That the Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, it is a great honour to be piloting this important Private Member’s Bill through your Lordships’ House. Its promoter in the House of Commons was the right honourable Sir Greg Knight, MP for East Yorkshire, who is himself an unusually committed and elegant motorist. He has been most dedicated and committed in his work, which will have such a positive impact on so many of his constituents and on everyone who drives a vehicle and needs to park it from time to time.
I cannot remember having been directly involved with a piece of legislation that has provoked so favourable a reaction in everyone I meet since 11 February 1977, when I moved the Second Reading of the Passenger Vehicles (Educational and Other Purposes) Bill, which eventually became the Minibus Act 1977. So I have some experience of how difficult it is to manage the procedures of the House, and I salute Sir Greg for his diligence and for successfully captaining this small but beautifully made Bill through the other place. I also thank the excellent government Bill team for its ready and first-class assistance and support.
I am so pleased to see so many important Members of the House participating in this debate. I recall that it is almost exactly 30 years ago that my noble friend Lord Kirkhope successfully introduced a Private Member’s Bill that became the Parking Act 1989. In the House of Commons, that Bill required no debate at all on Second Reading, while Committee lasted just 75 minutes. I cannot promise such brevity today, but I am greatly heartened by the many expressions of support that I have received from all parts of the House.
With its focus on emerging technologies, the 1989 Act was certainly ahead of its time, but new legislation is now urgently needed. The Bill addresses the need for fairness and consistency for motorists who park on private land, and seeks to codify for the first time the standards that should be expected of all private parking providers. Currently, the private parking industry operates under a system of self-regulation. The system is good in parts, but it cannot provide the clarity that motorists rightly crave.
The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 banned the controversial practice of wheel clamping and, in Schedule 4, made the keeper or hirer of a vehicle liable for any unpaid parking charges associated with that vehicle. Since then, any private parking company seeking to enforce a parking ticket against a motorist has needed details of the home address of the registered keeper, which it can obtain only from the DVLA. The DVLA will disclose that data only if a parking company is a member of one of the two parking trade associations, the British Parking Association or the International Parking Community.
To be a member of a parking trade association, a company must abide by a code of practice that sets out operational requirements by which a parking operator must abide. Each association has its own code of practice and different standards to which it holds its members. This has led to a degree of consumer confusion, with different rules applying on different sites and the inherent risk of a race to the bottom in code standards. A single code of practice would give us an opportunity to create a consistent standard across the industry, and to make best practice the standard practice for parking operators. I am pleased to say that these measures will apply in Scotland, England and Wales, giving motorists confidence that the same rules will apply whenever and wherever they park in a private car park on the UK mainland.
I shall go through the clauses. Clause 1 sets out the basis of the proposed code and Clause 2 the procedure for establishing it, including comprehensive consultation of interested parties and a significant role for Parliament in acceding to the draft code. Clause 3 requires the Secretary of State to keep the code under review, and Clause 4 sets out the basis for the publication of the code.
Clause 5 covers the intended status of the code, establishing that it will be admissible in legal proceedings and that adherence to it will be a requirement for a parking provider seeking access to the DVLA register. Clause 6 deals with the delegation of functions so far as policing the code is concerned. I will return to Clause 7 in a moment. Clause 8 establishes a levy on the accredited parking providers in order to fund the new system. Clauses 9 and 10 relate to regulations and interpretation, and Clauses 11 and 12 deal with the application to the Crown of the legislation and commencement.
This Bill comes to us with comprehensive support from all quarters, including the trade bodies for the private parking industry and motorists’ groups. Andrew Pester, chief executive of the British Parking Association—one of the two existing membership organisations with a self-regulatory code and access to the DVLA database—has supported,
“a single standard body, single code of practice and a single independent appeals service”.
In his words, the Bill,
“provides a unique opportunity to deliver greater consistency and consumer confidence”.
No one is arguing that there is no problem. Highly undesirable practices in the private parking industry range from threatening letters sent to motorists, poor signage in car parks and aggressive debt collection practices. One particular bugbear has been the failure to provide a transparent, fair appeal system when a motorist feels that a ticket has been issued unfairly. Motorists who wish to challenge a parking ticket are often uncertain about how to proceed; where to lodge an appeal is unclear and changes from site to site and company to company. The existing appeals processes lack transparency, and the cost of paying a ticket can rise if an appeal is made, as early payment options just melt away. Consumers feel pressurised into paying unfair parking tickets, because they fear the increased costs, should an appeal be unsuccessful.
Thanks to an amendment in the House of Commons, the provisions in this Bill now cover the appointment of a single appeals service, in Clause 7, which sets out the process by which the Secretary of State will be able to establish a single, independent appeals process. This will improve transparency and give motorists confidence that if they appeal against a parking ticket they will know where to go, in the confident and well-placed expectation that their appeal will receive a fair hearing. Steve Gooding, the director of the RAC Foundation, has said:
“We particularly welcome the proposal for a single, independent appeals service, which, together with a single, clear code of practice should establish a better, clearer framework and a level playing field that is fairer for all”.
The RAC Foundation is already making an invaluable contribution to producing the first draft of the code, for which it deserves our thanks.
Parking operators that operate in a fair and transparent manner, of which there are many, will not suffer from a code of practice coming into force, but it will stop those who undermine the whole sector with poor practices. Providers who already work to the standards of best practice will find that little or nothing changes for them. In time, the best practice that exists in many areas of the industry should become the standard. I believe that is why industry bodies have welcomed this Bill, supporting the Government in considering the areas a code of practice should cover.
This Private Member’s Bill, a great example of non-partisan co-operation, offers an excellent opportunity to significantly improve the conduct of the private parking sector, creating a fair, transparent, consistent system that motorists can confidently use whenever they need to. I close by again underlining the deep appreciation of all of us for the dedication and commitment of this Bill’s parent, Sir Greg Knight.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, and Sir Greg Knight for their work and commitment to get the Bill thus far. If anything is designed to raise the temperature and noise level in the local pub, it is discussions about parking.
I rise to support the Bill in its genuine attempt to create a level playing field for all private parking providers. It appears to be largely uncontentious and to have the support of trade bodies such as the respected British Parking Association, which has regularly called for a single standard body, a single code of practice and an independent appeals service for all operators, regardless of the trade association the individual operators belong to. That is an important point.
The noble Lord has outlined the Bill in detail so I will not repeat that, but I take the opportunity to lament the narrative around parking controls. In general, it goes something like this: the motorist is king—or queen—and it is those rotten councils and nasty landowners trying to stop us parking where we want, when we want, for free, anywhere. It is also regrettable that the language and actions of some of the media have endorsed this view. I exaggerate for effect, but I am sure we all recognise the picture.
This attitude and approach to a valuable and much-needed service is at best unhelpful and at worst could be behind the levels of aggression and abuse that parking attendants face every working day. That is shameful and largely goes unnoticed, and I feel very strongly about it. It is the actions of those private companies at the bottom of the league table—if there is such a thing—that give rise to this. The noble Lord is correct: self-regulation clearly has not worked.
My daughter having experienced a really dreadful parking incident, I know its effects. To cut a long story short, she was intimidated into paying up there and then by the kind of chap, to coin a phrase, you would not want to meet in a dark alley. On further investigation, it turned out that the strip of land she had parked on was adjacent to a legitimate car park that she had paid for and believed she was parking in. However, she was not—it was a kind of ransom strip, and a ransom was indeed demanded. When we went to check the so-called notices and signs to demarcate the difference, you needed a ladder and a set of binoculars to see them. So I assume that signage will be part of the code.
News of this incident was quoted in our local paper, where I, like several MPs during the Bill’s passage, used words like “cowboy” and “rogues”. I was then invited to meet a local private parking company, which dutifully pointed out to me, as their mayor, that I should know that not all companies are rogue or cowboys and that they provide a legitimate service and provide it well. My wrist was duly slapped. Thus, for companies such as these, the Bill will be welcomed and consistency and fairness will be hallmark words. But for the very rogue and very real cowboys will it be business as usual, hopefully with a lesser degree of success, leading to more of them going out of business? That said, as my daughter discovered, intimidation makes you just pay up. My precise concern is that, as I understand it, the code will not apply to those who do not belong to one of the accredited trade associations and those who issue tickets outside the current framework. How will we deal with these? Perhaps the Minister could clarify that it is they that give the rest of the sector a bad name.
Controlling and enforcing parking will never be popular. Council parking services have been under attack in recent years in many ways, having to defend themselves from various claims, not least that they are responsible for the closure of shops and the demise of the high street due to parking charges. Thankfully, evidence has now firmly rebutted that claim, but it is still true that there is much government pressure through statute to ensure that councils do not profit—that is the word used—from their parking service, as if a well-run, effective council service actually catching people who are contravening the law is a bad thing. Councils are still not allowed to use surplus revenue to subsidise other public services to survive in a time of diminishing budgets.
Thus, while the Bill seeks to make it a level playing field for all private contractors, there will not be the same rules that local government have to abide by, rules that could change at the whim of the next Secretary of State—and they do. So my next question to the Minister is this: when the code is drawn up, could there be a degree of synergy with the rules that local government have to adhere to? Otherwise, the Bill will clarify matters for the public in part but not entirely, and we will still have a two-tier system.
The real test, however, will be in the enforcement of the code—I mean real enforcement—particularly in the early days, to lay down a marker that this code is not a crocodile with rubber teeth but has some bite. The penalty of not being able to get driver data from the DVLA should be enough of a deterrent to ensure that standards rise across the board, but therein lies an area of concern: the DVLA handing over our personal data to myriad private parking firms. It is a legitimate view, held by some of my colleagues, that in this instance, private companies should not have access to any of our data. Can the Minister reassure us as to how this will be monitored, and what safeguards might there be to prevent the abuse of this data? I am sure we will discuss that at a later stage.
As the code is developed, there will be much more to say on matters such as the amount of fees. I genuinely feel that a lot of the animosity towards parking is due to the disproportionately high fees charged by private companies. The level of fees local authorities can charge is prescribed by government; there is no such control over the private sector. If, say, a person parks in a legitimate parking space in a hotel car park, attends a conference held there but fails, in rushing in late, to give their registration to the hotel reception, a fine of £100 may be given. This is surely disproportionate when compared to parking that jeopardises safety or causes an obstruction, enforcement against which is still unsatisfactory, and is far in excess of what any local authority outside London can charge.
I hope there will be an opportunity to look at this issue, the appeals process, grace periods and much more in Committee. But as was said earlier, the closer the local government regime and this new regime come together, the less confusing it will be for the public—the motorist—and the fairer for all. Parking control is not popular but it is a vital service and services have to be paid for. When my residents used to ask me regarding controlled parking zones, “Why should I pay for a permit to park outside my own home?”, my reply was, “You are not paying to park outside your own home. You are paying to stop everybody else parking outside your home all day, for free, which prevents you parking”. I learned quickly, though, that you can never win with parking.
With the caveats that I have raised, we support the Bill and wish it a speedy passage.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Hunt and Sir Greg Knight for their work in introducing this Bill to another place and now to your Lordships’ House. It is important and highly focused legislation. In these times when our legislative system is grappling with some of its biggest ever issues of recent times, it is extremely satisfying to see Parliament doing its job by correcting injustices which directly affect the lives of very many people.
Over recent decades, great strides have been made with regard to the rights and protection of the individual but there is one area where, in my opinion, the situation has moved backwards. It can be best described in the context of legalised unfairness. We see this phenomenon in so many situations, from hidden charges in car-hire agreements to technology-enabled contracts which are fiendishly complex and difficult to cancel, or to the use of premium-rate phone-lines to correct the mistakes of service providers in a wide variety of situations. It is very easy now for companies to help themselves to the wallets of the customers whom they deal with, often enabled by technology. This has become known by the shorthand of “the rip-off culture”, in which surcharges are buried in the small print and the consumer is really only a receiver of unclear and punitive contractual terms.
Among the worst of these practices are perpetrated by rogue elements of the private parking industry, a situation made far worse by the fact that it is facilitated by a government agency, the DVLA. Where government is involved in effectively doing the dirty work, we need to set the bar high for it. I welcomed the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, who said that parking regulation and enforcement are an important service and that if it did not happen it would be a free-for-all and we would all be in a complete pickle. The industry is populated largely by responsible companies doing a proper job and charging a reasonable amount of money for it.
However, there is a significant rogue parking element which through its lack of integrity is in danger of bringing the whole industry into disrepute. It is therefore in the interest of the high-integrity, high-quality operators to ensure that those who do not abide by those standards are prevented operating. For parking to work properly, it is clear that there needs to be clarity in the rules and the tariffs, fairness in how motorists are treated and proportionality in the terms of penalty fares and fines—here, again, I agree that a charge of £100 for being one second late is entirely disproportionate; I hope that the code will cover that area, with penalties expressed as a proportion of the original charge. There needs also to be transparency as to the nature of the fine or penalty. Tickets are often dressed up to look like official criminal tickets when in fact they are notices of breach of contract, as I understand it. Finally, there needs to be strict control of the use of DVLA data in how those companies go about recovering penalties.
The most unfair part of all this is that the objective of the exercise is often entrapment—we have heard the description of a ransom strip, which indeed happens. We must stop the objective of the exercise being to trap motorists and then to sting them with wholly disproportionate penalties. The objective should be the provision of parking to facilitate people’s everyday lives, when they go to shops, to government offices or to whatever else would draw them into town, city and village centres. They should pay a fee to park, but the objective of the exercise should not be to trick them into penalties. That is iniquitous and I hope that the code will focus on it.
Progress has been made already. Reference was made by my noble friend Lord Hunt to the abolition of clamping on private land through the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. Parking operators would lurk around the corner in a van and an intimidating individual would spring out, apply a clamp and basically threaten to hold the vehicle to ransom until a very large sum of money was paid up. That injustice has been corrected through the welcome provisions of the 2012 Act, but it has been replaced by a technologically enabled variant of exactly the same process. There is no longer the physical intimidation, but there is now the technology and government-enabled pursuit, often through aggressive means, of individuals who have overstayed their parking. Very large sums are demanded and people are intimidated into paying up rather than face the prospect of county court judgments that could be ruinous.
So we have come a very long way from the days when the traffic warden—that uniformed public servant—was in charge of these matters. It is probably fair to say that these individuals were not universally considered or portrayed as sympathetic characters, but at least the rules were simple and straightforward. Now we have private companies, some of which in their correspondence masquerade as official enforcement agencies and charge disproportionate penalties.
I very much welcome the Bill, which is a commendably simple and straightforward piece of legislation, at the heart of which is the development and deployment of a code of practice for private parking operators. Non-adherence to the code will have a terminal effect on an operator’s ability to access official DVLA data and to maintain its accreditation. As has been said, if it fails to abide by the rules, it will be put out of business—and that is the most powerful sanction imaginable. The bar for the code of practice really should be set high.
One measure of a good Bill is that one is surprised that it is not already the law of the land. This Bill falls directly into that category. When I read the account of proceedings in another place, I was struck by the total support from all sides of the House, as well as from representative organisations outside in whose interests it is to ensure that the issue is properly dealt with. It is a great example of Parliament standing up for the rights of the individual, and I give it my full support.
My Lords, I am delighted to see this Private Member’s Bill in your Lordships’ House for us to consider, and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral and Sir Greg Knight on its reaching this stage. Although some may think that politics is fairly quiet in the Westminster bubble, it is good to see that your Lordships’ House can turn its attention today to three Bills that are of great importance to people’s lives and can make a difference to them.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, said, parking is a subject that seems to be at the core of some people’s lives, and I suspect that I might be guilty of being somewhat overzealous about it myself. I recall that, when the announcement was made of my elevation to the peerage, even before I entered your Lordships’ House I received congratulatory letters, not least from someone who said how jealous they were that I would have free parking in SW1.
Like others, I get irritated by those who seek to profit unfairly from motorists seeking to park. The culprits are not limited to car park operators. Motorists sometimes have to use car parks because of restrictions imposed by the likes of local authorities, which force them there through the imposition of restrictions on their roads. Often one sees a gradual, insidious loss of space.
I will elaborate on my parking credentials and overzealous nature. A few years ago I noticed that a large number of single yellow lines in Westminster had been turned into double yellow lines, such that parking after 6.30 pm was no longer available. In June 2014, I put in a freedom of information request to Westminster Council, asking for this to be quantified. The council refused to provide the information for the whole of Westminster, so I got the council to do it for the preceding three years for just one ward, the West End. I discovered that some 433 metres of single yellow line had been lost to double yellow line. It is a great loss to motorists and to businesses, which would otherwise benefit from late-night shoppers, particularly in this difficult retail environment—not to mention restaurateurs, theatres and the like.
I cannot help but comment en passant that Westminster Council has form in being anti-motorist, with its unsuccessful attempt in 2011 to force all-night parking into its own car parks, and its successful removal of free parking on Saturday afternoons, which is a great shame for West End retailers.
Meanwhile, back in Hurley, where my nomen dignitatis indicates that I am from and where I have an interest, another parking situation arose. The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead sought to impose all sorts of ugly signage and parking restrictions in no lesser place than Hurley high street. Fortunately, we have an excellent MP, who helped the village reach a satisfactory compromise on its parking and signage.
It was during these important and critical negotiations with the council, with the enormous help of the local MP—who was then Home Secretary; she does win some arguments against authorities—that I had the chance to get to know the regulations that became Statutory Instrument 362, the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2016. I am sure that all noble Lords have had the chance to review these regulations, which cover the precise nature and size of parking signs allowed. At 545 pages, they pretty much cover the entire landscape and all you need to know. I hope that the Minister is able to give us some comfort that the legislation before us today, which is only enabling legislation, will not lead to a code for signage that is markedly different from that laid out in Statutory Instrument 362, so that there will be some compatibility with the signs and information that the motorist is getting used to, while at the same time keeping regulation, as always, to the barest minimum.
There has clearly been some abuse by some operators. Second Reading in the other place evidenced a wave of unacceptable practice. Not to be outdone, when I read the debate it brought to mind my local press, the Henley Standard, which reported that visitors to the town and its memorial hospital were being fined £160 by a company called Smart Parking when they were eligible for a free 20-minute grace period. They were being fined even when they drove through the car park without stopping—such is its configuration that one can drive through it.
Clearly, the success of the Bill will depend on the detail of the new code of practice and the terms it contains. I note that the Bill requires the Secretary of State to prepare the code. In other areas, the Government have passed that obligation back to the sector. For example, in the charity sector, where I have been involved both in charities and in the legislation, the Government created the Fundraising Regulator and invited the sector to self-regulate and, in effect, create its own code. In this instance, I support the different route that has been selected.
Some areas to be included in the code were very helpfully set out for us by the Minister in his letter of 14 January. He did not mention the situation where operators in a private residential area might first need to get approval from all, most or maybe some of the residents before implementing a scheme, and this may also require the inclusion of guidance from the Government in the code.
Finally, I have to put on record for full disclosure that, in a professional capacity, my employer has advised companies in the sector. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, said, there are good companies: we advised Creative Car Park Ltd and there are others that behave profitably, ethically and properly. It is up to us to ensure that good operators are allowed to thrive and others are curtailed. It is now time to ensure that the estimated 250 billion vehicle miles travelled in the UK in any one year are not subject to rogue opportunists taking advantage of the need to park at the end of those trips.
My Lords, while listening to the earlier part of this debate, which I welcome, I wondered what a group of enthusiasts or interested parties in relation to parking might be called. The term “nosy parkers” might do very well. Certainly, there a quite a lot of noble Lords here who have some experience.
I cannot myself go back to 1977—I am sure that all noble Lords will observe that I must then have been only in my infancy. To be more understood and believed I should rather say my political infancy, which would be correct. My noble friend was quite correct to say that 30 years ago, almost to the day—it was 21 January 1989—the Second Reading took place in the House of Commons of my own Private Member’s Bill, which became the Parking Act 1989. It was not exactly similar to this excellent measure now, but it gave a legal basis for the first time in this country so that parking could be paid for in other ways than merely by coins. That, of course, as we all know, has now developed into quite a dramatic technological advance, but in those days that was the situation. It was certainly important at the time, but it also included some other measures, hoping that it would improve the standards in this area.
Thirty years have now passed; some things have changed, and some things have not. On a recent observation of my very good friend the right honourable Sir Gregory Knight, I can see that he has certainly not changed over the last 30 years. However, his interest in this matter has continued, as has his interest in historic vehicles, in which we both have a great interest. His interest, which has now developed into this excellent measure, was indicated in 1989, when we were dealing with the Lords amendments during the passage of my Act. Incidentally, those were the days when Lords amendments were actually welcomed in the House of Commons. He said to me:
“I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that it is unreasonable to expect a motorist in a queue of traffic to stop at the barrier to read the information on the ticket before he drives under that barrier. Will my hon. Friend assure us that he proposes that this information will be displayed not only on tickets, but on signs that can be seen from a distance?”—[Official Report, Commons, 7/7/1989; col. 594.]
That was very much in advance but was certainly part of his whole interest in transparency and further information. When it came to this, his own Bill, he said:
“Motorists should have the certainty that when they enter a car park on private land, they are entering into a contract that is reasonable, transparent and involves a consistent process. Poor signage, unreasonable terms, exorbitant fines, aggressive demands for payment and an opaque appeals process … have no place in 21st-century Britain”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/2/18; col. 1149.]
Of course, they had no place in 20th-century Britain either, but unfortunately they prevailed. Therefore, I very much welcome the Bill and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Hunt on his introduction today, as much as I welcome what my right honourable friend Sir Greg Knight has done.
All this is terribly important in recognising the changes that have taken place over the last 30 years. Now we have something like 38 million vehicles on the road; 19 million of them need to park virtually every day. When my Act went through there were substantially fewer—I think under 24 million vehicles—of which a much smaller proportion needed to move around and park each day. Public transport tended to be more the norm in those days; fewer people used their vehicles quite as regularly as they do now. Because there were neither those demands nor the demands on the planning arrangements, local authorities, for instance, and others who were building residential developments and office developments were not then under obligations, as they are today, to have parking taken into full consideration. The scene we had was therefore very different. As my noble friend said, wheel clamping, which was one of the most appalling things occurring on private land, was abolished through the 2012 legislation, which was a great development.
In 1989 we wanted a code of practice about the way in which people were allowed to offer parking facilities. Frankly, that was not totally successful, so I am particularly pleased to note that, as part of these provisions, there is a requirement for a new code of practice to be introduced. Of course, in a way these things are often voluntary, but I am pleased and heartened to know that the official parking agencies—the parking associations—all support not only this excellent Bill but the need to make sure that there are standard arrangements, good-quality parking facilities, and complete transparency with regard to the information provided to those who wish to park their cars.
I shall not go through individual items in the Bill, because in general I very much support it. It is taking things forward in the right way, and it is difficult for anyone to indicate lack of enthusiasm for those measures. I conclude by saying that, as far as I am concerned, whether it is 30 or 40 years or whatever, we are moving in the right direction. I hope that we will be able to provide the right facilities for the future for those who will not be moving their cars at all times but wish to ensure that, when they park them, they are safe and secure in doing so.
My Lords, it will not surprise anyone that I, too, welcome the Bill. I have some history in this area. I have a long involvement with an organisation called the London Motorists’ Action Group, mostly concerned with fighting Westminster and Camden. My noble friend Lord Leigh will share my views on their attitude to motorists who wish to park. I am delighted that things are better in Watford, although not at Waterfields, I notice, which has one of those private car parks that operates a cliff edge: two hours free; for the first second after that, £85. One thing that must be got right in the code is that operators whose finances depend on extracting penalties from motorists, as many of these companies do, should not be allowed to continue in business. If they are operating parking and basically running it off the fees that they get for parking at a steady rate, that seems all right. If they are getting very little from that and most from extortionate penalties, that seems to me a very antisocial way to behave, and I very much hope that that will not be allowed by the code.
In regard to that, I very much hope that the Minister will offer us a meeting between Second Reading and Committee. That would help cut down the amount of talking and amendments that we have to get through at that stage. We all support the Bill, but we all have ideas, and we would like a better understanding of the details than we can get from a short speech by the Minister at the end of Second Reading.
As others have said, I want clear and fair rules. It should be clear that waiting is not parking. That is something I have been on the wrong end of in a private car park. Given my history, I tend to be quite competitive about these things and in the end they give up and go away, but it is not fair that people in general should be subject to threatening letters just because they have paused for a moment while remaining entirely in charge of the car. Setting someone down in a hospital car park is not parking, and the code should not permit it to be charged for.
For this to work, we need a good flow of information. Rather than push this through some bureaucratic mechanism, we should require information to be published. Anyone running a private car park should be required to publish on the website—which they must have to enable appeals and so on—information about how many people park there, how many fines they issue, what is going on in that car park which affects the motorist and how they should look at the consequences of parking there. Public indignation is the cheapest and best way to ensure that, in a very diverse and scattered industry, we get good performance.
On penalties, there seems to be an idea that £100 is a reasonable amount to charge people for overstaying in a car park. Mostly, that is done by mistake. Yes, it is certainly reasonable to charge a fee to cover the cost of digging the money out of someone who has forgotten to pay, but it is absolutely unreasonable that that could be £100: £30 might be more like it, I guess. Again, that matter should be in the code; we should not allow excessive premia for people who have merely forgotten to pay.
Indeed, in everything we do, we should encourage compliance. Noble Lords may remember the early days of the London congestion charge, when the system was designed to catch people out and incur fines. Then, the system became compliance-friendly: you could sign up so that if you drove into the congestion charge zone, you were automatically charged that day’s fee. Modern technology from several competing companies out there enables this to be done on a small scale in private car parks. We ought to insist that any space for more than a few cars should use these motorist-friendly systems to charge people for parking. You should be able to register, particularly if you use a car park or an operator with any regularity, and be charged automatically when your vehicle is recognised going in and out of the car park. The system is simple and reliable; we ought to insist on it.
On the internal appeal system—the bit before the external appeal system—we ought to insist that companies document what is going on so that their performance can be reviewed. It is not right that appeals get rejected on principle; people do not want to risk adding 50% to their penalty by going to the external system. The internal system must be well run and fair, and it must be possible to check that. The external system needs to be effective and cheap, which is difficult to achieve. We ought to allow the external system to be pretty robust in saying when an appeal is hopeless and dismissing it in short order, otherwise it gets far too expensive to operate.
On the other hand, the person reviewing the system ought to have legal expertise. In my one involvement with Poplar, I was astonished by how little the person conducting the appeal understood about the law of the land. I do not think that they had any legal training at all. The appeal system needs some kind of quality control—someone to review and check things to make sure that what is going on is up to the standard we expect.
The key to this is building a self-improving system with a clear and strong flow of information on what is good practice, what is going wrong and what is being done to improve things so that, over time, we can push towards better practice and not be satisfied with anything like the current system. I am delighted by the way the Bill has been drafted, which offers us the opportunity to get where we need to go. I look forward to my conversations with the Minister.
My Lords, I am delighted to give the Bill my full support. Car ownership, parking, the charges associated with parking, disputes over charges and appeals can cause considerable disagreement, as we have heard. To put it mildly, people can get very angry about these issues, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, said. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, set out the problems that some motorists have had to contend with in dealing with those who operate poorly in the industry. I also endorse the comments made by the noble Baroness about the abuse directed at parking officials, which is totally unacceptable. They are doing their job; she is absolutely right that certain elements really wind that sort of thing up. I very much support her comments on that. The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, was absolutely right to comment on how some of the worst elements in the private industry are ripping people off. I fully endorse his comments, and that is why the Bill is so welcome.
We need a system that is clear, consistent and deals with people fairly. What we all want to see is fairness. As we have heard, the situation at present is not as good as it could be. Many people in the industry operate perfectly fairly and do their job properly, but of course, as always, there are those who do not. Where people have not paid their parking charges, the owners of private car parks need their details and so they need access to the DVLA database. To do that, they must be members of one of two accredited trade associations. As we have heard, both trade associations have codes of practice, but they have different terms, standards and appeal mechanisms, and it is confusing to say the least. That is not a good place for us to be. The confusion and inconsistency has led to different standards and things not being right, so we need to get this right.
I strongly support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate. He said that when drivers enter a car park they should be clear about the contract they are entering into and that the terms should be absolutely transparent. If they do not like them, they should be able to leave quickly. The Bill is welcome in dealing with the inconsistency and confusion by creating a single code of practice which would apply to all operators and seek to deliver best practice. That is good for car park operators and, more importantly, it is good for motorists.
Proper consultation with car park operators, the trade associations and other relevant organisations must happen before the code is produced. I am sure that will happen. It should then be laid before Parliament before coming into force. I am also pleased to see that the Bill allows for the code to be regularly reviewed because practices change over time. It is only right that we should be able to get the code looked at quickly and amended as necessary. It is also right that the Bill provides for the ability to levy the accredited associations in order to pay for the cost of the scheme, as is the ability for a single independent person to be authorised by the code to deal with appeals brought against parking charges and to be able to charge fees to persons operating private parking facilities. It would be very good to get that consistency in place.
It has been an extraordinary week in Parliament to say the least, so I will not detain the House for much longer. I am delighted to learn that the Bill has the support of the British Parking Association, the RAC Foundation and others in the industry. I look forward to it making swift progress through your Lordships’ House. In order for that to happen, I do not intend to table any amendments and I hope that no other noble Lord will do so. That is because a well-meaning amendment which would make the Bill even better than it is now would risk, at this late stage of this Session of Parliament, wrecking the entire Bill and it falling. We do not want that to happen. It is important, no matter how tempted we are, that we do not table any amendments. We must leave the Bill as it is so that it can move swiftly through the House.
I put on record my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, for taking the Bill through the Lords. I also offer my thanks to the right honourable Sir Greg Knight MP, who first brought the legislation forward in the other place. I very much endorse the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about the Member for East Yorkshire. As I said at the start of my contribution, the Bill has my full support. I look forward to seeing its swift passage through the House and it becoming an Act of Parliament shortly.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate—a very consensual debate, I am pleased to say. I will try to deal with the points that have been raised. This debate on Second Reading has been wide-ranging in many ways. It has been full of important content and some very interesting and important points have been made. In so far as I cannot deal in detail with any of the issues which have been raised, I will make sure that noble Lords get a detailed response. I will write to noble Lords and place a copy of that letter in the Library.
I want to thank very sincerely my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral for his hard work in promoting this Bill. It is a matter for which the whole House is most grateful. I also thank my right honourable friend the Member for East Yorkshire, Sir Greg Knight, for introducing this Bill in the other place. It is pleasing, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has just said, that in these times of discord to have before us something on which we are so totally in agreement and have reasonable concerns. This is the Lords at its best, just as it was on the Tenant Fees Bill earlier this week.
My noble friend Lord Hunt has shown considerable determination in ensuring that this comes to us and is navigated successfully. I very much endorse the comments that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has just made on the need for no amendments to this Bill. I will endeavour to deal with some of the issues that have come up on council car parking and so on, but that is without this Bill. I want noble Lords, if they would, to remain focused on this issue.
My noble friend Lord Hunt gave us an effective overview of the Bill and why it is needed—for consistency and clarity. There has been an increase in private parking tickets. I endorse the point that many noble Lords have made that there are many ethical operators which are operating quite appropriately and where there is no concern. But there are others. We all have our horror stories; I too have suffered from a cliff-edge car parking charge—as my noble friend Lord Lucas, mentioned—so there are concerns. We all have our examples or—in the case of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill—our close relatives’ examples to consider and quote.
This is in essence a very simple Bill. It facilitates bringing in a code of practice for private operators to ensure we have consistency, clarity and a proper appeals system. I will nail this at the outset, but will probably come back to it as I go through my speech: there will be a code of practice with an advisory committee drawn from people with expertise in this area. That code of practice will be consulted on and there will then be appropriate parliamentary procedures on the detail.
On the point made by my noble friend Lord Lucas about a meeting, I am happy to facilitate that—hopefully along with Sir Greg and my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral—to talk about some of these aspects and provide reassurance. The important point is to provide the focus to ensure that this measure, which is simple and straightforward and should command our support, goes through unamended.
The code of practice will deal with matters such as appeals to ensure that there is clarity and consistency; that is important. It seems appropriate—this is subject to the consultation exercise—that it mirrors appeals procedure elsewhere. I am sure that is at the forefront of people’s minds. On notices and the points made about signage, that should reflect best practice and the same process as in local authority car parks and on Network Rail land—where there is a slightly separate regime with slightly different considerations, but it very much mirrors what we have here.
I am sure fines would be considered in the code of practice, particularly in those cliff-edge cases. You see the sign telling you how long you can park for, then if you overstay by a short amount you are very often subject to some horrific charge and the ransom types of situation that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, referred to. My department has been made aware recently of somebody accidentally mistyping their registration number into a parking system and for the sake of a 50p ticket receiving a £45 charge. This is unacceptable and the sort of thing that would be dealt with.
The noble Baroness and others raised the issue of those that are unlicensed and do not receive the appropriate laying-on of hands as a registered provider. They will not have access to the DVLA data, so will not be able to enforce the charges at all or to operate successfully. I am sure the code of practice will reflect this, but clearly the sanctions would not necessarily go for denial of access to the DVLA data straightaway if it is a very minor breach, but that would be appropriate in some situations. It could be the case that it would be like endorsing a licence.
Signage will be dealt with. Noble Lords have raised the issue of contractual signage before you actually go into the car park. It is a basic principle of contract law that you can only be subject to terms known to you and agreed by you, either expressly or implicitly, at the time the contract is concluded. I will look at that, but I am sure it will be borne in mind by those putting together the code of practice. After the contract is concluded, you cannot then seek unilaterally to put in extra terms, as per the case of Olley v Marlborough Court. If I may, I will cover that in more detail in the letter.
My noble friend Lord Goschen referred to county court judgments. There is certainly an issue there that we want to take care of. There have been instances of having notices sent to their old addresses when they have made known their present address, and such cases should also be covered.
I have covered the issues of unlicensed operators and fine levels, and the use of debt collectors will no doubt be covered in the code.
I shall deal now with one or two of the issues that have been raised. My noble friend Lord Hunt referred to the fact that he first entered this arena through passenger vehicles legislation—the Minibus Act 1977. It says much for the contribution he has made to public life that he is still firing on all cylinders and helping us with these issues. I put on record my thanks and the House’s thanks for that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, referred to the local pub test in Watford. I will not ask how she is aware of what is being talked about in the local pubs but we all recognise that unfair car park charges fire people up, and we all have our horror stories to tell about them and I thank her for her contribution and support. She referred to the synergy with local authorities. Many people would suggest that local authorities often make hefty charges but I will deal with that issue in separate correspondence with her. I agree that sometimes people are unfair in the abuse and attacks they direct at people who are responsible for enforcing the rules, a point also made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Goschen for his comments on this focused legislation. As he said, it seeks to deal with legalised unfairness. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley for his contribution and his broader discussion of car parking. We recognise some of the issues he raised, particularly about the need for compatibility. He said that many companies behave perfectly properly and ethically. They have nothing to fear. We want to make good operators the norm, the universal situation.
My noble friend Lord Kirkhope also goes back some way on this issue of parking and I thank him for his expert knowledge and for his support of the need to move forward with this legislation. I also thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for recognising some of the challenges. He referred to the cliff-edge operators. I have been a victim and note that it is very unfair on people.
All we are seeking is clarity, consistency, transparency and fairness. This is a process measure rather than a substance; it is to make sure that people are dealt with fairly.
In particular I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for, as always, putting his finger on what needs to happen here—which is support from around the House to ensure that this sensible legislation, which has universal support in the Lords, goes forward without amendment. In the meantime, I am happy to write to noble Lords on some of the issues that have been raised and, indeed, to facilitate a meeting if that is felt appropriate. With that, I again thank my noble friend Lord Hunt for bringing forward this legislation.
My Lords, this has been a marvellous debate. It has been overseen by the author of the Parking Act 1989 and by the parent of this most important Parking (Code of Practice) Bill, Sir Greg Knight, who has listened to every word that has been spoken. I hope that Sir Greg will have been bolstered by the determination, foresight and enthusiasm for all that he has proposed and that it will help to deal with what, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, pointed out, is a perceived problem. Her description of that ransom strip echoed so many of the experiences I have heard of from other colleagues. I cannot match her knowledge of what happens in her local pub, although I might try a bit harder in future because that is where you discover what is going wrong.
My noble friend Lord Goshen described this as legalised unfairness. I strongly agree with him, particularly about the rogue parking element. I hope the message that goes out from this Chamber is that their days are over. We are not going to stand for any such nonsense in the future.
I can only apologise to my noble friend Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate for the fact that nobody has taken up his challenge about the origin of nosy parker. I hate to disappoint him, but it has nothing to do with parking but everything to do with Matthew Parker, an Archbishop of Canterbury in the 16th century, who kept querying the qualifications of the clergy and looking into them with a zealousness that appalled all his colleagues. I will go no further.
My noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley is quite right to worry about the way in which single yellow lines are suddenly becoming double yellow lines. There are serious problems with parking in the West End, and I will go from here to look up immediate Statutory Instrument 362 just to make sure we get this right.
My noble friend Lord Lucas, that well-known fighter on behalf of the London Motorists’ Action Group, has come forward with a number of ideas. People must not be allowed to profit from penalties. That has been a theme that has echoed through the debate.
There are ways in which we can continue to improve what is proposed in this legislation, and I warmly welcome the positive response. In particular, if my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth does not mind, I praise the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, because together across the Despatch Box they have given this Bill tremendous support, which I hope will mean that it can make a speedy passage on to the statute book and we can then see an improvement in the overall situation.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 2.42 pm.