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There were problems with access to the Tamil-held areas, but I understand from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development that aid is getting through. However, in some Tamil-held areas there have had to be negotiations and brokering with the LTT to get it through.
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Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At about quarter to 7 this morning, a van travelling on the A6 Market Harborough bypass leapt over the bridge barriers and crashed on to the main Leicester to St. Pancras railway line. The driver of the van was not seriously hurt, but the potential for serious loss of life and injury was clear. The van was hit by the southbound express train, which continued for half a mile with the wreckage disintegrating before it.
We are all pleased that nothing more serious resulted, but may I ask, through you, for a Transport Minister to come to the House at the earliest possible moment to make a statement about the current state of the investigation, which is already under way, thanks to the Leicestershire constabulary and the British Transport police? The Department for Transport must have an interest in the matter, bearing in mind previous railway disasters. I urge you to encourage a Minister to come here as soon as possible.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): The hon. and learned Gentleman will understand that that is not, strictly speaking, a point of order for the Chair. Obviously, everybody will have heard the comments he has made and our sympathy will go out to everybody who was involved in that incident. The Front Bench will have heard those remarks, but it is not the Chair's job to insist that Ministers come to the House to make statements. However, no doubt they will bear in mind what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, and the general situation.
We now come to[Interruption.] Order. As a general point, when we move on to the next business, it would be helpful if instead of everybody leaving as if at the end of a football match, we could get on to the next business in an orderly fashion and hon. Members would leave the Chamber gently, as and when they can.
Mrs. Anne Campbell, supported by Mr. Martin O'Neill, Sir Nicholas Winterton, Mr. John McFall, Dr. Ian Gibson, Mr. Kerry Pollard, Mrs. Louise Ellman and Mrs. Betty Williams, presented a Bill to make provision in relation to the awarding by government departments and agencies of research and development contracts for innovative technologies; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 June, and to be printed [Bill 93].
Norman Lamb, supported by Norman Baker, John Barrett, Mr. Colin Challen, Sue Doughty, Mr. Michael Meacher, Dr. John Pugh, Alan Simpson, David Taylor, Sarah Teather, Mr. Simon Thomas and John Thurso, presented a Bill to provide for the preparation and implementation of an integrated air transport plan to reduce air traffic emissions: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 24 June, and to be printed [Bill 94].
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make certain enforcement activities in relation to parking on private land subject to regulation under the Private Security Industry Act 2001; and for connected purposes.
This Bill aims to extend the requirement for a licence to parking services companies that are operating within private car parks and issuing fines for alleged offences. In the last few months, I have had correspondence from a number of constituents who have received penalty notices from three companies operating in different private car parks. At the outset, I would like to make it clear that I have no reason to believe that the companies have acted illegally and also that I have had a considerable amount of correspondence with one of the companies and I have received prompt and detailed replies.
In order to explain my concerns, I would like to describe exactly what happened in relation to one of the car parks. It is located behind five business premises and for about the last 30 years there have been no significant controls on parking there. In mid January this year my office, which is nearby, was suddenly inundated with phone calls, visits and letters because constituents had received penalty notices through the post demanding that a fine of £150 be paid, reduced to £75 if paid within 14 days. The letters arrived about a month after the alleged offences and came as a total surprise to some people who simply had not seen any signs and to others who had read signs but who were unaware that they were only permitted to park if they visited at least one of the listed five business premises and no others.
Obviously, the owners or, in this case the management company, have a right to manage their private car park. In this instance, one of the businesses had asked a particular car parking services company to police the area, which resulted in a contract being drawn up and agreed between the parking services company and the management company. The car parking services company wrote in a letter to me that the management company was
"For your information the car park provider asked us to make sure that only cars that used the premises of the five businesses be allowed to park in the service area. To visit any other premises is an infringement of the parking restrictions even when they have visited the above premises. It is to visit the premises of the shops or business in question and then leave the car park. Our car park attendant is vigilant, makes comprehensive notes of all cars that enter the car park and is vigilant in where the motorists go for complete accuracy."
"I knew from experience that a private car park that had been used as a free public car park for many years would ruffle feathers from certain members of the public when restrictions were placed upon it. People do not like being told where to park especially if they have parked for many years in a particular place without a restriction."
So was it just a case of ruffled feathers? Was it just a case of a total misjudgement by the businesses concerned? They might not have upset so many of their customers if they had arranged for warning signs to be placed on windscreens and flyers to be handed out in their premises for a few weeks before the changes were actually implemented.
The case raises two areas of particular concern to me and that is why I feel that further amendment is required to the Private Security Act 2001. The first issue is the following of people by the car park attendant, which in itself is not illegal, I understand. However, letters from the car parking service company state:
"In fact he says that you walked past the traffic lights some 200 metres from the . . . Building Society on leaving the car park. In our opinion he was quite right in believing you were on other business along Lower Blandford Road."
When I mentioned to our chief constable about this practice of following people, he certainly reacted with some surprise and concern. Many of the people who initially received penalty fines were elderly people going to the building society to draw out cash. It certainly seems to me that a company operating in that way should be licensed. Although there were no problems with the attendant in all of those cases, questions arise about what might happen in other circumstances.
Although it was a condition agreed with the management company, the aspect of visiting only the listed premises seems fraught with difficulties. In one case, a person went to a cash machine before buying goods at one of the premises, and in another a man went to check his bank balance first. The car parking company did consider appeals and applied a test of proportionality, but people who were let off the fines were still charged an administration fee of £5, or £10 in one case known to me. Some elderly people simply paid the fine because they were so frightened about the possibility of being asked for £150, if they did not pay immediately. That is very unfortunate because in the case of a visit to the building society there was absolute proof, through transactions shown in the passbook, and many people who supplied that proof were let off the fines.
The second point of major concern is the fact that the fines are sent in the post four weeks after the alleged offence with no notice on the car windscreen at the time. That means that it is impossible to challenge exactly what signs were on display and what they said about conditions. Different people have different recollections, but most of the people who have contacted me claim that the signs were changed over the space of a few weeks and that there was one sign that said penalty notices would be placed on windscreens. There was certainly ambiguity about the need to visit only the five listed premises. Did that mean that all was well as long as you visited at least one of the listed premises, and that it was okay to pop across the road afterwards to Boots? If the penalty notices were placed on the cars at the time as in a public car park, one could check the notices and know whether one had inadvertently breached a condition or be able to challenge any ambiguity in the notice.
Allied to the four-week delay is the fact that the parking services company is able to obtain information from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Several of my
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constituents have raised concerns about this aspect and I asked a parliamentary question on the matter. I asked the Secretary of State:
"under what circumstances the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency is allowed to issue details of car ownership to private companies who operate within private car parks and issue fines for alleged offences; and what assessment his Department has made of whether the issuing of such information is compliant with the Data Protection Act 1998."
"Regulations provide for the release of vehicle keeper details from the register maintained by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to applicants who can demonstrate 'reasonable cause' for their request. The enforcement of parking restrictions on private property meets the 'reasonable cause' criterion."[Official Report, 10 February 2005; Vol. 430, c.1707W.]
Another constituent wrote to me about a different company. His wife had parked the car in a pub car park, had a meal there and left the pub immediately afterwards. A penalty notice was sent three months after the event. This time, the £150 charge was to be reduced to £85 if paid promptly. My constituent writes:
"Most people would not be able to recall specific incidents after this length of time and I have no doubt that many people would feel intimidated to pay up on receiving a letter of this nature. I must assume that my details were obtained from the DVLA data base and I would question that such a company should be allowed access."
The situation that I have described in great detail clearly could have been managed a great deal better, and much distress could have been avoided without any need for legislation. However, I feel that the issues that have arisen have highlighted the potential for some other operators in the future to act in an unscrupulous way. I believe that this potential is more likely to be harnessed, given that car clamping companies have to be licensed. I believe that such enforcement in private car parks should be a matter for public legislation and that there should be published guidelines.
My Bill creates a new category of regulated activities relating to private parking enforcement other than by methods already covered in the amended Private Security Industry Act 2001. A comparable offence to that of unlicensed car clamping is created in relation to unlicensed private parking enforcement activities on private land. There is also a requirement upon the Security Industry Authority to produce guidance on private parking enforcement.
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