I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Like many right hon. and hon. Members, I availed myself of an invitation from the Royal National Institute of Blind People a couple of months ago. I met the RNIB in a town in my constituency and was blindfolded and given a white stick. Then a disembodied voice said, “Don’t worry, we’ll stay with you.” I thought I was making huge and great progress, but when I took the blindfold off after about 40 minutes, I realised that I had travelled about 200 yards. My agent had kindly videoed me making the trip, and she was going to use the video—I am not entirely sure whether it was for promotional purposes or blackmail. However, it was unusable because of the level and frequency of expletives—from me, I hasten to add—as I kept bumping into things and getting disorientated.
I was lucky, because after that 40-minute torture I was able to take my blindfold off, see where I was, get my bearings and move around the town of Blandford Forum. However, 2 million people in this country are registered as either blind or visually impaired, and there are only 5,000 guide dogs. It does not take Einstein to do the maths and realise that a huge number of people who are either blind or visually impaired are without guide dogs. While they go about their legitimate business day in, day out—going to the shops, going to a community event, going to work, taking a child to school—they often find themselves encumbered by a car that is parked on a pavement when there is no need for it to be there. That is the kernel of the Bill.
What attracted me to the Bill is that it will have direct and signal benefits not just for those who are blind and visually impaired but for many hundreds of people in each and every constituency.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend has ever tried to push a double buggy with two children in it, but there are many, many mothers up and down the country, as well as in my constituency, who will be extremely grateful that the Bill is being brought forward.
I have never been blessed with twins, but with three young daughters who are now seven, five and three, I have certainly had one in a pushchair, one at heel—well, vaguely at heel—and one on my shoulder. I empathise entirely with my hon. Friend. She is right that that group of people would benefit from the Bill, too.
We are very keen—this is what sits behind much of our proposed welfare reforms—to bring people who are able to work but have a disability back into the workplace, for all the reasons and benefits we recognise and understand. It can be very difficult, however, particularly for those in what can often be rather large and cumbersome motorised scooters, to suddenly find their progress blocked. What opportunity do they then have to progress? They can either turn around and go home, or go out on to the carriageway and take their lives—and not just their lives—in their hands.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I undertook a blindfolded walk around the town centre of Pontypool in my constituency. It brought home to me first-hand how the nature of obstacles makes a tremendous difference to making progress. Does he agree that one of the important parts of the Bill is not just about removing obstacles, but assisting with the level of anxiety that people with sight impairment suffer?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Recent research shows that 70% of those who are blind have, in the past three months, collided with a car parked on a pavement, and that 32% feel less confident about going out. If we are in public policy and public affairs to increase social mobility and inclusion, and to build communities up, there would seem to be merit in trying to encourage people of limited ability to get involved and to do things. That is why I am bringing forward the Bill.
Following on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), as well as helping the blind, the visually impaired, the disabled and parents with young children, I think of children taking their first independent steps when they hit the age of 10, 11 or 12, and are walking to school with an older brother or sister. It is highly dangerous for them, on some occasions, to have to walk into the carriageway. That is a danger not just to those pedestrians, Mr Deputy Speaker—I am not sure when you appeared, Mr Deputy Speaker; I think I might have referred to you as Madam Deputy Speaker a moment or so ago, in which case I apologise—but to motorists who might suddenly find they have to swerve.
The key point I want to make in my opening remarks is that the Bill is not anti-car or anti-motorist. My wife and I own a car each. I represent a rural constituency of 400 square miles. Without a motorcar, there is no way I could serve my constituents. Without a motorcar, there is no way we could take our children to school five or six miles away from where we live. This proposal is not anti-motorist; it is about fairness and proportion.
There is also a safety aspect involved for motorists trying to pull out of their own driveways who find their view obstructed by cars parked on the pavement. In my surgeries, and, I imagine, in the surgeries of many hon. Members, we often come across people who have encountered a serious accident or great inconvenience from such an occurrence.
My hon. Friend is right. A lot of evidence has been presented to me from people around the country—not just my constituency—who have opened their front door and, rather expecting Jeremy Beadle to jump out, found the side of a white van parked so close to their front door that they have barely been able to get on to their front step.
My hon. Friend leads me to the point made by the Treasury Bench—I will come on to the Treasury Bench in a moment or two—that there are already rules and regulations to cover this arena of public life. However, they are desperately confusing. For example, it is an offence to park on a pavement, but according to local councils that is a matter for the police to enforce. It is a criminal offence, not a civil offence. The guidance in the Act that makes it a criminal offence refers, however, to wilful negligence. Now, it is quite hard, even for learned counsel such as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), always to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that parking has been wilful or negligent.
I have a great deal of sympathy for what my hon. Friend is trying to achieve, but can he explain how it will work in practice? Clause 1 states that a person who parks on a pavement or a footway in an urban environment is guilty of a civil offence, but what can they do if they live on a very narrow road with no off-street parking? If they do not park partly on the pavement or footway, they are obstructing the road. I am sure my hon. Friend can deal with this point, but it is a serious one that needs addressing.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Bill was introduced by a former hon. Member for Cheltenham in an earlier Parliament, but it was not debated. We have taken it on and amended it. This will not be a blanket ban for pavement parking. In medieval or older town and city centres with Victorian terraces and the like, popular ownership of the motorcar was never envisaged. To make the carriageways wide enough for emergency vehicles, bin lorries and other large vehicles, it is important to ensure a balance is struck between allowing the free movement of vehicles and securing the free movement of pedestrians.
The major difference in the Bill is that clause 3 sets aside specific provision for the Secretary of State for Transport to provide regulations and guidance to local authorities about who to consult—who are statutory consultees—and how to consult before it is introduced. It is not a blanket ban and nor is it an automatic obligation for local authorities to make use of the purposes set out. It will be up to the local authority, working in concert with local councillors, communities, freight transport associations, road haulage associations and the emergency services, to decide precisely where it is either appropriate or inappropriate to permit or to prohibit the parking of motorcars on pavements. This is not the dead hand of the state. This is not a licence for pettifogging officialdom, and nor is it a cash cow for local authorities to try to get in a bit of extra revenue. It will be proportionate and it will be sensible.
One thing I did not know—I am pretty certain that hon. Members know this, but it was a gap in my knowledge—is that organisations such as the RNIB and Guide Dogs will offer a service to people in all our communities to devise a safe and secure route to the shops, to work, to church, to school or to wherever. If, post consultation, and on the presumption that a local authority has decided to avail itself of the powers in the Bill, the trigger is that it would mark out in some way—through signage, line painting or whatever—where pavement parking is permitted, de facto, and anything not marked would not be allowed. It would allow the good folk at the RNIB, Guide Dogs and other charities to devise routes to give people certainty that when walking from A to B they will not meet a parked car. I hope that addresses my hon. Friend’s important point.
Is it not important to empower our councils to make decisions in accordance with their own landscapes? I, for example, have a medieval walled city in Berwick and a cobbled town in Alnwick. Interesting work has been done in many French towns. In some, parking is permitted on one side of the street for two weeks in the month, and then for two weeks on the other side, which means that emergency vehicles can always get through. The communities have adapted, there is a rigour to it and people do not break the rules because they understand that they support the flow of everyone who needs to use the pavements and roads.
I am incredibly grateful to my hon. Friend, who has given me an awful lot of support on the Bill and is a huge supporter of Guide Dogs. She makes her point well. Through local consultation and accommodation, these things can be resolved so that nobody is disadvantaged and social inclusion and mobility can be put at the heart of everything we do.
It might be helpful if I mention some of the organisations supporting the Bill: Guide Dogs; the Local Government Association, which is fed up with all the conflicting guidance from different Departments and geographically narrow traffic regulation orders, which cost between £3,000 and £3,500 but which are not really doing the job; the British Parking Association—it might just be a drive to get more customers into its car parks; the Campaign for Better Transport; Age UK; Living Streets; the National Association of Local Councils; Whizz-Kidz; the RNIB; Sense; Civic Voice; Cabe Design Council; Keep Britain Tidy; Transport for All; the Macular Society; the National Pensioners Convention; the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners; Deafblind UK; and SeeAbility. That level of support, from organisations that have thought about the Bill and decided to support it, indicates the wide range of potential beneficiaries.
I will give way to my hon. Friend, who kindly sponsored the Bill with me some months ago.
I rise as a sinner. I am guilty. I have been brought before the beak and charged £60 for parking outside my house in Kingston. I was guilty. I hope that the Bill, which I sponsored, will pass, so that I will know in future, from road signs, that I should not park outside my house.
Heaven rejoices when a sinner repenteth. I am certain that my hon. Friend’s confession, in perhaps the most public place to make a confession, will have the angels tuning their harps even as we speak.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
It is not another confession, is it?
No, thankfully not. Does my hon. Friend agree that the intervention from our hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) raises an important point about the confusion in the current legislation? In my constituency and that of my hon. Friend, there is one set of parking legislation, which is hard to enforce, even where communities have chosen to ban it, while in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry), there applies the sort of legislation we are trying to introduce here. Would it not be fairer to motorists and communities to have consistency across England?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will know that almost identical provisions have existed in London since 1974. I am advised that the London boroughs association would go to hell kicking and screaming if anyone proposed any relaxation or change to the parking guidance that has served London and her boroughs so well all these years.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill might raise expectations that cannot be realised? For example, Dorset county council says it cannot afford to fund a 20 mph speed limit outside Twynham school on Sopers lane, where a student was knocked down and injured on a pedestrian crossing earlier this year. If it cannot even afford that, how will it afford to implement the complicated measures in the Bill?
I disagree with my hon. Friend that these are complicated proposals; I think they are anything but complicated. As we all know, local authorities choose to prioritise different areas, and we are both lucky enough to reside in and represent constituencies in the area of a finely run and Conservative-controlled county council.
I return, however, to the point made by our hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). It would be up to local authorities whether to use the legislation. If they decided not to, for cash, political or ideological reasons, there would be no obligation on them so to do, and they would continue to rely on the police—or police community support officers, if they so wished—to treat the matter as a criminal offence and to issue tickets and fines through that process. That is the important point. This is not a coercive Bill; it seeks to address, in a pragmatic and sensible way, an issue that is recognised by many people in this House and the organisations I listed earlier.
I thank my hon. Friend for introducing the Bill and all those, including my constituents in Kingston and Surbiton who have long campaigned for this measure—
It was Kingston that fined me.
I know. I am glad to see my hon. Friend’s parking fines going towards reducing our council tax bills. Will my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) confirm that the Bill reaches a sensible accommodation between motorists and the long list of organisations he mentioned, and, more importantly, a localised accommodation that could, if done properly, be right for all areas of the country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A local authority could decide to deal with the matter on a ward-by-ward basis. It could run pilots. It is an iterative, organic process, not a fixed one. I will leave him and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) to sort out the repayment of the fine.
I know that there are lies, damned lies and statistics, but I think these are powerful: 97% of blind or partially sighted people have encountered problems with general street obstructions, and 90% of them have experienced direct trouble from a parked car. I have been sent a vast number of photographs—it goes to show, particularly after this week, that social media can actually be social—of vulnerable and elderly people, mothers and disabled people walking into busy carriageways to get around parked cars. I had an email from a lady who was in a mobility scooter who literally got stuck: there was one van parked in front of her and, before she realised it, another behind her. There was no dropped kerb, and she sat there for an hour and a half, because although she could just about bounce her vehicle down the kerb, there was no guarantee she would be able to bounce it back up on the other side. I say in all common decency, and as a motorist myself, that if only a little extra thought was given to these matters, legislation probably would not be required, but we are all too much like St Augustine, and therefore we often err where we should not.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this problem is particularly acute on pavements around schools, especially primary schools, where obstructed pavements not only force buggies into the road but obstruct pedestrians’ view and prevent them from crossing safely?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and as this debate continues the clear and tangible benefits are seen to be ever wider and ever clearer.
I turn now to the discussions I have had with the Department for Transport since we published the Bill. I do not think this is always the case with Departments and private Members’ legislation, but I want to put it on record that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), and the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (George Hollingbery), have been phenomenally helpful and courteous to me. That may come as a unique note in the Official Report. I also want to put on record my debt of thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who is a huge supporter of Guide Dogs and who advised me as a new and rather wet-behind-the-ears Member of this House on how best to proceed if there was not a mutual meeting of minds between me as the promoter of the Bill and the Department affected—in this case the Department for Transport, as the Bill would amend the Road Traffic Act 1988.
It is unfortunate that a meeting of minds has not been achievable during those discussions. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough has convinced me of both his sincerity in dealing with the issue and, in general terms, his firm and clear commitment to improving the rights of the disabled and the vulnerable with regard to transport and mobility. It was on that basis, following a conversation with my hon. Friend the Minister, that I wrote to him on 26 November setting out what I thought was a good proposal to move forward if, even in the dying days of our discussions, a meeting of minds was not achievable.
I have set out to the Minister that a round table discussion would be convened by the Department early in 2016, to be attended by organisations such as Guide Dogs, the Local Government Association, Living Streets, the Royal National Institute of Blind People and myself, to discuss the concerns that triggered the Bill and the current situation. The Department has agreed to sponsor evidence-gathering to provide a sound basis on which to determine how best to proceed in addressing the issue, either by legislation or regulation. That would be undertaken at the expense of the Department for Transport. Following the commissioning of that evidence-based research and greater clarity on what I believe to be clear already—that the situation is a little hazy and the rules a little confusing and conflicting, although, as I have said, we have been unable to achieve a meeting of minds—that initial round table would convene to chew over the findings of the research and plot a way forward.
On 1 December, my hon. Friend the Minister replied to me to say:
“However, improving access for disabled people is a key priority for me and I would like to thank you and Guide Dogs for raising this issue. Although Government cannot support your Bill, I am prepared to convene a round table next year to discuss this issue and envisage that it might include”—
I have mentioned some of those involved—
“to inform the questions we will consider in the research. After which, and in the next financial year, I am also content for my Department to undertake some work to examine more closely the legal and financial implications of an alternative regime and the likely impacts on local authorities. I would also be content to report back to the round table on the outcome of that work.”
There are two ways, as I understand it, to try to achieve progress on what I think is seen collectively across the House as an important issue. One way is to ram our heads against the wall, to find ourselves faced with the overpowering might of the Executive and the Treasury Bench, and to come away with a headache and a badge that says, “A1 for endeavour, gamma minus for success”. The other way—this was the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, for which I am again grateful—is to sit down with the Department. Predicated on the seriousness with which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough has been dealing with this and the assurances he has given, that has certainly given me food for thought.
In the time remaining, I would be very interested to hear—obviously at your discretion, Mr Deputy Speaker—the views and considerations of colleagues on both sides of the House.
Mine will be but a short contribution to the debate. I would like to put on record the thanks of very many Members to the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) for bringing forward this Bill and raising an incredibly important issue that affects the day-to-day lives of so many people, especially those who are blind or have visual disabilities.
I have received representations from a number of constituents on this issue, as have many of us, but I was struck in particular by what one of them said, a gentleman by the name of Ian Stewart Jones who began lobbying in one of our local newspapers. He said:
“I suggest…people contact their…MPs…so we can put an end to this very selfish practice.”
That is quite interesting, because many people who park on pavements do not see it as selfish. It is sometimes the easy thing to do. For those of us who are not very good at parking—or, rather, who are atrocious at it—it sometimes seems the best option, as we choreograph our little vehicles into what we think is the best and easiest place to park, so it is interesting to see that word “selfish”.
We can imagine the difficulties that many people face because of this practice, and I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman quote the sheer number of organisations that support his Bill. I did not take them all down, but they include the RNIB, Guide Dogs, the National Pensioners Federation, Living Streets, the Local Government Association and so many more, so it is fair to say that there is already a wide consensus in civic society and in the representative groups he listed that support the Bill.
I appreciate that there will now be further consultation, discussion and the like, but I would like to put on record a plea that this measure not be forgotten, because I was very struck by that description of parking on pavements as a selfish practice. I can imagine it is also a very demeaning practice for people who want to get on with their day-to-day lives, but who face being knocked over and having to bump against vehicles—who face the general degradation that, quite frankly, most of us would not put up with for even 20 minutes. I therefore urge Ministers and all Members to recognise this as an important and serious Bill. We often talk in this place about equality, diversity, equal chances and all the rest of it, and this Bill is at the heart of what we mean by that. It is a practical manifestation of it. Whatever happens at the next stage, I urge that it not be forgotten. In one form or another, the Bill needs to proceed.
I am very pleased to be speaking on this topic because, like my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), whom I thank for bringing it to the House, a couple of months ago I was invited to take part in a walk where I was blindfolded, given a white stick and led by a guide dog around Northampton market square. It was a route I have taken throughout my life, but it was a real education to do it without the sight that I have become so used to throughout my life and which we all take for granted.
I depended very much on the dog that was guiding me around the market square, but I had not appreciated how different everything around me would be—the cobbles on the pavement beneath me and the cars that were parked, frankly, where they should not have been, which would not have mattered had I been able to see. I was grateful to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in Northampton and the Northamptonshire Association for the Blind for giving me that opportunity.
As someone with a background in local government, I know that issues to do with parking, pavements and cars are often brought to us. It is difficult to see how we can make certain changes, because lots of residents want to have access to cars, parking and their homes, as we have heard. However, this does need to be looked at. I am glad to hear that it is being taken seriously by the Department for Transport; I am grateful for the update provided on the round table next year; and I look forward to seeing further developments.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) on bringing forward this Bill to deal with an issue that should have been addressed sooner. It is right to harmonise across the country the arrangements and enforcement policies that have been in place in Greater London for a very long time.
Every council and every individual sees the abuses of pavement parking on a daily basis. It can be very costly: pavements can crack when cars go on to pavements; the dropped stone kerbs and footings on the pavements can be damaged; and even landscaped areas can be damaged, which has not been mentioned so far.
How can we police this in the future? A reasonable form of future policing would involve something along the same lines as a parking ticket. Provision would need to be built into the new laws that enforcement is not fielded out to these ANPR—automatic number plate recognition—processing companies, because those cowboys will move on straightaway to find another little loophole that they can exploit to the hilt.
Let me provide some clarification. It has been stated that parking on the pavement is a criminal offence. If a council uses its powers to ban pavement parking on particular streets, it can be enforced by those councils if they have civil enforcement powers. About 95% of local authorities do have those civil enforcement powers.
I thank the Minister for that interjection. He is correct in everything he says, but these powers are very costly. Their enforcement can range from £1,000 to £3,000, so we need to look at finding a means of enforcement on a cheaper scale, as well as on a fairer scale. I believe that any legislation to address this problem should exempt councils from bringing in these “spy-in-the-sky” companies, which would cause not only more problems for individuals, but an absolute headache for any legislative process that we introduce.
I have nothing more to say other than to wish my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset well and to thank the Minister for listening to parking issues not only on this occasion, but many times in the past.
I first congratulate the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) on bringing forward the Bill and on introducing me to the concept of a child at heel—not something of which I have had much experience.
Where drivers may or may not park is an issue that confuses drivers who find the current law applied inconsistently; frustrates local residents who suffer inappropriate parking; causes misery to people with disabilities and visual impairments who find pavements blocked; and is a subject on which I know many campaigning groups have worked very hard, and I pay tribute to them. Some of them were listed earlier and it is an impressive array of campaigning organisations, as well as the Local Government Association, the British Parking Association and, according to research, more than three quarters of councillors across the country.
That has helped to inform the view on the Opposition side of the House, and we broadly support the proposed measures, although we, too, believe that there is more work to be done. We want clarity for motorists and accessible pavements for all, but we also want to be sure that the Bill will not simply substitute one bureaucratic burden on local councils with another.
Everyone is affected by parking on pavements, which were clearly not designed to bear the weight of cars. Pavement parking can cause obstruction and damage, such as cracked paving and tarmac, and needs to be properly managed. The cost of maintaining damaged pavements can be significant, adding an extra financial burden to councils already faced with deep funding cuts and stretched to breaking point.
As we have heard, vehicles parked on pavements are an issue particularly for vulnerable pedestrians—especially for older people, families with pushchairs, wheelchair users and people with visual or mobility impairments. Banks of parked cars can also force cyclists to swerve into dangerous traffic flows, which can be especially dangerous on narrow roads. With the levels of congestion we have in our country, it seems unlikely that these problems are going to disappear, and we need better legislative intervention.
Let me first address the state of the current pavement parking laws outside of London, which to any independent observer may well seem both illogical and impractical. As has been pointed out, the current law is inconsistent across the country and it is inconsistently applied. Although pavement parking is legal, it is actually illegal to drive on to the pavement, whether with the intention to park or not. The ambiguity in the law means that most local authorities, as we have heard, struggle to enforce restrictions.
As the law stands, my understanding is that local authorities are able to prohibit parking in specific areas by issuing a traffic regulation order. Since 2011 local authorities are no longer compelled to obtain permission from the Department for Transport to issue traffic regulation orders, but the process is still time-consuming, taking up to two years, and it must go through a period of extensive consultation. Furthermore, it is estimated that the average cost for each traffic regulation order is between £1,000 and £3,000, a not inconsiderable sum.
Some tell us that local authorities outside London already have wide-ranging powers to prohibit pavement parking, but when one looks at the attempts of some local authorities to discourage pavement parking, they can be described only as inventive in some cases. They include installing guardrails, planting trees and strategically placing bollards on pavements, and I understand that there is even Government guidance on non-legislative methods to prevent pavement parking. These methods are sometimes farcical, and they are not always effective. As the LGA points out, such physical barrier schemes may simply transfer the location of a parking problem to another nearby area.
This is not a new problem. As long ago as 2006, the Transport Select Committee said:
“The Government must grip the problem of pavement parking once and for all and ensure that it is outlawed throughout the country rather than relying on the use of individual Traffic Regulation Orders on specific streets and local Acts to impose a ban.”
The Committee also called for reform to end
“the confusing patchwork approach across the country”.
We are close to celebrating a decade since the Transport Committee said that. What we want is a Bill that will create a new system, such as the one suggested in this Bill, under which local authorities would be able to apply for exemptions from pavement parking bans on a street-by-street basis rather than applying to prohibit parking in specific areas.
This is already the experience in London for the 32 London boroughs and the City of London, which has had a general prohibition on pavement parking since 1974. I understand that pavement parking is also banned in Exeter through a byelaw, but the use of byelaws to address pavement parking is, I am advised, no longer approved. The fact that pavement parking bans have worked in these areas is an encouraging sign that a ban could work on a national scale, ending the regional disparity and the “patchwork approach” mentioned by the Transport Select Committee.
We recognise that the implications of the Bill need to be gone through with a fine-toothed comb, and we need to acknowledge that with different issues in different part of the country, a one-size-fits-all approach would probably not be appropriate. That is why we would need assurances that the process to exempt locations will be far less complex than the current process of issuing a traffic regulation order, and that all options for change, including reforms to an opt-in system, will be properly considered.
We must ensure that local authorities will not be saddled with unnecessary financial and administrative burdens. Historic cities struggle with modern volumes of traffic, as we have heard. In my city of Cambridge and others such as Oxford and Durham, large numbers of narrow streets could necessitate numerous exemptions from a ban on pavement parking. We would need to know that the process would not create a bureaucratic nightmare. Perhaps in such places councils could apply for larger areas to be exempt from a pavement parking ban, circumventing the tedium and cost of a street-by-street approach.
Clause 3 makes reference to “a fair increase” in the level of fines that local authorities could levy, subject to a consultation led by the Secretary of State. This is certainly a concern for the Opposition. We do not want to see drivers unfairly penalised. If the Bill is to be considered further, this point must be addressed.
In conclusion, we all recognise a need for far greater clarity and that the issues surrounding pavement parking should not continue to be shunted aside. I am very pleased that the hon. Member for North Dorset has brought forward the Bill, and we want to ensure that progress is made on the issue. Although we are slightly disappointed that the Government have chosen not to support the Bill proceeding further, we welcome the fact that there will be further discussions. We hope that we ultimately end up with legislation that will help local authorities to make decisions about parking more simply, with reduced costs, and that we will be able to protect vulnerable pedestrians and all those who use our roads and pavements in our country.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) for the way in which he introduced his Bill, and for his clear concern for the safety and free movement of pedestrians. Having tried and failed to encourage a Patterdale terrier to walk to heel, I was very pleased to hear that he had had more success with his own children.
Disabled people, older people, and people with young children in pushchairs are particularly concerned about this issue, but the House should be in no doubt that I share his concern for the well-being of all pedestrians. I have been out and about in Scarborough wearing blacked-out glasses and observed some of the problems caused by, in particular, restaurants putting tables on the pavement. That is a perennial problem.
It is clear from what was said by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) that a number of complications would need to be ironed out before the Government could act, and given that many local authorities are under the control of his party, and other parties, I think it important for us to encourage authorities to engage fully.
Vehicles parked on a footway or verge where such parking is not permitted can cause serious problems for many groups, including people in wheelchairs and those with visual impairments. Indiscriminate pavement parking does more than cause problems for the movement of pedestrians, as it may also damage the verge or footway, and the burden of repair costs normally falls on the local highway authority. High-quality pavements are important in enabling people to get about as part of their everyday lives and participate in their community.
My hon. Friend’s Bill has inspired some valuable and interesting debate; let me now offer the Government’s views.
There is currently an historic ban on footway parking by all motorised vehicles throughout London, except where it is expressly permitted by local authorities, and the Bill seeks to extend a similar prohibition on footway parking outside London. It is worth noting, however, that in many cases London councils permit limited footway parking, which is indicated by relevant signs, including a broken line on the footway prescribing the limits of footway incursion by vehicles. That is because local authorities need to take account of all road users when making decisions on footway parking restrictions or allowances.
In some streets, footway parking is in practice inevitable to maintain the free passage of traffic to meet the needs of local residents and businesses. It would not be possible to drive a refuse wagon, let alone an emergency vehicle, down some narrow streets if that were not the case.
Local authorities must address such issues to ensure that a fair and balanced approach is taken to all residents and road users, and it is therefore right for them to decide where footway parking should be permitted. I should make clear that all authorities outside London already have full powers to introduce bans on footway parking wherever they see fit. That can be done by means of a traffic regulation order, under powers contained in the relevant sections of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. The restrictions must be indicated by traffic signs that have been authorised by my Department.
Obviously legislation and regulations already exist to prevent pavement parking, but the process is very costly. Is there any way in which we could amend the offence to make it cheaper for councils to act accordingly?
We heard from the hon. Member for Cambridge that some local authorities could prescribe zones, but if there were a ban on all footway parking, the cost associated with relief from that ban on certain streets would fall on local authorities. It is the flip side of the same coin.
I understand that the traffic regulation system is considered by some people to be a barrier to the wider provision of an effective footway parking system, but do not entirely accept that. Despite the cost, local authorities make many traffic regulation orders each year for a variety of traffic management purposes. An average authority makes perhaps 50 permanent orders a year. In practice, local authorities are responsible for both parking policy—deciding where parking may or may not be permitted—and parking enforcement.
In addition to direct footway parking bans delivered through traffic regulation orders, there are the yellow line road markings. Vehicles should not park at all where there are double yellow lines. Upright traffic signs indicate when parking restrictions are in operation when they are placed in conjunction with single yellow lines. Those restrictions apply from the centre of the road all the way to the back line of the highway, including the footway—which could mean the fence line of a field, or a length of residential garden walls.
There are also several ways of preventing footway parking that do not involve regulation, including the use of physical measures such as the erection of guard railings, bollards, high kerbs, cycle racks, seating and planters. Decisions on whether to use such measures must be made by local authorities, on the basis of local circumstances and site layouts. Their use does not require traffic orders or signing, and can therefore be a relatively quick means of restricting vehicle access, as there is no need for a formal order-making process. Of course, we would still encourage local authorities to consult those likely to be affected as a matter of good practice. Such measures also have the advantage of being self-enforcing, thereby cutting down on the resources that are needed to ensure they are complied with.
I recognise, however, that the needs of disabled people must be taken into account, and that careful planning of physical measures is required to ensure that they can get about safely and independently. We must not forget that some people with mobility problems need to park close to their homes, and that that may sometimes require pavement parking. We would not want people with serious mobility problems who had been accustomed to parking outside their homes to be forced to park two or three streets away. Local authorities have the power to ban vehicles from parking on the footway, and the Department for Transport’s guidance to local authorities makes clear that during the appraisal of its parking policies, an authority should consider whether footway parking is problematic in any part of its area. If it is, and if that is not covered by an existing traffic regulation order, the authority should consider amending the existing order or making a new one.
Introducing a national ban on footway parking outside London would change the way in which local authorities decide where and when footway parking would be allowed or prohibited. It would be a change to the current system but would not introduce a new power, as local authorities already have that power; and it would not be without new cost burdens for local authorities. They would have to remove any existing local prohibitions, taking down signage, and then review every road in their areas to establish where limited footway parking should still be allowed, to avoid congestion, before going through the process of passing resolutions, putting down road markings, and erecting appropriate signage.
If the Government were to propose any such legislation, I would not wish us to do so without undertaking a full and impartial impact analysis, evidence-gathering exercise and consultation, in order fully to understand the legal implications and the costs that might be imposed on local government of changing the existing system when powers to ban footway parking already exist.
As I explained at the outset, we share my hon. Friend’s concern for the safety and free movement of pedestrians. Improving access for disabled people is a key priority for my Department. Although the Government cannot support the Bill, I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), has agreed to convene a round table next year to discuss footway parking issues, and has also agreed that the Department should undertake some work to examine more closely the legal and financial implications of an alternative regime, and the likely impacts on local authorities. I cannot commit myself to any further action without a firm evidence base and the collective agreement of my ministerial colleagues, including those in the Department for Communities and Local Government. Nevertheless, I hope that, on the basis of what I have said, my hon. Friend will feel able to withdraw his Bill.
I am grateful to the Members on both sides of the House who have participated in the debate. I am particularly grateful for the support from my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (David Mackintosh), given that, before entering the House, he was the leader of Northampton Borough Council.
Let me say to the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) that I am, at this stage, content to accept the assurances of the Department and the Minister. However, she should rest assured, as should the organisations who have signalled support for the Bill, that I—along with, I believe, colleagues in the House—will be holding the Department’s toes to the fire next year in order to make progress.
I am afraid that I neglected earlier to include my thanks to Fergus Reid, Clerk of Private Members’ Bills, who has been incredibly helpful to me.
People often wonder why a Member has introduced a Bill. I shall let the House into a little secret, with apologies to the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), who has heard this one before. In the last month, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) has received the birth certificate of a guide-dog puppy, which has been named after him. I thought that calling a dog Andrew was rather sweet. In actual fact, they have called it “Jones”. I was rather hoping that if we make some progress on this, the Guide Dogs might name a dog after me, because I rather look forward to its owner shouting across a crowded playing-field, “Hoare.”
I should also report the thanks of my three daughters, Imogen, Jessica and Laura, who I do not think ever thought they would get so many mentions in the House on a Friday morning.
Based on the assurances and undertakings I have had both in writing and in person from my hon. Friend at the Dispatch Box and his colleague, all of which underline the point of the complexity local authorities face in this area, I propose to withdraw the Bill and therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.