7.30 pm

The property listed in the schedule, in paragraphs 1(a) to (o), start with

“property related to a road user charging scheme”.

The ones I am most concerned about, however, include sub-paragraph (k):

“property related to the use of land for keeping installed automated teller machines within stations and other property at stations which is exploited for commercial purposes”.

16 Mar 2015 : Column 601

I have an amendment that seeks to remove sub-paragraph (k) from the list, and I do so because, although it might sound fairly arcane, it is actually quite important to have somewhere to store equipment or to locate ticket—or any other—machines that might well be put there. If that is then disposed of to somebody else, £100,000 may be made—perhaps £500,000 if it is a big area. Quite a lot of instant money might be made out of that, but it is like the magic of the private finance initiative; it is candyfloss money that comes from nowhere. The problem is the rest of us pay for it for decade after decade as a result.

If TfL in its infinite wisdom—and its wisdom is absolutely infinite in all matters—decides to get rid of an area that is a location of automated ticket machines, or any other type of machine, and lease it back from the people it has sold it to, that is the road to nowhere. That is a small dollop of cash in from the private sector, and a very large payment out over years from the public sector to the private sector to maintain what was once ours in the public sector. That cannot be a sensible way of running—

George Galloway: A railroad.

Jeremy Corbyn: Of running anything actually, but particularly a railroad, as my friend reminds me.

Something else that

“may be charged by a TfL subsidiary without the consent of the Secretary of State”

is, as sub-paragraph (m) states,

“property related to the use of land for commercial letting”.

That makes me very worried, because if it is a building that has been let our leased out by TfL, possibly at a very high rent, and it decides to sell it off and cash in on it, then the public income and the capital value are lost, and at the end of the lease the capital opportunity of doing something else with that building is also lost.

My local authority, the London borough of Islington, tries not to sell property. It would much rather maximise the income from it, but maintain the capital, so that it is its for the future and for future use. [Interruption.] Does my Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) wish to intervene?

John McDonnell indicated dissent.

Jeremy Corbyn: No, my hon. Friend is just agitated because he is so appalled at the news he is hearing.

Sub-paragraph (n) refers to

“land which is not operational land”.

Again, that land needs to be kept in the public sector, so that we can then use it for development in the future.

This Bill has a huge effect on a very large number of people. I have just pointed out three stations in my area which need a great deal of attention. Some attention is being given to Finsbury Park and I am grateful for what has been done so far on that, and I am grateful to the Minister for visiting, but consideration must be given to the future needs of the area and future transport developments. I also mentioned Archway and the possibility of a big road improvement scheme which will introduce a piazza for the people of the area, and made points about Tufnell Park station.

16 Mar 2015 : Column 602

Highbury and Islington station has been well developed and, because there was co-operation between public bodies, a post office has been closed and relocated and passed to TfL, so that it could demolish it and create a much larger circulating area for the very large numbers of people who use that station, including on Arsenal match days. That is a good example of public services working together. Had that building been sold years ago, as would be envisaged if it had been a TfL building, that possibility would have gone and the public would have had to buy their own property back at enormous cost. So I ask the Bill’s promoters to think a bit more deeply about their guardianship and stewardship of and responsibility for a massive public asset.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): I am listening with interest to my hon. Friend’s brief remarks, and as someone who has been a resident of London for the past 28 years, I am greatly concerned by the serious matters he is raising. Would it not be premature to advance this Bill in any way now, and would it not be a suitable matter to be debated and voted on in the general election as a major issue?

Jeremy Corbyn: I am not quite sure how far it will become a major issue in the general election, but I will certainly do my best to make it a major issue in Islington North, and I will draw the attention of the people of the area to what is going on with this Bill.

Mr Goodwill: The hon. Gentleman raises a valid point about sequential repair of the lifts at Tufnell Park and the disruption that could be caused. I am more than happy to get in touch with TfL and find out exactly why it is planning to do this work in this way and ask whether it has looked at alternatives.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am grateful to the Minister; that is helpful because there is understandable concern locally about the stations I have mentioned and their safety. If it helps him, I am happy to write an explanatory note about it and send it to him straight away, so that he can understand my concerns and the local concerns, and we can then have a serious meeting and discussion. I thank the Minister very much for that.

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): My hon. Friend says that he does not think this will be a major general election issue, but does he not accept that the selling off of the nation’s assets and this obsession with privatisation and making a quick buck and selling things off cheap should be precisely the sort of issues we debate at the general election?

Jeremy Corbyn: I absolutely agree with my friend, but time is—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Time is running out, but we are speaking to specific amendments and I do not want us to get into a general debate about the general election. We will be doing that soon enough—if we have not already been doing it for 12 months.

Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I conclude with this thought—

16 Mar 2015 : Column 603

George Galloway: Just before the hon. Gentleman concludes—and being mindful of your stricture, Mr Deputy Speaker—is not the point that this is a Bill to sell off the family silver, as Harold Macmillan famously put it, and we can only sell off the family silver once?

Jeremy Corbyn: The stewardship of public assets is very important. As someone who believes in public enterprise and public endeavour, I have to concede that the London Passenger Transport Board was established under a Tory Government in 1933. Lord Ashfield was its first chairman and he did a fine job in promoting its development. So even then, in the depths of the recession in the 1930s, there was a consensus that the public ownership of assets mattered, and he stood up against a lot of private interests to achieve that. Let us preserve what we have got, and recognise that the future inevitably is very unpredictable.

I came into parliamentary politics at a time when London’s population was falling and bus and tube use was falling. I remember the then director of London Underground telling me how there were going to be fewer trains and fewer passengers and how LU was thinking about which assets it could get rid of because it did not need them. I cautioned against that, saying that it was a counsel of despair. I said that we needed more people on trains and buses and that fewer people in cars would lead to less congestion. That big public debate happened in London, and we moved into an era not of road building but of rail development and other improvements. London became the first capital city in which public transport usage started to go up; others have now followed.

I ask the Bill’s promoters to think more carefully about what they are doing and to think more carefully about the precious asset that they have and about how they can develop and protect it. I thank the Minister again for his preparedness to engage on the issues that I have raised tonight. I am really grateful to him for that, and I hope that we can make some progress. That is the kind of engagement that we would like to see on the Bill, instead of this peremptory refusal even to discuss the serious concerns that have been raised by a number of Members this evening.

Bob Blackman: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and to hear his explanation of the new clauses and amendments that he has tabled. Amendments 21 to 29 would remove the requirement to consult or get permission from the Secretary of State on certain minor matters. There is a dilemma about whether it should be the Secretary of State who rules on these matters or the Mayor of London, with the assembly scrutinising what the Mayor and Transport for London do. A dilemma arises when we devolve responsibility and power: should we then recentralise it to the Secretary of State? We as London MPs face that challenge daily. The amendments would recentralise power to the Secretary of State.

John McDonnell: Clause 4(6) introduces the need for the Secretary of State’s approval, which we all support—as does the hon. Gentleman, because it is in the Bill. The schedule, however, sets out a long list of functions and assets that virtually undermines that subsection. That is our anxiety about the schedule.

16 Mar 2015 : Column 604

Bob Blackman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for expressing that anxiety.

Hon. Members have mentioned TfL’s failure to engage with the objectors, but having gone through the Opposed Private Bill Committee and listened to the various proposals, my understanding is that they have been reflected. TfL has sought to meet the objectors and hon. Members to ascertain exactly the details of their objections, and it will have heard what has been said tonight. Clearly, we will not reach agreement on all the amendments, but TfL will no doubt reflect on them.

My concern on reading new clause 1 is that all such properties would have to be banded by value. In my judgment, that would lead to more speculation, rather than less. If TfL is disposing of assets, it should seek to maximise the value that it gets, but banding by value would play into the hands of property speculators. At the moment, the assets are all listed on a searchable website that can be seen by any member of the public, so we know what TfL owns. I therefore reject new clause 1.

New clause 2 would set in train a whole series of consultations and place heavy restrictions on the disposal of land. In my view and in that of the promoters, that would place an unnecessary encumbrance on TfL. There is already a statutory regime, set out in section 163 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999. TfL cannot avoid that; nor does it wish to do so.

Jeremy Corbyn: The hon. Gentleman will have heard my earlier comments on the parallels with the protection of rail land for future use. For example, the March to Wisbech line has been preserved even though it has not been used for many years. It is now going to be reopened because someone had the foresight to preserve it. I have the same concerns about TfL assets being put up for disposal. Does he not accept that having the Secretary of State in place to provide a kind of long-stop protection, as we are proposing, would be a good thing?

7.45 pm

Bob Blackman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the reasoned way in which he has made his points. The reality is, however, that there is already a clear procedure for the disposal of former operational land. There is no need to go into the kind of detail set out in new clause 2. For that reason, I oppose new clauses 1 and 2 and all the other amendments in the group.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House proceeded to a Division.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.

The House having divided:

Ayes 8, Noes 168.

Division No. 177]


7.46 pm


Anderson, Mr David

Clark, Katy

Flynn, Paul

Godsiff, Mr Roger

McDonnell, John

Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Tellers for the Ayes:

George Galloway


Jeremy Corbyn


Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Baker, rh Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Crispin

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, rh Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burstow, rh Paul

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Cash, Sir William

Clark, rh Greg

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

Dinenage, Caroline

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Field, rh Mark

Flynn, Paul

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Greening, rh Justine

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Hinds, Damian

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, rh Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Gareth

Jones, Andrew

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kirby, Simon

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lewis, Brandon

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lopresti, Jack

Macleod, Mary

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, rh Esther

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Mosley, Stephen

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Nokes, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Sir Hugh

Rosindell, Andrew

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Selous, Andrew

Shelbrooke, Alec

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Stewart, Iain

Stride, Mel

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thornton, Mike

Tomlinson, Justin

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, rh Steve

Wheeler, Heather

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Sammy

Wright, rh Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:

Gavin Barwell


Lorely Burt

Question accordingly negatived.

16 Mar 2015 : Column 605

16 Mar 2015 : Column 606


John McDonnell: I beg to move amendment 1, in page 1, leave out paragraph (2).

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 5, at end insert

“save as provided for in subsection (3).”

Amendment 5, page 2, line 6, at end insert

“save as provided for in subsection (3).”

Amendment 6, page 2, line 6, at end insert—

“(3) Sections 4, 5 and 6 of this Act shall not come into force until the Secretary of State has arranged for, and published the report of, a review of the—

(a) potential risks to the assets of Transport for London arising from the exercise of the relevant powers to be conferred thereby, and

(b) likely effectiveness of measures put in place by Transport for London in mitigation.”

Amendment 7, in clause 3, page 2, line 17, after “TfL”, insert

“following consultation with the Greater London Assembly, and the publication of a report of such, and”.

Amendment 8, page 2, line 19, leave out “two” and insert “three”.

Amendment 9, page 2, line 25, leave out “two” and insert “three”.

Amendment 15, page 2, leave out clause 4.

Amendment 10, in clause 4, page 2, line 37, at end insert—

“(1A) The consent of the Mayor under subsection (1) may only be granted after the Mayor has consulted, and published a report of such consultation:

(a) the Greater London Assembly

(b) the London boroughs

(c) the City of London

(d) passenger representative bodies, and

(e) relevant trades unions.”

Amendment 11, page 2, line 38, leave out “all or any” and insert “no more than 25%”.

Amendment 12, page 2, line 41, leave out

“including the creation of priority as between changes.”

Amendment 13, page 3, line 9, leave out subsection (5).

Amendment 30, page 3, line 13, leave out

“Except for the property identified in the Schedule to this Act”.

16 Mar 2015 : Column 607

Amendment 14, page 3, line 15, at end insert—

“(6A) TfL shall not charge any property for any of the purposes mentioned in subsection (2) unless—

(a) it has consulted the Greater London Assembly and published the results of that consultation, or

(b) the property falls within a category identified in the Schedule to this Act.”

Amendment 31, page 3, line 15, at end insert—

“(6A) Any consent of the Secretary of State given under subsection (6A) above shall be given in an order made by the Secretary of State.

(6B) A statutory instrument containing (whether alone or with other provisions) an order under subsection (6B) above shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.

(6C) An order under subsection (6A) above shall in each case include—

(a) the land registry title number or numbers of any property or properties to be charged, and

(b) a specification of the proprietor or proprietors of the charge.

(6D) The proprietor or proprietors of the charge under subsection (6D)(b) may not be a joint venture partner of Transport for London or one of its subsidiaries.”

Amendment 33, in clause 7, page 5, line 25, at end insert—

“(5) TfL shall conduct a review, and publish a report, after 12 months of the operation of the s49 Transport for London Act 2008 powers, as amended by this section, of the use and impact of those powers in relation to investment by subsidiaries of TfL in derivatives in order to limit exposure to changes in interest rates, exchange rates, commodity prices or other matters specified in s49(3) of the 2008 Act.

(6) Each subsidiary of TfL shall publish a report each year of the use made of the powers under s49 of the Transport for London Act 2008, as amended by this section, in relation to investments made in derivatives, or equivalent instruments, in order to limit exposure to changes in interest rates, exchange rates, commodity prices or other matters specified in s49(3) of the 2008 Act.”

John McDonnell: May I say at this stage that I would like to press amendments 1 and 33 to a Division? Amendment 1 straightforwardly takes out paragraph (2) from the preamble of the Bill. Paragraph (2) refers to the powers set out in clause 4. I will then turn to amendments 4, 5, 6, 7 and so on.

Amendment 1 is consequential to amendment 15. What they do is delete the powers of Transport for London, set out in the Bill, to borrow by giving securities in the way prescribed in clause 4. The amendments strike at one of the main objectives of the Bill. Even if we took out clause 4, and even clause 5, we would still retain clause 7, which I support. Clause 7 concerns the mitigation of risk through hedging powers to be provided to Transport for London.

I want to delete clause 4, to which amendments 1 and 15 relate, because I do not consider that it should be part of a private Bill. The purpose of the clause and the scale of the potential financial responsibility levied on London council tax payers and taxpayers militate against this being a private Bill; it should be a public Bill. Clause 4 should not stand in the Bill.

George Galloway: That is the point that struck me between the eyes. I am talking about having words such as “risk” and “hedging” in a private measure. Surely we have learned enough about the risk at the hands of

16 Mar 2015 : Column 608

private individuals and about the grave economic consequences to argue that this matter should be postponed until the next Government, when the state and the civil service can give it proper attention.

John McDonnell: I fully agree, and I shall develop that argument. What my hon. Friend is suggesting in his proposal is that it would be better if this clause were brought forward by the Government rather than in a private Bill. That is because of the scale of the risk involved in the exercise of these powers.

I would welcome it if these powers were brought forward in a public Bill. Why do I believe that? Madam Deputy Speaker, let me take you to pages 929, 930 and 931 of “Erskine May”, with which I am sure you are fully conversant. On those pages, we see identified the subjects that should be considered as unsuitable for private legislation, but which should be dealt with by a public Bill. It says that a private Bill has sometimes been rejected, although properly introduced—as this one has been—because the House has decided, given the merits of the Bill in question, that the subject matter was unsuitable for private legislation.

There are examples in “Erskine May”, on pages 929, 930 and 931, of attempts to use private Bills to raise money for public purposes; it argues that they should fall under a public Bill. I will not go through them at length, but I will draw the House’s attention to the decisions made by previous Speakers. Those decisions have been based on “Erskine May”, which says:

“A bill the sole object of which was the creation of a charge on public funds has not been allowed to proceed as a private bill.”

There has also been the example of previous legislation. The Aberfan Disaster Fund Bill was rejected as a private Bill, but sections of it were brought forward as a public Bill. “Erskine May” says:

“A bill concerning a government guarantee, even though it amended a private Act, has been a public bill.”

That is exactly what the clause does.

I am not saying that the whole Bill is unsuitable for private legislation, but clause 4 certainly is, and it should be deleted. The whole purpose of the clause, as far as I can see, is to allow Transport for London to raise funds by mortgaging assets. However, at the end of the day, the final guarantor of those charges will be the taxpayer, or the Treasury. Therefore, the provision should be brought forward as part of a public Bill rather than a private Bill.

I do not want to go over the arguments that we have already had with regard to the magnitude of the financial risk, the values of the sites involved, the billions of pounds at risk or the long-term consequences for the travelling public if a number of these speculative developments by the Mayor of London or Transport for London go pear-shaped. As far as I see it, that risk is intolerable.

Jeremy Corbyn: On the detail of it, can my hon. Friend think of any other examples where a private Bill has been used as a vehicle for disposing public assets? Normally, private Bills are about a privately owned development such as a dock or a harbour, but this is very different. Existing public assets are being put at risk, or mortgaged, which is hardly in the public interest.

16 Mar 2015 : Column 609

John McDonnell: Madam Deputy Speaker, you are looking quite—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The hon. Gentleman is correct. I am sure he will not be going down the line of considering the constitutional position in very, very great detail, although I am sure that he can make a brief reply to the intervention. But he was doing very well in keeping in order.

John McDonnell: Thank you for the compliment, Madam Deputy Speaker; it is not often that Deputy Speakers say that to me.

Let me respond briefly to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North by referring him to page 930 of “Erskine May”, which cites the assessment of the Speaker in 1895 of the London Valuation and Assessment Bill. The Speaker then ruled that

“since the Bill raised questions of public policy of great importance and affected interests of vast magnitude, it ought to have been introduced as a public bill, and could not proceed as a private bill”.

I do not know what greater magnitude of risk there is to London, London taxpayers, the Greater London assembly and others than the risk that we are contemplating in this Bill. I do not want to go over the facts and figures we set out before, but I must say to the sponsor of the Bill, the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), that the Mayor could potentially enter into an enormous escapade if this legislation is passed. For that reason, I do not believe that it warrants support as part of a private Bill.

Let me return to the link between amendment 1 and amendment 15. Amendment 15 simply seeks to delete clause 4, as I believe that it is dangerous. I was trying to get clarification about the objectives of the clause from the statements—

8.11 pm

Three hours having elapsed since the start of proceedings on consideration, the business was interrupted (Order, 10 March).

Bill to be further considered on Tuesday 24 March.

Business without Debate

Business of the House


That at the sitting on Tuesday 17 March the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motions in the name of Mr William Hague relating to the Standards System in the House of Commons and the Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of Members not later than two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first of those Motions; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; proceedings may continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Mr Wallace.)

16 Mar 2015 : Column 610

Car Parking (Private Land)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Wallace.)

8.12 pm

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): A growing problem has resulted from operators of private car parks deciding that a lucrative income stream is to be had by clobbering motorists who use their car parks but, for whatever reason, overstay the period they paid for. As an MP, I have received several letters from constituents who see the practice as totally unfair and wildly disproportionate to the fee paid for parking.

Just a glance at the fee versus the fine will demonstrate that admirably. In 1817, a Bedfordshire man received the death penalty for stealing a sheep; the sentence was commuted to life transportation. One might think that that was somewhat harsh for the crime that was committed. That disproportionate penalty no longer exists, but if one is looking for a new fine that is as disproportionate to the misdemeanour, if I can call it that, one can see that the car park cowboys fill the role admirably and with a zealotry and passion that would normally make their mothers proud—although not in this case, I imagine.

The car parks are cash magnets for the operators, who milk the motorist and use harassment and threats to extort money. Their intimidating letters are intended to frighten and their message is quite simply “stand and deliver”, the motto of the highway man in a long bygone era. The only thing missing is the pistol, but they use the threat of courts, which could be expensive if people use legal representation, and an ever-escalating tariff of fines that simply bleed the motorist further, and all because they overstayed their welcome by a few minutes after having paid perhaps just a pound—giving the ultimate new definition of “poundstretcher”.

That is tantamount to demanding money with menaces and should now be outlawed. A good case in point is The Whalley Arms car park in my constituency, used by the local community in a village that is strapped for car parking places. Local councillors Terry Hill and Joyce Holgate and I have received numerous letters of complaint from individuals who are incandescent that the operators are allowed such powers.

One constituent, Mr Clive Marsden, was visiting his GP in Whalley. He is a bit slow on his feet as his hip needs replacing. That is being done tomorrow and we all wish him well with his operation and his new hip. He unknowingly typed his registration number wrongly but he still paid his £1 fee. Some of the keyboards are very small and relatively low, and if the sun is shining on them and a person’s eyesight is not 20/20 things might be a bit hit and miss, as they were in this case. He received a fine through the post of £100, to be reduced to £60 if he paid up. He rightly thought that that was unfair as he had paid his pound but unwittingly made a minor mistake. Clearly, he appealed.

Mr Marsden had his son-in-law with him who at the same time parked another car whose registration number was entered correctly. My constituent politely and helpfully suggested that if the company looked at its records, it would see that a fee was paid at a particular time using a registration number very similar to his. The cameras collecting the registration plate numbers would have collected their plate numbers and shown that a fee had

16 Mar 2015 : Column 611

been paid for a car that did not enter the car park. Simples, as the advert says. The case could have been closed.

The company ignored Mr Marsden’s suggestion and reiterated the conditions of parking with the stipulation about the correct registration. He appealed to POPLA, the panel that considers such appeals, but it rejected his appeal, stating that his ticket was not displayed correctly as stipulated by the operator. I assume that the P in POPLA stands for pathetic, as the car registrations are collected by the camera, there is no parking attendant, the extortionate fine is issued automatically, and the operator’s notice states that there is no need to display a ticket. I assume that POPLA will read the debate and I want it to tell me which bit of what Clive Marsden was asking the operator to do was unreasonable. Does POPLA think it is right to clobber motorists when there is a system of checking car registrations paid for against those entering the car park when motorists can furnish rough times of entry? Now, Mr Marsden, fresh from his operation, will have to go to court to fight his case. I hope he wins.

There is also the case of a young lady, Niamh McNamara, at the same car park. She failed to pay because the machine was faulty and would not take money, and the other machine had a black bin bag over it. There was no attendant to take the money. She could not pay, so she went to the GP’s surgery and came back, thinking nothing of it. I wonder how many people were nabbed that day. She went home and left for South America on a backpacking holiday. Fortunately, her parents, my constituents, went to Manchester, where she lives, and picked up her mail. There was a demand for £150. Clearly, the time for appeal had elapsed and the charge had gone up to the full fine with an added penalty of £50. Her parents tried to reason with Debt Recovery Plus Ltd, but the company was not interested. After much reasoning, it said that it would reduce the amount to £120. The debt recovery people also threatened the family, saying that their daughter would face court proceedings and that her credit rating would be affected. Under duress, her parents paid up to protect their daughter. The short of it is that she could not pay, and yet was still fined. That is simply not justice.

The RAC published a report last month entitled “Private Parking—Public Concern”. I am sure that the Minister has read it. In it, John de Waal QC argues that these fines are illegal as they have no relationship to the loss incurred by the company. The person pays £1 for parking, overstays 10 minutes and is fined £60 or £100. How can that be fair? The charge at The Whalley Arms car park for 12 hours—there is no charge for night time—is just £5 for the entire day, so how can a fine of £60 or £100 be fair? Mr de Waal also argues that early payment discounts are unfair as they put pressure on the consumer to pay up rather than risk having to pay another £40, or even more if they go to appeal.

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): Is my hon. Friend as shocked as I am by the behaviour of ParkingEye at the Roaring Meg retail park in Stevenage? Parking there is free for three hours, but on match days it is free for only one and a half hours. Every week constituents who do not know it is a match day incur large fines. When we take those cases up with ParkingEye, which we do on a weekly basis, it says that it puts out mystical

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boards demonstrating when it is a match day, but it provides no photographic evidence of the boards and nobody has ever seen one.

Mr Evans: Nothing shocks me about that industry. It sounds to me like a scam, so I am pleased that my hon. Friend has come here this evening to talk about the plight of his constituents. If a car park has a tariff, or if it has no tariff for certain hours, that is what people are accustomed to. He is right to say that many constituents will be uninterested in whether it is a match day, whatever the match happens to be, and so will carry on in their usual fashion. It seems that many of them will thus be clobbered by ParkingEye. That is totally unfair and it should look again at its practices. I trust that the Minister has heard what my hon. Friend has said.

Back to POPLA—or un-POPLA, as I prefer to call it. On the “Frequently asked questions” page of its website, to the question “Will the parking charge increase if I lose my appeal?” amazingly it answers “No”, but follows that with:

“If your appeal is refused then the full parking charge will be due because the time for any early payment discount offered by the operator will have passed.”

In my book that is a £40 increase in what an individual would normally have paid. Only POPLA could make those grasping operators appear angelic by offering a reduction should the individual cough up straight away and fail to appeal.

The message from the operators is this: “If right is on your side as you couldn’t get the coins in or you mis-typed your registration number, just take the hit on the chin; otherwise, you might get another hit on the chin.” If that does not work there is always the threat of a third hit on the chin, as credit ratings could be affected and another financial penalty added to the already extravagantly and insanely high fine.

How big is that insane fining regime? It is a massive extortion racket worth hundreds of millions of pounds. In 2013 the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency was asked for the registration plate numbers of 2.2 million car owners, and it provided them for a fee—a nice little earner for a Government agency.

The RAC instanced its own example of a young mum returning late to her car because one of her young children got upset. She also had a seven-month-old child in tow. She had to attend to her upset child and was late returning to her car, so she was fined. She did not have the resources to raise the £60 to pay the fine in time so ended up paying £100, and all for being a good mother.

Minister, enough is enough. We all know that this wretched rinsing of the public has to end. The disproportionate fines should go, and those operators and the hoodlum side of their operations—the debt collectors who use oppressive means—have to be tamed and reined right back. Strong-arm tactics can be met only with a strong law response.

The Government did well in 2012 to stop the ferociously active, salivating clampers from persecuting drivers with their hated Denver boots, but a new and sinister breed of persecution has taken over. The Government acted once, and it is now time to act again. As one might expect, I have a few suggestions for the Minister. The Government have already made an announcement concerning council-owned car parks giving a 10-minute grace period before

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fines becomes actionable. I understand that that is now to be extended to privately owned car parks, which is good. That is one suggestion I was going to make that has already been enacted before I even asked for it. I hope that is a good omen for my other suggestions.

The technology is available to allow car registration plates to be monitored on entrance and exit, so why not allow motorists the option of paying via credit card and being charged for exactly what they use? There would be no fines. I understand that that might require a change in legislation. If so, let us do it quickly in the next Parliament. In cases where the motorist does not have a credit card, why not just pay on exit with money, but at the actual rate? Again, there would be no fine. That might not even need a legislative change.

Then there is payment by credit card or by phone. Drivers could be charged when exiting a car park, or they could pay by phone, as happens in London, with car park operators texting them to inform them that they are about to overrun their paid parking, offering them the option to extend. There would be no fine in that either.

When someone mis-types their registration number, the operator should be duty bound to check the information to see whether it was likely that the wrong number was entered. I am sorry if that technically simple operation would spoil the bumper payouts to the car park regimes, but that is tough—natural justice is something I believe in. For small car parks in which it is simply not feasible to introduce that technology, we could have old-fashioned car parking attendants issuing tickets for the non-display of tickets.

If the motorist appeals, there should be no inferred gamble here. The motorist has the option of going to Coral, Ladbrokes, William Hill, Betfred, Paddy Power or a number of other legitimate bookies if they want a flutter—I am currently at 33:1 for my seat at the general election. When a motorist makes an appeal, there should be no element of gamble in it. Let us end the early payment discounts or extend them to cover the full period of the appeal. I have never gambled £40 in my life on any single punt, so why should the hapless and otherwise law-abiding motorist either be lured into a gamble that will cost them more if they lose or just have to cough up and pay the fine? That is no choice at all.

Let us make fines relate to the loss incurred by the operator. If it costs £1 to park for an hour and someone overstays by 10 minutes, some dynamo accelerator should not be allowed to kick in. Fines should be commensurate with the actual loss in relation to the car parking charges. I appreciate that there is an administration cost to be included, but it should also be proportionate, and the authoritarian, threatening, white-knuckle, gut-turning, official-like demands for eye-watering sums of money because someone has the audacity to overstay by a few minutes have to stop. If a car parking machine is not working, for whatever reason, it should be made illegal to fine people. That will stop another little scam whereby some people are simply harassed into forking out a fine despite the fact that they simply cannot pay.

I understand that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is about to be handed authority over private car parks by the Prime Minister. He will have the opportunity to bring some sort of order and common sense to a system that has simply spiralled out

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of control and is hated by the long-suffering motorist, a system that is geared towards inflicting the greatest financial misery and disproportionate stress for what is, frankly, a minor contravention.

I have spoken to the man who is about to take the reins of that wild animal and told him to be strong—not that he needs my advice, as I believe he knows what needs to be done. I and the public are fed up to the back teeth with charlatans operating under their own distorted and disproportionate penalty regime, unrelenting in the face of genuine mistakes or lapses in order to fill their coffers. It is now time for them to be brought under control and strictly regulated, with no room to siphon off hundreds of millions of pounds with kick-backs to debt recovery agencies and the DVLA. In short, it is time to act. Get to it, Eric.

8.28 pm

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) on securing the Adjournment debate tonight, and I thank him and my hon. Friend the Minister for being gracious enough to allow me to contribute.

ParkingEye has been mentioned. When I became MP for South Derbyshire in 2010, I did not think that ParkingEye and particularly hospital car parking would become such a big issue, mainly because in the fabulous constituency of South Derbyshire we have free car parking. Our council does not charge for car parking. Every time we have had an extension of a shopping area, new companies coming in and new developments, we as a district council have always negotiated with the owners so that they would also have free car parking.

That turns into a nightmare when firms such as ParkingEye come in and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley so clearly described, people mistype the number plate of their car. That tends to happen when they go over the border into east Staffordshire to Burton. At both of my two local hospitals, Derby to the north and Burton to the south, people have to pay to park, which is unknown to people in South Derbyshire, but as we do not have a hospital, we go north or south. In such circumstances, when people are rushing and are at the end of their tether because, for example, they are going to accident and emergency or their wife is going into labour, the last thing they need to have to cope with is ParkingEye. Exactly as my hon. Friend described, the press-button key pad is very small, and if the sun is shining on it or the person is flustered and makes a mistake, the fines issued by ParkingEye are horrendous.

I am pleased to say that in the 18 cases in which constituents have asked me to intervene on their behalf, the hospital has waived the fee. I have not taken on ParkingEye because, fortunately, the chief executive at Burton hospital, Helen Ashley, has been very gracious, listened to the circumstances and waived the fee. There has been further investment to change the press-button keypads for ParkingEye so that they are much bigger and at eye level, and people no longer have to crawl out of their car window to hit the buttons appropriately. That has helped enormously, but the system is still pernicious and the fines are outrageous.

We would like the Minister’s help on private car parks. With our fantastically expanding shopping areas, to mirror the free parking in the council car parks, the

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big property developers that own the car parks have put in three free hours, after which a fine is imposed. I have some delightful pensioners who travelled in from one of the villages. They were doing a big shop so they did not come in on the bus. They take their car out about twice a week. The car park was incredibly full. The expansion of the economy of South Derbyshire is so tremendous that they ended up parking on a hatched area in the car park and got a horrendous fine. They are two pensioners on the basic state pension. The fine is incredible. They were visiting our new Aldi in Swadlincote, which is going great guns. The manager of Aldi is on their side. He wants ParkingEye to rescind its fine and we are fighting the case.

I plead with the Minister for a much better code of conduct for the likes of ParkingEye, a much better code of conduct for policing fines on private car parks, and a better ethos on the part of such firms. They are the pirates of the new age and their behaviour is disgraceful. I do not want the good name of South Derbyshire, with our free car parking, taken in vain by those pirates. Anything the Minister can do to help would be greatly appreciated.

8.33 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) on securing this debate. I understand how important this matter is for him and his constituents, and I recognise that the practices of some private parking companies can result in complaints from constituents. I have tried to find a stronger word than “complaints”, but I suspect I would veer into unparliamentary language were I to use the words that sometimes come to mind when I hear about cases where companies have behaved unreasonably.

My hon. Friend has seen the written ministerial statement from the Prime Minister last week explaining that policy responsibility for off-street parking is now under the auspices of the Department for Communities and Local Government. Ministers in both Departments have worked closely together on a wide range of parking reforms, and it is my pleasure this evening to represent my Communities and Local Government chums in this debate.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) for raising the important issue of hospitals, where having a pay-as-you-leave car park that has a system of number plates or tickets that can be used at a barrier on leaving reduces the stress that people feel in not knowing how long their appointment will take or how long they may have to wait. Many people worry that by overstaying, through no fault of their own, they may incur a fine. She also mentioned places where parking is initially free and people then overstay. I have had correspondence from colleagues whose constituents have taken a break at motorway service areas, as they are advised to do, only to overstay the two hours allowed because they have fallen asleep.

The Government have taken decisive action during this Parliament to end clamping so that motorists no longer live in fear of their car being held hostage until they can pay for it to be released. I am sure that colleagues have heard horror stories from their constituents about the practices of clamping companies—practices

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that we have stopped. No longer are people being marched to cash point machines to secure the release of their vehicle. In my constituency, we had a big issue outside Whitby station. In Whitby, every car park is free after 6 pm apart from the car park outside the station, so it is little wonder that many motorists assumed that it would be free there too. Surprise, surprise—the parking company did not turn up until after 6 o’clock on most days because it was keen to catch as many people as possible. Thankfully, the car park was in the control of Northern Rail. Alongside Whitby Hospitality Association, we ran the company out of town. We then made representations to Northern Rail, which engaged a much more benign parking company that acted more reasonably and, at the same time, controlled parking in the car park, which is important for those who wish to use the railway station or the Co-operative shop nearby. There are plenty of reasonable companies out there, but unfortunately some of the others give them a bad name.

Good parking helps us to be good neighbours, and it is critical for a growing economy. However, as anyone who has driven round and round to find a space in a car park or has been blocked in will tell you, parking is not simple. The management of private parking can understandably be an emotive issue. Receiving a parking charge is never popular, but measures to control parking on private land are necessary to ensure that parking facilities remain accessible and provide value to all who use them.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): In the past few weeks there has been some talk about the fines that are imposed on those who allegedly park where they should not. There seems to be a grey area. Is the Minister able to give some indication of the fees that they charge, because I understand that some people will be able to claim that money back?

Mr Goodwill: I need to be careful because this matter is before the courts. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley talked about somebody in a pay-and-display car park who overstayed their time. It could be argued that the loss to the parking company was the value of the time that had been used, and therefore that these fines amount to many times that loss.

On the other hand, many businesses—my hon. Friend is a shopkeeper himself—rely on their own car parking areas outside their premises for their customers. If all the parking space outside a kitchen showroom, for example, was taken up by people who were not using that shop, the company could lose an order for a whole kitchen, which could represent several hundred pounds. We need to look more carefully at exactly why people may need to keep car parking for their customers. Many companies get frustrated when people park in the parking area that is meant to be for their customers and is integral to their business. If there is no car park outside, a person may drive by and go to a competitor.

Mr Nigel Evans: I understand the Minister’s point. However, The Whalley Arms car park is a relatively large car park for the village that is now used by the entire community, not for any specific shop. All the shops benefit from the fact that the car park is available. It is next door to a GP surgery. The two cases that I mentioned related to people who wanted to use the surgery; one

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wanted to pay and the other mistyped their registration number. Their loss is the amenity of the car parking space, which costs £1 an hour or £5 for the day—nowhere near £60, £100 or £150.

Mr Goodwill: I absolutely understand that point. The point I was trying to make is that there are situations whereby the survival of a business may be determined by it being able to make sure that its customers can use its limited car parking. However, in the case of a car park that might cost £1 an hour, it would be difficult to argue that the loss to the landowner or the parking company was anything like the magnitude of the loss to another company that would lose custom.

Drivers choose where to park their vehicles, and if they park on private land they do so in line with the terms and conditions that should be clearly displayed on signage at the entrance to the car park and around it. If the terms and conditions include that a motorist must pay and display, and stay no longer than the time they have paid for, those are the conditions that the motorist has deemed to have agreed to when they park their vehicle.

Parking management and control is necessary so that landowners who invite drivers to park on their land can exercise their legal rights and gain the benefit to which they are entitled from the use of their property. Without any form of control, indiscriminate drivers might park where they liked and for as long as they liked, breaching reasonable terms and conditions, and without fear of any recourse arising from their misuse of the land.

We are committed to striking the right balance to protect motorists from unscrupulous practices that some parking management companies may employ—we have heard about them this evening—and to ensure that landowners can control the use of their land and benefit fairly from it.

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 banned clamping and made a number of other changes to the law related to parking. It banned private sector wheel-clamping and vehicle removal where there is no lawful authority to do so, and, as a balance to that, provided landholders with extra powers to manage parking on their land.

Most private organisations, including private landowners and their agents, are not able to clamp or tow vehicles and have to rely primarily on ticketing to enforce parking conditions on their land. This could be by placing a parking ticket on a vehicle, giving it to the driver or sending a ticket to the vehicle’s registered keeper in the post.

Before the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, a private landholder could only seek liability against a vehicle driver to recover unpaid parking charges and therefore needed to be able to identify who was the driver of the vehicle that incurred the parking charge. There was no requirement, however, for the registered keeper either to say who was driving the vehicle or to accept liability him or herself. This allowed both the vehicle driver and the registered keeper to avoid liability and meant that landholders could find it difficult to manage parking by ticketing alone.

Schedule 4 to the Protection of Freedoms Act came into power at the same time as the parking sector introduced a new, free appeals service for motorists who received a

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parking charge. This means that motorists can appeal to the parking operator and to an independent adjudicator, and both those appeals are free to the motorist. However, I completely understand my hon. Friend’s point about an early payment discount, and the suggestion to extend the discount during an appeal certainly has some merit.

Despite perceptions to the contrary, I assure my hon. Friend that significant control is already applied to the operation of private car parking companies. The activities and standards of operation in the sector have changed substantially in recent years and parking trade bodies have improved standards further at the heart of their vision.

Where the terms and conditions of parking have been breached, parking management companies can apply for information about the vehicle keeper so that they can enforce appropriately. The Government control the access to those data through the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and there is a requirement for companies that receive keeper data from the DVLA to be members of an accredited trade association. Incidentally, the fee for access to those data is £2.50. That means that the parking company must abide by the accredited trade association code of practice based on fair treatment of the motorist, which requires its members to operate to high professional standards of conduct while allowing them to take reasonable action to follow up alleged parking contraventions.

We would expect any organisation that wanted to become an accredited trade association to be able to demonstrate that it has a code of practice that ensures that only a fair parking charge is asked for and that prominent signage is present outlining clearly the restrictions on parking and the charges and conditions that apply. There should be no hidden charges or ambiguity for the motorist as to what is and is not permitted on the land.

Stephen McPartland: What does the Minister think about the fact that the terms and conditions can change? I mentioned the ambiguity of three hours of free parking being reduced to an hour and a half on match days, but without match days being specified.

Mr Goodwill: I have not looked at that in any great detail, but from what my hon. Friend says, it seems unreasonable to expect a person to know when it is or is not a match day. It does not seem beyond the bounds of possibility to list days when there will be matches to address that particular situation.

The code helps to ensure that contact with motorists is not threatening, and that parking charge notices are issued promptly so that a driver can recall the circumstances surrounding the event. A reasonable amount of time must be allowed for payment to be made before any additional charges are imposed or the matter is escalated.

Even though strong requirements are in place to regulate the actions of parking companies, the disclosure of data from the DVLA is tightly controlled. Parking management companies are visited to audit their operations, and further in-depth checking of individual cases is undertaken to make sure that requests have been submitted for genuine reasons and with reliable evidence to back them up. Car parking operators pay fees when requesting keeper details. The fee levels are set to recover the cost of processing requests so that those costs are not passed

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on to the taxpayer. The Government do not gain financially from the provision of such information, contrary to what one may read in some newspapers.

Inevitably, motorists who feel that they have been unfairly treated will complain. The parking operator needs to demonstrate compliance with the code of practice of its accredited trade association to retain its membership. The ATA exists to investigate and ensure that, where appropriate, remedial action is taken. It is for the ATA to decide whether the operator needs to be placed on notice with additional scrutiny, follow-up audits and checks to monitor future actions closely. In more serious cases, a decision may be taken to terminate an operator’s membership of the ATA. A company can still manage parking on private land, but if it is no longer a member of the ATA the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency will not provide contact details to enable breaches to be pursued. That has a serious consequence for a company’s survival, and it is an incentive for it to behave responsibly.

The DVLA plays a key role. Where sufficiently serious concerns are raised or ongoing issues are identified, it will consider whether continued access to vehicle keeper data is appropriate. Several parking management companies have had their ability to request vehicle keeper data suspended where shortfalls in the standards expected have been identified. In addition, trading standards departments can prosecute companies if they have breached consumer protection law. In short, if a company is not meeting the standards expected, there are serious consequences.

We recently announced a new package of changes to help tackle over-zealous parking enforcement. The changes are designed to help local shops, and they include the

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introduction of grace periods. As we have heard, drivers will get a 10-minute grace period where they have legitimately parked on the street or in council-owned car parks. That will prevent penalties for being just a few minutes late back to the vehicle. We have also introduced a new right to enable residents and local businesses to demand that their council reviews parking in their area.

Off-street parking has many synergies with policy about car park charges, land-use planning and high streets, so we have decided to transfer responsibility for all off-street parking to Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government. That will enable the Government to look more easily at the contribution that public and private off-street parking can make to a place, and how it can support local economic rejuvenation. Communities and Local Government Ministers will now turn their attention to the behaviour of off-street car park operators, and they intend to ensure that unfair and unreasonable behaviour is dealt with in the way that the Government have addressed on-street parking abuses.

I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley to discuss any concerns he has directly with the parking operator, and if he is not satisfied, with the accredited trade association. Providing them with details of any cases in which his constituents have experienced questionable actions or bad behaviour will allow the ATA to investigate and to take the necessary action.

Question put and agreed to.

8.49 pm

House adjourned.