have discussed overlapping police and council systems and adjudications. Sometimes they work seamlessly, but I am aware of cases in which councils have taken over and the police have absented themselves from every traffic issue, even when they are the only people who can resolve certain issues. I also know of people in my constituency who park cars that are for sale on the highway, and that is blatantly on the wrong side of the law. Parts of that problem should be solved by the police and parts by the local authority, but it is very difficult to get the integration needed to address what is a relatively straightforward problem.

I repeat that the report is an important step toward improving parking services in this country and in opening up the debate on them, and I praise the Select Committee for producing such a good report.

It is a great pleasure to speak in the debate. I begin by congratulating my neighbour the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) on chairing the Committee in such a robust manner and on coming up with an interesting report that has flushed out an issue of enormous concern. This area is probably the one in which the state impacts on the citizen in the most aggressive manner—in some cases anyway. There are probably more citizens upset by this issue than by many other aspects of state activity.

We have had an interesting debate in which my hon. Friends the Members for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) and for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) raised the real problem, which the Government must face, that their ambitious building programme runs parallel to an enormous increase in car ownership. Spectacular numbers in that regard apply in Basingstoke.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) made an interesting speech in which he raised the issue of liveability—a terrible word—and the more interesting question of localism and whether this issue is the domain of central or local government.

The one clear lesson of the Committee’s report is the spectacular difference in some 2003 figures. Some 7,123,000 penalty charge notices were issued in the 75 local authorities and the 33 London boroughs where decriminalised parking enforcement powers operated, whereas 1,043,000 were issued in the 313 authorities where the police have adjudication.

Large sums of money are involved, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley. We are talking about £1 billion, some 60 per cent. of which comes from charges and 40 per cent. of which comes from penalty notices. I agree that there should be a uniform regime, which should come under local government, as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich suggests.

The main purpose of this colossal exercise is traffic management, road safety and managing the impact on business. I stress that there is widespread unease and anger among some of the general public, and it has not been mentioned in this debate. Handing this exercise over to local government—where it can be the policeman, prosecutor, judge, jury and benefactor—leaves the system open to abuse. It could be a system like tax farming in Bourbon France.

I agree with the hon. Lady’s report that transparency is necessary and important. I shall come to that in a moment. The public must see that, for their charges and penalties, they get a service and they buy a benefit. That point was strongly made in the contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering. It is extraordinary that when a local authority puts in and signs off a declaration that something conforms to central Government demands on a parking scheme, it has to conform only to the technical details—the marking, signing and various other issues.

There is no requirement for the impact on traffic, road safety or business to be part of an application. There is no audit of such things, and that is a fundamental flaw of the system. If the public saw a direct link between what they were being charged and fined for parking and the benefits, we could get round much of this public acceptance problem. The Department for Transport is surely the agency to address this. There has been talk about having a regulator, but I agree with the Government and with the Committee that that is not the right approach. This should just be a routine issue for the DFT when it receives an application for a parking scheme from a local government agency. I do not think this is treading on the toes of local government. To deal with the comments made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley, I should say that local government is in constant communication with the DFT on road schemes and trunk roads that may have been de-trunked.

A routine aspect of an application for a parking scheme should be that standards should be set for traffic flow, and for the impact on road safety and on business. This has not really been touched on. The Government response talked about a “communications toolkit” and, rather piously, about hoping that the local authority could

“use parking policy, controls, pricing and enforcement primarily to keep the traffic flowing and improve road safety.”

This aim should be made much clearer and it should be mandatory. There should be a clear mechanism involving Government, and an audit. The Committee said:

“Compliance with parking regulations is the most important measure of performance within a parking enforcement regime.”

That is true up to a point, because the Committee should have gone a step further and considered traffic impact.

The hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) mentioned the most dramatic paragraph—paragraph 43—in the Committee report; we learned the astonishing fact that the Committee.

“could not find a single annual report published by a council parking department.”

I shall not read the details out again, because he has been through them and we have heard a list of things that should be in such a report, including the revenue collected and the number of penalty charges. Such a document should clearly be available to the general public.

It is not good enough for the Government’s reply to say that

“it is relatively easy for members of the public to find out what is happening in their area.”

It jolly well is not easy. I challenge anyone who thinks it is to go through the list that the Committee came up with.

There should also be an annual audit of the impact on vehicles, business, traffic speeds and road safety. If that were done, this exercise would be so much more valuable and acceptable to the general public, who have a strong suspicion that they are being milked. If there is only decriminalisation and no means of auditing and no central control, they may be subject to abuse.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich asked the Minister a list of questions, some of which were foxes which, had I asked them, would have been shot. I shall pick up a few points because I want to give the Minister plenty of time to reply. I was interested in the element on training and staff. What discussions has she had on that? The Government reply mentioned the British Parking Association’s sector skills strategy, which I believe has suggested that level 2 City and Guilds should be a standard across the country. Will she give us an idea about how far the Government are going on that? The reply states that the Government hope that such an approach would

“go a long way to achieving a substantial and sustained improvement over the years”.

Is that a realistic proposition and how long might it take to enforce?

I entirely agree with the comments that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich has made about foreign-registered vehicles. The situation in that regard causes a grievance for many members of the public.

I turn to the question of loading. Drivers who deliver for supermarkets and other retailers have told me that there is a grievance about the problems of legitimately delivering goods. The Government’s reply was weak on this issue and on delivery times. What is their thinking on curfews and on being more flexible? The situation is ridiculous. I walk past an articulated Mercedes-Benz truck delivering to Tesco outside the Home Office at 9 am every morning. Is it sensible that a truck of that size comes into Westminster at that hour, an area being used mainly by people going to offices or, possibly, by MPs preparing for this debate?

The big question that requires joined-up government is planning, which was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Basingstoke and for Kettering. It is extraordinary that the planning policy guidance intends to reduce parking spaces. The Government must face up to the consequences of this enormous planned increase in house building at the same time as increased prosperity. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said in her opening comments, the first thing that people want to do with their wealth is to get independence and to buy a car. There has been a sharp increase in the levels of car ownership. As we heard in some of the constituency cases that were mentioned, all this is coming together in a horrendous manner.

On the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the question of the sale of information to outside organisations has been raised with me on several occasions. I have had discussions with the British Parking Association. There was a plan to have a registered trade association, so that accredited members only could have access to information from the DVLA and purchase it. This is a fraught area, because there are concerns about cowboy operators getting and possibly misusing information. The Government promised:

“A full update on progress in delivering these new measures will be available in the autumn.”

Where exactly have they got to on that? There is increasingly widespread public concern on the matter.

Will the Minister comment on the accuracy of the DVLA? That is again an issue that has been raised with me on several occasions. We are told that 97 per cent. accuracy has been reached. Given that 32 million vehicles are involved, a substantial number, 320,000 by my calculations, are unaccounted for. As the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley said, the figure of 2 million uninsured cars is floating around, and I am sure it is right. Such cars probably cause a disproportionate problem. We raised the matter frequently in the amendments that we proposed to the Road Safety Bill in the previous Parliament.

Will the Minister give us the latest estimate on the DVLA’s traceability figure? How many cars does she think respectively are unlicensed, uninsured and untraceable? I look forward to hearing her replies to my questions. I once again congratulate the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich on her Committee’s report. It would be that much improved if the link were made between parking schemes and their impact on traffic, road safety and business.

I am grateful for this opportunity to debate the Transport Committee's seventh report of the 2005-06 Session on parking policy enforcement. The Government welcome the report and share the Committee's view that the purpose of parking policy is to keep traffic moving. That is its first and primary aim, with the addition of improving safety on the roads. I may make myself a hostage to fortune, but I say in the presence of the my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) that the Government agree with much of what the Committee said, and I shall say more about that later.

The debate has been interesting and useful because we are working on guidance and regulations, having undergone consultation, to which I shall also refer later. The debate is timely. Parking policy covers the challenges of growth, congestion and the increasing demand for road space. Those are challenges of success, which is a position I prefer. They are challenges of greater economic prosperity and people’s aspirations, as the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) illustrated with examples from her constituency. Car ownership is rising at a considerable rate—[Interruption.] I have a very experienced Parliamentary Private Secretary today in my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich.

The challenge for me is how to reconcile those pulls when we are in a period of economic growth. I want to make some general points before dealing with the specific points that hon. Members have been good enough to raise this afternoon.

The consultation on draft regulations and statutory guidance to implement the parking provisions in part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 was published after the Committee’s report and shared a great deal of the thinking in that report. It is all about delivering a parking system that is fair and consistent for motorists. That is important. The consultation and the Select Committee’s report made it clear that parking policy and enforcement is not an end in itself, but one of the most effective tools that a local authority has to deliver its transport strategy. That is where we should place parking—it is a means to an end, not an end in itself. We want local authorities to use parking policy, controls, pricing and enforcement with the primary aim of keeping traffic moving and improving road safety, not primarily to raise money.

I remind hon. Members that our recent policy document “Putting Passengers First” introduces a major shake-up of bus policy and states clearly that parking policy is crucial to the success or otherwise of an efficient bus service in local areas, as is traffic management in general.

As the Transport Committee said, failure to comply with parking restrictions is antisocial. Hon. Members today have made that point and I share their view. Failure to comply with parking restrictions causes traffic disruption, congestion, delays to public transport and, as has been illustrated this afternoon, danger to pedestrians and other motorists. It is the job of the Government to ensure that the framework for parking policy and enforcement is even-handed between different types of road user, and between road user and enforcer. That is what we are trying to achieve, and that is what the Committee wants.

The Committee's report identified eight characteristics that a revitalised parking system should demonstrate. My hon. Friend asked what we agreed with, what we did not agree with and why. I shall start with the good news—that is always a good place to start—which is what we agree with.

The points on which we are very much in accord are the proposal to encourage local authorities to set performance standards and measure their achievements against them, and the proposal that authorities should know that they must be clear what regulations are in force and how compliance is best achieved. The report also talks about emphasising the need for appropriate recruitment, remuneration and training to help to ensure a professional parking service throughout the country. We agree that it is important to make clear the process for challenging and appealing against penalty charge notices, to strengthen the status and profile of the adjudication service, as well as the internal scrutiny of parking departments, and that local authorities should be told to develop parking strategies that meet local objectives, focusing particularly on congestion, road safety and accessibility. I am pleased to say that we agreed with the majority of the report's detailed recommendations.

A point on which we differed—our response made this clear—was that while the Government share the Committee's desire to see as many local authorities as possible taking on responsibility for parking enforcement, we believe that it is for them to decide when to apply for that power. In England, 193 local authorities have taken on the power to enforce parking regulations, and a further 20 applications are in the pipeline.

I was unable to find out how much of the population is covered by decriminalised parking, and perhaps my hon. Friend could give me that information now, or write to me.

I am grateful for the question and will be happy to write to my hon. Friend with that important detail.

We expect a number of authorities to see the benefits of having control over enforcement, as well as making their own parking policies, when the provisions of the Traffic Management Act 2004 are in place. However, one recommendation on which we differ from the Committee is that for some authorities it would not make sense to take on that responsibility if they did not have enough of a challenge with parking. We believe that we should leave it to local areas to decide, although we are happy for applications to be made for decriminalised parking.

Parking for disabled people causes great concern, as we all know from our constituencies. The Committee emphasised, and we agree, that it is important for the needs of disabled people to be considered when making parking provision. We have produced detailed advice, which has been disseminated widely. Equally important is the need to ensure that the blue badge scheme is enforced so that it continues to be valuable to badge holders. We acknowledge the role that a national database can play in that and are concluding research into the feasibility of such a database. Hon. Members will be pleased to know that we introduced a key power for parking enforcement officers to inspect badges from September 2006, and we are taking forward additional enforcement measures to protect the scheme.

Before the Minister moves on from blue badges for disabled people, will she comment on a point that I raised about my constituents’ problems if they have children under two and are not eligible for blue badges? That causes a great deal of concern in my constituency and throughout the country, as evidenced by the fact that more than 50 hon. Members signed my early-day motion on the issue.

I assure the hon. Lady that I was going to deal with that when I came to hon. Members’ individual points, but I am happy to bring it forward. She may be aware that we are consulting on draft new regulations to issue improved guidance to local authorities to extend the scheme to under-twos and those with temporary disabilities. That consultation is in response to concerns that people have raised with us directly or through their Members of Parliament.

The Minister said that improved guidance would be issued to local authorities to enable them to extend blue badge eligibility to children under two years old. If local authorities were keen to put that in place sooner rather than later, would she be generally supportive?

The hon. Lady knows that currently it is not possible to provide for children under two years old. It is important to get on with the consultation to introduce the regulations properly so that they are workable. I stress that the Government are already on board with the arrangements and that we shall progress with them.

The Committee’s report was a key input to our consultation on the introduction of regulations and guidance for implementing the parking provisions of the Traffic Management Act 2004. We consulted in July last year on proposals for a fairer and more consistent parking system. The consultation made a number of proposals. I hope that they reassure hon. Members who have taken an interest in the debate. It included the proposal that local authorities regularly review their parking policies in consultation with stakeholders to ensure that they deliver the authority’s transport policies, and that as far as possible they meet the needs of their road users.

The consultation also proposed that authorities publish their policies and reports so the public know that authorities use parking to deliver transport rather than financial objectives. It is a common concern. The consultation recommended dedicated training for everyone involved in civil parking enforcement, meaning people working not only at the kerbside but in the committee chamber, because parking policy permeates all areas of an authority.

The consultation also proposed that wheel clamping and vehicle removal be used only for the most persistent evaders of parking penalty charges; that persistent parking evaders should be targeted through a nationwide database; and that improvements be made to the appeals process by clarifying the cases that adjudicators can consider. I hope hon. Members agree that most of the proposals reflect the conclusions of the Transport Committee. Having heard this afternoon’s debate, they also mirror the concerns that Members rightly raise in the House.

There was near unanimity among the responses to the 20 questions in the consultation document. I take it as a tribute to the work of the group that supported the Department, including the adjudicators, the local authorities and the motoring organisations, that responses were generally in favour of the consultation’s proposals.

Like the Committee’s report, today’s debate is timely: it comes as we prepare to lay regulations before Parliament. For the benefit of Members, I shall update the House on the timetable, as the regulations will be laid in mid-2007 and come into force in 2008. Progress is a month or two behind the anticipated timetable. However, I assure Members that the delay has arisen because of the additional time we need to produce regulations that most effectively deal with the problem of persistent evaders. The concern was raised today.

I shall refer in detail to several points that Members have raised. I hope that I manage to cover all angles. For any that I do not cover, I undertake to write to hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich raised several points about the Government’s response to the report, one of which was about the cost of illegal parking and of accidents. The Department does not have information about that; records are kept locally. In all honesty, I am doubtful about how consistently they are kept, but my hon. Friend raises an important point about the information available to us.

The Government said that the Committee’s point about the pay or challenge system had merit. I was asked to explain the response. Although we see the merit of the suggestion, the glut of information on any one parking ticket would present a practical challenge. We would have considerable difficulty taking the idea forward, and we are trying not to confuse the public. I am sure my hon. Friend shares my concern about that.

Traffic schemes will be acceptable to the public only if they understand and support them. No matter how many laws we pass, if the public do not support them, they will have to be changed in the final analysis. Will the Minister provide me with a simple undertaking? If there is a way in which the Government can encapsulate the implications of the appeal schemes, put them on the ticket and ensure that the public receive adequate information at every point, will she do so? It would transform the public’s attitude towards the appeals service.

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend and re-emphasise that I am concerned to ensure that the public are fully informed about and confident in the system. Wherever possible, including in the circumstances to which she refers, we want to achieve that. I am happy to return to her and her Committee on that point.

My hon. Friend also asked about checking applications by local authorities for powers to decriminalise parking. Local authorities must ensure and show that their system is up to the required standard. They are accountable to their electorate, in particular, because in addition to full information, accountability is important.

My hon. Friend also asked about the Department’s analysis of the impact of discretion. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) also raised that point, and I shall refer to it when I address his points. I continue to watch with close interest the use of discretion by parking attendants in Manchester. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend’s points, which made it clear that discretion has several benefits. I am delighted to hear that contraventions have been reduced; it is good news. Manchester is an experienced and professional local authority, and the system requires such an organisation if it is to be sustained. I shall continue to take an interest in the lessons that we can learn from Manchester’s experience.

Consultation document responses demonstrated considerable support for providing statutory guidance to local authorities on re-offering a 50 per cent. discount after formal representations. Guidance will be undertaken. I hope that my hon. Friend will be glad about another important point: the differential between penalty charge notices. Consultation respondents supported the move, and a similar proposal in London gained strong support. We want the system in place throughout England, and we are working with councils to introduce it so that it shows different PCN levels, such as serious, for parking on a double yellow line, and less serious, for overstaying. We want to include those levels in the regulations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich and other Members raised a point about foreign-owned vehicles and access to overseas records by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. The agency is aware, as I am, of the growing importance of establishing a robust cross-border data-sharing process for criminal and administrative matters. The agency is engaging proactively with EU authorities to address this matter. It is not easy and I shall continue to press for progress. Many of the points raised by the hon. Member for Basingstoke relate to the difficulties created by economic success, to which I referred in my opening remarks. She referred to full employment, the qualification of Basingstoke as a growth point, which will attract extra Government investment, and the quality of life enjoyed by her constituents.

I shall address planning policy guidance note 3 on housing. Parking provision is a local decision because over-providing car parking is also a challenge for local areas. Local authorities should, and are, providing alternatives to car use, although, as we know, cars have a role to play. However, local authorities are best placed to decide the level of parking provision and the number of new developments. That is their job. The hon. Lady referred to a change of emphasis in planning regulations, which she suggested meant that the Government recognise that they originally got it wrong. I take a different view: the change in emphasis shows Government responsiveness to arguments that have been made. Parking for new housing is a local matter and we encourage the right decisions—we have produced guidance on that. I hope that she welcomes my comments on under-twos.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blakley—

Thank you.

My hon. Friend shared with us his soft spot for a parking attendant in Scarborough. I am sure that he was glad to have been commended. The experience in Manchester that we have heard about shows that a balance needs to be struck between consistency and the provision of a framework for local authorities by central Government, and giving them the space to develop a system that best meets local needs. I think that the regulations will do that.

My hon. Friend referred to parking charges, which, in my view, are for a scarce resource, as the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) said. I emphasise that enforcement of those charges does not generate general revenue. That would be the wrong incentive. The purpose of our parking enforcement policy is to keep traffic flowing and improve road safety—I cannot emphasise that enough. The regulations require that revenue be ring fenced for parking, passenger transport, environmental and road improvement projects, and, in London only, for road maintenance.

A point was raised a couple of times about pavement parking. I agree with my hon. Friend that that is a serious local matter raising a lot of interest. Enforcement is the responsibility of the police or local authority. Where the local authority is responsible, enforcement is known to be much more effective when combined with publicity. We heard the example this afternoon of the campaign run by the Evening Telegraph in Kettering to get information across, to which people responded. Of course, where there is a particular and ongoing problem, local authorities can use physical measures to prevent parking. They can also introduce bans on pavement parking using traffic regulation orders. The advantage is that those are for a particular area and a sign is necessary so people know about it. It is difficult to make signs for a wholesale ban because people tend to ignore them. But that is another possibility.

The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) referred to the local decriminalisation of parking. Once a local authority is responsible, enforcement will be in its hands. I take the point that of course the police often have higher priorities, which I imagine is one of the reasons that the Select Committee spoke out in favour of decriminalised parking. That is why we allow and encourage local authorities to have such powers.

I was surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s comments on staff parking at the local hospital. That is clearly a local decision. I wondered whether his party has made a commitment to pay for such parking using NHS funds. Those decisions need to be made. Although I do not have the figures for NHS funding in Kettering—regrettably—I would be surprised if it were the one area in the country that had not seen record levels of Government investment, a reduction in waiting lists or an increase in the number of doctors and nurses. However, if that is the case, I am sure that he will tell me and I shall alert colleagues. But I do not accept the link that he made.

I shall refer again to the campaign run by the Evening Telegraph against what the hon. Gentleman called inconsiderate parking. That was about getting the co-operation of drivers and informing them. It emphasises a point in which I very much believe—prevention is better than enforcement. We spend a lot of time—understandably—talking about enforcement, but, of course, that takes place after the event. If we are to keep traffic moving, prevention is preferable. He raised another issue about road widths and suggested that they were being reduced to squeeze in more houses on new developments. I can assure him that local authorities must comply with design standards. If he has any particular concerns, I am sure that he will raise them as appropriate.

The hon. Member for Southport referred to training. We support strongly the need for training at all levels in the parking industry, as I said in my earlier remarks, and we are working with and support the British Parking Association’s sector skills strategy to increase skills in the industry. That is welcome because many in the industry feel overlooked and that they get a bad press, in many cases. Training and support would be very welcome.

The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) made a strong call for greater central control and regulation, which I was interested to hear. My intention is to introduce regulations and guidance that enable people to get parking right locally, rather than to run things from the centre. My feeling is that that is what people think is right—local solutions to meet local needs.

I have dealt with the details of a number of the points that the hon. Gentleman raised in my comments about the regulation and guidance. However, he also asked where parking fitted in with our thinking on the economy, the success of business, and so on. Parking is of course key to our thoughts on local transport planning. The guidance on the second local transport plan brings about that integrated approach, because it focuses on four key outcomes, one of which is tackling the congestion. The approach to parking is of course part of that.

I should also like to mention scrutiny, transparency and people understanding the situation, which are important. The Audit Commission can already scrutinise a local highways authority’s parking management performance and has published a number of inspection reports of individual council’s parking services. However, my hope and intention, through the guidance and the regulations, is that the message should be loud and clear—namely, that the approach should not be about hiding away from a parking policy, but about sharing with the general public what that policy is about and what it means, and about prevention, rather than dealing with enforcement after the event. In other words, the job is not to catch people out, but to inform, to keep traffic moving and to keep roads safe.

I finish where I started, by saying that the Government very much welcome the Committee’s report and largely share the views that it sets out. We have set out in the consultation how we plan to take forward the parking provisions in part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004. The Government are determined to introduce a parking enforcement system that is fairer, more consistent and more transparent. We believe that the regulations and the guidance to implement the parking provisions will achieve that. I hope that all hon. Members present will support the Government in our initiative, which I welcome, to strengthen the system of parking enforcement, to produce tough new measures to overhaul parking enforcement in England, and to enable local authorities to use powers to keep traffic moving and make the road safer.

I am grateful to you and to right hon. and hon. Members for allowing me to address the Chamber again, Mr. Benton. The Committee’s report is a good one, and the evidence that we took was widely based. There was clear agreement about the need to sort out the differences among the various parking schemes, so that the general public not only understand what they are expected to do, but support it. When people have clear and defensible lines, there will inevitably be total support, because people will understand the direct connection between the behaviour of the individual motorist and how they park their car, and the movement of traffic and goods in towns.

The argument that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) made about localism versus centralised control will continue for a long time. The Committee understood his strong and sensible commitment towards complete local decision making, although we were concerned about the evidence of the local involvement creating a degree of individuality between various schemes. I believe that the Government are committed to trying to sort out the various systems, which have grown like Topsy and need to be organised slightly more intelligently.

Finally, the House of Commons, because of its commitment to the highly complex and more high-falutin’ realms of legal debate, sometimes seems not to focus on the affairs that concern most of our constituents. Parking concerns them all, almost without exception, whether they have cars or not. Our constituents live with the issue every day and we must get it right. I am delighted that my Committee spent so much time and produced so many sensible agreements. I am also happy that my hon. Friend the Minister has been so gracious today, as she always is. She will understand when I say that, as a Committee, we will be sitting quietly behind her, keeping an eye on what happens in the future. I am also grateful for your kind, considerate and very professional chairing of our sitting this afternoon, Mr. Benton.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes to Five o’clock.