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Session 2007 - 08
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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) Representations and Appeals Regulations 2007



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. David Wilshire
Bacon, Mr. Richard (South Norfolk) (Con)
Bone, Mr. Peter (Wellingborough) (Con)
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op)
Goodwill, Mr. Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
Kemp, Mr. Fraser (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab)
Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
Kramer, Susan (Richmond Park) (LD)
Leech, Mr. John (Manchester, Withington) (LD)
Love, Mr. Andrew (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)
Morley, Mr. Elliot (Scunthorpe) (Lab)
Moss, Mr. Malcolm (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
Ruane, Chris (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab)
Stuart, Ms Gisela (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab)
Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab)
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Minister of State, Department for Transport)
Wright, Jeremy (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con)
Mr. E. Wilson, Mr. A. Jenner, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 19 November 2007

[Mr. David Wilshire in the Chair]

Draft Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) Representations and Appeals Regulations 2007

4.30 pm
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) Representations and Appeals Regulations 2007.
The Chairman: Before the Minister continues, I must explain that this is an exceedingly narrow matter and however much Members may be tempted to explain that they were not justified in receiving a parking ticket last weekend, this is not the place to go into more general matters of that sort.
Ms Winterton: May I say what a great pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Wilshire?
The regulations have been discussed in the other place already, where they were widely welcomed on both sides. The regulations are part of a package of guidance that will put into place new procedures for parking enforcement by local authorities in England. Regulations for Wales will come before the House later this Session.
I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will be well aware of the importance of good traffic management in terms of improving road safety, reducing congestion and minimising the impact of road traffic on the environment. The Traffic Management Act 2004 gives local authorities a specific duty to manage their networks, and fair and effective parking enforcement has a role to play in that. The regulations will help them to do that in a fair, transparent and effective manner, with the overarching objective of keeping traffic moving safely. Essentially, the regulations tidy up legislation which stems from the Road Traffic Act 1991. That means that a single code for England will apply to all civil enforcement areas, with only minimal differences between London and elsewhere.
The regulations set out the procedures for disputing a penalty charge notice, a vehicle immobilisation or a vehicle removal. Obviously, there may be instances where a vehicle might be restrained or removed in error or where a charge might be served in error—perhaps because a driver might be delivering or collecting goods, with a valid permit displayed, or because the owner who receives a payment reminder was not the owner at the time of the contravention. We want to put in place measures to challenge penalty charge notices, vehicle immobilisation and vehicle removal, if necessary.
The procedures for representations and appeals largely replicate those in the 1991 Act, and the regulations deliver the continuation of simple and straightforward procedures for representations to the issuing authority and appeals to the adjudicator that are easily accessible to the public.
I should say that the regulations have been prepared with the help of a working group comprising representatives from local authorities, the British Parking Association, the police, motoring groups, and the parking adjudicators. The regulations have been subject to extensive consultation, although few representations were actually received. We have also had the benefit of expert and robust advice on our proposals from the entirely independent adjudicators.
The penalty charge notice will state on it the procedures for representations and appeals, as promoted by the Transport Committee. The circumstances under which a representation and an appeal can be made have been widened to include specific instances in which the enforcement authority has not followed the correct procedures. That includes such things as an authority’s failure to observe the correct time limits or to include the right information in notices, or a case in which a local authority had served a penalty charge notice by post when it was not authorised to do so. That includes such things as an authority’s failure to observe the correct time limits or to include the right information in notices, or a case in which a local authority had served a penalty charge notice by post when it was not authorised to do so. The adjudicator will have the power to return a case to the local authority for reconsideration when a contravention has taken place in mitigating circumstances—perhaps when a driver has had to pull over because somebody in the car suddenly felt ill or when the cheque for a resident’s parking permit had been banked by the local authority, but the permit had been lost in the post. The adjudicators will be able to ask the local authority to reconsider the case.
It might be helpful for me to clarify a point that was raised in the other place about whether a local authority is bound to reconsider a case referred back to it by the adjudicator. I assure hon. Members that under regulation 7(5) the local authority must reconsider such a case. If the authority does not make a decision within 35 days, it is deemed to have accepted the adjudicator’s recommendation and must cancel the notice to owner.
The regulations have been widely welcomed by local authorities and the public and I hope that they will be welcomed by all members of the Committee, who I know have a great interest in parking. It has taken a lot of hard work to balance the needs of local authorities for a strong and effective enforcement regime and the needs of motorists for one that is flexible and fair. The regulations are based on the successful regime put in place by the Road Traffic Act 1991, but have a few key changes that will help deliver a fairer and more transparent system of effective parking enforcement by local authorities. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
4.37 pm
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): I am particularly pleased to be serving under your chairmanship, Mr. Wilshire, as we were both members of the Transport Committee when the weighty tome, “Parking Policy and Enforcement”, was produced.
Parking enforcement is a necessary evil. Without some form of control we would be faced with chaos and anarchy. Roads would be blocked by thoughtlessly parked vehicles and emergency vehicles would be impeded in their vital work. That said, a balance must be struck between the need to enforce parking restrictions and the latitude and flexibility needed to recognise the practicalities of life. The Minister mentioned the example of somebody being ill in a car.
Parking authorities outside our large urban areas often adopt a more user-friendly approach. Others, particularly in London it seems, are more predatory and set targets for their wardens, for example of 1.6 tickets per hour. Wardens who meet the targets reportedly are rewarded with extra overtime and the services of those who fail to deliver can be dispensed with. Local authorities in some cases have come to rely on the income from parking and fines. Camden, for example, derives £20 million of its income from such means. One of the key performance indicators in its contract with NCP was the number of tickets issued, although more recently it maintains that this should not be observed and will be removed from future contracts.
That is the context in which some local authorities are inclined to issue a large number of tickets that could be turned over at adjudication. I am pleased that the Government have responded to the Select Committee report, which condemned targets. However, we still have the situation in which councils have budgetary predictions for parking revenue. Another criticism in the report was that councils are not using discretion. The recent example of vehicles that were blocked in by a fire appliance being ticketed illustrates that point well. It is little wonder that in this environment, large numbers of tickets are challenged. Having visited the adjudication service and witnessed the appeals process, I welcome the regulations, which extend the rights to expand the decriminalised type of regime.
I have one or two questions to which I hope the Minister will respond. My own experiences are rather limited. Living in north Yorkshire we can often park without a problem. However, my wife recently had a ticket overturned for very sensible reasons.
The Chairman: Order. The Minister stayed on the tightrope, but I am afraid, Mr. Goodwill, that you are about to fall off it. I would be grateful if you could stick to the point.
Mr. Goodwill: First, one ground for appeal is that a contravention did not occur. The Minister may well know that there have been a number of problems around the country, not least in Scarborough, where a decriminalised application has been held up because the signage or the lines were not deemed to be within the regulations. Could the Minister let us know whether she considers that to be one of the cases where the contravention did not occur? In such cases, if someone went out with a tape measure and the very thick rule book, I suspect that many of our local authority parking regimes may be found to be failing in the detail.
What responsibility does the council have to reimburse motorists whom have been ticketed in an area where another motorist was ticketed but who successfully appealed to the adjudicator because that particular area or street was not in compliance with the regulations? Would the local authority have a responsibility either to advertise the fact that people whom had been fined in that area could apply for a refund or to issue refunds?
Secondly, I hope that the Minister will touch on the area of cloned vehicles, because many people go to adjudications because they say that the vehicle concerned was not theirs. If the owner of a vehicle that has been cloned lives in Preston and the offence took place in London, in most cases that is fairly straight forward to prove. However, there are many problems if the person who cloned the vehicle lives in the same town. With regard to the issuing of plates in such circumstances, has the Minister any plans to prevent such cases getting to the adjudicator?
Thirdly, the Select Committee report touched on the publication of information from councils on the number of adjudications that were successful or the number of appeals that were granted by the council itself. That varies dramatically from council to council. I understand that it is not in the comprehensive performance assessment, which councils provide and which are assessed by the Government. I know that the Government are moving towards fewer indicators and less reporting back—I suggest that that is not before time. Within the regulation, could more prominence be given to data on the number of overturns and lost appeals so that the motoring public and the voters in local authority areas would be able to judge how well their council was performing or whether they were being more predatory than regulatory?
Fourthly, how many councils so far have applied successfully for decriminalised regimes and how many are in the pipeline? Obviously, the regulation will apply to those decriminalised regimes.
Another issue that I did not see addressed in the regulations, but which I may have missed, concerns cases where the local authority brings evidence to the adjudication. Would the local authority be committed to state how many times a particular motorist had appealed or been successful? In criminal law, if a person has been convicted of an offence such a burglary, in most cases it is not permissible to give that evidence before the court. Will it be permissible to give the number of instances when a motorist has avoided a fine? I make that point because it is quite easy for a motorist whom has been ticketed in a car park to approach other motorist who are about to leave and try to get hold of a valid parking ticket to submit as evidence that they had bought a ticket but that it had fallen on the floor of the car. Most local authorities would be happy to accept that that happened once or twice, but if it becomes a serial offence, that would be good grounds for the local authority to turn down the appeal. If the adjudicator was aware that that motorist had had perhaps 10 similar instances over the previous six months, that would have quite a bearing. Therefore, in that adjudication, would the council be allowed to present evidence of previous offences that it had allowed?
My next question relates to the 14-day discount. The 50 per cent. discount is a very good way of ensuring that motorists pay promptly but people who appeal will withhold that payment, particularly if they feel very strongly that the ticket has not been legally issued, or that there are reasonable mitigating circumstances. There is nothing in the proposal that indicates whether local authorities should be empowered to reintroduce the 14-day period when the adjudication is lost. That seems a bit piecemeal and the person who has appealed their ticket and lost that appeal may have to pay the full fine despite the fact that they withheld the original payment because they felt that they had a sensible case. I may have missed it in the regulation, but it would seem sensible for the 14-day clock to start ticking at the point when the appeal is lost and that they should still be eligible for the discount.
I may be pulled up for digressing but although the Minister mentioned that the regulations apply to decriminalised and criminal local authority parking infringements, private parking areas and areas where clamping would take place are not covered by these regulations.
The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman anticipates my ruling entirely.
Mr. Goodwill: Thank you, Mr. Wilshire. However, I am sure you realise that it is a problem that many citizens throughout the country do not understand the difference between local authority and privately administered parking areas and in many cases feel they have been mugged.
We support the regulations in the hope that they will help to usher in a more motorist-friendly parking contravention regime, building on the wider extension of decriminalised parking regimes that are already improving the administration of difficult areas. We shall be pleased to support the Minister in her quest to improve the situation.
4.45 pm
Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): I will be extremely brief. My colleagues in the House of Lords have made a number of comments but we are overwhelmingly in support of this measure. As the Minister will be aware, it is unusual to find someone who has received a parking ticket who does not believe that there were mitigating circumstances. Could she explain what kind of guidance will be available so that local authorities and the adjudicator are not inundated with a range of spurious claims?
What kind of review mechanism is in place to ensure that as general guidance is established on how the adjudicator will view these cases it is then communicated to local authorities more generally and to the public so that we get a reasonably consistent and reliable approach to parking enforcement. Motorists should not be left with a mystery on their hands trying to work out whether something is permissible in one area that might not be permissible in another.
4.48 pm
Ms Winterton: I thank the Opposition parties for supporting these regulations. I will try to address most of their points; although there is quite a long list I will do my best to get through them.
First, I want to tackle the issue of local authorities enforcing these policies to make money. Hon. Members should be clear that any surplus from parking revenue can be used only for specific transport-related purposes; it cannot be hived off elsewhere. Most parking revenue is from parking charges, not from parking penalty charges. The statutory guidance says that local authorities should use parking enforcement policy and we want them to do that, particularly to keep traffic flowing, to improve road safety and to take account of the impact on the environment, which is extremely important. About 229 local authorities are currently taking over civil enforcement of parking from the police and another 40 are in the pipeline.
The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby also raised a number of issues about what criteria the adjudicator should be adhering to. We need to be clear that, although the Department obviously issues some central guidance and the adjudicator makes some decisions, it is also up to local authorities to make some decisions. Therefore, to define all the mitigating circumstances would start to become quite difficult, because some mitigating circumstances would be perfectly obvious and we also want adjudicators to examine mitigating circumstances. However, there may be some circumstances that we can steer people towards considering. For example, if somebody suddenly became ill in a car, obviously that is something that we would say is a mitigating circumstance. There may be some instances where we would want the adjudicator to have the discretion to make what we would all consider to be a reasonable decision.
Mr. Goodwill: Having been to the adjudicating service and seen cases take place, I think that the Minister is absolutely right to steer away from listing mitigating circumstances. As the adjudicator has made clear to us, rather than simply considering the facts of the case the adjudicator often has a gut feeling about the honesty of individuals in the cases brought to them. Therefore, two cases with similar facts could have different adjudications, because of the way that an individual comes across at a particular hearing.
Ms Winterton: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that comment, which also relates to some of the points that he made earlier about what evidence can be presented. As he has just said, the adjudicator may sometimes have an instinct about somebody’s honesty. It may also be the case that the local authority will say, “Well, we would like to present some evidence”, which would show some of the instances that the hon. Gentleman has set out. Once again, it is quite important that we allow the local authorities, as well as the adjudicators, to put forward and hear the evidence that they consider to be appropriate.
We also need to be clear about the issue of the responsibility to reimburse. Legally, having paid the penalty charge notice, a motorist has, in a sense, accepted that a contravention took place.
Moving on to the issue of the discount, it would be up to the local authority to decide if it is appropriate in particular circumstances to reintroduce the 14-day discount. However, we must also be clear that we would not want to see a situation where there is an incentive to go to appeal, in order to delay matters, but the discount would still apply. The local authorities would want to examine closely all the implications of maintaining the discount in all circumstances, even after a case has been to appeal, because the discount is an incentive to ensure that a case is dealt with as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. Therefore, the discount is another issue that we would like local authorities to address.
Regarding the issue of cloned vehicles, the penalty charge notice would go to the keeper of the uncloned vehicle and in most circumstances they can easily demonstrate that their vehicle was elsewhere at the time of the offence. It is obviously important that the police are always alerted to the issue of cloning.
With regard to the number of penalty charge notices that have been challenged, at the moment less than 1 per cent. of penalty charge notices go to appeal. In most circumstances people recognise the issue.
With regard to the points made by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) about the guidance on mitigating circumstances, we need to ensure that we are not over-centralising this. Local authorities are already dealing with cases on a regular basis. We would look at any further guidance in the light of circumstances, but at present we feel that they can deal with matters quite easily. However, I am sure that people will look at our debates to see what we had in mind when passing this legislation.
Having said that—
The Chairman: Only just.
Ms Winterton: I do feel very strongly about it. I would like to thank the Committee for their supportive comments about the regulations. I hope that I have managed to answer most of the questions. If I have not I shall endeavour to write to hon. Members. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draft Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) Representations and Appeals Regulations 2007.
Committee rose at three minutes to Five o’clock.
 
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