Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dixon-Smith: If one considers just Amendment No. 226, I agree that it mentions only emergency services. However, Amendment No. 243 deals with businesses in a rural area; Amendment No. 244 deals with a business providing fewer than 10 workplace parking spaces; and Amendment No. 245 deals with a business which has introduced a "green transport programme" in relation to its employees. Another amendment deals with a business for which it is necessary to work shifts and one is dealing with the absolute obligation on the employer to introduce double the number of parking places. All those are perfectly reasonable exceptions to argue for if one accepts that exceptions are valid in the first place; and the Government have accepted that.

Lord Clinton-Davis: I do not take exception to the idea put forward by the noble Lord. What I take exception to is the fact that he has taken the opportunity now rather than when the regulations come to be debated by the House.

Lord Dixon-Smith: Perhaps I may make two points about regulations which may arrive before the House in the future. First, at this stage we do not know what the regulations will contain. Secondly--I debated this point with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, as recently as last Friday--with regulations one can only approve them or reject them. One cannot amend them.

Furthermore, we should bear in mind the principle I mentioned earlier this afternoon; namely, the question of when and whether it is appropriate to put detailed provisions on the face of the Bill or whether they would be better dealt with in regulations. The fact of the matter is--and as a matter of principle--I would argue that we would be wise to place as much as possible on the face of the Bill. I accept that complications can arise in so doing, because unless we are careful, the Bill may become more rigid than is intended. However, at least if a matter is placed on the face of the Bill, we can debate it thoroughly, consider the detail and possibly divide on it.

17 Jul 2000 : Column 632

As regards regulations--I have forgotten the exact number of pages of regulations we debated on Friday last, but it was around 40 to 50--we are faced with Hobson's choice: take it or leave it. One can vote either for or against regulations. That is not a good way to proceed.

Baroness Turner of Camden: Does the noble Lord accept that the making of lists is always fraught with difficulty? It is extremely easy to leave out groups of people who should be on the list. For example, in the list provided by the noble Lord's amendment, while he has included,

    "doctors, nurses and mid-wives visiting patients",

I should remind him that health visitors need to visit patients and clients. They are not included in the list.

As I have said, it is difficult to avoid the problem of leaving out those who have an equal claim.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I absolutely agree with that comment, but that is part of the purpose for which we debate these matters in detail. We can then ensure that such lists are absolutely right.

I do not claim for one moment any degree of infallibility in this area. However, the same argument applies in the case of regulations. It can apply even--heaven help us--in the case of statutory guidance. We can only do our best.

I do not wish to argue that the list provided in my amendment is by any means the last word on the subject. However, I believe that it is worth arguing on behalf of these particular cases. For example, businesses in rural areas generally should be exempted from workplace parking levies. Such businesses do not cause congestion. Almost invariably, the only way of reaching the business is by car. Occasionally, an employee will live close enough to use a bicycle, but generally speaking, the car is the only realistic means of transport. I believe that we all wish to encourage the establishment of small businesses. Many schemes have been set up so to do. It seems to me that workplace parking levies could well provide a disincentive. They may discourage some people from doing something which otherwise they would do.

As regards businesses that introduce a green transport policy, I should remind noble Lords that some businesses have already done so. Indeed, we debated this a little while ago because one business found that its employees were being taxed because a taxable benefit had been provided for them. However, what that company had done was in fact in everyone's best interests. I find that to be an interesting point.

I have already mentioned the case on behalf of those who work in shifts and, of course, those who work in the recognised emergency services. Their case goes without saying.

I believe that the main point to stress is that, once it is admitted that the principle of universality is not appropriate here, all the other issues will become open to debate. Furthermore, as I have said already, as a matter of principle, I prefer to see all that can possibly be put on the face of the Bill being put on the face of

17 Jul 2000 : Column 633

the Bill--inconvenient, difficult and awkward though that may be. The issues can then be debated fully to decide whether to include or reject them. However, in regulations the opportunity for detailed supervision does not arise. All that can be done is to accept what has been put before one in toto or reject it in toto. Very often, for other reasons, rejection is not practicable. In that case, one is forced to accept matters which otherwise would not be acceptable.

I believe that these amendments are entirely reasonable. No doubt I shall receive the usual helpful, sympathetic and spirited negative response from the Minister. I beg to move.

Lord Bradshaw: Before the Minister replies, I should say that I am almost moved to sing to him the hymn,

    "Courage, brother, do not stumble",

after having looked at the list of possible exceptions. We on these Benches broadly support the intentions of the Government here. Exceptions are a great trial.

When we began to put in the traffic management scheme in Oxford, we received pleas for exceptions from almost every conceivable quarter. Had we given in to those requests, we would not have achieved clear streets. Almost everyone can make a case for exception. It was notable that when the London red routes were set up and parking was restricted on those routes, huge protests were lodged by small businesses. However, it turned out that most of the parking spaces were being occupied by cars and vans that belonged to the proprietors of the small businesses themselves. The vehicles were parked on those main roads all day, thus preventing shoppers and others from using the premises. Objective and independent research into the effects of the red routes has revealed that the number of visits to such premises has in fact increased enormously now that the proprietors' own vehicles are no longer parked in front of their shops.

As regards concessions, I was disappointed when the Deputy Prime Minister conferred an almost blanket exemption to the employees of National Health Service trusts. As regards hospital sites, with which I am familiar, I would estimate that perhaps 20 to 30 per cent of those using the parking spaces are those engaged in shift work, who could not reasonably use public transport. However, the usual collection of administrators and people in the finance department (they seem to outnumber everyone else) work from nine to five. They, too, are to be covered by that exemption, but there is no reason whatever why those people should be exempted from the rules.

I ask the Government, in considering their response to the amendments, to trust in the judgment of local authorities. Local government is best placed to draw a reasonable balance as regards requests for exemptions. Indeed, we pay an immediate penalty--usually the following May by being turned out of office--if the job is not done properly.

Perhaps I may make a specific comment as regards the exemption requested for those ,

    "undertaking repairs to public utilities".

17 Jul 2000 : Column 634

The phrase "public utilities" used to embrace a small well-defined group of undertakers. It is regrettable that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, is not in his place. He would confirm that those undertakers comprised the gas board, the electricity board, water and telephones. Nowadays, I believe that 80 or 90 different groups appear to have the right to set up roadworks, use skips, dig holes and generally obstruct the flow of traffic. Indeed, we have also seen the rise of the phenomenon of "white van man". He usually parks on the pavement and proceeds to use his van as a mobile workshop, leaving the van in place all day. In all honesty, such people have got to be brought under control, otherwise our streets and pavements will no longer be available to those who have legitimate business.

My plea to the Government is this: be robust on this matter and put some trust in local authorities. Do not try, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has suggested, to put everything on the face of the Bill. It is not possible to cover all the detail. The Bill will simply become longer and the process of consultation will be even more tortuous than it is now.

Viscount Simon: Amendment No. 227 in this group, standing in my name, is very simple. It is well recognised that registered disabled people are limited by their individual and specific form of disability and therefore need to have special arrangements in respect of use of their vehicles. It is hoped that they will have the new blue disabled persons parking badge, which has replaced the old orange badge. It will enable them to avoid certain parking fines and to park in places not available to other motorists.

Some years ago, I was told the definition of a disabled person. It is very short: it is someone who is unable to travel by public transport. There are numerous people who have chronic illness which prevents them from using public transport. I am one, and I understand that my difficulty is not unusual. I have a nasty problem with my immune system whereby if I inhale certain chemicals which are now worn by men and women, or tobacco smoke, I can have what my GP describes as akin to an anaphylactic attack in that it is almost instantaneous and vicious. So, in order to avoid the problem, I am allowed to travel only by car. This restricts my life considerably. But to all intents and purposes I am fit and healthy. I can drive without any problem, park normally and comply with every rule, regulation and Act of Parliament. This will illustrate the problem faced not only by me but by other motorists who have chronic diseases that restrict their travelling to only one mode--their own private vehicle.

If it is accepted that disabled people should be exempted from road user charging because of their disability, it follows that those who have chronic illness should also be exempted from such charges. My noble friend will doubtless ask how this can be managed so as to avoid any abuse of the system. That is easy. It does not form part of this amendment, but

17 Jul 2000 : Column 635

it could be covered by regulation. I should be happy to discuss the mechanics further with my noble friend should he so wish.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Berkeley: I should like to speak briefly to Amendment No. 227A standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall, which is in this group of amendments concerned with exemptions, although it could apply equally well to workplace parking.

I support the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that there should be minimal exemptions. I am sure that that is the right answer. Shiftworkers could be considered; and my noble friend Lord Simon has made a powerful case for another group.

My concern is that, human nature being what it is, those who create parking schemes will face a terrible temptation to make sure that they are all right first. That could apply to a local authority; it could apply equally to this House and another place; it could apply to workplace parking and to traffic charging schemes. As I have said previously in Committee, setting an example and getting ownership of all those who will be involved is vital. If the charging authority does not set an example by making its own employees, consultants, advisers and members pay the same amount as everyone else, under the same conditions, the scheme will have failed. That applies to Members, officials and everyone else in this House and in another place.

This is a probing amendment to see what my noble friend the Minister thinks about the matter and whether he can give some robust suggestion that everyone must be treated equally.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page