The Department for Communities and Local Government has responsibility for off-street parking. I have had discussions with the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), and we have further meetings planned. Officials from my Department also have regular contact with their DCLG and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency counterparts to discuss issues relating to parking.
Motorists must be able to challenge unfair parking fines. When my constituents were punished by Excel Parking’s poor signage in Ebbw Vale town centre, many were forced to come to me to have any hope of a refund. Have the Government assessed how effective the appeals service POPLA—Parking on Private Land Appeals—has been in protecting motorists? Does the service live up to its name?
That is actually a DCLG matter. We are discussing the independent appeals process, and the DVLA’s role in that in supplying driver information, but also up for consideration is the vigour with which the codes of practice of the two accredited trade associations are enforced. While we recognise that there are many good parking companies, there are some whose standards of customer service do not meet expectations. We had a very good debate on this in Westminster Hall last week, and I look forward to standing up for consumers to make sure they get a better deal.
The British Parking Association represents many of the operators of private car parks, and the Minister has just referred to its code of practice for the industry. What discussions has he had with the association about improving the performance of parking operators?
I have met the British Parking Association and will be having further meetings. This is all about making sure that its independent appeals process and codes of practice work on behalf of consumers. That is our objective and that is what we will be taking forward in discussions with the DCLG.
A constituent of mine, Lisa Smith, was given a ticket for parking on the line. Another constituent of mine, Catherine Cheeseman, saw a £60 fine very quickly escalate to a £180 fine, with threats of court action, and a disabled constituent of mine whose blue badge was out of date by a week was given a fine. When are the Government going to bring forward legislation to deal with rogue private parking companies and those who rip off British motorists?
That was a point the hon. Gentleman made in the debate we had last week. I cannot tell him when the DCLG will be responding to the consultation that it has been running, but I can tell him that my Department will be working with the DVLA and the DCLG to do all we can to ensure that the consumer gets a better deal by tackling some of the bigger rogue parking companies.
Last week in Westminster Hall the Minister told me that the provision of DVLA data to private car parking companies is not subsidised, yet a House of Commons Library report and a 2015 report by the Select Committee on Transport stated that it charges £2.50 for each inquiry. It costs the DVLA £2.84 to process each request. The difference in the cost of the service last year was a shortfall of around £700,000. Will the Minister publish current figures on the cost of DVLA data to back up his claim, or is the taxpayer indeed funding the disgraceful practices of private companies such as Smart Parking in many constituencies, including my own?
The charge is £2.50 for the data. It is basically set on a cost-recovery basis. It is not possible to predict entirely accurately how many claims there will be during the financial year; some years there could be a small deficit, some years a small surplus. As I undertook to do in the debate last week, I will put all the data in a letter in the House of Commons Library.
We have heard about the Westminster Hall debate last week and we have heard complaints from Members across the country about the practices of cowboy parking operators. Extraordinarily, in that debate the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) revealed hitherto undiscovered socialist tendencies by demanding that the Government act and introduce regulation. These cowboy operators need DVLA data to fleece their victims. How many operators have been struck off for poor practice? After years of dithering on this, when are the Government going to step in to protect innocent motorists?
There were a few points there. I shall relay to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) his socialist tendencies, which will be a surprise to him. The answer on suspensions is 18, and I cannot answer for the DCLG on when it will respond to the consultation.