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The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the Minister has caught me by surprise. I assumed that he would move his Amendment No. 111 concerning clamping and the 15-minute interval we discussed in Committee. Indeed, the Minister and I discussed it when he kindly arranged a meeting with his officials. I am not sure why he did not move the amendment, but perhaps I may speak briefly to mine.
The difference between us is that the Minister is seeking to resolve an anomaly that has been drawn to his attention by the chief parking adjudicator for London. When someone does not display a ticket and is clamped, he is able to write to the adjudicator and
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say, "Actually, I bought one and here is the evidence. It fell down the dashboard and was not displayed". I understand the logic behind that.
However, we differ in that increasingly in London the pay-and-display machines do not work. Occasionally they gobble up your money and give you a ticket and occasionally they gobble up your money and do not give you a ticket. You are then forced to walk around and find another one. If this happens to you while you are parked in a London square and are seeking to obey the law and to pay, a parking warden can come along and give you a ticket. You can then write to the local authority and say, "I was attempting to buy a ticket and I want to appeal". In 99 per cent of such cases, it is successful.
However, under the Bill, after the traffic warden has issued the ticket he can use his radio or mobile phone to inform those in the clamping van, who are driving around the square desperately seeking to earn their money by clamping more and more offenders, "Quick, get over here and clamp this car". In those circumstances, the driver is the innocent party.
If the driver merely gets a ticket, he can write in and appeal against that and he will not have to pay. However, if he is on the other side of the square trying to find a machine that works, he will return and find that his car is clamped. That is a severe inconvenienceit happens to mothers collecting children from schooland the drivers appear to be guilty until proven innocent. They must first pay and then go through the difficult and somewhat tedious process of trying to get their money back.
I stress that in tabling the amendment we want to produce a policy that is fair and does not allow people to park illegally. We therefore propose a 15-minute interval. Therefore, a car cannot be clamped for 15 minutes after a traffic warden has issued a ticket. That seems to be reasonable. Wardens and clampers communicate with each other, and a warden can say, "I have just issued a ticket and if the vehicle is still here in 15 minutes you can come and clamp it".
I admit to your Lordships that this situation is made more difficult because of the appeal system, which does not work. We shall come to that when we reach a later amendment. It is of concern to those who appeal, as it is to the adjudicators. That is the issue. I stress again that I am not seeking to allow those who break the law an excuse to get away with it. I am seeking to protect those who, through no fault of their own, have not been able to buy a ticket and who are then seriously inconvenienced and put in a difficult situation. That is the difference between the Government's proposal and mine.
We have had some discussions on this matter. I am very grateful to the Minister for listening to the concerns at the meetings that we have had and for listening with an open mind. I am sure that we shall be able to continue debating the issue to see whether we can find a solution.
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I apologise to your Lordships for going on at length, but it is important to set the amendment in context so that noble Lords understand the process. This may be an opportunity for the Minister to say what considerations he has given to the matter and whether he is able to give me some comfort with regard to how the Government intend to deal with this issue. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for the way in which he moved his amendment. I am sorry if I wrong-footed him by not moving the government amendments immediately preceding this one. It is my first effort at retaliation: Ministers are frequently put in that position when the Opposition do not move their amendments. Therefore, I sympathise entirely with the noble Viscount in finding that the progress of business has suddenly accelerated.
However, I must say to him that we have not reached a definitive position on this issue. That is why the government amendments were not moved and why I shall give him both a positive and, as he would expect, a guarded replythat is, I cannot give very clear undertakings about the eventual position. But, as I am sure he will have recognised, I am certainly seeking to reflect the fact that the discussions that we have had on this issue have caused us to reconsider the position. We are looking at the matter carefully and, I hope, constructively.
I believe that the noble Viscount and I both recognise that offenders should not get away with offences, and clamping is an effective deterrent. It is an important weapon in the armoury of central London boroughs, in particular, as part of their decriminalised parking enforcement operations.
Charges and time limits on parking are designed to ensure a turnover of spaces. It is important to ensure that these controls are enforced in order to give drivers a reasonable chance of finding a space. Immobilisation is an additional measure, over and above a penalty charge, to deter overstaying. The question is: after what period of overstaying should immobilisation be permissible? That is the issue that we have been seeking to resolve in our discussions and, as I indicated, we are not entirely definitive about it yet.
As drafted, Clause 76 enables a penalty charge notice to be issued immediately the period of parking that has been paid for has expired. However, the vehicle may not be immobilised until 15 minutes have elapsed following the period of parking paid for. That means that there is a grace period of 15 minutes, and that reflects the current position in Section 70 of the Road Traffic Act.
The noble Viscount's amendment proposes that at least 15 minutes should elapse between the issue of the penalty charge and a vehicle being clamped. The effect is variable rather than a fixed 15-minute grace period. If the penalty charge notice is issued exactly at the end of the period of parking paid for, the vehicle could be clamped after 15 minutes of overstay. But if the notice is not issued until two hours after the period of parking
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paid for has expired, clamping is postponed in that case for two and a quarter hours. In other words, people would be subject to an arbitrary variable possibility.
A more serious drawback is that the proposed amendment would apply not just to overstaying in a paying parking bay, which is the area about which we are concerned in order to maximise the use of certain bays; it would prevent immobilisation for 15 minutes following the issue of a charge notice for other parking contraventions such as parking on yellow lines. The Government take the view that people who knowingly park unlawfully in the first place should not be given a period of grace against having their vehicle immobilised, particularly as in some circumstances the vehicle could present a very real danger and prompt action would be necessary. Enforcement against unlawful parking needs to be effective.
I very much appreciate the discussion that the noble Viscount and I had the other day. I have been able to listen carefully to the concerns he expressed then and on which he has reflected again this evening about the use of clamping. We are, therefore, prepared to consider amending Clause 76 so that a vehicle cannot be immobilised for contravening the conditions of use of a paid for parking bay until a period of 15 minutes has elapsed from the time that a penalty charge notice for the contravention was issued.
That requirement would replace the existing provision in Clause 76 that prevents the immobilisation of a vehicle until 15 minutes has elapsed since the end of the period of parking paid. While that approach may give rise to variable and longer grace periods for overstaying, that can be counteracted by more frequent patrolling by parking attendants.
However, I want to make clear that the amendment would relate only to paid for parking bays. It would not cover other parking contraventions such as parking on yellow lines. In those cases it would still be possible to immobilise a vehicle immediately after a penalty charge notice is issued. On that understanding I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that I have gone as far as I can at this stage to meet his reasonable concerns. I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
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