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Mr. Wilshire : My hon. Friend is right to say that the siting of the information is crucial. Unfortunately, I am not a lawyer, so will he confirm that where subsection 2(b) specifies the manner of display, "manner" to a lawyer means the location as well as the content and the size?
These measures are especially important where barrier systems operate, because once one is under a barrier and the barrier closes there is no retreat. One is stuck. The only way out of the car park is then along the route which takes one to the checkout.
Mr. Greg Knight : My hon. Friend has now mentioned an important point, because some car parks put their conditions under which one can park one's car on the ticket that is dispensed. When one takes the ticket from the machine, the barrier lifts up. 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?
Subsection (2)(c) provides for the exemptions which the hon. Member for Stockton, North mentioned ; I hope that he will be returning to the Chamber shortly. It is important to allow any regulatory regime to be tailored to meet the main objectives and not to apply regardless. There must be flexibility in the system. For instance, it would be fair to say that it may be difficult for very small car parks, which just come under local authority orders or, importantly, seasonal car parks which are there only for a temporary period, but are subject to a local authority order--such as Christmas car parks--to display the information in the form in which we would like to see it. I believe, therefore, that it makes a lot of sense to have exemptions in such circumstances, because they would provide a considerable amount of flexibility.
There have been many press reports recently about the problems of specific groups of people with upper limb disabilities. I must admit that the Bill is almost coincidental. Sadly, it was not designed primarily to help such people, but it just happens that it will help such disabled people considerably. Obviously such new systems of payment as are proposed--such as magnetic cards or vouchers--would be more convenient for disabled drivers, especially those with dexterity problems, for example, thalidomide victims. However, those are only the tip of the iceberg of people who have such problems.
I have heard from organisations representing the interests of such groups that some disabled people have considerable problems in handling coins, so they will welcome what we are trying to do. They will welcome, too, the fact that much information will be provided on the information boards about the number of disabled parking places available, the location of those places in the building and any other provisions which are designed to help them. It will tell them, for example, where ramps are located so that, once they have parked, they will have easy exit from the building, which will be useful to them. We understand that more than 1 million British adults have difficulty in reaching and stretching. Indeed, nearly 2 million--certainly 1.75 million--have problems with dexterity in their upper limbs. I know that manufacturers
Column 595and designers of such equipment are well aware of the needs of people who are not able-bodied. I hope that they will ensure that they install equipment which is most helpful to them. Certainly, disabled people could be helped by the amendment from the other place.
The amendment will also give the Secretary of State the power to require local authorities, if necessary, to display information for those who are disabled. I hope that those powers will be taken up by the Secretary of State, if necessary, but that in the meantime they will be implemented as good practice by local authorities, having been given the encouragement.
Ms. Ruddock : I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said and the help that the amendment could give to people with disabilities of the kind that he has outlined. I hope, however, that the provision will be for free passes for the car parks and that he is not suggesting that such people should merely be given the facility to pay through a different means.
Mr. Kirkhope : That is outside the scope of the Lords amendment, so I cannot really go into it. However, I would say that the delivery of the plastic card for parking purposes does not imply either that the card has had to be bought for cash or that it was provided under some scheme. The hon. Lady has hit on a point with which I would like to deal. The joy of a plastic card is that a disabled person does not have to handle cash, and the card could be provided to them under a scheme which gives them the security of being able to park in a place which has been well designed to deal with their problems. The hon. Lady raised a good point, and I hope that I have dealt with it adequately.
It is important that a mechanism is provided to secure compliance with any regulations. Paragraph (d) provides for that compliance in an ingenious but nevertheless, important manner. The failure of local authorities to comply with any future regulations would render the car park order of no effect in so far as it placed an obligation on the consumer or the motorist to pay a charge. That is not exactly dynamite, but it is the sort of provision that will hasten or help along the implementation of a good code of practice. It would certainly be used only in an extreme case. However, it is important for the consumer and the motorist that it is in place. Therefore, in order to protect the car park revenue and the enforcement of their charges, it would be in the local authorities' interests to see that any regulations displayed are properly observed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North asked on whom the onus would be to show anything other than good practice. It is right that that onus should be on the user, and that will be well reflected by the user or his consumer or motorist organsation.
Further provision is made in subsection (3) to allow for the exemption altogether of specified types of car parks from the application of the reglations, or their exemption in specified circumstances. The intention is to provide a framework which can be fine tuned to any set of circumstances. We had difficulty interpreting how new technology would be used. It is difficult to be precise about what will happen to car parking devices in the future, so, the legislation has been prepared in such a way that it will allow great flexibility for that new technology when it comes aong, without the need to burden this place with
Column 596further legislation. After all, one of our interests is to keep legislation to a minimum ; clearly we are doing so in allowing that flexibility within the Bill.
In the Lords, the Government clearly indicated that they had no immediate intention to make any regulations. I hope that the Minister will refer to that point and confirm what I have been saying. It is important to underline that fact.
The new clause acknowledges the reasonable expectations of car park users to be properly informed about the arrangements governing the use of car parks and about their obligations. I can see no good reason for anyone to oppose that principle. The new clause enhances what I have always said is a modest measure, where there are no losers, only gainers. The Lords amendment is an eminently sensible and valuable addition to my short, but I hope practical, Bill. With those few words, I invite the House to give its approval.
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley) : I am sure that the practical and concise speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope) will have destroyed any potential opposition to the Lords amendment. As was pointed out, if the Social and Liberal Democrats are content not to be here, the burden can be carried by the Labour and Tory parties.
There is good co-operation between local authorities and central Government on this matter. No local authority has written to the Government opposing the extra powers in the Lords amendment. I give an assurance that the Secretary of State hopes never to have to use them. It is far better to have voluntary acceptance of a standard of information to provide necessary help to all people.
If the House wishes, I can deal with some of the points in more detail. As my hon. Friend made clear and as I am sure is acknowledged by the presence on the Opposition Front Bench of both the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) and by the keen interest of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown), the provision of information can help those who have difficulty using car parks. That brings me to the point raised during business questions yesterday by the right hon. Members for Wythenshawe and for Stoke -on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley).
I shall relate all my remarks to the provision of information and the Lords amendment. Most of us obtain our information not from notices outside or inside off-street car parks, but from newspapers and television. I pay tribute to The Sunday Times which fought for thalidomide victims in a long campaign, at great cost. The journalists involved showed great bravery. The outcome shows that a persistent campaign of being reasonable and sometimes unreasonable can occasionally bring great advantage to those in great need. Many other groups will follow that example and benefit from reasonable, and unreasonable, campaigning.
The hon. Member for Deptford asked whether free provision would be made and whether cash needed to change hands. I regret that The Sunday Times did not cover our consultation document published in 1986 about whether orange badges should be extended to the upper limbless. Perhaps it did not feel that it was newsworthy. An
Column 597article two weeks ago managed to suggest, or was sub-edited to suggest, that in 1986 the Government withdrew the opportunity for the upper limbless to have orange badges. The truth is completely the reverse. I am not accusing The Sunday Times of lying. I do not wish to use strong language or to have a war with it, ITN, the Evening Standard, the Thalidomide Trust or Mr. Gordon Piller. I simply want to set out the information openly.
In 1986, the Department of Transport, with my approval, asked whether the upper limbless should be included in the orange badge scheme. There were hundreds of responses. In April this year, we announced the conclusions. The predominant, strong advice and the recommendations of the statutory committee, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, was that the scheme should not be extended to the upper limbless or those who are unable to carry. The reason is not in any way to target Thalidomide people as being not disabled or deserving. Some Thalidomide people already have orange badges. Others do not want them. At least one, and probably others, did have one but did not get it renewed.
The media have a responsibility to declare facts as well as the right, which I acknowledge, to put forward opinions and to campaign. It does no good to run a campaign to double the number of orange badges from 1 million to 2 million, which, together, ITN, The Sunday Times and the Evening Standard could do. The Evening Standard editorial stated that it would not matter whether there were 2 million instead of 1 million, but that would destroy the magnificent achievement of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe, who managed to introduce the national scheme.
When we consider information displayed outside off-street car parks in local authority hands, we are talking not only about local schemes but about the national scheme. The right hon. Gentleman introduced the national scheme and provided information not just outside car parks but on cars--the national orange badge scheme. I have with me the proposed variant which will introduce other improvements. It is relevant to see whether people who use information in off-street car parks are entitled to any concessions that the orange badge may bring.
The national scheme was introduced to avoid disabled people having their front windscreens covered with four, 14 or 40 local badges. The House approved the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion. It was a breakthrough. As the 1975 regulations made plain, it was designed for those who could not walk an appreciable distance without great difficulty. In 1982, following consultations, the House approved regulations which did not make a material difference to those criteria.
The scheme has run from its conception, through its inception, through the review in 1982--the regulations came into effect in 1983--without change. I regret that the coverage of the consultations which started in 1986 and the announcement of the Government's preliminary conclusions were ignored by most of the media. They were not ignored by the disability organisations. The joint committee and the statutory committee both gave clear advice to the Government. After we announced the conclusions, we held a press conference at the Department of Transport. We then came
Column 598here for an immediate meeting with the all- party parliamentary committee on the disabled, which spans both Houses. It took two members of the statutory committee about 35 minutes to get from the Department of Transport to the House of Commons. That illustrated the problem that people in wheelchairs and others with disabilities have in moving about.
As the chairman of the statutory committee said in a letter to The Sunday Times, there are two further problems, among many. One is how to pay for parking. Alison Wright, whose case has been mentioned in the media, is disabled and I hope that she will not mind my using her name. An ITN news item which I did not see would have illustrated the problem, judging from the response of the editor of the Evening Standard. The second problem is shopping. Neither problem is necessarily solved by the orange badge in itself. It is difficult for those whose arms do not work effectively and for those who do not have arms, for reasons including Thalidomide, to carry shopping. Most people would accept that it would be immoral to extend the qualifications of the regulations just to people who are Thalidomide vicitms, unless their level of disability is greater than that of those who otherwise would be excluded from the scheme. It is important to use the figures with great caution. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys has estimated that more than 1 million people have significant practical difficulty in carrying shopping. I do not argue that all those people would necessarily want an orange badge. If we start using the ability to carry shopping as one of the criteria for issuing an orange badge, we will not be limiting the number of orange badges in circulation, although there are no quotas or targets, but extending it dramatically.
We have sufficient evidence to suggest that local authorities are creating more and more no-loading areas. Often, the implicit reason for that is to exclude orange badge holders from using the side of the road in such areas. Local schemes for the disabled driver are also increasing. During last week's transport strike, I walked through Kensington and Chelsea, where I saw the Kensington and Chelsea blue badge. That might entitle the user of that badge to free parking in a Kensington and Chelsea off-street car park. The information might be on the board of its car parks for the benefit of disabled people.
One can imagine, however, reaching the situation whereby a disabled person not only has to apply for such a blue sticker in advance, but may end up with a green one for one area, a red one for another, one with black vertical stripes for another or one with horizontal blue stripes for yet another area. We would return to a terrible proliferation of such badges and schemes, and the effect would be to exclude various people from parking. It would be like having a sign at off-street and on-street car parks saying, "Disabled persons not wanted here". If that happened, the no- go area and apartheid system against which the most severely mobility disabled handicapped people argue against would be created.
Let me make it absolutely plain, that the Department of Transport recognises that Alison Wright and other such people are disabled. Those who were able to attend the tremendous mobility road show at Crowthorne in Berkshire at the transport and road research laboratory, where 20,000 people, most of them disabled, came together, will recognise that the Department is keenly
Column 599interested in working successfully with local authorities, the private sector and the disability organisations to overcome the problems of disability wherever possible.
The Department has a good record. Although I have done a great deal to support the work undertaken, that good record is not particularly mine. It is a good record because of the way in which the matter has been treated as a non-party, non-personality issue. Great credit goes to many involved, but some of the greatest credit goes to the former permanent secretary at the Department of Transport, Sir Peter Baldwin.
During the International Year of the Disabled, Sir Peter asked what could be done to help disabled people meet their transport needs. Once one can help a disabled person overcome his transport difficulties, one is helping him in every other way.
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) indicated assent.
The person who listened to Sir Peter Baldwin ask that question was his private secretary, Ann Frye. Although it is not the convention to mention the name of an individual civil servant people will recognise that her service to the disabled community, to the Department and to the voluntary organisations as head of the disability unit in the Department has been unusual in its dedication and unusual in its success. That success has mostly been achieved through partnership. I intend to continue such partnership.
Independent Television News has suggested, perhaps because it did not have enough time to consider it, that orange badges will now only be given to people with serious walking disabilities. Such a suggestion is no doubt an unintentional mistake. Those with serious walking disabilities who get the concession of the orange badge in off-street car parks where the relevant information is available know that they have always been entitled to that badge. It was suggested that the concession on the board at such car parks should be extended and that the numbers of those eligible under the national scheme should be increased. The ITN report also suggested that officials at the Department do not recognise that a particular person is disabled. That is a great insult to civil servants who know as much about this as most, and more than many.
It would be better if those who want to do programmes on the disabled consulted the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe. Although we do not agree on every point, we recognise that all are bona fide in their attempts to make progress. We also recognise the care, consideration and hard work that officials at the Department and local authority officials undertake in trying to overcome the problems of the disabled.
In the transcript from ITN, Alison Wright is quoted as saying that she is not talking about going out shopping, but about operating ticket machines in car parks. In that connection, it is important to consider what information is available on the board at car parks and whether that information could make it plain that someone with a disability, whether upper arm or some other, could use that car park. It is no good finding oneself in a car park
Column 600and then discovering that it is not possible to use it. Such information would be covered by the Lords amendment if the local authority operating the off-street car park did not provide that information voluntarily. I expect that all local authorities will want to provide such information.
Alison Wright asked how she was expected to get up to the machine, put the money in and get her ticket out. She said that the ticket machines used to be fairly high off the ground. I am sure the reason why those machines are now coming down is the work of those concerned to make life easier for the disabled. I do not want to get into a war with Alison Wright's father, so I shall leave out some of the comments he made. The question and answer sheet that has been made available to all hon. Members makes it plain that we are taking further medical advice on the assertion of Mr. Gordon Piller that Thalidomide victims have difficulty in walking--not when shopping or leaning down. That is a new claim and we are discussing it with the medical profession and the Thalidomide Trust.
Mr. Alfred Morris : Will Professor Smithells of Leeds be involved in that consultation? He had much to do with the medical advice given in the early 1970s when we were campaigning for adequate compensation for the Thalidomide victims. He is a man of considerable experience.
Mr. Bottomley : That is a sensible suggestion. Together with the Thalidomide Trust and the medical experts, we shall find a way in which to make an assessment without requiring every Thalidomide person to undergo a new medical assessment. I agree with Mr. Gordon Piller that it would be wrong to say that one particular group should be subjected to a medical assessment every five minutes every time Parliament is discussing the issue. It is important to accept expert medical advice, and I acknowledge what the right hon. Gentleman has said.
As the assessment about Thalidomide people's difficulty in walking was known in the 1970s, if it had been relevant to the entitlement to the orange badge concession, which might be illustrated in the information at the entrance to an off-street car park, it would have been specifically built in to the criteria for issuing orange badges in 1975 or in 1982. That suggests that the solution is not as simple as The Sunday Times, the Evening Standard or ITN may have suggested.
If I had the power to write to someone to say that someone else should be given an orange badge, I would have done so. I have been in my job for three and a half years and I have never issued or withdrawn an orange badge. I have never instructed that a particular person should not have an orange badge. If that had been made plain by the media earlier on we could have had a more helpful discussion. If any one person wants to expand the criteria, it is better that it is done in such a way that it is outside the full glare of publicity. It is better to discuss the principles and to use illustrative examples rather than focusing on one particular person with a problem and on one person who may be thwarted in what is seen as an uncaring and unthinking way. I have no doubt that one of my friends in the media will now say that the Minister has described himself as "uncaring and unthinking".
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East has done well in extending the provisions set out by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)
Column 601to deal with on-street car parking. We must continue to solve the problems of the disabled. That does not mean merely providing information on car park boards, but looking at issues in a different way. I am sure that we will soon decide that the idea of putting cash into meters is ludicrous ; it is caveman stuff. It would be far better to use a stored value smart card that loses value with use. That would make life very simple for those using parking facilities. I hope that the media will help in putting across the important issues and will help to explain that it is important that, over the past five years, the number of orange badges has gone up from 600,000 to more than 1 million. At the present rate the number of orange badges will increase to 2 million within the next five years. It is important to bring those numbers down so that those who have the orange badges are clearly identified as those with the most severe mobility--walking or moving--handicap.
We want to solve the problem faced by disabled people when shopping and trying to put money into meters, whether off-street or on-street. We also want to try to solve the problem that they face when driving cars. I expect to see more people being legitimately entitled to orange badges--for example, more elderly people driving and more people receiving the mobility allowance. Those are the sort of points which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East and others have been putting forward.
We do not give the greatest help to those in greatest need by giving a small amount of help to those with a recognised, but lesser or different, need. We must work across the spectrum, and I pay tribute to the general work of the all-party committee for the help which it gives. I hope that today's debate, while persuading hon. Members to accept the Lords amendment, which is a sensible one, will also illustrate some of the issues. If we can persuade more of the media to cover all the issues related to disability and the ways in which problems can be overcome, we shall move forward in a far more useful way than we shall if the sort of ludicrous and partial coverage--which may be necessary in the competitive press of today, but does not help those with disabilities--continues. We are trying to cut the number of casualties and disabilities--which is what road casualty reduction is about--and I look forward with interest to see what the killed and serious injury rate is when the next figures come out. Quiet, undramatic banging away, never letting go and fighting for a client group is what lobbying and campaigning is about. That is honourable work for newspapers, Members of Parliament and Government Members.
Mr. Alfred Morris : In relation to the Lords amendment on the display of information, I want to ask whether the regulations made by the Secretary of State will include information relating to disabled people or make special provision for them. In particular, I want very briefly to raise, as the Minister has done, the predicament of people with no arms, including many Thalidomide victims, which arises from their exclusion from the orange badge scheme of parking concessions for disabled people. The scheme is one which, as the Minister recalled, I introduced as a private Member in my Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. I must emphasise that I did so with all-party support in both Houses of Parliament.
Column 602There has been widespread publicity about the cases of people who are upper limbless and strong public support for their inclusion in the scheme. Their predicament, and often humiliation, is due to their inability to feed parking meters and, if they are trying to carry shopping, they face further intimidating difficulties as severely disabled people. In any case, the mobility of people without arms is often held to be restricted by loss of balance in walking. That, I trust, will be one of the issues which the Minister will be trying to tackle in his consultation with medical advisers.
Some people with no upper limbs who are now excluded were in the scheme until recently. They were excluded at a time of growing concern about the considerable increase in the number of beneficiaries of the scheme who now exceed 1 million and, some will say, they were excluded because of the abuse of the scheme by people who do not need the very important benefits it confers.
The answer to that problem is, of course, that we should deal with abuse by tackling the abusers, if necessary by increasing the penalty for abuse, instead of piling handicap on handicap by excluding some very needful people from the scheme. For my part, I would rather lock up serious abusers of the scheme than lock up severely disabled people in their own homes. Any relevance which the Lords amendment can be made to have to this problem will be widely welcomed, more especially if it can provide any amelioration of the problems of people with no upper limbs for whom parking concessions can often mean all the difference between living a normal life and becoming heavily dependent on other people, even between becoming a taxpayer and staying at home on social security.
If the Lords amendment can help in any way to solve the problems of disabled people, there will be considerable relief among the Thalidomide victims and other disabled people who feel wrongly excluded from the scheme. I shall be grateful if the Minister will address the problem in the days ahead. He has my assurance that I fully appreciate the difficulties of ensuring that the scheme is strictly limited to those who need the benefits it gives. The Minister knows of my concern about those difficulties and their crucial importance to people who cannot walk. I urge him to offer some hope to those who are now asking this House for its help.
Mr. Greg Knight : I broadly support the Lords amendment. The reason I do so has nothing to do with whether I feel it will be helpful to local authorities, but because I believe that it will safeguard the interests of the consumer and be good news for the motorist. As I read the Lords amendment, it will empower the Secretary of State to make regulations to require that signs are displayed which not only show the cost of parking in a particular car park, but will ensure that the sign states whether the car park is open or closed, its hours of opening, the penalties for not purchasing a ticket, the cost differentials at different times of the day or days of the week, and the general conditions of use. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope) has not entirely laid to rest all my concerns on the matter. I have a number of questions which I hope that he will answer when he sums up. I noticed that the Members of the other place, in welcoming and supporting the new clause, said that they thought that it would be a good idea to have a sort of British standard so that every car park in
Column 603the country would display a sign of similar size, containing similar information. That is an excellent idea, but no mention was made of whether we would be likely to run into difficulty with our friends in Europe.
Hon. Members may well recall that we ran into difficulty a few weeks ago about the size of health warnings on cigarette packets. The European Commission thought that it was competent--and, unfortunately, it appears that it was--to start laying regulations about the size of warnings on cigarette packets in this country.
Will we find that we spend time debating this issue and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East listens to the views expressed from both sides of the House, only to find that, at the end of the day, some bureaucrat in Europe has an idea that we should have bright pink car park signs of a certain design, and all our efforts on this Bill have come to naught? Therefore, can my hon. Friend assure the House that the Bill will not fall foul of any pending legislation before the European Commission? It would be too much if Europe interfered in this matter, and the question should be answered today.
As I read it, the new clause could be construed as saying that the regulations could deal with the language to be used on these signs. Does my hon. Friend think that some local authorities may feel it appropriate to display the information not only in English, but Urdu or some other language. I understand that, only this week, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East had difficulty with a French motorist in London who parked in front of his garage and refused to move his car. There may well be a case in tourist areas for car park signs to be written in European languages as well.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. That probably qualifies as a personal statement and we may want to remind hon. Members who have not been in the House for long that it is not right to question people on a personal statement of that sort.
Although I have raised the lighter side, it is a valid point. If one visits certain parts of the country, one is immediately struck by the predominance of tourists. That is particularly so in London, but it is also the case in Stratford-upon-Avon and other parts of Britain. Therefore, there is a case for dealing in the regulations with those tourist areas. I should like some assurance that if it were felt necessary by a local authority to display the car park signs in other languages as well as English, it would be able to do so under the scope of the new clause.
Mr. Knight : That is a valid point. I hope that the day is no too far off--perhaps the next century--when all the people in the world can speak English. In the meantime, we need to make provision so that the motorist, whatever his native language, is able to see where to park. This makes sense because one does not want to find the roads in tourist areas cluttered with the cars of motorists who are here for only a short stay and do not know where the car parks are and cannot find out because they cannot read the signs.
Mr. Wilshire : I thought that my hon. Friend was putting together two thoughts which do not work. He was saying that whatever language a driver speaks he should be able to see where to park but if we follow that argument, it may be impossible to see where to park because the signs would be so big.
Mr. Knight : I understand my hon. Friend's point. I am not suggesting that in every area we should have a plethora of signs in different languages. However, a case could be made out in tourist areas for allowing an alternative language to be displayed. I would be interested to hear the response of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East.
I was somewhat taken aback when my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North- East said that he was not sure that the regulations would be made and that they would be a sword of Damocles hanging over local authorities--if they behave themselves and put up signs, he did not think that the Bill would need to be implemented. I think that was what he said. I disagree with him. If we accept the Lords amendment and the Bill passes into law, we should enact the Bill and the regulations to see that there is uniformity throughout Britain. I do not think that our poor, long-suffering motorists should be encouraged to monitor the signs displayed at car parks and to have to complain to their Members of Parliament if they feel that an appropriate sign is not erected. I will be telling my constituents that if they feel that there is a problem in Derby, they should write to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East. If that is his view, he should be responsible for collecting motorists' complaints. I have a couple of legal queries for my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East. Subsection (2)(c) of the Lords amendment to which I referred earlier, exempts local authorities in specified circumstances from having to comply with the regulations. I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend give two examples of that. He said that perhaps seasonal or small car parks would be exempted. Can he give me an assurance that he does not see those exemptions being applied selectively and exempting car parks operated by some local authorities? If the Bill means anything, it has to be applied uniformly across Britain. I accept that there may be a case for exempting a small car park or a car park on a temporary site, but I hope that local authorities will not apply for an en bloc exemption in their area.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : My hon. Friend, with whom I usually agree on Fridays--I accept that this is a minority interest subject, like the protection of the freedom of the press--must be a lawyer. He is suggesting that my right
Column 605hon. Friend the Secretary of State wants to get at as many local authorities as possible. That is very un-Conservative. My right hon. Friend does not want to intervene but needs the power to do so in case it is necessary. If he feels that it is necessary to intervene, he will want to do so in a limited way so that if he selects a certain class, he can exempt some within it. The idea that it is all for one and one for all and that there can be nothing out of the ordinary is one which I hope does not get back to my hon. Friend's constituents.
Mr. Knight : Perhaps my views on this matter are coloured by the fact that I have to live with Labour-controlled Derbyshire county council, which is one of the most unreasonable and badly run councils in Britain.
Mr. Kirkhope : Both my hon. Friend and I are solicitors, but I hope that he is not trying to give the impression that we all think the same on this issue. Clearly, our remarks and interpretations are different. It shows that within the legal profession there is almost inevitably a diversity in the way we present cases.
Mr. Knight : I prefaced my remarks by saying that I broadly supported my hon. Friend's Bill and the Lords amendment to it. I hope that my hon. Friend will appreciate that some of my remarks now are couched in the interrogative. I hope that when he replies to the debate he will give me some reassurance on those points.
My hon. Friend touched too briefly on the question of burden of proof, which is covered in subsection (4) of the Lords amendment. To paraphrase my hon. Friend, he said that the burden of proof will be on the motorist and that that is as it should be. I part company with him there. If the local authority is seeking to prosecute or obtain a fee from the motorist, the duty should be on that authority to show that it has complied with the regulations laid down under the Bill. If I can give an example, I may take my hon. Friend with me on this point. Let us imagine a motorist who parks in an off-street car park where the sign displaying the regulations and terms of parking is not present, perhaps because it has blown down or vandals have removed it. He may omit to buy a ticket from a machine which is perhaps on another floor of the car park and a week later receives a letter from the local authority demanding payment of the fee or an excess penalty. He would be shocked because he did not see any sign. On his return to the car park he may find that the local authority has reinstated the sign. What possible defence could he have if proceedings were brought in those circumstances?
If the duty were on the local authority, it would be easy for it to inquire of the car park attendant, or the person whose duty it is to see that everything is in order, whether the sign was erected at 9 am on a particular day and whether it was still there at 5 pm. The burden of proof should be with the local authority. I can see circumstances arising in which a motorist does not obey the regulations because a sign may have disappeared, but in the meantime a local authority can re-erect the sign and the motorist would have no defence.
Column 606to be a burden of proof, it will be within litigation or within the relationship between the user and supplier. I said that the responsibility for the need to display a sign or to make a cause should be on the user, not the provider of the parking space.
"it shall be assumed, unless the contrary is shown, that any relevant regulations under this section were complied with at all material times."
Mr. Knight : That is the part of the Lords amendment with which I am having difficulty, because I feel that it is unreasonable. When a local authority is pursuing a motorist for disobeying regulations relating to a car park, the onus should be on it to show that the driver had seen, or should have seen, the notice advising him of the correct course of action to take.
I appreciate the difficulty that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North -East has. Last year I wished to move an amendment to the Licensing (Amendment) Act 1988 which was altered in the other place in a way with which I was not entirely happy. However, we do not have a procedure to tamper with a Lords amendment. We have to accept or reject it in toto. Therefore, although I am unhappy about this part of the amendment, I appreciate that my hon. Friend cannot take on board today the points that I have raised.
I only hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, when he formulates the regulations, will give serious thought to the wording of them, so that the motorist is not placed in an unjustified and difficult position when, for example, a sign has gone missing, and he does not follow the regulations of the park correctly. Although I have some doubts about the wording of the amendment, it is clearly designed to safeguard the interests of the consumer. As that is the overriding principle behind it, with some reservations I support it.
Ms. Ruddock : On behalf of the Opposition I welcome this amendment, as we welcome the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope). This is a modest measure, which allows charging by magnetic cards or vouchers in off-street car parks, and thus increases choice and flexibility in the provision by local authorities of car parking. The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 enabled local authorities to designate parking places on highways and to provide car parks. They remain the largest providers of off-street parking. In 1986, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) introduced a private Member's Bill allowing non-coin operating equipment on the streets. We are pleased today to be able to extend the support that we gave that Bill to this important measure, which allows off-street parking to be similarly operated. However, we are surprised that the Government did not find time for such a simple measure, and left it to be introduced through the private Member's Bill procedure.
The new amendment will allow the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring local authorities to display the proper information at car parks- -for example through signs with information about methods of payment, about which we have heard this morning. As the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East has explained, the amendment is an enabling one and it is our hope that the regulations may not have to be brought in but that there will be a voluntary
Column 607code instead. However, if there is no voluntary code, we hope that the Minister will act speedily because it is our belief--as it is clearly the belief of many hon. Members--that the standard of information displayed at car parks is not high enough. We hope that there will be a better display, that there will be consistency in display, and that the information will be displayed outside car parks to enable people to make a proper choice and to know precisely what their options are when deciding whether to enter the car park. We also hope to see a major effort made to display information that is helpful to people with disabilities.
As the Minister spent so much time dealing with the orange badge scheme, I shall make a few comments about that. The onus is now strongly on the Minister to respond to the points made so constructively by my right hon. Frind the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), the author of the original scheme. I share the Minister's concern about congestion on our roads and about the difficulties caused by the large number of vehicles coming into the centres of our towns and needing places to park. However, I cannot believe that it would add to those problems if we were to admit 150 upper limbless Thalidomide victims to the orange badge scheme. We are disturbed to know that the Minister judges these matters on the criterion of numbers. Decisions to be made concerning disabled people should be made on the basis of their need, not on the overall numbers who might be admitted to the scheme.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : I appreciate that the hon. Lady may not have been able to be present at the meetings of the joint all-party disablement committee and I hope to make more information available because it is important that both sides of the House understand this matter. Whatever decision is made on the regulations, the only role that I have is in proposing regulations to the House. The only regulations that we have are those which were proposed to the House by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). I repeat that the 1975 regulations, abbreviated in 1982, are the provisions that the Department put out to consultation in 1986. The Department, with me as the junior Minister, was the first to raise the question whether the upper limbless should be included. I re-emphasise that there is no question of quotas, targets or discrimination against any group. It would be helpful, as the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe said, to recognise the predominant view of the organisations representing the most severely disabled, and to take their views and interests into account. There is probably a solution, but it is not found by saying that 150 people are excluded because of something that has been done. We must find what regulations will allow in those who are most severely handicapped.
Ms. Ruddock : I thank the Minister for that intervention, although it was not overly helpful. I understand that some people were excluded from the scheme in 1986 and that Alison Wright was one of them. What the Minister has said is on record. I took his remarks to mean that he was concerned about the prospect of the 1 million people who can already use the scheme becoming 2 million in the future. It is clear that he is concerned about numbers. Whatever his difficulty in looking back on consultations which come to a particular conclusion, it