Citizens' Compensation Bill
(Mr. Speaker's Ruling)
Mr. Speaker : I have looked again, with great care, at the amendments to the Citizens' Compensation Bill to which the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) added his name yesterday. It is unusual for amendments in the name of an hon. Member in charge of a Bill not to be called, and perhaps I owe the hon. Gentleman an explanation. Incidentally, the House well understands why the hon. Gentleman was unable to add his name to the amendments before yesterday.
In the provisional selection list published yesterday afternoon, I was not able to select the amendments concerned, then standing in the name of the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot), because in my view they amounted to a wrecking of the Bill, which was given a Second Reading and approved by the Standing Committee. Since the hon. Member for Leigh added his name to the amendments, I have re-examined the position carefully, but as my judgment was based on the matter of order rather than on selection, I very much regret that I am unable to change my ruling.
Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe (Leigh) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Far be it for me to question your judgment and your ability to assess a situation that inevitably conflicts with the rules of the House, but I listened to your ruling with some dismay and disappointment because it means that the Bill will be hijacked to a large extent. Nevertheless, I honourably accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker, in view of your long experience and of my deep respect for you, which I shall always have.
Column 584carefully considering amendment No. 1 in particular--and we fully understand and respect your reason for not selecting it. I take this opportunity to say that the Government have looked very carefully at amendment No. 1 and are consulting the judiciary about minute details and certain aspects of it. Subject only to that, the Government are grateful to the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) for the opportunity that his Bill gives to debate that amendment. The Government looked for a way to take it into statute, and we will seek a future opportunity to bring to fruition that which the hon. Gentleman has given us an opportunity to start.
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I too am aware of the great care that was taken not only last evening but in the early hours of this morning, and more recently, to ensure that the business put before the House today is fully within its rules. I cast my mind back to the Firearms (Amendment) Bill. Clauses that had been deliberately excluded by the Government during the earlier stages of the Bill were included on Report, a very late stage in the legislation. As a student of procedure, I am genuinely puzzled as to why changes can be permitted in one direction yet not in another.
Mr. Speaker : Perhaps the easiest way to deal with the matter would be for the hon. Gentleman and for the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) to come and see me privately about the matter when I shall be very happy to explain it to them.
Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I too am grateful to you for having spent a good deal of time on considering whether the amendments should be dealt with. I have a great deal of sympathy for the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) who says that his Bill has been hijacked. It is now a completely different Bill from the one to which the House gave a Second Reading. In Committee the hon. Member for Leigh very sensibly, honourably and rightly dropped the first four clauses of the Bill, which were the main meat of the Bill. Another clause was added in Committee to deal with no-fault compensation. It was an entirely different clause and it led the Bill off in an entirely different direction. I am not sure that the House has given a Second Reading to the Bill that we are to discuss this morning and whether it now accords with the long title.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member puts his finger on the very point. If he cares to join the hon. Members for Leigh and for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), I shall be only too happy to expand upon the matter.
Lords amendments considered.
Lords amendment : No. 1, after clause 2, to insert the following new clause -- Display of information--
". The following section shall be inserted after the section 35A inserted by section 2 above--
35B.--(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations requiring local authorities to display at off-street parking places provided by them under section 32 above such information about parking there as is specified in the regulations.
(2) Regulations under this section may also--
(a) require the display of any orders under section 35(1) above relating to the parking place ;
(b) specify the manner in which the information and orders are to be displayed ;
(c) exempt local authorities, in specified circumstances or subject to specified conditions, from the requirement to display information and orders, or to display them in the specified manner ; and (
(d) provide, in relation to a parking place at which a local authority fails to comply with the regulations or with any specified provision of the regulations, that, except in any specified circumstances, any order under section 35(1) above shall be of no effect in its application to that parking place in so far as it requires the payment of any charge in connection with use of the parking place--
(i) while the failure to comply continues, and
(ii) as respects vehicles parked there when the failure to comply was remedied, during a specified period thereafter.
(3) Regulations under this section may make different provision for different circumstances and for different descriptions of parking place, and may exempt specified descriptions of parking place from any provision of the regulations.
(4) In any proceedings for contravention of, or non-compliance with, an order under section 35(1) above relating to an off-street parking place, it shall be assumed, unless the contrary is shown, that any relevant regulations under this section were complied with at all material times."
After Report and Third Reading here, which was almost exactly three months ago, I did not expect that I should have to bring my Bill before the House again. I am, however, happy to do so this morning as a result of an amendment that was agreed in Committee in the other place. I fully agree with the amendment. It has my fullest support. As it is some three months since we were last considering the Bill in this place, it is only fair to hon. Members, and to others, to tell them briefly about the important nature of this Bill. Throughout its passage, it has received a broad measure of all-party support. It is
Column 586comparatively unusual for Bills, particularly of this type, to receive all-party support. I am therefore delighted that it has received the support of the other parties.
The important point about the Bill is that, until 1986, there were no vehicle parking provisions that permitted the use of any form of payment other than cash. On the surface, that appears to be most surprising. Many of the people to whom I have spoken while the Bill has been before both Houses have expressed considerable surprise about it. I suspect that it is just a legal anachronism. Many people have been greatly inconvenienced over the years when paying for parking their motor cars by the lack of flexibility in parking arrangements, particularly by local authorities. They believe that it should have been put right many years ago.
I pay credit to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who successfully introduced a private Member's Bill in 1986 which is not all that dissimilar from the private Member's Bill for which I am responsible. It provided for parking equipment that was not operated by coins to be used, but unfortunately only on the street. It related mostly to the type of parking meters that we see on every street. It was a limited measure, not through any fault on the part of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North but because at that time he felt that it was a useful measure for which he felt he could obtain all-party support. It had a successful passage through the House and it has had limited success so far in one or two local authorities.
The only problem about the hon. Gentleman's Bill, which he perceived at the time that he introduced it, was that inevitably there would be difficulties in obtaining the confidence of manufacturers of parking equipment. It was clear that a small-scale scheme would not necessarily encourage them to manufacture equipment if the market for it would inevitably be limited. It was an inspired Bill and a useful piece of legislation, but it did not achieve enough.
When, therefore, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to introduce a private Member's Bill, I thought that it would be useful to build on what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North had done in 1986 by trying to broaden the scope for the use of such equipment so that it could be used for both off-street parking and on-street parking, thus ending up with a comprehensive piece of legislation in which both local authorities and the manufacturers of parking equipment could place their confidence.
I have already said that I am grateful for having received all-party support for the measure and for the fact that I am able to build on a measure that was introduced in 1986 by an Opposition Member. I am particularly pleased to be able to give full credit to him for what he began and for his own measure.
Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford) : Does that mean that once the Bill becomes law, assuming that it does, both on-street parking and off-street parking will be treated in exactly the same way? That would obviously be sensible.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. I think that at this stage the hon. Gentleman is going beyond the scope of the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope), who is in
Column 587charge of the Bill, will now deal with the Lords amendment. I understand that he has made his introductory remarks.
The new clause, which is headed "Display of information" is an enabling provision. In itself it does not impose any new obligations. In that sense, it can be described as a free-standing clause. It would add a new section to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, but it would not affect any of the other clauses.
Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North) : Does my hon. Friend share my disgust at the fact that not one single member of the SDP or the SLD is present in the Chamber? Does not that show that they do not care tuppence for the interests of motorists in Britain?
When my hon. Friend deals with the Lords amendment--which, as you rightly pointed out, Madam Deputy Speaker, is the only issue that we are debating today--could he tell me the reason for subsection (2)(c), which seeks to exempt local authorities in specified circumstances? I think that this amendment, passed by the other place, is excellent, but I cannot envisage why any local authority should be exempted from having to display the information that is mentioned in the Lords amendment.
Mr. Kirkhope : I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I shall come to subsection (2)(c) in due course. I am also sorry that no SLD or SDP Members are present, but in their defence I must stress that the Bill had all-party support and sponsorship.
The new clause does not impose new obligations. Its justification is strengthened by the fact that the Bill, if passed, will open the way for increasing use of new forms of off-street parking control, taking advantage of new technology and non-coin-operated systems. Inevitably there will be a much wider use of various systems, including payment by magnetic cards, vouchers and other means. Obviously there are great attractions in that there will be less scope for fraud and theft and more cost-effective and efficient means of maintaining parking systems, moving away from the traditional coin-in-the-slot approach. The Bill will also encourage a great number of manufacturers to produce equipment using new technology. One leading contractor in Yorkshire, near Halifax, feels very strongly that there is considerable export potential in Europe and in other continents.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West) : My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Does he agree that there is potential for British manufacturers to increase the scope of the equipment that they produce and to export it to other countries? In regard to the signs that are the subject of the Lords amendment, some marvellous British manufacturers produce leisure signs, and they will benefit from the Bill. Does he further agree that there are lessons for the ordinary motorists? When they see the marvellous British equipment and signs, they might reflect that it would be better if they were driving marvellous British cars?
Mr. Kirkhope : My hon. Friend's last remark moved slightly away from the Lords amendment. I occasionally count the number of British cars in our car park at the House of Commons and I am reasonably encouraged that the vast majority, but sadly not all, are British. My hon.
Column 588Friend is quite right that it is not just a question of the enormous export potential for metering equipment ; as he says ; there is also enormous export potential for the signs to which the amendment refers--exports which Britain needs. Britain has a large industry producing attractive and useful signs, so I am pleased to support my hon. Friend's point.
Motorists clearly need to be informed about the changes that might result from the new legislation. It is important that the consumer should have more information. We are living in a society which increasingly recognises the importance of consumers, and it makes sense that they should be provided with such information by right. The Lords amendment refers specifically to car parks which are under local authority order, so it refers primarily to the interests of local authorities served by the legislation, as they will be able to organise their car parking arrangements much better in future.
Mr. David Wilshire Spelthorne) : My hon. Friend rightly draws the House's attention to the fact that the Bill will affect local authorities. Does he agree that there are just as many problems arising from lack of information or misleading information from private car park operators, especially from those who provide a field on occasional days?
Mr. Kirkhope : My hon. Friend is quite right. The Lords amendment and the Bill do not tackle that specific point. As the vast majority of car parking in Britain is provided by local authorities or is subject to local authority orders, they should be entitled to make their car parking arrangements as attractive as possible, and thereby I hope that they will make sure that, wherever possible, people will use local authority car parking. The Bill has received a very broad welcome, and the amendment has been welcomed by the local authorities that I have consulted. They feel strongly that they have been restricted in some ways in the provision of car parking spaces, and they would like more flexibility. The technology that they will be able to introduce will enable them to plan their parking much more around the facilities that the parking is there to assist.
Mr. Arbuthnot : Following the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) raised, what is the effect of the amendment on local authorities which provide car parks but decide to put them out to private tender? Obviously, we are moving in that direction, which I believe is right. I was once in control of parking in Kensington and Chelsea, as chairman of the works committee. I had to suffer many long and arduous public meetings at which people complained that there were simply not enough car parking spaces run by private companies or local authorities.
Mr. Kirkhope : I thank my hon. Friend for using the Chamber as a confessional this morning. He is right to say that the Bill does not related to independent private contractors, but it will apply to those who act as agents for local authorities in the supply of car parking. I am not sure of the latest statistics, but about 90 per cent. of off-street car parking in Britain is subject to local authority order. Therefore, the Bill refers to the vast majority of car parking arrangements. Inevitably, it will not cover everything, but it is designed to cover the majority of off- street parking.
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) : I crave the House's indulgence ; I have not been present throughout the debate as I have been busy on other pressing matters, which unfortunately have not been very fruitful.
I am intrigued by the structure of the amendment, and I need some help to understand it. Subsection (2)(a) requires
"the display of any orders under section 35(1) above relating to the parking place ;"
while subsection (2)(c) would
"exempt local authorities, in specified circumstances or subject to specified conditions, from the requirement to display"
The amendment appears to require local authorities to display, and then to exempt them from displaying. The logic of that escapes me, as a simple- minded soul. Will the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope), without the assistance of the Minister for Roads and Traffic, explain that to me?
Mr. Kirkhope : In each case, it is a question of "may". I shall move on to explain the precise details of the exemptions in due course. A few moments ago my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) raised a specific question about subsection (2)(c) and I said that I would deal with it. If the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) will bear with me for a little longer, I shall come to it in due course.
As I was saying, it is important to remember that local authorities are the largest collective providers of off-street parking. Undoubtedly there is still a need for further private sector development, but it is vital that local authorities are encouraged to provide facilities that are co- ordinated with the development of shopping centres and other places of attraction, particularly in our cities but, to a lesser but still important extent, in rural communities. There is a developing interest in tourism and, until now, local authorities have been somewhat reluctant to provide extra off-street car parking because of the difficulties that I have explained, such as fraud, theft from machines and other problems associated with car parking. The Bill will predominantly help in urban areas and will help local authorities in planning their parking provisions.
There is no statutory obligation on local authorities to display information on how car parks are managed. Other hon. Members have probably also experienced great frustration from time to time in the diversity of information in off-street car parks. It is extremely piecemeal. Information is very clearly displayed in some car parks, with a clear statement of how much it will cost to park, for how long, and the times of opening.
One may go to another city or town and find that the very information that one has come to rely on is no longer displayed. There may be absolutely no information displayed at the next car park.
Mr. Kirkhope : I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend, but I do not accept that there is any political difference in this matter. I accept that some car parks are well managed and that some are badly managed by local
Column 590authorities, but I would not assume that the political persuasion of the council means that a car park is badly managed. Certain car parks in urban areas may be run better than others.
I am trying to help all local authorities. There was some surprise earlier that a Conservative member should want to do anything to help local authorities. That comment seemed to be rather odd. Conservative Members and the Government do a lot to help local authorities, although we do not always get appreciation for it--I wish that we did. Most support for my Bill has come from local authorities in the north of England, the area that I am proud to serve, and most of them have been Labour-controlled.
Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that he has had to bring forward his measure in a private Member's Bill. That is because some Conservative Members support and help local authorities, and his Government do not have the same record. The local authority in the area in which I live, Lewisham, manages car parks extremely well--
Mr. Kirkhope : I am grateful for the intervention by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock). I do not demur in agreeing with her. I have already said that there is a wide diversity, and sometimes even a paucity, of information in off-street car parks. Unfortunately, a lot of it is not provided until one enters the car parks. The entrance to a car park is often down a dark tunnel, and, by the time one gets to the pay machine, there may be 20 or 30 cars behind one, sounding their horns as one tries to negotiate the ramps.
One then finds that the information that is provided, which is not substantial, is unacceptable. It may be unacceptable because the pricing structure is disgraceful or because one fundamentally disagrees with certain terms and conditions on the notice. One's vehicle may no longer be technically acceptable for the car park. It may be too long or too wide. Disabled people also have a problem. It is important to measure the number of spaces for them.
Mr. Greg Knight : I am here not to help local authorities, but to try to help the motorist. That is why many Conservative Members are present. I am rather heartened by my hon. Friend's remark. As I understand the Lords amendment, regulations could provide that information should be displayed not only inside the car park but perhaps at a point that can be seen from a public place--in other words, from the highway. Will my hon. Friend confirm my interpretation and that it will be possible to require that a list of parking charges be clearly visible from a highway?
Mr. Kirkhope : My hon. Friend is right in one way, but I said a few minutes ago that this is an enabling measure. It is not inevitable that that will occur. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister's powers will not need to be invoked. We are trying to obtain good practice so that we do not need to introduce anything further. When the legislation is in place, many local authorities that are not doing as well as Lewisham and one or two others will put their houses and car parks in order. I am sure that plenty of departmental assistance will be available for local authorities that wish to know what sort of information
Column 591could or should be supplied. I am sure that they will get a lot of co-operation and help, and that will be to the good of the motoring public.
I do not say that only local authorities will benefit. Clearly, we are concerned mainly about the motoring public and consumers, but the interests of local authorities can be consistent with those of the motoring public. Practice varies from one authority to another, or even from one car park to another under the control of the same local authority. Motorists would welcome more consistency in information. Some information should certainly be provided at car park entrances, so that a driver can choose whether he wishes to go into that car park. I hope that many of those things will come about anyway. That will be as a result either of a decision to operate good practice, or from pressure from users or users' organisations or consumer organisations which will realise the effects of this measure and how they can guide those who provide the facilities.
The important point about the amendment is that, if it is desirable, the Secretary of State could promote consistency of treatment by means of regulations. That would require the display of specified information. I emphasise that that is not the Secretary of State's desire or my desire. I like to see such things happening without the need for regulations. The public feel the same way. They would prefer to have a good voluntary code of practice rather than regulations, which undoubtedly have an unhelpful effect.
This measure applies only to those local authority off-street car parks under section 35 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. I emphasise that the aim is to provide a reserve power, but in answer to the hon. Member for Stockton, North, I stress that it is only a reserve power and would be used only if such measures proved to be necessary in due course.
Mr. Greg Knight : Assuming that we accept the amendment and the Bill is passed into law, who is to monitor whether local authorities are following the spirit of the Bill? How will we know whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will need to lay down regulations? We need some feedback. I hope that my hon. Friend will not say that he expects motorists to write in to complain, because we need something more organised than that.
Mr. Kirkhope : I am surprised to hear my hon. Friend's remarks. I do not know what he means by "organised". Does he mean that we should have a group of people snooping around car parks? I would not dream of describing motorists and consumers as "snoopers", but they are extremely interested parties and if they are "snooping" in the most favourable way and deciding that the way in which information is displayed is unacceptable to them, we are entitled to ask : who else is better equipped to complain or comment?
If the individual motorist does not want to complain himself or herself, there are plenty of organisations that serve motorists in this country that would do so. I am sure that the Royal Automobile Club, the Automobile Association and the Consumers Association would be most interested in that. I am also sure that the pressures that they can bring to bear would be far more effective than the official organised snooping that my hon. Friend suggests.
Mr. Wilshire : My hon. Friend is being a little over-sensitive to the suggestion that consumers should check up on things. One of the best ways of getting a rotten service from a trader or a supplier of a service is to take bad service lying down and not to complain. We need not be in the least bit defensive about saying that consumers should complain if they receive bad service.
Mr. Kirkhope : I would not argue with my hon. Friend on that point. It is a fair comment, but I do not feel that I am being over-sensitive. I am simply expressing the views of many people in this country. I am trying to put things right for them and am seeking to do so in a way which is as uncontroversial, and I hope as useful, as possible.
Subsection (2) covers the additional matters which may be provided for in the regulations. For example, regulations may require the display of the order made by the local authority under the provisions governing the use of the car park.
When one enters a park or takes children to play on the swings in a recreation ground, in all likelihood one will see the byelaws relating to the operation of that park or recreation ground prominently displayed on a large board. Perhaps the main provisions of the car parks orders could be displayed in a comparable manner.
Mr. Arbuthnot : I have been listening to my hon. Friend with interest. Has he ever seen anybody reading the byelaws so prominently displayed? They are often in such tiny print ; on such large and intimidating boards and written in such total gobbledegook that nobody can read them--certainly not in the open air, with the rain coming down--so how could such boards be read if they were at the entrance to a car park where the motorist will encounter cars queueing behind, with other drivers tooting and trying to get their tickets?
Mr. Kirkhope : I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I have often seen lawyers reading such notices. As my hon. Friend and I were both of that persuasion before we came to this place, I am sure that we both read such notices avidly. Indeed, it does not really matter whether one is a lawyer or not--
Mr. Robert G. Hughes : Is not the real problem the fact that such gobbledegook was probably written by people such as my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope) and for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot)?
Mr. Kirkhope : That may well be the case. However, I am glad that we have moved away from the basis of the charge being by way of the number of folios, because that will undoubtedly reduce the length of such information in the future.
My hon. Friend has beaten me to my next point. I was about to say that the display of such information should not take us away from the crusade for plain English, which is so important. I referred to the need for plain English earlier in the passage of the Bill and emphasised the importance of making sure that everything that we write is in plain English. There is no point in something that people cannot understand. Part of the responsibility for the way in which something is written rests with the legislator but the responsibility also lies partly with those who display the information. They must ensure that the
Column 593way in which it is displayed, on a board or on an illuminated sign, is sufficiently attractive to ensure that people will read it and that they will be able to understand it.
The regulations by the Secretary of State could also specify the manner in which the information is to be displayed and could stipulate the location of any such board or display. Motorists should be given adequate information either as or before they enter the car park. I should prefer it to be before. That would at least ensure that motorists will know which vehicles are permitted.
That reminds me of the famous case about the Mount Charlotte Hotels, which other hon. Members who are lawyers will almost certainly remember. That case established that, on checking into an hotel one should be able to see displayed on the counter or reception desk the conditions or provisions governing one's stay in that hotel, before one signs the register to book in. At that point, one is entering a contract with the hotel about the provision of accommodation and food. If one wants to argue about the conditions, one must do so before contracting with the hotel. Therefore, a hotel is obliged to provide that information as near to the entrance or to the start of one's contract with the hotel as possible.
It is only reasonable that similar provisions should apply to off-street car parks. I see no reason why a motorist should find out too late that the car park is unacceptable to him in some way. The information to be displayed should also include details of whether season tickets apply, and should give the scale of charges. I refer again to the powers of local authorities, because several local authorities in the north have told me that they would very much welcome the sort of technology that would allow them to alter the pricing structures of their car parks, dependent upon the day of the week or the time of day. That would enable them to assist those who provide shopping facilities and to encourage people into the centres of towns, which are often deserted at certain times of the day, by offering a lower pricing structure at those times, but a higher pricing structure at the periods when people might want to park their cars for commercial and business purposes. It is felt that people should pay more for on-peak rather than off-peak time.
The technology can be monitored and operated in such a way that those changes can be made, and given that the local authorities have that flexibility, it is important to ensure that the motorist knows that those provisions apply. It would be most unfair if one arrived at a car park at 11 am one day and was charged 50p an hour, but returned on another day at 8.30 am to find, only after one had entered the car park, that the charge at that time was £2 per hour. Because of the impact that the Bill will have, it is even more important that that flexibility, which the local authorities welcome, should be notified to the motorist before he or she enters the car park.