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The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 12 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 15. On Report, we debated an amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, that sought to prevent the immobilisation of a vehicle for a period of 15 minutes after a penalty charge notice had been issued for a parking contravention. On that occasion, I explained that we could not accept that amendment because it would apply not just to overstaying in a paying parking bay but also to other circumstances. It would have also prevented
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immobilisation for 15 minutes following the issue of a charge notice for other parking contraventions, such as parking on yellow lines. That is why we could not accept it as drafted. People who knowingly park unlawfully in the first place should not be given a period of grace against having their vehicles immobilised.
However, I indicated that we were prepared to amend what is now Clause 68 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 is the purpose of our amendments to Clause 68 and I think they meet the argument that the noble Viscount advanced in Committee and on Report.
Amendment No. 12 removes the existing prohibition on immobilisation for overstaying until a period of 15 minutes has elapsed from the end of the period of parking paid for. Amendment No. 13 replaces it with a prohibition on immobilising a vehicle in a parking place for a period of 15 minutes after a penalty charge notice has been issued for failing to pay a parking charge, failing to display properly a parking ticket showing that parking has been paid for or failing to remove a vehicle from a parking space at the end of the time paid for.
The prohibition on immobilisation for failure to pay a parking charge or to display a ticket would cover, for example, the eventuality of someone who went to a nearby shop to obtain change for the ticket machine and who, as matters stand at present, could potentially receive a penalty charge and have his vehicle clamped while carrying out that activity. The noble Viscount made a persuasive case that people may not immediately be able to meet the requirements of the parking charge, and that an element of grace would be appropriate.
The proposed new paragraph in Amendment No. 9 replaces the provision on overstaying removed by Amendment No. 8. It means that there would be a period of grace of at least 15 minutes before a vehicle could be immobilised for overstaying. In practice, that period could be longer, depending on when the contravention of overstaying was detected and when the penalty charge notice issued.
Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 are consequential. They address the anomaly that the Government seek to correct. Rather than a no-score draw, which is how the noble Viscount characterised our position last time we discussed the issue, I hope that we have the most unusual phenomenon of a win-win situation. I hope that he will accept the government amendments in those terms. I beg to move.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I thank the Minister for addressing the concerns that we raised in Committee and on Report, and for bringing forward his own amendment, which deals with the problem. As I said previously, I have no problem with the issue of a ticket, but my concern has always been for someone who is trying to find a machine that works having to pay a
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charge. They might get a ticket and can then write to say that the machine was not working or whatever, but there are too many instances in London where the clamping car follows the traffic warden issuing the ticket. Suddenly the innocent comes back and has been made guilty, inconvenienced, and has to pay and then appeal.
The amendment will not lead to people parking in places where they should not park, and one advantage of it is that it will reduce the number of appeals in which the payment of clamping has to be refunded, because of the 15 minutes. It will be beneficial to the system, and I support it.
"( ) The regulations shall also provide that an immobilisation device must not be fixed to a vehicle in a parking place in respect of a contravention consisting of, or arising out of, a failure
(a) to pay a parking charge with respect to the vehicle,
(b) properly to display a ticket or parking device, or
(c) to remove the vehicle from the parking space by the end of a period for which the appropriate charge was paid,
until 15 minutes have elapsed since the giving of a notification of a penalty charge in respect of the contravention."
Page 45, line 23, leave out "subsection (5)" and insert "this section"
Page 45, leave out line 26 and insert
""parking device" means a parking device within the meaning of section 35(3B) or 51(4) of that Act;
"parking place" means
(a) a parking place designated by an order under section 45 of that Act, or
(b) an off-street parking place provided under section 32(1)(a) or 57(1)(b), or under a letting or arrangement made under section 33(4), of that Act."
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I see that a similar government amendment is grouped with my Amendment No. 16. However, it may be for the benefit of the House if I briefly explain the purpose of mine. The Government have again been very helpful and addressed my concern, and I will leave the Minister to put the case for his own amendment.
Amendment No. 16 is about adjudication, fairness and mitigating circumstances. It gives parking adjudicators the statutory power to refer an appeal case back to the enforcement authority if they feel that the authority should reconsider the case in the light of mitigating circumstances. Amendment No. 17 is the wording suggested by the London chief adjudicator, Martin Wood, who argued that the adjudicators need more teeth so that, in particular cases, they should have the power to alter penalty charges. The example
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raised was if someone has been on holiday and his permit falls off his windscreen, so he returns to find £1,000-worth of tickets that he then has to try to contest.
The amendment is also supported by the National Parking Adjudication Service and its chief adjudicator, Caroline Shepherd. She and Martin Wood have been enormously helpful to me in addressing the issue, for which I am grateful.
National and London parking adjudicators have expressed concern, in various annual reports over the years, that some councils have not been using their power to take into account mitigating circumstances when reconsidering fixed penalty notices in the correct manner, and that there should be more scrutiny and transparency. Recent Department for Transport figures published in the Evening Standard, no less, on Tuesday 6 July showed that drivers across England spent £1 billion on parking charges and fines last year, which is 50 per cent up since the Government came to power in 1997. I am not sure what the Minister feels about that, or what it says about motorists' behaviour during the period of his Government, but I leave him to consider that.
It is important to point out that adjudicators already refer cases back to local authorities, but the adjudicators are concerned that those referrals are not considered properly. Not all local authorities are bad, but not all are good. I can give some examples of good local authoritiesWinchester, Oxford and Harrogatebut in Birmingham and Liverpool it can take up to seven months to get a reply to a letter.
The amendment ensures that the ability to take account of mitigating circumstances remains with local authorities, but the power of the National Parking Adjudication Service to refer cases back to them will encourage them to be more responsible and accountable in the use of that discretionary power. Importantly, it avoids making the power subject to judicial review, which was a concern of the Minister. Therefore, it will be of no additional cost to the taxpayer. It has received support from the National Parking Adjudication Service as well as the RAC Foundation. It would give tribunals a firmer overseeing principle.
The National Parking Adjudication Service has highlighted that it is vital, in conjunction with the amendment, to have strong guidance to ensure that when a case is referred back to the local authority it will be undertaken or overseen by the chief executive of the complaints department within that council, so that it is not reconsidered only by the same individual who looked at the case to start with. The NPAS has also called for better standards for dealing with parking penalties, and is calling for secondary legislation to allow the Audit Commission to outline standards that should be met, rather than the arbitrary system of enforcement that exists today. It would be interesting to hear what the Minister says on that.
The NPAS has also suggestedagain, we look to the Minister to give us some understanding of the Government's thinkingthat local authorities should
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not be allowed to spend the additional money raised from parking fines on other things until certain standards have been attained.
The Government have moved a long way on the issue, and their amendment is rather similar to mine. However, there are still some questions which I hope the Minister will answer when he comes to explain his amendment. I beg to move.
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