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House of Commons Hansard
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Parking Places (Variation of Charges) Bill
25 November 2016
Volume 617

Second Reading

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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is an absolute pleasure to follow the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on the wearing of medals, which is a really important issue. I very much enjoyed his speech, as I did the forensic analysis of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and the entertaining speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). He talked about the extra sets of medals he has in his cupboard, but, because he is a very modest man, he did not say that he has the second-highest gallantry award of this country, the Distinguished Service Order, which he won for his active service in Bosnia. He is ever modest, but it is important that he should receive that recognition. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I was also touched by the contribution of the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), who represents Sir Keith Joseph’s old seat. He spoke about the wearing of medals that were in his family’s possession—a very useful adjunct.

It is my good fortune to be able to introduce my Parking Places (Variation of Charges) Bill, which I understand has the backing of not only the Government but Santa Claus. I had a note down my chimney last night, and I shall explain why. The Bill will be very helpful to local authorities, particularly at Christmas time, when cities and towns are full of shoppers and councils might want to reduce, or waive altogether, some on-street and off-street parking charges.

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I give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker).

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If local authorities already have provision to vary parking charges, which I know they do from my time on Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council—I believe the provision is in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984—will my hon. Friend elaborate on why there is a need to amend that?

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I certainly will. I now give way to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray).

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We have seen parking charges in Cornwall increase constantly over the past three or four years. Will the measures on parking charges in my hon. Friend’s Bill help the smaller town centres that need supporting, such as those in my constituency?

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I say to my hon. Friend that I hope I will satisfy her concerns during my speech. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley, I will explain shortly why the Bill is a necessary adjunct. It makes provision for reductions in charges without the need for the current requirement of 21 days’ notice. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall should be aware that local authorities will in future, under clause 2, need to consult if they want to increase their charges.

Issues in Stevenage were addressed in a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday, which was replied to by the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my neighbour across Watling Street and hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones). My hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) is extremely worried that the local council is making £3 million a year from parking charges, which are depressing Stevenage’s ability to attract business and be a vibrant town.

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Will my hon. Friend clarify whom local authorities will have to consult? Will the consultations be wide? Will the people who use such car parks be able to have a say?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend because her question will help to flesh out my speech. The Under-Secretary will correct me in his speech if I do not get things quite right. The Bill has only two clauses, and I must tell colleagues that I fended off several organisations that wanted to add a whole range of further clauses. However, this is the second Bill on a Friday and I am under no illusions about my needing the support of the Chamber for the Bill to progress.

The Bill amends the existing powers of the Secretary of State at sections 35C and 46A of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to make regulations providing for the procedure to be followed by local authorities giving notice to vary charges at both off-street and on-street parking places. That allows for new regulations to be made that revise the existing regulations to reduce the burden on local authorities that are seeking to lower their charges. In addition, the Bill allows for a new power that will mean that local authorities will need to consult if they want to increase their parking charges under an existing traffic order. I hope that that answers my colleagues’ questions.

Town centres such as that of Hinckley, the vibrant town in Leicestershire that I represent, are at the heart of our local communities. Parking has the potential to enhance the economic vitality of town centres such as Hinckley’s.

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I welcome my hon. Friend’s Bill. Does he agree that the Bill will make it much easier for councils to reduce car parking charges? That can only be a good thing not just for local businesses, but for local residents. It will encourage us all to shop locally and support our town centres.

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I was astonished when I looked into the matter that this was not already in a council’s portfolio of options. That is why I have brought the Bill to the House. I was absolutely amazed. The reform will allow local authorities to react more quickly to market changes and allow greater flexibility if they are looking to put in place reduced parking charges or even free parking. It also puts local authorities on an even footing with the private sector—this is important—by allowing local authorities at short notice to provide free or discounted parking to support town centre events.

That is the Santa Claus aspect. In the run-up to Christmas, councils may want to allow a market to take place at short notice and could stimulate that market by reducing charges or waiving them altogether. Requiring 21 days’ notice, with the notice to be published in the local newspaper and posted at appropriate places on the street, is bureaucratic and totally unnecessary. It is important that councils should engage their local communities when they are raising charges, to help to ensure that the business community is aware of any proposals and to help it make informed comment about them. The Bill will reinforce what should be good practice.

Standing here on behalf of my constituency, which includes the big town of Hinckley on the A5, I can say with some pride that Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council already consults the Town Centre Partnership on changes to charging ahead of publishing any notice of variation in the local media. It also has a joint car-parking working group with the Business Improvement District and the Town Centre Partnership to consider issues as they arise. If I had intervened more fully in last Wednesday’s debate, I might have said that that would be an appropriate way forward for Stevenage; perhaps Stevenage can talk to Hinckley about the way Hinckley does things. I am pleased to put on the record that example of best practice.

I am also pleased to report that, in the past, Hinckley has offered free parking at Christmas. My local council assures me that the Bill would allow it to temporarily reduce charges, meaning that it could still generate some revenue while supporting town centre businesses. There is a good relationship between the council and the business community in Hinckley, but the Bill will add flexibility, which is why it is so important. It will allow Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council to consider a new range of parking incentives, which is very much to be welcomed.

Let me give a couple of examples. The Bill would allow the council to develop temporary incentives for under-utilised car parks, to increase awareness of those parking assets. I pressed the chief executive of the council for more examples locally, and it could—people in my area might be interested to learn that these are not council policy but options that might be put before it—temporarily introduce a 50p charge for all-day parking on long-stays on Saturdays in the run-up to Christmas. It could introduce a 50p all-day charge on the Trinity Vicarage car park, which the council has been trying to get greater use of, until usage increases, and the charge could then be removed. Finally—this is interesting—I am told that councillors might be invited to consider a charge of 50p for three hours on all short-stays in January and February, which are generally quieter months; obviously, that is after Christmas, and there is not much going on.

Hinckley—the town I have had the honour to represent for a long time—has been shortlisted in the large market category of the Great British High Street competition. Let me put that in context. Unusually for a town of its size—it has a population of 30,000—it is signposted pretty much from the moment people leave London, and the signposts are there once people get just outside the M25. That is because Hinckley is a very important town on Watling Street—the Roman road going to the north-west—or what is now the A5. It has a great history, going back to the making of silk stockings; it was one of two towns in England that produced silk stockings, Wokingham being the other. It has a very proud history of hosiery and knitwear production. It actually has a catchment area of half a million people within a 15-minute drive. I checked the numbers today: Hinckley has over 400 businesses, of which nearly 300 are independent, and the vacancy rate is less than 5%. That is a great thing for the town of Hinckley.

As we are talking about markets, it is worth mentioning that the charter market in Hinckley was 700 years old in 2011, and it is open for business three days a week. Not only that, but we have fantastic town centre festivals, including the Soap Box Derby, which is great fun; St George’s Day; and the largest town centre classic motor show in the midlands. We have also had a rally in the middle of the town; I do not know how the council got permission for that, but it did, and well done.

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My hon. Friend is painting a fantastic picture of his town of Hinckley. If his Bill goes through, and we can park there at a reasonable price, will it have enough parking spaces to accommodate all those of us who are very tempted to visit one of these festivals?

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I have to say to the House that I did not connive with my hon. Friend before this debate, but she is bowling me some very soft balls. I did not intend to mention this, but recently the Co-op sadly ceased trading. It had a very good car park in the middle of town and local business people and the former chairman of my association, Rosemary Wright, wisely got behind a general campaign to persuade the council to purchase it. It is controversial—I forget, but I think it will cost about £1 million—but there is a shortage of parking in Hinckley, so I welcome that important decision.

Parking is crucial to the success of the events, which are attended not only by thousands of local people, but by visitors from further afield, leading to—I will use the jargon—an increased spiking of 1,000% in footfall. That means a whole lot of new people coming into the town and wanting to park, so making parking easier is much better for business. The flexibilities that the Bill would introduce would go a long way to enhancing the event experience in town, and parking is, of course, often the visitor’s first experience and impression.

As I have said, I understand that the Government support the Bill’s purpose. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton, may wish to say a little more about the points that I have raised. I do not need to be psychic—he is on the Front Bench—to imagine that that will be the case. Crucially, the Bill also has the support of Santa Claus, so I commend it to the House.

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I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which notes that I am a serving member of Oldham Council. I thank the hon. Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) for promoting the Bill. To be honest, I felt at times during his speech that I was in a council committee meeting. I was pondering whether devolution in England could work if this is the level of debate in our Parliament. Nevertheless, parking charges are an important issue and are raised regularly by our constituents, so it is right that we consider them.

None of us should allow a picture to be painted that our councils are somehow, in an underhand way and against the public interest, trying to extract as much cash as possible from parking charges. The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 is prescriptive on what the surplus can be used for; if there is a shortage of car parking spaces in towns, the money can be used to provide additional spaces and improvements. We need to remember that it is not a profit-making service. If a surplus is made, it is reinvested, and that is important.

Many towns and cities acknowledge that parking is an important facility. It is not just about people being able to get in and out, but about supporting the economies of our town and city centres, which are important. Review after review has highlighted the vulnerability of our high streets in particular, and we want to make sure that we give them as much support as possible.

The hon. Gentleman has listed activities and events that are organised in towns. The local authority in Oldham arranges a long list of town centre events that bring a lot of people into town. It ensures that parking charges are suspended for the duration of those events, so that people can get in and out freely and enjoy them. Our preference should be to give as much power, responsibility and accountability as we can to local councils and their communities to do what is right for their towns. I am inclined to think that Parliament should step back rather than continually introduce legislation, but it is only right that we support this Bill, given the spirit in which it is intended.

In my constituency, there are no parking charges in the town of Royton or in Chadderton. In Oldham town centre, which is the largest, serving a population of a quarter of a million people, the council decided to have free parking at weekends to encourage people to come into the town and spend money. After six o’clock, people can park on the streets as well—that is about supporting local restaurants and the new cinema that has opened in the town centre—and those decisions have public support.

However, the public also supported greater enforcement, particularly outside schools, where people were parking inconsiderately, blocking school access and potentially endangering children’s lives. It was therefore a great knock to the council and the local community when the then Government introduced legislation to restrict the CCTV vehicle from being able to catch offenders. That restriction means that, a staff member now has to sit in a car and see the parking rules being breached. It would have been far more efficient to allow the camera car to be placed on the pavement.

The camera car is loved by the children of Oldham. It has a name—Oscar—because of a competition in which young people were encouraged to come forward with their ideas about what the new enforcement car could be called. Seven-hundred and eighty youngsters took part across 17 schools, so there was great community spirit, and great demand was put on the council for that car. Parents wanted to know that there would be enforcement outside schools. If the community wants that and if the council is willing to act in response to the community interest, it should not be for this place to say that it cannot happen. That is why I tend to believe that we should allow local communities to do more for themselves, instead of always passing legislation to restrict and determine such things.

We need more clarity about what the Bill means by consultation and who needs to be consulted. That could be straightforward and involve the business improvement district board, which is easy to consult. A board meeting could be called—such meetings happen regularly anyway. The area of interest may be wider, with more people consulted and considered to have an interest. We need to understand what burdens may be involved. It would be ridiculous, would it not, if a council seeking to reduce car parking charges had to go through a prolonged consultation period to get to the number of people that it considered would be affected by that decision, when putting a notice in a newspaper would have been far easier. There will also be times when charges go up, but modestly, sometimes just in line with inflation. Would that require a large public consultation for people who would be affected? Just how large might that be? A bit of clarity on that would help during the next stage of the Bill.

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The hon. Gentleman is obviously basing a lot of what he is saying on his experience in his constituency. May I suggest that he looks at how car parking charges have increased in Cornwall over the last four years? That will give him a real picture of what things are like in rural communities.

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I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. It is important to recognise that no two areas are the same and that different local communities and local economies experience very different pressures. I do not challenge at all the view that there are particular issues in Cornwall. My position, as always, is that the best people to determine that are the people who live in Cornwall and their elected representatives. Parliament should not always see the need to pass legislation on what are minor issues. If there are issues about car parking charges in Cornwall, my advice would always be to take that up with the local authority in the most appropriate way.

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I think the hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood what I was saying. It is the local authority that has been increasing the car parking charges, against the views of local people, so how can he suggest that the people make representations to the local authority?

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I thank the hon. Lady for raising what is turning this into a bit of a Committee debate about car parking charges in Cornwall. I absolutely understand that it is a matter for the council or the local authority there, and I absolutely accept that some people will disagree with its level of car parking charges. I was just pointing out that it is a matter for local determination, and people should hold their local authority to account. If people are not happy with how their local authority is performing, they of course have the right and the ability to change the leadership of the council through the ballot box.

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I do not quite agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about councils not using car parking as a cash cow, but I hope he agrees with me that the Bill, which includes provision for a consultation when councils raise car parking charges, will give individual residents and businesses the opportunity to do exactly what he suggests, which is to challenge the council.

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The subtlety of my speech may have left hon. Members behind, so let me go back to what I said. We support the Bill, but I was challenging just how it will be used in practice and what the interests in an area are. As I have said, if there is a business improvement district in the town centre, it is easy to consult the BID. However, the area affected may be much larger than such a tightly defined geographical area, so it would be helpful to provide such a definition.

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If the Bill is fortunate enough to make it into Committee, I give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that we will look at his points, particularly about inflation automatically triggering increased charges. We will obviously look at those points with care.

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I appreciate that commitment. I should say that I am coming at this with a number of different experiences. In a former life, I was a town centre manager, so I fully appreciate how important car parking is. It is not just a way to generate revenue; it is vital to the viability of the shops and retail outlets in the shopping centres and high streets in our town and city centres. I think we are as one on the importance of making sure that we have a vibrant local economy, and car parking is very important to that. On that, we are in fierce agreement with each other.

I have taken enough time as it is, but let me tell the hon. Gentleman that I am very happy to see the Bill progress, and he can be assured that Labour Members will support it.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick), who is my constituency neighbour, on securing his place in the ballot for private Members’ Bills and on his excellent speech. The Bill that he has introduced to the House is important legislation. I believe it offers a reform that will have a real, lasting and very positive impact on many of our town centres.

I was delighted to hear about my hon. Friend’s own town of Hinckley. I was also delighted to hear that it is in the final of the Great British High Street awards, and I wish it well in its endeavours. I have quite close links with Hinckley. In the late 1970s, when I was very small, my parents ran two record shops. One was in Nuneaton, which is now my constituency. As a very young infant, I spent time in a pram at the back of that shop, so I know my constituency extremely well. As a youngster, I also used to spend time in our shop in neighbouring Hinckley, so I also know my hon. Friend’s constituency extremely well.

I welcome the improvements that the Conservative council in Hinckley has made in recent years. It is good to see how it is working with the local business community. In the summer, I was absolutely delighted to go along, at the request of Rosemary Wright, whom my hon. Friend mentioned, to speak to the Hinckley chamber of trade. I met some excellent and very well-informed business people, who seem to have an excellent rapport with their local authority.

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I understand my hon. Friend’s longing for his neighbour to do well in the Great British High Street awards, but I am sure that, as a Minister, he will wish Hebden Bridge in the Calder valley, which is also in the running for the awards, equally well.

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My hon. Friend tempts me to support Hebden Bridge. I certainly support the people of Hebden Bridge and wish them well in the competition. I wish all the finalists well. I understand that the judging process is ongoing and that local people have had the opportunity to vote for their high street or town centre. I hope the people of Hebden Bridge and Hinckley have voted in their masses to support their local high streets.

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I cannot let this moment pass without saying that, although the towns and villages in my constituency have not entered the awards, they have excellent town and village centres. Does the Minister agree that we should all support all our town and village centres to thrive and prosper, and to play their important part in supporting local communities?

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My hon. Friend makes a timely intervention because today is what is now called “Black Friday”, when many people take to high streets, town centres and out-of-town shopping centres, or go on the internet. At a time when we are all starting to think about Christmas shopping—some of us have planned more than others in that regard—and when we are spending significant amounts of money, people should think about shopping in their local high streets and town centres when they can. People often complain when high street shops close because there has not been enough demand to keep them going, but at the same time they often buy things on the internet from a range of retailers, so I encourage people at this time of year to use their local high street or town centre. I suspect that parking is an issue with which most Members of this House are very familiar. Both as a constituency MP and as a Minister, I find that my postbag is kept very busy by this important issue. Indeed, many of my hon. Friends write to me about it regularly on behalf of their constituents. I suspect that even after this important Bill has gone through the House, as I hope it will, this will remain a subject for which the Royal Mail is very grateful, such is the general public’s view of excessive parking charges.

High streets and town centres continue to play an essential role in the lives of our communities, and parking plays a major role as the gateway to our town centres. That was recognised by the Conservative-led coalition Government in a number of reforms of parking facilities owned by local authorities. They made it mandatory for local authorities to provide 10-minute grace periods for all on-street parking bays and off-street car parks. That gives town centre shoppers far greater flexibility, and allows them to complete their shopping and other business in the town centre without having to worry that they are going to overrun by a few minutes on the parking meter.

The previous Government were also concerned by the use of closed circuit television cars, which were mentioned by the Opposition spokesman, whom I welcome to his place. In many cases, those are being used as nothing more than a revenue-generating tool. That is why, in addition to the grace period, the previous Government banned the sending of parking tickets through the post by local authorities, so individuals now have a far greater degree of certainty. If, when they get back to their car, they unfortunately have a ticket, they know that the ticket is there and has to be dealt with, rather than not knowing about it on the day and ending up with a ticket through the post weeks later, when they cannot recall whether they were at that particular location, and so whether they can challenge the ticket. That was an extremely important move forward.

We are also looking at further reforms to the local government transparency code, following a recent consultation. We intend to amend the code so that motorists can see at first hand a complete breakdown of the parking charges that their councils impose and how much they raise. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) mentioned that we must be careful that our car parks are not used simply as revenue generators or cash cows, because although it is important that local authorities are able to pay for the provision and maintenance of council car parks, it is also extremely important to recognise that car parks are there for the pure and simple reason that they allow people who want to do so to come into a town to use the shops, restaurants and bars. We should never forget that.

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Has my hon. Friend seen situations similar to those in some of my local car parks, where charges have increased to such an extent that they are half empty, and the local roads are completely congested with people who are trying to avoid the charges?

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My hon. Friend is a powerful advocate for her area. I talked about my postbag; I know that she has given Royal Mail plenty of letters to bring to the Department for Communities and Local Government. She has made representations on many occasions on this important issue, and I am sure that she will continue to take it up with her local council in Cornwall. She is absolutely right. The Labour council in my area has increased parking charges, and revenue has dropped like a stone, because people do not want to pay those charges and so come to other arrangements. The worst-case scenario is that they do not visit the town or high street in question. When that happens, it is disastrous for businesses and the people who work on those high streets and in those town centres.

We have conducted a consultation, as I say, and will amend the code so that motorists can see how councils charge for car parking, and how that money is spent. Since 2014, councils have been required to be transparent about how much money they raise through parking charges and penalties, but our proposals go even further. They enable drivers to see far more information about the level of fines imposed, how many were paid and how many were cancelled.

The Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth continues in that vein, recognising councils’ need for flexibility, but also the need to involve local communities in the decision-making process. The involvement of local communities in these decisions is extremely important. As has been said, the local community has a backstop, when it comes to any decision that a local authority makes, as it can kick that particular administration out at an election. However, given how councils are often made up and how often elections occur, that is not always that easy, and it can take some time. This issue is important to the vitality of high streets and town centres, many of which create the jobs in our constituencies, so it is extremely important that local people and local businesses are consulted before any changes are made that could have a detrimental effect.

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This topic affects anybody who drives into a town centre or a car park owned by a council. Does the Minister agree that the Bill would enable those who use those services to make their voice heard, through the consultation, directly by the council? That can only be a good thing for community engagement and democracy.

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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. A question often asked, in this House and in the country, is how we can engage our communities more, to get them to get out and vote. The more a local authority engages, the more it will encourage people to do that. The good thing about the Bill is that when a council is doing the right thing for a local area by dropping parking charges to welcome businesses on to their high street or into their town centre, and to facilitate things for them, there will be no obligation on them to go through a lengthy consultation. They will need to consult when they wish to increase car parking charges—a change that could well be against the will of local people.

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With 30 years of retail experience, I know that car parking charges can be good for the high street, because they encourage turnover and footfall. Does the Minister agree that excessive car parking charges are bad for bringing people into town centres, and that the Bill, through the consultation, will help to address that situation?

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I completely agree with my hon. Friend, who has tremendous experience in this area and very much knows his onions. He is absolutely right that there is a balance to be struck. Excessive parking charges will deter people, but if short-stay parking is not done right, shoppers will be deterred by other people using the car parking spaces that are intended for them. We are not saying that this is a one-size-fits-all situation. We are saying the Bill will make it quicker and easier for local authorities to do the right thing where they think it necessary.

The Bill offers a real opportunity for councils to take a far more flexible approach to supporting their high streets, for example by responding to the opportunity of town centre festivals. We are coming up to Christmas; many councils reduce car parking charges over the festive season, and the Bill will facilitate that by removing bureaucracy.

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I want to give a quick plug to Small Business Saturday, which is a week tomorrow, and is important for all our local communities. May I commend the work of South Ribble Borough Council, which has suspended parking charges in Leyland for that day?

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I thank my hon. Friend and South Ribble Borough Council, which is obviously thinking very carefully about how it can promote its town centres. Small Business Saturday is a great way to do that. Our larger businesses on our high streets and in our town centres are extremely important, but our small businesses provide an additional vitality that many people appreciate. They distinguish our high streets from many out-of-town retail parks, which do not have that level of small business involvement. It is therefore great to hear what my hon. Friend says.

This is a real opportunity. The Bill will allow councils, when there are festivals, to use the celebrations to demonstrate how good our town centres and high streets are. People lead busy lives and they do not necessarily pop to the high street or the town centre to do their shopping. They might do their shopping and even banking—through apps and so on—on the internet. We often find that because people do not have a reason to go to a high street or town centre, they forget to frequent them. That is a real pity. Any festival, or anything else, that can bring them back into town, make them think, “This is somewhere I should visit and do a lot of my shopping”, and refresh their memory is a good thing.

One thing I learned from my involvement in the Great British High Street competition when I was the Minister with responsibility for high streets last year was that people up and down the country had a passion for their high streets. When I was chairman of the all-party group on town centres, I led a Backbench Business Committee debate in this Chamber. I think that was when you, Madam Deputy Speaker, were the Chair of the Committee, which I later had the great pleasure to serve on under your chairmanship. If I recall correctly, about 70 right hon. and hon. Members attended that debate, which filled a full six hours. It just showed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth did in introducing the Bill, what passion there is for our high streets and town centres. If a place can get its high street and town centre right, it can create an experience that visitors will not get on the internet or in an out-of-town shopping park, and that is why we should do everything we can, as legislators, to facilitate the use of our town centres and put them on a long-term, sustainable basis.

The Bill offers flexibility on car parking charges, but as has been discussed by hon. Members, there is concern about local authorities deciding to raise charges without consulting businesses, as does happen. The Government think it fit and proper, therefore, that where councils intend to put them up, they are responsive to local concerns and should have to consult local people before seeking to do so.

The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) mentioned the consultation and how it might work. I am sure that he is well aware that after the Bill was passed, it would be necessary to implement the changes through secondary legislation that stated exactly how places needed to consult. It is important that those measures be there, because without a measure allowing for consultation, local people might not get an opportunity to comment. I have seen such decisions taken within a matter of weeks, and even in a day. A council might hold a cabinet meeting, propose a budget and through it an increase in car parking charges, and then in two hours be in full council and pass the measure without the public knowing. We need to guard against that, and the Bill certainly does.

The Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth, which provides for consultation if local authorities want to raise the charges on an existing traffic order, is a sensible reform that strikes a balance between the need of local authorities to set fair car parking charges and the need to consider the views of local communities. I appreciate the points made and thank him for introducing this important Bill. The Government support its intentions, not just because it delivers on one of their objectives, but because it encourages a model of more effective support for our great British high streets and town centres. As we can see in the Chamber, such is the enthusiasm for our high streets among Members from across the country that we should think carefully before doing anything that might cause harm or detriment to them; we should applaud councils that want to reduce charges and welcome more people into their area, and enable them to do so. This matters to local people, and it should matter to the House.

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Whenever I have got to my feet in this House over the years, I have always tried to keep in the back of my mind that our job as Members of Parliament is to improve the quality of life of the people we represent. Having listened to today’s debate, I can say in all honesty that this modest two-clause Bill will improve the quality of life in every city and town in this country. I am most grateful for the Government’s support.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).