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The system continues because the public have no way of doing anything about it. No public authority or body will accept a complaint about this. You can go to the courts only in respect of your own ticket. The council just repays the money, so it does not owe you any more. The police, the Local Government Ombudsman and the district auditor will not accept an objection. We have tried immensely hard to get people to deal with this, to bring councils to book and to end this practice. Even government ministers have proved unhelpful.

The appeals system is another area corrupted by money. It was designed to deal with a low level of appeals. When the system was set up, we did not imagine that there would be the volume of appeals that we have now, so perhaps it was not set up with the care and attention to detail that it deserved. The structure is not independent; it is funded and managed by councils—the councils that the appeals system is making judgments on. There is no balance in the relationship between motorist and council regarding appeals. Motorists face a doubling of the payment if they lose an appeal, whereas the council suffers no penalty.

The appeals system is not allowed to pay any attention to common sense. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, lost a famous judicial review when the High Court ruled that adjudicators were not allowed to pay attention to common-sense arguments and were restricted to narrow grounds of appeal. When councils serially misbehave and keep appealing on the same point, which keeps being overruled by the adjudicator, the adjudicator can do nothing about it. He cannot set precedents. Perhaps a court that low should not be allowed to set a precedent, but it should be allowed to do something to deter councils from serially abusing the system. Abuse is what it has become.

Councils rely on the disincentive that motorists face—the time involved in an appeal and the doubling of the penalty if they lose. Motorists just shrug their shoulders and pay the fine, even if they find it unjust, and leave it at that. Councils have not been taking their duty to review properly the representations made by motorists and to make sure that the system is fair. We need a way to redress that.

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It is not just I who feels this way. I have an excellent quotation from the British Parking Association, which is as concerned as I am about the proper working of the system. It says:

“The BPA seeks a PCN defined by Statute plus bilateral proportionality”—

that means equal penalties on both sides—

The industry wants it and the motorist wants it; it is only the Government who are turning a deaf ear to this.

We should move to a system of adjudication where there is a proper tribunal for which the scales are level and which is the guardian of common sense and, indeed, of government guidance. The Government issue guidance to local authorities on what they should do. One of their clearest bits of guidance is that cameras should not be used to enforce parking regulations, except where it is dangerous for wardens to operate. There are 150 cameras, mostly in quiet streets in Westminster, and the Government have done nothing about them. If it were possible for such matters to be taken into account by the adjudicators, such drifts from the proper practice could be brought up.

While we are hoping for a system that I suspect is some years away, we now have a system that should be enforced. We have a clear system of regulation of lines and signs, which are meant to make it possible for motorists to know what rules apply to them in any instance. However, the system is in chaos. Local authorities have widely disregarded it. The concept of controlled parking zones, which were meant to apply to a single street, has been stretched for miles. Travelling around London, you are meant to know from a sign stuck at the side of the road somewhere that you are moving from one borough to another and the rules have been changed. But the signs are not right anyway. I do not believe that a single CPZ in the whole of Westminster is properly signed. The concept needs radical review.

Still, while that is the law, it should be enforced. The Government have the power, under Section 70 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, to enforce these regulations and ensure that local authorities are properly signed and, if they are not, to go in, change the signage and bill the local authority. Have they taken any such action? No.

As I said, legislation came with good intentions. There was in the making of it a failure of prediction. Well, even economists fail to predict sometimes, and 20 years is a long time ahead. Things have gone wrong and abuses have grown up. The Government have had the power to do something about them but have done nothing. We need a simple system of bringing accountability to local authorities—not major changes, just little things that would allow the balance to be reset and the direction of travel to be reversed.

I think back to when I was young and we could sing happy songs about “Lovely Rita meter maid”. That may not be impossible in the future. I gave an award to

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Tunbridge Wells last year for its work in training and improving the role of traffic wardens, which is heading in exactly the right direction. Many of the things that Boris is doing in London have that trend, too, but to be effective and to get where they should they need government support and action. That is what I am looking for. I beg to move.

4.27 pm

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for initiating the debate. I shall deal with the issue under two headings: first, the difficulties facing all road users who want to park, especially in London; secondly, the difficulties facing disabled people with blue badges.

There are two general problems. First, particularly in London, where the boroughs are so close, parking controls vary from one borough to another. It is simply not possible, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, to know in which borough one is. People are not as conscious of boroughs as are local councillors, who are attuned to elections and so on. Those who are not local councillors are not aware that they have moved from one borough to another and the control system has changed.

Secondly, there is very poor signage of what is required of people when they want to park. It is sometimes simply not possible to discover what the control is for a particular bit of road. One can walk or drive around to see what it might be. My plea, which runs through a lot of what I want to say, is that there should be proper signage so that motorists can know what the rules are. Of course, the problems in London are much starker because it is all too common for those of us who drive to move from one borough to another.

I shall outline one or two difficulties. The new system of having to use mobile phones to park has difficulties, particularly for those who do not have mobiles or who are deaf and cannot easily manage them out in the street. I am not clear what the position is on yellow lines. I understand that the only way to know about them is to look at the parking meter hours and, outside those hours, one can park on a yellow line. However, residents’ parking may be controlled differently and extend longer than the parking meter hours. In parts of Westminster, I think that the parking meters stop at 1.30 pm on a Saturday, but the residents’ parking goes on until 10 pm. The yellow lines are okay to park on from 1.30 pm, so it is confusing. I have had people come to me and ask, “Are we allowed to park here?”. I am not an official; I just happen to live, when I am in London, down a particular road in Westminster so I tell them what the parking situation is there. It should not be up to me; there should be proper signs. The situation is even more confusing as regards double yellow lines.

Parking meter hours vary from borough to borough but they also vary within a borough, sometimes from street to street. So, again, one has to stop and see whether one is controlled by the parking meter or whether one is able to park there anyway. In some instances the residents’ spaces are available for people who also pay; in others they are not. In some the bay

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changes from one to another without a perceptible difference so that one thinks that one is in a resident’s bay when one is actually in a parking bay.

There is a further difficulty that varies from borough to borough. If one happens to need a plumber or a builder to do work in one’s home, in some boroughs one can get a parking permit for that. In Westminster, one cannot, so it is very hard to get a plumber or a builder because they do not like being there as they know they will have either to move their car at intervals when the meter warden comes, or they will have to pay a fine from the money that I pay them for doing the plumbing or building work. The situation is a bit of a shambles, frankly, but I do not think that it would be difficult to straighten out.

As regards the difficulties facing blue badge holders who need to drive from one borough to another, I was totally baffled about the rules but I discovered a very helpful booklet, Blue Badge Parking Guide for London, published by the PIE Guide organisation, which helpfully sent me a copy of the London and national guides, which I received this morning. They are jolly useful but I wonder how many people know about them. It is not appropriate to ask noble Lords to put their hands up, but I bet that very few people know these things exist. They are a mine of useful information but you cannot expect everybody with a blue badge to have the guide by them all the time, even if they know it exists, and to work accordingly. However, I commend the guides to all blue badge holders, especially in London where they are certainly invaluable.

The headings on the front of the London guide cover hospital parking, accessible toilets, location and duration of stay for all blue badge bays and a clear guide to parking rules for all London boroughs. These are invaluable bits of information which I had no idea was publicly available until I received the guide this morning. The PIE Guide shows four types of blue badge parking bays: unlimited ones; ones with a three-hour control; ones with a four-hour limit or the rather vague ones which state “Please check signs locally”. Again, variations occur across and sometimes within boroughs; for example, where there are disabled bays only, where there are pay and display bays permitted for disabled people, resident bays which disabled people can use, and where there are single yellow and double yellow lines. Four boroughs, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Camden and the City, differ from the rest of London, and it is extremely confusing, particularly as many people may want to park or move about in those areas.

A couple of years ago I wrote to Ken Livingstone when he was mayor. He agreed with me about the confusion across the four boroughs. His reply stated:

“However, to change this either requires the boroughs themselves to adopt this policy—

the policy being to have a uniform system—

I appreciate that there are other difficulties with blue badges such as the amount of fraud in connection with them, and that there have to be tight controls. I

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am not arguing against that. But sometimes wardens can be a little insensitive. For example, I was told that a person wanted to take a blue badge holder to hospital by car. He stopped the car, went into the house to collect the blue badge holder, who needed help, and by the time they got out of the house he had received a ticket. The council concerned refused to accept that the penalty did not have to be paid. That was not a particularly sensitive way of approaching things and such conduct leads to ill feeling. It seems very unfair, when someone can demonstrate that they have a blue badge and they were getting it out of the house at the time, that the penalty was imposed only a couple of minutes or so later.

The issue arises not just in London, although the difficulties are more acute there. Even in other local authorities, for example, where there are local authority car parks, it is not possible to know whether a disabled bay is the only one that a blue badge holder can use, or whether a blue badge holder can use another bay without paying, or whether they are simply treated as though they did not have a blue badge in the other bays. It means that one has to stop, inquire and find out. Sometimes the signs are clear and sometimes they are not clear.

I make a plea that the four London boroughs could co-ordinate with the other boroughs so that there is a uniform system. I see the noble Baroness shaking her head; she has experience of this that we will hear about later on. It is extremely difficult. If the four inner London boroughs say that they are under more pressure for parking, at least those four could have a co-ordinated system. My main plea is on behalf of blue badge users. It really is very difficult for them to know what the system is. It could be made clearer. For example, the PIE Guide, which helpfully indicates the length of time that a blue badge user can stay at a particular place, shows that within yards there are unlimited parking zones, three-hour parking controls and four-hour parking controls. It is very difficult. One does not know what they are, and they are not always indicated clearly.

The other difficulty that I want to mention is hospital parking. If the blue badge parking bay is a three-hour or four-hour bay, that is normally fine, if one leaves a disabled person at a hospital, but the outpatient clinic may last longer than four hours and therefore they incur a penalty. It is jolly difficult and it is confusing. I make a plea on behalf of blue badge users that the system be clarified; it would be fair to them and make a lot of sense.

4.37 pm

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for initiating this debate and for enabling us to debate issues which, while not exactly on the top of everyone’s agenda of very important things to discuss, nevertheless form a kind of daily backdrop while people are trying to go about their business. It is certainly something that leads to high levels of irritation and anger.

I was thinking the other day about when I was a child in the early 1960s, and I remember the excitement when someone in our street got a car. They were the

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first person in our street to have a car, and it was unusual then. I gather that there were about 9 million cars on the road in the early 1960s; 40 years later there were 32 million cars on the road, and the number is higher today. Managing that sort of demand and the conflict between different groups—residents and commuters, shoppers and delivery vehicles, workers looking for long-term parking and shoppers who want to be somewhere for a short period of time, people who are on foot, and so on—is a job that falls to local authorities. It is not easy.

As a member of a highway authority for 14 years, and as chair of the Local Government Association transport committee, one of the things that I learnt is that, of all the tools available to a local authority, parking policy is by far the most effective way of managing traffic and doing something to resolve these conflicts. There are all sorts of reasons why a local authority will put parking restrictions in place; perhaps to keep traffic flowing smoothly, to manage the amount of traffic that comes into an area, to reduce safety hazards and obstructions, to deal with issues where people cannot park close to their own home unless a zone is in force. They are not supposed to use on-street parking as a way of raising revenue. However, it is interesting because, despite the anger of the noble Lord, I am not sure why we should see it as robbery to charge for a rare commodity. We charge for all sorts of things, and there is a legitimate debate to be had about charging for parking.

I feel very strongly that there is not a role for central government in micromanaging the way in which local authorities either use parking as a tool for traffic management or the way that they go about their business; that way madness lies. However, the noble Lord is right to say that the legislation is far too complex. Councils have to provide their own documentation to comply with the law. The noble Lord talked about one side of the coin, which is the very real anger and distress felt by motorists who are caught out by unfair practices, but it works both ways. A lot of people create sometimes dangerous situations through parking badly, and they get out of the fines that they should pay by the use of technicalities, “appeal busters” and people like that. I urge the Government that, for both sides of the argument, it is essential that they look at stripping out unnecessary legislation to make the law easier for people to understand and easier for councils to enforce.

Issues of enforcement cause the real anger. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, talk about a blue badge holder. We have all heard the stories about hearses, milk floats and dustcarts being ticketed. You shake your head and ask how on earth these stupid things can happen. Local authorities have told me that where stories are in the press about this sort of thing, they are usually followed by an increase in incidents of aggression toward the enforcement officers. There is an effect.

One aspect of this is the law of unintended consequences. Enforcing on-street parking used to be the responsibility of police and traffic wardens, and off-street parking was managed by local authorities. Since the 1991 Act, some 200 councils have taken on

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powers to take over enforcement. There are merits in one body enforcing on and off-road parking, not least that fines are kept locally and do not get sent off to the Chancellor. However, parking enforcement, like most other local authority services, was outsourced as part of the compulsory competitive tendering drive introduced by the Conservative Administration. I do not intend to enter into a debate about the pros and cons of outsourcing, but what is clear is that when you outsource, performance management of contracts is more complex in some areas than in others.

When there is a tender for, say, emptying the bins, it is relatively straightforward. Councils will set clear targets as part of the contract—percentages of bins emptied on a certain day, cleanliness of streets and so on. However, when you outsource parking enforcement, it is not so simple. How do you measure success? In the early days, the most commonly used method was pretty crude. You simply got brownie points for issuing tickets. That led to a culture of issuing tickets no matter how absurd and distressing it could be. Employees were sometimes incentivised to do that. All the opprobrium rightly fell onto the heads of the local council, and the contracting company had no stake in being reasonable.

I am glad to say that we have moved on since then. The British Parking Association has developed a model contract which measures success against a range of indicators, rather than on the crude number of tickets issued. Success is largely based on outcomes; for example, how high is compliance? How does the department feel about extending that approach to a national framework for enforcement? There is no doubt that good local authorities view enforcement in a positive light as part of the bigger picture, and guide contractors accordingly.

For example, Transport for London last year suspended enforcement at a number of locations where the level of violations was high, to determine why this was the case. Quite often it was due to unclear signage and road markings. I agree with the noble Lord that it is essential that there should be a fair deal between motorists and local authorities so that people who deliberately transgress are punished but most people have a fair deal and understand exactly what is required of them.

A further issue concerns me. I suppose that I am asking noble Lords’ indulgence, because this is a personal issue, but it demonstrates a greater problem. I refer to the use of bailiffs by outside agencies and the way in which they go about collecting money. When I moved to a property in north London some 18 months ago, along with the property I inherited the parking fines of the previous occupant. Even in these benighted times, people regularly move house. However, the two local authorities and Transport for London, which were imposing the fines, were quite unable to deal with the fact that someone had moved house and had not said where they had gone. It took me a total of 18 months to resolve the issue in a saga of lost documentation, phone calls, prevarication and being pushed around. I could bore your Lordships with it for hours but I will not.

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The final straw came when bailiffs arrived. I had not realised that bailiffs have a right of entry to your home even if you are not there, and I had not appreciated that the Government had changed the law in that regard. It is a highly dangerous situation. The people involved may not be around, and if, heaven forbid, someone does not have a good grasp of English or is old, it will be utterly terrifying. It occurred on this occasion because the contractor dealing with the issue had lost three sets of documentation.

In the end, I resolved the matter in a way that is not open to many people. I telephoned the council leader, told him that I was a Member of your Lordships’ House and said that, if he did not sort it out, there would be trouble. By that afternoon, 18 months of problems were resolved. What people who are not Members of your Lordships’ House are to do, I am not sure.

I feel so much better for getting that off my chest. However, a question arises here about how the organisations to which enforcement is outsourced deal with these matters. I do not think that councils have a proper handle on how the work is done, and that, unhappily, leads to distress for those involved. It is also very bad for the reputation of the council, it creates a climate of hostility and it is extremely expensive for the local authorities.

Finally, I urge the Government to resist any clarion calls to micromanage what local authorities do. However, a look at the legal framework to see whether it would be possible to make it less complex so that it is clearer to local authorities and motorists what the deal is would be welcomed by everyone.

4.46 pm

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for raising this matter. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for offering a possible way forward for Members of your Lordships’ House who might find themselves in difficulties in these matters.

The point that I want to draw to your Lordships’ attention and raise with the Minister relates to the congestion charge administered by Transport for London. I do not object in principle to the congestion charge, although I am not sure that it is as effective as some people maintain. I suspect that it does not raise as much money as some claim because the costs of administering the charge, with all the electronic equipment required to register cars going in and out of the zone, are no doubt considerable. However, I strongly object to a system which does not allow a proper challenge to what I maintain was an incorrectly levied charge, as happened to me last year.

I confess that on two or three occasions I have failed to pay the congestion charge, and on those occasions I have hastened to pay the penalty. You need to hasten to do so because, if you do not, the charge goes up. Therefore, I immediately ring up with my card details and pay. It is my practice to pay the congestion charge on a regular basis using my debit card. I ring the relevant number, talk to the relevant person and give the details of my car and my card, and normally all is satisfactory.

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